31 Mar 2015

Top Ten Books Recently Added to My To Read List

Top Ten Tuesday is an original blog hop meme created by The Broke and The Bookish. Each week they post a Top Ten list and invite other book bloggers to answer. If you've participated, feel free to comment with a link to your own #TopTenTuesday so I can check out yours! 


Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

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Synopsis (from GR): Without telling her family, Elyria takes a one-way flight to New Zealand, abruptly leaving her stable but unfulfilling life in Manhattan. As her husband scrambles to figure out what happened to her, Elyria hurtles into the unknown, testing fate by hitchhiking, tacitly being swept into the lives of strangers, and sleeping in fields, forests, and public parks.  Her risky and often surreal encounters with the people and wildlife of New Zealand propel Elyria deeper into her deteriorating mind. Haunted by her sister’s death and consumed by an inner violence, her growing rage remains so expertly concealed that those who meet her sense nothing unwell. This discord between her inner and outer reality leads her to another obsession: If her truest self is invisible and unknowable to others, is she even alive?

 Is Nobody is Ever Missing the new Gone Girl? From the blurb, Elyria sounds like she has a few things in common with Amy Dunne. Having seen a tweet by Joss Whedon recommending it,
I immediately added it to the top of my TR list. Whedon writes strong, kickass females, and while I have an issue with the way some of the female characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were written (Buffy's attempted rape, the effects of which were never discussed + the implication that Buffy was in some kind of romantic relationship with the man who attempted to rape her; Tara being killed in order to further Willow's story line; Cordelia's entire arc in season four of Angel... but I'm getting away from the point of this post), he was still miles ahead of the rest of the pack in the late 90s and early 00s. Fingers crossed that Elyria is everything I'm hoping she is!

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling

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Synopsis (from GR): In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, VERY GOOD LIVES presents J.K. Rowling's words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life. How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?
Drawing  from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world famous author addresses some of life's most important questions with acuity and emotional force.

This isn't really recently added, it's been on my TR list since it was announced, but J.K. Rowling is QUEEN. Like most twenty-somethings who love to read, Harry Potter is what really got me to love reading. It gave me a life-long love for all things fantastical and supernatural and, more importantly, helped build the foundation of the person I am today. I find Rowling herself inspirational - she literally hit rock bottom and still refused to give up hope - and fascinating, so I cannot WAIT to get my hands on this one. 

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

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Synopsis (from GR):  Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised. With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.
I actually found out about this book from a #TTT done a few weeks ago. I am actually quite excited about this book, it sounds like something right up my alley. It sounds like something fluffy and cute, the kind of book you like to curl up in bed with on a rainy day. I know there's currently a trend of comparing contemporary YA books to something written by John Green or Rainbow Rowell - or if you're All the Bright Things, both - but I kind of got Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Fangirl vibes from this one. Speaking of books being compared to Green and Rowell's work...

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

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Synopsis (from GR): John Green's The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park in this beautifully written, incredibly honest, and emotionally poignant novel. Born with cerebral palsy, Amy can't walk without a walker, talk without a voice box, or even fully control her facial expressions. Plagued by obsessive-compulsive disorder, Matthew is consumed with repeated thoughts, neurotic rituals, and crippling fear. Both in desperate need of someone to help them reach out to the world, Amy and Matthew are more alike than either ever realized. When Amy decides to hire student aides to help her in her senior year at Coral Hills High School, these two teens are thrust into each other's lives. As they begin to spend time with each other, what started as a blossoming friendship eventually grows into something neither expected.

This actually makes me think of Wonder, but for older readers (although I can see where the comparisons from TFiOS and E&P come from). I'm liking the YA trend of featuring protagonists that don't usually get representation - diversity matters, and that's the main reason why I want to read this one.  

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka

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Synopsis (from GR): Late-20th-century Kraków, where every stone and every brick is dear, and whose walls, when gazed upon by Pope John Paul II, inspired a heartfelt tribute. But many years earlier, a young man courted the beautiful Anielica Hetmanska with the promise that his "golden hands" could renovate her family's cottage from the ground up. With patience and persistence, he won her heart, and while World War II frustrated their love, delayed their marriage, and wrought havoc and horror in everyone's lives, the mystery and beauty of Kraków finally became their own. Sadly, those remarkable years would become the barest whisper of a memory for Anielica when tragedy sends her home to her small village. Fifty years later, their granddaughter Beata journeys to the fairy-tale city that lit up her grandmother's eyes and illuminated her stories. However, Kraków in the new Poland is not the same city Anielica left behind. Caught between poverty and prosperity, history and modernity, and teeming with dissolute youth, 1990s Kraków is cold and unwelcoming. In league with her street-savvy cousin Irena and Magda, Irena's beautiful but troubled daughter, Beata struggles to find a foothold in a rapidly growing city.

