Friday, 30 March 2012

Follow Friday - 30/03/12

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

Q: Do you read one book at a time or do you switch back and forth between two or more?

Up until about a year ago, I was all about getting through one book at once. If I was really struggling with the book then sometimes I'd put it aside and read a different one before going back to it to finish it off, but I wouldn't alternate between books.

It's a very different story now!

Nowadays I tend to have several books on the go at any one time. The masterful way I have of choosing between them is putting a different book in each room in the house (drives the bf nuts - heh) and seeing which room I'm in when the reading bug bites! I also have one book on the Kindle and at least one audiobook on the go at all times. If one book catches my attention more than the others then I'll devote all my time to that one, else I'll switch back and forth.

How about you?

Happy hopping and have a great weekend!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Get A Taste: Paraglide

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!

The numbers for this week are:
Page 7 for books
16% for ebooks

My book:

Click image to go to GoodReads page
"No!" said Lionel, crossing his arms over his chest. "No police. We don't want to get the bobbies involved. They're ill-equipped to handle this kind of thing. It would only increase the risk for Genevieve. And I definitely wouldn't go to the embassy. I hate to say this, but it's possible they're involved somehow. Not everyone in the Agency agreed with everything Edward did. I don't think he had any real enemies but we can't be certain."
Peter Anthony Kelley very graciously provided me with a review copy of his book. I was sold as soon as I read "the Alps". Even though it's set in the Swiss Alps and not the French Alps, the Alps are still home and I always enjoy reading about them! So far, this book reminds me of Percy Jackson minus the supernatural entities. I think it will appeal to teens who like adventure stories, but full review to come once I've finished it!

Do you want to join in too? Here’s how:
Step 1: Copy and paste the Get A Taste image.
Step 2: Copy and paste our intro or write your own but it must link back to both of our blogs.
Step 3: Find the designated page for the week.
Step 4: Type out a paragraph or so from your book.
Step 5: Post it and share it!
We would appreciate it if you'd leave a comment letting us know where we can find your post. We'll be sure to pop on by and leave a comment!
Thanks and have fun!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Slide by Jill Hathaway

Look at that cover! It’s a throwback to those Point Horror books that I used to read years ago. I think most of those have gone out of print now, which is a shame as they were actually pretty good, but as soon as I saw that cover I knew that that book would be gracing my bookshelf.

The story was the icing on the cake. It sounds freakalicious – a mix up between freaky and delicious!

Title: Slide
Series: Slide #1
Author: Jill Hathaway
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 250
PoV: 1st person
Tense: Present tense

Story: Vee Bell is certain of one irrefutable truth—her sister’s friend Sophie didn’t kill herself. She was murdered. 

Vee knows this because she was there. Everyone believes Vee is narcoleptic, but she doesn’t actually fall asleep during these episodes: When she passes out, she slides into somebody else’s mind and experiences the world through that person’s eyes. She’s slid into her sister as she cheated on a math test, into a teacher sneaking a drink before class. She learned the worst about a supposed “friend” when she slid into her during a school dance. But nothing could have prepared Vee for what happens one October night when she slides into the mind of someone holding a bloody knife, standing over Sophie’s slashed body. 

Vee desperately wishes she could share her secret, but who would believe her? It sounds so crazy that she can’t bring herself to tell her best friend, Rollins, let alone the police. Even if she could confide in Rollins, he has been acting off lately, more distant, especially now that she’s been spending more time with Zane. 

Enmeshed in a terrifying web of secrets, lies, and danger and with no one to turn to, Vee must find a way to unmask the killer before he or she strikes again.

Thoughts and impressions: From the cover, I kind of thought that this book would have more of a horror vibe. As it is, it’s really caught somewhere between thriller and mystery. The school cheerleaders are killing themselves. Suicide, they say, it’s like dominoes. Except that, due to her ability to slide, Vee knows that the first suicide was really a murder and she highly suspects that the second was too.

But how can she prove that this is the case without telling the truth about her ability? No one will believe that when she sleeps, it’s not really narcolepsy but something she can’t really explain: she’s moving into another person’s body, merely a spectator to all of their actions. They’ll either think that she’s lying or that she’s lost it; either way, it’ll do no good. So Vee finds herself taking matters into her own hands.

Early on in the book, Vee explains that if she’s touching an item that a person has emotionally imprinted on, then she’ll slide into that person’s head when she loses consciousness. To avoid this, she claims to go out of her way to keep from touching items that others could have imprinted on.

