Monday, 30 January 2012

The Cover Wars: Knife / Spell Hunter

Tara of Basically Books and I decided to get together to do a weekly meme where we would compare covers of the UK editions of books with those of the US editions.

The aim of this is to just have a bit of fun. We put ourselves in the position where we see both of these books side by side in the bookstore. Which would we choose? Why that one and not the other?

This week, we will be comparing the UK and US covers of Knife by R.J. Anderson, or Spell Hunter in the US.  Tara has read the start of this book but unfortunately couldn't get into it. Despite this, she hopes to give the book another shot at some point. I personally haven't read the book but I do have a different book by the same author to read when time allows.

                                        US edition                                                                          UK edition

Rea says: At first glance, it was the US cover that caught my attention. It’s almost like a painting, which is both its strength and its weakness: its strength because of how pretty it is; its weakness because there’s just too much going on in it. When compared with the UK cover, it stands out for its beauty but that’s about it. The UK cover is simple yet eye-catching with that very grumpy fairy. The blue complements the ethereal fairy perfectly. What’s more, the title is both snappier and clearer. With the US cover, I wasn’t sure which one was the actual title at first, but it’s certainly clear with just the one word on the UK cover! I’m going with UK this week.

Tara says: I have the UK version and I really like it. I feel the glow of the cover is amazing and the fact that it’s so simple but pretty really appealed to me. When I saw the US version on GoodReads I loved it. I like how you can see the character in detail and it’s very colourful. It says more about the book than the UK version. Also, I prefer the US name of the book. I am going with US this week.


Week 2:     US: 1     UK: 0     Draw: 1


Thursday, 26 January 2012

Get A Taste: The Kingdom

Tara of Basically Books and I often read very different books but sometimes find interesting new books to potentially add to the ever-growing monsters that our TBR piles have morphed into. However, we know that we do not have 100% the same taste and we wanted another way of getting a look at these books...

Do you ever feel like getting a bit of a taster for a book you’ve been thinking of reading but aren’t fully sold on yet? Do you feel like sharing a taster for your current read with the world? Well, here’s your chance.

Each week the random number generator will pick a number between 1 and 100 for books with pages or 1 and 25% for ebooks. We figured that these numbers would keep us out of spoiler territory. Open your book to the specified place and pick a paragraph. Share it with the world!

This week the numbers are: 
page 54 for books
4% for ebooks

My book is: 

click image to go to Goodreads page

"The girl spared a brief nod before finishing with the books. Then she turned and strode to a closed door, rapped once and slipped inside.  A moment later she reappeared and motioned me around the counter. As she stepped aside to allow me to enter the room, I saw that her eyes were focused - not on me - but on a point just beyond my shoulder. I had the strangest feeling that if I followed her gaze, I would find nothing there. It was a disquieting sensation because, with a few exceptions, I'm the one who sees what others cannot."

This book is an ARC from NetGalley. I finished it last night and WOW! More please! The book isn't due for release until March and as such my review will not be up until early March.

It is the second book in The Graveyard Queen series by Amanda Stevens. The first book is The Restorer. If you like paranormal murder mystery aimed at adults, I highly recommend this series! I am pretty much foaming at the mouth I want to get my hands on the next one so badly!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Halflings by Heather Burch

I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you Zondervan!

Halflings is one of those books that I became aware of around X-mas time. The synopsis piqued my interest but at the same time I was aware that there was every possibility that this story would lay outside of my enjoyment zone. However, I’m one of those try-anything-once gals and when I spotted the book on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.

I’ve seen a few reviews of the book cropping up on blogs I follow over the past week or so – some good, some bad – but as of yet I have not read any of them. I wanted to go into this book with an open mind, and that is exactly what I did.

Title: Halflings
Series: Halflings #1
Author: Heather Burch
Publisher: Zondervan Publishing
Target Audience: YA
Pages: 288
Chapters: 25
PoV: (mostly) 3rd person
Tense: (mostly) past tense

Story: After being inexplicably targeted by an evil intent on harming her at any cost, seventeen-year-old Nikki finds herself under the watchful guardianship of three mysterious young men who call themselves halflings. Sworn to defend her, misfits Mace, Raven, and Vine battle to keep Nikki safe while hiding their deepest secret—and the wings that come with. 

A growing attraction between Nikki and two of her protectors presents a whole other danger. While she risks a broken heart, Mace and Raven could lose everything, including their souls. As the mysteries behind the boys’ powers, as well as her role in a scientist’s dark plan, unfold, Nikki is faced with choices that will affect the future of an entire race of heavenly beings, as well as the precarious equilibrium of the earthly world.

(from Goodreads)

Thoughts and impressions: Before I start, please note that I read an ARC of this book and some of the issues may have been resolved prior to the book going to print.

Now, I usually address the author’s style in a separate part of the review, but as I have so much to say about the style in Halflings, I’m going to address it in my main review instead.

First things first, this book has a serious case of purple prose-ism. This is not necessarily a bad thing most of the time. I can appreciate the lengths that authors go to in order to come up with some of these metaphors and similes. Sometimes it’s even nice to delve into a flowery style. And then there are times when the flowery goes a bit too far and it becomes sickly sweet rather than just sweet.

