Friday, 30 July 2010

70: "Love Letters" by Katie Fforde

Publisher: Arrow Books
Page count: 464 pages
Date begun: July 21st, 2010
Date finished: July 21st, 2010

First of all, I have NO idea why this book is called Love Letters. There is not a single letter written in the entire book. There are phone conversations, the occasional e-mail and text message is mentioned, there are lots of books, but at no point does anyone sit down and write or read any form of letter, love or otherwise. I have absolutely no idea why this title was chosen for the book.

The book is about Laura Horsley. She's 26 years old, still a virgin, by her own account extremely dull, and does very little but work in a tiny bookshop and read. The bookshop she is working in is closing, and a pushy literary agent decides that Laura is the perfect person to help her niece set up at literary/music festival near the country house the niece lives in. Laura is initially very reluctant, but gets carried away. One of the possible sponsors for the event misunderstands her during a conversation and thinks she personally knows Dermot Flynn, a reclusive Irish author. He demands that Flynn come to the festival or he (the sponsor) won't provide any money.

Laura sets off to the Irish countryside to track down Dermot Flynn, her favourite author of all time (she even wrote her dissertation on his two novels). She doesn't realize that the reason he is known as a cranky recluse is that he's had writer's block for the past 15 years. When she arrives in the tiny village where he lives (where he's also appearing at a festival), she gets massively drunk to summon the courage to talk to him (as he is totally gorgeous and sexy and brilliant) and he promises to come to the festival if she sleeps with him.

Being dreadfully drunk, Laura does end up in bed with him, but passes out. When she returns to England, she learns that Dermot has decided to teach a writing course at a local university, and wants her to be his assistant for the course. She ends up reading a huge amount of manuscripts to help him, and continues to fall for him. One of the students at the writing course lets slip to the newspapers that Dermot is going to appear at the literary festival Laura is helping to organize, and Dermot is furious, as he wanted his appearance kept secret until the last minute. Everything seems to be going badly wrong.

Love Letters, despite not being about letters at all, is a perfectly fun summer read. It's nothing profound or brilliant, and Laura is a bit of a boring character to begin with. She also seems to come out of her shell and blossom surprisingly fast, all it took was getting riotously drunk in Ireland, apparently. For someone who starts out extremely shy and introverted at the opening of the book, she is very different at the end. There are some fun characters, but it drags a bit in places, and I would have liked to see how the romance developed a bit more.

69: "The Girl Who Chased the Moon" by Sarah Addison Allen

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Page count: 304 pages
Date begun: July 19th, 2010
Date finished: July 20th, 2010


Emily Benedict is 17, and comes to Mullaby, North Carolina to live with her grandfather after she is orphaned after the death of her mother, Dulcie. Her mother left Mullaby long ago, and has never told Emily anything about her past. While Emily knows Dulcie as a woman who founded schools, worked for human rights and every worthy social cause imaginable, in Mullaby it seems like everyone pretty much loathed her, and not everyone is happy to see the former prom queen's daughter settle in town.

Someone who does not hold the sins of the mother against the daughter, is Julia Winterson, who was bullied by Dulcie, and who had a pretty hard time growing out as an outcast in Mullaby. She has both internal and external scars to show for it. Now she is trying to pay off the mortgage on her father's barbecue restaurant, and is counting the months until she can sell the restaurant at a profit, take the money and leave town - to set up a bakery and forget all about Mullaby and her past. She tries to welcome Emily and take good care of her, as she knows others in town will not be as nice.

On her first day in town, Emily has a panic attack and is saved by a kind, young man named Win Coffey, but it quickly becomes apparent that neither her grandfather nor his father want them to have anything to do with each other, due to something that happened with her mother and his uncle in the past. Sleeping in a bedroom where the wallpaper changes depending on her mood, and puzzled by the glowing lights in the woods around her grandfather's house, Emily is determined to at least solve the mystery of what happened between her mother and Logan Coffey.

Julia has several painful issues to get over from her past in Mullaby, and bakes amazing cakes and pastries as a form of therapy. When the man she loved passionately as a teenager seems determined to charm his way back into her life, she is confused and troubled and does not know how to handle the situation.

