Monday, November 29, 2010

My top 10 fiction heroines

Brave, tough, young and old…. we all love fiction characters for different reasons. I've decided to share 10 of my favourites.

Seeing as I enjoy all types of genre's, this list is a mix of YA and non-YA fiction heroines. I will however be doing one with strictly a YA focus in a future post.

1. Sorcha - Daughter of the Forest
After reading Daughter of the Forest, Juliet Marillier has quickly managed to become one of my new favourite authors.

Blending Celtic mythology, fantasy and beautiful prose, the worlds she manages to create are nothing short of magical.

Now add to that a strong heroine who survives what life throws her way against all odds, then you'll have the basic idea just what forms the backbone of Sorcha's (the protagonist of the novel) character. 

I loved her for the sacrifices she willingly and not-so willing had to make and for giving up almost everything she had in order to save her brothers.

I don't think any description can really do this character justice, but I can tell you that if she's number 1 on my list, then there is a very, very good reason for it.

2. Elizabeth - Pride and Prejudice
Ah, what would this list be without Elizabeth?

I have yet to come across someone who hasn't read and fell in love with the brave, forthright and courageous woman who lived in a time when money, social status and high society were considered far more important than love and happiness (actually, THAT pretty much sounds like today's society, but that's another column for another day).

Oh, she's not without her flaws, but one has to admire her strength and resolve as well as her steadfast refusal to wed someone that she just doesn't love and risk being shunned by all and sundry. She's a timeless heroine so many of us love and wish we could be. Plus, she gets Mr Darcy doesn't she? You don't need any more reasons than that.
3. Sophie - Sophie's world
Sophie's World is quite the gem of a novel. The heroine, Sophie? Even more of a gem in her own right. 

Pairing up a 14-year old girl and philosophical teachings seem like such a bizarre combination, but Jostein Gaarder (one of my favourite authors) manages to make this combination work explosively well.

Sophie is precocious, inquisitive and refreshingly interested in knowing how the world she lives in works. I found it very easy to engage with her simply because she's so willing to be taught and to broaden her horizons and eagerly laps up anything that is thrown her way. Possibly naïve, but still.

I like and admire her for wanting to pursue knowledge instead of going after life's little quick fix little pleasures. I'm also possibly quite biased towards her because I have soft little spot for philosophical topics.

4. Hermione - The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
I'd give a brief little introduction about the book series, but I'm pretty sure that most of you must have read or at least heard about the Harry Potter series (If you haven't then where have you been?). 

What's not to love about Hermione? She's book smart, magic-smart, witty, incredibly intelligent, brave, courageous and hooks up with the very loveable, shaggy  and mop-haired Ron (that's how I picture him). Totally defying conventional stereotyping, which is why she is such a winner in my books.

I'm pretty convinced that I wouldn't have enjoyed reading the Harry Potter series if it wasn't for Hermione.

5. Tita - Like Water for Chocolate
Tita is the heroine in Like Water for Chocolate, a story about magic, cooking, family tradition and forbidden love.

Gifted with an exquisite talent for cooking, Tita is the youngest of 3 girls who is forbidden the right to marry and is forced to stay behind to tend to her cruel and overbearing mother.

When she falls in love with Pedro, she's forced to watch as her mother hands her eldest daughter to him. For the next 22 years Tita's pain is woven into every meal she cooks, effusing and affecting everyone else's emotions in the process.

Tita is one of my favourites simply because she endures and survives 22 years of hell and deals with her life, losses, longing and love all through the one outlet that helps her to get through it all - cooking.

6. Clara - The House of Spirits
Isabel Allende has always been one of my favourite authors - and it's not just because of the lyrical prose or the presence of mystical and magic realism elements that are so prevalent throughout her novels, but because the heroines in her novels radiant such a strong sense of self-worth and confidence (even in the midgst of trial and tribulation) that reading their stories are such a joy.