Here’s an example:

“Stands of hair pressed against her head where her [motorbike] helmet held them in place, trapped like butterflies under glass.”

Personally, when I have helmet hair, it’s an absolute mess of sticky sweaty strands. Granted, my helmet hair usually comes from a horse riding helmet and the way I ride makes you work up a sweat that you wouldn’t necessarily get from riding a motorbike. That said, whenever I go out on the motorbike, my hair is a far cry from such imagery when I free it from the confines of the helmet.

Here’s another example:

“Two high cheek-bones rested above a mouth that looked capable of pleasing any girl’s lips, but also able to draw into a tight line of defence when necessary.”

I get what the author’s trying to do with that imagery, but it just really doesn’t work for me. A tight line of defence? With his lips?

One last example:

“Krissy rolled her contact lenses.”

I’m sorry, what now? When I read that I actually had to blink and read it again. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Is it just me or does that sentence sound really wrong? I get an image of Krissy rolling her contact lenses but not her eyes. Believe you me, that image is scary.

Moving on, much of the story is written in the first person but occasionally it slips into the first person. Usually this is associated with sliding into the current PoV character’s thoughts (this is almost exclusively Nikki, Mace or Raven) but occasionally it didn’t work properly. These are mostly towards the start of the story and unfortunately I don’t have any written down to quote.

The story is narrated in the past tense, but occasionally the PoV character will intervene with something in the present tense. This doesn’t always work, though. There was one particular sentence that came before I had my notebook with me (so probably in the first chapter) where Nikki starts her thought in the past tense but completes it in the present tense. This didn’t work for me.

There were also sentences like this one: “She nodded, and the tips of her hair danced over his skin. She’s making it momentarily difficult to concentrate.” which seem to be caught between the last two points. Is the second part of the sentence supposed to be general 3rd person commentary on events, or Mace’s 1st person thoughts? I’m tempted to say the former because if it had been Mace’s thoughts I don’t think he’d have used the adverb ‘momentarily’. Whatever the case, though, things like this jarred me from my reading zone.

Finally, in the very last chapter (no spoilers, promise) there’s one bit that must have just been overlooked during the editing process but it made me laugh aloud so I thought I’d share it. Nikki is looking out at her family home and she describes it as being “off in the distance on a faraway hill”. She decides she wants to visit her house but doesn’t have a car so she’ll walk there, and this is what follows: “it wasn’t far, maybe four streets away.”  For me, four streets away is not a “faraway” hill. This could be because where I grew up a “faraway hill” could be as much as two départements away or in another country (Switzerland or Italy).

I’ve spent quite a bit of time pointing out these issues with the narrative, but I want to reassure everyone that though these problems are there, they are few and far between and only crop up occasionally.

Another thing that didn’t quite work for me was events surrounding the dog. I don’t want to delve into them because that would be going full speed into spoiler territory, but I was impacted by what happened because the dog had not received enough attention prior to this.

Before I get to the good stuff, I have one last negative comment and that is that in the first half of the book I didn’t have a good grasp on how much time was passing between events. There was one point where Nikki’s parents say they’re going away to a convention, and I hadn’t realised the day had even changed when they ring up to find out if she’s ok home alone. Again, this is a minor thing but it meant that I had to keep reassessing what I knew of the story thus far.

Now, onto the good stuff!

The mythology behind this story completely drew me in. Obviously, with it being angels, there’s a huge link with Christianity and sometimes the messages got a little heavy for me as a non-Christian reader, but for the most part I really enjoyed this take on angelic offspring. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far and I expect we’ll find out a lot more in the sequels. I’m especially interested in why the male halflings in the book are blonde-haired and blue-eyed but the females we met were all brunettes with ‘gold- coloured’ eyes. Why this particular difference? I don’t know but I’d sure like to find out!

It’s interesting to note that Nikki is a brunette with amber eyes, which makes me wonder… but then there are other secrets behind her identity which have to be revealed. I’m not entirely sure just what she is yet. There’s certainly something about her, but just what is a tantalising secret that I hope will be addressed more in the next book.

This particular book is mostly devoted to setting up the relationships between the characters. When it opens, the reader is plunged straight into the action with a hellhound chase. There are various other action scenes throughout the story but the majority of time is spent on building Nikki’s relationship with Mace and Raven. This means that things can be on the slow side in places but I was never bored.

We have the typical YA love triangle here with the good guy and the bad boy. In this particular case, right now I prefer Raven because he has more depth to him than Mace. Mace is a bit too good… a bit too much the safe option. Raven is more balanced and he has both good and bad sides (well, his “bad” is mostly just shallow, but that’s not the point). I particularly enjoyed Raven’s interactions with Nikki in the second half of the book. There’s a whole play on Nikki being both a redeemer and the means of the boys’ destruction, which adds a very different side to the YA love triangle. Usually the two boys pull away from the girl because they feel they’d be bad for her, but in this case they have to resist her because she could potentially lead to their downfall. I’m not sure how this will be got around in future books (though I have a fair idea) but I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.

The story, though rounded, is essentially a very long prologue to the second book. I hope that there will be more life-or-death situations in that one and that some plot points will start to be resolved. The intrigue raised in this book is certainly just that, intriguing, but it’s not a book that could hold its own as a standalone. This is not necessarily a bad thing as Kelley Armstrong’s YA books are much the same and they’re some of my favourite YA paranormals.

