Friday, 16 December 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Release Date: February 1st, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 448
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t."

After reading Before I Fall I decided to seek out some more of Lauren Oliver's work. I was a little bit undecided whether I liked her previous book but I felt like her dreamy prose had promise and so I decided to see what else she'd written.

Delirium is one of the most beautiful books I've read for years. Not since I read A Certain Slant Of Light by Laura Whitcomb have I felt so completely moved by a book. The basic concept is original and intelligent, with a convincing backstory that makes for uncomfortable reading (especially with excerpts from the Book Of Shhh). A life without love is bad enough but a life without the capacity to even feel emotion... unimaginable. Those who have been 'cured' of love lose enjoyment in their hobbies, food tastes bland, friendships dissolve; it is difficult reading at times.

Lena, the lead, is convincingly straight-laced at the beginning of the novel. Abiding strictly by the rules is all she's done for her whole life, believing the stories force-fed to her by her adopted family and the government which has taken over. Her awakening to the truth of what's going on in this dystopian world does not just happen overnight; the realisation takes time. Lena struggles convincingly with the truth and struggles with trying to resist what has been drilled into her for her entire life. She is wonderfully brave and honest, with a good heart. You can't help but like Lena. Seeing her and her beliefs fall apart and build herself back into the person she is at the end of the book is thrilling and satisfying. You like to think that, should you be in her place, you'd be as brave as her.

But this is just the start. I had no idea when I picked up Delirium that it was the first of three novels, and so when the ending came I was in SHOCK (I convinced myself my book must have some chapters missing because it could just NOT END THERE). Having thought it was a standalone novel I was devastated with the ending, but now that I know it's just the beginning of the trilogy I see that it's a fantastic cliffhanger. 

Delirium feels like a more adult novel than Before I Fall. Concepts are echoed in both books, with themes of loss and identity represented strongly, but Delirium feels like a much more polished work. Lauren Oliver's prose is lyrical, fluid and beautifully written; the last few pages especially stick in my mind. This dystopian world is intriguing and I am truly excited to see what happens next. Check back for my review of Pandemonium, the next installment in the Delirium Trilogy, in February 2012.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Paper Towns by John Green

Released: 16th October 2008
Publisher: Dutton Books
Pages: 305
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life--dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge--he follows. After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues--and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew."

I am definitely on something of a book binge; surely five separate novels in five days must be some sort of record? Today I finished Paper Towns and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. One of the most profoundly moving books I've ever read, John Green is a truly gifted and wonderful writer and I've already bought everything else he's written, ready to absolutely devour.

Having read Looking for Alaska not long ago, I was very excited to read this book. It has many similarities with Alaska, with certain themes strongly represented in both books; loss, abandonment, love, solving a mystery, the idea of trying to get into someone else's head and figure out what they're thinking. The male leads are quite alike in both novels too - I preferred Paper's Quentin to Alaska's Pudge, but I can't quite put my finger on why. 

My favourite aspect of the book was the exploration of how we relate to people and how different people see us in different lights. Everybody had their own idea of who Margo really was, and who's to say any of them were right? The idea of people seeing us through mirrors and windows was an enthralling one for me. John Green's novels are not only entertaining, they also make you evaluate areas of your own life.

The plot in parts manages to seem far-fetched whilst also being entirely realistic. It's been a long time since I was so nervous to finish a book for fear of what the ending might be, but like in Alaska, the ending, when it eventually arrives, feels bittersweet and perfect. This isn't to say it's a depressing story; there were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments from really stand-out supporting characters. Radar and Ben are the perfect foils for Quentin's character and are wonderfully genuine and believable. It's one of the best representations of high school life I've ever read (and I've read a few!). John Green is fantastic at creating beautifully likeable characters, especially his protagonists.

I would recommend this book to teens and adults alike. It is one of the few books I can see myself reading over and over and finding something new each time.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
Released: December 6th, 2011
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Pages: 528
Buy The Book: Amazon

"In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street—and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends. Tessa finds her heart drawn more and more to Jem, but her longing for Will, despite his dark moods, continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will—the wall he has built around himself is crumbling. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa the answers about who she is and what she was born to do?"

