Friday 30 September 2016

Friday Reads: The Last Beginning

The Last Beginning (The Next Together, #2)Work has been taking over my life recently so my reading has slowed somewhat. So in lieu of some more reviews, have an update!

Right now, I’m reading The Last Beginning by Lauren James, which I am beyond excited about! It’s being published next week, on the 6th; I was lucky enough to get a copy from Walker which arrived Wednesday and I started it immediately! I was a little lost at the beginning; it's been a while since I read the first book, but I'm loving it so far.

Earlier in the week I read Haunt Me by Liz Kessler, another book coming out on the 6th, and I quite liked it. I had some minor issues with it but a lot of that might have been because I’d just finished the latest Lockwood and Co which has a whole different sort of ghost! Reviews of both of these titles will be up soon. 

This weekend I’m hoping to finish The Last Beginning and start Empire of Storms, which I can’t believe I haven’t read yet! But I need to get right on that, because me and a friend from work will be going to see Sarah J Maas at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival on the 9th! 

Tell me what you’re planning on reading this weekend and if you could meet an author at an event like the Kids Lit Fest, who would it be and why?

Tuesday 27 September 2016

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle'I write this sitting in the kitchen sink' is the first line of this timeless, witty and enchanting novel about growing up. Cassandra Mortmain lives with her bohemian and impoverished family in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. Her journal records her life with her beautiful, bored sister, Rose, her fadingly glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her little brother Thomas and her eccentric novelist father who suffers from a financially crippling writer's block. However, all their lives are turned upside down when the American heirs to the castle arrive and Cassandra finds herself falling in love for the first time.

Written like a diary, Cassandra recounts the day to day activities of her family and their slightly strange lives in an old castle. The story was very character driven, with portraits of her family was described by Cassandra, as best she can. And what a mad bunch they all were! Poverty stricken and reliant on their novelist father, who has written anything in years, the family are used to struggling to make ends meet. Which is why when the family of their old landlord turn up, they all have green arms from dying their dresses.

Suddenly there are new males to get to know, to flirt with - Rose in particular takes this as a challenge and uses her knowledge gained from Victorian romance novels to bat her eyelashes and laugh prettily, but all that does is freak them out! Even though Cassandra was aware of how handsome the men were and was daydreaming of possible happily ever after scenerios, she didn't take the whole thing very seriously, which was refreshing and highly entertaining to read.

The romance didn't go the direction I expected, which was actually kind of nice. It was definitely an exploration of maturing and personal growth as Cassandra battles her own feelings with that of her sister's for the man they want. It was also more about the overall happiness of their family and the fragility of their father's mental state, with Thomas and Cassandra going to extreme lengths to unblock his writers block.

I went into this knowing very little, having not really heard of it before, and ended up really enjoying it. It was almost like a 20th century Jane Austen, with its romance drama and family weirdness, and I loved it.

Published 5th February 2004 by Vintage. First published 1948.

Friday 23 September 2016

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

You Know Me WellWho knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really?

Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other -- and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Some people you are just meant to be friends with, and that's definitely the case of Kate and Mark. They come into each others lives at the right moment, when they both need someone subjective to tell them to sort their life out. With Kate it's plucking up the courage to meet her crush, and Mark needs to tell his best friend how he really feels about him.

Told in alternate chapters, we really see the effects of their friendship and how being pushed out of their comfort zone does them both good. Kate needed the support to find the courage to finally meet Violet, the girl of her dreams. Quiet and worried that she won't live up to expectations, Kate runs away from their first meeting and bumps into Mark, a guy from school, dancing on the bar! Mark needed the boot up the butt to tell his best friend how he really feels but ends up getting heart broken when Ryan is crushing on someone else.

This story really is short and sweet. Spread over about a week, we follow Kate and Mark navigate first loves and suddenly realise the truths that they were avoiding. The whole thing was really cute but could have been so much more. It had an incredible diverse and LGBT-centred cast but it was so short, I wanted some more, proper character development. And yet, it ended very hopeful, and actually worked well just spreading it over Pride Week in San Fransisco. So all in all, a very enjoyable and different teen romance with an important message of finding yourself and being honest to yourself about what and who you want.

