Saturday, 31 December 2011

Heart's Blood by Gail Dayton

This is a book that I read for the first time about a year ago. Coming back to it now made me realise that my memory is a funny thing. I can easily remember book titles and author names but character names just don’t stick around. Then again, I suppose that is to be expected with so many different characters going through my head.

With Heart’s Blood, I read this book, the second in a series, without having read the first book first. I can’t remember whether or not I was aware of this when I started reading but I have no doubt that it will have impacted my understanding of the story. When I finally decided to get around to reading New Blood, I soon found myself tempted to go and find my copy of Heart’s Blood and reread that one too. After a brief inner struggle (desire to reread vs. desire to read new material), temptation came out tops and I went rummaging in the attic. I had vague memories left of the events of the book, but I was still looking forward to rediscovering it.

Presentation: Mass market paperback. There are 418 pages broken down into 29 chapters. They type is medium-sized but well-spaced.

Story: Someone is killing people with magical intent. Everybody is already up in arms about the return of sorcery – of blood magic – and Grey Cataret, magister of the Conjurers’ guild, has got himself in a bit of a mess.

Pearl Parkin has been living in London’s slums, disguised as a boy, for some time now. Thanks to her magic, she’s managed to keep herself out of trouble but one night she spots Grey stumbling through the streets. Intrigued, she follows him, keeping him safe when he finally stops his advancement.

When he is arrested the next morning on suspicion of murder, she seizes her chance and blackmails him into accepting her as his apprentice in a society that is still prejudiced against female magic workers. Reluctantly, he accepts but it soon becomes obvious that her sorcerous talents are to be of use in his murder investigation, even if her presence complicates his life.

Thoughts and impressions: In the first book, Amanusa’s talents are explored but the other three schools of magic go ignored. In this second book, sorcery is re-examined from a different stand point (Amanusa had Jax - and through Jax, Yvaine – whereas Pearl has to learn from books and her own intuition) but conjury is also explored. The inner workings of this school of magic were very interesting and I liked the ghosts’ personalities – especially Davy, it’s a shame that the various ghosts weren’t expanded on more.

The dead zones have piqued my interest. Essentially they are areas where there’s no magic left and as such living things (both animals and plants) cannot survive there… but weird little machines constructed of all manner of metal items scuttle about the zones. The concept of them, and the origin of the machines, is not really expanded on much in this book, which is a shame as I’d have liked to have learnt more about them. They came in second to the story about someone abusing magic. This is fair enough, but it would have been nice to have had at least some new information about them offered up.

Grey didn’t really come across as the same character as he’s portrayed in the first book. I mentioned in my review of that one that he didn’t sit right with me; this could be because I’d already been inside his head by that point. There are mentions of him having wanted Amanusa but I never got that impression from the interactions in New Blood. But it was also a bit weird when he first realised that Pearl was a female. Despite the fact that she was coated in a couple of years’ worth of East End grime (later it is mentioned that it took multiple baths to get all of this off her skin), he refers to her as a ‘tasty morsel’. I feel it would have been better to wait with that thought until he’d seen her all cleaned up.

I was right when I figured I’d missed things. This time around, more aware of what sorcery magic entails, I was able to pick up on things that would not have stood out to me before. This is interesting as it shows little clues that I would have missed out on, but then I can’t be sure that I would have spotted them all had I not already been aware of just who the culprit turns out to be.

There is an awful lot of inner monologue in this book. Both characters spend a lot of their time questioning themselves and their motives. This goes perhaps beyond what I’m comfortable with and into the realm of me starting to get bored with them.

Added bonus: There’s one character called Fahquaar… all I could think of was the tiny king in Shrek! (even though she’s a female character.)

Style: The author has a tendency to stop her chapters in the middle of a scene. Sometimes this is the middle of a conversation and the first chapter just stops and the next chapter picks up with the next reply. These aren’t cliffhangers, they’re just stops.

Final verdict: Though still good, I felt that with careful editing it could have been better. 4 stars.

Note: I believe that this series was meant to be a trilogy. Tor currently owns the rights to the third book, Heart’s Magic, but has decided against publishing it. Gail Dayton is currently trying to get the rights back so that she can make the third book, Harry and Elinor’s story, available as an ebook for those who want to read it.

Extra notes: Both sex and swearing present.

New Blood by Gail Dayton

A little over a year ago, I purchased this book, spur of the moment, by an author that I’d never heard of before. That author was Gail Dayton and the book was called Heart’s Blood. At the time of the purchase, I didn’t realise that Heart’s Blood was actually the second book in a steampunk / paranormal romance series. I managed to muddle my way through the book without becoming too confused but I did soon realise that I seemed to be missing information. Anyway, I enjoyed the book and found that I wanted to read Amanusa’s story, even though she didn’t figure all that much in the second book. So I ordered New Blood then did my typical thing of putting it on a shelf and forgetting about it. Until now.

I actually read this book a month ago and it was my fifth and final read in the favourites challenge for autumn 2011.

Presentation: Mass market paperback. There are 500 pages and 30 chapters (I think. I gave the book to a friend to read so I can’t check.) New chapters do not start on a new page. The type is medium-sized and spaced.

Story: There are four schools of magic: alchemy, which works with natural elements; conjury, which works by contacting the dead; wizardy, which also works with natural elements but in a slightly different way; and sorcery, which works by taking blood. Blood sorcery is feared and only available to female practitioners of magic. Women having been pushed out of the ranks of magicians, sorcery has been lost.

Yvaine, the last blood sorceress, was burnt at the stake over 200 years ago but before she died, she set her servant, Jax, the task of finding her successor. It has taken him a long time, but he has finally found Amanusa, the next blood sorceress, in the wilds of Transylvania. Amanusa has a painful past, though, and when she unleashes her magic on those who hurt her, she and Jax must run for Western Europe.

Meanwhile, in Paris, the Magicians’ Conclave has scheduled a crisis meeting to try to find a way of dealing with dead zones – areas of land where no magic exists anymore and where no living beings can survive – that are cropping up all over the world. They must try to find a way of preventing these areas from expanding.

Thoughts and impressions: At first it was a little weird coming into this first book with prior knowledge of the world building. This soon passed, however, and I found myself fully immersed in the story. The setting, the wilds of the Transylvanian mountains (or the Carpathians to call them by their real name), is one that I am particularly fond of (just personal taste) and the author did the remote mountain area justice in her narration. I got a sense of remoteness from the story.