If you read my review of City Of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare you'll know that I was disappointed with what I thought of as a lazy follow-up to one of my favourite book trilogies ever. My faith in the talented Cassandra had faltered and I was awaiting this book with a mixture of excitement and dread. All I can say is THANK GOODNESS.

The book is a brilliant return to form. One of the aspects I felt most let down CoFA was the strange backwards character development that seemed to make each of the well-loved cast regress into mere fanfiction caricatures. Clockwork Prince couldn't be any more different; no character is left unchanged. We learn about Will's heartbreaking history and the reason he is the way he is. I had anticipated that once I knew the big secret of Will's, the mysterious aura surrounding him would dissipate and I would be disappointed. I couldn't have been more wrong; hearing his revelation only made me love him more as a character. He became more real to me; he wasn't just acting up because it makes for a good scene-stealer.

We also learn more about his parabatai, Jem. In almost every other novel I've read which features a love triangle, I have always been able to guess who would end up with who. The hints have always been laid, there is always an almost instinctual feeling of which way the relationship is going to end up. But in this series, I really have no idea which way it will go. Jem is a wonderful foil to Will's caustic and impulsive nature, and it was refreshing to see his emotional side in this book. Tessa seems to care for the boys in entirely different ways and I have no idea which will win out. I just have an awful feeling that it will come down to tragic circumstance rather than choice...

Tessa is wonderful as always; brave, intelligent and a brilliant heroine. It's nice to note that Clare's leading ladies are usually the key to the plot rather than hopeless damsels swept up in something which doesn't concern them. Tessa is suddenly integral to these people's lives and she handles it all admirably. One of my favourite things about her is her love of classic fiction. I think it helps many readers to relate to a character when they share a common interest, and Clare must have known that many of her readership would have read and loved the same novels as Tessa (and Will, to an extent).

As in Clare's other work, the city of London is as much a character as any of the cast. Her descriptions of the murky Victorian city are vivid and appropriately grim, with the specific reference to places making me itch to get out a map and trace the footsteps of the characters. The backing cast are as weird and wonderful as ever, with Magnus Bane especially shining. You can guarantee that any scene with Magnus will be emotional, memorable or insightful. Jessamine's betrayal somehow felt expected and shocking all at the same time, showing off Clare's innate ability to make you care for the characters that maybe aren't so agreeable.

All previous sins from CoFA have been (briefly) forgiven. This book undoubtedly feels like it's laying the groundwork for a seriously grand finale, and I for one cannot wait.

Lola And The Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Released: September 29th, 2011
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Pages: 384
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn't believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit—more sparkly, more fun, more wild—the better. But even though Lola's style is outrageous, she's a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood. When Cricket—a gifted inventor—steps out from his twin sister's shadow and back into Lola's life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door."

Having literally just finished Lola this very second, I realised it was definitely time to stop procrastinating and write an absolutely glowing review of this lovely book. I re-read Anna in around five hours flat to refresh my memory before I started Lola, and the first thing I'll say is that although the two are companion novels, they are very, very different books. The protagonists are two very different girls; I found Lola much more vulnerable than Anna, and her backstory interested me much more. Where Anna's backstory played a minor role in the book as she discovered a new life in Paris, Lola's past forms the very basis of her story. Maybe it was because we didn't see much of Anna's home life first hand, but Lola felt like a more complete character because you can see exactly where she's come from to become who she is.

But this isn't a comparison essay, it's a review, and even as a standalone, Lola is a completely lovely book. The characters are well-thought out and vibrant, and that's saying something when they're cast against the colourful backdrop of San Francisco. Stephanie Perkins has a remarkable way of making you want to immediately visit any city she describes. Cricket Bell is a truly lovely 'boy next door'; he is thoughtful and kind and intelligent, and I also loved the way that, towards the end, he said things intimating that he might not be such an innocent boy (a certain sentence about him pressing someone against the wall with his hips made me come over all flustered). Making him a twin was also an interesting insight into a sibling relationship that I found sweet, endearing and lifelike.

