Wednesday, 31 August 2011

On The Horizon - September 2011

So, we have one more day of August... one more day of "summer"... one more day of freedom before the heavy weight of studying responsabilities come to weigh on your shoulders again. But a new month means new book releases on the horizon! The following are books that are on my horizon in September 2011.

Books that I will be buying at some point in the future that are scheduled for release next month:

I have this thing for Greek mythology. This is another author bringing it to the new generation of readers. If this book lives up to the barrier set by the Percy Jackson series, I will be a very happy bunny!

I have no particular reason for wanting this book beyond that I want it. And man, do I want it!

Homicidal imaginary friend? Sounds like my kind of teen horror! I have high hopes for this book.

Books that I am considering buying that are scheduled for released in September 2011:

The concept seems interesting and intriguing but apparently that is let down somewhat by the plot being a bit all over the place in the second half of the book. I'm mulling over making this purchase.

An urban fantasy title. I keep trying urban fantasy but usually it doesn't really interest me the way I wish it would. The idea here seems interesting, if not entirely original. At least, from what I gather, the vampires are how vampires are supposed to be and not lovey dovey sex machines.

This story sounds like the story of ideas that originally drew me to the lighter side of the fantasy genre. I'm very intrigued by this one and knowing me, I'll probably end up with a copy at some point.

This is one that I keep seeing absolutely everywhere at the moment. I've seen it so much that I can't help but be drawn to it. Another one where I expect I'll end up with a copy of it for one reason or another.

The author has based the stories for this series on real crimes that have taken place and made them more approachable and understandable for a YA audience. I like this idea, though I'm not sure how I feel about snooping sisters getting to the bottom of everything.

So that's what's on my horizon for September 2011. What's on your horizon?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books On My TBR List for This Autumn

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the broke and the bookish. This week the list is the top ten books you've got your eye on for this upcoming "fall season". All of the books on my list are released between September 23rd and December 23rd, as in the original list.

In no particular order:

10. Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber
This is an author that I've come across once or twice, but up till now I haven't read any of her books. This one is described as being: "The Picture of Dorian Gray meets Pride and Prejudice, with a dash of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." How could I resist? The answer is: I can't.

I read the first book, India Black, earlier this year and really enjoyed it. I've already got this book on preorder and I'm looking forward to getting my mitts on it come October.

8. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
I saw the word "X-Men" in the synopsis and I was sold. I'm so easy to please!
(As a side note, the concept seems intriguing too.)

7. Half-Blood by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I fully expect this one to be more or less a retelling of Vampire Academy but with gods instead of vampires. I'm hoping that it'll be better than Vampire Academy, though!

6. The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff
Read the synposis and I bet it'll be on your TBR list too! Plus, check that cover! I haven't read her first book yet, but I will do as soon as the American paperback is made available here.

5. Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
I adore all things Dexter. It's one of the few American comedies that I really do find funny because of the author's skills at subtle dark humour. This is one that I will definitely be reading, but I won't be buying it until it's released as a paperback.

4. A Crimson Warning by Tasha Alexander
The sixth book in the Lady Emily series. Historical murder mystery with a touch of romance. Ever since I discovered the Lady Julia series by Deanna Raybourn, just my cup of tea! I really enjoy this series, though this is another book where I'll be waiting until the paperback is released.

3. The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens
I read the first book in The Graveyard Queen series, The Restorer, earlier this week. I adored it. I cannot wait to get my hands on this sequel! I'm a bit confused as to when it's actually going to be released - official date is 18th October - but I can't preorder it for then from any sites, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be then!

2. Kingdoms of Dust by Amanda Downum
The third book in the Necromancer Chronicles. I really enjoyed the first book in this series. I still have to read the second book, but I'm sure I'll love it just as much. I'll be buying this one as soon as it is available.

1. Killing Rites by M.L.N. Hanover
The fourth book in The Black Sun's Daughter series. One of my favourite UF series at the moment. Another one that I'll be snapping up as soon as it's released.


Added extra: Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning
This one was released back in January, but the paperback isn't going to be released until October. I'm already impatient and am having to stop myself from cracking and going out to buy the hardback!