As the matriarch in Allende's generational story about four women whose lives are inexorably intertwined and linked with one, Clara is the elusive and mysterious clairvoyant, who foretells family tragedy and shapes the fortunes of the house of the Truebas.

Although the story is told from alternative viewpoints, the voice which really stood out the most for me was Clara's. Her strength and undeniable love for her family helps her to keep her  family household together despite and in spite of the variable amount of forces try to drive their order apart. I loved this even more than Daughter of Fortune.

7. Jane  - Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre is another one of those stories that simply don't need an introduction.  Most of us adore the handsome (ok, I am tremendously biased towards him) and brooding Mr Rochester, but so many of us look past the highly spirited Jane whose strength of character, back bone and acute sense of right and wrong shines throughout the novel.

One simply has to admire a character who has often been trampled upon, but whose fighting spirit and sense of integrity makes her one of those characters whose true beauty really radiates from within.

8. Maya - Forbidden
Anyone who has read my review of Forbidden, will know that I've been raving about this book to no end. Without going into too much detail, the book tackles a rather controversial topic (consensual sibling incest), but does so in an incredibly touching, non-sensationalistic and graceful manner, that you'll just warm to the characters and their story instantly.

As far as female protagonists go, Maya (the sister in the story) was instantly likeable. She's the kind of character you would trust to look after your kids and has a source of strength within her that is incredibly compelling.  

The ending of the story (and this is really what makes the novel) is what really made my heart break  for her,  and I really, really applaud and admire her for the choice that she made, because I know I wouldn't be able to do what she did at the end of it all.

9. Clary - The Mortal Instruments series
I adore Clary. She's ballsy, brave, gutsy and incredibly smart. Not only that, but she is an amazingly well-developed and mature character for someone who is so young.

I loved the fact that she was so fearless even though more often that not, that fearlessness often put her in harm's way. And that she didn't think twice about risking her life for the sake of those she loved. She's every thing that I wished I could have been when I was her age.

10. Chiyo/Sayuri -  Memoirs of a Geisha
It's been a good while since I've read this book, but for all the time that has passed since I've read this book, Sayuri's character has been a character that has stayed with me up until today.  As a young girl, Chiyo (who becomes Sayuri later on), is adopted and sold into a life of servitude where she will eventually be trained to become a geisha. 

Seperated from her sister, she has to endure a whole spate of roadblocks, obstacles and misery before she can even begin to remotely get somewhere in life.  

She's not an easy character to love, but for me character growth and development is incredibly important and watching and experiencing her grow up, encountering setbacks and becoming a victim to cruelty, jealousy was at once riveting and heartbreaking.

Most importantly? Getting to share in the elation of overcoming all that to carve a future for herself in an environment where women aren't altogether truly valued.

That's my mash-up list of fabulous female fiction characters I love. Who is your favourite? I'd love to know.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Book review: Darke Academy

Darke Academy
An exotic and elite academy with dark secrets, a scholarship girl waiting to unravel them, and a brooding boy who may prove to be the most dangerous distraction of all.

Darke Academy  by Gabriella Poole (Hodder Children's Books)
Cassandra Bell never thought she'd be attending Darke Academy. For a scholarship girl like her, the school is everything she could have dreamed of and everything that she's not. Intimidating, beautiful and elite.

Just like the rich, preppy brats who all inhabit its hall rooms.

Yet, for an established and ostentatiously lavish boarding school, Darke Academy, true to its very name, is bound to have its share of dark secrets.

For example, who are the Few?  What are the secrets they guard so jealously?  And what happened the previous year when a scholarship girl like herself died in mysterious circumstances?

One thing is certain... Cassie, hell bent on finding out just what the Few have to hide, will need to have her wits about her if she wants to make it out alive without being irreparably damaged - or killed - in the process.

