Monday 31 August 2015

Legacy of Kings, Eleanor Herman

Pages: 432
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: 18th August 2015
Edition: US e-proof, NetGalley review copy

Imagine a time when the gods turn a blind eye to the agony of men, when the last of the hellions roam the plains, and evil stirs beyond the edges of a map. A time when cities burn and in their ashes, empires rise.

Alexander, Macedon’s sixteen-year-old heir, is on the brink of discovering his fated role in conquering the known world, but finds himself drawn to a newcomer…

Katerina must navigate the dark secrets of court life, while keeping hidden her own mission: kill the queen. But she doesn’t account for her first love…

Jacob will got to unthinkable lengths to win Katerina, even if it means competing with Hephaestion, a murderer sheltered by the prince.

And far across the seas, Zofia, a Persian princess and Alexander’s unmet fiancée, wants to alter her destiny by seeking the famed and deadly spirit eaters.

Legacy of Kings is the first book is what the synopsis promises is an epic tale of gods, kings, princesses, war, love and Ancient Greece. What more could I ask for, I thought? A little more is the answer.

Eleanor Herman’s YA debut is strong on historical detail, puts you right in the moment and details the fascinating early life of Alexander the Great, who I knew nothing about previously, but I felt kept at a distance. Legacy of Kings is told in an unusual third person present tense narration and while at first I thought it was pretty cool, it quickly alienated me. There are a lot of main characters in this novel – five, I think – and I don’t feel like I got to know any of them properly. There was no connection between me and the book at all, I skimmed a lot of it to be honest, especially Zo’s chapters. Her story felt unnecessary and tacked on. I’m sure they’ll be more important in book two, but I won't be reading that.

Though this book is promoted as high fantasy, it felt a lot more like historical fantasy to me. The detail and the setting and the politics felt a lot more important than the fantastical elements that didn’t even come in until fairly late in the novel. You could tell that Eleanor Herman is a historian and she clearly knows the period in incredible depth; her passion came across vibrantly but it also detracted from the characters and story a little at times.

I was really quite disappointed by Legacy of Kings unfortunately. I loved the setting and the idea, but the execution just didn’t work for me, sadly.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for the review copy.


Sunday 30 August 2015

Letterbox Love #103

Letterbox Love is a way to give all of the books I receive for review some exposure. Summaries are taken from the cover, or Amazon/NetGalley/Goodreads in the case of e-books, unless otherwise stated.

Daughters Unto Devils, Amy Lukavics (paperback)

Sometimes I believe the baby will never stop crying.

Sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner fears she is losing her mind. When her family move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, Amanda hopes she can leave her haunting memories behind: of her sickly Ma giving birth to a terribly afflicted baby; of the cabin fever that claimed Amanda’s sanity; of the boy she has been meeting in secret…

But the Verners arrive on the prairie to find their new home soaked in blood. So much blood. And Amanda has heard stories – about men becoming unhinged and killing their families, and the land being tainted by wickedness.

Does true evil dwell within the prairie…or within Amanda’s soul.

Thanks S&S! This is not my kind of thing at all – I'm a giant wuss – so if anyone fancies it, give me a shout and I’ll send it to you (UK only).

George, Alex Gino (hardback)

Be who you are.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she's a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret for ever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part … because she's a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can see who she really is.

Such a lovely surprise from Scholastic! I’ve heard endless wonderful things about this and I’m excited.

Not That Easy, Radhika Sanghani (e-proof)

Recent graduate Ellie Kostakis is supposedly an ‘adult’. She has debt, an unpaid magazine internship and three flatmates who left her with the single room to match her single status. But Ellie doesn’t mind, because she doesn’t want a boyfriend anyway – she wants several, so Ellie heads straight online. Of course, like most of Ellie’s plans, there are a few things she didn’t count on…

I loved the first book of Ellie’s adventures, Virgin, last year so I’m really looking forward to this. Thanks NetGalley and Mills and Boon!

The Twelve Dates of Christmas, Lisa Dickenson (e-proof)

At thirty, Claudia’s life is stale and the romance with long-term boyfriend, Seth, has disappeared. Determined to inject some festive spark back into their love life, Claudia and Seth go on their first date in a very long time. But when the night ends in disaster, Claudia suddenly finds herself facing life – and Christmas – alone.

