Saturday, 22 January 2011

Review: Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda

My edition: Paperback, published in 2009 by Puffin Books, 279 pages.

Description: Billi SanGreal is having her Ordeal. The last test before her initiation. But she hadn't expected this. Not killing a little kid.

Billi is destined to follow her father into The Order and protect the masses from the Unholy. From the thousands of evil, tortured souls that prey on humanity.

Billi is fifteen. Is a life of brutal fighting and deadly combat really what she wants? Or is temptation threatening to lead her astray..

Review:

I have to admit that Devil's Kiss is one of those books that has been on my to-read shelf for well over six months. I know, I know, but in my defence the shelf is ever growing and I usually pick my books off of it at random so it's not that I wasn't interested in reading it. I was in fact excited about it ever since I heard author Sarwat Chadda speak at Foyles bookstore in London back in June. There were several authors present and I initially went to the event for someone else but Chadda managed to make his book sound so fantastic I immediately purchased a copy (and not just so I could get it signed - though that was a nice bonus!).

I initially assumed the novel to be another one in a million supernatural romance as the genre has exploded in the last few year. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing overly spectacular either. However it blew me away from the moment I read the words "Knights Templar" (which, I'm pretty sure, was somewhere in the first chapter) and I saw some of the names of the characters that corresponded to Arthurian Legends (Arthur, Percival and Gwaine) - as both the Arthurian Legends and the Knights Templar are two topics I've always been incredibly fascinated by. And it only got better from that point on.

Chadda manages to combine not only the history and myth surrounding the Templars and King Solomon, but in this novel he also includes a wide array of supernatural creatures, from the currently more popular vampire like beings to lesser known monsters such as ghuls and grigori. On top of that he adds a huge dose of Christian references as well as various other religions and even astronomy makes its appearance. Surprisingly combining all that the story doesn't become overwhelming or confusing, no it actually works together. Brilliantly so even.

The book is also seeped in detailed descriptions of London (where it all takes place) and history, which manages to give the reader the feeling that they're walking in the footsteps of main character Billi. And besides the obvious supernatural storyline there's a second layer going into the relationship of Billi and her father that's very fascinating. More so because in the end it turns out that there is a far more important reason behind the way they act towards one another.

The only minor criticism I have is that I found the prophecy very general and vague. It could've meant anyone so I think the Knights jumped to conclusions there. But as I said, it's only a minor criticism and it didn't bother me while reading the book, I only thought of it afterwards.

In conclusion: I can't wait to pick up the sequel The Dark Goddess, which hopefully won't gather dust for six months on my to-read shelf before I start reading it!

9/10

Review: Pieces of My Heart by Sinéad Moriarty

My edition: Paperback, published in 2011 by Penguin, 436 pages.

Description: Ava is a wife, lover, mother, daughter, friend, fixer, boss... So many different people, in fact, she no longer knows what it means to be herself. Not that anyone will let her - not her work-obsessed husband, not her tearaway daughter, not her out-of-control dad, not even her sassy-but-lonely best friend. There's always someone needing something from her. She's trying to do her best for all of them but lately feels like she can't make everyone happy.

And that's before she discovers that her elder daughter, Alison, is in deep, deep trouble. Can Ava keep hold of the most precious pieces of her heart? And what will happen if she loses one?

Review:

Pieces of my Heart is an amazing novel realistically depicting the problems a seemingly average family goes through. A lot of the issues raised (most notably the sibling dynamic and its impact on both sisters, and the father putting his work before his family) felt very close to home for me and reading about them on the pages was an absolute eye-opener. Despite the sometimes difficult and heavy topic matter there were also much needed light-hearted moments to balance the story and make sure the book didn't become one big dramatic sobfest. Overall the novel was very touching and real, not sugar-coating anything the characters go through, making the book one I would highly recommend.

9/10

Review: The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

My edition: Paperback, published in 2007 by Penguin, 200 pages.

Description: With his distinctive red hair and sharp nose, Rudolf Rassendyll, a young Englishman, shares a striking resemblance with the Ruritanian royal family. A burning curiosity draws him to Ruritania to see the coronation of the new King, his distant cousin. But when the King is captured by his treacherous brother on the eve of his coronation, only Rudolf can save him.