With all that said, I will definitely be reading the sequel to find out what will happen next.

Style: See first half of thoughts and impressions.

Final verdict: I don’t do half stars, but if I did, I’d give this one three and a half. It’s good and I have no doubts that it will appeal to the YA market but it did have a few problems as well. I’m feeling nice today so I’m going to round up. 4 stars

Extra notes: I didn’t notice any bad language but, admittedly, I wasn’t really keeping an eye out for it. No sex.

Added extra: there is a prequel short story available as an ebook from Amazon. This is supposedly a free ebook but I would have to pay 4 dollars of tax on it, which makes it a bit too expensive for a short story. Good for American readers, though!

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Cover Wars: Under the Never Sky

Tara of Basically Books and I decided to get together to do a weekly meme where we would compare covers of the UK editions of books with those of the US editions.

The aim of this is to just have a bit of fun. We put ourselves in the position where we see both of these books side by side in the bookstore. Which would we choose? Why that one and not the other?

This week, we will be comparing the UK and US covers of Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi because I’m completely obsessed with this book right now and have ordered everyone I know to go read it asap, so it felt fitting to start with this particular book!

US edition
UK edition

Rea says: I’ve read this book now (obviously!), so that may make me somewhat partial. The US cover is the first one I saw and I was definitely drawn to it. When I saw the UK one later I suspect I was drawn to how it’s white and pink – one of my favourite colour combos. However, now that I’ve read it, Perry (the guy) doesn’t seem right to me. Also, if you see the US one close up, the words “Never Sky” actually look like they have little stars on them, which is pretty cool! The US version also instils a sense of drama and adventure. I’m going with US this week.

Tara says: I first saw both of these covers at around the same time without actually knowing anything about the book and I didn't really know which one looked better. Afterwards I read description and then looked at them both again. I feel the US version is very captivating and bold. When I see it all I see is a girl and the title in a beautiful way. With the UK version, it's very pink and I feel that this may put off male readers. Also, it isn't as bold as the US version and there are a lot of books out there with the boy and the girl on the front cover. I love a change so I am going with the US version.


Week 1:     US: 1    UK: 0     Draw: 0

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

A couple of weeks ago, I won a giveaway on Manda's Movements. The prize was a choice between a number of titles, some of which I’d read, a couple that didn’t appeal to me and the other titles were ones I was longing to get my hands on. Under the Never Sky was my obvious choice, though, as of the very beginning.

Recent times have seen me become more interested in dystopian books and this one really appealed to me. The title’s snappy, the cover eye-catching and the synopsis had me hooked as soon as I heard about the book several months ago.

I was half way through Cinder (review in the works!) when Under the Never Sky was delivered but as soon as I’d finished that book, I scribbled down a review and cracked open this one.

Title: Under the Never Sky
Series: Under the Never Sky #1

Author: Veronica Rossi

Publisher: Harper
Binding: small paperback
Page count: 384
Chapter count: 45
Font: medium, spaced
PoV: 3rd person
Tense: Past tense

Story: Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction. 

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions. 

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephew’s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love - one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.

(from Goodreads)

Thoughts and impressions: I wasn’t ready to start this book until about 23:30 on a Saturday night. It was one of those times when I thought to myself that I’d just read a chapter before bed. One chapter turned into fifteen and even then I was reluctant to put the book down for the night! I was even toying with the temptation of not sleeping so I could get more reading done. It’s been a long time since I was so drawn into a book that late at night.

This one caught me and just would not let go! As soon as I got up the next morning, I was back with my nose in the book and manage to finish it off in one sitting. The boyfriend attempted to get me to put it down once but quickly saw the error of his ways!

The world invented here is really ingenious. At some point in the past, these things called Aether storms set in and killed a lot of people. No explanation about this Aether storms is offered: where they came from, what caused them. They’re just there and surprisingly the story does not suffer for it one bit! All we know is that after the storms set in, the remaining people protected themselves from this new weather phenomenon by building “pods” where they could live in safety. The only problem with this is that there’s not enough to do in such a small, enclosed area to keep everyone from getting bored and so the Realms were created.

The Realms are essentially virtual realities where you can do what you want, be who you want, and are accessible via a clear patch worn over the left eye. This is something that I can readily see being the future of man in a technologically advanced world.

There are, of course, people who survived outside the pods as well. We’re not really filled in on why there are outsiders – whether they did not want to enter the pods, failed to get to them in time, or just were not permitted entry – but they were there and over time their genetic makeup allowed for certain changes, as seen in Peregrine, our hero.

As the story opens, Aria, the heroine, is so desperate to hear news of the pod where her mother has been working after days of no communication that she wrangles her way into what is supposed to be fun and games in an Aether-compromised area of their pod with the son of the head of security and three others. It soon becomes clear, though, that she may have bitten off more than she can chew and when a terrible event takes place, Aria is used as a scapegoat.

She finds herself cast into the Death Trap – the world outside the pods. Her reactions to all these new experiences in a world she’d always been told was full of dangers that she would not survive were always realistic and occasionally heart-wrenching. The only thing that I’m not sold on is the idea that she walked for days while the skin on her feet was shredded and full of blisters. My experience with severely blistered feet has always been that they slow you down considerably as you’re forced to hobble and running on them is the very last thing you’d want to do.