As in Anna, action and plotline generally play second fiddle to character development and interaction, but this is at no detriment to the book. Stephanie Perkins creates characters that you miss when they're not in scenes; whenever Cricket wasn't home for the weekend I felt impatient to read Lola's next interaction with him. The wonderful author is also a master of slow-burning romance. The last third of the book is sheer torture, in the best way.

I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a dose of realistic romance in their life.

(Also, Cricket you are adorable, but my heart still belongs to Etienne St. Clair and the amount of Etienne-loving in this book, though unexpected, makes me very happy indeed.)

Thursday, 1 September 2011

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Released: February 2006
Publisher: Klett Ernst / Schulbuch
Pages: 210
Buy The Book: Amazon

“Every war has turning points and every person too.”
Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy. As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

Although this book is billed as a novel for older children, I found some of the themes touched upon to be much more adult than that. I don't know what I was expecting when I first picked up this book some years ago but it wasn't the underage sex, incest, horrific violence and depictions of war that I became enthralled with. 'It would be much easier to tell this story,' Daisy explains, 'if it were all about a chaste and perfect love between Two Children Against The World At An Extreme Time in History, but let's face it, that would be a load of crap.'

The novel is written in a beautiful stream-of-consciousness style that barely gives you a moment to breathe. Although I first read How I Live Now at least four or five years ago, there was one passage that sticks in my mind to this day as being so simple and yet incredibly beautiful and relatable - "We were quiet for the longest time just listening to the rain on the window with his leg resting against mine and a feeling flying between us in a crazy jagged way like a bird caught in a room. The feeling which had been starting up for a while now was so strong it made me dizzy and so far we'd just been pretending it was what cousinly love felt like and all that garbage you tell yourself when you want to pretend something's not really happening."

The image of the bird caught in a room is something I think we can all relate to, that odd feeling of palpable emotion. As you can see from that passage, when I said you barely get a moment to breathe, I meant it. Rosoff, or rather, Daisy, doesn't seem to live commas or punctuation very much at all, and others I've spoken to who have also read this book found it very off-putting. I, however, found it engaging - it really made me feel as though I was in this girl's head, thinking her thoughts with her.

How I Live Now has won countless awards, and rightly so. It's not for the faint-hearted, and the ending requires some thought. But it's a book that will always stick with you for a whole host of reasons, not least the sharp and sarcastic protagonist, her utterly captivating family and the oddly romantic dystopian world Meg Rosoff so masterfully creates.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Special Review! The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Released: Book 1 - 2008, Book 2 - 2009, Book 3 - 2010.
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: Book 1 - 374, Book 2 - 391, Book 3 - 390.
Buy The Books: Amazon

"In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love."

Okay, I resisted for a while, thinking that maybe for once I'd watch a film trilogy before I read the books, to see how that works out. But the intrigue got too much for me and I bought the Hunger Games trilogy. It took me four days to get through all three books and, as I read them so quickly, I have trouble distinguishing where one finished and the other began, so I'm going to do a joint review. 

Before I get carried away in discussing the politics or the plot or the fantastic world created by Suzanne Collins, I'd just like to say how much of a relief it is to find a book with such an absolutely kick-ass heroine. There are quotes attributed to Stephenie Meyer on all three covers of my copies; it must have been hard for her to read what is essentially a masterclass in creating a flawed, likeable, exciting, believable lead female for a book series. Katniss is everything a leading lady should be, in my opinion.

I'll forego the plot synopsis, it would take me hours to do it justice, and just get straight down to the nitty-gritty. Suzanne Collins' dystopian vision of the future is realistic and terrifying, mostly because it doesn't need much suspension of belief to consider that the world could really end up like this. When I wasn't reading the books, I was thinking about them. The first book never lets up in terms of action, and never compromises - I would say it's not really for younger readers because some of the death scenes and themes touched upon are fairly traumatic. But the first book's parting shot reveals a much bigger story, bigger than Katniss ever anticipated, and then we are sucked into a full-on war.