Thrown into a series of adventures beyond his wildest dreams, as Rudolf battles to outwit his enemies he falls in love with the beautiful Princess Flavia, who is betrothed to the King. He must make his choice - should he save the monarch and be parted from Flavia forever?

Review:

It's sort of an alternate version of The Prince and the Pauper, but with lots more swordfights and I loved it! The storyline was captivating, the action sequences thrilling and the main character very likeable. I am assuming from the final chapter that there is at least a part two as well, which I'll try seek out as soon as possible!

8/10

Review: The Gift by Cecelia Ahern

My edition: Hardcover, published in 2008 by HarperCollins, 305 pages.

Description: Lou Suffern is practised in the art of concealment. He is, also, always overstretched, trying to do too many things at once. His overburdened schedule gives him few moments of peace, even in his sleep. And when he spends time at home with his wife and family, he is always distracted, and, mentally, somewhere else.

On a cold winter morning, Lou is on his way to work when he encounters Gabe, a homeless street dweller, sitting outside an office building. Lou is intrigued by him, and contrives to get him a job in the post room. But this act of charity rebounds on him, and Gabe’s presence begins to grate on Lou -- particularly when he discovers that the latter seems capable of being in two places at the same time.

Christmas is drawing near, and before the season is over, Lou’s life will be irrevocably change by the casual act of kindness he has performed.

Review:

The Gift is unfortunately not as good as the other novels by Cecelia Ahern I've read so far. This is for the most part due to the fact that the main character is highly unsympathetic (I in fact wanted to slap some sense into him on more than one occasion) and not deserving of all the patience and kindness the minor characters show him, let alone the gift he receives from the mysterious character Gabe. I mean, there are many people who go through the same experience as Lou and are much better human beings, why not grant them that one last chance? The idea behind The Gift is fascinating though and trying to figure out the truth behind Lou's 'gift' was what kept reading and finish the book.

7/10

Review: PS, I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

My edition: Paperback, published in 2007 by HarperCollins, 512 pages.

Description: Holly couldn't live without her husband Gerry, until the day she had to. They were the kind of young couple who could finish each other's sentences. When Gerry succumbs to a terminal illness and dies, 30-year-old Holly is set adrift, unable to pick up the pieces.

But with the help of a series of letters her husband left her before he died and a little nudging from an eccentric assortment of family and friends, she learns to laugh, overcome her fears, and discover a world she never knew existed.

Review:

PS, I Love You was a captivating and heartwarming novel that realistically shows the grieving process after Holly loses both the love of her life and her best friend. It's a struggle she has to go through every day and the novel also shows how it influences the people around her and their actions towards her.

The only things I was a bit disappointed about were the fact that main character Holly immediately placed the link of the letter received at her parents' house and her recently departed husband, spoiling the big revelation for both herself and the reader. As well as the ending to Daniel's storyline as it felt out of character and was obviously not what I'd hoped for. Nonetheless it's a beautiful story about love, grief and everything in between.

8/10

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Review: Where would I Be Without You? by Guillaume Musso

My edition: Paperback, published in 2011 by Gallic Books, 348 pages.

Description: Parisian cop Martin Beaumont has never really got over his first love, Gabrielle. Their brief, intense affair in San Francisco and the pain of her rejection still haunt him years later. Now, however, he's a successful detective - and tonight he's going to arrest the legendary art thief, Archibald Maclean, when he raids the Musee d'Orsay for a priceless Van Gogh.

But the enigmatic Archibald has other plans. Martin's pursuit of the master criminal across Paris is the first step in an adventure that will take him back to San Francisco, and to the edge of love and life itself.

Review:

Where Would I Be Without You? is a book that is hard to pin down. Starting out as a romantic chick-lit it quickly turns into a cop detective and finishing off as a paranormal novel. The style it's written in also changes regularly sometimes listing the name of a character in bold followed by their line and spending a scene laid out in quotes and other times dividing chapters by listing the time and location above a paragraph. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it can sometimes be distracting and it does make me wonder what author Guillaume Musso's reasoning was behind the alternating styles.