I say “claims” because that is what Vee tells the reader through the narrative. What we see is a very different story. In the first day alone, Vee slides three times into three different people because she’s placed something of theirs against her skin. This seems a bit careless for someone who supposedly goes out of her way to avoid imprinted items. After all, she’s bought a book brand new so that there’s no way anyone could have imprinted on it, but then she just slips a friendship bracelet made for her little sister onto her wrist. Surely if anyone’s going to emotionally imprint on something, it’d be a friendship bracelet made for their best friend. These two sides of Vee seem entirely at odds with each other. This was the only thing that really stuck out to me as not being entirely smooth.

All of the characters have skeletons in their closets: from the best friend with the secret home life, to the former best friend who would have left Vee to be raped simply because the boy chose her, to the emotionally distant father who leaves his teenage daughter to fill the role of parent. Vee eventually comes to realise that she can use her strange ability to uncover some of these secrets and she starts to slide on purpose. I really liked this Vee who wasn’t afraid to use everything at her disposal in order to get to the bottom of things.

The mystery of who is behind the killings is tightly knit, keeping both Vee and the reader guessing for a long time. I’m not entirely sure that the reader is really given enough information to be able to draw the right conclusion until close to the end of the novel, but that is mostly because this is a first person narrative and Vee doesn’t have that information herself.

As a reader, I wish that I’d been given the chance to get to know Rollins, Vee’s best friend, a bit better. It started out really well and I loved their friendship – especially the anecdote about the time they bought an XXL shirt and pretended to be conjoined twins for a day. Unfortunately, he was sort of pushed out of things for much of the book in order to make room for Vee’s investigations and for the new boy in town to come and sweep Vee off her feet. Vee’s interactions with Zane, particularly when they first meet, are an eye-opening look into the girl she is when she’s not branded as the narcoleptic freak at school or trying to fill the shoes of a replacement parent at home. She was more open and friendly with Zane than she appeared to be with other people.

The “love triangle”, and I put that in quotation marks as I’m not sure that it can really be called that, was very different. There were two boys vying for Vee’s affections, but this never takes precedence over the mystery. But this in turn means that I felt connected to the best friend from the scenes that we’d seen with Rollins and Vee hanging out, but I didn’t really feel connected to Zane as a lot of what goes on between him and Vee goes on off page.

Vee’s home life was particularly well drawn. Her little sister seems to be bending to the peer pressure that’s sending her off the rails and her father spends more time helping other people cope with having lost a loved one to cancer than he does his own daughters with the loss of their mother. Is it any wonder that Vee is not exactly the image of a well-balanced teen?

The last thing that I want to mention is the dependence on American pop culture. I read a lot of novels by American authors that I have no problems with, but in Slide I found that occasionally Vee would be talking about something, taking it for granted that I’d know what it was, but in reality I didn’t have the slightest clue.

Style: Fairly simple but this seems to go hand in hand with present tense use in YA novels.

Final verdict: I didn’t get the horror story that I was expecting from this book – after all, the blurb makes it sound like Vee will see through the eyes of the killer multiple times – but I found that I did enjoy the story I was given. 4 stars

Extra notes: Bad language is present, sex is not.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher from NetGalley.

I have to admit that at first glance, The Wicked and the Just did not catch my eye. It was when I came across a review by another reviewer whose opinion I respect that I realised that this was actually the sort of book that really should have caught my attention. Boy, am I glad that I got the chance to go back on my original overlooking of the book because it really is that good!

Title: The Wicked and the Just
Author: J. Anderson Coats
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Target audience: YA
Length: 352 pages
PoV: 1st person
Tense: Present tense

Story: Cecily’s father has ruined her life. He’s moving them to occupied Wales, where the king needs good strong Englishmen to keep down the vicious Welshmen. At least Cecily will finally be the lady of the house. 

Gwenhwyfar knows all about that house. Once she dreamed of being the lady there herself, until the English destroyed the lives of everyone she knows. Now she must wait hand and foot on this bratty English girl. 

While Cecily struggles to find her place amongst the snobby English landowners, Gwenhwyfar struggles just to survive. And outside the city walls, tensions are rising ever higher—until finally they must reach the breaking point.

Thoughts and impressions: Something that I think will be very important to take into account with this book is that it will not be for everyone: neither character is particularly likeable; there’s not very much action and everything is very slow-burning; sometimes the narrative is on the jumpy side as it passes from one scene to another with no warning; etc.

It was perfect for me.

One of my favourite books is Warrior Daughter by Janet Paisley. It chronicles the life of a Celtic warrior queen as she and the rest of Alba (now Scotland) face the threat of the encroaching Roman Empire. The Wicked and the Just tackles things from a different angle. Set over a millennium later, this story chronicles the tensions that ensued as Wales became annexed to England and the English who have moved to the various English settlements there treat the Welsh badly.