Taking into account the non-stop adventure of the first book, I expected much of the same in the second, Catching Fire. However, what I found was an incredibly intelligent account of war propaganda and an unmatched unpredictability I have rarely come across in teen novels. The emotional complexity of the situations Katniss faces is never played down and the second book is more intense than the first. And then comes the cliffhanger...!

I won't give it away. Now we come to the third book, the big finale. I'm still struggling with how I felt about it, to be honest. Again, it was intense and unpredictable and everything a great action novel should be, but the ending... it's hard trying to say how I felt about it without spoilers but the ending wasn't the ending I wanted, or the ending I'd have chosen if I was Suzanne Collins. However, I strangely felt it was the right ending for the characters.

This review isn't to say that the trilogy is all action, action, action. Oh, no. There is a love triangle right at the centre of the plot, and unlike the majority of love triangles in novels, I genuinely couldn't predict who would end up with who. While there were no long, steamy romance scenes, you get more of a sense that the characters care for one another, which is sometimes lacking in books aimed at this age group. 

I'm still working out how I feel about the novels, but isn't it the mark of a great book that you're left thinking about it long after you've put it down? I would recommend The Hunger Games Trilogy to absolutely anyone and I would defy them not to be entranced and enthralled.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Released: 2nd March 2010
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 470
Buy The Book: Amazon

"What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life? Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last. Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing."

This book is a surprising, heart-wrenching mixture of Groundhog Day, The Lovely Bones and every girly teen movie you've ever seen. I wasn't sure what to expect on picking it up, and don't get me wrong, the first half wasn't exactly riveting. When it got to day three or four, the format of the novel started to get a little bit stale. Until this point, characters seem like overblown cliches of typical high school stereotypes and the plot doesn't seem to have any direction.

When the storyline really kicks in, however, and the main character, Sam, realises what she must do, the book really comes into it's own. The rest of the supporting characters become more believable as we delve into their secrets and it becomes more obvious what Sam is going to have to do to put things right and cross over into whatever afterlife she might be in for. 

Parts of the dialogue were cringeworthy, with terrible attempts at banter between the four girls, but then I realised - weren't we all like that in high school? A little bit embarrassing, trying to act older than we really were, coming out with sentences we wouldn't dream of saying now? Lauren Oliver got this down to a tee, getting right into the teenage mindset and reminding me vividly of my own school days. The last section of the book, days six and seven, really saved it from being purely average and I couldn't put it down by this point (even when experiencing extreme travel-sickness on a coach through Albania... yes, really!).

I'd like to read more of Lauren Oliver's material, maybe something aimed at an older audience. I'd recommend this book to anyone in or just leaving high school, although tissues may be required towards the end!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Beauty by Robin McKinley
Release Date: October 1978
Publisher: Corgi Children's (New Edition - 2004)
Pages: 259
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Sixteen-year-old Beauty has never liked her nickname. Thin, awkward, and undersized, with big hands and huge feet, she has always thought of herself as the plainest girl in her family – certainly not nearly as lovely as her elder sisters Hope and Grace. But what she lacks in looks, she makes up for in courage. When her father comes home one day with the strange tale of an enchanted castle in the wood and the terrible promise he has made to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows what she must do. She must go the castle and tame the Beast – if such a thing is possible…"

The Disney version of Beauty And The Beast is possible one of my favourite films (not just animated) of all time, so I'd been planning to read this book for a while (although I had no idea it was first published in 1978!). However, this may have prevented me from reading the book impartially, as I found myself comparing the two very different retellings. 

The book starts off slowly; it takes just under half of the book for Beauty to get to the castle and meet the Beast. If I didn't already know what was coming, I would have grown bored with the book after 100 very detailed pages about her chores around her new house and how much Beauty misses the city. I persevered with the book, knowing that it would pick up eventually once she reached the castle. When she finally did, I wasn't disappointed. McKinley creates a wonderful, ethereal atmosphere in-keeping with the whole tone of the book. No talking teapots, no friendly candlesticks, just two mysterious housemaids in the form of a 'helpful breeze'.

