Friday 28 February 2014

Banished, Liz de Jager

Pages: 388
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: 27th February 2014
Edition: UK paperback, purchased

A Blackhart’s Calling:
to banish evil and hold back the night.

Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s living with her unorthodox cousins and sharing their strange lives. Especially since their home-schooling includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons.

But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in. With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies.

As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves – it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.

Full disclosure on this one: Liz is my friend and I’ve championed her from the start, but I’ve tried very hard not to let that get in the way of a fair review. I just genuinely loved it.

Nearly every type of mythical creature that pops to mind when you think of urban fantasy, and some that won’t, play a role in Banished: fae, redcaps, goblins, trolls, chimera. All present and correct. And you can really see how much research Liz put into learning everything she could about them so she could manipulate them to her story without losing their essence. I still really want to rescue a fae prince, by the way. It just always ends in spine-tingling kisses and dangerous adventures and I’m completely up for that.

The extracts from archived records about each of the creatures and elements of the mythology of Banished were included at the beginning of chapters – I really love it when authors do that. I also think it’s a really great way of introducing them to readers who are perhaps new to the genre or mythology itself. They also provided a nice contrast to some of the mythical beings we actually got to know. I love Thorn. It’s so unusual to have a fae prince as a love interest and him not be cold, hard and slightly murderous; the slightly bashful and rather human Thorn was refreshing. Can I have one?

I can’t write a review of Banished without mentioning Kit. She’s completely badass. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a character who runs headfirst into a fight so recklessly! Her need to protect her loved ones and combat evil is brilliant, but I most loved that she still wasn’t completely comfortable with her new world. Unlike lots of other urban fantasies, we join Kit after the big reveal of her involvement in a secret world; late enough that she’s gained her footing a little, but not too late to miss her discomfort with her abilities.

Banished is a compulsive, accomplished and brilliantly imagined debut. The lady will go far. Well done, Liz.


Thursday 27 February 2014

Books I Couldn't Finish

I used to finish ever book I started, whether I was enjoying it or not. But life is short. I’ve realised that I don’t have time for books I’m not full involved in any longer so if I don’t like something or don’t connect with it as much as I want to, I’ll put it aside. It still makes me feel guilty though, especially if I received them for review so I still want to talk about them, explain why I didn’t like them. Here are the most recent books I DNF-ed.

Diamonds are a Teen’s Best Friend, Allison Rushby
I loved Allison Rushby’s previous novel Shooting Stars so I accepted a request for this, even though it goes against my rules about self-publishing. I didn’t get very far with it at all. I found the main character, Nessa, really quite irritating. She was mean to be quirky and cute, but she just got on my nerves with her preoccupation with celebs and herself. It was also a lot younger than I thought – Nessa was only 13. I don’t read MG too often, and it has to be something special for a female MG protagonist to hold me.

The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
This is one of those books that I heard rave after rave about so when I finally settled down with it, I expected pure awesomeness. Though I thought the writing was stunningly beautiful and the setting and imagery is gorgeous and atmospheric, we didn’t click.  I usually love character-driven novels, but there just wasn’t enough of something in The Snow Child. I felt nothing for Mabel or Jack, and that’s what made me put it down in the end. I have to feel something for the characters I’m reading about, even if that happens to be hatred – there has to be something there.

Just One Year, Gayle Forman
Book one, Just One Day, is gorgeous and I loved every page of it, but I couldn’t get past chapter two of the second instalment. I finished the first book with an overwhelming need to find out what happened to Wilhem, but it virtually disappeared as I began reading. I just couldn’t get involved with the characters again. It was pretty gutting as I loved Just One Day so much.

I’ve begun to recognise the signs of a DNF book: I don’t care about picking it up again, I find other things to do, and I often won’t read for three or four days and only think about what I’ll read after this one.

What have you not been able to finish lately? Do you finish everything you start? What are your signs of not getting on with something?


Wednesday 26 February 2014

Grasshopper Jungle, Andrew Smith

Pages: 394
Publisher: Electric Monkey
Release Date: 27th February 2014
Edition: UK paperback, review copy

In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend Robby have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want two things. This is the truth. This is history. It’s the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it.

Grasshopper Jungle has one of the most intriguing and original premises I’ve ever come across, and the inside of the covers definitely lived up to that! It’s weird, gross and utterly brilliant, actually.

The novel is pretty explicit from beginning to end, in language, sex, sexuality and grotesque imagery. It was thoroughly refreshing actually. I learnt the hard way not to eat my lunch while reading about six-foot-tall praying mantises breaking out of a human body and to angle the book away from nosy train passengers to protect them from the constant references to sex. All of the descriptions and references and recollections were repeated over and over again and I’m not quite sure why Andrew Smith did it, but it made an impact, and I remembered who was who in Austin complicated family history much easier than I would have normally! I would normally expect that to annoy the crap out of me, and although I noticed the repetition, it really didn’t.

Austin has a lot of obsessions, and history and the recording of it is one of them. He is recording the end of the world, the people involved in it and every detail surrounding it that he and Robby can find. Austin made an effort to record every thought and every action, regardless of how it made him look and the honesty was so different, so pure in a way that even though he didn’t make the best choices, I was so endeared to him. His confusion over Robby and Shann was constant and visceral and I really felt for him.

