Sunday 21 February 2016

Weekly Highlights: the 'Half Term' 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!

I started my new job at the beginning of the month and it's going great but god did I need this week off! And it was going great; I spent a lot of it with my fiancĂ©, we saw the new Deadpool movie and did a bit of shopping, and then my body decided it needed to get a cold. So yeah, I'm tired and snotty and can't keep my eyes open to do much of anything. 

On The Blog
Review of The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil (4 stars)
Review of This Raging Light by Estelle Laure (3 stars)
Review of After The Last Dance by Sarra Manning (4 stars)
Review of Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker (4 stars)
Review of How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne (5 stars)
Review of Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard (4.5 stars)

Currently Reading
A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley - a non-fiction about society's interest in murder as entertainment - and Fallout, my new book. Both I'm really enjoying, not that my headache is letting me read much.

On My Bookshelf
Fallout by Gwenda Bond
Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over—and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight. As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it’s all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy.

I'm still in a graphic novel mood and I am really looking forward to a new look at DC's greatest hero. Thank you Curious Fox!

Friday 19 February 2016

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Mare's blood is red - the colour of common folk - but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control.

The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from the prince and friend who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by the Silver king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red and Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors.

But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

I, along with most everyone else, fell completely in love with Red Queen, so I was both excited and nervous about reading the sequel. I really wanted to know what happened next but after the incredible and jaw-dropping ending of the first book, how would it hold up? And I'm happy to report, for me at least, that while it had a very different feel to the first one, I still loved it. It still had the "who can you trust?" thing but we had a definite bad guy to focus on, plus the fear and tension was right up as Mare, Cal and the rest of the Guard literally run for their lives.

While we learned about the well-to-do in book one, in this installment we see more from the outskirts, the slums, the Reds who are desperately just trying to survive or fighting for a better life. We also learn loads more about the spread and influence of the Scarlet Guard, as Farley takes the rag-tag group to save others like Mare. This led to an X-men sort of feel with the recruiting but it was really cool to see other superpowers - well, "blood mutations", whatever!

In other news, the ship has sailed for Mare and Cal! In book one, my heart was torn between Cal and Maven but... well, you know, the thing happened and ruined it all, so yeah, go team Cal! The tension and the frisson between Cal and Mare was thick and heart-felt and just so good! Things did not want to go their way but that didn't stop them from being pulled together. Both of them were also suffering from some serious betrayal and this costs them. Mare especially no longer trusts, in practically anyone, and while she may be right to be cautious, it makes planning things difficult, not to mention building a proper relationship with Cal.

Although it started slightly hesitant, I ended up loving the sequel just as much as the first book. It still had the tension, the action and the betrayal but they all had to keep pushing forward to try and beat Maven and the Silver hierarchy. 

Published 11th February 2016 by Orion. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

Amber, Evie and Lottie: three girls facing down tough issues with the combined powers of friendship, feminism and cheesy snacks. Both hilarious and heart-rending, this is Amber’s story of how painful – and exhilarating – love can be, following on from Evie’s story in Am I Normal Yet?

All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber's hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.

And then there's prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie's advice, there's no escaping the fact: love is hard.

It should come as no surprise that this review is going to be gushing and loving! It had so many things to love, not just Bourne's incredible writing skills but also the tough subject of alcoholism and broken families, alongside feminism and friendship. 

As Amber spends the first summer with her mum in years, Bourne explores the second hand effects of alcoholism. Amber was only a child when she witnessed her mum's downward spiral and then she was wrenched away when her dad met another woman and the mum's shrink took her away to the states. Amber might have been selfish to expect more of her mother but she was also still a child when it came to understanding the effects; what had happened to her was never explained to Amber so all she saw were the excuses. And after such a long time apart, it makes communication difficult when they are basically strangers.

We also had the expected feminist talk too, this time with the exploration of the "nice guy" trope. Kyle was worried he was just doing what was expected of him, not really living how he wanted, and thought that this hindered his relationships with girls. But as he and Amber get closer and reveal truly honest parts of themselves, it proved that the balance between being in a relationship and being a feminist is possible: just because she liked Kyle, it didn't detract from who Amber was or what she believed in. 