The Girl who Chased the Moon is the third book by Sarah Addison Allen I've read and reviewed for my blog. All her books have certain similarities. They are set in small American towns, feature one or several female characters, a quirky supporting cast, magical realism, and some romance. All her books are easy, comfortable reads, but none have been quite as magical and delightful as her first one, Garden Spells. Still, well worth a read.

68: "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" by Michael Chabon

Publisher: Fourth Estate
Page count: 656 pages
Date begun: July 15th, 2010
Date finished: July 19th, 2010

Josef "Joe" Kavalier arrives in New York in 1939, and meets his cousin Samuel "Sammy" Klayman for the first time. Josef is a Czech refugee, sent to America to escape the Nazis, and all he wants is to make enough money to help the rest of his family escape as well. Sam promises to get Joe a job, and once he realizes what a talented artist his cousin is, he convinces his boss to let them try to create a superhero comic that can rival Superman. Sammy changes his name to Clay, and soon they have created the anti-fascist Escapist, as well as a large number of other popular and extremely lucrative comic book heroes.

Sammy writes the stories, and Joe creates the art for the comic books, but as their creations become more and more successful, it becomes clear that they are being exploited, and get a minuscule share in the profits from their work. Joe saves every penny he can, and spends most of his free time trying to get his family moved from Prague to New York, with very little luck. He falls in love with a lovely bohemian girl, but constantly feels guilty that his family used their last savings to have him sent to America, while they constantly suffer worse and worse conditions under the Nazi occupation. Sammy spends his money on his mother and grandmother, and tries to come to term with his sexual identity.

When it becomes clear that the ship of Jewish children that Joe has spent large amounts of money to help to America has been sunk, he abandons his cousin and his girlfriend to enlist in the navy. During his self-imposed exile, he learns that Rosa and Sammy have gotten married, and even after the war has ended, he stays away from them, until an unexpected event prompts him to try to reconcile with his loved ones.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay explore what is know as "The Golden Age of Comics", and as the wife of a man who is a huge Jack Kirby fan, I knew a little bit about this time period and how the writers and artists usually got horribly exploited by their publishers, making a pittance compared to their counterparts today. While the story is about comic book creators and superhero comics, I do not think you need to know or be interested in such things to enjoy the book. As well as an exploration of the rise of the comic book, and especially superhero comics, as a medium, it is so many other things.

The only bit I wished was shorter, and am not entirely sure what Chabon was trying to do with, is Joe's experiences in Antarctica during the Second World War. Here I thought the story lagged terribly, and while some of it was necessary for Joe's further development, it did not need to take up as big a part of the book as it did.

I had heard many great things about the book, and because of this, my expectations were high. I'm glad to say that the book lived up to my expectations, and that while it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2001, it is not in any way a difficult or heavy read. All the characters are well rounded and feel real, even minor supporting ones who you wouldn't think made that much of a difference. Both Joe and Sammy are extremely likable protagonists, and for the most part, the book is a joy to read.

67: "Early to Death, Early to Rise" by Kim Harrison

Publisher: Harper Collins
Page count: 240 pages
Date begun: July 14th, 2010
Date finished: July 15th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ONCE DEAD, TWICE SHY, THE FIRST MADISON AVERY NOVEL!

Madison Avery may seem like a normal teenager going to high school, with her purple-tipped hair and her sneakers with skulls and crossbones on them. However, Madison is actually dead, and an important supernatural entity at that. Madison is the dark timekeeper, and her job is to control Reapers, dark angels sent to Earth to kill people who will turn out to do horrible things that will damn their souls, before said people are able to commit said actions. There is also a light timekeeper, who tries to protect the same people. Madison was killed by the previous dark timekeeper, who wanted to prevent her from succeeding him - even though she had no idea this was intended for her.

Now she has a fancy amulet she doesn't really know how to use, but means she has a human body. She also has a small entourage consisting of a dark Reaper meant to protect her, a former light Reaper who disagrees with the light timekeeper and is now neutral, both of whom are supposed to pass for foreign exchange students, a tiny former guardian angel who speaks mostly in limericks, and her best friend, who she seems to be developing feelings for.