Life alone is exciting, scary and full of soon-forgotten exercise regimens and ill-advised attempts at crafting sexy underwear. It's also filling up with dates, surprisingly. With best friends Penny and Nick at her side, a surplus of festive markets, mulled wine and Christmas tunes, Claudia attempts to face all this change with gusto. One things for certain: this year, Christmas is going to be different…

This is the story of Claudia and her twelve dates of Christmas. Hilarious, uplifting and romantic, it's a story about finding love, losing love, and discovering what’s been there all along. Expect Christmas sparkle, butterflies-in-your-stomach romance and a lot of very funny moments in The Twelve Dates of Christmas.

An unknown fact about me: I’m a serious sucker for Christmas-orientated chick-lit. It perfectly sets the tone of the season for me. If anyone has any recs for me, let me know! Thanks NetGalley and Sphere!   

Queen of Shadows, Sarah J Maas (paperback)

No masters.
No limits.
No regrets.

Celaena Sardothien is cloaked in her assassin’s hood once more. She is back in Rifthold, but this time she is no one’s slave. She must delve into her most painful memories and fight for her survival, while resisting a smouldering passion that might very well consume her heart. And she will face her former master, the King of Assassins, again – to wreak revenge for a decade of pain…

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Thank you Bloomsbury!!


Thursday 27 August 2015

Recommendations: Forbidden Love

One of my favourite things to read about is a forbidden romance. The secrecy. The danger. The tension. The intensity. The threat of consequences. Oh, it makes me happy dance! Here are the ones that have kept me on the edge of my seat during the agonising ups and downs of their forbidden love:

Forbidden, Tabitha Suzuma
Definitions|3rd June 2010

Lochan and Maya are young, beautiful and head over heels in love. They’re also brother a sister. Juggling school, running the house and caring after their younger siblings in the flaky absence of their mum have moulded Maya and Lochie into firm partners. It only seems natural to them that it would evolve.

Thought I’d through you in at the deep end with Forbidden. This novel is astoundingly beautiful and even though I read it five years ago, it’s still one that I find myself thinking about every now and then. It can be difficult to read and there are definitely bits that will make people uncomfortable, but you’ll be missing out if you avoid this novel for the content. The battle between your heart and head for both the reader and Lochie and Maya is one I haven’t encountered anywhere since. It’s gloriously heart-breaking.

If You Could Be Mine, Sara Farizan
Alonquin|20th August 2013

Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were children. They have a relationship of secrets, promises and stolen moments because in Iran a girl in love with a girl can mean imprisonment, beatings and even execution. When Nasrin’s parents announce a planned engagement for Nasrin, Sahar begins to seriously consider sexual reassignment surgery – legal and accessible – to save her love. Is changing herself worth saving her relationship?

This is an emotional and thoughtful read and I really loved it. LGBT rights have been getting some more much-needed attention lately but it’s still focused on the Western world. Farizan’s debut opens up about sexuality and gender and the complications of not fitting into traditional roles in the Middle East with grace, sensitivity and a hefty dose of thought. I’d never considered a lot of the problems that Sahar and Nasrin encountered – it was enlightening. Highly recommended.

Perfect Chemistry, Simone Elkeles
S&S|1st April 2010

Head cheerleader Brittany Ellis and gang member Alex Fuentes are worlds apart, but when assigned as lab partners they’re forced to get along. Both of them completely taken aback when sparks start to fly between them, but they come from different sides of the track and being together isn’t going to be an easy ride.

The Perfect Chemistry trilogy is one of my very, very favourite trilogies and Alex is one of my top book boyfriends – I could read this book over and over and not get bored. Him and Brittany have a tonne of sizzle and I was championing them from the start. Alex is a gang member and his relationship with Brittany poses a serious danger to both of them. I loved watching the effects they had on how the other sees the world and made it a better place to look upon. There are some stomach-in-your-throat moments in this book where Brittany and Alex’s relationship, and lives, hang in the balance and it only makes it all the sweeter.

The Luxe, Anna Godbsersen
Puffin|3rd July 2008

Welcome to New York City. It’s 1899 and society’s elite bring glamour, gossip, secrets, scandal, beauty and revenge as they weave a tangled web of love and lies. Welcome to The Luxe.