However the story itself is absolutely marvelous and manages to be mostly realistic despite the sometimes very convenient placing of the characters and the otherwordly experience described in the final few chapters. The author also has a knack for using wonderfully touching words without sounding cheesy or pretentious, such as this exchange between the main character of Martin and a young girl he feels protective of:

'Have you ever heard the expression "out of sight, out of mind"?'
She shook her head.
As he explained to her why this expression would never, ever apply to them, an angel passed above and lightly brushed the last rays of the Winter sun with its wings.


Already selling more than 1 million copies worldwide Where Would I Be Without You? has recently been translated from French into English and will be released on April 4 2011 in the United Kingdom.

8/10

Review: The Baker Street Phantom by Fabrice Bourland

My edition: Paperback, published in 2010 by Gallic Books, 185 pages.

Description: In the spring of 1932, with Londoners terrorised by a series of brutal murders, the private detective agency of Messrs. Simpson and Trelawney quietly opens its doors in Bloomsbury. The first person to call on their services is a worried Lady Arthur Conan Doyle. She tells of mysterious events at 221 Baker Street - and a premonition that the London murders signal terrible danger for mankind.

Their investigation will take our intrepid heroes into a world of seances and spirits. Aided by the most famous detective of all time, they must draw on their knowledge of the imaginary to find the perpetrators of some very real and bloody crimes before they strike again...

Review:

For a book pretending to mimic classic Sherlock Holmes stories it's a very poor imitation. While the writing style certainly suggests the same general storyline and manages to realistically depict London midway the 1930's The Baker Street Phantom ended up being utterly unrealistic.

I normally don't mind paranormal situations or science fiction in a novel when one expects it, however this book is clearly trying to bank in on the still famous detective stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and because of the giant leap into the supernatural fails miserably doing so. Up until the very end I was hoping the detectives central in this book would Scooby-Doo their way out of the mystery, but they sadly never did.

5/10

Review: The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern

My edition: Paperback, published in 2010 by HarperCollins, 420 pages.

Description: Tamara Goodwin has always got everything she's ever wanted. Born into a family of wealth, she grew up in a mansion with its own private beach, a wardrobe full of designer clothes and all that a girl could ever wish for. She's always lived in the here and now, never giving a second thought to tomorrow. But then suddenly her dad is gone and life for Tamara and her mother changes forever.

Left with a mountain of debt, they have no choice but to sell everything they own and move to the country. Nestled next to Kilsaney Castle, their gatehouse is a world away from Tamara's childhood. With her mother shut away with grief, and her aunt busy tending to her, Tamara is lonely and bored and longs to return to Dublin.When a travelling library passes through Kilsaney Demesne, Tamara is intrigued. Her eyes rest on a mysterious large leather bound tome locked with a gold clasp and padlock. What she discovers within the pages takes her breath away and shakes her world to its core.

Review:

Unfamiliar with Cecelia Aherns's other novels I wasn't sure what to expect when I got send The Book of Tomorrow for review. The blurb on the back cover certainly sounded fascinating but unfortunately the first few chapters felt pretentious and couldn't get the story going. However I'd strongly urge you to not let that put you off, because it picks up after the third chapter aptly titled "The Beginning Began" (why the author chose against starting the book there I'm not quite sure) and what follows is quite frankly fantastic.

Every family has its secrets and that is certainly the case for that of main character Tamara. After the death of her father she is stuck in a remote house far away from Dublin where she grew up. Tamara starts getting restless and during her explorations of the house and its grounds perhaps finds more than she bargained for. I prefer not to go into detail as I don't want to give anything of the story away, but let's just say you can expect a possibly hunted castle, unforeseen revelations and a touch of magic - which makes The Book of Tomorrow seem just that little bit more enchanting.

It's a truly wonderful read making me want to seek out Cecelia Ahern's other novels!

8/10

Review: Jane by April Lindner

My edition: Hardcover, published in 2010 by Poppy, 373 pages.

Description: Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, an iconic rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer, and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance.

But there's a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane's much-envied relationship with Nico is tested by a torturous secret from his past. Part irresistible romance and part darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers

Review:

I started out really enjoying this book then somewhere in the middle I went "WTF!" because the marriage proposal seemed to come out of the blue and pretty much the whole love story that followed was condensed into a single chapter. Thankfully the rest of the novel wasn't as rushed and the characters actually had time to develop and the story to progress before the inevitable romantic conclusion had a chance to come more realistically.