As with all retellings of a popular story, there will always be changes made. I found myself missing the boorish Gaston from the Disney version, however I really enjoyed the concept that Beauty doesn't become physically beautiful until the end, meaning that the Beast really does fall in love with her personality. A criticism? I had thought that reading the book would give me much more of an insight into how the two fall in love; I thought there would be long and touching conversations and a slow, gradual falling process, but it does seem that one minute she's terrified of him and the next they're in love. This could possibly be my only criticism of the book but it is a significant one that marred the ending slightly for me.

Overall, once Beauty arrives at the castle it's very easy to get lost in this book. McKinley creates believable, warm characters and is adept at embellishing that wonderful atmosphere that only fairytales have, and her version of this story is spirited and satisfying. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Looking For Alaska by John Green

Looking For Alaska by John Green
Release Date: March 2005
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 221
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words - and tired of his safe, boring and rather lonely life at home. He leaves for boarding school filled with cautious optimism, to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps. Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another."

Looking For Alaska is a book that truly touched me. I stumbled upon it by accident and I'm so glad that I did. Separated into two sections, "Before" and "After", the book chronicles the months leading up to and immediately after a horrific event in the lives of Miles Halter, Alaska Young and their group of well-crafted, multi-faceted friends. There isn't much in the way of plot, but the inner monologue of Miles (or Pudge as he is christened at Culver Creek) is poignant and more than enough to carry the book.

What I admired most about this novel is the way that John Green created Alaska. She's not perfect - in fact, she's infuriating at times. She squanders her potential, she's a little messed up, she doesn't have any idea what she wants, but Pudge is well aware of this and doesn't make her out to be anything she's not. We see Alaska through his eyes and, though she's flawed, we, as readers, can all empathise with his unyielding feelings for her.

The book tails off a little towards the end of the second section, but I finished it with a bittersweet feeling of satisfaction. Looking For Alaska is a heartrending novel, with themes which every teen (and most adults) can identify with. 

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Release Date: March 2004
Publisher: Sceptre
Pages: 544
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Six interlocking lives - one amazing adventure. In a narrative that circles the globe and reaches from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of time, genre and language to offer an enthralling vision of humanity's will to power, and where it will lead us."

Although not a particularly YA novel, which I mainly intended to post about on this blog, I couldn't not review this book. To adequately describe the storyline I'd be here for at least an hour, so I'll try and condense it down as much as possible. The story begins with the journal of Adam Ewing, travelling across the Pacific on the Prophetess. His journals are discovered by Robert Frobisher, a composer who spends most of his narrative in Belgium writing letters to Rufus Sixsmith, who is later murdered for his involvement in the cover-up of a potential nuclear disaster (keeping up?). Sixsmith gets stuck in a lift with Luisa Rey, a journalist who attempts to uncover the story Sixsmith first shed some light on. The narrative then jumps to an almost dystopian world dominated by a single corporation, where humans are genetically engineered to be used as slaves and even the moon is used as advertising space. The last section, taking place after the 'Fall' of this futuristic world follows Zachary, a Pacific Islander who welcomes a foreigner to his land.

To say this book is bold would be a massive understatement. The creativity and imagination which has gone into it astounds me, and it is nothing short of a masterclass in vocabulary and style. Each narrative is starkly different, each character is vivid and interesting, each section has mysteries, romance, comedy, action and everything else you could ever want from a novel. As someone interested in music I particularly enjoyed Robert Frobisher's first excerpt where he moves in with a distinguished composer and attempts to aid him (not so much his second section, where he becomes hung up on his landlord's daughter, goes a little bit insane and forgets to shave). The prose is fluid and elegant and it's obvious that David Mitchell is well-read when it comes to classical music; he can describe it perfectly. 