And if that isn't enough to sway you to read this, it also had English-ness in the midst of an American summer camp with lots Harry Potter references. We had the sometimes logical, sometimes insane insights of best friends Evie and Lottie from across the pond; even though this meant that we didn't get the same full interaction, it did show the strength of their friendships. With all these difficult and complicated subjects crammed in, it might surprise you how funny this was. Yeah, things got worse before they got better but it was written so that the realism and the happy ending balanced each other perfectly. Definitely a new favourite. 

Published 1st February 2016 by Usborne.

Friday 12 February 2016

Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Witches, watch out... Half Bad meets Kill Bill in this incredible new supernatural series.

Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Grey doesn't look dangerous. A tiny, blonde, wisp of a girl shouldn't know how to poison a wizard and make it look like an accident. Or take out ten necromancers with a single sword and a bag of salt. Or kill a man using only her thumb. But things are not always as they appear. Elizabeth is one of the best witch hunters in Anglia and a member of the king's elite guard, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and bringing those who practice it to justice. And in Anglia, the price of justice is high: death by burning.

When Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself, she's arrested and thrown in prison. The king declares her a traitor and her life is all but forfeit. With just hours before she's to die at the stake, Elizabeth gets a visitor - Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in Anglia. He offers her a deal: he will free her from prison and save her from execution if she will track down the wizard who laid a deadly curse on him.

As Elizabeth uncovers the horrifying facts about Nicholas's curse and the unwitting role she played in its creation, she is forced to redefine the differences between right and wrong, friends and enemies, love and hate... and life and death.

Elizabeth is a little wisp of a teenager but she has been trained for years to fight witches. She has grown up being taught the evils of magic but when the King chooses her as his new... interest, she breaks the rules and has herbs preventing pregnancy. But it is illegal, no matter the reason, so Elizabeth is imprisoned and sentenced to death. While slowly getting more and more ill in the jail cell, she is rescued and pulled into Nicholas's inner circle, it is there that she realises that she's been swallowing lies all her life.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting much from this; it was just something new to read. But, despite the initial confusion over where and when it's set, I did quite enjoy it. The mix of historical and fantasy worked rather well, blending the old-school magical beliefs set in a made-up English style land.

There was also a slightly random love interest but it wasn't the focus, not by any means. The adventure was really well paced as Elizabeth is caught up in this whirlwind of prophesies and living on the run and getting her life turned upside down. And with a fantastic set of characters supporting and annoying her, Elizabeth needs to un-curse Nicholas and not get killed in the process.

I was surprised by this. It had a really good mix of fantasy and romance and action, but it wasn't too difficult to read or concentrate on. A nice addition to the genre.

Published 1st September 2015 by Hodder and Stoughton. 

Tuesday 9 February 2016

After The Last Dance by Sarra Manning

Two women. Two love affairs. One unforgettable story.

Kings Cross station, 1943. Rose arrives in London hoping to swap the drudgery of wartime for romance, glamour and jiving with GIs at Rainbow Corner, the famous dance hall in Piccadilly Circus. As the bombs fall, Rose loses her heart to a pilot but will lose so much more before the war has done its worst.

Las Vegas, present day. A beautiful woman in a wedding dress walks into a seedy bar and asks the first man she sees to marry her. When Leo slips the ring onto Jane's finger, he has no idea that his new wife will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

So when Jane meets Rose, now a formidable older lady, there's no love lost between them. But with time running out, can Rose and Jane come together to make peace with the tragic secrets that have always haunted their lives?

After the Last Dance is an extraordinary story of two women, separated by time but connected by fate, that will make you believe in the redemptive power of unexpected love.

Two seemingly completely different stories, one in the wartime London, the other modern Vegas, connected by Rose, a young girl in one, a formidable but ill old woman in the other. Young Rose was an interesting character. She also grew up to be pretty damn interesting too! But a 17 year old running away to London for adventure in the middle of the Blitz was quite ballsy. We meet modern Rose as her great nephew, Leo, runs back home after too many years away, with new wife in tow.