I'm a history nerd, so I'm over the moon that this book is set in Poland during its brief independence in between the World Wars, and its struggle for survival during WWII, the entire Soviet era and its search for identity post-Cold War.  I love books that use the setting almost as another character, and this book appears to be one of them. I'm kind of hoping for something similar to The Book Thief - so, something that will rip my heart out, trample all over it, and politely pat me on the back as it shoves my barely-beating heart back in my chest, apparently.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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Synopsis (from GR): What if you weren’t the Chosen One? What if you’re not the one who’s so often the hero in YA fiction; who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you were 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 might just be the God of mountain lions...

I have to admit, I find Ness' writing a bit hit-and-miss. I adored the Chaos Walking trilogy, but found More Than This to be kind of underwhelming and lacking direction.  But the premise is really exciting! It kind of sounds like a fantasy or sci-fi novel masquerading as a contemporary YA novel. I need to figure out who to throw my money at.  

The Witch Hunter

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Synopsis (from GR): Elizabeth Grey is one of the king's best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. When she's accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to die at the stake. Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can track down the person who laid a deadly curse on him. As she's thrust into the world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and all-too-handsome healers, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.

I've been promised a book that's a cross between Graceling and Game of Thrones, so I'm not quite sure what to expect from this book? I absolutely hate it when publishers take two popular texts and uses them to sell a book, especially when they say something like, "this is a cross between The Hunger Games and America's Next Top Model!" and THE BOOK IGNORES ONE OF THOSE POINTS COMPLETELY (how can a so-called YA 'dystopian' miss the dystopia, you ask? Quite simple: it's just a YA romance using the flavour of the month to sell books. Seriously. Most YA dystopias DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT A DYSTOPIA IS. I spent Year 12 doing a cross study between Blade Runner and Brave New World, I know the genre well). I mostly hate the practice because I think you should let a book stand on it's own merits, and using other texts to set the tone of the book means that it's just asking for less-than-favourable comparisons.  So I'm a little skeptical... but the heroine sounds like a strong, resourceful, intelligent character and the blurb does actually sound interesting, so. On the TR pile it goes!

The Walls Around Us

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Synopsis (from GR): The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries. We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.

I have a feeling I'm going to finish this book and go, "WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ?" and sometimes those are the best books to read.

Go Set a Watchman

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Synopsis (from GR):  Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her. Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right.

 To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favourite novels. I remember repeatedly borrowing it from the high school library until I got my own copy. I find it incredibly moving and beautiful, and I'm unbelievably excited to revisit the Finches. 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do,
marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another. Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real - and deadly - consequences. 
 EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK MAKES ME WANT TO READ IT. The blurb, the setting, the promise of female characters reacting to extraordinary circumstances. I cannot put into words how much I want to read this.

24 Mar 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Love to Revisit From My Childhood/Teen Years

Top Ten Tuesday is an original blog hop meme created by The Broke and The Bookish. Each week they post a Top Ten list and invite other book bloggers to answer. If you've participated, feel free to comment with a link to your own #TopTenTuesday so I can check out yours!


1. Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty: Although I wasn't in the books target demographic at the time, I first read this when I was ten years old. It was my sister's copy, and I had borrowed it for a school assignment (I can't remember what the assignment was, I just remember her handing me a bunch of books and telling me to pick one). Although I didn't end up using it for my assignment, I enjoyed it so much that it was a book I kept re-borrowing, and eventually she just asked me if I wanted it. It is now SIGNED (which excites me greatly):