Perry has got his own interesting story and motives, joining forces with Aria only in an attempt to get his nephew back from Aria’s people, who kidnapped him. But together they end up on quite the adventure, learning to tolerate one another as they run from a cannibalistic tribe and meet a boy with a most peculiar and deadly ability.

I loved the outside world that was created and the dangers they pushed through in their separate quests: her to find out about her mother and him to rescue Talon. I loved Perry’s genetic difference and how that filled him with a duty he felt he has to honour but also left him feeling cursed. This gave him a hard but vulnerable edge that made me adore him just that much more. And I loved how Aria seemed to slowly come to the realisation that maybe the Realms aren’t really all that great but still struggled with the feeling of needing to go home. Especially towards the beginning, when she wanted to wear the Smarteye over her eye because it was simply something she was used to really rang true for me. It was the little details like that that made the story something really special.

The progression of the relationship between Aria and Perry was also just perfect. It didn’t take too long and it didn’t rush into anything forced. I admire the way that Rossi was not afraid to take the relationship to the next level when it was time.

I’m interested in seeing how their relationship will progress. There are already certain hurdles placed in the way and I want to see how they will overcome them. I’m also really looking forward to discovering more about some of the other characters (Liv, Cinder and Brooke (in particular Brooke’s reaction to Aria as it’s made obvious as of fairly early on that Brooke hopes Perry will choose to be with her)), and the dangerous world they live in.

This book was just my cup of tea and I loved the adventure that it took me on.

Style: Occasionally a bit rocky. The main perpetrator was when two or three sentences in a row would start with the PoV character’s name. Despite this, it really drew me in.

Final verdict: I was really lucky the weekend I read this (a week ago now). I was on a real YA high. I read two books in two days and both of them were absolutely brilliant reads that have ended up on my favourites shelf! I really cannot wait for the next book in this series! 5 stars.

Extra notes: I didn’t notice any bad language. Sex behind closed doors.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Exiled by Rashelle Workman

Ok, I’ll admit it: I fell in cover lust with this book. I mean, just look at that cover! It's so good that at first, I thought that the book was one that had gone through the traditional publishing houses and it wasn’t until much later that I realised my mistake when I couldn’t find a paperback copy of it.

Exiled is one of those titles that have purportedly taken the indie market by storm, and with all that cover lust I can quite understand why! So I got hold of this for a dollar and after two mind-blowing reads, I was hoping for another.

Binding: Ebook
Chapters:  56 – some very short, some quite long
PoV: 3rd person
Tense: Past tense

Story: Worlds divided them. Chance brought them together. Only love will save them. 

An alien princess exiled to Earth. 
An arrogant boy. 
One week to get back to her planet or she'll die. 
And, her only chance for survival? She must help the boy find his soul mate. 
Piece of cake! 

Stubborn, sixteen-year-old Princess Venus of Kelari wants one thing, to become immortal, that is, until someone exiles her to Earth, kills her irrihunter and takes her family. 

Now she wants revenge. 

First she’s got to get home. But before she can return to Kelari, the Gods have commanded her to help an arrogant boy named Michael find his soul mate. 

Only she doesn't know the first thing about love. 

Rather quickly, her inexperience with human emotion is obscured by other matters--alien-controlled psychotic teens that are out to kill her, and a government group that is set on capturing and dissecting her. 

Worst of all, Venus will suffer a painful death-by-poisoning, thanks to Earth’s atmosphere, if she remains on the planet longer than one week. 

Still, Venus is a Princess and she's got a plan. Surely, with her help, Michael will fall in love with a human. 

But time is running out and Michael is falling for the wrong girl--her.

(from Goodreads)

Thoughts and impressions: Time for another admission: I didn’t reread the synopsis before going into this book. This meant that I read the first chapter, encountered the alien world and settled myself in for a story set on another planet. Then I flicked to chapter two and suddenly I’m on Earth with this human boy. This is my own fault as had I read the synopsis, I would have known what I was getting myself into, but I still felt a bit thrown by it.

It didn’t help that as soon as Venus was on Earth, it was like she knew everything about American culture. It was justified by saying that she’d taken Earth studies class but speaking as someone who’s changed culture twice, class never prepares you to slip right in. You’re thrown by how much you didn’t know about the culture and you’re overwhelmed by things that are general knowledge that you didn’t know about. What’s more, you never stop finding new things that you weren’t aware of for whatever reason.

You only see that take place once in the book with Venus when she gets called out for using a word that went out of style a few years ago (not that it was ever in style for me.) I stopped buying the Earth studies thing when she knew a brand of footwear that I, as a human being living on the other side of the pond, have never heard of. On top of that, there was some cartoon that she was talking about having watched in class that, again, I have never heard of. I don’t care how many hours a day you spend in Earth studies, you are not going to know American culture like that.

However, as it is their culture anyway, this may mean that it’s easier for Americans to buy it.

