Monday, 29 September 2014

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

Title: Dangerous Girls
Author: Abigail Haas
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication date: 1st August 2013
Pages: 388
Genres: YA/Contemporary/Mystery/Thriller/Crime
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed.

This review contains spoilers.

Elise is dead. And someone must pay.

Anna, her boyfriend Tate, best friend Elise and a group of close friends set off on a debaucherous Spring Break trip to Aruba. But paradise soon turns into a living nightmare when Elise is brutally murdered.

Soon Anna finds herself trapped in a foreign country and fighting for her freedom. As she awaits the judge's decree, it becomes clear that everyone is questioning her innocence. To the rest of the world, Anna isn't just guilty, but dangerous. As the court case unfolds the truth is about to come out, and it's more shocking than you could ever imagine...

Imagine how you would feel if someone threw a bucket full of ice cubes at you. What would your instant reaction be? Would you freeze, your mouth open mid-gasp? How would you feel? That's kind of how I feel right now, having turned the last page just a few moments ago. I feel numb, and here's why.

I'm conflicted. This book deserves one star, but at the same time it deserves five, and I've never experienced this dilemma before. On one hand, I only want to give it one star because I'm frustrated that I let a book, a few hundred pieces of paper, trick me. I'm frustrated that it resorted to trickery in the first place when it didn't need to - it was good enough without it. Some people might call it clever, and maybe it was. It was written in first person and yet the main character still managed to keep secrets from us, to persuade us to her way of thinking. But I also call it a quick exit. If you hadn't realised already, this is a 'whodunnit' book, and I guessed the killer halfway through. But, just like I do with every murder mystery I read, I thought, "No. It can't be," and I dropped my suspicion to focus on other characters. But I had been right the first time. It was true. And I'm irritated.

I'm not the author so I can't say who it definitely should have been, but in my opinion all fingers pointed at the murderer being Tate or Max, but not Anna. She saw her best friend and boyfriend in bed together which would be awful, of course, but to stab her best friend thirteen times because of it? It's possible but it's ridiculous. The lead up to the big reveal was over three-hundred pages long, the reveal being right at the end and lasting two or three pages. I wanted something more sinister, for it to have been anyone other than Anna, for it to have been down to someone's ulterior motive which we had yet to explore. Not just because she peered around a doorway at the wrong time.

But then on the other hand, I enjoyed a good 90% of this book. When Anna was in prison I felt sympathetic for her, and annoyed when people would 'blatantly lie' about her. I could feel her nervousness and apprehension over her future - freedom or twenty years in a prison cell - and I was rooting for her all the way. To me, Tate acted like a word which is more colourful than the one I'm going to use, which is simply 'idiot'. Most of the time, I thought he did it.

In order, here's a list of who I suspected and why.

AK - He kept taking photos of everything, which is innocent enough. But, thinking deeper, I started to wonder if he was setting the scene and had been doing so for a few months. Photos = evidence. Evidence which doesn't even come close to pointing at him.
Tate - He clearly had some kind of fixation on Elise and I guessed there was something going on with those two a long time before Anna discovered it for herself.
Elise - Yes, I suspected the victim herself. What if she'd committed suicide? That reveal would make for an... interesting ending. I didn't think about this one too much, and looking back it doesn't fit with the story anyway. It would have been discovered early-on.
Anna - This too was a fleeting thought. Reading the situation from her point of view meant we couldn't see it from a different angle. What she said, thought, and did was automatically justified. But her relationships with other people were odd enough for me to consider it, and the death of her mother could easily have sent her off the rails.
Max - He found her, and when the group first saw her body he said something along the lines of him not having touched her. I wasn't convinced.
Tate - Then I went back to Tate for the rest of the book until it was revealed, because the alibi - which he kept stressing was to protect Anna - seemed like it was more to protect him. Who knew what he was actually telling the police in questioning? For a long time I thought he was setting her up, but that turned out to be far from the truth.