Fun fact: the cover model is Jaclyn's younger sister Nicola, who is also an author.
2.Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta: It was so hard picking a Marchetta for this, because this list would basically be all Marchetta if I didn't limit myself. I first read this in 2003, when I was twelve. I borrowed it from the school library and eventually bought my own copy. I reread Marchetta quite frequently (although usually its the Lumatere Chronicles, because I love me some fantasy and Marchetta + fantasy = the greatest combo ever). Marchetta writes so beautifully about identity and belonging, there was something about this that resonated strongly with me, even at twelve. Out of all her contemporary YA books, this one's probably my favourite.
3. Checkers by John Marsden: When I was in Year 5, my teacher read John Marsden's Staying Alive in Year 5, which sent me on a John Marsden kick. This one is the one that stuck with me. What's interesting about this is that we never know the identity of the narrator - she remains anonymous as she tells her story. It's really quite heartbreaking.
4. The King of Whatever by Kristen Murphy: I've lost count of how many times I borrowed this from the school library, there was something about it that really resonated with me. Unfortunately, this book is now out of print so the only way I'll be able to reread it is if I stumble across it in a second-hand bookshop.
5. Willow Tree and Olive by Irini Saviddes: The author was actually a teacher at my high school at some point before I attended, which explains why my school library had a copy of this book. It's a good book. It has Marchetta approval, okay? It's good. If you're planning on adding it to your TBR list, though - it's out of print. If you're based in Australia, congratulations! A lot of libraries have copies (I am a member of three library networks - because of reasons - and all of them have a copy). This book is heartbreaking. It will make you cry. It will rip out your heart, trample all over it, and then politely give it back to you.
6. The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan: I was in the series' target demographic (okay, maybe not - it was marketed towards boys - I'm pretty sure Evanlyn was only added at the request of the publisher) when this book was released in 2004. By the time the last book in the series was published in 2013, I was most definitely out of the series' target demographic. That doesn't stop me from admitting, I read it AND enjoyed it, although it's no Harry Potter. A lot of the characters are one-dimensional, the characters clearly fall into the categories of "good" and "bad" - there's no moral greyness. It's a children's book! You get what you're given.
7. Dreamer by Melaina Faranda: This series is interesting, if only because it doesn't follow a linear pattern. The second book in the series is more of a prequel, while other books kind of briefly include events from earlier books in its timeline, but because it's not the focus of the story being told, we kind of move past them. It's ingeniously done. I've been looking for my own copy of this series for AGES, but again: out of print. The perils of little-known Australian YA.
8. Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein: I'm pretty sure this was originally my brother's, and it somehow wound up in my possession. Erica Yurken puts on a lot of airs and graces but, I think you're supposed to see past her narration and realise that she's actually quite pretentious and not as talented (in certain areas) as she would have you believe. Despite being called an "unlikeable heroine," I found her actually quite likeable. Let's not talk about the film adaptation, though. That was a mess.
9. Monica Bloom by Nick Earls: I know I have a copy of this somewhere, but books tend to get lost among other books in my room (seriously, folks - I need a second bookcase). Earls is quite good at writing contemporary YA - it's realistic and relatable and actually seem to reflect the nightmare that is teenagerdom (I don't know about you, but I'm not that keen to relive high school). While this isn't my favourite book by Earls - that would be After Summer, it is the first book that I read by Earls, and for that reason is the one that made the list. 10. Blabber Mouth by Morris Gleitzman: Whenever somebody would ask my parents, "What should we get Kimberlea for Christmas/her birthday?" my parents would answer, "Oh, she likes reading - get her a book." My parents encouraged me to read anything that wasn't Harry Potter. Once I found Harry Potter, I didn't really read anything else, which concerned them. This was a gift from my uncle when I was... eight, I think. Although it's not the kind of book I'd read anymore (it's very comedic and very Australian), I would love to revisit it as I recall it being a favourite at the time.

23 Mar 2015

Reread 2015: Angelfall by Susan Ee

I read this book as a part of the Hodder & Stoughton Penryn & the End of Days reread

First published: 2011
Country of Origin: USA
Pages: 326
Format: Paperback | Purchased

I don't know what to say about this book that hasn't been said already. I first read the book back in 2012, just after it started taking the GR YA community by storm. As a general rule, I don't read self-published books, so I was really surprised - and intrigued - to see a self-published book making so many waves. After seeing a few reviews state it was a worthy successor to The Hunger Games, I thought I'd give it a try. And now look! I'm participating in a reread and eagerly awaiting the final book in the trilogy.

