Uncategorized

The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins

  • The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins

Rating: * *

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 21.33.16.pngSeries: #1 of a duology (followed by The Great Pursuit next year)

Publisher: Harper Teen

Publication Date: March 2016

Goodreads synopsis: “Aerity…” Her father paused as if the words he was forming pained him. “I must ask you to sacrifice the promise of love for the sake of our kingdom.”

She could only stare back, frozen.

When a strange beast terrorizes the kingdom of Lochlanach, fear stirs revolt. In an act of desperation, a proclamation is sent to all of Eurona—kill the creature and win the ultimate prize: the daughter of King Lochson’s hand in marriage.

Princess Aerity knows her duty to the kingdom but cannot bear the idea of marrying a stranger…until a brooding local hunter, Paxton Seabolt, catches her attention. There’s no denying the unspoken lure between them…or his mysterious resentment.

Paxton is not the marrying type. Nor does he care much for spoiled royals and their arcane laws. He’s determined to keep his focus on the task at hand—ridding the kingdom of the beast—but the princess continues to surprise him, and the perilous secrets he’s buried begin to surface.

Inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ tale “The Singing Bone,” New York Times bestselling author Wendy Higgins delivers a dark fantasy filled with rugged hunters, romantic tension, and a princess willing to risk all to save her kingdom.

 

I didn’t enjoy the first novel in Wendy Higgins’ other series, ‘Sweet Evil’, but ‘The Great Hunt’ has been on my reading radar for a while and, as a fairytale retelling, it sounded right up my street (I love ‘Uprooted’ by Naomi Novik and ACOMAF by Sarah J Maas). Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I have other folklore-inspired novels.

I did really enjoy the first chapter, where Princess Wyneth and her fiance are spending time together in the woods when suddenly they are interrupted by a great beast. It set up a great amount of tension and immediately established a mystical and intriguing atmosphere, and it made me very eager to know more. However, in my opinion, things went downhill from there.

The main aspect of this novel I disliked was that it lacked originality, not so much in the premise but in terms of the way this was carried out and the main characters. It had many elements typical of YA fantasy. There was  a love triangle (although this wasn’t as major as in some novels and I was grateful for that). The male lead, Paxton, possessed a secret and was downright rude to the female lead, Aerity, yet she still pined after him in an obsessive and rather pathetic manner. I didn’t particularly like either of these main characters: I felt, in particular, that Aerity could have been much stronger and I thought that Paxton’s brother, Tiern, was much more likeable than Paxton himself was and a much better suitor, with his cheerful disposition. To be honest, Tiern was the only character I liked and connected to in the whole novel.

I also thought that this book was let down by the fact that the villain was not alarming at all and could have done with much more character development. She appeared near to the end of the book and felt very 2D. Additionally, (but this could perhaps just be because I was reading a kindle version), I found the novel frustrating because there seemed to be a few grammatical mistakes in it, like in this sentence where the final apostrophe is in the wrong place: ‘All my life I have prepared, royal girl, to take back what is mine – my family’s, my peoples’.’ 

Also the ‘were’ in this phrase:

‘The princess, locked hand in hand with her lady cousin, were looking down upon them, appearing worried.’ 

I found it a bit twee that the two sisters liked the two brothers, as well.

On a more positive note, I would like to finish my review by saying that I did read this book to the end because I did want to know what would ultimately happen, and this is one of the  main signs for a good book.  I expect that it is one that some people, maybe younger YA readers, would enjoy. However, I do not think that I will be reading the sequel, which comes out next year, mainly because, (aside from the fact that I didn’t enjoy this first novel very much), from the way this book ends, it seems unnecessary and that the plot will be very similar – it is, after all, called ‘The Great Pursuit’ where this one is called ‘The Great Hunt.’

 

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June 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

  • How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly BourneScreen Shot 2016-06-23 at 19.18.04.png

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #2 The Normal Series (coming after Am I Normal Yet?)

Publisher: Usborne

Publication Date: February 2016 (I didn’t read it until now because I knew that when I did I would be bursting for the next book! Luckily the next book comes out in a couple of months!)

Goodreads Synopsis: 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.

‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year, and indeed one of the best and most relatable books I’ve ever read. Holly Bourne understands perfectly the ups and downs, wishes and worries, of being a 21st century teenager. This makes her books very readable and means that it is very easy to identify with and sympathise with the main characters. ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ is heartfelt and honest, with some very funny scenes that put a huge smile on your face – like the scene where Amber has to try to row a kayak and Amber’s reaction to her mother’s boyfriend’s summer camp’s replacement of Slytherin with Dumbledore’s army (Although, as a Harry Potter fan, I could totally see where Amber was coming from – who would do that and think it was ok?!) – but also with some very moving and powerful scenes between Amber and her estranged mother, who started a new life in America and left her daughter behind.