The most fascinating part for me was Somni's first section, set way into the future in a terrifying glimpse of what greed, money and power could do to humanity. Corporations, or rather, a single all-owning corporation, has taken over and technology has advanced so far that it's possible to genetically engineer humans (or 'fabricants') to act as slaves. One of these slaves manages to break free from her enforcers and we see this new world through her eyes; coffee is now simply called 'starbuck', cars are called 'fords', a watch is simply named a 'rolex', a photo is called a 'kodak'. When we hear about the 'golden arches' of the fast-food establishment from which Somni escapes, it's not hard to imagine what company that could be years into the future. The sheer inventiveness of this section astounded me, although this meant that the rest of the book didn't quite live up to the fantastic level set by this narrative. A special mention has to go to Luisa Rey's section, which I felt could have been a novel in itself. 

I would recommend this book to anyone with a brain. It's not an easy read, some sections are very difficult to digest (Zachary's excerpt written entirely in Pacific Islander dialect being the case in point) and even I felt that I had to force myself to push on through some parts. But it's a fantastically rewarding novel - I feel like a better person for reading it, as cheesy as that sounds. Although not a YA author, David Mitchell has leapt onto my author-radar and I'll definitely be buying more of his work in the future - I recommend you all do the same!

Friday, 6 May 2011

A Certain Slant Of Light by Laura Whitcomb

A Certain Slant Of Light by Laura Whitcomb
Release Date: 21st September, 2005
Publisher: Graphia
Pages: 282
Buy The Book: Amazon

"In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: for the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen—terrified, but intrigued—is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess."

I absolutely adore the concept behind this book. Helen is Light, a ghostly spirit, tied to a living being known as the Quick. She risks death when straying too far from her current human host. James occupies the body of one of the Quick - looking after his shell until the human's soul returns. I'll refrain from typing a synopsis of the story and instead I'll say that this original, beautifully written book should be a must on anyone's reading list!

The themes explored here are touching and emotional. A large theme of religion and Christianity running through the book will not be to everyone's tastes but it is easily overlooked in favour of the stunning notion of Light and Quick. There is some sexual content, but one of the most tastefully written scenes I have ever read. Again, trying not to give anything away but the ending left me with tears in my eyes! 

As this is a supernatural teen book, I've seen it compared to the Twilight series - all I can say that this novel is infinitely more sophisticated in the issues it delves into. The characters are wonderfully crafted and era-appropriate, the prose is fluid, lyrical and elegant. I would recommend this to anyone, teens and adults alike. Beautiful!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Release Date: December 2, 2010
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 372
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home. As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna—and readers—have long awaited?"

For a while I have mostly read YA fantasy fiction, where relationships generally play second fiddle to action, so it was a wonderfully refreshing change to read a purely romantic novel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all slushy and mushy – the characters are real, honest and believable. The relationship between the adorable Anna and (my new fictional dreamboy) Etienne is a fantastic slow-burner. They haven’t decided they’re soul mates within ten seconds of meeting; they become friends first. No boring clichés here people. Some of their scenes together are truly tingle-worthy, and almost impossible to read without wishing you were Anna!

The setting could not be any more perfect. If you’ve never been to Paris (or even if you have), this book will all but coerce you into booking a trip! There aren’t many books which can do a city like Paris justice in terms of description but this is definitely one of them. With two terrific leads and a wonderful location checked off the ‘perfect book criteria’ list, all we need now is a supporting cast… and boy do we get it. Meredith, Josh and Rashmi make up the rest of Anna and Etienne’s clique and we get to know them so well we almost feel like the sixth member of the group.

With two more books planned in the series (Lola and the Boy Next Door coming September ’11 and Isla and the Happily Ever After the following year), I cannot wait to devour another of Stephanie Perkins’ well-written, absorbing thoughtful, funny, believable and, above all, romantic novels.