Madison disagrees with her stated job description, and doesn't just want to send Reapers to kill people who are destined to commit horrible acts before giving said person a chance to change their mind. She doesn't believe in predestination, and when she finds out that Nakita, the Dark Reaper with her is supposed to kill a high school kid set to release a computer virus that ends up killing people, she insists that they go find him and try to talk him out of things before he needs to be killed. Since her new timekeeper powers aren't exactly under her control yet, she and her Reaper posse don't actually know precisely who the guy is - they have two suspects, and not very much time to figure out which of the boys is set to become a hacker with multiple deaths on his conscience, and which one is just the innocent friend.

I actually liked Early to Death, Early to Rise better than Kim Harrison's first young adult novel, Once Dead, Twice Shy, as the first novel was a bit confusing and mostly served as setup. Now that Madison and the supporting characters of the series, as well as most of the world-building has been established, the story flows better and is a much more entertaining read. I would not recommend picking up book 2 without first having read book 1, though.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

"The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed" by Patrick Rothfuss

Publisher: Subterranean
Page count: 72 pages
Date begun: July 12th, 2010
Date finished: July 12th, 2010

The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed is a picture book, beautifully illustrated by Nate Taylor. It features a sort of fairy tale. It's definitely, absolutely NOT for kids. Unless those kids are slightly older and fond of darker stories. I saw this book described as Calvin and Hobbes meets Coraline, and that's a pretty good take on it.
The Princess lives in her marzipan castle with her best friend, the stuffed bear Mr. Whiffle. They have lots of fun and exciting adventures, but at night, in the dark, there is the thing under the bed. The book has three different endings, at three different points. It's not very scary, or terrifying, but it does get rather twisted towards the end.

I thought it was extremely entertaining, and am beyond happy that the copy of the book I have is a very early ARC printed up by Patrick Rothfuss himself, and signed by both the author and the very talented artist. I was lucky enough to win the ARC as part of Patrick Rothfuss' Worldbuilder's Raffle (for details, see: http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/2009/12/worldbuilders-2009/) and was absolutely delighted with it as a prize.

66: "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Page count: 304 pages
Date begun: July 5th, 2010
Date finished: July 7th, 2010

The book is narrated by Kathy H., who reminisces about her time growing up in a boarding school, Hailsham, in the English countryside with her friends Ruth and Tommy D. Kathy H. is a carer, and has been for a long time. She takes care of and helps donors, and make life and their donations (as the book progresses it becomes clear they are organ donors), and has been doing this for an unusually long time for a carer. Once she retires, she herself will become a donor.

As the novel progresses Kathy H. recounts more of her school days at Hailsham, and it is clear that there is something more going on with the way the children there are being entirely sheltered from the outside world. Every term the children have to produce various types of craft or art which if they are lucky gets taken away to a mysterious gallery. Once they are old enough, they spend two years acclimatizing to society before they become carers, and then donors.

Who the children of Hailsham (and other similar schools around the country) are, and what their "purpose" in the world is, is gradually revealed throughout the novel. The book is set in the early 1990s, and works as a coming of age novel, but is clearly also a science fiction story and a subtle exploration of racism. I read it mainly because I heard it is being turned into a film with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, and I was curious. I thought it was rather slow going, and while some of the ideas explored were quite though-provoking, it did very little for me.

Friday, 23 July 2010

65: "The Sea of Monsters" by Rick Riordan

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Page count: 304 pages
Date begun: June 30th, 2010
Date finished: July 1st, 2010

CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS!

In The Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson has almost managed to survive an entire school year without getting expelled. On the last day before the summer holidays, however, all hell breaks loose, and the gym ends up burning down because giant monsters are trying to kill him with fireballs. Maybe he can blame it on asbestos, as Buffy Summers tried to do when she arrived at Sunnydale High?

His mother doesn't want him returning to Camp Half-Blood, but he goes anyway, and takes Tyson, a mysterious homeless kid with him. At the camp, he discovers that Chiron has been sent away, and the tree that keeps the camp safe is dying, so everyone there is in danger. It's also revealed that Tyson is not only a mythological being, a cyclops, but that he shares a father with Percy. Percy keeps having dreams where his best friend, the satyr Grover, who went off on a quest at the end of the last book, is in grave danger, and he will die if Percy doesn't come save him. When it turns out that by saving Grover, Percy can also fetch the one thing that will help save the camp, the Golden Fleece, he takes Annabeth and Tyson with him, despite being told he will be risks being banned from the camp forever.

