Sunday, 30 October 2011

Truth or Dare by Celia Rees

With its broken spine and yellowed, sometimes fragile, pages, this book has seen a lot of love from me. It was first released in 2000 and I know that I read it at least once before we moved to France so I suspect that I read it for the first time when I was 11 or 12 years old. It underwent multiple subsequent re-readings, which was not something I did very often even at that age, so it must have struck a chord with me.

During my most recent shelf clean up session, I found Truth or Dare tucked away behind some other books. This surprised me as I’d thought it was still in France. After so many years I couldn’t remember very much about the plot and so, for reasons I won’t pretend to understand, I decided to revisit my childhood.

Presentation: Average-sized YA paperback with large, well-spaced type. My copy has 227 pages broken down into 27 chapters, but I believe that more recent editions have 30 or 40 pages fewer than mine.

Story: Joshua’s gran has just had a second stroke. Rather than putting her in a nursing home, his mother, Joanna, decides to go and live with her to take care of her. Josh is given no choice but to join her. Far from impressed with this situation, Josh retreats to his Uncle Patrick’s old room in the attic. There he finds a box of items that connect his interest in space and UFOs to Patrick’s interest in these same things. But Patrick is a taboo subject in this household. Gran, no longer quite fully there, drop some hints that maybe there’s more to Patrick’s story than Josh knows and Joanna finds herself revisiting the last year of Patrick’s life, the last year of her childhood.

Thoughts and impressions: The problem with revisiting books from your childhood more than ten years later is that they no longer hold that sense of awe that your memory insists was present all those years ago. It took me about fifty pages to remember what the “shocking twist” at the end was and after that it was all just refreshing my memory.

One of the problems was that, though I may have liked Josh ten years ago (maybe even sympathised with him), this time around his behaviour was at times irritating and voyeuristic (spying on the girl next door sunbathing using your dead uncle’s star gazing binoculars? Just no.) And what was with Katherine’s sudden change of heart? She rightly shows him up at the party but then she apologises for her actions and becomes a permanent fixture in the second half of the book. I didn’t buy that. There were better ways that that could have been handled.

The best bit by far was Joanna’s story of the events of the summer of space madness. This story was more engaging than Joshua’s and gave an interesting look at autism in a time before it was really understood. Any readers of this book should pay attention to the sometimes very subtle parallels between Patrick’s behaviour and his father’s. The grandfather is never portrayed as a sympathetic character but he does have layers that are sometimes only hinted at but expertly portrayed to show a link between him and Patrick.

And finally, the game. It comes in so far into the story that explaining it would mean delving into a whole bunch of spoilers so I’m not going to do that. But it is worth mentioning because at times I just could not follow what was supposed to be happening on the computer screen!

Style: Relatively simple but appropriate for the target audience. The narrative weaves between mostly Josh in the present day but sometimes also Joanna and Joanna in the past. This works well and neither story ever fails to be engaging.

Final verdict: So apparently this book appeals more to the younger reader in my experience. I still enjoyed the read but not as much as I remember having enjoyed it in the past. 3 stars

Extra notes: Aimed at and appropriate for a younger audience.

Faefever by Karen Marie Moning

This is the third book in a series. This review does contain spoilers pertaining to events in previous books.

After finishing Bloodfever I was very glad of my foresight when I ordered all the available sequels in one go rather than getting them one by one. Once I closed that book I literally only took the time to scribble down a few basic thoughts from which I intended to build my review before I opened this one and got back into it. It was at this point that I decided that though I am most definitely not a fan of Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander time-travel romance-with-a-touch-of-faerie, her urban fantasy series had me on the edge of my seat wanting more. I had high hopes that this book would take the story back to the more important arc of the series rather than the subplot explored in the second book.

Presentation: Mass market paperback. There are 370 pages broken down into a prologue and 19 chapters. The font is relatively small but spaced.

Story: Mac now knows how the Sinsar Duhb is travelling around Dublin. And it knows her. She seems to be surrounded on all sides by people who desperately want the book for reasons that are not always clear and they are willing to attack her, abuse her, or try to woo her loyalty to their team. But more important than even the Book, Hallowe’en is coming and if the ancient rituals do not work this year, the barriers between the realms will fall, allowing the Unseelie – ALL of them – to escape their prison and enter into our human world.