I also liked how she made the Hungarian Inquisition (a society that hunts down illegal practitioners of magic – especially women) so set in their ways that they are willing to chase this female magician – a sorceress no less! – across the whole of Europe. The presentation made it feel authentic, something that is always important to me. This contrasted with Western Europe where the reader sees that women - in particular Elinor, an aspiring wizard – are starting to demand their rightful place in the magicians’ ranks. Of course, there are two camps of men: the ‘traditionalists’ (who want to keep the practise of magic a male-only domain) and the ‘progressives’ (who are the ones who actually want to go back to traditional traditions from some 200 years ago before the witch hunts killed off all female practitioners, and to readmit women among their ranks.) Some of the characters went too far for me, Nigel Cranshaw in particular (I remember not liking him in the second book either), though I suspect that he’s probably more of an archetype, representative of a mainstream opinion, rather than a character in his own rights.

Sorcery and the machinations behind blood magic were interesting. In fact, the whole magic system was very well thought out: it’s one of my favourites from the paranormal genre and it seems to me that a lot of time and effort must have gone into setting up the system and all its various rules. This is expended on more in the second book, if I remember correctly, but it’s a good introduction. There were some things that Amanusa seemed to just know instinctively about the intricacies of her magic; I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, especially when she often has to have the basics explained to her. Despite this, I still liked the rides that these vents took me on as a reader.

The main threat in this novel is the fact that women have been excluded from the magical community for so long that some men are willing to go to any lengths necessary to prevent a woman from practising any of the magical fields. On top of this, there are hundreds of years’ worth of bad rumours about just how sorcery works – the most popular of these being that the blood used to channel the spells is stolen from innocent victims – making this lost form of magic the most feared. This presents Amanusa with many hurdles to overcome - with both supporters who want to welcome the return of sorcery and others who would rather see her killed, so reviled is her school of magic. The reader knows that all blood used to channel magic must be given freely and that it is only with this, blood of the innocents that has been shed by another, or with her own blood (this one’s a secret, though, so shush!) that a sorceress can work. But prejudices prevail and it was amusing to read about Amanusa’s frustrations with these people.

The relationship was of my favourite kinds: one allowed to evolve slowly from resigned acceptance, to like, to trust, to love. Jax, despite his sordid past, made for the type of hero a girl will root for and both of the characters had to face their own demons and overcome their fears before anything could come of it all.

As for the secondary characters, Elinor’s dogged determinations and Harry’s desire to set the world back to rights both appealed to me. Grey I wasn’t so sure about as the character presented here contradicted with the hero that I remember from Heart’s Blood. Crow made for a good non-human character, though I wish his role had been explained and that he’d been used more.

I now find myself wanted to dig through my boxes of read books to unearth Heart’s Blood. I’m sure that I missed things the first time around and that would lend the story another dimension now that I’ve read New Blood. In fact, I think I’ll do just that and make Heart’s Blood a December read!

Style: A few weird little mistakes that didn’t get spotted in the editing process made for some confusing moments. Obviously no one bothered to check the French. Some of the most basic mistakes:
Conseil française: conseil is a masculine noun ; française is an adjective marked by the female morpheme ‘-e’ at the end.
Sorcire – not sure where this one comes from unless the ‘è’ after the ‘i’ got deleted for some reason. The French for witch is sorcière.
L’environs – le / la / l’ = determiners for singular nouns; les = determiner for plural nouns. L’environ les environs.

There were other problems,  like ‘l’endroit de la mort’, which sounds wrong to me. It’s ‘lieu du crime’ so lieu would sound more natural to me in this sort of structure.  Even so, it still sounds odd as a translation for dead zone.

All the English was engaging. I really like the description of… I think it was dawn… when they were in the rebels’ camp in Romania.

Final verdict: I’ve been feeling torn between 4 and 5 stars but have decided to be nice and go up. 5 stars.

Extra notes: Mild language. One sex scene that extends over a couple of chapters.

Secrets by Freya North

This book has been sitting on my shelves for quite some time now. It’s one of those books where, at the time, I found myself drawn to it aesthetically (look at the pink cover!! How could I say no?) but once it had a home on my shelves, it no longer really drew my attention.

Now I’m participating in a 3 month long reading challenge called expand your horizons. The aim of the game is to read books either a) from a genre you don’t often read; or b) from your preferred genre but books that you have been actively avoiding. I personally have challenged myself to read 5 such books before the end of February. Secrets by Freya North is contemporary chick lit romance, a genre that I usually avoid. This challenge gave me that kick up the arse that I’ve been needing to finally get around to reading this book.

Presentation: This is a large paperback. The type is medium-sized and spaced. There are 478 pages broken down into a prologue, 44 chapters – some significantly longer than others – and an epilogue.

Story: Tess is in trouble. Her past is coming for her and, finding that she cannot face it head-on, she runs away from her life. She heads north with her baby daughter and most of their meagre possessions, accepting a job as a house-sitter for a man whose profession often takes him out of the country. This man, Joe, finds her fascinating - a far cry from any of his previous house-sitters; but at the same time he finds that he doesn’t really mind.

They soon find that their interactions are always on a grand scale either because of how intriguing each finds the other or because they’re pushing each other’s buttons. Despite the attraction between them, could they ever have anything that works when each is keeping big secrets from the other?

***Warning: some spoilers***

Thoughts and impressions: The thing that hit me the most with this story is that throughout it all, Joe is such a hypocrite! He really rubbed me the wrong way. It’s established within the first few chapters that he has women in all the foreign cities he regularly visits and that he enjoys no-strings-attached sex with each of them. Fair enough. It is then established that he is attracted to Tess, does not really act on it then goes abroad to one of his broads. Again, fair enough. Then he starts sleeping with Tess and when he next goes abroad, he goes straight to his f*** buddy (‘scuse my French.) Not cool. Not only this, but he keeps it from Tess and then has the nerve to get all high and might when she keeps a secret from him. He really wasn’t a male character after my own heart and with lines like: “His head was full of Tess but his face is full of Nathalie”, I kept hoping that Tess would wake up, smell the coffee, dump this two-timing twat and find someone who recognises that she has a good heart and deserves to be more than just ‘sex at home’ as opposed to the various women who make up ‘sex abroad’.

What’s more, whenever they fight, Tess is always the one who ends up apologising profusely even when she’s not the one who was in the wrong. The dynamics of their relationship just didn’t work for me and in a romance that’s never good. The balance was all wrong and Joe’s revelations, when they finally come, don’t get addressed properly and he never has to atone for his sins while atone is all Tess ever seems to do!

What I did like:

- Wolf: A big lummox of a dog, you can never go wrong with that! Plus, I liked his characterisation.

