Wednesday 30 December 2015

Top Ten 2015 Books

I don't always do these top ten things but this year has been fantastic for incredibly amazing books and I couldn't not talk about them! So these aren't in favourite order, they are roughly in the order I read them.
  1. Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas - I read the whole series (so far) in the last year and I can't believe I waited this long to read them, because they were insanely awesome!
  2. The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury - Her debut was incredible, just full of twists and tension and an amazing fantasy world. Book two due out early 2016. 
  3. I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson - I was blown away by Nelson's book; this is her second but the first one I've read and it was so sweet and funny and clever.
  4. Cinder and the rest of the series by Marissa Meyer - Another one where I've read the entire series throughout the year, and what a series! Wasn't Winter just an epic conclusion?
  5. The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson - What can I say about this book without just rambling? It was just all kinds of awesome with a poignant portrayal of transgender life. 
  6. Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne - Yet another one with excellent portrayal of something now often in YA, this time OCD and mental health issues. 
  7. Counting Stars by Keris Stainton - I've always liked Keris's novels but something about this one was just fantastic. It was more new adult than young adult and I thought her portrayal of struggling into adulthood was spot on.
  8. Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman - Ahhhh! Amazing! That is all.
  9. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell - I couldn't not have included this, it's a Harry Potter-style book based on a fanfiction of another Harry Potter-style book!
  10. Inferno by Catherine Doyle - Sequel to Vendetta and due out early January, this was just breath-taking and all sorts of other adjectives. Just read my review from last week!
I don't care if it's cheating, I'm counting those series as one book! Ok, it's almost certainly cheating but to me they count as one. I've read just over 150 books this year, which is my best yet, and I am really happy that so many of them were so good and so enjoyable to read. 

Let me know what your top reads were from the last year, and if you shared any of mine. I'm taking this week between Christmas and New Year off from blogging, just spending time with the family and the fiancĂ©, so I will see you in 2016!

Thursday 24 December 2015

Inferno by Catherine Doyle

Sophie's life has been turned upside-down, and she's determined to set things right. But Nic, the Falcone brother who represents everything she's trying to forget, won't give up on their love - and it's Luca's knife she clutches for comfort. Soon another mafia clan spoils the fragile peace - and with her heart drawn in one direction and her blood in another, Sophie's in deeper than ever.

A few really good reasons why you should read this book, after Vendetta of course: 
1. Incredible drama - it's the Mafia, it is all about the drama! And my God, from teasing moments between Sophie and Luca, to Sophie's life once again in danger from the Family, Doyle knew how to deal out drama in spades! Not only is Sophie is deep trouble with the Falcones, there's another family edging in, one they have a long standing hatred for, and one that idiot Uncle Jack has gone to for support. All of this is just begging for a war.

2. The romance - because memories of Vendetta were foggy, I wasn't holding out hope for Sophie and Nic to get back together. There had been too many lies for Sophie to trust him again. Luca, however, I now have the hots for! I'm not sure what it was, his self-deprecating sarcasm, his protectiveness of his brothers, or how surprisingly sweet he was with Sophie, but I totally fell head over heels. Part of it felt a lot more real, probably because Sophie was already aware of their family traditions. That didn't make hearing some more awful truths any less horrible but Sophie and Luca's relationship didn't feel as secretive. It was, of course, just as scary and dangerous. 

3. The writing - Doyle has this knack for drawing me in, just to break my heart. Or, just as likely, make me cry, or shout with joy. With all this drama going on, Sophie's heart is at war with her head but it never felt too heavy; the big stuff was balanced with the light, the comic relief, and trust me we needed it! I literally flew through the second half, it was practically breath-taking in its tension and shattering revelations. A great book, a fantastic sequel and I cannot wait for the finale!

Published 7th January 2016 by Chicken House. Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monday 21 December 2015

Unsticky by Sarra Manning

Money makes the world go round - that's what twenty-something Grace Reeves is learning. Stuck in a grind where everyone's ahead apart from her, she's partied out, disillusioned, and massively in debt. If she's dumped by another rock-band wannabe, squashed by anyone else at her cut-throat fashion job, or chased by any more bailiffs, Grace suspects she'll fall apart...

So when older, sexy and above all, wealthy art-dealer Vaughn appears, she's intrigued against her will. Could she handle being a sugar daddy's arm-candy?

