Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Meeting Cassie Clare

Having followed Cassandra Clare's work since waaay before she released City of Bones, I was so excited to get the chance to meet her in person. I was nervous too; I mean, how scary is it to meet one of your idols?

I bought my book and joined the queue, waiting around half an hour for the lady herself to join us. As I neared the front of the queue I could hear her asking for favourite characters and chatting away with other readers; she created a really lovely atmosphere. I've been to quite a few signings where people are pushed along with minimal interaction, handed their book / CD at the end and told to move away from the exits. But Cassie was very accommodating for everyone, smiling for endless pictures, answering questions, even looking at one girl's GCSE Art coursework, which she'd based on the Mortal Instruments series.

The nice WHSmith lady took two photos of us - one while Cassie signed my book and another of us posing away. We spoke about Will and Wales (I'm half-Welsh) and how difficult it is to master the Welsh language (very), and I managed to stutter that I was a huge fan and so pleased to meet her.

She asked my favourite character, I said it was Will for the Welsh connection, and she put his name in little hearts for me. A really nice touch! I also nicked some of her awesome 'Team Cassie' badges. I hope she tours England again soon - a delightful lady who deserves all of the praise and success she is getting.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Release Date: 13th September 2011
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 387
Buy The Book: Amazon

"The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead..."

Erin Morgenstern's debut has been long-awaited and much-hyped. An enchanting, mysterious, playful and imaginative read, I found it enthralling, although I can see how some readers may feel that the slow-burning plot is merely a plot devoid of pace. The expressive prose used throughout the novel helps to create a sense of enchantment that I can only imagine must be akin to that felt by those who follow the circus, known as reveurs - the French word for 'dreamers'. Though the flowery, lyrical writing might not be to everyone's taste, it is an undeniably impressive piece of work. 

I'll start with my minor criticisms of this book: for the first few chapters, the flighty narrative, which jumps between continents and constantly flits forwards and backwards in time, is quite hard to grasp. This style of writing has its advantages; it gives the reader a sense of omnipresence that mirrors the relationship Celia and Marco have with the circus, but for the first quarter of the book, it has the detrimental effect of not allowing readers to really establish a connection with either Celia or Marco. The short chapters and persistent jumping from 1893 Munich to 1903 London to 1897 Paris is disorientating and doesn't allow much scope for character development until the real plot kicks in.

This happens when Celia and Marco finally meet. It is in this scene that the mysterious conversations and build-up all start to make sense, as it becomes clear that their relationship will form the core of the novel. Their love story is very delicately handled; not overwrought or overdone, but slow-burning and discreet (after a brief foray into 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James, I can appreciate the romance of a subtle and tender love story more than ever). 

Character-wise, the supporting cast are excellent, and I felt one of the strongest points of the book was the fact that every single 'minor' character had their role to play. Nobody is introduced into this story by accident, and everyone has their say in the touching climax. Poppet and Widge, twins born into the circus on the night of its inception, are particularly interesting, and their relationship with a seemingly ordinary boy from middle-America, Bailey, is one of my favourite sub-plots. 

The sub-plots, which at first seem distracting and incoherent, begin to merge towards the end of the novel and it is here that the reader can appreciate the master-craftsmanship that has gone into the story. There are no loose ends, and as the novel reaches its end, it becomes more apparent that every single word of the book is there on purpose; there is no filler, no buffers between plots to steady the pace of the story... the plot is well-thought out and wonderfully handled. 

Morgenstern's debut is enchanting, imaginative and just a little bit dark. The most fascinating character is the circus itself, and the appeal of this novel definitely lies more in the journey than in the climax.

Monday, 21 May 2012

"Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home..."

This isn't a review as such, more a reflection on one of the best days ever.

As a huge Potter fan for most of my life, I had huge expectations for this place, and I can say with utter delight that it exceeded every single preconceived idea that I had. These are just a few of the hundreds of pictures I took on the day, although I'd be happy to share to rest if anyone happened to be interested.The work that went into those films is nothing short of astonishing, and I can't wait until I can book onto the tour again for another look around.

Friday, 18 May 2012

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

Released: May 8th 2012
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Pages: 536
Buy The Book: Amazon

"The demon Lilith has been destroyed and Jace has been freed from her captivity. But when the Shadowhunters arrive to rescue him, they find only blood and broken glass. Not only is the boy Clary loves missing–but so is the boy she hates, Sebastian, the son of her father Valentine: a son determined to succeed where their father failed, and bring the Shadowhunters to their knees."

City of Lost Souls is a welcome return to form for Cassandra Clare, who, in my opinion, dropped the ball with City of Fallen Angels (check out my review here for my thoughts). The odd decisions and the strange character development that ruined CoFA for me have given way to a much more engaging plot, and the 'fanfiction' element has all but fallen away. I'll try to keep this relatively spoiler-free, as it's still quite close to the release of the book and I don't want to ruin it for anyone who hasn't got their hands on it yet.

Having read the books that have been released so far in the companion series, the Infernal Devices, I'm struggling to find Mortal Instruments quite as engrossing; in fact, I thought the most interesting parts of this book were the parts that dropped heavy clues as to what would happen in the next and final Infernal Devices instalment. However, that's not to say I don't seriously appreciate Cassandra Clare's craft and supreme talent, which is more evident in this novel than ever. The woman knows how to structure a story, CoLS is wonderfully put together and excellently written, with plenty of the old spark that I so missed in CoFA. Cassie is growing with every novel (writing CoFA off as a blip) and, despite my lingering reservations about her continuing the series past City of Glass, I'm actually quite excited to see what the final book holds.

Where my favourite character used to be Jace by a country mile, I am now appreciating Simon and Sebastian much more as literary constructs. Sebastian is masterfully well-written, the scenes where he has an almost easy and charming camaraderie with Jace certainly lull the reader into a false sense of security before he transforms into the monster we know him to be. He's a very charismatic villain and it's easy to see why people fall under his spell, even if his methods and aims aren't to be celebrated. Simon has also blossomed; in the first three novels I saw him as an annoyance but he's absolutely pivotal now and I don't find myself dreading the chapters that begin with his POV anymore.

In the way of criticism, I'd have to say that, as diverse and wonderful Cassie's cast of characters are, I'm finding the sub-plots to be a little distracting. The Maia / Jordan side-story didn't add contribute much to the actual plot, and I find it a little too neat that every single person in the main cast is involved with another member of the main cast. I know that it's fiction, but I find it a little too convenient, and I hope Cassie shakes it up a little in the final book. I'm sure she will, she writes tragedy extremely well.

All in all, I'm starting to warm to this series a little more, and I hope the final book is worthy of standing alongside City of Glass, which I thought (at the time) was an ideal ending to a series.