Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Amusements 6

Photo by cometstarmoon

I haven't done one of these in a while so you'll find some of these links were posted two months ago! Enjoy!

Beth Bloom, author of Drain You, talked to Jamie of The Broke and the Bookish about 90's culture and life as a teen in that decade. I was not a teenager until the year 2000, so I found it really interesting. On the same blog, Tahleen takes a literary trip to Hawaii is a great book list.

C.J. Daugherty has posted an extract from Night School: Legacy which has made me even more excited about its upcoming release. There is also enormous novelty value in the fact that I've actually read Night School - this is one of the few times since I started this blog that I've read the first book in a series before the promotion starts for the second!

Luisa Plaja shared her favourite 20th Century UKYA books. It can be easy to get swept up in the tide of new releases and forget about authors' backlists, but I love reading about YA/teen fiction that isn't so recent, and I've reviewed a fair bit of it myself.

I really liked Clover's twist on the Top Ten Kick-Ass Heroines theme for Top Ten Tuesday.

For Halloween, For Book's Sake gave us Beulah's My Three Favourite Scary Sisters, and a Top 5 Short Story Collections for Halloween.

I missed seeing this in time to post it when you could still make a reservation, but isn't this collection of clothing made from book-patterned fabric absolutely amazing? (Via Rie of The Awkward Turtle Breeding Ground, who also shared thatmadgirl's plan for a fanfiction storytelling card game.

If you're trying not to buy any more books for yourself in the run up to Christmas, SisterSpooky is here for you. But if you just can't stop, Makeshift Bookmark presents Top Ten Rationales for Obsessive Book Buying.

On a more serious note, Cicely tackles the subject of slut-shaming in YA. Happily, I don't come across it too often, especially in UKYA, but occasionally I will read a book in which the shy, self-deprecating, romantically-inexperienced protagonist has a mean-girl enemy that she, and apparently the author, considers to be too promiscuous. It's not only wrong, but also lazy, to rely on outdated stereotypes of good girls vs bad girls for characterisation.

No favourite reviews this time, as I felt like I was promoting the same few blogs over and over again. They are of course wonderful, but variety is the spice of life. I have added a few new blogs to my RSS reader recently, so hopefully I'll be turning the spotlight onto them next time.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

BlogINK Competition Entry: On Not Reading Before Bed: A Manifesto

Hello all! Interrupting my usual service to let you know that I have entered the MIRAInk BlogINK competition to win a contract to be the MiraINK paid blogger for a year.

Please check out my entry and leave a comment:

On Not Reading Before Bed: A Manifesto

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: Ash, by Malinda Lo

Photo by Moyan Brenn

When Ash's mother dies, her father remarries, but he doesn't live much longer himself. Ash finds herself at the mercy of her ruthless stepmother Lady Isobel and stepsisters Ana and Clara. She is forced to move away from her childhood home and work as a servant, and she copes by developing an obsession with her book of fairytales.

Ash thinks the fairy she meets in the Wood holds the key to her escape, though it may mean death and leaving everything she knows behind. But when she meets the King's Huntress, she starts to change her mind...

This is a book which is all about beautiful imagery and evocative language. The atmosphere is as important as the plot, which is pretty straightforward. The characterisation falls by the wayside a little - although Ash, Lady Isabel, Ana, Clara, and Sidhean were all very clear for me, I thought that Ash's mother and Kaisa were a bit too quickly drawn. There isn't much worldbuilding either, but traditional fairy tales don't really have worldbuilding, so I didn't mind. We learn enough to make the story work.

I loved the idea of the Royal Hunt led by the King's Huntress. It was a great way to work a female character with power and royal connections into the story, and the rituals involved in the hunt evoked history and tradition. I also really enjoyed the sections set at Lady Isobel's sister's house, where Ash is easily accepted by the other staff and joins them at the Yule bonfire. These busy scenes made a excellent contrast with Ash's many walks alone in the Wood.

If you need all your fiction to be snappy and plot-driven and don't want to spend time going on the occasional tangent and following dream sequences, Ash is probably not for you.But if you like books that are a little ethereal, give it a go.

If you are a fan of fairy tale retellings, I would consider Ash to be a must-read. I loved seeing how Malinda Lo twists and rearranges all the typical fairy tale elements. The fairy godmother becomes a slightly menacing fairy man and the three balls take place weeks apart. She also makes the traditional - and new - villains of the story seem at least partly sympathetic, which was interesting, and realistic.