And there you have it for me.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

Ok, so I was suckered into buying this one by the purdy cover and intriguing synopsis. Ghosts seem to be the next big thing in paranormal literature; I’ve seen a few titles recently released or about to be released that focus on a ghostly element. So why did I choose this one over the others? Well, the graveyard aspect caught my attention… and the murder mystery behind it. I do like me a good murder mystery from time to time!

When the book arrived, I realised that it’s published by MIRA, who also publish Deanna Raybourn, raising my expectances just that little bit more. The fact that it’s the start of a new series, with two more books lined up for publication in the near future, also caught my attention. I plunged into this book expecting the very best.

Presentation:  A large paperback (as is usually the case with MIRA) with medium-sized font that is well spaced. There are 376 pages broken down in 41 chapters and an epilogue. The chapters are of differing lengths, but they don’t tend to be too long.

Story: Amelia Gray saw her first ghost when she was 9 years old. Since then, she has lived her life following her papa’s four rules:
1)      Never acknowledge the dead.
2)      Never stray far from hallowed ground.
3)      Never get close to the haunted.
4)      Never, ever tempt fate.

She is a cemetery restorer, her life devoted to restoring graveyards to their former beauty without causing any lasting damage. She was recently hired to restore Oak Grove Cemetery, an old cemetery dating back to pre-civil war era in places that has been allowed to fall into ruin. But before she can really start her work, a body is discovered in one of the graves. The still fleshy body of a girl who went missing mere days before. A body that did not belong in that grave.

Amelia is called in to help on the case in the hopes that in her preliminary photography work, she may have spotted something that will help catch the killer. The only problem for Amelia is that the detective who has brought her in on the case in haunted. The ghosts of his lost loved ones follow him, leeching the warmth and joy of life from him. And Amelia’s rules say that she should keep her distance from the haunted. Still, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to John Devlin, despite the dangers she knows that she’s putting herself in when the ghosts become aware that she can see them. Especially when dark shadow creatures start coming after her.

As more bodies are unearthed and the epitaphs and symbols on the headstones seem to become important to the case, it is evident that Amelia Gray may be the only one able to decipher the clues and stop the killer.

Thoughts and impressions: This story has a lovely, wide and varied cast of fragile people who are all broken in one way or another. Amelia is sheltered, scared of going too far from the boundaries she’s set on her own life; Devlin is carrying the weight of the loss of his wife and daughter; Camilla is hiding a secret that could cost her the position she holds in the university; Temple is just weird, a bit eccentric; Ethan is dealing with an aging father and his father is still haunted by the drawn out death of his wife some fifteen years previously; Daniel is carrying around the evidence of attempted suicide…

All of these characters, excepting Amelia, were students at the university when Afton Delacourt was murdered and Ethan’s father, a teacher there, implicated as the murderer. But someone high up swept Afton’s murder under the rug and no one will talk about it now, all of these people becoming cagey whenever Amelia asks anything about the death. There are secrets being hidden, and they are certainly well hidden and though I enjoyed Amelia trying to get to the bottom of this situation, sometimes her conversations with her friends sounded more like a police interrogation than anything else.

I liked the portrayal of ghosts. Not so much tethered here by unfinished business, but more because they don’t want to let go of the living, and they suck the life, the energy, the vitality from their victim without them ever knowing.

For a long time, there’s an awful lot of repetition from Amelia as she keeps telling herself that she should not let Devlin into her life, she should get out of this before she upsets her ghost situation anymore… and it goes on and on. There’s too much repetition there and I didn’t really like it. I got the point the first twenty times, I don’t need to hear it another twenty. There are also questions still left unanswered, so I hope that the author will be tackling those in the books to come. There are also big information dumps about cemeteries towards the beginning. These are done in dialogue in the guise of Amelia explaining the symbolism to Devlin, which I can readily accept – it’s certainly better than Amelia going into an internal monologue about it! The author certainly did her research about the history of this symbolism and I found a lot of the information very interesting. I’m looking forward to finding out more in the following books!

Style: First person perspective. As mentioned, there are repetitions and info dumps. There are also some clunky bits but these are easily overlooked. The author definitely knew how to keep me on the edge of my seat – there were some genuinely spooky moments! I could feel my heart starting to beat faster as I was reading, so I think it’s fair to say she knows how to build tension.

