The Clasp by Sloane Crosley These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

YA Book Club: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Monday, March 30, 2015

Publisher: Orion
Format: Kindle e-book
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers. To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change. Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control. But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

I rarely read fantasy books. I used to wish I was more well-rounded in what I read but since these days most of my reading is done on the train to and from work I’ve learnt to be kinder to myself. Basically, the commute is horrible so my time reading is an escape. I am a creature of habit and prefer to escape to the wonderful shores of Contemporary-land (be it YA or adult 'popular fiction'). However, I keep up with Tracey’s blog and saw the YA book club choice was Red Queen. Just going by the title I thought it might be something to do with Alice in Wonderland, which isn’t actually a favourite of mine but I was a little bit intrigued, so still took a look at Goodreads. I saw the Fantasy tag, did a mental 'meh', but scorlled down to the reviews nevertheless. I'll always be curious about books with high ratings. Anyway, I saw someone earlier up the list liken Red Queen to Game of Thrones meets X-Men. Well, that did it. I quickly shut down Goodreads so I wouldn't encounter any spoilers and sped on over to Amazon to get myself a copy. I started reading it on the train the next day and was quickly absorbed by the story. This book is SUPERB!

I’m finding it difficult to write coherent reviews at the moment (hence the lack of posting recently). I'm not sure why - just stuck in a rut I guess. Anyway, I’ll just list the reasons why I thought this book was superb:

  • Excellent world building. You really felt for the Reds and even though people had ‘powers’, it wasn’t too far-fetched.
  • The pacing was on point and the writing was tight. You could tell Victoria Aveyard had spent a long time plotting and getting everything near enough perfect. 
  • The characters were memorable. Mare was a great heroine – the perfect mix of a conflicted young woman with a heart for social justice. I loved the Cersei like Elara and the princes Maven and Cal and Farley.
  • All the secrets and deception and drama. I thought I knew what was going on, and ultimately I was right, but how we got there was a ride and a half. 
  • Nobody was wholly 'good' or 'bad', which always makes for a much for exciting story. 

Finally, just a word about the inevitable adaptation. I see the film rights have been optioned. I think it will make an ok film. However, it would be an even better TV series. Come on people of Hollywoodland – enough of the YA films. TV is where its at! The problem with these YA adaptations, particularly the fantasy/dystopian flicks, is they try and spread books that are often in the first person, with a lot of introspection and teen angst, over three films and that doesn’t work. It becomes very watered down and flat. However, TV allows for these sorts of issues to be ironed out. It’s not a coincidence that The 100 has been renewed.

Overall, I’m so glad I took a chance on this book and I now cannot wait for the sequel. If you're like me (i.e someone who doesn’t really read outside of contemporary) I think this will appeal to you. Super duper hardcore fantasy readers – I’ll be interested to see what you make of this one.

Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella

Monday, March 9, 2015

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods. A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.
As I've said a few times on this blog, I enjoy reading these reinterpretations of Greek myths, so when I was browsing Netgalley and saw Helen of Sparta I just had to request it. I'm glad to report I was not disappointed and I really liked Helen of Sparta. I tend to have set reading times - the commute and bedtime - and rarely break habit but I actually sat down and finished this book last Saturday afternoon.

"I will be your father figure ..." I could not stop this song from playing over and over in my head whilst reading this book. Sometimes it was hard to believe or appreciate the Helen and Theseus romance due to the huge age gap. Yes, it was a different time and yes, Theseus didn't look his age but I still found the song creeping into my mind. I appreciate Amalia Carosella's ageing of the younger characters so that it wasn't really creepy but it was still...awkward. At times. However, certainly not awkward enough to stop me reading because as I said before, I raced through this book!

All of the characters were well written and I liked that the gods and godesses turned up now and then - it's always more fun that way. I loved the showcase of interesting women in a time that didn't necessarily appreciate women. We had Aethra who was as good a mother-in-law as you could ever want and also a high priestess who commanded respect. Then there was Helen's mother, Leda, who was still smarting from her encounters with Zeus (quite rightly?!) and unfortunately she took this out on Helen. There has to be a villainess but I liked the fact Amalia Carosella let us know the reasoning behind Leda's spitefulness. We also get to meet Athena briefly, which is always a treat. Finally, there's Helen and I definitely think Amalia Carosella achieved her goal of showing Helen as more than just 'the face that launched a thousand ships'. I sympathised with her greatly.

Helen of Sparta was well written - an easy read (considering the enormity of tackling this myth ) without being too simplistic. I'm no expert in Greek mythology or classical civilisation but it is obvious Amalia Carosella knows her stuff. There were some good action scenes and this book was certainly more than just a romance. However, it took a while to get used to the switching back and forth from first person to third person. Personally, I think it would have been just as effective if it had all been in the third person but the first person wasn't distracting. I read a lot of YA, which is often written in the first person, so it didn't bother me too much.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I really, really hope a sequel is in the works given the ending! If you like Greek mythology, retellings, or May-December romances (!) I would highly recommend Helen of Sparta.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Books of ALL TIME...well the past 3 years

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is: Top Ten Books I Would Classify as ALL TIME (like Kanye ALL TIME) FAVOURITE BOOKS from the Past 3 Years. I can't really tell you why I love these books other than the fact I believe they all have that extra bit of magic. 

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn - I don't really need to add an explanation, do I? You either loved it or hated it. 

WINGER by Andrew Smith - Ryan Dean was such a memorable character and the ending really catapulted this one into the favourite books of ALL TIME archive. 

TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME by Carol Rifka Burton - This book was extremely sad but very well written and atmospheric. There didn't even need to be a playlist in the back, you could just feel the soundtrack and the vibe - for want of a better word. 

THE BOOK OF BROKEN HEARTS by Sarah Ockler - As I said in my review, I don't know if this book won any awards but it should've done! Such a difficult subject matter dealt with warmth and humour and filled with unforgettable characters. 

THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion - The idea behind the book is fairly simple but it just goes to show that the characters really turn a good book into a great book. Don is tied with Ryan Dean on this list for favourite character of ALL TIME (or the past 3 years anyway). 

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell This book came along at just the right time. We all needed Fangirl, didn't we? We all needed Cather and Wren and Levi and Reagan and fan fiction. Oh the days of fan fiction - I was well into the Harry Potter fan fiction way back when although I didn't write any, just beta'd. 

YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler & BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey - Of course I had to include Amy & Tina. We all kind of look up to them now, don't we? Jam packed with advice for all of us lost twentysomethings (or thirty and fortysomethings. I'm sure you fiftysomethings have it all figured out now, right? Please tell me you have!)

FLAT-OUT CELESTE by Jessica Park - Again, the characters make this book. Celeste is really unique for a YA/NA character. I'd urge all contemporary fans (and anyone who's wary of contemporary) to give this book a go - even if you haven't read Flat-Out Love

CRAZY RICH ASIANS by Kevin Kwan - I've said it many times - I love my gossip sites. This book is scandalous and hilarious! I'll have to read it again before I go to Asia next year. No I haven't booked a ticket yet but maybe if I write it out loud, I'll actually do it. Speak (or write) your wishes into existence and all that jazz. 

ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes - I had this on my Kindle for ages - maybe even a year - but didn't read it because I didn't have high expectations. I don't know why but I am glad to say I was proved wrong. This book was perfect. Please read it if you haven't. Oh and for those who have read it - what do you think of the casting? Rather promising eh?!