Published 2nd June 2016 by Macmillan.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken (Conqueror's Saga, #1)No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she'll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.

A feminist re-telling of the history of Vlad the Impaler, I was immediately drawn to this before I even knew what it was about! But I was drawn in to the historical fiction/high fantasy vibe, the rich detailing of the history of the Ottoman Empire and its utterly badass heroine.

Straight out, Lada is a fascinating character. Determined to gain her father’s love, or even attention, Lada is a fierce and tough little girl. Also completely psychotic, Lada strives for physical power and develops a brutal fighting style, grows cold in her lack of affection and learns to only rely on herself. It got really interesting in the second half, once she’s grown up, a bit more… comfortable might be too strong a word but close enough, in her femininity. She still wants to be one of the men and brute strength is all she knows, so she never really knows how to use her femininity to her advantage like some of the other women do. 

As children, Lada and Radu are starved of affection, they grow up knowing their father has traded them for safety and then later abandoned them for his own gain, and they quickly learn that they language and their people are slaves to the whim of the sultan. The two siblings had a strange relationship as Lada protects him without showing it, without showing weakness. But from Radu's perspective, we see how Lada’s toughness affects him, makes him feel unloved and how he finds comfort and falls in love with Islam – while Lada only trusts herself, Radu needs the security and peace that comes with faith.

Onto their new protector in foreign land and future sultan, Mehmed. Even though Mehmed had his idiotic moments (like thinking he could keep Lada safe from battle. Does he know her at all?! This is the same girl who has killed two men before they killed you! Idiot.), I really liked him. He desperately wanted to be a good leader and live up to his country’s expectations, plus he was a very good fighter and strategist, and friend to Lada and Radu. Speaking of, there was a different kind of love triangle, which would normally annoy me beyond belief but here I was so on-board with the diversity, it didn't have a chance to irritate me!

I wasn’t sure I wanted there to be a romance but they practically grew up together, it was almost inevitable. There were a few instances near the end as Mehmed proves that loving Lada doesn’t mean he isn’t going to… partake in his perks as sultan. Honestly, when a second child of his was born in mere months, I wanted to smack him upside the head! I hate to generalise but is it a teenage boy thing to only think with his dick? Because that’s what Mehmed was doing. And it annoyed the crap out of me. This is a tough case of modern feminist versus historical accuracy and luckily it worked, as I was really rooting for Mehmed and Lada towards the end.

All throughout, we are shown different types of power: physical strength and political know-how, which are as different as the two siblings who use them. The story was slow-moving as we see the shift in power, as Mehmed matures and learns how to control and provide faith in his people. It was very slow to start but the rich history, the incredible characters and their development, and the volatile time period it was depicting kept me hooked. And as you can see, I had a lot to say about it! It really was a coming-of-age beginning for Lada and I cannot wait to see how she grows into the fearless leader we recognise from history. 

Published 7th July 2016 by Corgi.

Friday 16 September 2016

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live HereWhat if you aren't the Chosen One? The one who's supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you're like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week's end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

My first Patrick Ness and I'm glad I started with this one, it was funny, satirical, witty and so clever. It was also really weird, with its indie kids and zombie deer and creepy blue lights. 

Ness gave a fresh take on the standard heroic science-fiction, where we see the impact on those around the action, people like Mikey. Mikey and his friends have ordinary lives and ordinary problems, like graduating high school and big unrequited crushes, which is a hell of a lot more recognisable some kid named Satchel falling in love with an elf or whatever they were supposed to be. 

Never mind all the indie kids' drama, at its heart was a story about growing up and moving on, as Mikey's anxiety over graduating and leaving for college is a common and very relatable issue. Speaking of, Ness gave a brilliant portrayal of mental health, with Mikey's OCD and anxiety, his sister Mel's battle with anorexia - mixed in with the parental problems that comes with an alcoholic dad and an absent, career-driven mum, it's no wonder the kids have issues but it was all about dealing with them, not making excuses and treating it as an illness, not a problem. 

