Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Review: Red Glove, by Holly Black

This book is the second in a trilogy and therefore this review will inevitably contain spoilers for the first book, White Cat.

I don't have any red gloves...

White Cat is a tough act to follow and I was worried that Red Glove wouldn't live up to its promises, especially as I began reading it immediately after.

In Red Glove Cassel becomes less isolated and more involved with the other characters' lives. He has another mystery that he needs to solve - to get federal agents off his back, but the story is also about his developing friendships, the changes in his family relationships after the revelations of White Cat, and of course his relationship with Lila, cursed to love him. He is also being courted by Lila's father, who wants to use his abilities for his own criminal ends.

I felt like the mystery was a little less compelling this time, even though I guessed parts of the reveal in White Cat and didn't guess what had happened in Red Glove. However, the new worldbuilding details that were revealed along with the developments in Cassel's relationships more than made up for it. I loved finding out about the politics of the world, about the campaigns to give curse workers more freedom and those to persecute them. I really want to know more about Daneca's mother.

It's difficult to go into much detail without bringing in spoilers, so I'll end by saying that if you enjoyed White Cat, you will very probably also enjoy Red Glove, so what are you waiting for?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review: White Cat, by Holly Black

Cassel Sharpe, our narrator, is the youngest in his family of "curse workers" - magic users. But unlike his mother and brothers and grandfather, he doesn't have any powers of his own. He's an outsider, isolated from his family, but also from the rest of the world, brought up to be a conman, and hiding a very dark secret. He doesn't know how or why, but he killed his best friend, Lila. His brothers have told him how they found him and protected him. His secret is safe, even from himself.

Cassel goes to a boarding school where he runs a betting pool to earn the money he needs to keep up appearances and to give himself a role to play in the school's social life. But the whole charade, as well as Cassel, nearly comes tumbling down when he wakes one night on the roof of the school dorms, after a dream about a white cat. Forced to return to his family home, he slowly becomes aware that his brothers are still keeping secrets from him.

This is the second series by Holly Black that I've read. I had mixed feelings about the Modern Faerie Tale series, as you'll see if you check out my reviews of Tithe and Valiant. I found it difficult to empathise with Kaye's story in Tithe and found the pacing hard to get on with, but on the other hand I loved the worldbuilding and adored Valiant - it's one of my favourite books.

I think that a lot of readers tried Tithe and didn't like it, so they've never given Holly Black another chance, and that's why I hadn't heard a whole lot about White Cat before reading it.

But for me it was a must-read. What I loved most about the Modern Faerie Tales was that the teenaged characters seemed so real. They have messed-up families, and create powerful bonds with their friends. They do things that are morally dodgy. They are by turns selfish and selfless. Sometimes they run away from their problems, and other times they try desperately to put their wits to work and fix everything.

I was hoping to get more of the same with the Curse Workers series, and I was not the slightest bit disappointed.  I really, really loved this book. I loved it so much that a) I got the second book in this series and started reading it immediately afterwards and b) I lent my copy of White Cat to my boyfriend (he also really enjoyed it - it made his Best of 2014 Books list).

As much as I love the classic paranormal creatures, vampires, witches, fairies and the rest, it was totally refreshing to read about something new. The idea of 'curse workers' is brilliant and fits in so well with the criminal gangs that Cassel's family are involved with. I also loved that the story revolves around several mysteries - Cassel is the perfect narrator for this, observant and critical. The writing is very well balanced between action and exposition.

I did guess some elements of the big reveal, but that didn't stop me enjoying how it all played out and there were some parts that I didn't anticipate.

In short, White Cat is amazing, Holly Black is underrated, and you should go read it now.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Book Review: Searching for Sky, by Jillian Cantor

Island is the only home Sky has ever known. It's the only place she has ever known. Surrounded by Ocean, Sky, her mother, River, and Helmut are isolated from the world, but they have everything they need. Then Sky's mother and Helmut die, and she and River are left alone, rapidly running out of food. Sky is scared but hopeful, until one day River sees a boat out in Ocean, and their lives change forever.

I read most of Searching for Sky with my heart fluttering somewhere around my throat. I would never have thought that anyone could write so convincingly about a girl who'd grown up on a desert island. I really shouldn't be surprised - I was also wrong about amnesia as a topic.

I don't think I can really pull off usage of phrases like 'all the feels', but that is what I had for poor Sky. Taken away from everything she's used to, separated from the one living person she  and put in a place that is confusing and utterly different in every way. I also felt really strongly for her grandmother, and River. The differences between the way Sky saw her previous life and the way the rest of society saw it were illustrated really well and I liked the way that we slowly found out the story behind Sky's mother's move to the island.

I did sometimes wonder if Sky shouldn't be a little more curious about the world she had joined, but that didn't stop me flicking through the book at high speed. I raced along until I got to the ending, which was...confusingly ambiguous. I'd love to talk about it, so send me an email if you've read Searching for Sky so we can discuss!

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for giving me the chance to read Searching for Sky via NetGalley.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

My own silver shoes.

You know how this one goes. A young girl named Dorothy and her little dog, Toto, are carried by a cyclone to the strange land of Oz, where she makes friends with a Scarecrow, a Tin Woodman, and a cowardly Lion, and goes on a quest to find her way home.

I went to see the musical Wicked last year and I decided to read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz beforehand to remind myself what happened in the story as I knew it. It's a children's book, so I knew it would be a short read, and although I'd read various picture-book versions of the story, and had seen the film, I'd never read the original story before, and I was curious. Lots of other people seem to have read the entire Oz series in their childhoods and loved it, so I downloaded the first book onto my Nook and started reading it.

It's odd. I couldn't tell if it was meant to be satirical - for most of the book there's so little humour that it seems like it could all be a joke - the characters are so one-dimensional that it seems silly! It's a relief each of the few times the author makes a joke about this - the best are at the end, when Glinda lets loose with the puns.

It is very similar to the film adaptation and all the picture book versions I'd read. There's a few extra details, but the biggest change is that the ruby slippers are silver shoes!

Because I knew the plot and I didn't find the writing endearing, I stopped reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz after a couple of days. I only resumed reading it a couple of days ago, when I'd finished reading another book while on the train.

I'm glad I read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but it's far from a favourite, and I wouldn't say there's much in it that will interest adults, though I think it will stay a children's classic, being a fairytale with a few twists. Apparently, the style of the other books is quite different so I will keep an open mind and try reading the first of the many sequels, The Marvelous Land of Oz.

As these books are in the public domain, you can download them from the links below for free:
Download L. Frank Baum's books from Project Gutenberg
Download audio versions of L. Frank Baum's books from LibriVox

I also wanted to pick out a print edition of this book to link to here, and was amazed by the cool stuff available. I've put a few of the most interesting below (affiliate links). The 'Classics Reimagined' edition looks like a work of modern art, whereas the Osborne Illustrated Originals version would have been my pick as a child! But if I was going to have any version of this book it would be the Annotated version, because I am a complete nerd and I think it would be really interesting! I'll have to check the libraries.

Have you read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and/or any of the other Oz books? What did you think?

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Bookish Brits Vlog 23: My Most Annoying Reading Habits

I like that I'm doing the Girl Guide salute in this thumbnail! In this video I talk about the things I do while reading that most frustrate me! Do you have any really annoying reading habits?

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