Just Finished…The First by Sara Zaske

   What a great and unexpected book!

I’d read – I think – that The First was a dystopian and so I’d left it in my Kindle dwindling having had a good dose of dystopia recently. And then I began reading it (after pressing the wrong button on my Kindle) and mistakenly thought I was reading a book about vampires and at around 15% in was wondering how the hell the people with power over nature were going to have anything to do with vampires…what can I say – I don’t always pay attention!

So – back to the book. There are dystopian elements to The First, but it would only be a dystopian book if you are one of the First People – if you’re a human, like me, then the environmental indiciators in the book are a nice nod in the direction of dystopia, but it’s not the end of the world, but a little journey down that path0. The environmental message is handled really well in the book, so it isn’t overbearing, but there are lots of good pieces of information to get you thinking.

The characters, dialogue and writing are great – very engaging, perfect pitch for a YA (I would also suggest this as being suitable for MG audience as it is clean, quirky and fun on the whole). The character voices feel authentically teenaged and the pitch, pace and action are all perfectly balanced with the motivations of the individuals. For me it felt a little like a fantasy cross-over in parts – the powers of the First People and their approach to life certainly had those elements, but it worked very well in the contemporary setting. I also liked the family/military references, which are outside the main plot, but I felt were very ‘real’ to life for anyone who has been in those situations.

Overall Thoughts: 4* – I think this was a great read. It is a nice length and paced so well to keep you reading – I got through it in four days, which is quick for me as I don’t always get too much time to read. I think the story was also very original and quality of writing was good. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an adventure story with interesting characters.

Thanks very much to Sara for releasing this free at Amazon on Earth Day, as that’s where I got my copy.

Just Finished…Dreamless by Josephine Angelini

   I really enjoyed the first book in this series when I read it earlier this year and in many ways Dreamless delivered just as well as Starcrossed did. I do like the way Angelini uses the traditional mythology: some very famous and obvious, such as Helen and Paris, the Oracle, etc. with others less common.

Certainly, I read the book quickly and found it difficult to put down (although the chapters are quite long, so that could explain it!) But I didn’t enjoy the dynamics between the characters as much as I did in the first book – I missed Helen and Lucas’s intensity and was quite put off by how their relationship developed/dwindled in Dreamless – I understand why this was necessary for the plot, but I still missed them.

There’s lots of romantic developments for other characters, which if you’ve read Starcrossed I’m sure you can guess at – they were fine, but I wasn’t overly fussed. The baddies are good though and I thought the overall plot was interesting. Angelini’s skirting around the idea of a love triangle towards the end of the book – I hope she doesn’t opt for this ‘go to’ plot device in Book 3 as it’s been done too much recently and I’ll probably switch right off.

Overall Verdict: 4* People who liked Starcrossed will enjoy this I’m sure – doesn’t suffer too badly from ‘second book syndrome’. For a mythology YA it’s one of the better series around.

Just Finished…Underneath by Michael Cargill

To accompany Thursday’s interview with author Michael Cargill, here’s our review of his fantastic new novel Underneath. If you’d like to get your hands on a free copy, simply pop a comment on this post or Thursday’s interview and we’ll select up to ten lucky people to  get Smashwords download codes for your preferred e-book format.

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Synopsis

Look at the person sitting just across from you. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a loved one, a friend, or a complete stranger.
Now look at their face. Are they happy? Are they sad? Or are they angry? Can you even tell?
How well do you actually know the people closest to you?
Have you ever seen the real person that lies just underneath what you see…?

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Sounds creepy? Well, it should because the main character we follow throughout the book – Hugh – is a scary chap!

Underneath is a relatively short book – more a novella I’d say at circa 50k words – and flits between two worlds: Hugh-land and Copsville. Hugh’s world is an interesting one, as you see a lot of his life from his own confused and skewed perspective: one minute he’s happily shopping and buying garlic, the next he’s freaking out at the automated till and then forgotten where he is or why he’s there. His psycholigical switches and memory lapses quickly show the reader that Hugh is not firing on all cylinders, but as the story progresses, very scarily he also seems to be very aware of his own flaws and a-human responses (particularly in his relationship with a certain young lady).