So I liked that Dangerous Girls made me feel a range of different emotions, and I also liked that it shows we're all guilty for something and could easily look guilty for the murder of a friend or family member if innocent, off-hand remarks from the past were brought up. "If you go to that party, you're so dead" could suddenly mean something a whole lot more in the eyes of a detective. It could easily be twisted into something ice sharp, stripped of its original innocent meaning. It was an interesting concept to think about.

"Any one of us could be made to look a monster, with selective readings of our history."

But enough of the plot. What about the writing? I'll admit it did bore me for a while. I put it down after a few pages and, according to Goodreads, I left it for a week before trying again. But once you're pulled into the story, the writing style isn't exactly the main point of focus anymore. It's the trial. The suspects. Which brings me to my next point: more law and court cases in YA please. I always forget how interested I actually am in that kind of stuff.

I think I'll finish off this review by saying that I am thoroughly confused. Not about the plot, but about my own thoughts on the book. It's weird to like a character - or even a person you know in real life - only for them to turn out not to be the person you thought they were at all. This review might make it sound like I hated this book, but I didn't. I think I liked it, for the most part, but it's a book that messes with you. This is one of those books where you can't form your own opinion based on someone else's review - you have to try it for yourself and make your own mind up, because for every five-star review there's an entirely plausible one-star review. It's practically impossible to rate.
Thursday, 18 September 2014

City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

Title: The Mortal Instruments: City of Heavenly Fire
Author: Cassandra Clare
Published by: Walker Books
Publication date: 28th May 2014
Pages: 733
Genres: YA Fantasy/Paranormal/Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought.

Sebastian Morgenstern is on the move, systematically turning Shadowhunter against Shadowhunter. When one of the greatest betrayals of the Nephilim have ever known is revealed, Clary, Jace, Isabelle, Simon and Alec must flee - even if their journey takes them deep into the demon realms, where no Shadowhunter has set foot before, and from which no human being has ever returned. Love will be sacrificed and lives lost in the thrilling and long-awaited final instalment of the bestselling and acclaimed Mortal Instruments.

This review contains spoilers.

Just like all of the other books by Cassandra Clare, this book messed with me. I finished it, and now I don't know what to say or what to think. Speechless would be the correct word, so luckily my fingers are still adept for typing. Just about.

It's... a strange book. Good, but strange. I read the first five books last year, and read The Infernal Devices trilogy more recently. And now, I have read City of Heavenly Fire. It's widely known already, but I'll say it here too: it's a really good idea to read The Infernal Devices before City of Heavenly Fire. That trilogy plays a massive part in the final Mortal Instruments book, and without having read the trilogy first, a lot of the references, characters and other things would have been lost on me. Reading The Infernal Devices first makes the experience so much better.

So, I said it's strange, and here's why: Cassandra Clare gave us a happy ending. That hardly ever happens in YA books, and it's even rarer for the end of an entire series. It's exactly what I'd been hoping for, but now I'm conflicted and I almost wish she hadn't done it; that it had instead been tragic, with some kind of important death or something else. At least then we would have closure, but having all of our favourite people alive and well means they could come back in Clare's future books in years to come. I hate to say it but I don't know how willing I am to wait a few years, read her new Shadowhunter books, and continually have a voice in the back of my mind wondering whether Jace will pop up there or if this new person is a Lightwood. As excited as I am for Clare's new series about Shadowhunters I do think you can have too much of a good thing.

Despite that, the ending - and the rest of the book - was still a beautiful and long-awaited close to the series. This book wasn't perfect and it wasn't the most amazing thing I've read, even if it is by my absolute favourite author, but if you've read the rest of the series it is well worth reading. It carries the same humour and wit as the rest of the books, proven by the fact that...well, let's just say Jace brings a certain little something on a trip where bringing that little something would be the last thing on any normal person's mind. But at least they stayed safe. Ahem.

To the entire series I would like to say... ave atque vale.
Thanks to Seven Stories having a fantastic online shop full of signed stock, I managed to buy a signed copy of this book! I was so thankful as I hadn't been able to attend any of Clare's events. I highly recommend the Seven Stories online shop, as not only is the delivery quick and well protected, but they also have signed stock from some amazing big-name authors, and some of the proceeds from each book sold go to charity. I believe they have signed copies of Heir of Fire in right now!