One of my favourite aspects of this book and this series is the inclusion of feminism, with Amber and her two best friends Evie and Lottie’s Spinster Club meetings. In this novel, because Amber’s in the USA, their meetings take place in Skype and unfortunately Amber is left out of the all-important accompanying cheesy snacks! (I would recommend having some cheesy snacks next to you as you read this as you will get a craving for them!) I love Lottie’s enthusiasm when she talks through her ideas about feminism – she bursts to life in the novel with her bubbly, eager and energetic nature and her enthusiasm is infectious. The scenes in this series with the Spinster Club meetings always leave me feeling very inspired, not only to join a club like this, but to do things like the Bechdel test and to fight for equality. I think that a book has to be very powerful and skilfully written to leave you feeling inspired and empowered in this way.

I also really enjoy the fact that although when you read the title ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ you immediately think of romantic love, the book presents other types of love with equal focus. There’s the love that Amber has for her mother, which she finds very difficult because at times it does not seem like it’s reciprocated by her mother – when she arrives in the US, she sees that her mother keeps her picture not in her own bedroom, but in the spare room, and this makes Amber feel like a discarded spare part. The use of first person makes Amber’s feelings and disappointment very palpable and makes you empathise greatly with her. We discover more about Amber and her mother’s relationship as Amber recalls what used to happen before her mother left England and her mother’s struggles with alcoholism. The final scene between Amber and her mother is very moving, powerful and satisfying.

Additionally, there’s the love and bond between friends, not just between Amber, Evie and Lottie, but also the friends that Amber makes on camp. I think it’s really important that books put focus on friendships as well as romances, and Holly Bourne does this very successfully. My favourite of the friends Amber makes is Whinnie, who is a faithful and caring friend to Amber. She shares Amber’s good-humour and also has a very interesting life philosophy based on Winnie the Pooh. Their friendship seems very natural.

The romantic relationship in the novel is also very well done. Although on the surface Kyle and Amber may not seem to have much in common, underneath they do and they really connect to each other. It’s clear that Kyle really values Amber and appreciates and is entertained by her good-humour. I really like the fact that although they both like each other, that doesn’t mean that their relationship is totally smooth-sailing.

I love how the heading between sections changes for the last section into a positive; it’s a lovely touch and makes the novel ultimately very uplifting.

Overall, ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ is a fantastic addition to YA and if you haven’t read it, you definitely should! I think that if I had to choose one series to recommend to all other teenagers, it would be the Normal series, and that Holly Bourne is one of the most important YA writers out there, with her exploration of key issues like feminism, mental health and relationships. Her books are very relatable and blend humour and patches of light-heartedness with more serious and emotional sections perfectly.

‘What’s A Girl Gotta Do?’, Lottie’s story, comes out in August and I can’t wait!

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Favourites, Uncategorized

Friday Favourites – The Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare

I have wanted for a while now to do some posts about my favourite authors, books and series, and a brief summary of what I love so much about them, as well as my memories of reading them for the first time. I hadn’t had enough time to start this until today, so here goes! I’ve decided that I’m going to call these posts ‘Friday Favourites’ (just because of the alliteration!) and I’ve chosen to start off with my all-time favourite series, The Infernal Devices. 

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 18.45.54.png

  • The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

The Infernal Devices reigns supreme as my favourite series (with Throne of Glass coming in a very close second). I can still vividly remember buying the first novel in the series, Clockwork Angel, a few years ago. I was in London and visiting Foyles for the first time. If you haven’t been to Foyles you definitely should – it’s a huge, 4 or 5 storey bookstore on Charing Cross Road with a big and diverse YA section, where I would really love to live and read all day long! I noticed this novel on the shelf and was particularly excited as I had read The Mortal Instruments (one of Cassandra Clare’s other series) and I hadn’t realised that the author was writing a new series. I bought the book, took it back to my hotel room and started reading it straight away, instantly immersed in the storyline and enchanted by the characters. That evening I went to watch the musical ‘Wicked’ for the first time and absolutely loved it. Then I returned back to the hotel to read more of Clockwork Angel. That day remains on of my favourite days of all time, because I watched a brilliant musical and picked up a brilliant book.

This series tells the story of Tessa Gray. At the start of the first novel, she is being held captive by the Dark Sisters, who exploit Tessa’s ability to physically change into another person when she holds an item of that person. Tessa is rescued by a group of Shadowhunters and moves in with them at the institute, helping them to work against the Pandemonium Club and its mass of clockwork creatures. Here’s the Goodreads synopsis for Clockwork Angel: 

In a time when Shadowhunters are barely winning the fight against the forces of darkness, one battle will change the course of history forever. Welcome to the Infernal Devices trilogy, a stunning and dangerous prequel to the New York Timesbestselling Mortal Instruments series.
The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them…

Here are my favourite things about this series and why I would recommend it!