All in all, I was very impressed with my first Ness story. It cleverly blended the stereotypical drama of science fiction with the everyday issues to normal life to bring together an enjoyable and relatable story with brilliant characters. 

Published 5th May 2016 by Walker Books.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Double Down by Gwenda Bond

Double Down (Lois Lane, #2)Lois Lane has settled in to her new school. She has friends, for maybe the first time in her life. She has a job that challenges her. And her friendship is growing with SmallvilleGuy, her online maybe-more-than-a-friend. But when her friend Maddy’s twin collapses in a part of town she never should’ve been in, Lois finds herself embroiled in a dangerous mystery that brings her closer to the dirty underbelly of Metropolis.

Sequel to Fallout, where we meet and get to know young Lois Lane, this was very much along the same lines: a potential story is stranger than anticipated and Lois has to put on a brave face and play hero. This time it’s Mandy’s twin sister who’s in trouble, getting dizzy, losing consciousness and seeing things. As things develop and twist, it turns out that the ex-mayor’s reputation and politics are involved, as well as a mob boss.

I really liked Fallout, I liked getting to know Lois and her family, and even having a limited Superman involvement didn’t bother me (like it did my friend!). And I did enjoy Double Down probably just as much, it just felt a little same-y. Even though the stakes were raised and it didn’t have that ‘getting started’ feeling of a first book, the storyline pretty much followed the same vein as before. Not that there’s anything wrong with changing something that worked, I just wanted a bit more.

Not that we didn’t get more, we did. Lois gained confidence in her journalist skills, there were some lovely sister moments between her and Lucy, and her quasi-relationship with SmallvilleGuy was starting to heat up. Plus the strangeness of this case was pretty weird: human clones and mind-melds, as well as a possible connection between Lois’s army father and sightings of the flying man.

All in all, I really liked this instalment and am very excited to see where the story and characters go, I just wanted a little something different.

Published September 2016 by Curious Fox. Thank you to the published for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Friday 9 September 2016

Friday Reads: And I Darken and Animal

I've decided to bring this feature back - I trialed it ages ago and I really liked doing it, I feel like it's a nice little break from constant reviews but I'll only continue if you guys feel the same way. So please let me know!

Image result for and i darkenThis week I've been powering through And I Darken by Kiersten White. I love the premise and the writing and even the setting, it's just really long! At nearly 500 pages, it probably wasn't the best idea to start it as I go back to work but the idea of a female Vlad the Impaler was just too good to pass up. And you guys should probably know by now, I am obsessed with Dracula and the mythology of Vlad the Impaler so that alone is making me stick with this.

Image result for animal sara pascoeI've also recently really gotten into feminist non-fiction. I read non-fiction very sporadically but after finished Holly Bourne's Spinster trilogy in the summer, I'm in the mood for feminist stuff. I've just started Animal by Sara Pascoe which blends psychology with feminist views and personal anecdotes. It's really interesting so far (as I'm on page 20-something!) and I'm intrigued to see what else is in store.

Let me know what you think of this being a semi-regular feature, and share what you're reading this weekend.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the CastleLiving in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn't leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

Told from Mary Katherine, or Merricat's, point of view, we see the after effects of living in a town that no longer likes your family, is scared of them and blames one young woman in particular for the deaths of the rest of the Blackwoods. Merricat had a very odd voice, almost like a child she states strange and random thoughts as fact, like running away to the moon. Although she tells us she is 18, I honestly spent most of the story forgetting and expecting her to be about 5!

Older sister Constance looks after the house and the family now, telling Merricat to do her chores and making sure Uncle Julian gets his medicine. It had an old-school Gothic feel to it, with its big empty house, hushed secrets and dead family. But it never felt like a horror story. It was much more subtle in its scariness, mostly in the way that Merricat saw the world and her twisted yet fierce protectiveness of her family home.