This series is one I discovered and fell head over heels in love with before I started blogging. I’ve never been a huge fan of historical fiction – it takes something really special to pull me in, and The Luxe did that tenfold. Though not as major part in the first books as they are later on in the series, the main draw for me (apart from the decadence and scandal of the world they live in) Diana and Henry were my draw. I don’t want to spoil anything, but they really shouldn’t have anything to do with each other; they have quite a few impossible obstacles that only get more impossible as their story develops. I was rooting for them tirelessly, even though maybe they weren’t quite right together.

Bloodlines, Richelle Mead
Puffin|25th August 2011

Sydney belongs to the Alchemists, a secret organisations that work to keep the vampire world a secret from humans. They protect them, keep their secrets and clear up after them and Sydney has been assigned to keep watch over the sister of the Moroi queen, Lissa Dragomir, while her life is at risk from those wanting her family knocked from the throne. Being accused of sympathising with vampires is akin to treason for the Alchemists and now Sydney is about to move in with a group of them – will her teachings stay strong?

The series that Bloodines is a spin-off from, Vampire Academy, could easily have made this list with the relationship between student and mentor, Rose and Dimitri, but this series doesn’t get nearly as much love as VA. In buildings friendships with Jill, Adrian and Eddie, Sydney risks her career, by falling in love with Adrian she risks her life. I love Sydney’s battle against her feelings and teachings, the chemistry between them and the sparkly banter, all against the threat of the Alchemists discovering Sydney’s new allegiances and the potential deadly consequences.

Stolen, Lucy Christopher
Chicken House|4th May 2009

Gemma is kidnapped while on a changeover at Bangkok airport and whisked away to the deserts of Australia. Taken away from everything she knows, he expects her to love him. This is Gemma’s letter to her captor.

Now, this is a little different to the other novels in this post but it’s still very much worth a mention. Stolen is easily one of the beautifully written books I’ve ever read. Set against the desolate beauty of the Australian outback, Gemma gets to know Ty and learns why he took her. This is another story where your head and heart collide. Ty did something very, very wrong and I kept wanting to hate him but I couldn’t! I really loved how Gemma Stockholm Syndrome extended to the reader. You should read it for a wonderful scene where Ty reveals his beautiful art to Gemma alone. Stunning.

What are you favourite forbidden love stories?


Wednesday 26 August 2015

Drop, Katie Everson

Pages: 332
Publisher: Walker
Release Date: 6th August 2015
Edition: UK proof, review copy

Carla has just moved to London and starts at yet another school; she is desperate to fit in. though she makes a couple of friends, she soon meets the charismatic, good-looking Finn and their whirlwind romance begins. Carla, an A student and gifted artist, lets her schoolwork slip as she enters Finn’s world – a world of partying and drugs. Friends tell her that Finn is no good – even his brother, Isaac. Bu Isaac has an ulterior motive, doesn’t he? Is either brother right for Carla?

I flew through Drop. I was captured by Carla’s struggle against what she wanted and what she needed and desperation to be a part of something.

With Carla’s mum being an up and coming journalist, desperate to make it into the big time, Carla has spent most of her school years moving around as her mum chases the next step of her career. She's finally made it and they’ve moved to London, just in time for Carla to do her A-levels and she’s determined that for her final school she’ll be someone. She won't skate along the side-lines, she won't just fit in, and she’ll be one of the popular crowd. These are urges every teenager, and most adults, feel a lot of the time, but Carla went down a dangerous route.

Arrogant, gorgeous and care-free Finn Masterson is the epitome of cool at Carla’s new school and she’s determined to have him. Her determination to be accepted into his crowd of friends, be admired by the rest of year 12 and have Finn pay attention to her is worth everything to Carla, even when it means taking pills and doing lines of coke while her brain is screaming warnings at her. It was a horrible mix of heartbreaking and fascinating to watch Carla descend into addiction, and surprisingly quick. The effect it had on the rest of her life was obvious and startling as the rest of the group seemed so at ease with it. It was difficult to watch, but it made her resolve to drag herself out the other side even more satisfying. All things considering, Carla got off pretty lightly and I’m really glad her story ended with hope and possibility and the life she was searching for from the beginning.