- Em: very cute and a bit too well-behaved for a baby. Often I found the tags that accompanied her actions would leave me smiling. She might have been too quiet for a toddler (in my experience) but she made for a very cute non-speaking character.

- Seb: I suspect that I transferred my like to him when I decided that I really couldn’t bring myself to like Joe. I just wish he’d had a bigger role.

- The girl chat: now this was a relationship where the dynamics really worked for me, though I think it would have been better to have Tamsin and Lisa as two very different personalities rather than Lisa just basically being Tamsin’s northern, and present, clone. Despite this, I enjoyed the scenes where Tess and Lisa were letting their girly sides run wild.

- Mary, the home, and Em’s stardom there: these amounted to very cute scenes often reminiscent of a sad reality of the forgotten elderly that is all too present in our society.

- The feeling of solitude: this practically oozed from the pages when Tess was yearning for the company of someone who can actually talk.

What I didn’t like:

- Joe: for the reasons previously mentioned.

- The bridge comparisons: I get why they’re there but they’d just go on for far too long and I’d find myself zoning out.

- The descriptions of the town: again, they weren’t that frequent but when they did appear I felt like I was being whacked over the head with the big, long descriptions. I would have preferred them to have been more interspersed in the narration.

- The ending: the climax came at least 50 pages before the end and everything tacked on after that was essentially to ensure that the reader fully grasped that this is how it’s going to be from now on! Eat it up! Really, it was unnecessary and just prolonged the book. With careful editing I’m sure this thing could have been at least 100 pages shorter, if not 150.

However, I do have to give credit where credit is due and admit that despite my reservations, I did find myself drawn back to Secrets each time I put it down.

Style: Most of the book was written in the past tense but there were some scenes where the tense would (seemingly) randomly be changed to the present tense. Why? I couldn’t figure out a difference.

Final verdict: I’m torn with this one. After careful consideration, I’m going to go with 2 stars for the story itself plus one for grabbing and keeping my attention. 3 stars.

Extra notes: Sex and swearing both present.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Captain's Christmas Family by Deborah Hale

Earlier this year I read another of this author’s books. While Bought: The Penniless Lady failed to blow me away, it did provide me with an evening of enjoyable entertainment and it drew me in to the point where I wanted to know the outcome more than I wanted to sleep. So when I saw that the author would be releasing a seasonal story that was still on the cheap side, I decided to go for it.

Story: With the recent loss of their father, Cissy and Dolly Radcliffe find themselves orphans and with no male heir, their property passes to the next male in line. This happens to be Captain Gideon Radcliffe – a man who devoted his life to serving his country but was recently embroiled in a scandal that saw his ship taken away from him. He doesn’t know how to interact with such young children after so many years of having to keep a tight rein on his ship’s crew, but the girl’s governess, Miss Marian Murray, spies something in him.

She brokers a deal with him that the girls will get to spend one last Christmas in their family home, secretly hoping that he will grow to love them enough to want to challenge their aunt – who is in no way capable of taking care of such young children – for custody. And maybe they’ll both find love in the process.

Thoughts and impressions: Really, before I even started, I should have realised that this book would contain a significant Christian message. I didn’t expect to be whacked over the head with it quite so much, though. As someone born in the more secular Europe and raised by atheist parents, I’m sceptical of religion and religious texts. Sometimes the message bordered on insulting for me – I think at one point Marian wonders how Gideon can deal with all his problems without leaning on God’s love. Those of us who do no turn to God manage perfectly well without him thank you very much. The fact that she pities him because his faith is not strong enough really didn’t sit well with me and led to several frustration-riddled moments.

It is also implied that prayer has an effect. All tests done on prayer have shown that it doesn’t change anything, but the author uses this as prolepsis and often announces future events in the characters’ prayers.

I understand why religion plays a role in the story, but at times the whole thing seemed to revolve around religion and nothing else, which was just too much for me and started to put me off the book.

The children are pretty stereotypical, though fitting different moulds. Dolly is outgoing and boisterous while Cissy is quiet and reserved. They were cute but at times too cliché for my tastes. Occasionally they were blatantly used to further certain parts of the relationship between Gideon and Marian and once or twice their actions or speech felt particularly unnatural.

Gideon and Marian have the communication problem of the year. One of them says something and the other hears the exact opposite of what they meant. I know authors use this technique a lot to further certain situations, but rarely have I seen it used this much.

The book is classed as being a love-inspired historical but for me it’s a clean historical romance. The history doesn’t have much to do with it beyond being a period setting – well, except for the traditions (which were very well researched). The budding romance, however, is everything. Both of the characters are prone to drifting off into endless monologues questioning their feelings, the other’s supposed feelings, the other’s supposed actions, and so on. They do go on! Sometimes I felt that there could have been more of an obstacle introduced as the two “obstacles” that are presented don’t really get much attention when compared with the other.

Also, the synopsis of the book is misleading. It mentions a “battle of wills” but there’s no such thing. The story is about the captain coming to love this new and very different life away from the sea.

I’m sure that Christian fans of a holiday romance read will enjoy this book, but circumstances just weren’t right for me to enjoy this. It wasn’t my cup of tea but I wouldn’t say that it has put me off giving the author a third chance at some point in the future.

Style: I have nothing in particular to say about the style.

Final verdict: Not for me. I could see the good in it but the frustrations eclipsed it. 2 stars

Extra notes: No bad language. No sex.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Pariah by Thomas Emson

A couple of months ago, I went for a snoop around in Waterstone’s. I don’t often shop there as they tend to price their books 3-5€ higher than the other book shop that’s pretty much next door to them, but this time I went in wanting two particular books from the 3 for 2 piles. While I was having a bit of a browse for a third book, I came across this book. The cover immediately caught my attention. As soon as I figured out that the book was going to be about Jack the Ripper (not that hard if you read the bits of text on the cover), I was sold and I knew that this would be my third book.

So I took it home then I did a typical Rea and put it on a shelf. But it reappeared after only a couple of months, so it did well!

Presentation: A large paperback with good quality paper. The font is quite large and well-spaced. There are 455 pages broken down in 120 chapters. Obviously, the chapters aren’t very long.

Story: In 1888, the person known as Jack the Ripper ripped open four females. Unbeknownst to the world at large, each of these females had something that the real Jack needed his ripper to get for him. Jack needs five of these souls to be freed from the prison of his existence, but before he can get the fifth soul, he is tracked down by the people sworn to protect our world from him and imprisoned in a well.
In 1996, Jack managed to find a New Ripper and another four women died in London’s slums – each of them ripped open.
In 2011, Jack reaches out to the evil in a human heart and frees himself from his prison. He needs to find the New Ripper. He needs those souls. And he needs a fifth. Then Hell will reign on Earth.