The arrival of cousin Charles upsets Merricat's balance and that's when things go pear-shaped and the Gothic horror really comes out. We never knew who to trust or who to listen to, especially with Merricat's juvenile fears guiding our view of their situation. All in all, a weird and wonderful story, from whom I now understand to be one of the greatest Gothic writers.

Published 1st October 2009 by Penguin Modern Classics. First published 1962.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Weekly Highlights: the 'September TBR' 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!

It's back to work for me this month! A new batch of students, inductions and tours of the library will be the order of business for the next few weeks. And as I'm working most days again, I'm honestly not sure how much reading/blogging I'm going to be able to do so if I disappear for a few days, just nudge me on twitter and make sure I haven't fallen asleep on my keyboard!

On The Blog
A few of my favourite reviews from the last month:
Review of Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall (5 stars)
Review of What's A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne (5 stars)
Review of The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham (4 stars)
Review of The Deviants by CJ Skuse (4 stars)

Currently Reading
At time of writing, I've nearly finished Jolly Foul Play, book four in the Murder Most Unladylike series. Next up, I'm thinking something completely different with And I Darken by Kirsten White.

On My Bookshelf
Could it be I didn't buy any books this month? I've been amazingly good and only borrowed library books from work. For instance, I'm caught up with the Murder Most Unladylike series; I read my first Patrick Ness; my August classic and my first Shirley Jackson; and I've been delving into feminist non-fiction with Laura Bates' Girl Up and Sara Pascoe's Animal.

September TBR
I'm focusing on the one's I didn't get to last month, mainly Haunt Me and And I Darken. I also want to catch up on my ebooks that are piling up on my kindle, especially If I Was Your Girl and my review copy of Holding Up The Universe. And then's there my exciting pre-orders: Empire of Storms and The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud. 

Friday 2 September 2016

The Deviants by CJ Skuse

The DeviantsGrowing up in the sleepy English seaside town of Brynston, the fearless five – Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane – were always inseparable. Living up to their nickname, they were the adventurous, rowdy kids who lived for ghost stories and exploring the nearby islands off the coast. But when Max’s beloved older sister Jessica is killed, the friendship seems to die with her.

Now years later, only Max and Ella are in touch; still best friends and a couple since they were thirteen. Their lives are so intertwined Max’s dad even sponsors Ella’s training for the Commonwealth Games. But Ella is hiding things. Like why she hates going to Max’s house for Sunday dinner, and flinches whenever his family are near. Or the real reason she’s afraid to take their relationship to the next level.

When underdog Corey is bullied, the fearless five are brought back together again, teaming up to wreak havoc and revenge on those who have wronged them. But when the secrets they are keeping can no longer be kept quiet, will their fearlessness be enough to save them from themselves?

I've been a fan of CJ's for a good few years now and with every new book of hers, she continues to surprise and entertain me, not to mention getting increasingly darker. This tim, we follow the reunion of five friends as they band together to get revenge againist Corey's bully, who happens to be the fifth member of their old group. 

I'm going to talk a little about the dark stuff but first I want to mention how incredible the characters and their friendships were. CJ has always managed to just get teenagers, and this group of nutters is no exception. Ella in particular was perfectly flawed; a competitive runner, as well as carrying around a horrible secret, she was definitely a biased narrator as she is so angry at quite a few people in her life. But when she and Max reunite with Fallon and Corey and it's as if no time as passed, it shows that some people are just meant to be in your life.

Now, the dark stuff. I don't want to spoil anything but I think it should come with a trigger warning. There were some utterly shocking and heart-wrenching twists that I really did not expect; they were incredibly written and worked so well with the story, I'm just saying that it broke my heart and made me feel a little sick. 

All in all, an amazing story that I flew through, desperate to understand. Definitely dark in a skin-crawly way but amazing characters, some you love and love to hate, and an unforgettable story about the perils of revenge.

Published October 2016 by Mira Ink. Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.