Another thing, what’s with the requisite love triangles? I’m starting to get bored of them because often enough they’re not very well-written anyway and you end up with “teams”. If I have to be on a team, I’m on “team Zaren” because he knows the Princess, had more than a week to “fall in love” with her, stood by her despite all her bad decisions, and… oh yeah, didn’t end up almost getting her killed. What’s more, Zaren was probably one of the most rounded characters in the story. Both Venus and Michael, despite much of the story being told in their voices, stayed pretty flat.

I didn’t like Michael much at all. He was supposed to be a damaged teen – hard on the outside but with plenty of love to give on the inside. In the end, he just came across as being a moody pushover, always twisted to fit others’ desires and allowing that to be done of him, just grumbling a bit in his thought flow.

I’m a bit worried about where this Michael-in-love-with-Venus thing will leave poor Zaren. Venus herself seems to become a wet sack of emotions each time either one of them is around and doesn’t know what she wants. The way she constantly reacted got annoying after a while. Then again, I never liked Venus much anyway as she was a bit of an airhead fool. She never failed to make a bad decision should one be presented to her. She never shut up about how the planet was killing her, either. That is tell. Her coughing blood and getting weaker each day is show. It really isn’t necessary to always combine the two of them as the author did. Venus would complain about feeling weak, then cough blood, and then complain that she was dying. Just show her steady decline and don’t back it up with thoughts or speech.

Talking about scenes where Venus was practically on the verge of death, there were some major issues with consistency. Venus would be very weak, unable to get herself back on her feet, then something would happen to, say, Michael, and she’d be practically buzzing with energy before she returned to being unable to lift her own head. And this happened several times. Consistency is key. Consistency did not exist here.

One last useless thing: what was with Tawny deciding to steal Venus’s boots – even getting her own PoV for a chapter – and then just running away when she makes her attempt, never to make another appearance in the book? What was the point behind the whole scene? I really don’t know.

All this said, the story itself was quite interesting even though almost every twist and turn is given away in the synopsis (yes, I’ve read it now!). The alien society was intriguing and I would have liked to have had the chance to explore it more as it really appealed to me. It would seem that the sequel will be at least in part set in Venus’s society, so I’ll definitely be checking back to find out what happens next.

Plus, I’d like to see Zaren get more depth!

Style: Fairly polished but with one glaring grammatical problem. In normal sentences, there was no issue:
“I would love to go to the cinema.”
But as soon as ‘to’ was the last word in the sentence, it morphed into ‘too’ for some unknown reason.
“Would you like to go to the cinema?”
“I’d love too.”
I can’t believe that no one pointed this out to the author at any point.
Beyond that there are some missing speech marks which can make things confusing at times.

Final verdict: Satisfactory and interesting entertainment but nothing very special. 3 stars.

Extra notes: No sex. Occasional language. Stronger language is usually replaced by invented words.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This book has been on my radar since long before it was published. The name, the cover, the concept – it all appealed to me. Though rather impatient to read it, for financial reasons I chose to wait until the paperback release. Of course, good monetary intentions did not go a long way in this case and I ended up with a hardback copy when the book was chosen as a book of the month.

I’m not entirely sure what I expected of the story as I came to open it, but having flicked through the pages at the store a couple of times and scanned the photos, I guess that I was almost expecting a ghost story. Not quite.

Title: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Publishing
Binding: small hardback
Pages: 348
Chapters: 11 - one significantly longer than all the others
Font: medium, spaced
PoV: 1st person.
Tense: Past tense.

Story:  A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow, impossible though it seems, they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography,Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

(from Goodreads)

Thoughts and impressions: The story opened with a book that did not fail to snag me. Jacob, the narrator, mentions that his life has two halves: Before and After, and they, as with all important events in his life, are linked to his grandpa Portman. When Jacob repeats the tales he was told in his childhood, I was gone - hook, line and sinker. I loved the way these tall tales were the truth when he was a child but justified by more mundane explanations (if you can call the Nazis mundane) as he grew older.

I lost interest a bit for the short while that Jacob was going through counselling but then I was drawn straight back into the fold as soon as he arrived in Britain. I've seen plenty of criticism levelled towards the story that it’s slow and boring. In some respects I can see where these people are coming from but at the same time, I think that the slower pace was quite important for the author to get all his building blocks in place. So yes, it was slow burning, but the ending had my adrenaline pumping!

Throughout the story there were various points where another idea would slip into place and I would come to understand both Jacob and grandpa Portman a bit better. There were even moments when it was like a light bulb going off in my head! The whole story was a complex riddle prompted by grandpa Portman's last words and even towards the very end there are still bits that he's just coming to understand.

Though the concept is far from new, the way it was treated was very interesting. This is one of the more plausible ideas for time travel that I've ever read. I actually had a moment when I wondered whether it was going to turn out that Jacob was his own grandfather, but I think my brain must have dropped out for that thought to filter through because grandpa Portman spoke English with a Polish accent his whole life and Jacob has an American accent, so they couldn't possibly be one and the same unless Jacob changed his name and then chose to affect a fake accent for the rest of his life!

 The incorporation of photos was a very original touch, though. The only problem with this was that it was too dependent on the photos from time to time and as such the story was twisted in ways that weren't always necessary just to make it come back to the photos in question. In fact, a lot of the time I found that I would just glance at the photos and then move on with the story. I was far more interested in the story itself than I was in the photos that supported it.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time the children didn't really have particularly strong personalities. I'd often find myself reading a name and trying to associate it with which child that was and which ability they had.  I would have liked to have not come face to face with that issue. Yes, the abilities were rather X-Men-ish, but they were fun.