You can practically feel the tension oozing from the book in places. A lot of it is what the reader can deduce from the observations of the locals by the English girl, Cecily, who has been brought to Wales by her father. Or rather, the English as a group have managed to blind themselves to just what they’re doing to the Welsh and Cecily does not take the initiative to open her eyes. It doesn’t surprise me that they turned a blind eye to the suffering of the locals – it felt as though they’d got a taste of freedom where they could do what they liked without the king watching over their shoulders and they’d got to the point where they didn’t think twice about abusing the privilege.

The two narrators are Cecily – whose father took her to Wales after her uncle returned from the Crusades in the Holy land and reclaimed his lands from his younger brother, thus pushing him to accept a position in Wales; and Gwenhwyfar – a young Welsh woman who appears to have been the daughter of a local chieftain until the English came and hung him from their new walls when he refused to submit to their rule.

Cecily is, to put it bluntly, a spoilt brat. She likes to throw her weight around whenever she possibly can. She’s conceited and rude and places far too much belief in her own importance. To make up for this her narrative voice often takes on the sarcastic tone of one long-suffering with gems such as: “It’s raining. Again. Little wonder naught grows here. We ought to sow the fields with fish.”

Gwenhwyfar’s voice is very different. There’s a lot of cloaked anger in her as she witnesses the degrading of her people as that English brat waltzes around with the other English like they own the place, as they take everything from the Welsh while she and her people have to worry about starvation, as crimes against the Welsh go unpunished by the English councils.

What I found really interesting is that when the tensions finally mount to breaking point and Cecily and Gwenhwyfar’s roles are reversed their narrative voices were also reversed. This was a very interesting technique to use and I feel that it came across really well.

This is in no way the sort of story where everything is strung together by a sequence of action scenes. It’s more a look at how life was in this area during this era and while this may not appeal to everyone, it does appeal to me. I’m fascinated by history and as a Brit I was of course aware of how Wales became annexed to England as well was the fact that there was an uprising some years later against the English rule. I was not, however, aware of the subtleties or the treatment of the local population by those English who chose to cross the border, though I suppose that I could have hazarded a good guess. This is not to say that I would have been able to guess the details, mind, and as such I feel as though I have learnt a lot from reading this book!

In fact, there’s almost no action at all until the very end of the book. Despite this, both characters do manage to grow and when it’s required of them both will break from their respective moulds in order to step up to the mark. Gwenhwyfar is limited in what action she can take but she does teach Cecily a few very important lessons about life. Cecily, with more freedom afforded to her, can occasionally stick her neck out for what is right rather than what is the norm.

The novel covers a couple of years of life in this English community in Wales, broken down into periods of time. Occasionally the narrative will be following a certain event for a while and then all at once the new paragraph break leads to a new, completely different and unrelated event. These could at times be a bit sudden and jarring but I had no major issues with them as it was fairly easy to wrap your head around the subject change each time.

The author has a wonderful, lyrical style that really drew me in and managed to give the feeling of a historic setting. She does go down that road of using very modern vocabulary (“upside the head”) or more recent American vocabulary (“stoop”) a couple of times, which was frustrating for me as I felt that it ruined the effect she strove so hard to create in the first place.

At the end of the day, this was a novel that didn’t catch my attention upon first glance, but it’s one that took me on a real ride and educated me as well as entertained me. It won’t appeal to all readers, but it was just my cup of tea. I loved it.

Style: See above. Also, Cecily’s voice is perhaps a tad too modern but it entertained me to the point where I didn’t mind.

Final verdict: A fabulous book that paints a fascinating portrait of tension in Wales during one of the most important points in the country’s history. 5 stars

Extra notes: I think there was a very small amount of bad language. No sex. The book is appropriate for young adults but may appeal to an older audience more.

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Cover Wars: Mistress of Rome

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 our cover is one that I've been harping on about for a couple of years now. Look how gorgeous the UK version is! Ok, well, now you already know which side I'm going to be picking!

US cover                                                                    UK cover

Rea says: If you have not seen the UK cover face to face, you should do. It is even more beautiful when you see the real thing. I could gush about Kate Quinn’s UK covers all day. They’re all so gorgeous! She’s dropped really lucky with her cover artist there. The US cover pales in comparison. It’s pretty in its own way, but it just can’t hold a light to the UK cover. Obviously, I’m going with UK.

Tara says: The US version looks very old fashioned and boring. It looks like a classic of some sort, though I know it’s not. The UK version is amazing! It looks more modern. That knife/dagger in the cover art just makes me want to know more about the book. There's less going on in the background of the cover and I just feel it’s much better. I'm going with the UK version.