The Sea of Monsters is another fun adventure tale, featuring vicious chariot races, cyclopes, sirens, the Bermuda Triangle, the return of Percy's nemesis Luke, Circe the sorceress and Grover in a wedding dress. It was yet another fun read, and I am looking forward to the next one in the series.

64: "White Cat" by Holly Black

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Page count: 320 pages
Date begun: June 28th, 2010
Date finished: June 29th, 2010

Cassel comes from a long line of curse workers, but is the only one in his family who cannot work a curse. Curse working is basically magic, and it has been outlawed for a long time, meaning that the people with such abilities, are not allowed to use them. Most curse workers are mobsters or con artists, and Cassel's family is no different. As the only one not able to curse, Cassel has had to make himself better at conning instead. He is haunted by memories of his best friend Lila, who he killed three years ago, and whose murder his family helped him cover up. Recently, he keeps having strange dreams and waking up in strange places, having sleepwalked, and his school is threatening to expell him. His brothers and sister-in-law are behaving strangely, and his grandfather refuses to tell him anything. Then there is the white cat, which appears both in his dreams and in the backyard of his old house. Cassel needs to figure out what is going on, and fast.

Having read Holly Black's Modern Tales of Faerie - Tithe, Valiant and Ironside, of which I really like two and absolutely adore Valiant, I was very excited to try Holly Black's new series. I'm not entirely sure what I think of it. It's good when authors try new things, but I'm not sure the male POV in this book worked entirely for me, it seemed unconvincing in parts. I thought parts of the narrative dragged, and was not exactly surprised by what Cassel discovers as part of his investigations, either. But I didn't hate it, and will probably check out the later entries in her Curse Workers series, in the hope that the sequels get better.

60-63: The Harper Connelly books by Charlaine Harris

Book 1: Grave Sight
Book 2: Grave Surprise
Book 3: An Ice Cold Grave
Book 4: Grave Secret

Publisher: Gollancz
Total page count: 1216 pages
Date begun: June 23rd, 2010
Date finished: June 27th, 2010

WARNING! MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS FOR GRAVE SECRET!

As I read all four books in 5 days, I decided to blog about them all in one review. Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse-books are currently enjoying great success, as HBO have loosely adapted them into the very entertaining True Blood. Having been a fan of Harris' Sookie books for nearly a decade, and having also read her Lily Bard-books, I decided that I was curious to see what the Harper Connelly books were like.

Unlike the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire-series, there is nothing really supernatural at all about these books. Once you accept the premise that Harper Connelly developed the ability to sense where the dead lie, and what they died of, after being hit and nearly killed by lightning, these books are pretty much straight-forward mystery/suspense novels. All four books are easy and entertaining reads, and the series seems pretty much completed after book 4. I think Harris could probably continue the series if she chose, but the various threads begun in the first three are completed in book 4, so if she chooses not to write any more, the readers will not feel cheated.

Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver Lang travel around the US helping people find dead people. As mentioned, Harper senses the dead after being hit by lightning as a teenager in her parents' trailer. She would have died if Tolliver didn't perform CPR on her until emergency services arrived. Harper's mother and Tolliver's father were high powered and successful lawyers who married, and then started using drugs and alcohol, until they were a lot less successful, and Harper, Tolliver and the lives of siblings became really quite grim. They spent much of their teenage years trying to take care of their baby sisters and fooling the authorities about what really went on in their home. Once Harper's older sister Cameron disappears, however, they have to contact the police, and the family gets split up. Harper got placed in a foster home, Tolliver went to live with his older brother, and their baby sisters got taken in by Harper's religious aunt.

Now Harper and Tolliver make money by hiring Harper's services to people. In Grave Sight, they get called to a small town to find the body of a missing teenager. Harper finds the body, but since she can also determine cause of death if she is close enough to the remains, she discovers that the missing girl was shot in the back twice, and once at the grave of the boy suspected of killing said girl, she reveals that the boy did not commit suicide like everyone suspected, but was killed as well. When it's also revealed that the missing girl's sister was murdered, the plot thickens. Not everyone is happy about Harper's revelations, and both her and Tolliver's lives are threatened before they can leave town.