Soon Grace is thrown into a world of money and privilege, at Vaughn's beck and call in return for thousands of pounds in luxurious gifts, priceless clothes - and cash. She's out of her depth. Where's the line between acting the trophy girlfriend, and selling yourself for money? And, more importantly, whatever happened to love?

With every book of Sarra Manning's I read, I know more confidently that she can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. This is her first adult book from a few years ago but it was still full of her humour, her great prose and incredible characters.

Grace was adorable and damn realistic with her money problems, complaining about her job and her annoying boss. She did have a great job but it didn't pay well and with her shopping problem, she had some serious debt piling up. So when Vaughn comes along with his suits, his money and his contract, Grace is beyond tempted to accept. What I loved about this arrangement was that Vaughn was portrayed as he expects to be seen: powerful and unmoving. And this makes Grace even more confused and out of her element. Vaughn was, in a word, complicated. Older, used to getting his way, quite annoying but also suave, sexy, weirdly caring in a roundabout way.

The world that they worked in was all about art and fashion, and Vaughn was in his element where he can flaunt the power and importance of his money brings him. But in between the swish parties and hosting art functions, Grace and Vaughn grow surprisingly close. They relationship might have started as unorthodox but I think both of them needed those straight rules because neither was used to opening themselves up to another person, leaving themselves vulnerable. All in all, it was very funny, surprisingly sweet, awkward and rather hot.

Published 2nd August 2012 by Transworld Digital.

Friday 18 December 2015

Splintered trilogy by AG Howard

Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family.

She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

So, modern Alice in Wonderland, a distant relative of the original Alice, forced to live out the curse of hearing plants talk and have everyone think you're crazy. Firstly, I loved the concept, I thought it was done really well, with the madness and magic of Wonderland seeping into the modern world. Second, the characters: Alyssa was one bad ass heroine and she had some wicked support from long-time crush Jeb, Wonderland native Morpheus, her parents, and her best friend. And third, the whole series was full of fantastical, beautiful descriptions of the madness. 

Alyssa was really cool, proper punk girl, not to mention a great heroine. She thought for herself, made mistakes, had wicked adventures but also needed saving sometimes. Apart from saving Wonderland from the evil Queen Red, Allie also had two gorgeous guys to choose between. Personally, I totally fell head over heels for Morpheus; I would have picked him in a heartbeat but I could understand why Allie wanted Jeb and her human life. The way both guys portrayed each side of Allie was done really well, it made it feel less like a love triangle for the sake of it. Jeb was a great hero and so protective of Allie but didn't want her to have that life; Morpheus  on the other hand might have nearly always had some hidden motive but he really did want what was best for Wonderland, and in turn Allie. He encouraged her madness and magic while Jeb was scared of it overpowering her. 

The second book really felt like a filler book, even though we learned a lot more about Wonderland and Allie's mum. The series really should be taken as a whole though, as Allie's adventures got crazier, she progressed with her powers and we got to know the mad characters. I especially loved how the story was a blend of Lewis Carroll's original work and how it had morphed through a little girl's eyes, the truly disturbing being tinted by innocence. But Alyssa isn't innocent anymore and now she's got to really understand her role in saving Wonderland. All in all, it was a great trilogy, with real development in Allie and her heroes and family, coming to terms with the truth and their history with Wonderland. 

Tuesday 15 December 2015

The Girl in the Mask by Marie-Louise Jensen

Set in Georgian England, fifteen-year-old Sophia is trapped by the limitations of living in a man's world. Forced by her father to give up everything she loves, Sophia is ordered to make a new life in Bath. By day, she is trapped in the social whirl of balls and masquerades. By night, she secretly swaps her ball gowns for breeches, and turns to highway robbery to get her revenge ...When one man begins to take a keen interest in her, Sophia must keep her distance, or risk unmasking her secret life.

A few things right off: I love historical fiction and Georgian Bath is the greatest setting if there ever was one. Set in the early 18th century, it's a time period I don't have much knowledge off, so quite a few references went over my head (I looked them up), but it was nice to learn something new.

Sophia was adorable. Trapped by societal pressure and her father, she just wants to read poetry, not learn how to dance or look for a husband. She might have caught the eye of a particular gentleman but she was not interested in marriage, she wanted to know why he was acting so strangely. 