EVENT REPORT: City of Heavenly Fire Launch Party, London UK
COVER REVEAL: City of Heavenly Fire
Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Emoji Book Tag

Anyone who made the mistake of following me on Twitter or giving me their phone number will know I love emojis. I use them all the time. I even own emoji stickers and I'm tempted to get an emoji cushion. So when Ebony at Daring Damsels tagged me in the emoji book tag, how could I say no?

The aim of the game is to use some of your most used or favourite emojis and match them up with a book. Simple!

Stella by Helen Eve

This book was absolute poop. Sorry. None of it made sense, I hated the characters, it was messy... I really didn't like any of it, and now, nearly a whole year after reading it, I still have no idea what that ending was all about. If you like reading rants you can read my review of Stella here because I'm pretty sure it qualifies. Also, how on earth does this book have a sequel?

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

YES. If you need a sign of how much I loved this book, I just went on Goodreads to grab the cover image for this blog post and when I scanned over the synopsis I clapped excitedly. I clapped. And that was just because of the synopsis, never mind the rest of the book.

A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson

This book is middle-grade and so sweet. It was the first book I read and reviewed this year and I'm so glad it made my bloggy year start nicely. It really exceeded my expectations and you can see my review here!

Magisterium: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

This was possibly the hugest disappointment of the year for me and you can see my rant review here. Whenever anyone mentions this book, my face perfectly resembles that emoji. Seriously. Did I read a different book from everyone else?

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

This book has featured on my blog quite a few times now, and with good reason, too. It might not look like it but IT'S SUCH A FUN BOOK. I highly recommend it and as soon as I saw this emoji I knew the perfect match was Monument 14.

I'm tagging Jack at The Book Stop because he uses emojis so often he practically is one, and Charli and Tori at To Another World because I wanted to add to their infinite tag pile. Sorry not sorry. ;) Thanks again Ebony for tagging me!

Friday, 12 September 2014

GUEST POST: A Writer's Life: Shed and Shoes...

Today I am honoured to be a part of the blog tour for The Castle, a new novel by the Queen of YA, Sophia Bennett. I read The Castle a couple of weeks ago and loved it, as I knew I would, and it's well worth a read if you're after some travel and adventure in this post-summer doom and gloom! 

If you want your own copy of The Castle or any of Sophia's other books (Threads, for example. They remain my favourites.) click here, and don't forget to check out the other blogs on this tour; there are some amazing blog posts around!

But now I'll pass you on to Sophia, who has decided to give you all a glimpse of her writing space, bookshelves, and beautiful bubblegum-scented shoes...

Hi Amber, thanks so much for hosting me today! I've talked a lot about writing my latest book recently, but as your readers may not have read my books yet, (I say 'yet' – we writers live in hope!), I thought I'd take the chance to tell them a little bit about me.

I'm just about to start my book tour (the physical one, as opposed to the blog one, which started last week) for The Castle. It's one of the great things about being a YA author – you get to meet students at schools all over the country, and find out about what they're reading and writing, as well as telling them a bit about your books.

I usually talk about a range of things – where I get my inspiration from, how I got started as a writer, how I spend my writing days and all sorts of other stuff – but if people ever meet me again afterwards, I can be sure they'll have remembered two things, and probably only those two.

My shoes, and my shed. So here's a little bit about those.

If I visit in the summer, these tend to be what I wear to schools: plastic Vivienne Westwood Melissas, which I got on sale on the internet, and are surprisingly comfortable, rainproof, and smell of bubblegum. Yes, bubblegum. A student at one of my talks pointed this out to me and it's true. I don't know why they do, but they do. 

Vivienne Westwood is a hero of mine and gets a mention in my first book, Threads, which is all about fashion, so it's always good to bring her into the conversation. Even if it does end up with me shoeless onstage, while my footwear is passed around the crowd for olfactory examination. Which often happens, though I do, of course, warn everyone that after I've been wearing those suckers for an hour or two, bubblegum is not the only thing they're going to smell of, necessarily. 

You don't need a pair of interestingly-scented plastic shoes to be a writer, but I'd say that it really, really helps to have a shed. 