Final verdict: This came close to a five star read for me. I really enjoyed it, a lot more than I expected to. I had to force myself to put the book down at times so I could cook and clean and pay attention to the boyfriend but I really didn’t want to be doing any of these things… I wanted to be reading! In fact, it was so close that I’m just going to round up. 5 stars.

Extra notes: Language didn’t stick out to me. Sex… sort of takes place, though not in any detail, from the PoV of an outsider observer. Some intimate scenes with the hero and heroine. More aimed at adult readers than YA.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books You Loved But Never Wrote A Review For

A top ten list hosted by the broke and the bookish. This week it's the top ten books you loved but never wrote a review for. I'm going to have to have a bit of a brainstorm for this.

In no particular order:

10. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G.W. Dahlquist
I read this book in my final year of my first bachelors. It took me absolutely ages to read because the chapters were so long and it felt a bit like a real editor had not been let loose on the book. It needed cutting down and there was a lot of info that wasn't necessary, but this book completely blew me away. The idea that a person's memories and desires can be stored in these little blue glass books and that society can be completely ruled by them really appealed to me. On top of that I was rather fond of the heroine and the two heroes. I passed the book on to family members to read, but I'm not sure any of them ever read it!

9. The Awakening by L.J. Smith
I read this one about six months before I started writing reviews, by which time it was too late to go back and write a review for it. Shame, as I would have absolutely ripped this one apart.

8. The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt
I have no excuse for this one. I read it about a month ago but never got around to writing a review for it. I've read several books since and my memories of this book are not clear enough to write a proper, in depth review for it. A shame as it is a pretty good book for younger teens.

7. L'écume des jours by Boris Vian
Title translated to either Foam of the Daze or Froth on the Daydream. I read this one in troisième when I was 14 or 15. Probably 14. And it was weird. I wouldn't have had the words to review it even if I'd tried.

6. Just William by Richmal Crompton
I read the William books over and over until the pages fell out. I listened to the audio cassettes until they started to go crackly. I lived for Just William between the ages of about 7 and 11. In fact, I had decided that I was going to meet William Brown, push Violet Elizabeth Bott out of the way (he never liked her anyway) and I was going to grow up and marry William. I adored the spots of bother he used to get himself and anyone assoicated with him into.

5. Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder
All of the Study books, in fact. I went from absolutely adoring this author and her story (Poison Study) to feeling she could have done better (Magic Study) to feeling she stole my money from me because she obviously hadn't put any effort into the book (Fire Study). I read the trilogy in my final year of my first bachelors, well before I started writing reviews. This book left me feeling so unfulfilled by the original potential of the trilogy that I felt quite lost for a time!

4. Firethorn by Sarah Micklem
I read this three summers ago, about two years before I started writing reviews. I fell in love with it. I loved the story, the heroine, the setting, the writing. I felt all of Firethorn's emotions with her. I felt her need to bind Galan to herself. I felt her betrayal when he never took her feelings into account even though she knew that, really, she was just a whore. I cannot wait for the final book of this trilogy to be released.

3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
This one I devoured when I was a wee thing of 13. I'd listened to the BBC cast audio version of it prior to reading and had had parts of it read to me by my mother a couple of summers before. When they started to release the films, I wanted to know the whole book before I watched the film adaptations. So I did. This one completely changed my reading experiences. I only wish I'd had the words (and the thought) to write a review of it at the time.

2. Ill Wind by Rachel Caine
Another one where I have no excuse for my laziness. I could blame it on revision but then I was reading this while I was supposed to be revising anyway, so I won't be doing that.

1. Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
I fully intend to reread this book and give it the full review that it deserves. Unfortunately, I read it before I started writing anything more than my thoughts upon finishing the book and as such my review of it is not particularly inspiring. It is, however, one of my favourite books. I would sing its praise, indeed I would!

And there you have it for me.