Very early in the book I started to get an American Psycho feel, with a nice British twist – and it certainly gave you this as things developed. One of my favourite things about Michael’s writing is his ability to ‘be real’ – he gets right into the heads of his characters, making their responses and thoughts very realistic – from the mundane to the outright terrifying, he seems to be able to ‘get people’ when he writes about them.

This style continues in the sections of the book revolving around Claire and Robert – ‘Copsville’ for me. The introduction of these other characters is nicely done in a ‘sliding doors’ type moment and there are several more of these tying the plot together as the story progresses. I think Robert is my favourite character in the book: he is the bacon sandwich king! Again he and Claire are very ‘real’ and I believed in their personal motivations, thoughts and actions as they are presented in the story. The banter and interplay between them feels genuine and – even on mundane subjects – the dialogue works well, all centred in the work-world they inhabit.

Overall Thoughts: 4* I really like Michael’s writing style; it’s clear, concise, often funny and I enjoy the realisim of his characters. As an extended piece – I’ve previously read his short stories – it works well and follows similar themes and ideas to his previous work. I enjoyed Underneath and it works as a thriller, but have to say I think I prefer something with a slightly more supernatural twist, like Borger the Bunny when Michael’s writing. (See my review for Shades of Grey, also my Michael Cargill here). Definitely recommend for a fast-paced, character-driven read with quirky British bits to smile at 🙂

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This review was originally posted at Mel Cusick-Jones’ author blog on 18th June 2012.

Just Finished…Being Human

So…a YA book about vampires – sounds familiar? Well, you’d be wrong! 🙂

Being Human takes the interesting perspective of Tommy, the recently turned vampire. The novel is written from his first-person POV, with only five chapters (incredibly long and semi-interior monologue in style); the chapters cover five distinct stages of his vampire life and experience.

In the world of Patricia Lynne’s vampires, when a human is turned they remember nothing of their former human life – nothing really of their human selves or values – which is why they often return and kill their own families it seems. When Tommy does exactly this, it is only some inante recognition of the special bond he shares with his twin brother Danny that stops him from killing him as he does their parents.

In the early stages of the book, I struggled to like Tommy – he’s heartless, unhuman and is quite blunt. Oh yes – I forgot, that’s because he’s supposed to be that way! He is a vampire after all. Once I got into this, he actually was quite cute and funny – certainly when he was trying to get his head around the intricacies of human/teenage life as his twin experiences it. As you see the new relationship develop with Tommy and Danny, you really see what the novel is about: the examination of what it is to ‘be human’. Tommy asks and examines the questions throughout the book, that we often overlook in everyday life, but that are absolutely necessary in making us what and who we are. I’ve seen this done quite similarly in sci-fi, with books like Human Is?, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and more recently Cinder – it was well done in Being Human.

The examination of various types of love – twins, family, children, romantic – is also very nicely done: the relationships feel authentic and give a greater depth than some other vampire books I’ve read. The main focus of Being Human isn’t a romance, but a family bond which trumps survival, human nature and vampire instinct.

Overall Thoughts: A well-considered vampire book, with interesting elements and world-building for a ‘post-knowledge setting’ where humans are aware of the existence of vampires. The examination of humanity as Tommy actually goes through the process is interesting and well-thought out: many novels I’ve read with human-esque vamps begin way after they’ve already embraced their human side. Enough action and blood for a vampire book, but not actually the main draw in this case. Good stuff!

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Author Patricia Lynne will be featuring with us in a spotlight and interview later this week and you also have the chance of winning your own copy of Being Human here!

 

Just Finished…Blue Sky Days by Marie Landry

With my YA reads this year, aside from The Hunger Games I’ve been trying genres that I don’t normally read and as far as possible – indie debut authors. One of the things I like best about the good indie authors I’ve read is that the freedom of publishers and others shaping the book means that the story is exactly what the author wanted to tell and in the way they wanted it. If you look at an author as an artist, then this freedom is a good thing.

