Friday, 30 October 2015

Feature & Follow #6

TGIF! I've been on light duties at work this week with a dislocated shoulder, but that doesn't mean I'm any less glad to make it to the weekend! And since it's Friday, I'm breaking out another Feature & Follow. I haven't done this feature in a while (one plus to being laid up is having more time for books and blogging, even though typing left-handed takes about three times as long!) so I'm glad to be able to get back to it!

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. I've just started getting involved in these features and they're great fun! It's a really cool way to find out what people are reading and connect with other bloggers. Added bonus, the aim of a blog hop is to follow others. You follow me, I follow you. Wins all round! I'm happy for followers on GFC, Twitter, Bloglovin', Goodreads, whatever works for you. GFC seems to be being a bit temperamental at the moment, so I guess I'd prefer Bloglovin' follows if I had to pick one.

This week's question: What are your favourite books that have been made into a movie?
by Girl of 1000 Wonders.

I'm always a little wary when and of my beloved books, comics, old films etc are set to be given a translation to modern movies, but when it works, it works so well!

The Hunger Games

I love dystopia, YA and kick ass heroines, so it goes without saying that The Hunger Games is one of my favourite books! I really enjoyed the movie (although I still think that Josh Hutcherson is woefully miscast) and can't wait for Mockingjay Part 2!

Battle Royale

It's not an easy read (literally, with 40+ characters, most of whom get a mere chapter or two each, an intensely personal third person pov that switches between them and a translation from the original) but I've love Battle Royale and the Japanese movie that it spawned. Just don't talk to me about the sequel though!

The Shining

One of my favourite books ever by one of my favourite authors, and it led to one of the greatest horror movies ever made by one of the greatest directors; Stanley Kubrick.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Not technically a movie yet, but I've read online that a DoSaB movie is in the works. I'm obsessed with the series and while I'm normally nervous that the translation to film won't work, this series was made for the big screen and I cannot wait to see it!
How about you guys, what are your favourite book to movie crossovers? And does anyone else share my tendency to automatically freak out when they hear that a book they love is getting a movie?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Halloween special

(As always, a big thanks your to the fab bloggers over at The Broke and The Bookish for this weekly meme!)

This week it's Halloween week on Top Ten Tuesday, so I'm celebrating my favourite scary reads. I love horror books and ghost stories despite being laughably easy to scare and having an overactive imagination, so I can't resist a good chiller! I don't read an awful lot of scary books, so I've had to trawl through some of my dustier shelves and back pages of my kindle to jog my memory and in the process scare myself into sleeping with the light on tonight. So, in no particular order...

The Shining - Stephen King

“Wendy? Darling? Light of my life. I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in.”

The granddaddy of horror, and in my humble opinion, one of the creepiest books ever written, The Shining by Stephen King is a masterclass in suspense, creeping dread and outright horror. This was the first book I ever read by King, and the first book I ever read that genuinely scared me. I almost did a Joey from Friends and put the book in the freezer. The movie version is pretty good, and The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror spoof one of the best ever, but there's a reason this book is considered a horror classic. Because it is.

Gerald's Game - Stephen King

"It's come back. The thing that was here last night has come back for you."

Another from King, this book is weird. Like, really weird. It features pretty much one character, chained to a bed, for almost the entire story. Trapped in an isolated cabin with her husband's corpse (which is slowly being eaten by a stray dog) and nightly visits from a terrifying, deformed apparition which will eventually come to kill her, Gerald's Game is a slow burning character study into the psyche of Jessie as she slowly goes mad in isolation and nears death from starvation after accidentally killing her husband during sex. Not so much scary as it is creepy and deeply unsettling. Probably one to read on the kindle, because if anyone asks what you're reading you'll have a hell of a time explaining the basic premise.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

"The strangest feeling came over me. I let go of my grandfather's body and stood up, every nerve ending tingling with an instinct I didn't know I had. There was something in the woods alright - I could feel it."

A mysterious island, an abandoned orphanage, creepy kids, all the ingredients are here for a spooktacular read. From the oddly weighty book itself, to the peculiar photographs dotted inside, this book is already freaking me out and I'm only half way through it. Known as "the creepy kids book" in my book group, it was a hard selling getting some of us to agree to read it.

The Woman in Black - Susan Hill

"I stood absolutely helpless in the mist that clouded me and everything from my sight, almost weeping in an agony of fear and frustration, and I knew that I was hearing the appalling last noises of a pony and trap, carrying a child in it."

The film is good, but the book is better, although it boasts a truly nasty sting in the tail. The premise is a simple one, that of a haunted house, but it's the malevolence of the ghost in this ghost story that sets it apart from many others. Every page of The Woman in Black is steeped in dread, foreboding and impending doom, and the oppressive setting of Eel Marsh House, haunted by the titular woman in black is super creepy.

Ring - Koji Suzuki

"But even after she spoke, the eerie shadow showed no signs of dissipating, It was behind her, keeping still, watching and waiting. Waiting for its chance to arrive."