Heartless by Gail Carriger

One almost sunny evening on June 30th 2011, I found myself in Amsterdam with some time to kill before going to listen to Stephen Fry talk about his new autobiography, The Fry Chronicles. The boyfriend decided that he wanted to purchase a copy of this book prior to the talk, so we headed off to The American Book Center. There, not only did we find Fry’s autobiography, but I also found Heartless staring at me from the shelves. Now, I will admit that I find this cover awfully ugly, but my desire to know what would happen to Lord and Lady Maccon, the infant inconvenience, Akeldama, Biffy, Lyall, Ivy, and so on pushed me to purchase the book against my reservations.

As with most books that I purchase, it ended up sitting quietly on my shelves for a time while I made my way through other books. Last week I decided that it was high time I took on this fourth Alexia Tarabotti book so that I could stow away books 2 and 4 with books 1 and 3 and then conveniently forget all about her until the fifth and (supposedly) final book is released in early 2012. As a bit of a side track, I opened up Heartless and discovered the cover art for Timeless. If I thought Heartless was bad, Timeless really takes the cake! I don’t think that I have ever seen a fantasy cover that I consider that ugly. Each cover seems to have got progressively worse (excepting Blameless. I rather like the cover art on that one.)

I went into Heartless after not having really appreciated Changeless and expected much the same case with this book. With a heavy heart, I plunged in…

Presentation: Mass market paperback. There are 374 pages broken down into a prologue and 17 chapters. Unlike in previous books, Heartless only really follows Alexia’s PoV, though a ghost does get a few paragraphs at the end of some chapters.

*Please note that this is the fourth book in a series and as such lack of knowledge of events in previous books may make this a little hard to follow.*

Story: Alexia, now 8 months pregnant, finds herself agreeing to Lord Akeldama adopting her as-yet unborn child in an attempt to stem the flow of vampire attacks on her person.  However, she also decides that she will be joining the child and taking up residence in the vampire’s humble abode. Her husband, realising she intends to only spend two days a week with him in the pack’s castle outside London, purchases the townhouse next door to Akeldama’s residence to be the pack’s residence in the city.

Newly moved into the new residence, Alexia receives a ghostly warning that the Queen is in danger. Despite her current very pregnant state, Alexia launches into an investigation of just what could be threatening the queen: an investigation that takes her down memory lane and uncovers a few pack secrets that might have been better left undisturbed.

Thoughts and impressions: The plot in this one was a sight better than that of Changeless and Blameless. Unfortunately it still wasn’t that great and some of the more defining moments were based on Alexia uncharacteristically overlooking important things, which was somewhat of a disappointment. I enjoyed her pregnancy and some of the humorous situations that came from it. The best part of the story may have been when Alexia initiated Ivy Tunstell into the Parasol Protectorate. On the down side, she then sent Ivy off to Scotland and she didn’t make another appearance in the book; a shame as Ivy is a fun character. In fact, a lot of the previously important characters took a bit of a backseat for this book: Madame Lefoux only had a limited role as well as Ivy and Felicity was kind of there but ignored most of the time.

The humour remains the same in each book and it is becoming tired rather than really remaining amusing. With this book I noticed that it is often very dependent on similes and usually the images conjured up are more cringe-worthy than actually being funny. The book did, however, contain what is possibly the best quote of the last three books: “By the end, Rafe wore the long-suffering look of an eagle being ordered about by a flock of excited pigeons.” The only laugh out loud moments were towards the start of the book and there were only two or three of them.

I would have liked to have seen an actual resolution to Felicity’s subplot, but, as always, she is just cast to one side and conveniently forgotten about.

Book five is currently planned as being the final book in the series. It’s got to the point where it needs to wrap up so this is probably for the best.

Style: Ok, diving into the humour debate here. This is not British humour. It irks me to see it classed as British humour. I am British, I think I know what my humour is like. I am a firm believer that, though it is possible to come to appreciate another culture’s humour, it is not possible to adopt that humour as your own. Your humour will inevitably be that of the culture that you were brought up in. This is dry American wit. That I didn’t find this particularly funny coupled with the fact that a lot of the reviews I scanned where people claim to have giggled their way through the book came from American reviewers and not British ones, seems to back up my point. I actually found the dark humour in Darkly Dreaming Dexter to be far funnier than the dry wit presented in The Parasol Protectorate.