  • First and foremost – Tessa, the central character. Tessa is a wonderful and highly likeable heroine, particularly because of her love for books and poetry. She is an avid and enthusiastic reader of Victorian novels, as is one of the main male characters, Will. I love the conversations that the two of them have together about books, especially about A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens – ATOTC was actually the inspiration for this trilogy for Cassandra Clare. Additionally, Tessa is likeable because of her good-humoured nature and occasionally very witty retort and the way that she grows over the course of the trilogy. She possesses a quiet and admirable sort of strength, cleverness and charm.
  • The second strength of this series is the love triangle. Sometimes I get very frustrated with love triangles in novels because they are such an overdone fantasy trope at this point and because usually the two love interests are not equal and it’s actually very clear which guy the author and the protagonist prefer. However, for me, this series is different. Tessa clearly likes both Will and Jem and it is understandable why she values them equally – the reader likes them both, too. In some ways they are opposites: Will is striking with bright blue eyes and dark hair, while Jem has silvered hair and eyes; Will can be cold, impulsive and unfriendly where Jem is warm, calm and amicable; Will’s a turbulent rapid where Jem is a gently bubbling stream. They are also great friends and parabatai, and they know each other inside out. Neither harbours jealousy of the other. It’s a unique kind of love triangle and when Tessa says that her heart is divided in two, we believe her.
  • I reread The Infernal Devices all the time and know lots of it from memory…and yet, each time I reread the series, I get something new out of it and I love it even more. It never gets old for me and it is always a joy to return to the world and the characters, like being reunited with old friends. On my bookshelf, I even have a section dedicated to the books that Will and Tessa read – Dickens, Vathek, Lady Audrey’s Secret, etc. Additionally, every time I’m in London and going across Blackfriars Bridge, where some important and iconic scenes in the book are set, I am filled with visions of Will, Jem and Tessa and of this series.
    Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 18.47.09.png

I would definitely recommend this series to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy. You don’t have to have read Cassandra Clare’s other series to read it – I hadn’t finished TMI before delving into TID and in my estimation, although I also really like The Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices novels are my favourite, probably because I also love the historical element. The plot and world-building are fantastic and top-notch, but it is the characters that really bring this series to life, as well as the relatable enthusiasm for books it exhibits. 

Favourite quote from this series: ‘Words have the power to change us.’

 

Uncategorized

Vicious, V. E. Schwab

Vicious is an adult novel (violence), but V. E. Schwab is coming to YALC this year so I am trying to read as many of her books as I can beforehand. Also, and more importantly, she is a fantastic author and one I would definitely recommend!

  • Vicious, V. E. Schwab

Rating: * * * * Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 13.24.30.png

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date: Jan 2014 (UK)

Goodreads Synopsis:

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities.

But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

V. E. Schwab’s Vicious is a thrilling and immersing tale of betrayal and revenge. I raced through it.

The novel switches between different time periods, with some events taking place ten years ago and some much more recently, ‘last night’ or ‘a few hours ago’. As a result, the whole thing is like a puzzle, with different sections gradually being filled in, until at the end, you look back and survey the whole picture and can see the ties and relationships between all the different characters. Additionally, because each chapter is quite short, you get that burning desire of ‘just one more chapter- it’ll only take a minute!’, and before you know it, you have read on another fifty pages. It’s very addictive.

Victor Vale makes for a fascinating lead character. After growing up with absent parents who are psychologists, he has acquired the habit of borrowing or purchasing their books and meticulously erasing copious sections in black Sharpie so that the few words that remain form a proverbial-style comment. Victor has an intense and destructive intelligence and hunger for knowledge, and he studies others silently when they do not know that he is watching, seeing more of their thoughts and mindsets than they know. He especially studies his friend Eli.

The relationship between Eli and Victor very much reminded me of Jimmy and Crake’s in ‘Oryx and Crake’ by Margaret Atwood: like those two characters, both Eli and Victor like the same girl and this causes tension in their relationship, and both sets of friends end up as nemeses due to a science experiment. Victor and Eli’s friendship, in the parts that are set ten years before, always seems to be teetering on the edge of a precipice, with neither one of them fully opening up to the other and with both being struck more by jealousy than with admiration at any successes of the other.

One of the fundamental aspects of this novel that makes it so thought-provoking and complex is that the lines between good and evil, hero and villain, are indistinguishably blurred. All of the characters have darkness in them and none of them can be easily pinned down. None of them are fully likeable  – even the main character Victor – because there is something unsettling about each, but each is intriguing and compelling. My favourite character was Mitch.

I thought that the first half of the novel was stronger than the second half and I was expecting a major twist towards the end but there wasn’t one. I also think that Eli’s character could have been more developed. However, overall ‘Vicious’ was an engaging and dark thrill-ride of a novel. I have now read two V. E. Schwab novels (the other being ADSOM) and have really enjoyed both. Schwab’s books are unique and brilliantly written, and she is rapidly climbing up my list of favourite authors.