I first read Angelfall back in 2012. Although it had been making waves in the GR YA community, it was self-published, and I am the kind of book snob who is reluctant to read self-published books. I think that the fact it was self-published works in the book's favour, though - a lot of charm would have been lost had it been published by a big publishing house first.

 I think what mostly stood out for me was the heroine, Penryn Young. Penryn's a seventeen-year-old girl who has shouldered her family's responsibilities: her younger sister, Paige, is a paraplegic, and their mother is schizophrenic. Their father isn't in the picture. While Penryn is trying to help her family escape, she witnesses an angel (Raffe) being attacked by five others and helps him fight them off. This is what kickstarts the story: it is Penryn helping Raffe that causes one of the five attackers to kidnap Paige. Penryn convinces a very reluctant Raffe to help her get Paige back.  Unlike a lot of YA writers who write strong female protagonists, Ee didn't feel the need to make Penryn disparage other females for being feminine or different to her. Penryn is, in a lot of ways, like Katniss Everdeen - she is cold and pragmatic and a little naive about the world. I also remembered I was a fan of the dialogue between Penryn and Raffe - it's witty, and funny, and occasionally heart-wrenching. I liked the fact that even though there was a hint of romance, it wasn't the focal point of the book: this story was about Penryn and the lengths she would go to for her family. Penryn knew what her priorities were, and she was not going to let herself be distracted from them. To which I say to Ee: thank you. Romance is all fun and good, but a girl's - or woman's - story should not revolve around a love interest.

End of Days is being published soon, and I wanted to refresh my memory, so I took part in the H&S reread. So many times I'll be reading a book in a series (well, trilogy - let's be real here, publishing houses are mostly pumping out trilogies when it comes to fantasy + dystopian YA) and haven't bothered to reread the books, so I get a little confused with who's who and what's going on.

Once again, I found myself utterly enthralled with this story. I've been reading it so slowly, partly because I wanted to read along with the group (I'm pretty sure I failed), and partly because I wanted to make sure I had enough free time set aside - I knew I would get sucked in and want to keep reading, and I'd spend all day thinking about this book even when I wasn't reading it. And when you're doing that during a reread my friends, that is a sign of a good book.

Absolutely. This is a series that can be read again and again.

20 Mar 2015

Austen Adaptations!

I've talked about the trend of adapting classic literature into webseries before. It's a trend that was started by Pemberley Digital with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and while I've been enjoying adaptations of everything from Shakespeare plays to 19th century children's literature, it's really the Austen adaptations that get my attention. With Project Dashwood recently hitting computer screens everywhere, I thought I'd talk about some of the currently airing Austen adaptations.

Elinor & Marianne Take Barton

Elinor & Marianne Take Barton is a production by students at the University of Warwick in England. I believe the webseries received funding from the Lord Roots Memorial Fund, but it still has fairly low production values. Based on Austen's Sense and Sensibility, the series reimagines Marianne as a literature student in her first year at university. I won't spoil it for you, but the writing team have come up with some interesting ways of translating the novel in a way that works for the 21st century. Rather than mirror the book, they come up with twists that produce a similar emotional response and hit the emotional beats of a novel. Relationships have been changed, and it really doesn't follow the storyline at all (I think that the show's only going to have around 32 episodes, which meant they really had to compress everything into a short time-frame). The early episodes are... interesting. You can really see the show trying to find it's own voice. It borrows a little from LBD with costume theatre, but that doesn't make an appearance beyond the first episode, from memory. The acting... there's a lot of hand-acting going on, to the point where I find it distracting. My drama teacher was constantly calling us out on the way we use our hands when acting (long story short: a) it takes a character's power away and b) it's distracting the audience from what you're saying), so now I get frustrated with the amount of times I see Marianne (and to a lesser extent, Elinor) wave her hands around.  Despite these criticisms, I do like the show. I am definitely not hate-watching it. It is incredibly well-written, and my frustrations with hand-acting aside, is well-acted. My favourite character in this series is, without doubt, Charlotte Palmer. While she is, admittedly, the kind of character you can only take in small doses, Sophia Pardon does a wonderful job of portraying a character that is true to the novel while really making it her own. I'm kind of sad that Margaret got omitted from this adaptation, but I understand why it was done. Episodes air every Friday at 5PM BST.