As I have not read Jane Eyre yet (I know, shame on me!) I cannot compare this new adaptation to the original nor give a well thought out opinion on how the modernization possibly ruined the classic and could in no way do it justice, but I am now intrigued by the story and will check the book by Charlotte Brontë out in the near future. So if anything, Jane got me interested in reading the much loved classic.

8/10

Review: Valiant by Holly Black

My edition: Paperback, published in 2005 by Simon & Schuster, 336 pages.

Description: When seventeen-year-old Valerie runs away to New York City, she's trying to escape a life that has utterly betrayed her. Sporting a new identity, she takes up with a gang of squatters who live in the city's labyrinthine subway system.

But there's something eerily beguiling about Val's new friends. And when one talks Val into tracking down the lair of a mysterious creature with whom they are all involved, Val finds herself torn between her newly found affection for an honorable monster and her fear of what her new friends are becoming.

Review:

The concept of a modern fairytale (or Faerie tale as it's referred to in this book) isn't a new one, but Holly Black has created her own, very original world in which her stories take place - making her stand out from many other authors in the genre. In Tithe this world was first introduced and she expands upon it with the second book in the series, Valiant. Unfortunately, while it was an okay read the novel wasn't outstanding or even as good as Tithe.

It's not the blatant drug abuse criticized by many before me that bothers me, but the central focus of the story that shifts because of it is. The book is advertised as a modern Faerie tale, both on the front-cover and the blurb on the back. Yet the Faeries seems to take a step back to make place of a side story concerning Val running away from home, living on the streets and turning to drug abuse (magical drugs at that, but still). And because there isn't enough information about and involvement from the Faerie people until the very end I found I cared very little for their story.

Instead I was much more drawn to the secondary story, but because it wasn't intended as the main storyline this also didn't feel sufficient to carry the book. The characters (Luis, Lolli, David and even Val) lacked depth and their actions were stereotypical, both leading to me simply not caring about them in the end either. And that's a shame, because the idea behind the book is fantastic and both story lines within have a great potential which occasionally shines through - particularly in the last few chapters where everything comes nicely together.

If only the characters would've been fleshed out more and the author could decide on the focus of the story, perhaps I would've felt more invested all throughout the novel.

6/10

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Review: The Magnificent 12 #1: The Call by Michael Grant

My edition: Paperback, published in 2011 by HarperCollins, 249 pages.

Description: Twelve-year-old Mack MacAvoy is not cut out to be a hero. But one day a three-thousand-year-old man named Grimluk appears and tells Mack he is one of the Magnificent Twelve - an elite team who must save the world from the greatest evil its ever faced. Mack must travel the globe and track down the other eleven kids who will fight the coming terror.

But it all sounds a bit dangerous and Mack never planned to be a hero... Will he answer the call?

Review:

The Call is the first part in Michael Grant's The Magnificent 12 series and fills our 'ordinary' world with monsters, an evil princess, 12 year-old heroes, wizards and a very friendly but often quite daft Golem. Besides the entertaining storyline, the book is also incredibly humorous throughout. For example take this quote from the start of the second chapter:

"Grimluk was twelve years old. Like most twelve-year-olds he had a job, a child, two wives and a cow. No. No, wait, that's not true. He had one wife and two cows."

While intended for younger teens The Call can also be read by an older audience as there are quirky references that make it fun and that younger children likely won't pick up on. Take for instance this slightly rehashed Lord of the Rings quote:

"But there was one bully to rule them all, one bully to find them, one bully to bring them all and in the darkness pound them."

In short: a young audience will most certainly be entertained by the first book in The Magnificent 12 series. As for the older readers, they shouldn't expect a literary masterpiece, but The Call is a fun read and definitely worth checking out.

7.5/10

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Review: Ash by Malinda Lo

My edition: Paperback, published in 2010 by Hodder Children's Books, 291 pages.

Description: With her parents both gone, Ash finds herself a servant int he house of her ruthless stepmother and there seems no hope of finding happiness again. But Ash is unaware of her mother's legacy, and that it will lead her to a magical place. A place where love, identity, and belonging are all waiting...