There are many books where the cover often misleads you into thinking that the contents of the book are harrowingly awful. Now, I usually have a love hate relationship with books like these because I know that my judgements of covers always tend to lead me into ignoring books that end up surpassing my expectations.

It was no different with this book.

It's not that I dislike the cover per say (I have seen far worse), it's just that the thing is with this cover, is that it's so easy to overlook this book amidst all the much better book covers out there (which ironically enough, sometimes tend to end up being awful reads). 

And because I considered this book to be so incredibly forgettable, I left it on my shelf for a good couple of months.

I can't say what it is that motivated me into picking this up, but I'm happy to say that I am glad that I eventually got around to it. After all, there's nothing better than having a book prove you wrong when your expectations of it weren't all that high to begin with.

Anyway, on to the actual contents of the book.

I'd be the first one to admit that the premise of the novel is not a unique one, but there is something so infinitely readable and accessible about this book, that you can't help but forgive (and forget) the fact the concept is one that has been done before.

The vampire genre may be overcrowded, but Poole's Darke Academy: Secret Lives (Book 1 in the series) provides a rather unique and fresh spin on the genre that quickly makes you sit up and take notice.

The interesting thing about Darke Academy is that it is a school that moves around the continent and is never based in one location for a long period of time. I love the idea behind this because it complements Gabriella's exotic, descriptive and very lush writing perfectly.

It also means that in the next instalments of this series, we can definitely expect to experience the fabulous worlds of different cities in each book. This makes my travel-loving heart very happy.

 In Secret Lives, the vivid and resplendent culture and backdrop of France comes to life.

There's a pulsing beauty and an undeniable air of arrogance of those that only know how to live the charmed and glamorous life.  For scholar Cassie, it's a lustrous place which oozes with mean girls and academy snobs, but at least offers some form of comfort and welcome in the forms of Isabella and Jake.

I loved the fact that these characters were not your typical run-of-the-mill blond-haired, blue-eyed Americans (no offense intended to anyone out there), but rather a wealth of mixed cultures.

There's Cassie, an English girl, Isabella a fiery-tempered Latina, Jake, the all-American boy and amidst the rest of the vibrantly different cultural backgrounds, is the main brooding love interest, Ranjit Singh - the delicious boy of Indian descent.

For me, this eclectic mix of characters adds a wonderful dimension to what I think might have ended up being a potentially very bland novel. 

Character wise, I really, really liked Cassie. She's a grounded scholarship girl who knows where she comes from and knows exactly how she got into the elitist Darke Academy, yet doesn't allow the snobby and popular girls to get to her.

In fact, the gutsy girl talks back to them. (Hooray for a character who actually has a backbone - and a strong one at that too). Also, I loved the fact that while she was instantly attracted to Ranjit, she was actually almost borderline rude to him (Again, very refreshing).

My one complaint would have to be how the relationship between them developed. I don't think there was enough time or room for them to actually get a real feel for each other besides the obvious attraction-antagonism feelers between the two.

I suppose we could attribute this to the fact that the author is leaving room for relationship growth in the next novel, but I still feel as if there could have been more interaction between the two of them in order for a possible relationship to seem more plausible.

Then, of course, there is the supernatural element to this novel. I really wish I could say more without giving it away, but I can only tell you that you shouldn't expect any of the typical vampire lore you come across in most books.

Here is absolutely none of that in this book.

In fact, I'd hazard a guess and say that the things I've learnt in the first installment of this novel, is just a taste of what is still to come.

Initiation rituals, strange and dark rites, gloomy catacombs and a sinister method of feeding... this is just the beginning of the journey for Cassie and her friends.

It's the start of a fantastic book series, and despite the minor hiccups I had with this novel, the gothic and atmospherically descriptive writing, combined with the rather unique spin on vampire lore, makes this novel an alluring and transfixing read.

I can't wait to read Darke Academy: Blood Ties - which is the second book in this series.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In my mailbox (16)

IMM is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely Kristi from The Story Siren.