Week 10:     US: 2     UK: 5     Draw: 2

Do you want to join in too? Here’s how:
Step 1: Copy and paste the Cover Wars image.
Step 2: Copy and paste our intro or write your own but it must link back to both of our blogs.
Step 3: Copy and paste the US and UK cover images.
Step 4: Compare the two.
Step 5: Either use our score or keep your own score.
Step 6: Post it and share it!
Thanks and have fun!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

When the Sea Is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen

As soon as I read this book’s blurb, I knew that it would be a 2012 purchase. It turns out that it was given to me as a gift by the boyfriend, but had he not bought it for me, I would have parted with the cash myself. From the blurb’s promise of its contents, I was really excited to read When the Sea Is Rising Red. My copy arrived when I was part way through another read but as soon as I’d finished it I curled up with this one, ready for a magical adventure.

Title: When the Sea Is Rising Red
Author: Cat Hellisen
Publisher: Farrar Straus Girroux
Target Audience: YA
Pages: 296
PoV : 1st person
Tense : Present tense

Story: After seventeen-year-old Felicita’s dearest friend, Ilven, kills herself to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege. She fakes her own death and leaves her sheltered life as one of Pelimburg’s magical elite behind. Living in the slums, scrubbing dishes for a living, she falls for charismatic Dash while also becoming fascinated with vampire Jannik.

Then something shocking washes up on the beach: Ilven's death has called out of the sea a dangerous, wild magic. Felicita must decide whether her loyalties lie with the family she abandoned . . . or with those who would twist this dark power to destroy Pelimburg's caste system, and the whole city along with it. 

Thoughts and impressions: Trudi Canavan’s The Black Magician trilogy is one of my favourite series. There are some similarities that I personally drew between Canavan’s books and Hellisen’s début. To be clear, these similarities were only in my own head as both authors have created very different and distinct worlds for their characters to inhabit. But this did mean that When the Sea Is Rising Red had to live up to the very high standards set for it in my own head. I have to say, it did a very good job but it did fall short in one specific area: the magic.

Now, the magic system introduced was truly fascinating. The main character, Felicita, is the daughter of one of the ruling Houses, which in turn means that she has magic at her disposal when she ingests a very specific drug. There are three types of magic: the ability to read people’s emotions, the ability to see the future, and the ability to manipulate air molecules. Felicita and her family all have this last ability.

When Felicita fakes her own death, she goes to the city’s slums and the people that she takes up with mention that the Houses waste their daughters’ magical abilities (as they’re treated more like breeding stock and don’t get to train properly) and their leader, Dash, would be able to achieve a lot if he could get one to his side. I read this as hinting that maybe use of the drug isn’t actually necessary for Felicita to tap into her magic, but unfortunately this never happened. While it’s true that Felicita does play a role in Dash’s plans at the end of the day, I don’t see how he could have used a daughter with one of the other two abilities as Felicita’s specific power played a big role in his plan. Maybe I attached too much importance to that hint, but I felt disappointed that it didn’t live up to the promise that it delivered and was essentially rendered moot.

Then there was Jannik’s vampiric magic. Felicita describes it as a sort of tantalising presence that calls to her but, as Jannik himself explains, he is unable to do anything with his own magic. When it became clear that Felicita wasn’t going to be able to access her magic on her own, I switched to hoping that she would somehow find a way of dipping into Jannik’s magic in order to fuel her own powers. Again, it didn’t happen. In fact, other than being a siren call for Felicita, Jannik’s magic didn’t seem to have any particular role at all.

All things considered, though, the magic turned out to only be a fairly small part of the plot. The story is very slow moving, which won’t appeal to all readers, and focuses mostly on how Felicita’s adaptats from the life of the privileged to the life of the poorest city dwellers. This forces her to face some of the atrocities committed in her family’s name that she hadn’t been aware of and it gives her a completely different outlook on life. There is a lot of animosity among the city dwellers towards all of the ruling Houses, but especially towards her House, House Pelim, from which the city of Pelimburg takes its name.

At this point, the story focuses on exploring the city life for its poorest citizens and on developing the relationships between the members of Dash’s gang, especially the one between Dash and Felicita, which quickly becomes physical. Another thing that’s explored is the attraction between Felicita and the vampire, Jannik, and what being a male vampire entails.

Eventually the threat of a sea witch summoned by the suicide of Felicita’s friend, Ilven, is introduced and becomes the focus of the story. It quickly becomes obvious that Dash has his own personal vendetta against Felicita’s brother, which clouds his judgement to the point where he could, arguably, be considered mad. This part of the story and especially the choices that Felicita is faced with are what made the book shine. These events defined Felicita as a character that demands respect. She had a lot of growing up to do very fast and she managed admirably.