It has come to my attention that the language in the book is strictly American English because the publishers require it to be so. Why?! Would the poor American audience really be that stumped if they come across “travelled” instead of “traveled”? Because obviously it cannot possibly mean the same thing if the word has an extra ‘l’ in it! What about “the top step” instead of “stoop”? Stoop is actually a word that a lot of British people do not know because it comes from the Dutch word ‘stoep’ (meaning pavement or sidewalk depending on which side of the pond you come from) and entered American English from the Dutch settlers there. Dutch hasn’t had much of an influence on British English so this word is not part of our general vocabulary.  Frankly, it is annoying to be faced with British aristocracy who speak a mix of present day American and period English. It should be one or the other, not a mix of both.

As mentioned, the humour is getting old and isn’t particularly funny anymore. A lot of what is meant to be humorous really just leaves me wondering how on earth anyone could actually find that funny.

Final verdict: Mediocre. Better than books 2 and 3, probably about on par with book 1. I cannot say I really enjoyed it but I didn’t feel like it was a mental slog to get through it either. 3 stars.

Extra notes: Occasional minor language; no sex (due to Alexia being so far along in her pregnancy one would assume). Suitable for older teens and up.

Changeless by Gail Carriger

I’ve had this book sitting on my shelves for almost a year now. I came across Soulless, the first book in The Parasol Protectorate series quite by accident last September. I read and enjoyed the book and immediately ordered in the other two currently available books. Unfortunately, Blameless, the third book in the series, was delivered first and Changeless was to be delayed by up to a week. I wanted another fix and I couldn’t be bothered to wait a week, so I decided I would read books 2 and 3 in the wrong order. Even more unfortunately, I did not like Blameless at all. This put me off the mere idea of reading Changeless and consequently it has been shunned, ignored on my shelves. Until now.

The only reason I picked up this book now is because the fourth book in the series, Heartless, was recently released and for some reason I will not pretend to understand, I immediately snapped up a copy of the book. Before delving into Heartless I wanted to know the events of all the previous books so I chose to ignore my trepidation and give Changeless a whirl…

Presentation: Mass market paperback. There are 374 pages broken down into 14 chapters. The chapters tend to be touching on the long side at approx. 30 pages each.

Story: Lady Alexia Maccon, formerly Alexia Tarabotti, wakes up one evening to find a werewolf army regiment camped on her front lawn, a rude Gamma not aware of her status, and central London hit by some form of “humanisation” epidemic. The vampires and the werewolves are frantic, and Alexia, as Muhjah to the queen, has to get to the bottom of this riddle. When, the next day, she finds that her husband, the Alpha werewolf Conall Maccon, has left for Scotland and his previous, currently Alpha-less pack whom he deserted some twenty years previously, Alexia is notified that this humanisation epidemic is also heading north. Putting two and two together, she realises that whatever is causing the problem must be in the hands of the Kingair pack, the pack her husband is going to sort out.

Seeing no other option, Alexia immediately plans to fly to Scotland on the next dirigible out of London… unfortunately for her, she has quite the entourage foisted upon her before she can leave: Tunstell, her husband’s claviger (a werewolf’s ‘personal servant’) and actor; her insipid and shallow sister, Felicity; and her airhead of a best friend, Miss Ivy Hisselpenny . On top of this already impressive entourage, a new acquaintance, the daring Madame Lefoux, French inventor who dresses like a man, seems to be following them on their trip up north.

But Alexia has no time to worry about this. There is a mystery, and the soulless Alexia needs to get to the bottom of it!

Thoughts and impressions: I like the idea behind this series. Basically, Alexia is a preternatural (as opposed to a supernatural). She has no soul and her touch causes a supernatural to temporarily become human again (or in the case of a ghost, exorcises it). Only people with a natural overabundance of soul can become supernatural (werewolf, vampire or ghost). Due to her lack of soul, Alexia is very pragmatic and can only accept logical answers, being unable to take anything on faith.