Project Dashwood

Another adaptation of Sense and Sensibility! This one has Margaret as the main character/narrator, which I found to be an interesting choice, given that she's missing from so much of the action in Sense and Sensibility. Really. I have friends who have read S&S and think there are only two Dashwood sisters. She really doesn't add much to the original narrative. In this version, Margaret is interested in film, and so decides it might be a good idea to try her hand at vlogging. I think the idea is that we get to see Elinor & Marianne's life through Margaret's eyes. The much-awaited adaptation only began airing three weeks ago, so I'm reluctant to critique it with so few episodes aired. I like what I've seen so far - I think Marianne and Elinor are very true to their book counterparts, and I like this take on Margaret. Co-creator Jessamyn Leigh made a scene-stealing appearance as Fran Dashwood, and I'm excited to meet the rest of the characters! Videos air Wednesday and Saturday.

From Mansfield With Love

From Mansfield With Love is an adaptation of Austen's Mansfield Park. After Frankie's brother Will - who is in the Navy - sends Frankie a video camera for Christmas, Frankie begins vlogging to show him her life at Mansfield Park. Produced by Foot in the Door Theatre, it has reasonably decent production values - the production values are not on par with say, Emma Approved or The Misselthwaite Archives, but the videos don't look entirely DIY, either. Whether this is because of clever filming or having some kind of budget as it's produced by a community theatre company, I don't know (I'm a regular participant in community theatre. Budgets for shows aren't THAT big). I like their take on Frankie! I like the idea that Frankie would be quiet and awkward around people she doesn't know well, and super snarky and outspoken with people she felt comfortable around (mostly because - I'm like that. I like seeing someone like me, someone I can relate to, on film. We all want to be the Lizzie Bennets and Emma Woodhouses of the world, but we're not. Some of us need to be the Frankie Prices). Given that Fanny Price is Austen's most controversial character, and many hate her for her apparent doormat characteristics, it's a surprising choice to adapt Mansfield Park, but not an unwelcome one. The producers are planning for the show to have 100 episodes and air until November 2015, so we're currently a little over quarter of the way through the show. Episodes air every Wednesday & Sunday at 5pm GMT.

Are you a fan of webseries? Do you think there's any Austen adaptation I've missed? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @WhatKimReadNext!

18 Mar 2015

Wishlist Wednesday

Wishlist Wednesday is a book blog hop hosted by Pen to Paper. You post about one book that's on your wishlist (whether it's been on there for awhile or has just been added) and you just can't wait to get it on your shelf.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Release Date: 24th February 2015

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Kell is one of the last Travelers--magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes--as such, he can choose where he lands. There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there's Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne--a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London...but no one speaks of that now.Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see--a dangerous hobby, and one that has set him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces him to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure. But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive--and that is proving trickier than they hoped.
 I stumbled across this book on GoodReads late last year, and have been eagerly awaiting its publication ever since. Naturally, by the time the actual publication date rolled around, it had completely slipped my mind. I have so many books stacked up on my bedside table that I'm banning myself from buying more books until they're read. This sounds right up my alley, though - a little magic, a little time travelling, a little history, multiple Londons. Colour me excited!

17 Mar 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my AUTUMN TBR List

So, the original prompt was Top 10 Books on my Spring TBR List, but here in the southern hemisphere, spring's a good six months away. So, without further ado: the Top 10 Books on my Autumn TBR List!

12 Mar 2015

Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday is a monthly feature where I highlight an older book, whether that be a childhood favourite that brings back memories or a hidden gem that I feel deserves some recognition.

 For the first Throwback Thursday, I thought I'd talk about the book that made me love reading: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I don't think I really need to add a synopsis, but just in case:

Synopsis (from GR):
Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy. He lives with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley, who make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. Then Harry starts receiving mysterious letters and his life is changed for ever. He is whisked away by a beetle-eyed giant of a man and enrolled in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The reason: Harry Potter is a wizard!
 I come from a family of readers. We gift each other books we love for birthdays and Christmas, we recommend books to each other and generally shove books in each others faces. According to my mum, I could read with a bit of help by the time I was three, and by the time I started school I could read on my own. However, I don't think I'd love reading as much as I do if it weren't for Harry Potter. I found out about the series after the release of Goblet of Fire was featured on the news, and I went to the school library to hunt down a copy the next day. The librarian kindly informed me it was the fourth book in the series and gave me the first instead, and the rest - as they say - is history. I was constantly rereading the series: as soon as I finished the most recently published book, I would start reading Philosopher's Stone again.  At one stage, I was able to recite paragraphs from memory. It genuinely excites me that a new generation is discovering these books because they are magical.