I’m not sure whether or not this book is a standalone or the first part of a series. Events are neatly wrapped up and it could easily be the end of Felicita’s story but at the same time there are many things that could still be explored.

Overall, this book took me on quite the trip. I enjoyed the world and mythology presented and I came to like Felicita. I just wish that the magic had been expanded on more as I felt that its limited role let the book down.

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

Final verdict: Had the magic been expanded on, this could truly have been an excellent teen read. As it is, it’s caught somewhere between good and great. I have to admit that maybe my expectations were a bit high once I’d drawn the parallels with The Black Magician trilogy, so I’m willing to give this book the benefit of the doubt. 4 stars

Extra notes: Bad language is present. Sex behind closed doors. Also note that this book deals with both homo- and bisexuality as well as drug abuse.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A Million Suns by Beth Revis

Discovering Across the Universe was more of a happy accident than anything else. I picked it up as part of a reading challenge and though I didn’t really have high hopes for it, the story blew me away. I enjoyed it so much that I gave it a spot on my GoodReads favourites shelf, which currently has a whole sixteen books listed on it!

This was a case where time gave me better perspective and even though nothing will change my enjoyment of the book, I became more aware of its flaws. Despite this, I was still really looking forward to the release of the sequel. I got the book at the time of its release but just didn’t get around to reading it until now.

Title: A Million Suns
Series: Across the Universe #2
Author: Beth Revis
Publisher: Razorbill
Target Audience: YA
Pages: 386
Chapters: 72
PoV: 1st person
Tense: Present tense

Story: Godspeed was once fueled by lies. Now it is ruled by chaos. It’s been three months. In that time, Amy has learned to hide who she is. Elder is trying to be the leader he’s always wanted to be. But as the ship gets more and more out of control, only one thing is certain: They have to get off the ship.

Thoughts and impressions: A Million Suns certainly opens with a shattering game-changing revelation and this only intensifies as events take place and even more shocking secrets are pulled out into the light of day.

The plot here was definitely stronger than that of the first book. There, a lot was hinging on Amy and Elder just being slow when things were staring them in the face. Though that was occasionally the case here, too, it was much less common. The inhabitants of the ship are now off the Phydus, a drug that allowed them to be controlled, and Elder is faced with a community only just becoming aware of its surroundings.

There’s unrest, dissension and calls for a revolution – for the people to take the power rather than leaving it in the hands of the youngest person on board the ship. Elder’s got a lot on his plate and it’s a situation his training never prepared him for so he often does things that seem like a good idea in the heat of the moment but have serious consequences later on.

Elder’s very much not the alpha male hero. He’s much more subdued than that. He’s not really the sort of male character that would ever make one of my heart throb lists. That said, I do like him as a character. He’s very interesting to read about, especially as he struggles with his identity and the truth of his heritage. Often enough, when he does some things he won’t just question whether it was the right thing to do, but also how his predecessor would have handled the situation.

It’s true that he’s very brittle in this book and often quick to lose his temper but considering how much stress he’s under, I’m willing to forgive this.

I’m less willing to forgive Amy. There were times when I really wanted to reach into the book and slap some sense into her. She often acted like a spoilt child spitting out her dummy when she didn’t get her way, especially in her interactions with Elder. I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with her.

There was one quote from one of Elder’s chapters that really struck me: “When it’s her people who are dying it has to be the highest priority but when it’s mine who are dying she doesn’t care.” I’m paraphrasing this but it’s something along those lines. And yes, it truly did feel very much that way. I didn’t like who she became.

Other than the discontent spreading through the ship, the story also focuses on a series of clues about the ship’s secrets that Orion left for Amy. These were prompted by a quote from Dante’s Inferno. I don’t know how schooling works in the US but we never studied Dante and I wouldn’t have been able to place that quote in a million years.

That aside, the trail was certainly very thought-provoking. When taken hand in hand with another murdering spree on board, this time in the name of “the leader” made for a mystery plot that was easy to get caught up in. What’s more, whereas the perpetrator was obvious in the first book, time was far from the case here. I never really had a solid suspect in mind. The consequences were much more far-reaching, though.

Style: The author certainly knows how to get the reader caught up in the action taking place. I flew through this book.

Final verdict: Stronger than the first book but I couldn’t help but dislike Amy. I’m still very interested in seeing where things go from here! 4 stars

Extra notes: invented language (“frex”) for the most part but there is a certain amount of bad language here. No sex.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Follow Friday - 23/03/12

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

Q: What is the longest book you’ve read? What are your favorite 600+ page reads?

The longest book I've ever read was The Lord of the Rings, which I read when I was 13. My copy was around the 1,400 page mark and it took me two weeks to read it.