Mac has to do everything she can to save mankind.

Thoughts and impressions: Oh yes, definitely much better than book two! When I finished this book, it was all I could do to stop myself from jumping straight into book 4 before I’d even jotted down the basis for a review. What a cliffhanger! All I can say is that I’m glad I’m reading this now and not three years ago when I would have had to wait a whole year for the next instalment. I get the feeling that this book marks Mac’s lowest point in her story. At least, I can’t imagine how it can get much worse than this current situation. In the first book, Mac dropped a prolepsis mentioning that she would have to sell part of her soul in order to be able to resist V’lane’s overpowering death-by-sex Fae sexual appeal. Is this where that soul selling comes into play?

I’m not sure what to make of Barrons right now. I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to view him as a good guy or a bad guy. He certainly has his own secrets that he keeps closely guarded. Who the hell was the dead woman? Though I recognise that he’s going to be the romantic interest in all of this (even if I do occasionally find myself more partial to V’lane – at least he tries), he treats Mac more like a piece of his property than a woman he’s sexually interested in. As she tells him herself, she’s his OOP-detector and what he did to her this time was stooping to a new low. I consider mental violation worse than sexual violation. In Mac’s position, I’d have packed my bags right then and there and left him to find the book without me. But at the same time there are scenes where he presents himself as a very different person. All I know is that I shouldn’t really be rooting for him, but I am.

There weren’t so many light-hearted scenes in this book – but as the book pretty much ends as a dystopian, and represents Mac’s darkest hour, I suppose that’s to be expected. There were however a few of these scenes – in particular when Inventor Mac invents her MacHalo. I loved it and I was laughing right along with Barrons when he discovered her prancing around in it.

Christian, a Scottish druid, and Dani, a fellow Sidhe-seer, have both started to receive bigger roles in this book. They’re both very interesting characters, too. Dani's so full of energy, she's fun, even though she can also be a little frustrating at times. I like Christian and how he forces Mac to reconsider herself at every turn.

And the ending… oh the ending!

Style: Colloquial, but good. When Mac goes on about the things her daddy told her, sometimes I have absolutely no idea what she’s wittering on about, but hey!

Final verdict: It’s got to the point in the series now where I’m sucked in as of the first page and do nothing – don’t eat, don’t drink, very reluctantly nip to the loo – until I’ve finished the book. The ending completely blew me away, though what led up to it was occasionally a bit long-winded. 4 stars

Extra notes: Bad language is abundant in this series. Sex takes place.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

This is a title that I’ve seen bandied about quite a lot over the past couple of years – admittedly usually being entitled superior to Twilight in all ways (though if you know me, you’ll know that I don’t exactly consider this ‘superior to Twilight’ position hard to attain.) The only Swedish lit that I have attempt to read before this was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, but it lost me somewhere in the middle of the long-winded explanation about money laundering or whatever it was. I have, however, seen and enjoyed the Swedish film so I intend to reattempt TGwtDT at some point. So, anyway, Let the Right One In was chose as a book of the month read and this presented the perfect opportunity to finally push myself to read the book. I was interested in seeing how Swedish horror lit differs to American or British horror lit.

Before I bought Let the Right One In all I knew of it was that it’s about a young boy befriending a young girl who happens to be a vampire. As such, I expected to find the book in the YA section at the store. I went in, promptly forgot the author’s name and spent ten minutes looking for it before I gave up and asked the assistant whether they had it in stock. It turns out that I couldn’t find it because it was shelved under horror, not YA! A couple of weeks later, I tucked myself into my reading hidey-hole and opened to the first page. At this point, I didn’t know what, if anything, I was expecting from the book.

Presentation: My copy is a good quality paperback with large pages. The type is relatively small but well-spaced. There are 519 pages and each chapter corresponds to one day between October 21st and November 13th. Not all days have a chapter and some are very eventful so there are multiple chapters (day, evening, night) corresponding to that day. Some chapters are long, others comparatively short.

Story: Twelve-year-old Oskar is not a happy child. He gets physically bullied by three classmates who ensure that no one wants to be friends with him. On top of this, his body seems to betray him, often leaking from every orifice. Miserable, he takes refuge in a life of crime – stealing in order to get a rush.