Sophia being a highwayman wasn't that much of a plot point, not as much as I expected anyway but watching her navigate Bath's social scene and get swept up in the Jacobian riots was very fun. It was all about coded messages, riots, planning subterfuge and escaping gun powder. Her father and Aunt Amelia were just awful but Sophia proved herself, proved her worth as more than something to be passed off for marriage and I was so proud of her. 

Published 12th February 2012 by Oxford University Press. 

Sunday 13 December 2015

Weekly Highlights: the 'Mixed Emotions' edition

Weekly Highlights is a feature borrowed from Faye of A Daydreamer's Thoughts, where I get to highlight my posts of the week, show you my new books and talk about bookish things!

Oh hey, it's been a while! I'm sorry for the sudden radio silence, it's been a hectic few weeks. I haven't felt so good, trust me you don't want the details so let's just say "girly stuff", and then last Monday I found out some really bad news about one of my best friends from school. Suffice to say, after finding out another friend had been taken from us too soon, I wasn't up to much reading or reviewing. And then I needed some cheering up so I spent a few days with Sophie, of So Many Books So Little Time. I hadn't seen my bestie since the summer so it was great to spend some time with her and have a fun day out in London where we spent probably too long with Waterstones Piccadilly and Foyles. 

On The Blog

Oops! With any luck, I'll be back this week.

Currently Reading
Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce - after the Splintered trilogy, I'm on a bit of a fairy tale kick so I'm enjoying this. I'm also listening to my first audiobook, Rose Under Fire - it's interesting listening instead of reading.

On My Bookshelf
The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil
Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends.

The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details:

Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared.
And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails. 
And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving.

Also, the world might be ending – which is proving to be awkward.

As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.

South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf
What is Kaycee willing to risk for the sake of love?
And what will she risk for acceptance?

In Sunshine, Tennessee, the main event in town is Friday night football, the biggest party of the year is held in a field filled with pickup trucks, and church attendance is mandatory. For Kaycee Jean McCoy, life in Sunshine means dating guys she has no interest in, saying only “yes, ma’am” when the local bigots gossip at her mom’s cosmetics salon, and avoiding certain girls at all costs. Girls like Bren Dawson.

Unlike Kaycee, Bren doesn’t really conceal who she is. But as the cool, worldly new girl, nobody at school seems to give her any trouble. Maybe there’s no harm if Kaycee gets closer to her too, as long as she can keep that part of her life a secret, especially from her family and her best friend. But the more serious things get with Bren, the harder it is to hide from everyone else. Kaycee knows Sunshine has a darker side for people like her, and she’s risking everything for the chance to truly be herself.

These two are e-proofs, quite different but both I am really excited about. Thank you Netgalley!

And then we have my haul from London:
Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard
Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter
All The Rage by Courtney Summers
Longbow Girl by Linda Davies
The Lost and the Found by Cat Clarke
How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

So, quite a few! The top two I bought myself in Waterstones and the rest are hand-me-downs from Sophie. Links go to Goodreads.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.

I was attracted to this because of the openness of the sexual element. Mercy teaches virgins how to have sex properly so they don't disappoint their girlfriends, to avoid anyone else having such a crappy first time like hers. Yet I instantly had issues with how Mercy conducted herself - while she had somewhat noble intentions, the boys she were teaching were cheating on their girlfriends, she might not have actively sought them out but that's still cheating in my book!

The main point of this book was that Mercy had a very open and modern approach to sex - it was refreshing to have that bluntness criticising society's double standards. Because of course when the truth comes out, all people can see is a slut who slept with too many guys, not a girl who was trying to help guys learn.

I didn't really like Mercy. Not sure what it was - it definitely wasn't her attitude to sex, that was awesome, but she was so closed off and private. Yet I totally felt for her; she had an abysmal first relationship and doesn't want any other girl to go through the same thing. She also has an absentee mother who cares more about her appearance than her feelings and a dad who disappeared years ago - I mean really, it's not much wonder she has a wall around her heart!

To start with, she definitely had an unhealthy approach to sex but Mercy's issues are addressed; she comes to an understanding with her parents, forced to come to terms with her past and be honest with herself concerning her sexual partners. As Mercy learns to use sex as part of a healthy relationship, instead of its only part, the author uses the entire story trying to prove the point that it's ok for girls and guys to be honest about sex, and I liked and appreciated that. 

Published 5th January 2016 by St Martin's Griffin. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.