Drop is a wonderfully written and effortless to read debut about art, love, the desperate need to fit in and finding yourself. Katie Everson is definitely a name to watch.

Thanks to Walker for the review copy.


Tuesday 25 August 2015

14 Reasons Why You Should Read The Secret History

With the ending revealed in the opening pages, the tension is high as it is revealed how such a conclusion came about.

Richard, Charles, Camilla, Henry, Frances and Bunny are fascinating characters to follow; they’re wealthy, entitled, privileged, highly intelligent and weirdly alien.

The writing it tense, atmospheric and incredibly gripping.

Though published in 1992 (we’re the same age!) and set in the early 80s, it’s incredibly current and charming at the same time.

The creeping darkness and mystery.

All of them are kind of despicable in their own ways, and yet I loved all of them. Except Bunny.

I loved the prominence of the gang’s Ancient Greek class and professor and the influence they had on their experience at Hampden.

Vermont is the perfect setting for such a story: dark, snowy and secluded.

It gets darker, tenser and more twisted after a murder…

The subtle and cruel ways they injure each other are horrifying, but fascinating. Much like the way people slow down to look at a car accident.

Henry’s inextricable hold over the group is strange and automatic; it seems so completely natural for them to follow him. And do whatever he says.

It’s so beautifully written it’ll make you ache.

The ending is devastating, but in the right way.

You’ll be seriously missing out if you don’t. At the moment, The Secret History is the best books I’ve read this year.

About the Book
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.

660|Penguin Books|1st July 1993


Monday 24 August 2015

Am I Normal Yet?, Holly Bourne

Pages: 448
Publisher: Usborne
Release Date: 1st August 2015
Edition: UK Kindle e-book, purchased

Other Titles by this Author: Soulmates, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting

All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she's almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there’s only one thing left to tick off her list…

But relationships can mess with anyone’s head – something Evie’s new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won't tell them her secrets, how they can they stop her making a huge mistake?

All of the UKYA community got giddy with excitement when early copies of Am I Normal Yet? made an appearance at YALC and then the rave reviews came rushing in and I pre-ordered it on the spot. Boy, am I glad I listened to my friends!

I can't begin this review without first mentioning the authentic and empowering representation of mental illness. Evie has OCD – in the form of a fear of germs and uncleanliness – and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. When we join Evie, she’s lived with her mental illness for three years. She’s been sectioned, on lots of medication and unable to leave the house. Now her dose is drastically lowered, therapy seems to be working and she’s starting college, determined to be a normal sixteen-year-old. I loved the honesty that Bourne gave Evie’s struggles. She didn’t shy away from the hurt, the anger, the desperation and the simple joys of Evie’s life. It felt so authentic.

One of my favourite things about Am I Normal Yet? is how vibrant Evie’s voice is. Her narration is sassy, witty and friendly; I loved being in her world, even when it got heartbreaking. Evie wasn’t the sum of her illness, even though it was undoubtedly a big part of her life. She still had friendships to navigate, boys to try and decipher, college to attend and feminism to learn about. The dynamic between Evie, Amber and Lottie, and Jane as well were wonderful. I loved the support and respect and genuine affection between them as well as the pain of drifting apart from Jane in the wake of her new boyfriend, Joel. I really like it when female friendships are one of the most important parts of the novel.

With the friendship between Evie, Lottie and Amber, the Spinsters Club was born. The girls discovered in the innate sexism in the English language: is there a male version of a spinster? A male version of slut? Nope. They decided to reclaim ‘spinster’ and formed a club where they discussed feminism and how it related to their lives. This opened up dialogue with the reader to situations and ideas that they may not have considered before; such a wonderful, fun way to introduce teens to feminism. They discussed periods (side note: I had never considered the horror of menstruating when you suffer from the type of OCD Evie does; awful), stereotypes, double standards, gender roles, labels and the Bechdel test. Seriouosly fantastic stuff.

Holly Bourne is an incredibly important voice in YA and I’ll definitely be digging into her backlist and putting her future releases straight on my wishlist. Am I Normal Yet? is an empowering, emotional and honest novel that should be available to all teens.


Sunday 23 August 2015

Letterbox Love #102

Letterbox Love is a way to give all of the books I receive for review some exposure. Summaries are taken from the cover, or Amazon/NetGalley/Goodreads in the case of e-books, unless otherwise stated.