Charlie Faultless lost two people close to him in those 1996 murders: his mother and his girlfriend. Their losses pushed him to murder, and murder forced him to flee his life in London’s worst slums. Fifteen years later, he’s back with the intent of writing a book about the murders. Little does he know that his return will coincide with Jack’s.

Thoughts and impressions: At the start of the book, I was sold. As I suspect is the case with many people, I find Jack the Ripper to be a fascinating case. He did, after all, go down in infamy. Due to the fact that we know so little about him, this allows authors to let their imagination go wild with ideas for what could have happened, both fantasy- and reality-based. To begin with, I got the impression that the evil entity that has taken on the name Jack was caught in some form of limbo existence. This idea for a plot could have gone so many different ways – for example, he could have been a spirit cursed by witches, or the seers of the book – but it soon became obvious to me that the book was going to go down the religious route.

Originally, I thought that it would be revealed that Jack is an embodiment of Satan, but then the snake in the Garden of Eden comes into play so I knew it couldn’t be that (Satan is a Christian concept, not Jewish, and I know that Christians imply that the snake in the Garden of Eden is Satan, but as Satan is a much more recent concept, this cannot be the case.) Jack’s actual role in everything is actually quite complicated yet at the same time simple enough, and it’s really very well-imagined. This is a different take on religion and the spin on it all is very interesting. Sometimes the plot seemed to take a few liberties, though, that some religious people may not appreciate. I really liked how God was portrayed. When he was first introduced, I just completely overlooked the character as this book does seem to suffer from too-many-character-syndrome (ie, a significant number of characters / names are introduced that do not serve a role) and I found this rather ingenious!

Talking about character introductions, the chapters are very short and jump between PoVs. Some characters only get a grand total of one chapter from their PoV, and they usually have some back story given that then becomes moot when it’s not brought up again. I think that this could have been addressed better to make the story more concise. I firmly believe that a shorter story with a tighter plot is far better than a longer one that’s full of waffling. This particular book learns towards camp-waffle.

There’s a colourful cast of pretty unsavoury characters, with the exception of Tash and Jasmin. The focus is on life in the lowest social class, in the worst slums in London and the story reflects this. It is in many ways a social commentary. In my opinion, the author did a good job of this, portraying most of his cast as unlikeable individuals who are more than happy to call each other names (both to their faces and behind their backs). The narrative is positively rife with bad language, which leads me to wonder just who this book is aimed at. Personally, I’m sceptical when it comes to stories with a religiously influenced plot but at the same time I can’t imagine many religious people really appreciating this. Some of the religious explanations did fall short for me and once the religious element had been fully introduced, I felt the story lost some of its power. The said, I did really enjoy the concept of just what a ripper is.

The narrative bounces about between years, especially towards the start of the book. The passages set in 1888 were quite possibly my favourites as they dealt with the actual events of Jack the Ripper’s spree. Other periods range from pre-history to the present day. An eternal wars seems to have raged between Jack and the people he hunts but he cannot touch them himself so he has to recruit a ripper to take what he needs from the victims. I liked this idea because it affected their interactions and had Jack been able to hunt his own victims, there wouldn’t have been much of a story to tell.

The story leaves off on a point where it hints at some form of continuation in future books, but I think that I’m happy to leave it at that. I still have one question, though: what is this significance behind Charlie having one blue eye and one brown eye? This is never addressed.

Style: Very direct and to the point. The narrative is teeming with bad language. Several c-bombs are dropped and the f-word is used very liberally. It does reflect how language is used in this part of society, though.

Final verdict: I enjoyed this one but did feel that it had room for improvement. 4 stars.

Extra notes: As mentioned, lots of swearing. Sex behind closed doors.

Lord Sunday by Garth Nix

Before we start, Lord Sunday is the seventh and final book in Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series. Obviously I cannot talk about the events in this book without alluding to spoilers in the previous books. I will also be referring to concepts from previous books that will not make sense to anyone who has not read at least part of the series.

I started reading The Keys to the Kingdom probably about six years ago. I adored the ideas presented in the book. Suzy quickly became my favourite character of the year! The fourth book was out already but I had to wait for the publication of the fifth… which then lead to waiting on the sixth… and finally a two year wait for the final book. Considering the fact that Superior Saturday ends on the mother of all cliffhangers, I was at first anxiously awaiting the arrival of Lord Sunday. Publication got pushed back, though, and by the time it was actually released, I was no longer quite so excited about getting the conclusion to this series. I bought it, of course, as soon as I found it in the shop, but it just got put on a shelf. I realised that, really, I ought to read the other six books first to refresh my memory but never had neither the time nor the inclination, so in the end I just decided to go ahead and read it and hope that Mr Nix provides enough clues to jog my memory where necessary.

Presentation:  I have the British edition of this book. It has by far the prettiest cover (in my opinion). I’m going to term it a “squat” book – it’s wider than you would expect to see given the vertical proportions. The font is quite large and well-spaced. There are 376 pages broken down into 30 chapters and an epilogue.

Story: Arthur Penhaligon is nearing the end of the quest set him by the Will of the Architect. He has defeated six of the seven trustees, taken the keys that give them their power, and freed the first six parts of the Will. Both Saturday and the Piper have launched attacks on the highest level of the house. Now he must go to the Incomparable Gardens and take on Lord Sunday.

While Arthur makes his final stand against Sunday, Suzy is dealing with the results of Nothing eating at all the lower areas of the House while Leaf is dealing with the aftermath of the actions Saturday set in motion on Earth.

Thoughts and impressions: This book picks up exactly where Superior Saturday left off: when Arthur fell through a hole in the ceiling of the upper house, potentially falling to his death thousands of feet below. Throughout the book there were enough clues to past events to allow me to piece together the more important parts of the series that I’d forgotten about.

Lord Sunday has always been a bit of a mysterious figure in the previous books. His name was bandied about a bit but he always seemed to keep to himself, unlike the penultimate villain, Saturday, who was always sticking her nose in Arthur’s business as of the very first book (if memory serves – and considering it’s probably been 4 or 5 years, memory might not serve).  I’m not sure whether this leads me to consider Saturday the real villain of the piece. Even in his own book, Lord Sunday doesn’t receive any real fleshing out of his character and even his appearance is never described. I always got the feeling that he was on the verge of revealing some big secret to Arthur, but never quite managed to get there.