The one thing that really didn't sit too comfortably with me was the romance. It is established that Emma has been pining after Jacob's grandfather, who left her and the other children to live his own life, and then suddenly there's a romance blossoming between her and Jacob? As Jacob says himself, this girl is his grandpa's ex and it was a bit ick. It might have been better to wait until the next book for that! As it was, it felt almost like Jacob just replaced Abraham for her.

Despite this, I still enjoyed the story and I'm looking forward to seeing where there adventures will take them from here.

Also: it appears that the author had a small problem with his British vernacular! At one point, two teens from the island ask Jacob whether he's "taking a piss" and then clarify that they want to know whether he was joking. No, in British English, "taking a piss" means just that - urinating. Taking THE piss, however, is making fun of somebody / something. I suppose this mistake may have come from the way we pronounce it. In my particular dialect, the phrase sounds more like "teckint piss".

Style: It drew me in. Very enjoyable.

Final verdict: There were a few problems, some bits that could have been ironed out better and parts of the plot that just didn't work for me, but overall, a very good story! 4 stars

Extra notes: Language didn’t stand out. No sex. Appropriate for young adult readers.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Sting of the Scorpio by Monique Domovitch

Back in September last year, I won a copy of Monique Domovitch’s novel, Scorpio Rising. Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down and I’d finished it in a day. I really enjoyed the book, the to-the-point style, the characters’ quirks and the way they battled through the tough hand life dealt them. I can’t say that I read all that many indie books last year as I was reading on my PC at the time and it would kill my eyes for a day or two afterwards, but Scorpio Rising was my favourite. It just really spoke to me.

So when Monique gifted me the second book, I was over the moon! I was really excited to find out just how life would treat Alex and Brigitte as they embarked on their life together in the States. Let’s just say that it was nothing like what I expected.

Presentation: E-book. First one I read on my darling boyfriend’s X-mas gift of a Kindle!

Story: Alex and Brigitte, newlyweds, have moved to New York to start their life together. Alex is determined to be the sole provider for his new family - despite current difficulties in the field of architecture - and when his wife - through a chance meeting with a former Hollywood actress - is graced with a potential lucrative career as an artist, he is far from impressed.

Alex, always striving for the next, bigger, goal, is ruthless in his quest to become one of the biggest names in architecture, not caring who he tramples over on the way. What’s more, it isn’t long before he starts to view his marriage as a trap while Brigitte is ready to drop everything if only it will make Alex love her.

Thoughts and impressions: Before I start with the actual review, I’m going to point out one very important thing about me: I view fidelity in marriage as being of utmost importance. I do not tolerate infidelity and if you read my recent review of Secrets by Freya North, you’ll be aware that this affects my enjoyment of books as well. Now, I’m not religious, so this isn’t something I take from any religious text, it is simply part of my moral code. I could ramble on about how we, as humans, are not really meant to enter such long-term monogamous relationships scientifically speaking, but that’s neither here nor there right now. What is important is that a character incapable of fidelity never sits well with me.

Coming back to the book, I’ve mentioned this because Alex is simply incapable of keeping his dick in his pants. He resents being trapped by marriage, which is ironic as he’s the one who so doggedly pursued Brigitte in the first place, insisting that they marry. This leads to him having a string of affairs, which he doesn’t even bother to hide very well, while treating Brigitte like she’s below him. Scumbag. This extends to his treatment of her in all aspects of their life together, often speaking down to her.

Brigitte, meanwhile, does all she can to make Alex happy. She bends over backwards for this guy and it’s never enough. I kept hoping that she’d grow a backbone and stand up for herself. In the long run, that would probably have been more effective; it certainly worked the first time around in Paris! But she just put up with his antics, even when they spread to the treatment of her son.

Speaking of David, though he is mentioned fairly frequently, he doesn’t actually appear in the story until a third of the way in. I missed him during this time and would have liked to have watched him growing up and adapting to life in the USA.

There’s that old fable of the scorpion and the frog. I forget who supposedly told it, but the story goes along the lines of: the frog agrees to carry the scorpion across the water if the scorpion agrees not to sting him. The scorpion promises that he won’t but half way across, he stings the frog anyway. When asked why he did it, he says that he couldn’t help himself, it’s just in his nature.

Really, I suppose I could have guessed this from the title of the book. I think I was expecting Alex and Brigitte to work as a team against whoever was trying to ‘sabotage’ Alex’s work, and that would be the sting, but I was far off the mark. Kudos to the author for weaving this retelling of the tale, though!

Alex, a Scorpio, is the scorpion and Brigitte, a Frenchie, is the frog. At least, that’s how I saw it. I’m not actually sure whether Brigitte’s nationality was chosen on purpose, but I’m tempted to say it was. The whole thing was ingenious, anyway! Alex, as such, cannot help himself and stings everyone that he comes into contact with. Whereas in the first book, Alex was driven but still a relatable character that the reader could root for, in this book I steadily slipped further and further into a state of hatred for him. I’m fairly sure that I was meant to feel this way too, as Alex does not present any redeeming or sympathetic qualities. He destroys everything of importance that he touches and I was torn because as the reader, I no longer knew what I wanted for either of the characters. Alex had gone from being the hero to being the villain and I wasn’t sure how to readapt my focus on the character.