11 Mar 2015

Wishlist Wednesday

Wishlist Wednesday is a book blog hop hosted by Pen to Paper. You post about one book that's on your wishlist (whether it's been on there for awhile or has just been added) and you just can't wait to get it on your shelf.

 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Folio Society Edition)

Synopsis (from the Folio Society):

One of the world’s favourite books, Pride and Prejudice has long been regarded as a classic romance. In Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Jane Austen created the greatest pair of sparring lovers since Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick. This sparkling comedy of manners features an inimitable cast of characters including the obsequious Mr Collins, the autocratic Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Mrs Bennet, the most embarrassing mother in literature.
‘I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.’ One of the world’s favourite books, Pride and Prejudice has long been regarded as a classic romance. In Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Jane Austen created the greatest pair of sparring lovers since Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick. This sparkling comedy of manners features an inimitable cast of characters including the obsequious Mr Collins, the autocratic Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Mrs Bennet, the most embarrassing mother in literature. The award-winning Balbusso twins have contributed eight exquisite illustrations to this edition, as well as a striking cover design. The novel’s celebrated first line is blocked in gold on the slipcase. In a new introduction, the author Sebastian Faulks praises ‘a novel of almost boundless wit and charm that has withstood film and television adaptations and attempts to define it as a “fairy tale” or a “rom-com”.’ 

 Emma by Jane Austen (Folio Society Edition)

Synopsis (from the Folio Society):

‘I am going to take a heroine whom nobody but myself will much like,’ wrote Jane Austen when beginning Emma in January 1814. In this she was proved wrong. Pride and Prejudice may be her most famous novel, Persuasion her most deeply affecting, but for many, Emma is Austen’s best novel; the most perfectly balanced between comedy and insight, sparkle and depth. Witty, headstrong Emma Woodhouse, more interested in making matches for others than falling in love herself, is a wholly delightful heroine. The secondary characters – the impressionable Harriet, egotistical Mr Elton and Emma’s gentle, hypochondriac father – are just as unforgettable.
Appearing in 1815, Emma was Jane Austen’s fourth published novel, written in a burst of confidence following the success of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. This Folio edition, published to celebrate the novel’s bicentenary, features a new introduction by Fay Weldon, whose Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen’s Fiction has become a classic introduction to Austen’s works. In it, Weldon describes how ‘a hint of success and a whiff of praise’ may have helped bring Austen to the peak of her powers as an artist. ‘In pleasing herself she wrote a truly modern novel fifty years in advance of its time, in which the writer acts, feels and thinks like her protagonist, and the disbelief of the reader is happily suspended.’ Sam Wolfe Connelly is a young American artist who captures the grace and elegance of the period, and the way in which the smallest gestures could have the greatest significance. This edition is presented in a metallic blue slipcase, with the novel’s famous first line blocked in gold type on the front cover.

 I'm a Jane Austen fanatic. I own multiple copies of all of her books, and in all honesty do not need another (two). Just look at these, though! These editions feature illustrations by the Balbusso twins (Pride and Prejudice) and Sam Wolfe Connolley (Emma) and are bound in a gorgeous metallic cloth. They also have embossed slipcases to match. I love the Folio Society's work - I own second hand copies of their editions of Jane Austen's Letters and The Brontës: A Life In Letters - and I cannot wait to get my hands on copies of these! It looks like The Folio Society is releasing an Austen series, so fingers crossed we get to see the rest of Austen's works getting this kind of treatment! Any bets as to what the next book in the series would be? I'm leaning towards Persuasion, although Sense and Sensibility is a popular option.

Speaking of the Brontës, the Folio Society has recently released some gorgeous editions of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. I think I've mentioned before that it is actually the much forgotten Anne who is my favourite Brontë, but I do love JE and WH very much. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights look to be part of a series, so I'd love to see Folio Society release some of the lesser known Brontë works. 