I didn't have one to start with. I wrote the Threads series in a variety of local cafes and two local libraries. But by the time I came to write The Look, my fourth book, I was the proud owner of this shed in the bottom of the garden, and this is where I also wrote You Don't Know Me and The Castle. It's very similar to Candy Gourlay's writing shed in North London, and I do feel that one day they should meet. 

Here is a whistlestop tour of its loveliness. 

This is my nearest set of bookshelves, where I store a copy of each of my books in each language it comes out in (on the second shelf, and a third of the third), with the spares stored higgledy-piggledy on top. I've also got lots of my favourite detective stories here, my dictionaries and thesauruses, and a lot of the fiction and non-fiction that's inspired me. Skellig's there, and Noel Streatfeild, Harry Potter and Cressida Cowell, PG Wodehouse and Stargirl, by Gerry Spinelli. My tastes range far and wide... It's also covered in postcards. I copied that idea from my publisher, Barry Cunningham (the man who discovered Harry), who has the BEST bookshelves. They're like little art galleries, full of colour and life.

At the other end, here is the Mess That No-one Is Meant To See, which is where we store all the stuff that won't fit in the house. Must make a curtain for that end. Seriously. 

Back in the nice bit, this is the poster of my book cover for The Castle. This is an early version, but of all my covers so far, this is my favourite. The look in the girl's eyes captures Peta Jones completely, and it gives a hint of the adventure inside. 

Here's my mood board. Usually it's covered in postcards and magazine articles that have inspired me, but for the book I'm writing at the moment, it's got a sort-of storyboard made up of Post-Its, describing the key scenes as I imagined them. All the illustrations I've gathered are in a scrapbook under the desk. There is method in my madness, sort of. 

And now I must go and write it. Thanks again for hosting me, Amber! I've known The Mile Long Bookshelf for a long time now, and it's always lovely to be a part of it. 

Sophia xxx 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Published by: Usborne
Publication date: 1st June 2014
Pages: 373
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

I have three simple wishes. The first is to attend the winter formal dressed like Marie Antoinette. The second is for my parents to approve of my boyfriend. And my third wish? To never ever ever see the Bell twins ever again. Ever.

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn't believe in fashion...she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit - the more sparkly, more wild - the better. And life is pretty close to perfect for Lola, especially with her hot rocker boyfriend.

That is, until the Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighbourhood and unearth a past of hurt that Lola thought was long buried. So when talented inventor Cricket steps out from his twin sister's shadow and back into Lola's life, she must finally face up to a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

Could the boy from Lola's past be the love of her future?

This review contains spoilers.

I read the first few pages of Lola and the Boy Next Door a few months ago, and honestly - I wasn't impressed. I put it down and picked it up a while later - reluctantly. I didn't want to feel disappointed which is what the first few pages had hinted at, and I'd loved Anna and the French Kiss so much.

But this book pulled me in eventually just like Anna and the French Kiss; it just needed a bit of patience and perseverance. The verdict? WOW. I think this may have been better than the first. Way better; better than cats, and I didn't even think that was possible. And my review of Anna and the French Kiss is quoted in it!

I think it's safe to say that Cricket is the latest addition to my extensive list of book boyfriends. I mean, this book gave me butterflies because I was so desperate for Cricket and Lola to realise their love for each other, and Cricket is just so perfect! Why can't boys be like that in real life? Not to mention this book was hilarious. For example:

"And being thin makes me look even taller." 
"And your tight pants," I add. 
Cricket makes a startled choking noise. 

Yet again Perkins captured the internal monologue of a teenage girl perfectly. That woman deserves a medal. Plus our favourites Anna and St Clair from the previous book were in this book too! I'd been told they were only in it very briefly but they were actually pretty big parts of the story and I just can't describe how happy that made me. I love it when authors include characters from one of their books in another - it's like meeting an old friend for the first time in years.