Yeah, I still won't watch the "video" on either the Japanese or US version of this film. I always make sure I miss a little bit, just in case. Seriously, I almost had several heart attacks watching Ringu (the creepy eye at the end - shudder!) and the US version was fantastic. The book is more steeped in science and practicalities of a psychic curse, but still induces shivers and the occasional glance over your shoulder, especially if you're a wuss like me.

Dark Water- Koji Suzuki
"A shiver ran down Yoshimi's spine. As she looked up she saw the shadow gaining greater substance. There could be now doubt that someone or something was up there."

The movie version of this focuses on one story in the anthology; Floating Water. But all of these short stories bristle with menace and fear of the unseen, what lurks beneath the surface. None are outright terrifying - although some have their moments - but the creep factor is cranked up to 10, leaving you with a lingering sense of unease that doesn't quite go away when you put the book down. Whether it's the story of the "abandoned" island in Tokyo bay, the one about the ship that won't sail because of the ghostly drowned child clinging to the keel or the tale of a man trapped alone in underground caves that he has no hope of escaping from, prepare to be freaked out!

Anything in the Point Horror series

It was a proud day for me when I graduated from the Goosebumps series to Point Horror when I was a kid. I have fond memories of traipsing along to the library and swapping the six I'd just finished out for a new six until they had to start ordering them in for me from other libraries in the area. And the day my parents actually decided that Point Horror wasn't going to scare little me into having nightmares and started letting me buy them with my pocket money...I thought I'd died and gone to book heaven! Fatal Secrets was the first Point Horror book I ever owned, but the whole series holds a special place in my heart.

IT - Stephen King

"And George saw the clown’s face change. What he saw then was terrible enough to make his worst imaginings of the thing in the cellar look like sweet dreams. What he saw destroyed his sanity in one clawing stroke."

Clowns freaked me out before I read this book. Now they're the stuff of nightmares. Horror stories that go after children are hard to get right without feeling exploitative or cheap, so there's something doubly unsettling about a killer clown. I did try and find a GIF for this entry, but I almost gave myself a nervous breakdown edging through them on giphy, so I gave up. Pennywise is confined to my nightmares!

Dracula - Bram Stoker

"Listen to them, the children of the night. What sweet music they make!"

No school like the old school. I studied this book for my English Lit assignment in college and fell in love with it. Things Dracula-related that I've also fallen in love with; Christopher Lee and Luke Evans, but that's another story. Equally seductive and nightmarish, there's a reason vampires are still one of the most written about creatures of the night, and this is the book that started it all. The ultimate halloween read.

The Dead House

I ran out of creepy books, so The Dead House is my number ten because I really, really want to read it!

So those are my top ten (well, nine plus one I haven't got to yet!) scariest reads! I'd love to hear other peoples, despite being easily spooked I love horror stories so let me know any I need to check out in the comments.

Monday, 26 October 2015

The Broken Hearts Book Club Blog Tour

Secrets never stay buried for long…

Lucy Harper has always been good at one thing: running from her past. But when her beloved Nana Lily passes away she has no choice except to return to the one place in the world she most wants to avoid…

Luna Bay hasn’t changed much in the eight years she has spent in London. The little Yorkshire village is still just as beautiful, but the new pub landlord is a gorgeous addition to the scenery!

Lucy only intended to stay for a day, yet when she discovers that Nana Lily has not only left her a cottage but also ‘The Broken Hearts Book Club’, Lucy is intrigued. Her Nana never have mentioned the club and Lucy can’t wait to get started, but walking into her first meeting she is more aware than ever that her past is finally catching up with her.

One way or another, Lucy must finally face the secrets she’s kept buried for so long – or spend the rest of her life on the run…

Author Bio

Lynsey James was born in Fife in 1991 and has been telling people how to spell her name ever since. She's an incurable bookworm who loves nothing more than getting lost in a good story with memorable characters. She started writing when she was really young and credits her lovely Grandad- and possibly a bump on the head from a Mr Frosty machine- with her love of telling stories. She used to write her own episodes of Friends and act them out in front of her family (in fact she's sure she put Ross and Rachel together first!)

A careers adviser at school once told Lynsey writing wasn't a "good option" and for a few years, she believed her. She tried a little bit of everything, including make-up artistry, teaching and doing admin for a chocolate fountain company. The free chocolate was brilliant. When Lynsey left her job a couple of years ago, she started writing full-time while she looked for another one. As soon as she started working on her story, Lynsey fell in love and decided to finally pursue her dream. She haven't looked back since.

When Lynsey's not writing, eating cake or drinking tea, she's daydreaming about the day Dylan O'Brien FINALLY realises they're meant to be together. It'll happen one day…

Author Links
Website | Twitter | Facebook

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Wrath and The Dawn - Review

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls.

Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch...she's falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend. She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

Beautifully written and lusciously imagined, The Wrath and The Dawn is the kind of book that I get completely and utterly lost in. It's been a long time since read a book that I fell so completely into that I only realised how long I'd been reading when my phone rang with my best friend asking why I hadn't picked her up for our "date night" yet. I'm not kidding, this actually happened.

If you're looking for a fact-paced story set across a sweeping kingdom with characters all over the place, then this probably isn't the book for you. This is a slow burn, almost a character study in our protagonist, and one set almost entirely within the same palace. A story about head versus heart, love versus hate, selfishness versus selflessness and what it means to be true to yourself.