The book is not meant to be taken seriously, and it is intended to be humour. I think it’s intended to be British humour, but it’s not. There are very few laugh out loud moments (I think I only laughed out loud once during the whole of Changeless) and the humour often feels forced. It’s good that it’s light, but sometimes it takes the lightness too far and in this case it meant that the story didn’t become interesting for a long time. It took me a whole week to read this book – six days to read the first 174 pages, an evening to finish off the last 200. Once it got to the point where it was interesting, the plot worked quite well, though the villain was obvious and the source of the humanisation problem evident to the reader a good while before Alexia figured it out.
There wasn’t enough Lord Akeldama in this book. He lightens things, plus, who can resist a who-knows-how-old vampire with openly ‘flowery gay’ mannerisms? Not I.

Warning: there’s a cliffhanger ending to this one so you’ll want Blameless at the ready to pick up as soon as you’re done with it.

Style: I hate all the Americanisms in the writing when there is an obvious effort to make the speech sound period British (though the author fails at this too from time to time and uses blatantly modern American language.)  As mentioned, the humour often feels forced and though I appreciate the lightness of the book I do not find it all that funny. I will expand on this point in the review of Heartless.

As a side note, I find it an insult to Jane Austen to compare this work with hers. This work is mediocre at best. Jane Austen’s is an excellent commentary on the society of her era.

Final verdict: The story took too long to get interesting; the lightness was sometimes too light, detracting from the plot; and it just didn’t appeal to me in the way the first book did. Admittedly, I may have gone into this book with some prejudices considering my dislike of Blameless (if I had to read about a British aristocrat talking about “ladybugs” one more time I was going to blow my top) but I still did not really like this one. 2 stars.

Extra notes: Occasional language, though it stays on the light side; several intimate scenes, though it fades out before sex takes place. I would recommend for older teens and up.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

In the interest of honesty, I will admit that this is a series that I have been avoiding. However, this book was chosen for a book club read. As I was given a copy of the book to allow for my participation, I decided to give it a try despite having previously avoided it.

Author: Melissa de la Cruz has managed to forge a cosy spot for herself in the YA market in recent years. She has recently released the first book in a new series about witches, which I had ordered, but the publishers were unable to deliver it. As such this is my first title by this author.

Presentation: Not much that I can say about this as I had a digital copy of the book. All I can say is that the chapters were quite short.

Story: Honestly, there's not really very much that I can think to put about the story. I would copy the synopsis but it is misleading - stating facts that do not occur in the book and giving an incorrect idea of the timeline.
Basically a popular student from an elite school in New York is found dead at a private nightclub, drained of her blood. The hitch? The girl is a Blue Blood, a vampire, supposedly immortal. Without a single drop of her blood left, she is unable to restart her cycle of life. These events force the elder Blue Bloods to induct the younger generation into their society before they normally would have done. They deny the rumour of some more powerful creature preying on the teenage vampires, but for Schuyler this threat is all too real.

Thoughts and impressions: First of all, let me point out that I really liked the idea behind this story. The vampires are all angels, thrown out of the garden of Eden after the war between God and Lucifer. Ever since they have strained to lead good lives, hoping to be allowed to return whence they fell. They live mortal lives in "shells" (bodies) before they return to hibernation as but a drop of blood until they are called to exist again (their blood is implanted in a female Blue Blood and they gestate as a normal human baby would.) Their memories of their past lives and their identities as vampires remain dormant until they reach mid-adolesence. At this point the teen will start to undergo a transformation into their true self. I felt that this was a really interesting and original take on vampire lore.
(The only thing that really did not make sense about the vampires was that the fangs are kept in the wisdom teeth. How does that work? How do you get your wisdom teeth to puncture a person's neck?)
However, this good was completely eclipsed by the bad. A good portion of this came from the style, which I will come to later. What really frustrated me throughout the story was the constant brand name dropping. There was probably at least one per page, maybe even more. I get that the characters are materialistic, but does it really need to be taken to this extent? The author has an obsession with clothes. Even Schuyler, who wears what comes across as tattered rags, has all her outfits described, which is a complete contradiction of her personality. There were often passages that were just endless brand name dropping and I would find myself zoning out. Why make your characters so shallow? so boring? Especially when there was endless potential to make them really interesting as immortals.
Food is another thing that is described in far too much detail. I really do not need to know all of this detail. I have an imagination, thank you very much. I know that the characters are all wealthy members of the uppermost class in New York society - I can imagine what their clothes may look like. I don't need to be bottle fed all of this, I can picture it on my own and frankly the author's lack of belief in me as a reader is insulting.
Another problem is that the characters remain flat with only the very basics of a personality. I do not feel strongly either way about any of them. Not to mention that all of them are unbelievably pretty with faults that aren't really faults. Even Schuyler, wearing her rags, her hair unwashed for two weeks, is handpicked for a modelling agency. The scene where Schuyler actually goes to model seems to be entirely against her personality. But then again her whole character is just one big contradiction.
(Also, the British make up artist with the Cockney accent calling her 'luv'? How stereotypical. Did it annoy anyone else?)
There was just far too much filler in this story and not enough actual story. If fact, I think the story itself could be condensed down into about 20 pages.