Demons of the Hellmouth: A Guide for Slayers, Rupert Giles/Nancy Holder

After the fall of the Watchers Council, and the defeat of The First, Rupert Giles was determined to use his experiences from his seven years in Sunnydale to educate the New Slayers. He pulled together various notes and papers, including excerpts from his Watcher’s Diary, to form a new handbook and field guide: Demons of the Hellmouth.

This is Giles’ original copy and contains pages annotated by Buffy, Faith, Willow, and Xander. It has passed through many hands since the Battle of the Hellmouth. An now, Slayer, you hold it in yours. Are you ready to be strong?

I’m so looking forward to this! And the inevitable Buffy binge it’ll bring on… Thanks Titan!

I Crawl Through It, AS King (e-proof)

Four teenagers are on the verge of exploding. The anxieties they face at every turn have nearly pushed them to the point of surrender: senseless high-stakes testing, the lingering damage of past trauma, the buried guilt and grief of tragic loss. They are desperate to cope, but no one is listening.

So they will lie. They will split in two. They will turn inside out. They will even build an invisible helicopter to fly themselves far away…but nothing releases the pressure. Because, as they discover, the only way to truly escape their world is to fly right into it.

The genius of acclaimed author AS King reaches new heights in this ground-breaking work of surrealist fiction; it will mesmerize readers with its deeply affecting exploration of how we crawl through traumatic experience – and find the way out.

This sounds wonderfully weird. I don’t always like AS King’s books, but I also respect them and am end up in awe of them. Thanks NetGalley and Little, Brown US!

Tonight the Streets Are Ours, Leila Sales (e-proof)

From Leila Sales, the author of This Song Will Save Your Life, comes a compelling and relatable story about the hazards of falling for someone you haven’t met yet.

Seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley is recklessly loyal. Taking care of her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose: it makes her feel like she matters. But she's tired of being loyal to those who don’t appreciate her – including her needy best friend and absent mum.

Arden stumbles upon a blog called ‘Tonight the Streets Are 0urs’, the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter, and it feels like she's finally found a kindred spirit. When Peter is dumped by the girlfriend he blogs about, Arden decides to take a road trip to see him.

During one crazy night in NYC filled with parties, dancing and music – the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does – Arden discovers that peter isn’t exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn’t exactly who she thought she was either.

Woo! I loved This Song Will Save Your Life so I’m really excited for this. Thanks Macmillan and NetGalley!

Demon Road, Derek Landy (proof)

For anyone who ever thought their parents were monsters…

Amber Lamont s a normal sixteen-year-old high school student. Smart but insecure, she spends most of her time online, where she can avoid her beautiful, aloof parents and their weird friends.

But when a shocking encounter reveals a horrifying family secret, Amber is forced to go on the run. Killer cars, vampires, undead serial killers and red-skinned, horned demons – Amber hurtles from one threat to the next, revealing a tapestry of terror woven into the very fabric of her life. As her parents close in behind her, Amber’s only chance rests with her fellow travellers, who are not all what they appear to be…

Witty, action-packed and heart-stoppingly thrilling, Demon Road will take you on an epic road-trip across the supernatural landscape of America.

Buckle up. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.

This sounds like a lot of fun! And it's about time I read Derek Landy!


Friday 21 August 2015

Only Ever Yours, Louise O'Neill

Pages: 390
Publisher: Quercus
Release Date: 3rd July 2014
Edition: UK paperback, purchased

frieda and isabel have been best friends their entire lives.

Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions – wives to wealthy and powerful men. The alternative – life as a concubine – is too horrible to contemplate.

But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to remain perfect becomes almost unbearable. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty – her only asset – in peril.

And then, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

frieda must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known…

Louise O’Neill’s debut has been making a splash since it was published last year and getting a book with the win of the YA Book Prize so I decided I should probably pick it up.

I have incredibly mixed feelings about Only Ever Yours. All of my friends’ review and reactions to this novel made me expect to be enraged, disbelieving and to fall head over heels in love with this book. The first two definitely happened. O’Neill writes with a razor blade and she brings frieda and isabel’s world alive in all it's terrifying glory.