The story itself is a fairly simple one. As the book itself says near the end: Just one boy and one girl. Shazi enters the palace of Khalid with a simple goal in mind. To kill the boy-king who has married and put to death countless innocent girls before her, including her best friend Shiva. It's here that Shazi discovers, and to her horror, begins to fall in love with, the boy behind the monster. The kingdom of Khorasan, the courts, supporting characters, culture, everything that frames the story is what lifts it beyond the realms of just another YA story. The detail in the book is so rich, so vivid and so gorgeously imagined that you can practically touch the silks and gemstones of the clothes and taste the spice and flower blossom in the air. You may have noticed, but my imagination ran away with me a little while I was reading this book! And I have another window open on my laptop as I type looking at trips to Morocco...

Shazi is a wonderful character, flawed and utterly believeable. The whole idea of this fierce and determined girl falling foul of her own heart as she comes to love the boy she intends to kill could have been incredibly insulting, the kind of thing that sets the Women's Rights movement back by about 50 years, and believe me I'm pretty easy to rankle with that sort of thing. But Renee Ahdieh portrays Shazi as a real person, not your typical "feisty" YA heroine that you see in every other book. Yes she makes mistakes, and yes she strays from her path even though it pains her to do it, but it's believable, and it's very human. Shazi's husband, the boy-king Khalid is a closed book at first, alternating between stern ruler and tentative lover. I wasn't entirely sure what drew Shazi to him at first. He opens up as the story unfolds, but still, I didn't 100% buy in to their relationship. His bruden and secretive nature are intriguing sure, but once the thrill of infatuation and verbal jousting wears off, I don't see his connection with Shazi as more than obsession with someone who is a novelty to him. That said, Tariq is still my favourite corner in this love triangle. Shazi's childhood friend and first love, he's determined to rescue her from what he believes to be her prison, his steadfast belief blinding him to what is in front of his eyes between Shazi and Khalid. It's header to believe in the romance between Shazi and Tariq, even though she described him as her first love, but that's probably because they're rarely together on the pages. Special mentions to Shazi's handmaiden Despina and Khalid's cousin Jalal. The relentless po-facedness of Khalid and Shazi's inner turmoil can get pretty heavy, so it's nice to get some relief with these charming, happy-go-lucky characters, even though Despina would probably be beheaded for being such a painfully unprofessional servant!

It may seem odd to say, but it's worth a mention that this is one of the only YA books I've come across recently (excluding Leigh Bardugo's wonderful Six of Crows) that doesn't feature a cookie-cutter, white heroine. It doesn't happen nearly often enough and it's good to finally see some diversity breaking through into mainstream YA. This is no box-ticking exercise or white-wash of a Middle Eastern tale, it's just presented as what it is, a beautifully written, well crafted tale which happens to feature non-white leads.

I was a little bit disappointed with the inclusion of magic in the story, in that it's so fleeting. There's a brief glimpse of what may or may not be a magic carpet, a curse that will destroy Khalid's kingdom if he does not take 100 lives and Shazi's father's shaky grasp over powers of his own, but they're frustratingly unexplored. Why does someone have the power to curse Khalid, yet no one else apparently has the power to reverse or remedy that curse? The character who places it is described briefly in passing, but where did he get his gift? Are such powers commonplace in Khorasan? There's a very brief mention of Shazi possibly possessing a dormant gift, but this ultimately goes nowhere in the book. The hints of magic seem to sit a little awkwardly with the real, albeit it fantastic, world setting. Hopefully this is something that will be explored a bit more in the sequel; The Rose and The Dagger. Which I have already pre-ordered.

Marie Lu describes The Wrath and The Dawn as "an intoxicating gem of a story" on the cover, and loathed as I am to copy what someone else has said, I couldn't put it better myself. The story is small, the location contained, the supporting character list limited, but the simple tale, the beautifully descriptive writing and believable characters make for a heady combination that I fell utterly in love with.

One quick thing - if you have the hard/paperback version of the book, do yourself a favour and check out the glossary at the back first. I didn't see it until the end but it makes things a lot easier when dealing with names, words and phrases that may be unfamiliar to Western readers.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Gorgeous cover art

Is it just me, or are books getting more beautiful? If you're a regular reader of my blog or follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you'll know I'm a little obsessed with beautiful books. They don't often stay beautiful in my clumsy hands, but I'm a sucker for gorgeous cover artwork, just as a dodgy cover can put me off reading a book I'd otherwise been keen on. Here are some of the prettiest of the pretty that I've picked up recently.

Sorcerer To The Crown

The image doesn't do it justice, but if you haven't seen a hard copy of this book, it's gold foil on a black book and looks absolutely stunning! I'm more than a little magpie-esque, shiny things immediately attract my attention, and the incredibly intricate detailing is utterly gorgeous. It was the sole reason for me picking up this book (the blurb sold it to me!). I haven't read it yet but fantasy, magic and old timey England, what's not to love?

Snow Like Ashes/Ice Like Fire

I'm (im)patiently waiting for my hard copy of Snow Like Ashes to arrive (due tomorrow!) but I'm already in love with the covers of both it and the sequel. The gateway to the other worlds is beautiful and the contrast just gorgeous.