Rose was just incredible - if I can grow up to be like her, then I'm happy. From getting a job at Rainbow Corner and supporting the GI's and armed forces in London, to losing her heart, her friends and all sorts in the bombings, then gaining some perspective and some love back in helping house refugees. Then there's the adventures between the two narratives, her life with her love (who I won't name for spoilers), her booming real estate and art empire, her extended family.

Jane, on the other hand, took a while to warm up to. It was clear from the start that she was used to getting her way and used any sort of manipulation tactic to get it. Even in her head, she didn't open up about her past or how she got to where she is; she obviously didn't like to linger on her bad thoughts. But once we spent a bit more time with her, really got under her skin, you realised how damaged she was and how much she relied on her mask.

You all should know by now how much of a Manning fangirl I am, and even though this was adult and set out quite a bit differently to her other works, I still loved it. It had her classic story telling, her complex and plentiful characters, and a very well-researched historical half.

Published 10th March 2016 by Sphere. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Friday 5 February 2016

This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

How is it that you suddenly notice a person? How is it that one day Digby was my best friend's admittedly cute twin brother, and then the next he stole air, gave jitters, twisted my insides up?

Lucille has bigger problems than falling for her best friend's unavailable brother. Her mom has gone, leaving her to look after her sister, Wren. With bills mounting up and appearances to keep, Lucille is raging against her life but holding it together - just.

A stunning debut to devour in one sitting, Laure captures completely the agony and ecstasy of first love.

For anyone who knows me, a contemporary romance like this, I should have been all over this. But for whatever reason, it took me a while to get into it properly. For one, I didn't like Digby. I think I need to fall in love with the love interest like the protagonist does and Lucille already had a secret thing for him so I didn't see that lovely progression. 

Lucille was so strong for her little sister but stupid for Digby; I know that guys can turn your brain to mush but I was a little disappointed in her for messing that up. Also, I just didn't see it; yeah, he was there and he was sweet but he's the twin brother to her best friend, of course he's going to be nice! Plus he has a girlfriend, plans for the two of them! If he's so nice, why was he so easily swayed by the damsel in distress?

What I did love about this was Lucille's relationship with best friend Eden, and younger sister Wren. Lucille and Eden had such a brilliant, honest friendship, they were there for each other, no questions asked, and even with such a horrible situation as Lucille and Wren being abandoned by their mother, Eden was there, offering advice and support. And Lucille was so strong for Wren, doing everything she could to support her, give her some normalcy after so much crap. It was an utterly awful situation the girls were in and I really do commend Lucille for holding it together, having to be the adult way too young. 

I have mixed feelings about this story. I ended up really liking it, the writing style was so easy to read, quite lyrical, and the characters were very realistic, but just something about the love story side of it was lacking. I did like how it ended, it was positive and reinforced the strength message that had been humming all through the story, and it showed how far Lucille had come without wrapping it up neatly, because their struggle wasn't over. 

Published 14th January 2016 by Orchard Books. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

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.

Some idiot in a small corner of the internet has predicted the end of the world and the only safe place will be Eden Valley, Alba's little home town - sounds stupid, right? Until the rumour spreads and strange people start flocking to the Valley. And Alba's live as she knows it is basically over. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this but I immediately fell in Alba's comic-centred brain and loved it.

Alba, or Sarah as she's actually named, lives above the family bakery, she bakes and draws, she has beautiful curves that she shows off in style, her hero is Wonder Woman - Alba is my kind of girl! Her mum and her best friend, Grady, has always known that Alba was meant for better things, and Alba herself has dreamt of seeing amazing art-inspired sights, but she likes her life the way it is and doesn't want to leave now that the time has come. 

This was a great coming of age story with a difference. Alba having to deal with the wide unknown after leaving school was in high contrast to the impending end of the world, and I loved the mirroring between the apocalypse and leaving home. In the end, the world is what you make of it and Alba just needed a push in the right direction. 

Published 11th February 2016 by Little Tiger Group. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.