I haven't done an IMM post for a while now, but figured I'd better get around to doing one today before my book stash builds up to the point where I just cannot keep track of the amount of books I've been buying or receiving.

A special thanks to the lovely Leanna from Daisy Chain Book Reviews who sent me a copies of The Poisoned House, The Dead of Winter and Finding Sky. I'm so excited to read them all. In fact, I'm just about to start Finding Sky. :)

Anyway, I've had a fantastic few book weeks and have received a lot of books that are on my TBR pile. Yay! Here's my stash for this week.

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
The Poisoned House by Michael Ford
Jane of the Damned by Jane Mullany
Black Swan Rising
by Lee Carroll
The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestly (ARC copy)
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Finding Sky by Joss Stirling

I can't tell you how excited I am for all of these books. I hardly know where to start. What's in your IMM this week?  Feel free to share in the comment box below.

P.S. (Random whine)
Sorry about the lousy blog formatting. I'm looking for a new fairy layout but so far have had no luck :( I'm becoming so fed up with this layout.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Burn Bright

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill from Breaking the Spine. The idea behind this meme is to highlight up and coming releases that we just can't wait to read.

And boy did I stumble upon a fabulous sounding book this week. I'm so excited for this one, I'm practically fumbling my way through this post (Typing way too fast for my own good - let's hope I don't make any spelling mistakes in the process).

Anyway, this week's WoW pick is Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres. I love how dark, romantic and creepy it sounds and I simply adore the cover too.

Here's some more info about the book: 

Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres
In Ixion music and party are our only beliefs. Darkness is our comfort. We have few rules but they are absolute . . .

Retra doesn’t want to go to Ixion, the island of ever-night, ever-youth and never-sleep. Retra is a Seal – sealed minds, sealed community. She doesn’t crave parties and pleasure, experience and freedom.

But her brother Joel left for Ixion two years ago, and Retra is determined to find him. Braving the intense pain of her obedience strip to escape the only home she’s ever known, Retra stows away on the barge that will take her to her brother.

When she can’t find Joel, Retra finds herself drawn deeper into the intoxicating world of Ixion. Come to me, whispers a voice in her head.

Who are the Ripers, the mysterious guardians of Ixion? What are the Night Creatures Retra can see in the shadows? And what happens to those who grow too old for Ixion?

Retra will find that Ixion has its pleasures, but its secrets are deadly. Will friendship, and the creation of an eternal bond with a Riper, be enough to save her from the darkness?

Listen well, baby bats. Burn bright, but do not stray from the paths. Remember, when you live in a place of darkness you also live with creatures of the dark

I absolutely cannot wait to read this. I want. I want. I want. (Ok, I'll stop that now. *grins*)

What's on your WoW list this week?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Author interview: Rebecca James

A while back I read Beautiful Malice, one of the best YA psychological thrillers currently out there. Of course, seeing that I loved the book so much, I simply had to see if I could try and track down the author for an interview. Lucky for me - the book publishers I work closely with here in SA, were very happy to help!

So, without further ado, here is some info about the book, a link to my review and the author spotlight questions as follows.

About Beautiful Malice
Following a terrible tragedy that leaves her once-perfect family shattered, Katherine Patterson moves to a new city, starts at a new school, and looks forward to a new life of quiet anonymity.

But when Katherine meets the gregarious and beautiful Alice Parrie her resolution to live a solitary life becomes difficult. Katherine is unable resist the flattering attention that Alice pays her and is so charmed by Alice’s contagious enthusiasm that the two girls soon become firm friends

But being friends with Alice is complicated – and as Katherine gets to know her better she discovers that although Alice can be charming and generous she can also be selfish and egocentric. Sometimes, even, Alice is cruel.

And when Katherine starts to wonder if Alice is really the kind of person she wants as a friend, she discovers something else about Alice - she doesn’t like being cast off.