The Wrath And The Dawn

I've just started this book but I'm already hooked by the intriguing cover. There's something about the cover that just gets me. I don't know if it's the colour, the patterns, the girl's clothes and jewelry, what it is, but it just conjures up all sorts of images of exotic, far away lands and at the same time makes me immediately want to start reading. Who's the girl? Who is she watching? Why is she hiding? Who's watching her?

Queen Of The Tearling

Simple, yet effective. This image is so powerful on its own that I'd personally prefer the blurb and recommendation to be dropped entirely. The UK version in my opinion is so much better than the US version which is a far more generic fantasy book sort of cover. Out of interest, anyone know why publishers go for different US/UK covers? One is always miles better than the other and I always wonder why publishers don't just use the best cover everywhere.

Red Queen

Another simple yet striking image (the covers for Glass Sword and Queen's Song are equally stark and gorgeous), the bright red blood on the silver crown is nice intro to the reds vs the silvers theme in the book. Beauty and danger, promise and threat, it's the kind of visual juxtaposition that I just love.

The Sin Eater's Daughter

I love this book (and the recent cover reveal for the sequel The Sleeping Prince is equally dreamy) and the cover. I can't quite put my finger on what I love so much about this cover, maybe it's the whole thing. The colour combinations, the girl in the jar, the swirls in the water, I just love it. Again, this is another one of those books with a different (albeit ever so slightly) US/UK cover which puzzles me. Don't mess with perfection!


In a word; beautiful! From the font to the seascape to the iridescent scales, I fell in love with this book the moment I set eyes on it (and happily the book turned out to be fantastic).

Any other bookworms out there as shallow as I am? Does cover art matter to you at all when you're buying and choosing what to read? What are some of your beautiful book favourites? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten bookish wishes

Top ten wishes I'd ask the book genie to grant me
(As always, a big thanks your to the fab bloggers over at The Broke and The Bookish for this weekly meme!)

Hmmm, ten bookish wishes...tricky! Since in my head the book genie is this guy...

wishing for more wishes is obviously out of the question, along with wishing people back from the dead and wishing for people to fall in love with me, to I'll have to stick with these.

Clairvoyance for future release dates
I've started so many book series, only to hit a brick wall and a killer hook at the end, with the interminable wait for a sequel. Sometimes you now when it's coming (never soon enough!) but other times you don't (*cough* The Winds of Winter *cough*). I can handle the wait (most of the time), but I wanna know dammit!

More recognition for better books
I've read so many truly wonderful books which don't show up on any bestseller lists that in my opinion are miles better than many books and series' (mentioning no names!) that generate loads of hype and recognition. So I'd like a magical touch to put some hidden gems at the top of those irritating Amazon recommendation lists that only seem to recommend the same best sellers over and over again.

The next Six of Crows
I was lucky enough to get in to the Grisha trilogy when all three books were already out, so I was lucky not to have to wait for the sequels. No such luck with Six of Crows.

The rest of A Song of Ice and Fire
Probably along with 90% of the rest of the book reading world, I'm dying to get my hands on The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. A lot of authors crank out one a year now in popular fantasy series but George R R Martin seems to be taking forever! Plus, one of my team at work has just started the tv series and I've threatened to tell him what happens if he doesn't finish a big project by the deadline. If he gets to the end of series 5 and no more books have come out, I lose my leverage.

Ability to resist beautiful cover art
I'm a sucker for beautiful books and I have absolutely no willpower. Help me out book genie!

Superhuman reading abilities
What was once a tbr book turned into a tbr pile. That pile turned in to two piles, which turned into several. I now have a tbr bookshelf and it's still growing faster than I can read. The "ability to resist beautiful cover art" would help with that, but superhuman reading abilities would let me read even more books and clear it at the same time. Win win! Plus it would come in handy when I start reading a book in bed that becomes un-put-downable and I have work in the morning.

Ability to enter book worlds
Sometime I almost feel like I've gone to another world when reading a really good book, so the ability to step into the pages every now and then, hang out with the characters, see the sights, dabble in a bit of magic, would be awesome!

Less snobbery towards certain types of books
Before I started blogging, I didn't know anyone who read YA (it has a pretty bad rep in my book group) and even I described chick-lit as my guilty pleasure. No, no, no! If you don't like a book because it's badly written, poorly plotted or generally boring that's fine, but I wish people wouldn't deride books without glancing at them just because they don't like the genre. Good vibes for everyone!

My own library
I've always wanted my own library! Stacks of books, a window seat (complete with incredible view that I will not get from any window in my house), squishy armchairs, tea, snacks, everything a bookworm could ever need! I've got a spare room now my roommate has moved out, so I'm about to start the project to turn it into a library.

Spoiler alert; as much as I'd like it to, it will not look like this.
Free books for all!
You want a book? You got it. For free. For everyone. Wouldn't that be the best thing ever? I'm not sure how this would work with money for authors and publishers, but hey, it's magic!

What about you guys? What would be your top ten bookish wishes?