I'm trying to think of other books that I've read that are over the 600 page mark and I'm having trouble coming up with titles! I have of course read my fair share of long classics (David Copperfield, Swann's Way, The Red and the Black,...). There are the last few Harry Potter books, which I loved but not enough to get me to read the last one (though I think that's more to do with not wanting to come to the end of an era). And then there's A Game of Thrones, which I've almost finished now and have vastly enjoyed! 

I suppose I could include the Oxford-Hachette English-French dictionary here as, though I haven't read it from cover to cover, I've used it so extensively that it wouldn't surprise me if I'd looked at every page at some point or another. It's a very good dictionary and helped me a lot with my translation work!

Have a great weekend and happy hopping!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Get A Taste: My Soul to Take

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!

The numbers for this week are: 
p40 for books
20% for ebooks

My book is:

Click image to go to Goodreads page

After a minute's hesitation, and much anticipatory panic, I decided to call Nash, because in spite of his reputation and my suspicion about his motives, he hadn't laughed at me when I told him the truth about the panic attack.
And with Emma grounded, he was the only one left who knew.

I've been reading this book off and on for a while now (it's my "physical" book that I read when I want the feel of pages turning). I know, I'm incredibly late coming to this series but I blame the Twilight thing slapped across the front cover as I tend to avoid that. I wish I'd picked it up sooner though as I'm really enjoying it! I've got about 100 pages left to go but I already know that I'll be reading the next book asap.

Do you want to join in too? Here’s how:
Step 1: Copy and paste the Get A Taste image.
Step 2: Copy and paste our intro or write your own but it must link back to both of our blogs.
Step 3: Find the designated page for the week.
Step 4: Type out a paragraph or so from your book.
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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Blue Sky Days by Marie Landry

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review with the Authors Requesting Reviews program on Basically Books.

This book came recommended to me by Tana, the fabulous queen of the ARR program. Although this is not a genre that I often dabble in, I found I was actually feeling fairly excited about the prospect of the story and stepping out of my comfort zone.

Title: Blue Sky Days
Author: Marie Landry
Publisher: Self-published
Length: 207 pages
PoV: 1st person
Tense: Past tense

Story: A year after graduating from high school, nineteen-year-old Emma Ward feels lost. She has spent most of her life trying to please her frigid, miserable mother - studying hard, getting good grades, avoiding the whole teenage rebellion thing - and now she feels she has no identity beyond that. Because she spent so many years working hard and planning every moment of her life, she doesn't have any friends, has never had a boyfriend, and basically doesn't know who she is or what she really wants from life. Working two part-time jobs to save money for college hasn't helped her make decisions about her future, so she decides it's time for a change. She leaves home to live with her free-spirited, slightly eccentric Aunt Daisy in a small town that makes Emma feel like she's stepped back in time. 

When Emma meets Nicholas Shaw, everything changes - he's unlike anyone she's ever met before, the kind of man she didn't even know existed in the 21st century. Carefree and spirited like Daisy, Nicholas teaches Emma to appreciate life, the beauty around her, and to just let go and live. Between Daisy and Nicholas, Emma feels like she belongs somewhere for the first time in her life, and realizes that you don't always need a plan - sometimes life steers you where you're meant to be. 

Life is wonderful, an endless string of blue sky days, until Nicholas is diagnosed with cancer, and life changes once again for Emma in ways she never thought possible. Now it's time for her to help Nicholas the way he's helped her. Emma will have to use her new-found strength, and discover along the way if love really is enough to get you through.

Thoughts and impressions: I have to be honest as I start this review: I think that this is one of the most difficult reviews that I have ever written. Even in my own head I am very torn about this book. On the one hand, I did like the story and the message that it conveys, but on the other hand it was lacking something for me. But what, exactly, was it lacking? Well, I’m finding that I can’t quite put my finger on that. I’m going to try to figure it out for myself as I write this.

So what’s the book about? The synopsis covers that extensively. Emma, having always lived in her mother’s shadow as she strives for her approval, finally sets out to discover life and what she wants from it. So she goes to live with her aunt Daisy in the small town of Riverview and there she embarks on a voyage of self-discovery. She soon meets Nicholas and her voyage of self-discovery becomes the adventure of falling in love for the first time. But her summer happiness is doomed when Nicholas is diagnosed with cancer and Emma has to find new pillars of strength inside herself in order to be the rock that Nicholas needs to help him weather this storm.

I much preferred the second half of the story, but why? I think that the answer lies in the fact that in the first half of Blue Sky Days there is no threat in any form. There’s nothing hanging over their heads as the reader knows that the cancer problem is coming, but the characters don’t. It’s not even really the story of Emma and Nicholas falling in love as that happens right off the bat. It’s more a chronicle of what they did together that summer. There are two what I’m going to term “speeds”. Most of the time things were set on “play” and the reader would experience events as Emma lived them. Other times it was like things were on “fast forward” as Emma gave the lowdown on what they’d been doing until we’re caught up with her present again.