In Grave Surprise, Harper and Tolliver are called to Memphis by an anthropology professor determined to prove to his class that Harper's abilities are bogus. Instead Harper pretty much baffles his entire class with her "powers", and also, unexpectedly, discovers the body of a young girl in an old grave. The body is that of an eleven-year-old Harper had been asked to find a few years earlier, but as she can only sense dead bodies, not locate specific ones, she was never able to find the girl. Now the case is reopened, and the coincidence of the body being in an old, unused graveyard Harper just happened to be in seems to great for the Connelly/Lang siblings to ignore. They decide to try to solve the murder themselves.

In An Ice Cold Grave, Harper faces her most difficult case yet, when she is called to find a missing teenager in Doraville, North Carolina. He is one in a long line of young men who the town suspect ran away. Harper finds not only his body, but that of eight other boys, brutally murdered, and clearly tortured before their deaths. The town is deeply shocked by her discovery, and the serial killer clearly has no plans to let Harper live to discover his identity.

In Grave Secret, Harper and Tolliver go home to visit their shared younger sisters, and to reveal to Harper's aunt and uncle who are raising them, that their relationship has changed beyond that of stepsiblings. They are also asked by a local rich woman to determine the cause of death of her father. While doing this, Harper also discovers that said rich woman's father's nurse died, not from a burst appendix, but from complications in childbirth. The woman wants Harper's help to find the missing child, even though Harper and Tolliver try to explain that Harper can only find dead people. As the case progresses, however, it seems strangely linked to the disappearance of Harper's sister Cameron all those years ago, and Harper and Tolliver may finally find out what happened to her.

All four books were entertaining, and well written. Harper is a smart and capable young woman, who has been through a lot of difficult things in her life, but is determined to make the best of it. She is often met with suspicion and sometimes even hostility because of what she has chosen to make a living of, a lot of people think that she is a fraud and that she is conning and exploiting grieving families to support herself and her stepbrother.

Tolliver is Harper's assistant, manager, companion and best friend. As Harper often gets exhausted and worn out after doing a job, she needs someone around to take care of her, and she frequently suffers from headaches and muscle aches, even though the lightning strike was years ago. He organizes her life so she doesn't have to.

59: "Naamah's Curse" by Jacqueline Carey

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Page count: 576 pages
Date begun: June 12th, 2010
Date finished: June 13th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR NAAMAH'S KISS!

For those who may not have heard of her, Jacqueline Carey is the author of two completed fantasy trilogies, and currently working on a third, set in a world which bears similarities to our own. Looking at the map in the front of her books, the geography bears striking similarity to that of our world, but the countries bear different names.

The main characters from her first two trilogies were from Terre D'Ange, the land of the Angels, loosely based on Renaissance France. To quote from her books: "Elua was born when the blood of Yeshua ben Yosef, the son of the one God, mingled with the tears of the Magdelene and was carried in the womb of Mother Earth. With Elua's peaceful wanderings and the one God's rejection of him, seven angels then rejected God to become Elua's companions on Earth. These angels and Elua himself then founded a nation (Terre D'Ange) and comingled with humans before leaving. D'Angelines are the people from their descent. The D'Angelines live after one precept: "Love as thou wilt". They are all strikingly beautiful in different ways, and really open about sex.

As Carey kept writing, she showed her readers more of her fantasy world. The heroine of her third trilogy, Moirin mac Fainche, is the daughter of a D'Angeline diplomat and an Alban priestess. Alba is a mix of Pictish Britain and Celtic Ireland, pretty much. Moirin's people worship the great bear spirit, but as she is half D'Angeline, she is called on adventures, and to find out what that side of her heritage means. Moirin's travels take her across the sea to Terre D'Ange, and much further again, to the great Chi'in Empire (China), where she has to help the Emperor save his daughter, who is possessed by a dragon. It may sound lame, but it's really not! She falls in love with a half-Tartar (Mongolian) peasant boy, the assistant to the scholar she is traveling with, but he is accidentally killed while they are saving the princess. The old wise man she is with, uses Moirin's limited healing powers and his own, to sacrifice his own spirit, and Bao is brought back, at the cost of his Master's life. After his resurrection, Bao and Moirin are also forever connected, as half of Moirin's soul, always connected to the great bear spirit, seems to be lodged in Bao.