There are a lot of mythological references in the whole of the series (ex: Arthur Penhaligon = the chosen one = (King) Arthur Pendragon?), including many biblical references. Each of the seven trustees represents one of the seven deadly sins: Mister Monday = sloth; Grim Tuesday = greed; Drowned Wednesday = gluttony; Sir Thursday = anger; Lady Friday = lust; Superior Saturday = envy; Lord Sunday = pride. And I felt that Sunday’s pride kept him from really bringing Arthur into the fold of his plans, thus making him an obstacle because, even though he may be privy to information that Arthur (and the reader) is not aware of, he is unwilling to actually share this information.

By this time in the series, Arthur has lost all of his humanity from wielding the magic of the house, and watching him dealing with his sudden rages was interesting from the point of view of the evolution of his character. Even the affection he still feels for Elephant, a stuffed toy from his childhood, is very well portrayed, especially when circumstances lead him to accidentally bring Elephant to life as a Nithling.

Nothing, a mythical substance that pretty much deletes anything it touches from existence, is encroaching on all of the remaining areas of the House at a phenomenal rate, and while Arthur is facing Lord Sunday, Suzy has to make her way back to Dame Primus and her other allies. Suzy has always been my favourite character in this series! She’s so spunky and bossy and just fun! She makes new allies and meets up with old friends. One of these eventually includes Leaf, who had been trying to look after Friday’s victims but was forced to seek professional help to look after them after Saturday’s Noon ordered the bombing on the hospital (I never expected that to actually go through!) before being kidnapped by Sunday’s Dusk. Poor Leaf. Leaf also brings Daisy, a creature from the Incomparable Gardens, into the fold and Daisy is quite possibly the best newly introduced character in this book! The chapters alternate between Arthur, Suzy and Leaf until Suzy and Leaf join up with each other and then the point of view will often change within their shared chapter.

To say this book was pretty long – at 376 pages, I’m pretty sure it’s the longest book in the series – I didn’t get the feeling that all that much actually happened. There was very little action until it all happened at once towards the end and some of the shock things concerning the Will and the trustees had been obvious for a few books now. That said, the ending was a very interesting twist and not one that I saw coming – this is always good!

Style: Relatively simple but appropriate for the intended audience.

Final verdict: Maybe not what I was expecting in the long run, but definitely a fun – not to mention pretty open – ending. Very enjoyable final book in the series. 4 stars.

Extra notes: Aimed at and appropriate for younger readers. I would highly recommend this series for boys!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Book Lover's Giveaway Hop

This hop is hosted by I Am A Reader Not A Writer and Kid Lit Frenzy. There are over 250 blogs participating.

You can find the full list of blogs participating in this hop here.

The fifth of December marks Sinterklaas's arrival in the Netherlands. He comes by boat from Turkey with his helper, Zwarte Piet, and leaves chocolates and presents in children's shoes for them to find when they wake up in the morning. But if the child has been naughty then Sinterklaas will take them away to Spain as punishment! I'm not entirely sure how going to Spain, where the weather is still mild, instead of being in cold, windy Holland is a punishment, but hey!

Anyway, to celebrate this gift-giving holiday I decided to be part of this blog hop. My giveaway is international so long as The Book Depository ships to your country. There will be one winner. Winner may choose one book from those listed below. Winner will be contacted within 48 hours of the end of the giveaway and will have a further 48 hours to respond before a new winner is drawn. I have tried to make the selection as broad as possible to encompass as many tastes as possible.

To participate you must fill in the Rafflecopter below. I would prefer if you use a nickname as your "name" as others can view this info. All other info is private.

To find out more about each of the books, you can click on the text links under the images.

Please note: Firethorn, Heart's Blood, Mistress of Rome, Sword in the Storm, Twelve and Unclean Spirits all contain at least some form of sex scene. This said, I would consider them all suitable for 16+ readers.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

This review first appeared as a guest post on my friend Tara's blog,Basically Books.

Who am I?
My name is Rea. I’m a 23-year-student and blogger and a British expat from the Netherlands. I joined the blogging community at the start of the summer. My blog is Rea’s Reading and Reviews I review most of what I read on there and I read a bit of everything depending on my mood at any one time.

Tara and I are part of a Goodreads group called Basically Books! (yes, it was named after this blog!) Our group has been holding an autumn reading challenge where each participant has to read books from their friends’ favourites shelf. My pick from Tara’s shelf was Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey. So when Tara told me that she was looking for guest posters, it was obvious to me that this would be the perfect choice for my guest review.

The book is one that I had been aware of prior to the challenge. In fact, I’d bought it mere days before the challenge started so when I found out that Tara had read and enjoyed it, I knew I would pick this book from her shelves, even though our reading tastes are sometimes very different. I seem to be going through a reading phase where I gobble up books about ghosts so I found myself rather excited about the prospect of reading this book!

What’s it about?
Violet’s mother is a medium in London in the late 19th century. She goes to great lengths to put on the best paranormal show money can buy and Violet has been helping her in these schemes to trick the rich out of their money for years now.

When Lord Jasper invites Violet’s mother and her little entourage to put on a big show for the toast of high society, Violet, her mother, their maid (a former prostitute), and Colin (a jack of all trades who Violet’s mother rescued from the streets some years previously) head out of the city and into the country to the large manor house where this séance will be held. As always, her mother captures the interest of those present with the little tricks to ensure a show to any and all present, including the young man she’s hoping will ask for Violet’s hand, but Violet has bigger problems than their lies. It would seem that she really does have a gift and one ghost in particular is adamant that Violet will help her… or she’ll make her life difficult until she does.

Who is it aimed at?
Young adults. Violet is 16, Colin is 18. It is clean.

What did I think about it?
This book provided an interesting look into séances in that period. They were really quite popular at the time and provided the rich with something interesting and different to distract them. Actually, I’ve read a few books recently that have included séances in this period and it’s interesting to read about what lengths the mediums were willing to go to in order to get the desired effects. A large amount of research must have gone into being able to recreate (if only in a literary sense) these Victorian secrets.

I quite liked Violet herself. As an illegitimate daughter, she can never aspire to the heights of upper class society, and she knows this. She’s pretty much the antithesis of her mother who is conniving, wrapped up in her lie of a life, and always wants to be the centre of attention. Violet is humble and does not like this life they’re living, often feeling remorse for the tricks she has to play, but she understands that they do need to do this in order to stay out of the mills.

The ghosts were interesting, though most of them were ignored because Violet didn’t want to let them in. The provenance of Violet’s abilities is unfortunately completely ignored; they’re just suddenly there, but the descriptions of Rowena make up for it. I adored these. Despite this, as the reader I would still have liked to have come to understand how and why Violet has the third eye.