Because there was no threat to what was going on, to their happiness, I felt a bit like a voyeur standing at a window and looking in on these people, which in turn left me ill at ease. More than this, though, the physical interactions between the characters left me uncomfortable. Now, I consider myself to be a fairly touchy-feely person and I’m all about hugs and kisses (much to my boyfriend’s ever-lasting frustration!), but these characters took touchy-feely to a whole new level. They were constantly kissing each other on the cheek or forehead or hugging even when it was the first time they’d met. This may be a culture issue, I don’t know. Again, I just felt bordering on voyeuristic by the intimacy of it all.

I didn’t really feel the growing relationships between the characters at this point either. Daisy and Emma already had a close relationship before the events of the book even started; Maggie and Vince, Nicholas’s friends, didn’t really get much on-page time and the reader just had to take Emma’s word for it when she mentioned that they’d become friends during one of the fast forward passages; and I felt that the scenes between Emma and Nicholas were more a way of chronicling the events of the summer than really showing the evolution of their feelings as the feelings just seemed to be there as of the get go.

It was interesting to watch Emma come to find her own two feet with the help of these other characters but I found that my discomfort during this half of the story was often hard to overlook and the fact that for 50% of the book there was nothing to threaten their happiness meant that I felt that they had nothing to lose. Consequently, it was hard to stay interested at times.

The second half of the book really picked up. I know that some readers were reduced to tears when reading this half of the book as Nicholas has to fight leukaemia. Personally, I didn’t cry but I suspect that this stems from my difficulties connecting with the characters in the first half of the book.

Funnily enough this part of the story reflects events that took place in my boyfriend’s family just before I was drawn into the fold. We’re talking almost the exact same trials and tribulations as Emma and Nicholas and the same mentality on coming out the other side. It’s very true that such an experience leaves you with a very different outlook on life. There were a good number of quotes in this part of the book that really impacted me. The most important of these was something that Daisy says to Emma when Emma’s feeling close to breaking point as things go from bad to worse.
"You're going to give him all you have, just like you've been doing, and when you don't think you've got anything left to give you're going to dig deeper and somehow find more strength..." I loved this quote. It meant so much to me. I wish I knew how to add quotes to GoodReads so I could add that one to my favourites, alas I don’t.

This was a very poignant insight into the horror that people – friends and family of cancer sufferers – go through every day. I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt, though my experience was diagnosed as terminal so there was never a point when raised hopes were dashed as they are in the book. I think the most striking scene for me was when Emma climbed into her car and just broke down, she felt so powerless and that translated really well.

In fact, the author’s ability to portray these feelings (as several of the characters end up feeling like ships without anchors) was really admirable. She’s got great talent for bringing such emotions to life for the reader. Had I connected with the characters better, I’m sure that I too would have been reduced to a blubbering mess.

Emma’s dad also makes his appearance in the second half after having been more or less absent for the first half of things. He’s supposedly breaking free from the chains that shackle him to his selfish, unfeeling wife but most of this goes on off-page so the reader doesn’t really get to observe his evolution. I would have liked to have seen more or it. As it was it felt like it was a little too much in the way of tying things up with that bow of perfection. It didn’t help that I found the mother’s character very hard to believe. I just feel that had she really been jealous that her only child chose to spend her time with her aunt instead of her mother, the mother would have gone to lengths to get her back rather than just keep pushing her farther and farther away at each point.

So I find that I’m torn about this book. I think really this is in part my own fault as the reader for not connecting very well with the book.  When I look at it from a distance, I’m aware that this book is worth at least 4 stars, but it just didn’t work that well for me. I enjoyed it for the most part but I wasn’t invested in it.

The message, however, is perfect. May we all strive to make every day a blue sky day.

Style: I don’t know what it was exactly about the “fast forward” passages that didn’t work for me, but they just didn’t work all that well for me. That said, Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite authors and I don’t like her “fast forward” passages either, so maybe it’s just this particular style of recounting events. Other than that, the style was very enjoyable and flowed well. For an indie book there were remarkably few issues with the editing, so much respect is deserved there!

Final verdict: Though I realise that the book deserves a high rating, it wasn’t a 4 or 5 star read for me. It wasn’t a bad read either. I’m used to reading books where there’s a very definite threat throughout the book and I think the lack of one here definitely affected my enjoyment of this one. 3 stars

Extra notes: Some bad language. Sex behind closed doors.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher from NetGalley.