With everything this novel threw at me, I still wasn’t expecting Grasshopper Jungle to end the way it did, but Andrew Smith surprised me. The ending was unconventional and virtually unseen in YA and, like this novel as a whole, refreshing. The tied up storylines, cut and dried decisions, firm relationships and complete order to the world weren’t lined up like they usually are and I turned the last page with a smile, nodding my head in satisfaction.

Grasshopper Jungle is twisted, strange and completely original. Highly, highly recommended. Just don’t eat while reading it...

Thanks to Electric Monkey for sending me a copy to review.


Tuesday 25 February 2014

S&S January to May 2014 Highlights

My love for S&S is no secret. They always have a list of incredible titles and 2014 is no exception. These are my most anticipated titles from January to May, some I’ve already read and loved!

The Accidental Life of Jessie Jefferson, Paige Toon
30th January 2014

Meet Jessie, small-town girl turned wild-child...

When her mum dies, Jessie thinks any hope of finding her real dad is gone. As she goes off the rails, her stepdad makes a shocking announcement: her father is legendary rockstar and former hell-raiser, Johnny Jefferson. Now the daughter of a superstar, Jessie is suddenly sucked into the LA lifestyle – paparazzi, parties and hot guitar-wielding boys included!

But Jessie’s still reeling from her mother’s death and the truth about Johnny. Can he live up to her expectations and help her move on? One thing’s for sure, Jessie’s tiny little world just got a whole lot bigger...

The Dark Inside, Rupert Wallis
30th January 2014

“I’m not a bad person. But I’m not who I used to be, either...”

When thirteen-year-old James discovers a homeless man in an abandoned house, the course of his life changes dramatically. Hoping to find a ‘cure’ for a dark curse inflicted on the man, the pair embark on a journey together not knowing that what they discover will impact them both in ways they never imagined...

A gripping and haunting story about loss and hope from a talented debut author. Perfect for fans of Patrick Ness and David Almond. 

AKA: Sleuth or Dare, Robin Benway
27th February 2014

Former safe-cracking spy, Maggie Silver, likes her new life as a regular high-school girl. Mostly.

Okay, so there’s the usual cliques, bad lunches and frustratingly simple locker combinations, but there’s also her new boyfriend, Jessie, and insanely cool best friend, Roux.

He her parents are falsely accused of a crime, so Maggie and her new team flee to Paris where she will have to use all her skills as a spy in order to clear their names. Too bad it only puts her and everyone she loves in danger.

The Wilderness, CJ Harper
13th March 2014

On the run after the uprising at the Academy, Blake and Kay have ended up with the criminals and the crazies in the place of childhood nightmares, the Wilderness. Here, in a ghost city, they find a bloodthirsty captain training a ruthless resistance who are everything Blake has hoped for, except for one thing: they’re a bunch of kids. Blake thinks he can use the Resistance’s plans to get close enough to kill his father, The Leader, ending his brutal and bloody treatment of the underclass. Simple. But what Blake discovers about his father and the devastating methods of the Resistance is anything but simple. Who is controlling the country? And who can he really trust?

Zom-B Mission, Darren Shan
27th March 2014

What has happened to the world since the dead took over? Where have humans gone to hide? Who do the living have most to fear? B Smith is heading for unknown territory... Leading a group of humans through London and out into zombie-infested suburbs sounds like suicide – but not for the undead! Even so, the horrors of the journey will be beyond anything B has seen yet...

‘Do not underestimate the dangers of this mission. Other zombies will not ignore you when they catch the scent of fresh brains. You will almost surely be called upon to fight. The city and countryside are full of angry, bitter people who are trying to execute as many of the undead as they can. They will not distinguish between a revitalised and a revived. Most do not know there is a difference. And most would not care.’

Keep the Faith, Candy Harper
24th April 2014

Get ready for boy dilemmas, friendship dramas and madcap grannies – Faith is back! Will Faith make up her mind between the gorgeous Finn and the lovely Ethan and manage to get herself a real-life boyfriend? Will Mrs Cox finally get off her case and recognise Faith’s true genius? Will Faith’s family learn how to be normal, non-embarrassing people? Will faith and her BFFs beat the world record for number of biscuits eaten in a minute? All these questions and more will be answered in the hilarious next instalment of this brilliant new series from Candy Harper!

Playlist for a Broken Heart, Cathy Hopkins
8th May 2014

When Paige finds an old mix CD in a local charity shop, she can’t helpbut wonder about the boy who made it and the girl he was thinking of when he chose the songs. The tracks tell the story of a boy  for his perfect girl, a girl to understand him, a story of being alone, being let down, misunderstood and not knowing where to turn. Following the clues of the music, Paige sets out to find the mysterious boy, going from gig to gig and band to band, hoping to track him down. But will who she finds at the end of the trail, be the boy she’s imagined? Another perfect girly read from Queen of Teen nominee Cathy Hopkins!

Out of Control, Sarah Alderson
22nd May 2014

Liva has moved to New York to start a new life. But when gunmen storm into the house in the middle of the night and kill everyone apart from her, that new life seems to swiftly become a living nightmare. Soon Liva is on the run, and bad boy Jay seems to be the only person he can trust. Only Jay and Liva don’t know who they’re running from. All they know is that whoever it is, they want Liva dead...or worse...

They all sound amazing, right? I hope I made your wishlists explode!