Then one night his community is rocked by a shocking crime: a murder considered ritualistic in nature. The victim, a boy Oskar’s age, is found hanging from a tree, his throat slit, his body drained of blood. It’s all anyone can talk about. But Oskar has other things on his mind when he meets Eli, the girl who has just moved in next door with her father. Here he sees a chance to make a friend, to be someone other than ‘Piggy’ squealing for the class bullies. Little does he know that Eli is not an ordinary girl; her father is not her father but a man with less than savoury reasons for being with this child, doing horrible deeds to help her – deeds that have the community in uproar, clambering for his blood.

Thoughts and impressions: The book follows multiple perspectives through the events of the three weeks. There are five PoVs that crop up more or less daily and a number of others that come and go; some only appear on one specific day when their story becomes entangled with the whole. Most of the time I had no particular gripes with the PoV changes – especially as all the important ones come together in the end – but occasionally they were changing too fast and focusing on characters that would not reappear. Tommy’s was the only frequently occurring PoV that seemed to remain on a separate level to the main plot; I’m not sure Oskar and Eli are aware of what took place in the basement. I would have liked to have seen more of a conclusion to that bit.

The vampire lore presented in the story is fascinating, a different take on it all. At no point is the reader hand fed any of the lore and they are often left to join the dots or fill in the gaps. Each point is backed up by examples in the story, sometimes quite subtle so it you blink you miss it, others are the conclusion of a very long-winded plot point. Although I shouldn’t really be calling it vampire lore, should I? It is not so much presented as vampirism as an infection that Eli is suffering from and the infected suffer symptoms similar to the accepted effects of vampirism.

Right as of the very beginning of the story my heart went out to Oskar. To be bullied in such a violent manner with no one to turn to must be beyond hard to deal with. It’s easy to see why he latches onto Eli even though she appears dirty and bedraggled. She presents a new chance for him to be someone other than the loner that no one wants to befriend because he gets picked on. His family life isn’t perfect either, though certain points there are never resolved – for an understandable reason, mind, but the story finishes before that plot point is concluded. It took me a while to really warm up to him as a character though, especially with his game. The first time I thought it was really happening and I was wondering about his sanity!

As for Eli… gosh I cringed when I read what happened when Eli became infected. Everything considered, I suppose it should be Eli who is considered the antagonist of the story but she only ever kills in order to survive herself and does seem to feel remorse for her actions. In fact, all of the characters have darker sides balanced by their good (even if questionable) intentions - except perhaps the three bullies. This serves to give the story that much more of a realistic sheen.

I’m not sure if there’s really that much of a difference in the style of the lit itself. Maybe this one was willing to go one step further with certain taboo subjects but there are British and American authors who do the same. The main difference was, of course, the setting. It is obvious that the author is very well acquainted with this setting. He succeeded in portraying the beauty of his country – particularly when Oskar goes to visit his father - but at the same time he created a darker atmosphere to suit the tone of the story. Though filed as horror, for me the horror came a distant second to the social observation in the novel. The author focuses on real problems that every community has to deal with: bullying, paedophilia, alcoholism, broken families. A number of these scenes left me cringing whereas those when Eli is killing did not inspire any tingles of discomfort in me. As a comment on society’s darker sides, this novel shines.

The only thing that didn’t work for me was when certain Swedish words were dropped but not being familiar with Sweden or Swedish culture I had no idea what they were or how I should in turn view the passage where they were situated.

Style: A mix of styles and narrators can be found in this book. Usually the general third person perspective is used – following the story in one character’s head per passage. Sometimes it slips between two or even three PoVs in one passage, though. Occasionally the narration slips into third person omniscient and the tense here tends to be changed to the present to mark the difference. It took a little while for the style to really draw me in but it got there eventually.

Final verdict: I wasn’t completely blown away but I did really enjoy this book. By the time I was half way through, I was ignoring all my other reads because I wanted to know what would happen next in this one! 4 stars.