Style: The fundamental rule to writing is: show not tell. I think that this author has never heard of this rule. Throughout the book all she does it tell, tell, tell. In chapter 3 she is introducing the character Bliss - the reader gets an information dump about her whole past. All of it could have been shown and not told but one part in particular bugged me the most. We are told that the other kids at the school make fun of Bliss's Texan accent. Why tell this? Why not write it into a scene at the school? At no point do any of the students ever mock her accent. So this is something that the author tells the reader but doesn't bother to back up her claims. The whole story is like this.
On top of this, each time a character is introduced we get whacked over the head with a full body description of their physical attributes, facial features, clothes, style, family history, friendships, etc. etc. etc. And it all comes in information dumps rather than being interwoven into the narrative. The whole book reads like a trigger happy 15-year-old wrote it. I am very surprised that it was published in this state.
The only thing that it has going for it is that it is written in the third person so there are no constant references to how unbelievably hot and perfect and sexy and gorgeous and whatever else some guy is.

Final verdict: The style was one of the weakest styles that I have ever read. It was weaker that Stephenie Meyer's style, and if you know me you'll know much it galls me to say that. The story could have been so good had it not been three quarters about brand names. As it is, I have to give the author credit where credit is due: I have never ever been so bored when reading a book. I was going to give the book 2 stars on the strength of its plot, but then I realised that I've given less to books that are far superiour to this one. 1 star.

Extra notes: No bad language. No sex, though it comes close once and references are made to it.

The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

I read this book for the first time last year after I discovered the author and fell in love with her style. A couple of days ago I felt the irrepressible urge to pick it up again, so pick it up I did.

Author: Deanna Raybourn seems to be rather popular in the USA but if I want to get my hands on any of her books here I have to order them in from the other side of the Atlantic. They're quite expensive, too, but I feel that they're worth it. She's an American author but she makes a very commendable effort to write in British English as her characters thus far have all been Brits. She even changes her sentence structure to be one closer to that of 19th century English. Just part of why I love her!

Presentation: A medium sized paperback of good quality paper. Medium sized, well spaced type. There are 309 pages broken down into 20 chapters of roughly the same length.

Story: Theodora Lestrange has recently lost her grandfather, her only remaining relative apart from her happily married, mother of four (soon to be five) sister. She does not want to find herself lodged with her sister's family and means to make her own way in the world as an established author.
So when her best friend from boarding school invites Theodora to her wedding at her family's castle in Translyvania, Theodora jumps at the chance to go to the land that Cosmina used to tell of when they were girls, hoping to find inspiration for a full-length story there.
Theodora arrives in the Carpathians, at the caste perched on a mountain peak. The master of the castle and surrounding lands having recently died, his heir, Cosmina's supposed fiancé, has returned to settle affairs before meaning to leave again - without having taken Cosmina as his wife.
Despite herself, Theodora finds herself draw to Count Andrei Dragulescu and he seems to be showing interest in her too, even encouraging her interest in him. She feels that it would be a breach of her friendship with Cosmina to go after the man who had refused her friend but as she gets to know the Count better she finds that she just cannot help her attraction.
But there is more than just romance in the air at the Dragulescu castle. The villagers tell of werewolves and strigoi (vampires) living in their mountains. Theodora comes to understand that Translyvania is unlike other places: things happen there that do not happen elsewhere. When one of the servants is found dead, two puncture marks on her neck and her body drained of blood, Theodora finds herself wrapped up in her own horror story.