There were multiple scenes and subplots in the story that didn’t really seem to have any impact on the story as a whole. I think they were there to bulk it up but every scene should add to a final picture. One such scene was when Elizabeth, Violet’s friend and the daughter of a member of the ton, is introduced. That scene just seems to exist and doesn’t add to the story at all. The same thing can be observed with the whole subplot that has Elizabeth drooling over Frederick. Nothing ever comes of this – this is no resolution one way or the other, it just exists and then the book’s finished. Again, it can be seen in the passages when Violet meets her dad. It never evolves past her actually meeting her dad, there is no point to this subplot and had it not been included, the story would not have suffered for it. I have to admit that this tendency bothered me when I was reading.

Words cannot express how relieved I am that Harvey did not try to introduce a love triangle. The courtship with Xavier felt real in how awkward Violet was but how she knew she could not afford to say no to such a potential rise in her status in society. At the same time, the budding romance with Colin was not quite so satisfying. It was cute, yes, but in the scenes prior to Colin kissing Violet, Violet never thinks of him as anything other than the boy she grew up with, but then she’s suddenly thinking about him as the boy she’d rather be with. I would rather have been offered a glimpse into how the feelings evolved, or her surprise at him kissing her and then a re-evaluation of her own feelings for him. That didn’t happen. The chapter just ended and then after that it was accepted as given that she liked him now. Again, this bothered me.

Despite this, the story itself was a fun, quick read and managed to both capture and hold my interest. It frustrated me that so many plot points were never addressed properly when this book appears to be a standalone, but it ended on a note where the main plot was neatly tied up.

4 stars

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

This is a book that I’ve owned for a long time but had just never got around to reading up until now. It came to my attention around the same time that it was published so I probably purchased it back in 2004. At the very least, my copy has an Ottakar’s stick on it so I must have bought it there (probably the one in the Ridings Centre in Wakefield – ah memory, how well you serve me!) - before the takeover by Waterstone’s (which seems like a life time ago now but was really only back in 2006.)

This is a fate that quite frequently befalls my book purchases. Some books I will read as soon as they’re in my possession but others will go onto a shelf and don’t see the light of day again until they’re unearthed, seemingly at random, several years later. This one actually got a reprieve when my mum discovered, read and enjoyed it at some point after I left home. She then sent it on to me about four months ago. When this book was chosen as one of the monthly reads in my Goodreads group, it was the perfect excuse to finally force myself to get around to reading it.

Presentation: A large paperback made of good quality paper. There are 268 pages broken down into “233” chapters. The narrator does not like the idea of using a normal counting method for his chapter headings so he chooses to use a sequence of prime numbers instead. The book also includes several graphs, diagrams and drawings.

Story: Christopher Boone is 15 years old and he has Asperger’s syndrome. This means that intellectually he is a genius but he is incapable of normal human interaction. One night he finds his neighbour’s dog dead, rammed through with a garden fork. Christopher liked Wellington the poodle so he decides to do some detecting to see if he can find Wellington’s murderer.

Thoughts and impressions: After having read several books with soppy or flowery narrators, this book was a complete breath of fresh air. Christopher does not see the world the same way as a normal person does and as a first person narrator this means that the voice of the story is very different to any other that I have read. The idea is that Christopher has decided to chronicle his investigation (with support from his class teacher) so he really is telling his own story.

Towards the start of the book, Christopher explains that he understands the emotions behind :) and :( but anything more complicated than that goes straight over his head and he has to rely on knowledge of what he thinks the facial expression should mean. He can’t read people’s emotions. He can’t understand implicitations in speech (cf Grice). He does not like being touched. He has little routines that help him get through his day and he does not like it when there are factors that intervene and upset his timetable. I liked all of the little snapshots into Christopher’s mind, like how he likes the colour red but he avoids anything that’s yellow or brown; how he can’t eat food that has touched another type of food on the plate but it doesn’t matter if the different food items touched before they were on the plate. It was a very informative look into how things are for an autistic person. Considering the fact that the author has worked with autistic children, this is also a very informed look into this sort of life. The reactions of the people around him are always realistic too. I particularly liked the elderly neighbour with the dachshund.

There were plenty of scenes that were very emotionally powerful for me, especially the scene where Christopher is taking the underground. I felt completely overwhelmed by the situation right along with him. Another thing that I found to be very interesting was the addition of what I’m going to term ‘side chapters’ where Christopher would explain a moment from his life, a scientific theory or maths problem. Some of these interrupted the flow of the story, but others really added to it. In particular, I liked his ideas about the images we see in the stars and how Orion the hunter could just as easily be a T.rex – I had to stop and laugh at that bit. It is, however, obvious that the book is now a little dated as some of the scientific theories presented have now ‘evolved’ from the one presented by Christopher. I feel that, despite them digressing from the main plot, it was very important to include all of these passages as science and maths are Christopher’s main interests so obviously he would want to talk about them in the same way that a protagonist who wants to grow up to be a professional singer and dancer would refer to singing and dancing a lot.

Style: Christopher tells it like it is. He basically reports everything that goes on around him, both his thoughts and what people say to him. Because of the way the world works for him, he only ever uses the tag “said” – and then I said, and then he said, and I said, and then he said, etc. Eventually it got to the point where I’d skip over that bit, but at the same time it was such a refreshing change from all the whispers, murmurs, growls, grumbles, stammers and everything else that litter the tags now instead of using the perfectly good said.
(Just to be clear, I don’t think said should be used all the time, but I also don’t think that said should be avoided at all costs and replaced with a multitude of other verbs. There is a healthy balance.)

Final verdict: I really enjoyed this read. It was a refreshing change and I feel ready to go back to the murky waters of purple prose. The author recognised that this book could not be a long one and, for me, 250 pages was the perfect length. I feel that I could not have read this style in a much longer book without starting to get frustrated with it. 4 stars

Extra notes: As mentioned, Christopher reports everything around him, especially in speech. This means that there is a lot of swearing in this book, including one use of the c-word. There is no sex.

Extra extra notes: Christopher talks about The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle in one of the chapters. This contains spoilers for the book so you might want to read that one first… although I have to admit that I’ve now forgotten everything I read about it. But it’s possible that it would come back to me when reading the book.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Follow Friday - 11/11/11

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee and Alison can read. Each week participants are given a prompt. This week's is:

Q: In light of 11.11.11 and Veteran’s Day tell us about your favorite soldier and how he or she is saving the world. Fictional or real life.

I've had a think about this an I'm not really sure. I don't tend to watch many war films or read books about soldiers. No one on my dad's side of the family was ever sent to the front lines in either war as they were farmers and needed to run their farms. I think my mum's mum's uncle lost his life in the First World War, so I could thank him for giving his life to ensure the rights of the generations to come. As 11/11 is about remembering those who lost their lives during that horrible time, it would be fitting to honour him in such a way as well. But I don't even know his name.