Extra notes: There might be some swearing, I got to the point where I wasn’t paying much attention to bad language. No sex but there are very strong themes of paedophiliaI would not recommend this book for younger audiences.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Nell Gwynne's Scarlet Spy by Kage Baker

This book was first released as a collector’s edition entitled The Women of Nell Gwynne’s. Considering that it garnered a lot of attention and the author sadly passed away shortly after, the publishers decided to republish it along with an accompanying short story. This was good news for me as it meant that I could get the book that had piqued my interest for less than the $100 asking price for the limited edition. Unfortunately, for a long time the only edition that came up on my book provider’s site was the German one, and my German is far too rusty to attempt to read a book in the language! So I found myself waiting until the English language edition became available. Having forgotten about the book for some time, I recently went back to check on the status only to discover that it was now available for ordering. I, of course, immediately put the order through, excited for what awaited me even though I knew absolutely nothing about the story. Yes, sometimes I get fixated on things that I know nothing about!

Presentation: A large, good quality paperback. The type is small but spaced. The original novella is 122 pages broken down into 18 chapters. There then follows a short story The Bohemian Astrobleme that is approx. 40 pages long and includes breaks in the text but no chapters.

Story: I’m only going to address the story of the original novella here. In The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, Lady Beatrice, daughter of a high-ranking member of the English army, finds herself fallen from grace and unacceptable in polite society after the death of her father. Instead, she turns to prostitution and is soon approached by the madam of a very exclusive brothel that deals only in secrets. When one of their agents goes missing on a mission, the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society (which works hand in hand with Nell Gwynne’s) sends the ladies to an ancient English manor hoping not only to find their agent but also to uncover just what the Lord has been doing with vast sums of money.

Thoughts and impressions: As of the very first lines, this book strikes you. It is probably largely due to the fact that the style is so very formal but at the same time… I can only think to call it in-your-face and cheeky. The main character is always referred to as Lady Beatrice because that is the name that she took for her prostitute persona. The reader never knows what her name was before this, though they do (briefly) follow her through the early years of her life and the events that led up to her decision to sell her body to earn her way.

The author introduces the reader to a steampunk early Victorian society where the underground Gentlemen’s Speculative Society has invented any number of interesting and quirky devices, such as mechanical lenses that allow the blind to see, but do not share their inventions with society at large. At least, not for now. But they do use these inventions to influence society with the help of the secrets that the women of Nell Gwynne’s extract from their high-ranking clientele. Some of the devices are great fun!

But the characters themselves are even more fun. There’s just something about writing about whores that allows the author to present the tight-laced society that they live in and characters that completely contradict everything about that society. Books about whores also always seem to have an undercurrent of dry, sarcastic humour and Nell Gwynne’s is no exception! I’m a big fan of dry humour when it is handled correctly, as it is here. Lady Beatrice always goes with whatever the flow but tries to subtly influence it to meet her means, sometimes with funny or unexpected consequences.

I believe that it was the author's original intention to continue this series of novellas but that life unfortunately did not allow for such. This is a great shame as it could have heralded the start of an excellent series about Lady Beatrice's adventures.

A quick note on The Bohemian Astrobleme: this short story delves more into the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society and the work that they do. It’s about a specific type of meteorite only found in Bohemia that gives a powerful electric shock to anyone who touches it after it comes in contact with a specific type of acid. It is soon ascertained that this red glass would make excellent battery fuel cells. Ludbridge, whom we met in The Women on Nell Gwynne’s is sent to Bohemia with two companions to track the origin of the glass. Lady Beatrice soon joins him and again the reader is treated to a delightful romp through this society with characters who are quiet and others who are too cocky for their own good.

Style: The greatness of this style stems from the juxtaposition of a very formal style and extremely informal situations. There’s just something about describing an orgy and then mentioning that the host had agreed to allow himself to be “fellatiated”!

Final verdict: Great fun. Short but it worked really well. I really enjoyed it, it was a quick read and I’ll likely go back and reread it at some point soon in case I missed anything. 5 stars.

Extra notes: Occasional mild language. The story is about whores so obviously there’s a certain amount of sex involved.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning

Reading Darkfever left me in a crescendo of emotions. As soon as I turned the last page, I desperately wanted to know more about Mac and Barrons and their fight against the Unseelie seeping into their world. I’d ordered this book before I’d even finished the first book and because I was so sure that I’d enjoy the rest of the series, I got books 3 and 4 at the same time so that I wouldn’t have to wait a week between each book!

Please note that this is the second book in a series. There may be spoilers pertaining to events in the first book!