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Ocean's Six (of crows) - Six of Crows Review

Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to claim it, he'll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist. Kaz needs a crew desperate enough to take on this suicide mission and dangerous enough to get the job done - and he knows exactly who: six of the deadliest outcasts the city has to offer. Together, they just might be unstoppable - if they don't kill each other first.

I've been a fan of Leigh Bardugo since Shadow and Bone, which I bought by accident thinking it was somehow related to Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone. A happy mistake as I quickly fell in love with the Grisha trilogy. So when I heard she was writing another book, a brand new story set in the same universe, I placed my pre-order and began the seemingly endless wait before the book finally thudded onto my doorstep. And thud it did. If I'd had the hardback version I'd probably be able to kill someone with it and perhaps it's a testament to the wonderful writing style and story that kept me hooked til the bitter end that I didn't once experience the temptation to skip pages.

The plot is pure Ocean's Eleven, with the gang assembled to extract a prisoner from the impenetrable Ice Court to stop the escape of the formula for jurda parem, a devastating drug which makes grisha all-powerful, unstoppable monsters before finally killing them. Are they doing it to preserve the fragile "peace" in the realm? To protect their loved ones? For a greater good? Nope, they're doing it for a huge pile of cash.

The strength of the book lies not in the story, but the rich world Leigh Bardugo has created and the fantastic characters that inhabit it, the titular six "crows" in particular. From the slums of The Barrel, the dregs of the city where the story begins, which is written so well you'd swear the author had been there, the sense of corruption, hopelessness and prevailing dread ratcheting up the tension before the heist has even begun, to the bowels of the Ice Court fortress, this is a whole new world in the grisha-verse. It's a world a million miles away, but one so believably real you'll feel like you've been to another place when you stop reading. Leader and sort of protagonist Kaz is pretty insufferable, an at times unbearably smug seventeen year old, whose plans always come to fruition, at times stretching incredulity to breaking point. Think The Joker's bank heist at the start of The Dark Knight and times by ten. Then add a few curve balls, and Kaz still comes out like he expected the whole thing down to the tiniest detail. Secondary protagonist, skilled and deadly spy Inej, aka The Wraith, is my favourite character. A former slave now working her way slowly towards freedom in the gang, her burgeoning relationship with Kaz is one of the hearts of the novel. Flawed, human and very real, Inej kicks a whole lot of ass in the book. Elsewhere, loud, brassy Heartrender grisha Nina and witch hunter Mathias deal with their own tangled past, Ex lovers, polar opposites, hunter and prey, this pair have scorching chemistry. Rounding out the six are happy go lucky sharpshooter (and my lastest book crush) Jesper and demo expert/insurance policy/hostage Wylan. The chapter POVs dance between five of the six (Wylan gets shafted here!) crows, giving the whole story from all angles, and it's a credit to the author that you never feel like she's repeating herself or going over the same ground from different viewpoints.

If you're hoping for anything more than vague, passing references to the grisha trilogy here, you'll be disappointed, but Six of Crows stands on its own as a twisty, turny heist story with five (I still don't feel Wylan as much more than window dressing) brilliant characters, each perfectly capable of being a protagonist in their own right. If you're waiting to read Shadow and Bone etc before starting this one, you can read it quite happily without spoilers. I only spotted one slight spoiler and it's so mild I almost missed it.

There's been a lot of talk in the blogsphere lately about diversity, or rather the lack of it, in YA, so it's nice to see the crows a mix of ethnicities and, it's hinted, sexualities. It's not earth shattering, but it's a step in the right direction at least.

My only slight gripe came in the final chapters of the book. I was yelling "oh come on!" for two reasons. One was that the book ends on one hell of a hook that will now leave me dangling until next year, but the other was story-related frustration. I'd rattled through the book at breakneck speed, loving every page until the very end where my beloved Inej, who's been nothing short of a total badass the entire way through, veers dangerously close to damsel in distress territory, with Kaz even proclaiming he's going to get his money, and get his girl. It's a minor niggle in the grand scheme of an amazing book, just a shame it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth at the very end.

The perfect read if you want an engrossing, edge of your seat read with a little magic, more than a little mystery and the best group of characters you'll find in a YA book this year, Six of Crows is an absolute must read. Now begins the interminable wait for the sequel...

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Books in the wild

There are two things you can be sure of when you venture into the world of book blogging.

1. Your to be read pile will grow faster than you can ever possibly hope to read it.  
2. You will look at your bookshelf solemnly, because it will never be as gorgeous as some of the epic shelves on display on the likes of Instagram and Twitter.

I'm off to a bad start on the bookshelf front as it is. My hard copies tend to get dog-eared, broken spined and just generally battered in ways I don't fully understand. They've fallen into lakes, been used to kill spiders, propped up overheating laptops, got covered in sticky fingerprints and on one occasion been thrown out a moving car to get my attention. (Hmmm, actually, maybe I do understand how many of my books got in such a sorry state!) In short, they're well loved, but they're not pretty.

Since I have neither the patience nor the inclination to keep my shelves in any sort of order and none of my books are pristine anyway, I've taken a different tack when its to photographing bookish things; Books in the wild. I'm incredibly lucky where I live. Right next to the city for work, but minutes away from the coast, moors and some epic scenery, and because I'm an outdoorsy kind of girl, I'm usually out there when it's not raining sideways.