I'm looking forward to reading Huntress, which is a loosely-connected prequel, and learning more about the traditions of the Royal Hunt, and meeting more of Malinda Lo's characters.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books/Authors I'm Thankful For

This is my twelth Top Ten Tuesday post. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is a tricky one, because ther are so many authors I could go on all day. I drafted the list a couple of times but ultimately had to narrow it down. It is almost in chronological order!

Top Ten Books/Authors I'm Thankful For

Photo by Ralph Unden. Chosen because I would buy all these authors a drink.

1. Enid Blyton - for being my first favourite author. I was obsessed with her books throughout primary school. I had a small collection of my own which I read repeatedly. I'd read every book I owned and then when I was done I would start over again. I remember the struggle to choose which one to start with each time! Even though as I got older, I found the books for younger children quite babyish, I still liked to include them in my rereading.  It was only in the last couple of years of primary school that I stopped reading them, as I started to really love going to the library and picking new books by different authors to read instead.

2. Louise Fitzhugh - for offering an alternative to playing princess and inspiring my 'spy phase'. You can read more about how Harriet the Spy influenced me in my review.

3. Sarra Manning - for her Diary of a Crush column in J-17, which provided very necessary escapism during my teens.

4. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel tie-in books - the bulk of my reading diet in my teens. I read plenty of other teen lit and even some more literary stuff, but Buffy is my favourite television programme of all time, and I'm thankful that there were so many tie-in novels and that I could have even more time in that world. And who could forget the Tales of the Slayer short story collections? I just loved the idea that Slayers could be any girl, anywhere, at any time in history. I could even be one.

5. J. K. Rowling - because the Harry Potter universe is the ultimate in escapism.

6. How to Write Damn Good Fiction: Advanced Techniques for Dramatic Storytelling by James N. Frey - the first book about creative writing that I got out of the library, it fueled my desire to be a professional writer. It's here because it was first, but it is a really good book in its own right.

7. The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron - for changing my life. Really. It helped me deal with so many things and become the generally happy, creative person that I am today.

8. Virginia Woolf - for showing me that essays can be amazing too. Seriously. If you have tried her fiction and found it difficult or not your cup of tea, try her non-fiction! If I had a Mary Poppins bag I would carry a copy of A Room of One's Own at all times.

9. Shakespeare - mostly for the words he invented (or at least recorded for posterity), rather than his actual plays, though I've enjoyed every one that I've read. He gave us such wonders as 'cheap', 'fashionable', 'obscene', and 'eyeball'. Where would we be without 'eyeball'?

10. Angela Carter - for magical short stories that led me to explore the world of fairy tale retellings, and start writing them myself. If you haven't tried any of her books before, start with The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories, if it's short stories that you're after, or Nights At The Circus, if you'd prefer a novel.

Book Review: My Soul to Take, by Rachel Vincent

Photo by rfduck

One night Kaylee and her best friend Emma sneak their way into a nightclub. They're having a great time, until Kaylee feels the urge to scream rising up her throat. She is convinced that one of the other girls dancing is about to die. Terrified, she leaves the building. The only one who can comfort her is Nash Hudson, one of the most popular boys at school, and his sudden interest in her is almost as confusing as the screaming.

She doesn't want him to find out the truth - this has happened before. Last time, she told her aunt and uncle about it, and they sent her to a mental health unit, where she was given drugs and not allowed to leave until she said she'd gotten over it, that her delusions were gone.  But when she confesses all, Nash seems to have an explanation...

I was originally drawn to My Soul to Take and the rest of the Soul Screamers series because it explores the banshee myth, and I was really intrigued to see how banshees could be placed into a teen fiction universe. I read a few positive reviews of the series, mostly from Jo at Once Upon a Bookcase, so I was quite looking forward to giving it a try, and happily I was given a copy at the MIRA Ink Blogger Party.

Kaylee is a thoughtful, strong-willed protagonist, who insists on pursuing the truth and won't take the easy way out. Nash doesn't have as vibrant a personality, but I'm sure he'll blossom in later novels, especially as his rivalry with Ted develops. The characterisation of the supporting cast was really good considering that this is a pretty short novel and there are quite a lot of secondary characters. I really liked Uncle Brendon, Aunt Val, Ted, and Emma. I didn't like Sophie, Kaylee's spoilt cousin, but I enjoyed disliking her and found her character convincing.