Presentation: Mass market paperback. There are 337 pages broken down into a prologue and 20 chapters. The type is small but spaced.

Story: I’m not really sure how to sum up the plot of this one. Basically, Mac is still aiming to bring down the guy who killed her sister (and she knows who he is now); Barrons is still trying to get his hands on the Shinsa Duh; V’lane is still trying to get Mac to work for him; and the Unseelie are still infiltrating our society – eating away at the city of Dublin, killing its residents or inciting them to kill each other.

So what’s new? When detective O’Duffy’s body is found, his throat slit, Mac is suspected of the murder, resulting in her being trailed by O’Duffy’s brother-in-law, also a detective. Mac starts coming across half-eaten Unseelie, but who would be strong enough to subdue them and why on earth would anyone want to eat Unseelie? The sisterhood of sidhe-seers tries to recruit Mac to their side but Mac finds herself torn between them, Barrons and V’lane, not knowing anyone’s full intentions and unwilling to be an unwitting pawn in anyone’s game.

Oh, and some form of Grim Reaper – a mental projection of her sins? – appears to be trailing Mac.

Thoughts and impressions: Again, I’m not sure where I stand on this one. The plot was good but beyond Mac growing as a character and making new acquaintances, I’m not convinced how much the plot in this book advanced the overall plot of the series. Maybe the final battle in this one will have important implications in future books, but I’m not sure that it will in the same way that the final climax (pun intended) in the first book did. There are certain ideas that are obviously going to important such as the concept of eating Unseelie flesh, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s more of a subplot.

That was my impression at any rate. It felt more like a subplot to the whole thing just to introduce one or two new concepts. Maybe I feel as though it was a bit anticlimactic because I saw the final showdown here as of the first couple of chapters. The only thing that made up for it was the character evolution that took place. I adore the relationship between Mac and Barrons, especially the conversations that don't take place!

I once read an interview with an author where the question of first or third person perspective preference was raised. The author said she doesn’t even read books written in the first person perspective because she found that the book would be telling her that “I was sad” and all she could think was that no, in fact, the events hadn’t made her feel sad. I’ve never had this problem before, but in Bloodfever a lot of the choices that Mac made were completely the opposite of what I would do in the same situation.

Style: I noticed quite a few editing issues in places. Other than that, the style was engaging and drew me in.

Final verdict: Not as good as the first book concerning the main plot, but better concerning characters and their evolution. I was toying with the idea of giving this one only 3 stars, but I’ve decided to bump it up to 4 because ultimately I did really enjoy it. 4 stars.

Extra notes: Bad language ahoy! There’s no actual sex but the book is far from clean.

The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier

Though Marillier is one of the bigger names of the more feminine side of the fantasy genre, I didn’t come across her until late last year when my book provider internet site recommended that I pre-order the paperback of her most recent release (Heart’s Blood) and I did so without even reading up about the book. I then promptly forgot that I’d even ordered it and was very surprised when it appeared one day in the post. I did, however, absolutely adore this book and promptly ordered in another title by her. The Dark Mirror happened to be in the sales so I picked that one. Then, for one reason or another, I kept putting off reading it until this past week.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’ve been ill all week and that my illness sapped my ability to concentrate on anything at length. This book has been read around that illness and consequently I don’t really remember the beginning of the book all that clearly. I ask you to keep this in mind while reading the review.

Presentation: Mass market paperback. The font is small and closely-spaced. There are 561 pages broken down into 18 chapters so the chapters are rather long. The new chapters just continue on beneath the previous chapters rather than starting on a new page. For me, this means that I can never feel like I want to stop reading without the break between pages.

Story: Bridei is delivered to the druid Broichan for an education when he is but 4-years-old. He is unaware that plans for the future of the whole kingdom of Fortriu are being laid around him. He soon proves to be a bright young lad and an able student, quick to learn and wanting to please. Someone else seem to be aware of the secretly laid plans, though, as attempts are made on both Bridei’s and Broichan’s lives. Though both survive, the Shining One – the ancient goddess represented by the moon – bestows a present upon Bridei to help him in the future. This present comes in the form of a baby girl who is clearly one of the Good Folk and not human.