So whenever's practical, my books come with me. I'm not much of a photographer (although I'm finally going on some photography training through work so who hopefully I'll get better), but still, I click away quite happily. Although I didn't pick the best time to start making an effort with this feature just as summer ends, this is my new thing, so keep an eye on my Twitter and Instagram for my strolls and snaps!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Starborn - Review

Kyndra's fate holds betrayal and salvation, but the journey starts in her small village. On the day she comes of age, she accidentally disrupts an ancient ceremony, ending centuries of tradition. So when an unnatural storm targets her superstitious community, Kyndra is blamed. She fears for her life until two strangers save her, by wielding mysterious powers not seen for an age - powers fuelled by the sun and the moon. Together they flee to the hidden citadel of Naris. And here, Kyndra experiences disturbing visions of the past, showing war and one man's terrifying response. But first she will be brutally tested in a bid to unlock her own magic and discover a force greater than she could ever have imagined. But could it create as well as destroy? And can she control it, to right an ancient wrong?

I wanted to fall utterly, head over heels in love with Starborn, I really did. It has everything I look for in a good read - kick ass heroine, magical powers, epic world building, mystery, mythology and gorgeous writing. Yes the book blurb above is about as cliched as you're likely to find in fantasy, but it ticks all the boxes. And I liked it. I just didn't love it. This was the hardest review I've written for my blog so far because it's so hard to put my feelings into words. I guess if  I had to summarise them in one word, it would be disappointed.

First off, the storytelling is as beautiful as the book itself. Hounsom's writing is a joy, and her attention to detail in the history and mythology of the lands she has created scored big book points with me. From the gorgeous world map that greets you when you open the pages to the mysterious flashbacks that pepper the story. There are shades of Labyrinth by Kate Mosse - one of my favourite books ever - in Hounsom's storytelling, and her world building is truly epic. If anything, I'd say it's a little too good, sometimes putting her characters in the shade. It's not an easy read and there's a lot of information to take in, with exposition coming right up into the final chapters, but this is truly a world to get lost in.

For me though, this type of book lives and dies by it's protagonist(s) and that's where it fell short for me. What can I say about Kyndra Vale? The problem is, not an awful lot. Firstly, she's quite hard to gauge, sometimes she fearless and feisty, and other times she seems little more than a reader stand in for exposition rather than making her own choices, and when she does they're wildly inconsistent. In one chapter, she's trying to escape her apparent captors and fleeing for home, even though she knows that if she is caught she will face death. But in another chapter, after she's bound with magic and borderline sexually assaulted by a supporting character, she's suddenly friends with him a few pages later without so much as an apology. What drives her? What does she want from her position? What does she want for her future? Who knows. It's a problem that never really resolves itself until the final chapters, making her seem like a supporting character in her own story. I've read the entire book and would struggle to come up with a single defining characteristic for her. The revelations about who and what Kyndra is were incredibly easy to see coming, her unique and special snowflake-ness coming off as a little too twee for my tastes.

The POV shifts inconsistently too which doesn't help. We start off with Kyndra, before moving somewhat jarringly to Bregenne, one of the wielders who rescued her, then back and forth, with other supporting characters occasionally in the mix too. This sometimes happened in the middle of chapters with no more warning than a paragraph break and no supporting characters really stood out from the pack, with the exception of secondary protagonist Bregenne, a blind lunar wielder. Her chapters highlight my issues with Kyndra. We get under the skin of Bregenne, you feel like she believes in her cause, you know what motivates her and why she does the things she does. It's a shame we spend so little time with her.

The final chapters are where Kyndra finally begins to come into her own and Hounsom explores the idea of what it means to be a hero rather than a villain and how whichever path you chose will ultimately see you vilified by some and worshipped by others. It's an interesting concept rather than the usual cookie cutter good guys vs bad guys, with a heroine who isn't afraid to ask "why". It's only a shame that this happened as the book was winding down because this is where the pieces felt like they were finally coming together.

All of the elements are here for a fantastic series, albeit one suffering from something of an identity crisis. Pared down to its bare bones, the plot is pure YA - teenage girl finds out that she has long lost world saving powers and must overcome trials and treachery to save the day, but the storytelling and slower pace however is more traditional fantasy. I did enjoy the book, I just felt that for all the work that has clearly gone into it, something was missing. That said, the final chapters pulled it back. Had the whole book been written with that Kyndra, it would be a four or five star read. I'll definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out now that Lucy Hounsom has set up her world and her heroine, I just hope that it picks up where this one left off and doesn't go back to the start!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

In defense of ... the e-reader

Ok, confession time. Most of my book collection is electronic. Like, 60% or so.

Not exactly earth shattering right? A lot of people's reaction to this is fairly innocuous, most couldn't care less, but recently I got chatting to someone in a bookshop. The conversation was all very pleasant, until I mentioned that I owned a Kindle. With a look of alarm, she asked how often I actually used it. About 50/50 I answered. Her response?

"That's not reading."