Review:

Ash is a retelling of the Grimm fairytale Cinderella, made apparent by the fact that her name is very familiar to the Dutch name (and the German one, and probably a whole load of other ones) of Cinderella and the fact that the character is holding a glass slipper on the cover of the book - which surprisingly doesn't even make an appearance in this novel, so shame on whoever did the cover art! But that's largely besides the point as it's the story that I was interested in.

For the most part the book follows the classic fairytale of a little girl that after the death of her father is used as a servant by her evil stepmother and occasionally evil stepsisters (though one of the stepsisters actually isn't all that bad to her in this novel). With one big difference: author Malinda Lo has taken the fairy part of the word fairytale very literal - as they do exist in the world described in this book and as a matter of fact have a very central focus in it. And I don't mean a cute fairy Godmother with a twinkling wand singing "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" as seen in the Disney adaptation, but the creatures that will lure humans into their fairy rings to never be heard of again. Nasty stuff. Another big difference to the original story is the addition of the Hunt and most notably the King's Huntress, a character very important in Ash.

While the book started out very promising it unfortunately doesn't deliver in the end. There are many lose ends in regards to the fairies as the final few chapters heavily focus on concluding the romantic storyline of the book. This is a shame as in the beginning this wasn't the main focus and because of that the story that appealed to me so much when I started reading Ash seemed to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. Overall it wasn't a bad read, but the book would have been more satisfying if it didn't dismiss one storyline in favour of another.

7/10

Monday, 10 January 2011

Review: The Poison Garden by Sarah Singleton

My edition: Paperback, published in 2009 by Simon and Schuster UK, 282 pages.

Description: Thomas has inherited a magical box from his dead grandmother, which provides entry into a mysterious garden where her ghost warns him she was poisoned. For once she belonged to an arcane guild, whose members each cultivated a garden and mastered the arts of poison, perfume and medicine. The remaining guild members jostle for power as, one by one, they are murdered. Can Thomas solve the mystery before he in turn is threatened?

Review:

I started reading The Poison Garden with very little expectations and already on the first page I was vastly impressed by it. The novel is written wonderfully with elaborate and vivid descriptions of plants and layouts of the various gardens central in the book, drawing the reader into the orchards and flower beds until you almost think you can smell the flowering blossoms.

Most surprising however was that the story rapidly turned into an Agatha Christie whodunit with elements of a fantasy novel woven into it. And while about midway The Poison Garden it becomes quite apparent 'whodunit' the enchanting descriptions and fantastical story of the history of the gardens make the book exciting and enthralling till the final page.

8/10

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Book review: The Lost Hero - Rick Riordan

Book data: Hardcover, published in 2010 by Hyperion Books, 557 pages.

Description: Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper and a best friend named Leo. They’re all students at a boarding school for “bad kids.” What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly?

Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out.

Leo has a way with tools. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god.

Join new and old friends from Camp Half-Blood in this thrilling first audio book in The Heroes of Olympus series.

Review:

If you thought that the Percy Jackson series was already fantastic, wait until you get your hands on the sequel/spin-off series Heroes of Olympus. It combines the brilliance of weaving Greek mythology seamlessly into the modern day world as displayed in the first set of books but now adds the Roman Gods and stories to the mix as well.

In the first book - The Lost Hero - Riordan uses his flair once more to make something that shouldn't be able to fit together seem like a perfect match. I mean, in many ways the Roman Gods are the same as the Greek ones, just with different names and (slightly) altered personalities. Yet in the book they can both co-exist without one story undermining the other.

Not only that but the story takes the word epic just one step further. Fighting Titans and protecting Mount Olympus in Manhattan seems child's play compared to the rise of the big bads in the first book of this new exciting series. And judging from the last few chapters this is nothing compared to what's the come - the biggest battle of them all has been wiped from history and the past may repeat itself if our heroes can't find a way to stop the seemingly inevitable from happening again.

Most fun for me was that while reading The Lost Hero and getting to know the three new main characters of Jason, Piper and Leo there were plenty familiarities to make me feel at home in the world as written down by Riordan. We get to visit Camp Half-Blood again and many of the characters from the first series make an appearance in one form or another. And judging by the title of the next instalment it seems very likely that the famous Percy himself will be the central character once more in the upcoming book.

10/10