The only slight issue I had is that I think Lola and Cricket should have become a couple way sooner. Yes, the anticipation is one of the many reasons I raced through this book - one of the others being that Perkins' writing is absolutely perfect - but it took so long that Lola's relationship with her soon-to-be ex boyfriend started feeling unnatural. She was with him for so long, even after realising she loved Cricket again, that there didn't seem to be a reason for her to stay with him any longer and I couldn't understand why she did, especially when he started being nasty to her friends so openly. But each to their own.

Full of hopes, dreams, forgiveness and a boy called Cricket, you need this book in your life. To cure my sadness after finishing this book I quickly pre-ordered Isla and the Happily Ever After which I am SO. FREAKING. EXCITED FOR. Edit: My review of Isla went up sooner than this one even though I read Lola first - you can see my review here! If you're ever sad, worried, or just feeling blue, Stephanie Perkins will cure it for you! And I swear I didn't mean for that to rhyme...
Thursday, 4 September 2014

4 Ways to Avoid Stressful Blogging

Blogging can get stressful. That's a well-known fact. Last week I gave my tips for dealing with jealousy in blogging (and life in general) so this week is all about trying to ease the stress that blogging can occasionally cause. I'd love to know your own tips for avoiding stressful blogging, too!

Try not to pressure yourself into reading aaaaall the books.
I used to try and read everything, and you know what? I never bought any books for myself. "I have too many books that need reviewing," I'd say as I stared wistfully into a bookshop window, "I don't have time to read my own books." You have to agree that's sad. Now, if there's a book I desperately want and I have the money, I'll buy it without feeling guilty about the books publishers expect me to review. Sometimes you just have to give yourself a break and do things for you, not for other people. Remember - it's impossible to read every single book sent to you. Don't beat yourself up if there are any you don't have time to read!

Say no!
This is something I used to be terrible at. I would say yes to everything - blog tours, cover reveals, even review requests for books I wasn't all that interested in. It was so stressful but I just couldn't bring myself to say no to people. Luckily I've become more assertive now and it's a big bloggy weight off my shoulders. But not only is saying yes to things when you know you'll struggle for time going to stress you out, it could also mess around the people you're supposed to be working with.

Don't leave it until the last minute!
As much as we'd all like to pretend we have super awesome memories, there's no way we can remember every notable detail from an entire year, so yearly wrap-ups could be a pretty big source of stress. That's why I started writing my 2014 wrap-up in January, and I've been adding to it each month ever since. Just add to it whenever you can, and each time you do it'll give you a nice fuzzy feeling as you look back on the year so far.

Schedule, schedule, schedule!
I've said this one before, but scheduling a bunch of blog posts in a short space of time is stressful but only temporarily. The weeks afterwards will be a piece of cake, and who doesn't like cake? Once you have a nice little library of draft posts, you can blog as little or as often as you want, and you won't have to worry about not having a blog post up at times when you don't feel like writing, because you'll already have something scheduled.

Essentially just do what's best for you, and if you haven't figured that out yet then you will do soon. I've been book blogging for nearly five years and it was only last year that I finally fell into a routine and worked out how and when I blog at my best. Take these ideas with a pinch of salt, and hopefully they'll inspire you into leading a less stressful blogging life!

Leave your own tips for avoiding stressful blogging in the comments below!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Magisterium: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Title: The Iron Trial
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Published by: Doubleday Children's Books
Publication date: 9th September 2014
Pages: 295
Genres: Middle grade/Fantasy/Paranormal
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the Guardian newspaper.

Think you know magic? Think again. The Magisterium awaits...

Most people would do anything to get into the Magisterium and pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt.

Call has been told his whole life that he should never trust a magician. And so he tries his best to do his worst - but fails at failing.

Now he must enter the Magisterium.

It's a place that's both sensational and sinister. And Call realises it has dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning. Call's biggest test is still to come...

Everyone who knows me should know by now that I am a HUGE fan of Cassandra Clare. After reading ten of her books and adoring every single one, I've got to know her writing style and, as such, I know what to expect from her. In short, I'd set my standards pretty high for this book... which ended up being a mistake on my part.

I've never read anything by Holly Black before so I have no idea if her writing is my cup of tea or not, and therefore I don't know whether it was her influence which ruined the book for me or if it was Cassandra Clare. Or perhaps it was the plot, the pace, the characters... there are many possible reasons for me not enjoying this book as much as I thought I would - I just don't know which it is.