Despite his misgivings about her, Broichan allows the baby, Tuala, to stay in his house, swayed by the young Bridei’s conviction that he was meant to take her in; that this is what the goddess wanted. And so start the many trials and tribulations set by both mankind and the gods that both Bridei and Tuala must face in order to fulfil their destinies.

Thoughts and impressions: Though a fantasy title, this story is steeped in historical fact based on real people who crop up in the historical record. Unfortunately, the Picts did not leave a written record, and in an author’s note, Mariller states very clearly that a lot of the story is made up of informed guesswork and imagination. In particular, I really liked the religious aspects that Marillier presents based on other religious practises that took place in similar tribes in the same era. I had never heard of Bridei, Pictish king in the 5th century A.D., but I was familiar with the current events such as the Gaels increasing their spread to the Scottish Highlands and Christianity starting to seep into the various tribal cultures and replace the ancient faiths. I found how the aspect of religious change was handled particularly interesting, though I believe that this is touched on more in one of the later books of the Bridei Chronicles. I really enjoyed the exploration of the Pictish society.

Obviously, though, history is just a starting point for Marillier’s story. The inclusion of Tuala being a child of the Good Folk sets the story firmly in the fantasy genre. It was interesting to see Tuala and watch her grow up, but I never really connected with her very well. She was always set apart just that little bit too far for me to ever really be able to view things through her eyes. I felt sorry for her, of course, particularly when Broichan kept interfering to try to keep Bridei’s destiny to what he had foreseen and not what the gods had in store for him. Tuala knows as of a pretty early age that she’s in love with Bridei – love beyond the love that a foster sister feels for a foster brother – and she suffers through Broichan’s interference without complaint, but she still makes the weirdest of decisions, particularly towards the end of the book.

Bridei I found easier to connect with. He’s forced to face acts of human evilness as well as dealing with Broichan’s constant subtle prods to try to keep him right where Broichan believes he needs to be. One of the stronger scenes was after the battle with the Gaels and Bridei comes across part of their Pictish army herding the Gaelic women with the intention of raping the ones they wanted. The way that this appauls him speaks both of his reverence for females and his innocence regarding warfare.

However, despite all of this, both main characters seemed to come dangerous close to perfection. I’ve seen another person refer to it as feeling like they were watching all the cool kids playing but not being able to join in. It didn’t go quite that far for me, but I did notice that in everything that they do, both of these characters are extremely skilled – to the point where they’re better than their mentors within a very short span. That might be part of the reason why I could never be as close to the characters as I would have liked.

The romance itself isn’t particularly exciting either. Both characters just sort of have one of those light bulb moments when they go “Oh! But I love him/her!” I realise that the story is more based on their evolution and coming of age than it is on their romance, but it would have been nice if that plot point had had some more depth to it. It shouldn’t really be billed as a romance, because it isn’t really, it’s a historical fantasy and on the historical fantasy footing it stands very well. As a romance, though, it leaves something to be desired.

I would have liked to have seen more about the traitor plot, that’s my only really qualm here. The perpetrator is just kicked out of the plot and that’s the end of that but I’d have liked to have seen reactions to the knowledge of it coming out to the family and the consequences for the one behind it all. That’s not touched on at all and only the consequences on the family’s bearing are mentioned in passing.

At some point in the future, I suspect that I will go back to this series. Right now I’ve already got too many books to get through. My next Marillier read will be Daughter of the Forest which I’ve been told is absolutely fantastic so I’m certainly looking forward to that!

Style: Sometimes a little overbearing but that could be because my illness was already making it hard for me to concentrate and Marillier’s prose is definitely not of the light variety so it occasionally got the better of me.

Final verdict: As mentioned, as a romance, not so great, but as a historical fantasy it was very interesting! 4 stars.

Extra notes: I didn’t pick up on any swearing. There was no sex. There are some themes of violence and human sacrifice.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

This was one of my five books for the Basically Books! Autumn 2011 favourites challenge. I took this book from the lovely Char’s favourites shelf. It’s a book that I’ve seen her recommending to others countless times and eventually my eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I bought the book.

It arrived at my house some time in early July when I’d already left for my family home in France. Any and all books that arrived then have ended up on the backburner – even a book by my favourite author! This challenge has pushed me to pick up the book. I didn’t really know what to expect of the book. All I knew going into it was that it was in letter format and that it was about a girl’s ordeal when she is kidnapped, so I went in with a pretty open mind.