Read my review here.
(I was going to add the author pic, but Blogger is being a royal pain, so will have to try tomorrow again)
Author spotlight questions:

1. Beautiful Malice generated quite an extensive amount of interest in the publishing world. Can you tell us a little about your road to publication and how it came to be that Beautiful Malice resulted in the bidding war that it has?

 The first book I ever wrote was published by a very small American e-press. I received a one hundred dollar advance and though that may seem laughable I was actually quite excited at the time. I think maybe about two people in the world read that book.

Then I wrote another two books and both of those manuscripts currently live beneath my bed. They are growing stale and dusty with neglect...

When I finished writing Beautiful Malice I started querying literary agents. I didn't want to submit directly to publishers because I'd heard quite a few scary stories about how badly publishers regard unagented manuscripts and I wanted my novel to have at least half a chance.

Getting an agent wasn't easy. I was rejected by over 70 agents throughout Australia, the US and the UK before Jo Unwin from Conville and Walsh agreed to represent me. In fact, after all those rejections I suddenly had two agents offer representation within two days. I was over the moon!

 Jo and I worked together on polishing the manuscript and then submitted it simultaneously to Australian and British publishers. Within about three weeks we had an offer from Allen and Unwin in Australia and then a few weeks later another offer from Faber and Faber in the UK. It wasn't until it was submitted to Europe that it attracted a lot of attention.

The German publishers seemed to love it - and within a few days we had several publishers making offers. It went to auction (what a crazy week that was for me!) and eventually sold to Rowohlt. After that my agent submitted it to the US. The same thing happened again - another auction. By this time I seriously wondered if the world was playing some kind of cruel joke...

Apparently Beautiful Malice caused quite a stir at the Frankfurt Book Fair a few weeks later - and the book eventually sold into 36 territories.

I still pinch myself daily!

2.  Your novel deals with the harmful relationships and toxic friendships, something which I think so many of us can relate to. Have you had your own share of toxic friendships? And if so, did you draw any inspiration from your personal experiences for Beautiful Malice?

 I think most writers draw from their own life experiences in their work. It doesn't mean you have to have had exactly the same experience, but it means you use your own emotions and feelings (and imagination) to try and create something that feels authentic and believable.

I have never had a friend quite as crazy as Alice (thank goodness) but I have certainly had my share of unhealthy relationships (not only friendships, but romantic relationships too).

I think the dynamic between people in a dysfunctional or toxic relationship is just a fascinating topic - one that I'd like to explore even further!

3. I found it so interesting that both Alice and Katherine each have such interesting layers to them. Both of them have secrets, yet the two of them couldn't be more different. Which character's background and story would you say was the hardest to write and why?

Hmmm - I wouldn't say one character's background was necessarily harder to write that the other although I suppose I did struggle a bit to try and provide at least some kind of reason why Alice might be as she is.

4. Katherine seems so much older than her years. Do you think that this is one of the reasons that your novel is considered to be suited to both the young adult market as well as the adult market?

 I always find it hard to answer questions about whether Beautiful Malice is a YA or adult book - I think that's because so many different people have said so many conflicting things. I've had people say "this is absolutely NOT YA' and then others say 'this is not an adult book. It's definitely a YA' - so I guess the answer is I just don't know what it is - a crossover, I guess.

When it was being submitted by my agent to publishers a few of them rejected it as a YA novel because they thought it felt too 'old' - in that it had the feeling that the story was being told by an adult looking back on her life.

So, yes, your suggestion that Katherine's maturity may explain why it appeals to adults as well as teens seems spot on. (Or as good as any other answer I could come up with!)

5.  What are your thoughts on book-to-movie adaptations? Would you welcome the idea of Beautiful Malice being made into a movie? And if so, who would you cast as Alice?

I would absolutely LOVE for Beautiful Malice to be made into a movie. It would be a real thrill. And I have to admit that I have no idea who I'd cast. All of the actors I admire are far too old, someone much younger and cooler than me would certainly have to do the casting!