So I'm also going to thank Captain Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson), Private Baldrick (Tony Robinson), Lieutenant George (Huh Laurie), Captain Darling (Tim McInnerny), and General Melchett (Stephen Fry). Especially George for going out into the mine fields and painting the German troops with all their elephants.
(You won't understand that joke unless you've seen the series.)

The Mermaid's Madness by Jim C. Hines

This is the second book in a series. I have tried my best to not touch on any points that would spoil the plot of the first book but do have to mention the (obvious) ending and one major plot thread in passing.

I read the first book in this series, The Stepsister Scheme, about a year ago. I’d found a recommendation for it on a blog that I followed at the time and was immediately intrigued. Drawn mostly by the fun but spunky cover art, I purchased it and read it almost as soon as it had been delivered. Though I enjoyed the overall story, I felt like it dragged in places. Despite this, I still wanted to know what happened next so I went out a few days later and bought the sequel… then The Mermaid’s Madness spent the next twelve months sitting on my shelves, watching forlornly me until I was forced to take refuge away from my own living room, which had been invaded by various people who were complaining about me just being in the way, and this was the book I picked to accompany me to my attic reading sanctuary.

Presentation: Mass market paperback. The font is small but spaced. There are 339 pages broken down into 18 chapters.

Story: A year has passed since we first met Danielle, Talia and Snow, aka Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. It is time for the undine, mermaids, to migrate to their breeding grounds for the summer but when the human royal delegation is met with a new undine royal, things quickly unravel. It soon becomes obvious that Lirea, the new undine queen, has murdered both her father and her older sister in recent months. She has taken control of the tribe, announcing that she means to return the undine to their rightful position as rulers of the seas and that they will sink the ships of any nation that does not pay a gold tribute. In the scuffle that ensues, Lirea stabs Queen Beatrice with an enchanted knife, severing her spirit from her body. Neither body nor spirit can survive long separated from the other so Danielle, Talia, Snow, and Lirea’s little sister Lannadae must set out to wrest the knife from a mermaid gone mad.

Toughts and impressions: As mentioned, I enjoyed the first book of the Princess series but felt that it dragged at times when it lost my attention. This second book worked much better for me – maybe it was because I preferred the setting (the sea here vs. Fairytown in the previous book) but I’m more inclined to think that it’s probably because the plot seemed more concise in this one.

Jim C. Hines takes elements from the traditional fairy tales and plays with them, taking them closer to their darker roots, because in life we don’t always get our happily ever after. So Danielle, Cinderella, is probably the luckiest of the characters. Even though her husband was kidnapped in the first book, she and the other princesses managed to rescue him. Talia, Sleeping Beauty, was not awoken by the chaste kiss of her Prince Charming, and Snow’s seven dwarves were a far cry from the jolly men who work in a mine and sing a happy song. In this book we also meet Lirea (anagram of Ariel in case you hadn’t noticed) who begged her human prince to marry her so that she too could assume permanent human form. He refused her and she killed him, shattering her sanity. Not quite “and they lived happily ever after.”

Each of the three princesses brings her own personal added extra to the fold: Danielle can talk to animals; Talia is proficient in combat; and Snow is a sorceress. They all also have very different voices: Danielle’s tends to be caring and pragmatic; Talia’s is guarded and always on the verge of a violent outbreak; and Snow’s tends to be light-hearted fun. Considering the parody nature of these books, I think Snow’s is my favourite voice. Also, Snow was the character who seemed to undergo the biggest character growth in this book. There was a lot of focus on her coming to control her magic powers but also facing the reality of what she’s doing to others with them (I adored the passage about the ship’s cook refusing to make breakfast after the peas, screaming in agony, had tried to climb out of the pot the previous evening.)

I found Lirea to be an interesting foe because of the way that she could never really control herself what with the voices of her madness whispering to her. I much preferred her to the stepsisters in the first book. I’ll admit that I also felt sorry for her because, despite her actions, she is ultimately the victim of other people’s madness and prejudices.

Style: On the whole, light-hearted. It is engaging and soon draws you in.

Final verdict: I’m definitely a fan of this one and will be finding the time to read the third book, which I already have, when possible – hopefully before autumn 2012! 4 stars

Extra notes: One or two cases of mild swearing. No sex. Themes of homosexuality and coming to terms with it (also present in book 1.)

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Give Thanks for Good Books

This post is part of a giveaway hosted by Beth Revis, author of the awesome Across The Universe (if you haven't read this yet, you should. You can find my review here.) You can find out more about this giveaway here

Well, this question left me somewhat stumped. As an avid reader, there are a lot of books that I could put here. So, do I put the book that got me back into reading last year? Do I put the book that renewed my faith in YA fiction? Do I put one of the books that left me in a flood of tears? Or do I put one that left me with a silly grin on my face? There are just too many to choose from! And then it came to me. It should have been obvious all along.

As you may or may not be aware, I moved country when I was 13 years old. Now, 13 isn’t a great age to undergo such a change. You need your friends at 13 and where I was, not only was I in a different country where people spoke a different language (and very little English) but I was also in an area renowned for being cold towards anyone not from their region. They don’t call them “the wooden heads” for nothing! Of course, I soon made new acquaintances, but these people already had their own friends and the language barriers only meant that I felt the loss of my old friends even more keenly. This wasn’t a good time for me personally or for my family as a whole as each of us was suffering from the same fate. I felt alone – the only things I had left to turn to were my dog and my books. Because I no longer had friends to hang out with at the rec (a big playing field in the village where I grew up – also had a swing set) after school, I threw myself into reading. In those first few months I spent most of my time reading or sleeping – being surrounded by a foreign language all day really takes it out of you and most days I would be in bed by 8pm! But one book in particular really helped. It was a book that I had already read a few times but it became the image of my last link to the life I’d left behind. It became a lifeline. I read it over and over. Even now, though it’s probably been at least six years since I last read it, I still view it with reverence and awe. The book was lost for a couple of years when I leant it to my brother and he did that thing where you put your book down somewhere then forget where and it doesn’t resurface until years later. This one just happened to resurface over this past summer. It’s now back with me, where it belongs. So I’m thankful for this book, for helping me through my darkest hour.

Which book? Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond.

And because my dog was such an important part of my life at this time as well, here's a photo of my beloved Rosa. RIP. I miss you. <3

Friday, 4 November 2011

Follow Friday - 04/11/2011

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee and Alison can read. This week's prompt is a bit different.