I first heard of this book a couple of months ago. The idea behind it intrigued me from the get go. Those ninja nuns sound like the coolest nuns to ever walk the earth! When I got the mail about this being an open galley for two days, I immediately got a copy of it. It sounded like just my cup of tea!

Title: Grave Mercy
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Author: R.L. LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 560
PoV: 1st person
Tense: Present tense

Story: Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf? 

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. 

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Thoughts and impressions: Grave Mercy is the story of Ismae, a daughter of saint Mortain, the old Breton god of Death. Rescued from what would have been certain death, she enters the convent of saint Mortain where she is trained in the arts of death, awaiting orders and assignments from her father Himself. Three years later, she finds herself being sent to court with the dubious Lord Duval where she is to act as the eyes and ears of the convent as they try to discover who is betraying the nation of Brittany to the French.

Before I get into this review, let me explain something about the history of language in France. It is only in the second half of the 19th century that the French language became widely spoken in France. Indeed, it wasn’t until the Revolution in 1789 that they started to consider the concept of “one language for one people”. In the 15th century, only people who interacted with the French court and politics spoke the king’s French. Everyone else spoke regional languages / dialects that were not always mutually understandable. I would imagine that the Breton court would have spoken French in order to interact with their French neighbours (as Brittany was not under French rule at this time). The daughter of a lowly turnip farmer, however, would not. As they are in Brittany, I would assume she’d have spoken some form of Breton, which is a Celtic language. Upon entering the convent, Ismae would not only have had to learn to read and write but she would also have had to learn French.

The book itself balances precariously on that precipice that is the boundary between YA and adult books. At times I felt like I was reading something aimed at adults and others it was definitely aimed at YA readers. Despite this, it does work well for both markets and I suspect the book will appeal to many 16+ readers (well, maybe 15+).  It is certainly geared towards female readers, though, and the romance aspect is fairly heavy. I personally really enjoyed the slow unfurling of attraction between Duval and Ismae. It’s just the sort of romance that I really like: no instant love at first sight but rather a slow-building emotional connection as the characters get to know one another.

There’s also the fantasy of one of the old gods (now just called a saint by the Church) interacting with the living in order to sire progeny and then granting these children certain abilities so that they may enact his will upon the living. I particularly liked the idea of the shadow of death guiding Ismae’s hand: showing her who to kill, when and even how.

And then there’s the political threat. Anne is only 12-years-old but she is to be crowned Duchess of Brittany (if the French will stop opposing her) and she is also having to juggle several suitors from when her father had promised her hand to a number of men for political reasons. Now it would seem that on top of all of this, one of her five most trusted advisors is betraying her to the French, who are trying to annex Brittany. But which one? They could all be playing their own political games – some are even doing so openly – and as Ismae soon discovers, there are layer upon layer of plots threatening Anne from all directions.

Anne herself is a real historical figure. I always consider it to be a difficult task to portray someone who one day long ago really lived, breathed and felt emotions just as we do today. I felt that the author really stepped up to the task and did an incredibly good job with Anne: she is both the adult leader of a nation and the young and vulnerable child who is at a loss in this world she’s been thrown into. On more than one occasion my heart was breaking for this poor child who was forced to grow up so fast.

As for Ismae, she also had a lot of growing up to do despite her older age. She was only 14 when she entered the convent and although she is knowledgeable about certain things, she is also naïve about others. She was taught to regard the convent’s instructions as being infallible. When she meets Duval all of this is turned on its head and she finds herself forced to regard her teachings with a new eye. I really enjoyed observing her evolve beyond what she’d been moulded into as she realises that Mortain does not systematically take out the bad guys as he leads the good guys to victory. No, He is much more complicated than that. Ismae was a wonderful character who found her own two feet in a world where others would rather keep her under their thumb.

In the convent, Ismae has two close friends: Sybella and Annith. Both play a fairly small role in Ismae’s story. The synopsis of the second book shows that it is to be Sybella’s story, which leads me to believe that the third book will be about Annith. I’m looking forward to Sybella’s story in particular as she’s already such a wonderfully complex character in this book.

The only thing that I didn’t like about the book was the style it’s written in and unfortunately that’s a pretty big thing to not like about a book. This is all personal taste, of course, but the style was far too simple for my taste and tended to tell rather than show. It was such an amazing story but I felt that it was really let down by the style. It could be that the author is still finding her footing in the murky waters of narration. This most definitely will not keep me from reading other books in this series, but it just wasn’t the style for me.

Style: See above.

Final verdict: I love, love, loved the story. The only thing keeping me from rating it 5 stars and slapping it on my favourites shelf is the style. 4 stars

Extra notes: Some swearing (in French). Possible sex scene but it was so expertly handled that I’m not even sure whether sex took place (though I think it did).