In less deft hands, I believe that this story would have repulsed me, but as it is, Monique Domovitch instilled a sort of morbid fascination in me. Even though I was repulsed by the events in the story, I was also so caught up in them that I had to know what would come next.

The one other thing that really surprised me was that Anne, who swore revenge on Alex at the end of Scorpio Rising, waited decades before actually acting on her promise. It was good reading when she did, though!

(N.B. Time moves quickly in this novel: months, even years, can pass in the jump of a paragraph.)

Style: Monique Domovitch has a strong, blunt voice that really appeals to me. She’s not afraid to tell things as they are. The one part of the style that didn’t work for me was the incorporation of one or two scenes from the first book in the first chapter. I didn’t feel that they were necessary.

Final verdict: I loved the story of two young people trying to survive in a dog eat dog world that was Scorpio Rising. Despite Alex becoming the bad guy (easy to see how his character would evolve in that direction, mind), this book was still a very good portrayal of how greed and the drive to always reach new heights will only hurt everyone else around you if that is the only thing that you put your time and energy into. That said, my dislike of Alex tampered with my like of the book: while I enjoyed it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first one. 4 stars

Extra notes: Aimed at adult readers. Sex and infidelity present.

Find the author!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Up until recently, as a general rule I tended to avoid most of the YA lit that storms the market, hyped up well before its release (unless recommended to me by trusted sources). I’ve become a bit more relaxed in that respect now after getting some of my trust in the YA genre back, but I purchased Divergent while it was still in full swing. I don’t know why I chose to ignore my own rule with this book but I got hold of it soon after its release… and then did my usual trick of not getting around to reading it until months later (in late October).

After going through a YA high point in recent times (we’ll ignore the disaster that was The Forest of Hands and Teeth), I had high hopes going into this one to find another YA gem.

Presentation: Large paperback, though a smaller and cheaper one will be released in Feb 2012. The font is large and very well-spaced. There are 487 pages broken down into 38 chapters, some significantly shorter than others but none that take all that long to get through.

Story: Society is divided into five faction that each revere one of five positive human personality traits above all others:
Abnegation: selflessness
Amity: kindness
Candor: honesty
Dauntless: bravery
Erudite: knowledge

Every child is brought up in their parents’ faction, where they live until they pledge their loyalty to a faction at 16. They are all given a test beforehand that determines which faction they are best suited to but ultimately it is their own choice.

Beatrice is 16. She has been brought up Abnegation. But she is different: her test results were inconclusive. Only two of the five factions were ruled out for her. What choice will she make?

Thoughts and impressions: I opened this book to discover that it is written in the present tense and groaned. Though this appears to be very popular in YA right now, I’m really not a fan of the present tense (especially in a third person narrative – Divergent is first person) as I always feel  that it is possible to express so much more when you have all the various past tenses at your disposal. Divergent was a pleasant surprise, though, as it managed to hold its own in the present tense. To begin with, I did often feel jarred but this stopped as soon as I’d sunk into my reading zone – this took surprisingly little time with this book.

The story is essentially one very long description of the initiation period, which works both in its favour and against it. In its favour because it is blatantly apparent that Veronica Roth has talent when it comes to writing fights and scenes where the character’s adrenaline is pumping. In the flying fox scene in particular, I felt Tris’s excitement and nervousness right along with her – easy for me to recall to mind as I’ve had the exact same emotions pumping through me as I prepare to chuck myself off a ledge 40-50ft up. And just like it was for Tris, the experience can only be described as exhilarating, which would be why I keep going back and doing it again and again, just like Tris wants to do. See what I’m getting at here? Tris’s emotions and mine were in synch and that helped a lot.

So how does it work against it? Well, basically, until page 400+ there’s no tension beyond the initiation trials. There are hints at a greater societal problem that runs deep but these aren’t expanded on much until wham, bam, everything’s happening at once and it’s over again before you know it.

The society presented with everyone a member of one of five groups that value only one of many traits was never really one that I could quite bring myself to believe, but I admire how it was used to show human nature: no matter how good the original intentions were, at some point things get twisted by those who desire power. Due to this, I could look beyond my doubts about the society presented.

I really liked the way that Tris and Four’s relationship was presented as well. There was an initial attraction but it wasn’t head-over-heels love at first sight. They were allowed to form a friendship, and though Tris complains that he was mean to get as her instructor, I never considered his actions as being mean. The friendship was then allowed to progress slowly towards being something more rather than jumping right into a relationship and declarations of love. I’ve seen some people complaining that we’re not given enough information about Four’s physical features but honestly I much prefer this to endless harping on about his physical beauty.

The only thing was that I’d figured out who he really was the first time Tris met him so I’m bemused by the fact that no one else seemed to notice, including Tris’s mother while I’d have thought that she would have recognised him. A small issue but an issue nonetheless.

Style: Clunky at times but absorbing. It’s obvious that this is the author’s first book and she still seems to be finding her feet. I look forward to how things will be when she’s found them!