10 Mar 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books for Readers Who Like YA Fantasy

I would say that there's very few books on this last that most people haven't already read, but I've never been one to shy away from talking about my favourite books, so HERE WE GO:
1. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin: What's not to love about this duology? Fantasy novels have a tendency to model their worlds on medieval western Europe, or to borrow features from medieval European society. Not this one. Jemisin's story is inspired by ancient Egyptian society - so, goddesses of the afterlife, priests (ninja priests) who are given far too much power and have become corrupt, the concept of the soul - but also feels entirely of Jemisin's own creation. It revolves around the idea of a belief system that also kind of works as a medical system... it sounds strange, but it's not. What this means is that there's kind of an exploration of morals: is corruption of the soul the same as corrupted actions? If somebody does something monsterous with good intentions, are they corrupted? Who gets to decide what is good for all of humankind? You end up reading with this strange mix of fascination and HORROR. Also, if you're kind of sick of whitewashed literature: Jemisin's world is made of of PoC, and dark skin is considered to be a sign of superiority and demonstrates one's class. Those with lighter skin are seen as "tainted." In a genre that is overpopulated with white people (and whether that's because a lot of fantasy is based on medieval western Europe or because there's a belief that books featuring PoC won't sell as well as books featuring white people or because of something else entirely), it's eye-opening to see that inversion of privilege. Jemisin has put so much effort into her world-building: it's complex but clearly-defined. The rules are explained to the reader without a lot of info-dumping (Jemisin definitely has 'show don't tell' down pat) and everything about this book feels utterly genuine. I didn't want to walk away from this world.
2. The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker: I'm fascinated by mythology, so picking up this book was a no-brainer for me. Wecker deftly melds together Jewish and Arabic mythology and makes it her own. I thought that The Golem and the Djinni was going to be a fun book filled with fairytale magic and a little romance, but this book is actually more literary than the blurb would suggest. It raises philosophical questions, considers serious moral issues and explores the immigrant experience.
3.Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta Here's what I love about Marchetta's writing: she creates such believable characters. Her stories are always about finding one's identity, and Finnikin of the Rock - all of the Lumatere Chronicles, really - is about identity. We have the Lumaterans, who have lost their identity as a nation, and are trying to get back. There is Trevion, who has been imprisoned for ten years and is trying to re-establish his identity. There's Evanjalin, who's hiding her true identity in order to save her country, and Froi, who doesn't even know how to start finding his. Being Marchetta's first fantasy novel (she usually writes contemporary YA), you'd think she'd write less assuredly - but this is a tightly-plotted, intriguing novel filled with interesting, flawed, morally-grey characters. It is so much more than a fantasy novel. It looks at the impact of war and persecution, it discusses genocide, and it gives a voice to people who have had their homeland and identity stripped from them. You really do feel for the Lumaterans and their plight, this book is heartbreaking. It is, in a word, brilliant - and the series only gets better from here.
4.A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty: Admittedly, this book gets off to a slow start. I always recommend this book with some reservations, because I know that very few will persevere with it - but you should, because not only is the second half of this book jaw-droppingly awesome, but the second book in the trilogy will leave you reeling. I cannot WAIT for the release of the final book. There is so much going for this book, I don't even know where to start. It's set in Cambridge, England and the fictional Cello, and the chapters alternate between Madeleine and Elliot, our two protagonists. Moriarty is a pro at world-building, and she does it so subtly - you don't really realise you're being fed information about Cello - that is to say, you're getting clues in order to understand the greater plot. It's mostly done through excerpts from tourist guides, newspaper articles written by the Princesses and the letters between Elliot and Madeleine. While this book mostly details Elliot and Madeleine just going about their normal lives (probably why the book feels so slow for some readers), it actually leads to a greater plot at the end of the novel. The characters are also well-drawn - flawed but still likeable, dynamic and interesting.
5.The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: When The Raven Boys first came out, I assumed that it would be a book that I wouldn't like. Weary of the one-dimensional teenage girls in YA and fantasy lit - the ones who are shy and beautiful (but they think they're plain and unattractive, of course) and whose lives revolve around their love interest - I automatically dismissed it. Fast forward a year or so later, when one of my friends was raving about it: she convinced me to pick it up, and I have never looked back. Loosely based on a Welsh legend, there are so many mysteries going on, plotlines to follow and characters to keep track of (some would say too many, but I didn't think so). It's imaginative story-telling at it's best.