The way that girls and women are seen as second class citizens; they’re designed rather than born for goodness sake! Their names aren’t capitalised, pretty is everything, fat is worse thing an eve can be and good girls don’t show emotion or intelligence. It's infuriating and it was so uncomfortable to read a lot of the time. There is so much focus on the girls’ weight and body shape that I became so aware of my own body. They weren’t allowed to be over 118 pounds or they had their diets restricted and ridiculed for being fat. 118 pounds. That’s about 8 stone. Every focus was on making themselves as appealing to men as they possibly could; it was the be all and end all.

I had to keep putting it down, but I also had to keep reading as otherwise I wouldn’t have gone back to it. It's completely devoid of hope, even more so than The Bunker Diary which I actually loved. Though I appreciate the importance of what O’Neill is saying in Only Ever Yours and her writing is incredible, I didn’t enjoy reading this novel in the slightest and I skim-read the final 100-odd pages to get through it in time for a panel event I went to last night. 

I know I should read Asking for It, O’Neill’s upcoming novel, but I don’t know if I can… Only Ever Yours left me feeling hollow and shaken and it wasn't a pleasant experience. 


Thursday 20 August 2015

Star Ratings: Measured by enjoyment or worthiness?

There has always been questions about star ratings for books, especially those on Goodreads, and I've started to really think about how I rate my books lately.

What makes a 5 star read?

What makes a book jump or drop a star?

Do I use other ratings as a comparison point?

And the big one for me: do I rate on my enjoyment or the book’s worthiness?

Choosing a star rating for Goodreads is something that I think about while still reading. I debate how much I’m enjoying it, how it’s making me feel, the writing, the plotting, the characters, and even how ‘good’ it is from a literary standpoint sometimes. But I never take all of these into account.

There are books that I tore through, gobbling down every word and still gave three stars – considered not a positive rating – because actually, it wasn’t that well-written or had some plot/character/suspension of disbelief issues. But I loved the experience of reading that book so why isn’t a four or five star read?

Then comes my monthly classic read. It can be tricky, hard-going, and complex or even a slog to reach the end, but I always feel accomplished by that point. I admire the writing and the story and finished product but I didn’t love it – how does that equate to the same rating as the book I mentioned previously?

I’m going to give you a peek into my Goodreads ratings of 2015 so far. As of writing this (10th August), I’ve read 128 books this year and most of my reads have been four star reviews, but look at the range of titles:

It all looks a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it?

I've rated Wuthering Heights – a 19th Century classic of English Literature, an intricate novel of hate and love and power told in the most beautiful prose – the same as Rule – a previously self-published new adult romance littered with typos, grammatical mistakes, questionable relationships and meh writing, but I loved reading it. How can these two novels rank the same? I don’t feel the same way about them, I didn’t even enjoy them in the same way, but I did enjoy both of them.

And I rated both of those novels above Jane Eyre – another beloved classic – and the new Patrick Ness novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, with an average rating of 4.02 and by an incredibly popular and well-respected YA author. Again, seems kind of crazy.

The only thing I’m immoveable on when it comes to rating books on Goodreads is the elusive five stars. I’ve been a voracious reader for a very long time. I read a lot and I think that the more you read the more particular you become, well I do anyway, and that shows in my five star books. I couldn’t tell you what bumps a book up from four to five, but it’s something I know when I turn the last page. It’s partly that breathless feeling, as if I've been swept away; it’s partly the agony of having to let this world and these characters go; and it’s partly knowing that I’ll be recommending this to as many people as will listen for the foreseeable future.

I've come to the conclusion that star ratings are all kinds of rubbish really. Everyone knows how subjective reading is. No book speaks to every reader in the same way. Different aspects of a novel are important to different people. They’re kind of irrelevant, except maybe for my own need to categorise everything, and though I don’t pay a particular amount of attention to other people’s ratings, I know I’ll continue to put far too much thought into them. But I’m resigned to that!

Do you rate your books on Goodreads? Do you like them? Do you rate them regardless? How do you rate your books? What makes a five-star read for you?


Wednesday 19 August 2015

Darkmere, Helen Maslin

Pages: 344
Publisher: Chicken House
Release Date: 6th August 2015
Edition: UK proof, review copy

Outsider Kate has a crush on the coolest boy in school, Leo. He’s inherited a castle, a menacing ruin on the rugged English coast. When he invites her along for the summer, she finally feels part of the gang.