 6. I am so incredibly fascinated by Alice. Her final act seems as if it's both an act of revenge as well as one that stems from a desire to self-destruct. Would it be accurate to say that you left some of her actions open to the reader's own interpretation?

 Yes, of course. A lot of the book is open to the reader's own interpretation - as most stories are. Personally, I feel a bit sorry for Alice and I don't hate her at all.

But then, I've had a lot of readers say they absolutely hate her and would love to stab her eyes out with a fork - everyone brings their own subjective experience to the reading of a book, which is part of the magic!

7. What is the one thing you'd like readers to retain and carry with them after reading Beautiful Malice?

I don't write to teach lessons or to preach or anything like that - so really I just hope they enjoy the experience of reading the book. It would be a bonus if they enjoy it enough to look forward to my next book!

8. You're a mother of four boys. How do you manage to juggle motherhood and writing? Do you have a specific schedule that you adhere to?

All my boys are at school now so I try to write during school hours. I'm good at ignoring the housework and sometimes it can be a bit embarrassing if people drop in unexpectedly and it looks like I'm just slobbing around in my pyjamas in a messy house. 'I'm working!' I want to say.

9. Your next book is called Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead. Can you tell us a little about the book and what it's about?

Well, it's working title has been Cooper Bartholomew is Dead but that may very well change before publication date. It's about love and lies, suicide and murder, drugs and revenge and courage... there may even be a ghost, of sorts.

10. Finally, besides Beautiful Malice, what's the one book that you've read this year, that is an absolute must-read?
I've just finished reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I think everyone should read that and then go and watch the movie

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book review: Torment

She may have discovered love amongst the fallen, but the battle has only just begun.

Torment by Lauren Kate (DoubleDay)

A lot has happened since the explosive battle took place at Sword & Cross.

 Between an unexpected death and betrayal, Luce barely has time to wrap her head around everything that she's been witness to - and before she knows it, she is whisked off by Daniel to be hidden away at a new school filled with Nephilim.

All this is done for her own protection of course (Because somehow during the last battle, Luce has managed to attract a horde of enemies all out for her blood).

Of course Luce isn't very happy at the thought of being there on her own, but as she starts making new friends and learning more about the Shadows and what they really mean, Luce soon begins to learn more about her past lives.

And yet, with this new knowledge comes a plethora of unanswered questions and it doesn't take long before Luce begins to question everything, including her love for Daniel. Because one thing is certain - Daniel hasn't told her everything that she wants and needs to know. 

There are many book series out there where you can easily start reading from the second novel and still be able to get the gist of what is going on.

This is not one of them.

So before anyone reads this book, I would highly recommend that you read Fallen before you read Torment. Trust me, I'm glad I did because I wouldn't have been able to grasp what was going on had I not actually read Fallen first.

I have to say that Lauren Kate is a fantastic writer who happens to have a knack for choosing fantastic book titles. I am one of those judge-y book nerd types that tend to not only choose a book by its cover, but also by its title.

And Torment? It's more of an appropriate title than you can ever begin to imagine.

Also, how spectacular is the cover? One really has to applaud the design team behind Lauren Kate's books because her covers are unbelievably beautiful.

Anyway, for those who have read Fallen, you'll know that Lauren Kate spent most of her time slowly building a world and focusing on unfurling bits and pieces of the various characters without giving too much away.  As a result, many questions are unfurled, but not many answers are given.

In Torment, answers are given, but in the process, only more questions begin to unravel.  Lauren pretty much sticks to the same slow-building pace that she used in the previous novel, which did, at times, make for a very frustrating read.

There is a lot one actually needs to get through in order to come across little nuggets of gold that provides a little deeper insight into some questions that were raised in the previous novel.

One of the biggest questions answered is finding out just what the Shadows are there for. I admit that I was pleasantly surprised and completely thrown for a loop, simply because I didn't expect the Shadows to have the kind of functionality that they have.