Thoughts and impressions: I think that I was able to enjoy this book more the second time around than I did the first time I read it. The first time around I was expecting a supernatural horror story; the second time I knew I was going into a mystery novel.
Raybourn's ability to create such a vivid atmosphere of middle-of-nowhere Translyvania, where the locals still cling to ancient superstitions, is admirable. I felt the isolatedness of the castle and the village oozing from the pages. I enjoyed the descriptions of the area - it sounds positively stunning and I would love to visit the Carpathians one day - and the local folklore was fun and interesting to read about. I only wish there'd been more of it! I adore Eastern European folklore.
There are some passages where the narrator is apt to rambling, the sheer length of them making it difficult to retain all the information they offer. The story is also somewhat slow in parts: this frustrated me last year but I was able to appreciate them more this time around.

Style: As mentioned, Deanna Raybourn tries very hard to make her language the British English of the area. She misses some spellings - in particular in this book she often describes things as being 'medieval' instead of 'mediaeval' - but she does extremely well. Her style is not the most sophisticated out there but it is one that suits what I want from a book very well. It is her style that has cemented her a place as one of my favourite authors.

Final verdict: Not perfect and I will not pretend that it is, but the story works very well for me. I really enjoyed the story and the characters, though the slow pace of the story may frustrate other readers. This book is not as good as the Lady Julia Grey books but it is certainly very enjoyable and a solid stand alone. 4 stars.

Extra notes: The language in the book is what I would consider clean. Sex does take place but behind closed doors.

City of Masks by Mary Hoffman

I found this book on my shelves in France partly read but never finished. I bought it so many years ago that I no longer remember what drew me to the book. I decided to give it a second chance and restarted it.

Author: Mary Hoffman appears to be a relatively prolific author writing for younger readers with numerous titles under her belt. This is my first book by her.

Presentation: Fairly large font, well spaced. There are 360 pages broken down into a prologue, 21 chapters and an epilogue. All of the chapters are of roughly the same length.

Story: 15-year-old Lucien has just finished receiving chemotherapy for his brain cancer. He feels weak, he can barely eat  and sometimes he doesn't even have the energy to talk. But when his dad brings him a book to write in in order to communicate, something wonderful happens. Lucien finds himself transported to another time, another place. He is in 16th century Belleza (a Talian city similar to our Venice but in a parallel universe) on a day when none but those born in the city are permitted to be there. Something odd about him catches the eye of another in the city and Lucien soon finds himself faced with the idea that he is a stravagante, able to travel between the two parallel universes with the aid of a talisman.
Lucien is fascinated by this other city, visiting it every night, as he makes friends and learns more about the two realities and how they are linked. But Bellezza is also fraught with political tension: the Duchessa's life is in danger and Lucien finds himself embroiled in the plot.

Thoughts and impressions: The story starts off somewhat slowly and I can see why it lost my attention the first time around. For such an easy read it took me a long time to get through it. The twists and turns are pretty obvious and you can see them all being set up.
I don't like that Enrico doesn't get his just desserts. In fact, with the exception of one person, no one really suffers for the roles they play in the plots. Also, I don't understand why the di Chimicis are just referred to as the Chimicis. You'd never refer to Leonardo di Caprio as just Caprio. But maybe that's just an English ideal set on names from another language. I'd have to ask an Italian to be sure.
The author definitely did her research on Venice and Italian history, imposing her alterations in certain areas (like having a female power over the city rather than a male one, silver being more valuable than gold, etc.) making the concept more interesting.

Style: Very simple. Quite frequently I found that the style tells more than it shows, especially regarding emotions. The two main characters, Lucien and Arianna, are both 15 but I'm sure that the style is aimed at readers younger than that. It is too basic for me to consider it YA as I had originally thought it to be.

Final verdict: Very good idea. Unfortunately the execution left a little to be desired for me and I didn't enjoy it as much as I feel I could have. I would have preferred a little more depth to the narrative even in a book aimed at younger readers. stars

Extra notes: No swearing. No sex. Suitable for younger readers.