But Darkmere’s empty halls are haunted by dark ghosts. Two centuries ago, Elinor – the young wife of the castle’s brooding master – uncovered a dreadful truth.

As past and present intertwine, Kate and Elinor find themselves fighting for their lives – and the ones they love.

Darkmere is a story of an old castle, a vengeful curse and a group of teenagers determined to party the summer away.

I was really suckered by Leo in the beginning of the novel. I liked that he wasn’t shiny and polished and perfect like lots of YA heroes, but scruffy and a little arrogant; he seemed like a teenage boy! But then that like quickly turned to annoyance, then to dislike and finally to all-out hatred. I also didn’t feel much of anything for Kate which meant that it took me a good 150 pages to become even somewhat invested in the story, and when I did, it was largely down to Elinor’s story.

My relationship with historical fiction is notoriously unpredictable. I either love it or I hate it, and I loved reading Elinor’s journey from her first London season to becoming to the first mistress of Darkmere to her tragic end. Elinor’s story starts in 1825 and her chapters were immersive and vivid. Maslin clearly did a lot of research into the period and the experiences of a young woman in that time and it really showed. But it also left Kate’s present day adventures at Darkmere in the shadow for me. I could happily have read an entire novel about Elinor. I did, however, really like the way that Kate and Elinor’s stories paralleled each other and eventually intertwined. I've always been fascinated by the idea of history repeating itself or leaving echoes through generations and Darkmere captured those ideas wonderfully. 

Though Darkmere and I had a rocky start, I ended up enjoying it a lot. I’ll definitely be looking out for more from Helen Maslin in the future.


Tuesday 18 August 2015

Blast From the Past: The Day of the Triffids

Originally published in 1951 by Michael Joseph

My edition: the lovely 2008 illustrated paperback from Penguin

What’s it about?
When a freak cosmic event renders most of the Earth’s population blind, Bill Masen is one of the lucky few to retain his sight. The London he walks is crammed with groups of men and women needing help, some ready to prey on those who can still see. But another menace stalks blind and sighted alike. With nobody to stop their spread, the Triffids – mobile plants with lethal stingers and carnivorous appetites – seem set to wipe out the survivors.

Why now?
I’ve wanted to read this ever since I saw a TV adaptation years ago, but talking to Stacey (Pretty Books) about how much she enjoyed it finally prompted me to buy it and read it for the Classics Challenge!

The verdict:

Right from the very beginning, an eerie, unsettling atmosphere crept over me as I read. Bill wakes up to a still and silent London after a week of blindness after eye surgery and The Day of the Triffids is what he calls his personal account of the fall of civilisation. Maybe it was that Bill was recounting his story directly for the reader, but it felt scarily real and completely possible to me. It also felt incredibly current. Triffids was published in 1951 and yet it read as if it could have been published yesterday, minus the lack of technology.

John Wyndham is seen as a pioneer of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction and I can really see why. I’ve read veer little in these genres outside of YA and I was really surprised at how different it is. The end of the world in YA is usually based on a natural disaster, but in a very different way to Triffids; there’s a sense of history and build up to them. The destruction of our planet that Bill experiences is cumulative and a human problem rather than a sudden, uncontrollable and extremely dramatic event. It’s more in line with the type of catastrophe that I read in what I think was the first post-apocalyptic book I read – Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. The deterioration was slow and steady but it changed the world inexplicably.

One of my favourite things about The Day of the Triffids is the questions that it asks about the responsibilities and role of the people that remain sighted after the meteor shower. Bill and Josella – a woman he meets very early on in the story who is also sighted – debate frequently on whether the sighted have a duty to look after the blind or whether they are just prolonging the inevitable. Is it not better to use their sight to look after themselves and start to prepare for the future and rebuild the world? This also extends into the two types of people that the end of civilisation produces: those who arm and dominate and those who rebuild and prepare. This book really made me think.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Day of the Triffids so I’ll definitely be reading more of John Wyndham’s backlist. I’m thinking either The Midwich Cuckoos or The Crysalids next…

Still not convinced?
- One of original dystopians.
- It’s sixty-odd years old and still reads as fresh and relevant and very accessible.
- Man-eating plants – what more do you need to know?!