City Of Fallen Angels by Cassanda Clare

City Of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare
Release Date: 5th April 2011
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Pages: 432
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Someone has been killing the Shadowhunters who used to be in Valentine’s Circle and leaving their bodies around New York City in a manner designed to provoke hostility between Downworlders and Shadowhunters. Internecine warfare among vampires is ripping the Downworld community apart, and only Simon — the Daylighter who everyone wants on their side — can decide the outcome; too bad he wants nothing to do with Downworld politics. Meanwhile, Jace and Clary investigate a mystery that has deeply personal consequences for them — consequences that may strengthen their relationship, or rip it apart forever. Love, blood, betrayal and revenge: the stakes are higher than ever in City of Fallen Angels."

As an avid fan of what used to be the Mortal Instruments Trilogy, and an excited follower of Clare’s other series, The Infernal Devices, I had mixed emotions when I learned that there was to be a fourth MI book. The complicated plotlines and even more complex characters have proven themselves to make a compelling read, and part of me felt that the more books of Clare’s on offer, the better. I’d sit and read the telephone book if she’d had a hand in writing it. However, City Of Glass was one of the most striking books I’ve read in a long time, in that the ending was so perfect without being nauseating or too perfectly tied-up a la J.K.Rowling’s ’19 Years Later’. I put down CoG with both tears and a smile on my face. Every character got the ending they deserved, and in the strangest way I didn’t want to read any more about them. I wanted Clare to leave them alone and let them have their happy ending. They’d been through enough!

It was with a dubious anxiety that I picked up CoFA, and after devouring it in less than 24 hours, I think I was right to be dubious. The book lacked the witty spark I always associated with Clare’s work – in almost all of her previous books there have been numerous lines that I’ve insisted on reading out to people because they tickled me so much. I had always admired that, even when placed in the most depressing situations, the characters in MI seemed to be able to say something that would put a smile on my face. There is much less comic relief in CoFA.

Character wise, Clary, although showing flashes of brilliance with her angelic talent for creating runes, seemed oddly ‘fanfiction-ish’. You’d think that after almost single-handedly bringing down an evil dictator such as Valentine, a girl might have some confidence. You’d be wrong. Despite still being the most talented Shadowhunter on the planet, Jace has lost his irresistible dangerous edge, turning into a sort of Edward Cullen-style mopey martyr, too worried about hurting Clary and forever moaning about what an awful person he is. Simon, whose battle against and acceptance of his new vampire status is a major theme of the book, is disappointingly pedestrian for a ‘Daylighter’, although this can also be viewed as one of his better traits. Isabelle and Maia are a breath of fresh air in the face of Clary’s woeful lack of self-belief – the relationship between Maia and her ex-boyfriend Jordan is definitely one to watch in the upcoming books.

Concerning the plot and the storyline, I had previously thought that it would take a pretty special baddie to eclipse the Voldemort-esque Valentine. But Clare has succeeded, creating a villain of literally Biblical proportions in Lilith (and bringing back an old one who never quite got what he deserved). However this new enemy is only introduced in the last few chapters – the rest of the book is a lot like City Of Bones in that it very much lays the groundwork for the books to come. As readers, we spend a lot of this book piecing together cryptic clues that won’t make any sense until the end of the book (or even the next books in the series). A lot of the time I didn’t feel ‘in the know’, I was just plodding along and hoping it would all become clear to me at the climax of the novel.

I don’t want to be entirely negative about the book. I genuinely enjoyed reading it, as I always do with Clare’s novels. They’re very well-crafted, imaginative (probably an understatement) and intuitively written. I got a little thrill out of seeing Camille and Will’s names mentioned (characters from Infernal Devices, the companion series) and I always enjoy scenes which feature Magnus. It would have taken a pretty incredible book to topCoG and I don’t think CoFA has managed that, but I am looking forward to the rest of what looks to be another hit series for Cassandra Clare.


Welcome to Fate Is Kind Book Reviews. My name is Lauren, I'm 20 years old and currently living in Manchester, UK. I'm studying towards a degree in English Literature and Journalism, so I spend a lot of my time reading; my favourite novels are YA fantasy books and so I figured I'd start a book review blog to talk about the well-known favourites that everyone loves and share some secret gems that I've found.