Unable to deal with this, and the death of his beloved Master, Bao leaves Moirin, to find out about his own heritage, in the Tartar lands. At the start of Naamah's Curse, Moirin is sick of sitting around waiting for him, so she goes in search of him. This means we get to see Carey's version of historical Mongolia, a real treat for me as I visited the country last year. Moirin does find Bao, and their reunion is glorious, but the book wouldn't be very long if Moirin got her happy ending a quarter of the way in. Moirin is abducted by Vralian priests and taken far away from Bao. Vralia is pretty much Russia, and the priests there worship in a variation of the Greek Orthodox Church. The priests have heard of the shocking customs of the D'Angelines, and this bishop believes if he can "cure" Moirin of her sinful, and lustful ways, and make her a convert, his religion will spread far and wide - to become the only true religion.

By the time Moirin escapes, she realizes that Bao is no longer in the Tartar lands, and as Moirin has been kept in warded chains that drown out their connection, he has traveled in the opposite direction from where she is, and has become captive of the legendary and deadly Spider-Queen of Kurugiri (located approximately where Tajikistan is today). So Moirin obviously has to set off to rescue him, impossible a task as that may seem at first.

Jacqueline Carey's books are always a treat, and Naamah's Curse was no exception. Her language is rich and descriptive, and very evocative. Some readers may be a bit put off by the graphic descriptions of sex in her earlier trilogies, but Moirin, not being a courtesan, as her first protagonist, or a young, beautiful man, as her second protagonist, does not have nearly as much sex and the books are amazing fantasy adventures that I would recommend to anyone. If you've never tried Carey's books, and are curious, I would recommend either starting at the beginning of this trilogy - with Naamah's Kiss, or going back to the very beginning and reading Kushiel's Dart (probably still her best book).

Sunday, 4 July 2010

58: "Hush, Hush" by Becca Fitzpatrick

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Page count: 400 pages
Date begun: June 10, 2010
Date finished: June 11, 2010

Hush, Hush has an absolutely gorgeous cover. It drew me in, it intrigued me, it convinced me that I had to read the book. Sadly, it is a poor imitation of another book with a gorgeous cover that enticed me a few years ago, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. I will freely admit that I'm still not entirely sure what made me read and re-read the first three Twilight-novels like an addict in frantic need of a crack-fix (I suspect there may be something soaked into the pages that makes your judgement weaken), but nonetheless, my inner fourteen-year-old took control, and I was hooked. So very hooked. Until Breaking Dawn came out, and I was cured. There are limits to how much I will suspend my critical faculties.

Hush, Hush is the story of Nora Grey, whose father was mysteriously killed a year or so back, and whose mother is mostly absent as she has to work lots to support them. Nora is sensible and studious, and has a bitchy friend who seems not to actually like her very much. I was never entirely sure why Nora and Vee were friends, but judging from her other actions in this book, Nora is just a sucker for punishment. One day, Nora is unexpectedly partnered with the new and mysterious kid in school, Patch Cipriano, in biology. He is in turns enigmatic, rude and downright threatening, and while Nora tries to get her biology teacher to let her switch places, she has no such luck. Nora is both attracted to and slightly scared by Patch, and things start getting weird and dangerous, and Nora is not entirely sure she isn't losing her mind. It suddenly seems like she's being stalked, she keeps having what appear to be strange hallucinations and near death experiences, new slightly-ominous dudes transfer to her school, and everything seems to circle back to the mysteries surrounding Patch.

Nora was an annoying, inconsistently written character. She is calm and sensible one moment, and TSTL (too stupid to live) the next. While supposedly smart and independent, she kept making some idiotic choices. Time and time again. Patch was actually a genuinely intriguing anti-hero, once more was revealed about him. Nora is a complete twit for continuing to seek him out, especially after it's been revealed to her by more than one person, Patch included, that he is really dangerous for her to be around. That's not his fault though, and in another story, he could probably have been quite cool.