Presentation: Your average sized YA paperback. The font is relatively large and well-spaced. There are 301 pages. There are no chapters, though there are breaks in the text.

Story: It’s hard to sum this one up without giving away too much of the story, so all I’m going to say is that it’s about a girl who gets kidnapped from Bangkok airport and is taken away from civilisation itself to live in a hut in the middle of the Australian desert with only her kidnapper, the relentless sun and nature very different from anything she’s ever known.

Thoughts and impressions: I don’t even really know where to begin with this review. This is another case of finding one of those YA lit gems in a vast ocean of mediocre YA books out there. Just like Beth Ravis did in Across the Universe, Lucy Christopher has taken all of my prejudices against YA and completely smashed them apart. Stolen sucks you in as of the very first line and ruthlessly demands your undivided attention until the very last line. This book should come with a warning that once you pick it up, you won’t be putting it down again until you’ve finished it!

I suppose that it is arguable as to whether or not Gemma is a fragile character at the start of the book – personally I found a lot of little hints that she wasn’t happy with her life or where it seemed to be headed (especially the hints that all was not well in her circle of friends because she’d fallen for her best friend who happens to be her other best friend’s boyfriend.) By the end of the book she is certainly very conflicted in her feelings about everything: about her situation, the landscape where she’s living, her captor…

Ty, on the other hand, was “broken” well before the events of the story take place. His story is slowly revealed to Gemma and the reader: the way that he’s been planning all of this for a long time; the way that he needed to be closer to nature, away from the taint of civilisation. Logically, I knew that Ty was in the wrong. He’d taken Gemma from her life against her will, had taken her to the middle of nowhere where she could not escape him. And yet, he did allow her to make her escape attempts; each time he would let her go but he would save her from her folly to try to escape into the Australian desert and nurse her back to health. He definitely had issues as well: this was made obvious in the way that he would freak out over small things. That said, he would always try so very hard to keep him temper under control. Everything that he did for Gemma made him very endearing. This in itself just goes to show just how talented a storyteller Lucy Christopher is.

Stockholm syndrome is, of course, a very important part of the story. But it goes much further than that because it was me as the reader who was suffering from Stockholm syndrome well before Gemma ever changed in her stance towards him. Logically, I knew that really he was the antagonist of the story but at the same time, in spite of myself, I found myself coming to love this poor, broken soul. I don’t imagine that this will be the case for all readers – if you find yourself attracted to the bossy alpha male hero in stories, I suspect Ty might not do it for you. I personally have always found myself more attracted to the tortured male lead that needs help finding his way again and Ty fits this bill perfectly. Lucy Christopher makes the reader consider Stockholm syndrome from the inside. I think that it is also very important to keep in mind that the book treats a glamorised version of kidnapping, Gemma’s experience is a far cry from the kidnap stories you hear in news.

There is also a camel in this story. For most of the story, Gemma and Ty are the only characters but the camel could be considered a side character. I loved her. I really did. I came so close to tears several times during her scenes. I don’t want to spoil this too much but the camel’s story is a great allegory for Gemma’s story.

And finally, this book is cyclic: Gemma starts the story not really aware of what’s going on around her and ends it in the same state. This worked really well.

The only thing that I wasn’t so sure about was Ty’s hair colour. About half way through the story, Gemma mentions his blonde locks. Up until that point, I’d viewed him as having dark hair. I don’t know whether this was because I’d read this in the book at some point or because I’d superimposed my own personal preference for darker hair on the character. It is likely the latter but this still pulled me from the story for a moment while I tried to figure it out.

Style: This book is written as a letter to Ty. It addresses him as “you”, which makes it very different from what I have read before now. This worked really well for this setting, though, and I don’t think that the story would have been as good had it been written in a traditional manner. The style is fairly simple, but it fits.

Final verdict: I will be going around recommending this book to everyone I know. I loved it. 5 stars.
One warning comes with this recommendation, though. Make sure that you have nothing pressing to do when you start the book because if you’re anything like me then you won’t be able to put it down again until you’ve finished it!