So…Blue Sky Days…this is a contemporary romance in the main, a genre I don’t often read and so in some ways this was a refreshing change. In many YAs I read, the romance is something that comes along with action and angst and great danger. This book is almost a complete inversion of that model – the ‘action’ and ‘danger’ have significance and grow out of the romantic theme.

I’ll not be giving anything away – as the blurb tells you – that after a beautiful initial romance, Nicholas becomes ill – so you can hopefully see what I mean about where the ‘danger’ comes from. In many ways it was good to read a book about real danger…the things that threaten people’s lives every single day, the hardship that people have to endure through serious and terminal illness and how that impacts the relationships they have with those around them.

I’d read several reviews prior to reading Blue Sky Days and knew that many readers had found this an emotional book to read – unsurprising given the subject matter – and I certainly found it thought-provoking for the same reasons, not necessarily identifying completely with Emma and her experiences, but her responses and perspective made me consider things in my own life that perhaps you don’t take the time to focus on enough in daily life. Every moment for Emma and Nicholas becomes precious and special, placed under a microscope because of their situation, and their relationships with friends and family are very affectionate and open – despite their difficulties, it is a world many people would want to live in.

Emma’s narration is very interesting – it is so personal and open emotionally, that I felt like I were reading her thoughts in a diary. In this way it is unlike other YA books I’ve read – the depth of her self-reflection and knowledge were much greater than others I’ve read, however, this may be more typical of romance genre (and I wouldn’t know!) 🙂 In turn, all of the characters close to Emma are very similar – very emotionally open and articulate their feelings regularly through unguarded dialogue or affectionate gestures. Some readers might find that openness unusual – but as Emma regularly notes, she finds it hard to believe herself, given her past experience with her mother – and for the style of book, it all works together well. Right from the start of the book Emma is on a journey, transitioning from a life of eduction and boundaries to a new world of independence and she draws you into this as though you are absolutely a part of her life, just as Nicholas, Daisy and the other characters do for her.

‘Blue Sky Days’ themselves – as you discover in the story – are these wonderful moments of time and clarity, when you look at the world around you and see what is truly important: the people you care about, the beauty in the world around you and the things that change your life.

Blue Sky Days feels like a very personal book. The characters, situation and emotional intensity feel as though they come from real experiences and perhaps this is the case. I rarely read author’s acknowledgements in books, but for this I did and feel that there is a real and important connection between the author and this story, more than most. And this brings me back to the beauty of indie authors – this is Marie Landry’s and Emma’s story, told exactly as it should have been.

Overall a lovely book, to be read with the knowledge that you’re delving completely into someone’s life and – just as I read in another review – Blue Sky Days will make you feel.

Rating: 4*

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Blurb: A year after graduating from high school, nineteen-year-old Emma Ward feels lost. She has spent most of her life trying to please her frigid, miserable mother – studying hard, getting good grades, avoiding the whole teenage rebellion thing – and now she feels she has no identity beyond that. Because she spent so many years working hard and planning every moment of her life, she doesn’t have any friends, has never had a boyfriend, and basically doesn’t know who she is or what she really wants from life. Working two part-time jobs to save money for college hasn’t helped her make decisions about her future, so she decides it’s time for a change. She leaves home to live with her free-spirited, slightly eccentric Aunt Daisy in a small town that makes Emma feel like she’s stepped back in time.

When Emma meets Nicholas Shaw, everything changes – he’s unlike anyone she’s ever met before, the kind of man she didn’t even know existed in the 21st century. Carefree and spirited like Daisy, Nicholas teaches Emma to appreciate life, the beauty around her, and to just let go and live. Between Daisy and Nicholas, Emma feels like she belongs somewhere for the first time in her life, and realizes that you don’t always need a plan – sometimes life steers you where you’re meant to be.

Life is wonderful, an endless string of blue sky days, until Nicholas is diagnosed with cancer, and life changes once again for Emma in ways she never thought possible. Now it’s time for her to help Nicholas the way he’s helped her. Emma will have to use her new-found strength, and discover along the way if love really is enough to get you through.

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This review was also posted at Confessions of a Bookaholic blog.