Quite what I'd been doing up until then is apparently anyone's guess. Needless to say, that was the end of that conversation and another lesson about not talking to strangers. Something similar happened in my book group too, where looks of horror and awe were on display when I pulled out a Kindle instead of the book we were reading. Horror at the Kindle, awe at the fact the one I have is so ancient it's practically the e-reader equivalent of a first edition.

So, is this a commonly held belief among readers? I completely agree that there's nothing like reading a good, physical book. Holding a physical copy of a book you've waited what feels like forever for is something that cannot be substituted. Cover art can be a huge influence in what I decide to read. I have an entire Goodreads bookshelf dedicated to beautiful covers. But for me, there's plenty of room for my e-reader too. And here's why.

Let's be real, reading can be an expensive hobby. Physical copies of books can set you back upwards of £10 a pop, whereas e-books tend to be just a few pounds. There's nothing to stop you buying a physical copy later. Get it second hand, you'll probably pay less anyway. The cost issue gets worse when you're abroad too. In New Zealand, you have to pay import tax, meaning you end up paying something like nearly £15 for a mass market paperback.

My ereader is basically a library in my bag. And when I'm travelling that is an enormous plus! Space is at a premium in my backpack and books take up a lot of it. Starting a new book? You'd better hope you like it because that's all you're going to be reading if you venture off the beaten track. Being a YA fan, it's hard to find new books outside of cities or anywhere with big bookshops and hostel book swaps are pretty hit and miss.

I will confess, I've read some books I am not proud of and, call me a snob if you will, I don't particularly want to be seen in public reading them. You know the ones I mean. With a Kindle, I can read anything, anywhere. Even on a long haul flight where all of the overhead lights and tv screens were out down one side of the plane (beware of Vietnam Airlines!) thank to my handy Kindle cover with built in reading light.

Instant access
I'm hugely impatient. Working in the digital industry, I'm used to getting access to what I need, when I need it. Instant access to anything, anywhere. Anticipation kills me and with an e-reader, I can bypass the wait. Books appear in my hand in seconds.

Support the indies
I hear a lot of online chatter that the flood of content to the book market now that self publishing is getting easier is leading to a decline in the quality of novels these days. I hear the same argument about music, graphic design, movies, pretty much any creative industry in fact. Regardless, it's so easy to support up and coming authors as a reader and for aspiring authors to get their work published now that digital publishing exists. The rubbish stuff sinks, the good stuff sticks around. And I think that can only be a good thing.

So, there's my case for my beloved Kindle.

Of course it's not all pros. E-readers are not pliable enough to sleep on, nor are they durable enough to throw in a fit of rage. Or in the case of one ill-fated Marian Keyes book, be tossed in to a canal in Amsterdam. You can't lend them and nobody's filling Instagram with pictures of beautiful Kindles (although that does give me an idea for a photo series!). But still, I love mine and felt moved to stand up in defense of the e-reader in the wake of all the anti-digital sentiment I've experienced lately.

What do you guys think? Do you prefer hard books or e-books? Or are you happy as long as you're reading in any format?

Thursday, 1 October 2015

UKYA Extravaganza - Martyn Bedford

It's UKYA Extravaganza, the best kind of extravaganza, and I'm joined on the bookshelf by YA author Martyn Bedford who chats advice for aspiring authors, religion and death by chocolate.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
Usual stuff: I was born in Croydon, south London. I worked as a newspaper journalist before becoming a writer. As well as two (soon to be three) YA novels, I’ve written five for adults. I’ve lived in West Yorkshire for the past 20 years. I teach creative writing at Leeds Trinity University. I’m married to a librarian and we have two teenage daughters.

Not so usual stuff:  From the age of 13 to 18, I refereed more than 200 football matches. I lived in a caravan with two mates when I was a journalism student. During a one-year round-the-world trip, I taught English in Hong Kong for four months. I used to be a Buddhist. I’m one of the judges in the children’s category of this year’s Costa Book Awards.

Was there a particular book that inspired you to start writing?
I used to write stories as a child and in my teens. But the book that really inspired me to become a writer was Jack Kerouac’s classic American novel, On the Road, which I read in my early twenties when I was backpacking across the U.S. I loved his energetic, rhythmic, crazy prose and most of my stuff around that time was an (unsuccessful) attempt to mimic his style.

Who is your favourite author?
Kerouac used to be, but I think it’s best to read him when you’re young. I also went through a Kurt Vonnegut phase – Slaughterhouse Five is one of my all-time top-ten novels. I don’t really have one stand-out favourite author, these days, but I like lots of YA novelists – Mal Peet, Sonya Hartnett, Jan Mark, Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, Kevin Brooks and Jenny Valentine, to name just a few.

Any advice for aspiring authors?
Write as much as you can as regularly as you can. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. And read. A lot. You could also join (or form) a writing group, take creative-writing classes or read how-to books on writing – these things might help. But almost everything you learn about writing will come from just doing it.

If you could have three people over for dinner (alive or dead), who would they be and why?
Jesus could bring the food and drink (loaves, fishes, wine) and resolve the whole son-of-God question once and for all. The Buddha could teach us the path to enlightenment (although I’m worried he might just sit in a corner, meditating, for the whole evening). And I’d invite Germaine Greer, Emmeline Pankhurst, Anne Frank or Boudicca, as well, just so it doesn’t get too blokey. Boudicca, probably – I’ve heard she makes a great tiramisu.