Extra notes: No strong language, no sex. Appropriate for mature younger readers who are able to understand the concepts addressed in this book. If in doubt, read it before you allow your child to read it – it shouldn’t take you more than an afternoon to get through the whole book.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Scorpio Rising by Monique Domovitch

The first book in a planned series by indie author Monique Domovitch, I won this title in a giveaway in August. I know how hard it can be for indie authors to get their work out there and recognised, so as soon as I found the energy to spend a day reading from my PC screen, I got to it.
I would like to point out that all opinions are my own and I have not glossed this review for the sake of the author.

Presentation: E-book. My copy was 335 pages long with 21 chapters. Some of the chapters are long (30+ pages) others very short (the shortest was only 2 pages long).

Story: Alexander dreams of escaping his life - the dingy little flat where he lives with his mother who has to sell her body to make ends meet – and making it to Manhattan to become a big name in architecture. He pushes himself, never allowing himself to connect with another too much in case they get in the way of his dreams becoming reality.

Brigitte is thrown out of her home with nowhere to turn to when her jealous mother catches her stepfather in the act of raping her. She finds herself with a benefactor looking after her every need, but when she learns that not only is she pregnant with her rapist’s child but also her benefactor’s motives go beyond wanting to help a girl in need, she runs away and starts a new life for herself, determined to make ends meet with her art.

Thoughts and impressions: Right as of the first chapter, this book hit me with its blunt approach to events and sex in particular. This actually worked really well in the story’s favour. It was refreshing to see a blunt and rather detached view of sex rather than flowery “love’s milk” or treading lightly around the subject. One quote in particular really got to me: ‘“This will be our little secret,” Lucien told her when she opened her eyes. “If you even think of telling anyone, I’ll kill you.” Then he raped her.’  (chap 2) The simplicity with which this horrible action is portrayed really worked for me. I think it’s very hard to portray rape with words because there’s so much in the action that goes beyond mere words. I commend Monique Domovitch for not trying to even go into the character’s thoughts about how she is treated, but hinting at what consequences it has on her life, thus allowing the reader to supply those thoughts for Brigitte in whatever manner works for them personally.

I was expecting a love story in this story. I expected the characters to meet and form some form of relationship and then make their way through at least some good portion of the story together working out their differences.  In actual fact, they don’t meet until very close to the end of this book. I would have liked to have seen more relationship growth between them: once they do finally meet it does seem a bit rushed. I would also have liked to have seen more consequences to certain plot points that were brought up closer to the end, but as naming them would lead to spoilers I will refrain from doing so and simply state my hope that they will be addressed in the sequel.

This said, the characters not meeting until closer to the end does not have any negative effect on the story itself beyond how rushed their relationship felt. The story is about the growth of both of these people from disillusioned youths to adults who have fought tooth and nail for what little they have. The story occasionally slips into a side character’s head for a bit – my favourite of these was Anne. She’s one of those characters that you love to hate. You can understand her actions, even her motives, but you still condemn her for them (which she deserves) but this just served to make her a more interesting antagonist. I can already see her causing all sorts of problems for Alex in the sequel!

There are some really precious gem scenes in this novel. One in particular involves Alex and a certain unexpected surprise when he accompanies a Moulin Rouge dancer home. I had to stop reading to laugh! The somewhat detached bluntness of the narrative just increased the humour to be found in this scene.  Loved it!

Style: As mentioned, detached and blunt. I don’t often like this style but in this case it really worked well with the story.

Final verdict: I really enjoyed this one. It was an honest look at the brutality of the dog-eat-dog world that these characters inhabit. 5 stars.

Extra notes: Infrequent language; references to sex, act itself is never described in detail but you know it is taking place.

It took me a little while to figure out the era but this is set shortly after WW2. I'm not entirely sure how to classify the book so for now I'm going to go with drama.

Find the author!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Halloween Blog Hop @ Angel Haze

If you like books that scare, books that bite, books you have to read with the lights on, we've got your Halloween scare covered! 

Author Angel Haze is hosting a Halloween giveaway on her blog between now and the end of the month. There are some seriously cool looking titles up for grabs, of various (spooky) genres, and 50+ books to be won!

I am of the opinion that you should scuttle over there immediately and participate in this giveaway! What better for Halloween than not only a scary book, but a free scary book?! So, go! go now!

Happy Halloween!

(As for the "I am of the opinion" bit... what can I say? My French side took over!)