I was incredibly lucky to receive an ARC of this at the start of July, and when it arrived I just stared at the book in shocked excitement. Whether I enjoyed the book or not, this is an ARC of a book written by two phenomenal authors and it still sits proudly on my shelf. I just wish I'd enjoyed it more than I did.

Everyone's said it already and I really didn't want to jump on the bandwagon, but... this is like a cheap version of Harry Potter. I'm sorry, but it is. J.K Rowling doesn't own the idea of kids going to a magic school, but there's a point when someone can get way too close to an idea, and that's what Black and Clare have done here. No, the story doesn't include broomsticks, Hagrid, fancy Latin spells or even wands, but what it does include are most of the major Harry Potter plot points.

The similarities

- A secondary school where kids go to learn magic. Hogwarts / Magisterium. 
- Two boys and a girl who don't immediately get along but quickly become good, loyal friends to one another. Harry, Ron, Hermione / Callum, Aaron, Tamara.
- A 'master' who gives them vague instructions that, at the time, seem to have no relevance to the overall task. Dumbledore / Master Rufus.
- 'The enemy' who used to be a student at the school but became evil. Voldemort / Constantine Madden.
- The army of 'the enemy' consists of black-cloaked evil people who wear creepy masks. Death eaters / Chaos-ridden.
- The woods surrounding the school are full of murderous creatures. Hogwarts / Magisterium.
- There's an archway in Harry Potter with a sort of shimmering veil - I'm not too good at describing it because it's been so long since I've read the books, but if you've read them you'll know what I'm talking about - and there's one exactly the same in The Iron Trial. It doesn't have the same function, but the design is identical.

Clare has a serious past with plagiarism. [source] Just so you know. Mostly with Harry Potter fan fiction. Yep, when I found that out after reading this book, I was so surprised I forgot to be surprised.

Not to mention that the world-building was awful. Clare's world-building is usually mind blowing and I'm sure Black's is too, being such a popular author. But it was so vague yet complicated this time. I tried to picture the scenes in my head but I just couldn't, and it seemed to me like the authors were struggling to picture it themselves which is why it came across so messily. Perhaps an illustrated map in the front of the final edition would be a good idea? It wouldn't make the writing any better but it would help...

Not only was the world-building practically non-existent, but the writing was as bland as cornflakes. I've only ever read Clare's YA books and I know this is aimed at a younger audience, but I don't believe that should cause the author to dumb down his or her writing. No matter how old a reader is, if they don't understand something in a book they'll ask someone, check in a dictionary, or Google it. Simple.

Aaaand the characters? Tamara was okay - she made me chuckle a couple of times - but other than that, all of the characters seemingly merged into one. Gone were the witty one-liners and clever dialogue I loved so much in Clare's previous books.

Was the reading experience any better? Meh. It was alright. I found myself wanting to put the book down a lot and replace it with the Twitter app, which is never a good sign, but I persevered. I got to the interesting twist at the end which admittedly shocked me but the fascination was temporary. I finished the book, and I didn't feel a thing. No excitement. No fangirling. I'm not even interested in reading the next book in the series because, really, what's the point? The Iron Trial felt rushed, messy; as if the two of them had just scribbled down all of their ideas onto a piece of paper, typed it up, and stopped there.

I'm sorry to say this but I think after writing about Shadowhunters for so long that Cassandra Clare might have lost her touch when writing about other things unless it was Holly Black's influence which made the book less enjoyable. But then again, this was a joint effort between the both of them. I really don't know what to think except the fact that it simply didn't work.

Cassandra Clare is one of my favourite authors. In fact, I think she might be THE favourite. Maybe if I was slightly younger and not so analytically minded I might have enjoyed this. But the faults just popped up like flashing neon signs, one after the other, and it was so terribly disappointing, especially as it meant that my first experience with Black's writing was... this.

Overall, I don't recommend this at all whether you're a fan of the authors or not, and I can only hope that someone looking to read a Cassandra Clare novel for the first time stays well away from this one.