You can bet on seeing and hearing more about the Shadows in the third instalment of the Fallen series as I get a feeling that they'll be a key player in helping Luce discover more of her past lives.

The world Lauren has created in Torment is vastly different from the world created in Fallen. Fallen saw a rather dark, gothic setting and gloomy atmosphere at Sword & Cross, while Torment sees Luce in coastal California, hiding out and attending school at Shoreline. 

Whereas Sword & Cross was drenched in perpetual shadows and cloudy darkness, Shoreline is an exclusive, expensive school of light, open spacious with a beautiful and roomy view of the ocean.

Yet, for all it's beauty, I couldn't help but pick up on the irony in choosing the setting because, for all of it's sparkling and glimmering beauty, Luce finds herself in a near-constant state of Torment (See? I told you the title was appropriate).

Who is she? What was she like? What happened between her and Daniel in all of her past lives?  These are jus a few of the questions that she grapples with throughout the novel.

Of course, the lengths that she goes through to get some more answers often put her in harm's way, but hey, with the help of new friends (and old ones),  there's just no stopping Luce. 

What I really enjoyed about this novel is seeing Luce's character grow and develop. As a huge fan of character-driven novels (especially in a series), being witness to character change and growth is very important to me. 

And with Luce's character - Lauren Kate doesn't disappoint. Still, in spite of her growth and watching her question more, there was such an abundance of angst about her, that it almost seems to weigh the novel and me, as the reader down. 

Again, the obvious appropriateness for the book's title is apparent here, and if this is what Lauren Kate set out to achieve, then she certainly got that right. But that doesn't mean it made for easy reading. All that angst is bound to get one down.

For those worried about not seeing anything of Daniel in this novel, fear not. He makes an appearance in the novel. Plenty of them actually - and while the moments between Daniel and Luce are romantic and at even times sizzling - there are obvious moments of strain too.

And it's no wonder because the poor girl is just so frustrated with Daniel's Edward-Cullen like protectiveness (i.e. I don't want to tell you anything because I want to protect you), that I really couldn't blame her for lashing out at him at times.

Cue the arrival of Miles - a possible new love interest, who happens to be the complete opposite of the brooding and secretive Daniel (this novel seems to be all about antithesis, doesn't it?), and things only become more complicated.

What made me especially happy about this novel, is that it sees the introduction of new characters and friends (the abrasive Shelby, and bubbly Dawn and Jasmine), while we also welcome back the arrival of old ones too (Roland, Cam, Arriane and even Molly, amongst others).

The absolute highlight of Torment though?

Would have to be the ending. It was absolutely explosive and it was definitely one that I didn't see coming.  The overall thread in this novel seems to convey the idea that the difference between good and evil is not black and white, but more various shades of gray. And of course, it now makes me want to read Passion (the third book in this series) more than ever now.

For all my little niggles with this novel, I have to say that Lauren Kate has definitely delivered a fantastic offering. Yes, it takes work to get through the novel, but the subtle and understated beauty of her descriptive writing is so thoroughly engaging that you will find yourself getting sucked into and swept away by the events in this novel anyway.

It's a beautiful read and gets a solid 4 out of 5 stars from me!

P.S. Don't forget, I'm giving away a copy of Torment, so if you want to stand a chance of winning - then enter my giveaway here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Tempest Rising

It's been a while since I've done a WoW meme, but I've been so bogged down with work lately, that I barely even had time to write any reviews this week. Boo hoo :(

Anyway, Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill from Breaking the Spine. The idea behind this meme is to highlight up and coming releases that we just can't wait to read.

This week's pick is Tempest Rising by Tracy Deebs.

I had every intention of featuring another book this morning, but then I stumbled upon this one. How awesome is that cover? And... and... need I really add anything else other than the word mermaids?

I think not.