As well as the obvious likenesses to Twilight, this book reminded me of another angel love triangle book I read and reviewed some months ago, Fallen. Both books are derivative of Meyer's book, and while I will freely admit that I understand why so many people hate and are disturbed by the Twilight-saga, I found the books very entertaining ( the fourth one is hugely entertaining in an entirely different way), and they continue to be a guilty pleasure of mine. Sadly, this also leads to a lot of inferior attempts by other writers to become the next Stephenie Meyer, of which this, and Fallen, are examples. They are not awful, I finished both books, but neither delivered what their lovely covers promised.

57: "A Kiss in Time" by Alex Flinn

Publisher: HarperTeen
Page count: 400 pages
Date begun: June 9th, 2010
Date finished: June 10th, 2010

Yet another fairy tale retelling, this one a modernised take on Sleeping Beauty. Talia is a spoiled and bored princess who since she was old enough to understand what people said to her, has been told that she must avoid spindles, because of a spell placed on her during her christening. Talia doesn't actually know what a spindle is, as all such things have been banned from the country, but on her sixteenth birthday, as she is wandering through the palace trying on dresses to find the perfect one for her birthday ball, and she finds an old lady who lets her play with her interesting spinning device - and just like that, Talia and the entire kingdom of Euphrasia (right next to Belgium) fall asleep and the country disappears off the map.

Three hundred years later, spoiled and bored American teenager Jack is on a three week, all expenses paid tour of Europe. Of course, he doesn't actually appreciate how lucky this makes him, and mainly wants to go back home. He and his friend escape from the scheduled tour and when looking for a beach, fight their way through the thick hedge surrounding Euphrasia, and find the royal palace instead. Jack finds the sleeping princess, and is struck with the overwhelming urge to kiss her - even though in real life, this would be a massively creepy and inappropriate thing to do. His kiss wakes Talia, and as the spell specified that only true love's kiss could wake her, Talia deduces that the oddly dressed gentleman must be her true love, whether he wants to be or not.

The rest of the kingdom also wake up, and Talia's parents are not exactly happy, realizing that their kingdom is 300 years behind the times. They blame Talia, who is understandably a bit put out, as the spell was clearly inescapable, and she would have had an easier time avoiding spindles in the first place if she'd actually been shown what one looked like. She forces Jack to take her with him, and soon they are on their way back to the US. Jack wants to bring Talia mainly to piss off his parents, who he feels do not care for him and are never there for him, and Talia just wants to see the world, after having been extremely sheltered for the first sixteen years of her life.

Both the protagonists start out as quite unlikeable, spoiled and self-centered, but over the course of the story, they force each other to view the world in different ways. Jack introduces Talia to modern technology, airplanes, cell phones and hot dogs, while Talia, from a time where modern technology couldn't effectively make it perfectly possible to get through life without actually ever talking to anyone else, shows Jack that by listening to the people around him, and maybe talking to them instead of shutting them out, he may learn something, and possibly sort out some of the things that have frustrated and annoyed him.

I got A Kiss in Time because I absolutely loved Alex Flinn's modernised take on Beauty and the Beast in Beastly (coming soon to a cinema near you in what looks like a not very good adaptation starring yer-girl out of High School Musical and yer-man out of that Alex Ryder-movie Stormbreaker that no one ever remembers). While I didn't in any way dislike A Kiss in Time, it was nowhere near as good, and struggles a bit to make the story plausible. The change in the characters happens a little bit too fast, and a little too neatly, for it to be entirely satisfying. But it was by no means bad, and a more than adequate way to spend a few hours.

56: "The Book of A Thousand Days" by Shannon Hale

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Page count: 320 pages
Date begun: June 7th, 2010
Date finished: June 8th, 2010

The Book of a Thousand Days is a retelling of the Grimm fairytale Maid Maleen, set in a world inspired by medieval Mongolia. Dashti is a young maid who is bricked into a tower with the Lady Saren, who is being punished by her father because she refused to marry the suitor he picked for her, Lord Khasar. Lady Saren has to stay in the tower for seven years, or until she relents. There is food placed in the basement for them, and ample provisions, but no door or windows in the tower, only a small hatch for disposing of their waste.