Final verdict: A big thumbs up. This book has really introduced me to the YA dystopian genre and I look forward to reading more in the same vein!  4 stars.

Extra notes: I don’t remember any bad language use. No sex.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

This book came as a recommendation from as one that I should try when I was on my historical (murder mystery) bend last year. I took down the title and considered the purchase once every so often but it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I decided to go ahead and take the plunge.

Due to the nature of the book from which I got this recommendation, I expected a story close to historical fact with an unexplained death at the centre of the plot. That’s not quite what I got, though…

Presentation: large paperback with medium-sized type that is well-spaced. The chapters continue on the same page after a small jump – I point this out because if you’re anything like me, you won’t be capable of putting a book down if there’s no page break. There are 324 pages and for some reason I didn’t write down how many chapters were in this book. (It is now in storage.)

Story: Miss Percy Parker arrives at the esteemed Athens Academy determined to receive an education. After her mother sadly passed within days of her birth, Percy was raised in a convent where she was kept away from the world at large because of her unique colouring.

Having persuaded the abbey mother to give her this chance at an education, though, Percy is determined to make the most of it. If the other students avoid her because of her lack of pigmentation, then so be it.

She excels at language studies but is also required to take a maths and science course. This course is taught by the enigmatic Alexi  Rychman. a man in his mid-30s. Percy immediately finds herself drawn to him but is embarrassed by her poor abilities in his class and how this forces him to give her private tutoring.

Little does she know that Alexi is one of the six members of a secret group, all inhabited by spirits, sworn to protect humanity from the things that go bump in the night. A prophecy looms over them: in time a seventh member, their equal, will join them, but they will also be tempted by a false member and should they choose the wrong person, they could bring down the walls between worlds.

Is Percy that seventh member or the one destined to doom the world at large? Alexi just doesn’t know.

Thoughts and impressions: First of all, let’s get the bad out of the way. The language use was often clunky with terms and expressions that really didn’t fit the era. As for the foreign language use, I couldn’t believe how bad it was considering this book was published by traditional means: close to every single sentence in French (that went beyond one word) had either grammar or spelling mistakes – or both. I did write them all down but then I lost the piece of paper it was on. In German, it’s not “heisse”, it’s “heiße”. It’s really not that hard to find the eszet in the character map, but ß is always used after the diphthong “ei”, and not double ‘s’. (I know some people say that’s it’s pretty much the same thing, but all of the Germans that I know, and living next door to Germany I know a fair few, are adamant that the eszet should be used.) The Russian I can’t comment on.

It can’t be that hard to get native speakers of these languages to quickly proof read the little excerpts written in them, especially not in the USA where so many people speak multiple languages fluently.

The other bad thing came at the end of the story when Percy did a complete 180 character turn and became a snivelling, useless lump of lard when she gets rejected. She’d been such a strong female character up until that point. Why change her into a woman dependant on the affections of a man at this point? She morphs into this ridiculous character that I no longer wanted to read about.

Now the good. The author takes a Greek tale – that of the goddess Persephone being tricked by Hades into leaving her winged lover and becoming his wife in his domain – and adapts it to Victorian England life. I have to admit, at first I had absolutely no idea what was going on in the prologue. It became clear soon enough, though, with the legend coming out in bits and pieces throughout the plot. Somebody more familiar with Greek mythology than I may have been able to spot what it was all leading to sooner than I did.

The reader is aware that Percy is Alexi’s eternal lover, whom we meet in her goddess form in the prologue, but neither of the characters is aware of this. It was actually rather sweet watching them interact with each other as Percy tries to stamp out her attraction to this much older man, and Alexi tries to figure out just what it is about Percy Parker that draws him to her. They had some very interesting scenes together during his private tutoring of her and I liked how their relationship grew. Well, until it destroyed everything Percy was and had stood for, as mentioned above.

I liked the other members of Alexi’s group as well. They were all interesting characters and I hope to see more of the romance Michael feels for Rebecca now that Rebecca has to face the fact that, despite her feelings, Alexi will never be hers. It was also fun, in an infuriating way, to watch them all being blind-sided by the woman the reader knows to be Hades’s envoy while rejecting Percy because she’s “too young” and so couldn’t possibly be their equal.

One thing that I wasn’t so sure about was that Jack the Ripper was actually a Cerberus sent by Hades to bring his wife back to him. It was an interesting take on the events, but I didn’t really buy it. Over the years, I’ve seen better interpretations of just what Jack the Ripper was (with him not being a normal human being) and this own seemed a little too far-fetched to me. Nevertheless, the Cerberus was still a formidable foe!

Oh, and from the way he’s described, I imagined Alexi as Alan Rickman!
(That’s ok, ‘cuz Alan Rickman’s pretty darn good looking!)

Style: As mentioned in the review, the style was clunky with too much of a mix of modern and forced period language. It didn’t flow perfectly, but it could easily just be the author still finding her voice. The foreign language mistakes really bugged me, though. They should have been checked – and not with Google Translate!

Final verdict: An interesting and well-plotted tale let down by Percy’s character change (I was considering 5 stars up until that point) but still good. 4 stars.

Extra notes: I don’t think there was any bad language use. No sex.