I did guess what Kaylee's dad's big reveal was going to be, but, despite various clues along the way, I didn't suspect what the final twists would be. At times the pacing is a bit off and it seemed to speed up a lot more towards the end, but I think pacing in a novel like this must be really hard. It's the first in a series of seven books, so Rachel Vincent had to give a realistic amount of information to the reader but also keep a lot of secrets, and I think she managed this really well, though Kaylee did seem a bit too accepting at times.

I don't think My Soul to Take is a lifechanging, must-read kind of book, but I'm sure it's not supposed to be. It's fun, competently-written supernatural romance/drama, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. If you like supernatural fiction and would like a break from all the vampires and fairies, give this a try.


Book Review: Defiance, by C.J. Redwine

Photo by Antoine Hubert

Sixty days have passed since Rachel's father Jared was expected to return to the walled city of Baalboden, and the brutally strict Commander has pronounced him dead. Rachel refuses to believe that her father really is dead, holding onto the hope that if she escapes the city, she will find him in the world outside.

Logan is Rachel's new Protector, assigned to care for her and make sure she obeys the Commander's rules until she reaches Claiming age and is given to a husband. He doesn't believe that Jared is dead either, but he wants to keep Rachel safe inside the city, away from the fire-breathing Cursed Ones that claw their way out of the ground and scorch everything around them. But Rachel's belief that her father still lives arouses the Commander's suspicions, and soon both she and Logan are struggling to evade his cruel machinations and rescue the people of Baalboden.

I liked Rachel as a heroine. She's strong and determined and knows how to take care of herself, and it was a nice change to read about a girl character that didn't start off as a helpless child who needed to be taught how to survive. I enjoyed seeing Rachel make hard choices and kick butt.

I was less interested in Logan, especially once it became clear that he was good at everything! At first I was expecting that he would be the studious, intellectual one, whilst Rachel would do all the physical saving-the-day, but then it turned out he could fight too. His only flaw seems to be that he can't outwit the Commander and gets angry sometimes. I'm sure plenty of readers won't mind this, but I thought it made their partnership a bit unbalanced, as Rachel doesn't have any skills that are hers alone, whereas Logan has a lot of science and technology knowledge that she doesn't share.

I didn't get excited about the romance, but I really enjoyed the plot. There are lots of twists and all the reveals come really slowly, which is frustrating at times but makes it an easy book to keep reading.   There is quite a lot that the author left unexplained, which on the one hand is good, because there is lots to look forward to in the next book, but on the other, it stopped me becoming as absorbed in the world of Defiance as I wanted to be.

Baalboden's society has medieval elements - the ceremonies, the type of jobs people do - and women are effectively property, passed from Protector to Claimer. However, there are sprinklings of futuristic technology, so we are led to believe that the time period in which the story takes place is yet to come. There is a brief description of the events that led up to the founding of Baalboden, mostly to explain why the Commander is so powerful, but it was a bit vague.

The Commander is supposed to be over seventy years old, yet he is fit and strong and agile enough to fight Logan - and I wanted to know why. It's not that all the characters live longer and healthier lives in this novel than people do in reality - Rachel's friend Oliver is about the same age, I guessed, but acts appropriately elderly. I would really like to know what's going on there. And why he hates women. I couldn't imagine why the people would have let the Commander impose such a restricted lifestyle onto them if they had previously lived in a society at least as free as my own. Perhaps everything will be fully explained in later books in this series, but I think the setting would have seemed more believable if the history of Rachel and Logan's world had been explored in more detail in Defiance.

I think that Defiance provides a reasonable set-up for the rest of the series. It's not as strong a beginning as, say, Under the Never Sky, but that's another post for another day! I would like to read the next book when it comes out and see if the ground that Defiance didn't cover is fully explored.

Thank you, Atom Books, for the review copy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: Rebel Angels, by Libba Bray

This book is the second in a trilogy and therefore this review will inevitably contain spoilers for the first book, A Great and Terrible Beauty.

Rebel Angels picks up shortly after where A Great and Terrible Beauty left off. Christmas is approaching and Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are mourning Pippa's death. Gemma is particularly shaken because she blames herself for failing to save Pippa, and has begun having nightmares about it. She has refused to go into the realms ever since, while Felicity and Ann are desperate to return to the beautiful world where almost everything they wish can become true.