Who’s your favourite character from a book or movie?
Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye – I love his ‘voice’ and his attitude (messed up though it is). He gets quoted a couple of times in my novel, Never Ending. And when my daughters were younger and I used to read to them, I thought Lauren Child’s sassy character, Clarice Bean, was hilarious.

If you could travel back to any time period, where would it be and why?
I researched England in the Middle Ages for a story I wrote last year and became fascinated with that period, especially the 1300s – the time of Chaucer, the Black Death, the Peasants’ Revolt and Piers Plowman. But I’m not sure I’d survive long if I time-travelled there – if I didn’t die of disease or violence, I’d probably be hung as a heretic!

Somewhere you want to go where you’ve never been before?
I love long-distance walking trails, especially in the mountains. So, New Zealand would be great. Or the Canadian Rockies. I spent two weeks trekking in the Himalayas, in Nepal, and it was one of the best times of my life. Mind you, I was a lot younger and fitter back then.

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Well, death by malnutrition would be inevitable if you only ate one food, whatever it was ... so it might as well be chocolate. At least I’d die with a smile on my face. And spots.

As well as indulging my random questions, Martyn was also good enough to send me copies of two of his novels; Flip and Never Ending (reviews en route in separate posts, or this will be one looooong addition!).

First up is Flip, the story of 14 year old Alex, who wakes up in the wrong bed, in the wrong room, in the wrong house. Not to mention the wrong body. It's a twisty psycho thriller, right down to the trippy cover which had me trying to read the book upside down damn near every time I opened it!

Author intro - Flip
The idea for Flip lodged in the recesses of my mind when I was about fourteen. Not that I knew it at the time. I didn’t like myself very much back then. I often wondered what it would be like to be someone else. Someone better looking than me, more popular, more self-confident, better at sport, more successful with girls. Someone who didn’t have asthma. I used to look in the mirror and wish I was different.

Specifically, I wished I was like my best friend David. At football, he scored all the goals; on school sports day, he won all the races; whenever he walked into a room you could tell by their reaction that boys liked him and girls fancied him. We lived two doors apart and had been friends since we were toddlers – but I didn’t really start envying him until we hit our teens. I distinctly remember thinking: if I could swap bodies with him, I would. Real life didn’t make that possible, of course, but one of the joys of being a writer is you can let your characters experience the things that you aren’t able to.

But it was many years before I put this into a book. David and I lived at opposite ends of the country by then and had long-since drifted apart when, out of the blue, I received an email from him. And all of the memories of our teenage years – my ‘David envy’ period – came flooding back.

The result was Alex, the hero of Flip – a 14-year-old who wakes up one morning in an unfamiliar bedroom. The family at the breakfast table are total strangers. And when he looks in the mirror, another boy’s face stares back. A boy named Philip. With no idea what has happened, or how to switch back again, or who “he” is anymore, Alex finds himself in a deadly race against time to save himself from being trapped forever in the wrong life.

I’m (mostly) happy with who I am, now. But it was great fun – and a little weird – to revisit my youth and, through Alex, find out what it might’ve been like to be someone else.

Next up was Never Ending, a much more hard hitting story of grief, loss and coping with guilt. It's a very different book, one that packs more of an emotional punch but still keeps the twists and turns that I'm beginning to see are embedded in Martyn's storytelling. 

Author intro - Never Ending
If I hadn’t almost wiped out my family in a car crash I might not have written Never Ending.

We were heading on a daytrip – me, my wife and our two daughters – when I overtook a van on a dangerous stretch of road. I’m still not sure how the car coming the other way didn’t hit us head-on. At the speed we were travelling, it’s unlikely anyone would have been pulled from the wreckage alive. For the rest of the day, two versions of events unfolded: the real one, in which we continued our trip (the country walk, the picnic, the ice creams); and the one in my head (the ambulance, the hospital, the morgue). I also had the germ of an idea for a novel. I don’t mean right there and then in the car. It wasn’t as if my wife, white-faced and trembling, turned to me and gasped, “You nearly killed us!” and I replied, “Yeah, but I’ve just had a brilliant idea for my next book!” But, over the following weeks, I pondered the question that is often the starting point for a story: What if? What if my wife and daughters had died and I’d survived? What if I had to live with that loss and grief – and the guilt of having killed the people I love most?

And so Never Ending evolved.

It’s about a 15-year-old girl, Siobhan – or Shiv – who is traumatised by the death of her younger brother Declan on a family holiday. He died because of her and she can’t cope with what she did. So she is sent away to a clinic that claims to ‘cure’ teenagers like her. But it’s no ordinary psychiatric institution and her release from her demons, if it comes at all, will come at a bizarre and terrible cost. The novel is told in alternating strands – the story of how Declan died, and the tale of Shiv’s ordeal at the clinic. Through her, I ventured into a place I’d been lucky to avoid visiting myself. And, perhaps, in making her suffer, I was unconsciously punishing myself for the deadly mistake I almost made on that family outing.

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