Q: Today’s Question is something new, an activity. We want to see what you look like! Take a pic with you and your current read! Too shy? Boo! Just post a fun pic you want to share.

Here's a snap of me with my current read, Daughters of Rome by Kate Quinn. The light from the French patio doors is a bit strong but I'm afraid I couldn't be bothered to move my PC to the other side of the room! This is actually only one of my current reads but it was the closest one at hand, plus the cover is absolutely gorgeous!!

By Midnight by Mia James

This book must have caught my attention at some point as it was already on my Goodreads to be read shelf, though I don’t remember having put it there! A couple of days ago, I rushed to the station after class but it turned out that my ten minute window was not enough (I usually walk it in 15 mins, so there wasn’t a definite rush going on) and I got there just as the train was pulling out. Now, my train only goes once every half hour and on that particular day I had no reading material with me. So I went into the station bookshop expecting to end up with the most recent National Geographic magazine. Much to my surprise, I found this book instead. I even recognised the cover (presumably from Goodreads). Needless to say, I immediately bought it, without bothering to skim read the back cover to remind myself of the plot, and stuck my nose in.

Presentation: Average-sized YA paperback. The type is small. There are 236 pages broken down into a prologue and 41 chapters, some are short, others relatively long.

Story: After her father lost his job at the Scotsman newspaper, April Dunne finds herself dragged from the life she knew in Edinburgh to a new life of unknowns in Highgate, north London. Things aren’t looking too bright for April: her parents are constantly fighting, there’s been a high profile murder nearby, and she’s been enrolled at Ravenwood – a school for the very bright and the very rich. Though the popular crowd seems to accept her with open arms, she still has her reservations about them – even if she is intrigued by one of the boys, a certain Gabriel Swift. When April finds herself witness to a second murder, where Gabriel was also present, she cannot help but suspect him of the crime. Soon things escalate even further and April finds herself seriously contemplating the existence of vampires at her school.

Thoughts and impressions: Okay, I’ll admit it: at first I was worried that this book would go down the same road as Twilight. I live in constant fear of this these days when it comes to YA books about vampires with romance. It’s true that there was an instant attraction to Gabriel, but there was also an instant attraction to a number of the other boys at the school, so I can forgive this to a point… I’ll come back to this in a bit.

April soon meets Caro, an outsider at the school who does not try to fit in with the popular and the pretty. She’s a conspiracy nut, like April’s father, and the two are soon getting along famously. I liked Caro: she might have been determined to see looming shadows wherever she turned, but she was real, raw, and she was right to call April out on her selfishness when she did.

April, at times, could be dense beyond all reason. Her big panicked run through the whole of London? She’d got a stupid idea stuck in her head by then and just wouldn’t let go of it long enough to see sense. This is the only part of the story that really bugged me. The whole time I wanted to reach in, slap her and tell her to get over herself.

What’s more, I couldn’t believe that she never showed an interest in her family’s real surname. Vladescu? A black prince? Old Eastern European royalty? That couldn’t possibly be one hell of a nod in the direction of Vlad Tepes now, could it? That was too much on the “obvious” side for my tastes. For those that don’t know, the suffix –scu is added to names in Romanian to show lineage (or it was, from what I gather the practise has been dropped, much as it has in English) in the same way that the suffix –son is / was used in English: Johnson (son of John) ; Peterson (son of Peter) ; Hobson (son of Hob = Rob) – you get the idea.

I get the feeling at times that the authors have imposed too much of their own culture on April. They makes references to things that were already starting to lose their importance when I was young and I’ve supposedly got 5 or 6 years on this character. Unfortunately I did not stop reading to write these down, but there were a few of them dotted about the book. There were also a number of unfair stereotypes of Scotland (no summer, no autumn, endless cold, etc.) or details bent to fit the plot. April mentions that she’d never seen a fox in Edinburgh. A few years ago, I was watching a nature programme focused on urban foxes in Edinburgh. Now, it’s possible that April Dunne just never saw one, but the narrative makes it sound like they’re not there at all.

The story does not focus on the budding romance between April and Gabriel. In fact, Gabriel does not actually figure in the story all that much until towards the end. This in turn means that the romance does sort of come out of nowhere – the two characters don’t really get to know each other all that well before the romance comes into play. April’s instant attraction to him is fine. The fact that they have a whole one, or possibly two, conversations before she’s imagining being married to him is also fine (hey, at 16, I imagined whole relationships with people I barely knew.) But if Gabriel has shown no interest in girls since Lily (you meet Lily in the prologue when she dies), why is he now interested in April? There’s really not enough to the romance. I prefer relationships that build up slowly to ones that are just suddenly in your face. This is one of the latter kind.

So what is it about? It’s about unravelling the three murders (yes, there is a third but I’m not saying who as that’ll spoil it. Suffice to say, it hits much closer to home and makes all of this personal for April) and uncovering the reason behind the seemingly random and yet connected killings. It’s about slowly (and when I say slow, I mean s-l-o-w) coming to terms with the fact that vampires really exist and their existence is only scratching the surface of things. Indeed, much as she may reject the idea, April herself has a very important role to play in all of this. I hope that her family’s secrets, often hinted at, are explored in the second book.  I can’t believe that April hasn’t exploded already and demanded that they tell her, what with all the weak “we should tell her already!” “No, now is not the time!”s that are being bandied about. In fact, April seems to get somewhat one-track minded and ignores all the other things around her (the family name, the secrets, the man in the graveyard, Caro’s own problems (these are addressed once and never brought up again)) in favour of focusing on the vampire angle.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the vampire angle presented in this story. It cannot be said that it’s a new take on vampire lore, but it is presented in an interesting and engaging manner most of the time. The exposition dialogues with Gabriel did not go down so well, as Gabriel sort of felt like an actor reading out his lines at this point. I just wish that more time had been spent on other things as well, such as those mentioned above and less time on endless inner monologues. Also, when the villain was finally revealed, they did that James Bond villain thing where they list all of their crimes. I’m not a fan of this style of revelation.

Style: Sometimes clunky, sometimes superficial. There are a lot of unnecessary paragraphs that just seem to go on and on and on and… The author’s strong point is describing emotions: when disaster struck and April felt like her whole world was falling apart, I was feeling it right along with her.

Final verdict: Though I enjoyed the book to a point, it wasn’t one of the best bits of YA lit that I’ve read this year and it was far from being one of the worst. I’m wavering between 2 and 3 stars, but I’m feeling nice today so 3 stars.

Extra notes: There are some ‘bloody’s and other forms of milder swearing, but I don’t think language use got much worse than that. No sex.