Eventually Gemma decides to try visiting the realms once again, where the magic is now loose and can be wielded by the strange, terrifying, and distrustful creatures that live there. The trio find many things waiting for them: a friend thought lost, would-be allies, and mythological enemies. Kartik returns, to set Gemma on a quest to find the Order's ancient temple and bind the magic. But what he doesn't tell her is that the words he has given her will bind the magic to the Rakshana's control. Meanwhile Gemma has been having visions of three girls dressed in white, warning her about a woman who led them to their deaths. Circe is still after them, so the arrival of a new teacher at school makes Gemma increasingly suspicious. She doesn't know who to trust - if there is anyone she can trust.

I found Rebel Angels more convincing than A Great and Terrible Beauty. The lengthy, overly poetic descriptions were toned down a lot and Gemma seemed much wiser  than she was in the first book. The plot was gripping, and although I had strong suspicions about what was going to happen (and was right), the atmosphere of mistrust made me doubt almost everyone and wonder who would turn out to be on Gemma's side in the end. Each of the girls grows stronger in this novel and that was really exciting too - I'm looking forward to finding out where their destinies lie in The Sweet Far Thing, the final book in the trilogy.

Like before, much of the action takes place in the realms, but Libba Bray doesn't neglect the world outside. We get to see the girls' families, which introduces further emotional conflict into the story. Gemma meets a new suitor and there were some interesting revelations about both major and minor characters that kept me reading on at high speed. I loved the historical detail - the girls take a ride on an Underground train for the first time, attend balls and a private members' club, and go Christmas shopping.

My favourite thing about A Great and Terrible Beauty was the undertones of Victorian-girls-vs-the-patriarchy, and we get to see more of that in Rebel Angels. The girls are all getting older and having to deal with their impending futures, which are all potentially pretty horrible. Gemma and Felicity are expected to become good, respectable wives, and whilst Felicity acts out, embarrassing her parents and jeopardising her reputation with low-cut gowns and outrageous behaviour, the more thoughtful and cautious Gemma struggles with the knowledge that she will probably have to keep her powers secret from any future husband. Ann is only at Spence in order to learn enough to be able to work as a governess for her cousin's children, and she is beginning to resent the expectation that she will spend her life in servitude. Rebel Angels provides us with all the typical historical novel frivolities: beautiful gowns, balls, elegant gentlemen - but doesn't shy away from the truth about the limited choices available to young middle-class women at this time.

I loved the quest through the realms. The journey had the right mix of magic and horror, and was a great counterpoint to the events taking place in London. On the one hand, everything is much simpler in the realms, where the girls are free from the restrictions of social convention. But on the other, there are rules and creatures that they don't understand. Beings from mythology and the spirits of the dead cause trouble and threaten their lives, but they still keep going back because the adventure in the realms is much more exciting than their expected futures outside.

If you enjoyed A Great and Terrible Beauty, you should definitely read Rebel Angels, as it is even better. I can't wait to read The Sweet Far Thing - it's on my Christmas list for sure!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Would Want On A Deserted Island

This is my eleventh Top Ten Tuesday post. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is:

Top Ten Books I Would Want On A Deserted Island

 Photo by Jo@net

I decided immediately that size matters. I need to not get bored on this island by myself.

1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J K Rowling

It's the biggest Harry Potter. End of.

2. The RSC Shakespeare: The Complete Works

Because there are so many of Shakespeare's plays and poems that I haven't read, and on the deserted island, I might finally have the time. Hopefully not though, because I'd still really miss the internet.

3. Burning Your Boats: Collected Short Stories, by Angela Carter

I own this, it's large, and I've yet to finish it. Angela Carter is one of my favourite authors and I could happily read the stories from The Bloody Chamber over and over again.

4. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

I enjoyed Anna Karenina, so why not?

5. Ash: A Secret History, by Mary Gentle

I've been meaning to re-read this for ages. Oh, and it's the longest fantasy novel ever published in a single volume.

6. Adorkable, by Sarra Manning

Longest YA Sarra Manning book.

7. SAS Survival Guide: How to survive in the Wild, on Land or Sea

Obviously. Gotta live so that I can get back to the internet. Oh, and my human loved ones...

8. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

So I'd have to finish it. Plus it is quite long.

9. In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust

Longest novel ever. I had to read the first volume, Swann's Way, at university and I enjoyed it. I don't remember very much about it but it is beautifully written, even if I did skip those six pages describing a church. I'm sure someone must have published it in one volume...

10. The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron

I can't just spend my time on survival chores and lying around reading fiction. I have to work on my own career. And I need something to keep me going, lest I resort to 'Memoirs of a Shipwrecked Blogger'.

Which of my suggestions would you prefer to have on a desert island?


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