6.Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor: Remember a few paragraphs ago when I told you how much I loved mythology? This is a really great example of imaginative story-telling using angel & demon lore. Like, really great. What I loved most was Taylor's world building. Having just read Lauren Kate's Fallen before this and being incredibly underwhelmed, I was surprised by what Taylor delivered. She really makes use of the wealth of information at her disposal, turning it on its head and making it her own. Rather than serving up a hot guy with wings and a dark secret about their fall from grace, Taylor let me delve into the world of angels (and demons): their culture, their world... their wars. It was fascinating.
7. Angelfall by Susan Ee: Ahhh, the little book that could. I didn't love this one as much as I liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but that doesn't mean it's not 330 pages of angel-filled goodness. Penryn Young is one of my favourite female protagonists ever, and she's probably one of - if not the - best female voices in YA fiction right now. She comes across as authentic and real - you're never left scoffing, "yeah, right." She's resourceful and determined and a little prickly, but you never forget that she's a seventeen-year-old girl with vulnerabilities and fears. She's not a Mary Sue - she's a three-dimensional character and that's wonderful to see in a landscape of cardboard cutouts. This book is also technically a dystopia (world overrun with angels with their own agenda). Like Taylor, Ee takes angel lore and makes it her own, and she does so brilliantly. I cannot WAIT for the publication of the final novel in the trilogy.
8. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton: This book is more of a magical realism kind of book, and I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did. It is a story of love in all of its forms. Of familial love. Of maternal love. Of the love between two friends. Of lust. Of lovers who missed their moment. It is a story of loss, of wanting, of desire and obsession. Even though the story has its fantastical moments, there is something about that makes it so real and relatable. I was thinking about this book even when I wasn't reading it. Despite being the title character, Ava doesn't show up until about halfway through the book - we hear the stories of her grandmother and mother before hearing Ava's. Their lives are all intertwined, obviously, and it's beautiful to see how their stories come together. You'd think a book dealing with three generations of women means introducing a lot of characters that we don't get to spend a lot of time with - and you would think that they would be underdeveloped or caricatures. Somehow, Walton makes you feel like you know and understand these characters. A wonderful story filled with magic and whimsy and raw emotion.
9. The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski: This one kind of feels like a fantasy novel and a historical novel (admittedly, my knowledge of historical novels is limited and I may not be the best person to take advice from regarding this). Rutkoski has done an amazing job creating a culture - and while I still have some reservations about the world-building, it doesn't stop this book from being 100% AWESOME. Kestrel is also... an unexpected surprise. She's not a Katniss (a fighter) or a Hermione (knowledgeable) or a Bella (wet blanket, sits around waiting for someone to rescue her). She's strategic and cunning. She's street smart, rather than book smart. Another plus: no insta-love! For once, I didn't get "...and I saw him from across the room, and my heart started to beat faster." News flash: female heroines are more interesting than their love interests. Kestrel and Arin come from different social spheres, and they definitely clash when they first meet. Arin is especially dismissive of her, although for a slave, especially one with his attitude... he gets away with quite a bit. That's it. That's what I found most unrealistic about the book.
10. Graceling by Kristin Cashore: This is another book I recommend with reservations, if only because some of it sounds like a radical feminism pamphlet. Let me clear this up: radical feminism belongs in the trash. It gives feminists everywhere a bad name, it is geared towards white, middle/upper-class women and excludes transwomen, WoC and women from poor socio-economic backgrounds. Feminism is about celebrating womanhood, about giving women choices and bringing equality between genders (which means letting men in on the conversation, folks - you can't have gender equality while excluding an entire group of people). So listening to Katsa ridicule women from wearing dresses and having long hair, or talk about how marriage would take away her identity - I get it: these things aren't for her. However, these things are for some women, and it doesn't make those women any less strong or capable of kicking butt than Katsa. It just means that they do so in a different way. Looking down on a female for wearing floral prints does not make you better than her. Floral prints are not the source of gender inequality. I love the author's intent behind creating the character - creating an empowering female character for teenage girls - but it was pretty heavy-handed and Katsa became almost caricature-like. Having said that, I found it refreshing that Katsa refuses to apologise for being who she is. She is independent, determined and fierce. In many ways, she is a lot like Katniss Everdeen - she is cold, pragmatic and practical... and she also has a naive take on the world. The fantasy side of this series is great. The raging radical feminism is not.
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