Dashti keeps a journal of their days in the tower, Lady Saren cannot even read or write. She is timid and sullen and eats far too much. While Dashti at first is amazed at the amount of food they have, it quickly becomes clear that with the rats in the basement and the quantities Lady Saren eats, they will never survive for a full seven years. Both of Lady Saren's suitors show up outside the tower, the cruel Lord Khasar to taunt and threaten them, and the kind Khan Tegus, who has never actually seen Lady Saren, only corresponded with her in letters. Saren is too scared to talk to either man, and makes Dashti do it for her. Tegus helps the women by giving them a cat, who manages to keep the rat population down, while Khasar throws fire into their hatch and nearly kills them.

After about two and a half years, their food has nearly run out, and Dashti realizes that they must try to escape, or they will starve to death. Since the rats have loosened the mortar in the basement, they managed to remove enough bricks to escape, and discover that everything around them, including the city Lady Saren's father ruled, has been razed to the ground by Khasar. They seek shelter in the neighboring country, ruled by Khan Tegus, and get work in the kitchen as scullery maids. Khan Tegus believes the Lady Saren is dead, and is set to marry another, to cement his alliance against the evil Khasar, who is determined to conquer all the countries in the area.

Unlike in the original fairytale, where the noble maiden herself is the smart and resourceful one, the heroine of the tale here is the servant. Lady Saren is weak, and scared, and fairly useless throughout the story, and makes Dasthi do everything for her, including talking to her suitors. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that she was never treated well by her family, and may be a bit simple, but she was still frustratingly whiny, and I wanted someone to slap some sense into her several times throughout the book. Dasthi was raised on the plains, and is a "mucker", a kind of healer who can sing away aches, pains and even help with injuries. When a friend of Khan Tegus is hurt, she is called in to help, and once it's discovered that she can read and write, she is promoted from scullery maid to scribe, and gets to spend much more time around Tegus, who she has fallen helplessly in love with.

Khan Tegus is nice, and honourable and everything the prince in a fairytale should be. He feels guilty that he couldn't do more to save the Lady Saren, who he believes died when Khasar destroyed her father's kingdom. He does not love his betrothed, but will marry her for the sake of his people, to strenghten their forces against the evil man threatening them. Lord Khasar is a cruel and evil man, and a very convincing villain. Lady Saren finally tells Dashti why she is so scared of him, and why she refused to marry him, and it suddenly does not seem so implausible that someone would choose seven years of imprisonment in a light-less tower rather than marry him. Obviously, this secret is what is needed to defeat him as well, and Dasthi not only saves her mistress and her beloved Khan, but the kingdom and everyone in it.

The Book of a Thousand Days was a lovely, little story, with a very sensible and brave heroine. After travelling in Mongolia last summer, it was a lovely surprise to me that this book was set in an are so obviously modeled on it, something I had no knowledge of when I bought the book. The different customs and traditions added an exotic element to the story, which made it even better. I highly recommend the book to anyone who likes fairy tales.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Not dead, just lazy

I couldn't help but notice, when I logged onto the blog today, that I have not posted anything since the beginning of June. It may seem as if I haven't read anything at all in the last month, but anyone who's ever met me knows that I would actually have to be dead to stop reading. I've read lots, as a matter of fact. Having counted, I read 13 books, and re-read one in June, I just haven't blogged about them.

At first I was busy finishing the year at my school, and clearing out my desk and getting ready to move to a new work place in August. Then my husband and I went to Dublin on holiday, and once I fell out of the habit of blogging every book, it was so very easy to not start up again. I was very determined that I was NOT going to stop blogging just because I completed the Cannonball Challenge for this year. Hence there will be rather a lot of posts coming, with reviews of many of the books I read in June. For those of you who actually still check this blog occasionally, and possibly even follow it. Now, won't that be exciting?

My big plans for this summer are to learn to drive (have had one lesson so far - very scary - and I suspect it's going to take many lessons and rather a lot of money before I have my license), and read even more than I did last summer. I'm currently spending a lot of time watching my husband play Red Dead Redemption, which is also fun. I will also endeavour to keep blogging, a bit more regularly for the rest of the summer.