Here's a brief synopsis of just what the book is about.

Tempest Rising by Tracy Deebs

Torn between what is and what should be, sixteen-year old Tempest Maguire, must decide just how far she's willing to go to defy her destiny.

Add in her love/hate relationship with the ocean, her completely inappropriate crush on the new guy on the beach and an ancient underwater feud only she can stop, is it any wonder that these days she can barely stay on her surfboard?

But with the fate of half the Pacific Ocean resting on her head, can Tempest get beyond her feelings of betrayal to fight the battle she was born to win?

I so want to read this, don't you?

What's on your WoW list this week?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Author interview: Tabitha Suzuma - part 2

Meant to post this yesterday, but somehow didn't get around to it. Here's part 2 of my interview with Tabitha. Enjoy!

Read part 1 of the interview here and read my review of Forbidden here.
6.  How do you feel about book-to-movie adaptations? Would you want Forbidden to be adapted for the big screen?

I have mixed feeling about them. I often feel that movie adaptations dumb down the original book or else change it so much that it becomes scarcely recognisable.

The few book-to-movie adaptations I personally think have worked particularly well in the last few years or so are The Hours, Atonement, Prozac Nation and Revolutionary Road.

In theory I would love the idea of Forbidden being adapted for the big screen.
In practice though I know I would have a hard time relinquishing control and would fear for the book's integrity.

7. What are your own thoughts on incest and what advice would you give to people who find themselves in a situation like Maya and Lochan's?

I feel that consensual incest isn't as black and white as society at large seems to perceive it and I feel that there are cases and situations where consensual incest could be at least 'understandable'. I abhor the blanket dismissal of anything as 'wrong' without the close examination of individual cases.

I feel as disgusted as the next person at the idea of having any kind of vaguely romantic relationship with either of my brothers ... but what if my circumstances were completely different? What if my brother had never felt like my brother?

In that case who would I be hurting by having a relationship with him if he wanted one too?

I think I actually became even more open minded about consensual incest during the writing of the book. So long as it really is completely consensual, I don't think it should ever be an imprisonable offence.

However, I do think that on the whole it should be discouraged and that couples who find themselves drawn into an incestuous relationship similar to Maya and Lochan's should be encouraged to seek counselling.

I don't think having biological children in an incestuous relationship should be allowed, simply because the risk of genetic defects is so high.

8. For anyone interested in more of these kind of reads, what books would you recommend?

I haven't actually read any other YA books about consensual sibling incest, although I guess they must exist. For fans of hard-hitting, uncompromising, gritty teen fiction I would highly recommend S.E. Hinton, author of 'The Outsiders'.

 I was greatly influenced by her books as a teenager. I would also suggest trying three of my other books: A Note of Madness, its sequel A Voice in the Distance, and From Where I Stand.

They deal with tough issues such as mental illness, suicide, self harm and bereavement and are strongly influenced by my own battles with severe clinical depression. Extracts from all my books can be found on my website:

9. Your next book is called A Time to Die. Can you tell us a little about what it's about and when we can expect it in stores?

Again, this one is for mature teenagers who aren't afraid of hard-hitting books. It deals with a topic that some people may also find controversial: euthanasia. It should be out in 2012.

10. And finally… what do you hope readers take away with them after reading Forbidden?

I hope that the book lingers in the reader's mind, makes them think and experience some strong emotions. I hope they take away with them the realisation that things are not always as black and white as they might first seem.

That everyone is different and it is often too easy and narrow-minded to dismiss something as disgusting or wrong. I hope they will come to realise that in some cases, in some situations, something universally perceived as 'wrong' can actually be harmless.

And that you don't choose your emotions, you don't choose who you fall in love with. I also hope the book makes people more open-minded and less judgemental in general and encourages readers to have empathy for others, particularly for those who are different, isolated or troubled and lead difficult lives.

A special thank you to Tabitha and her publicist for taking the time to read and forward my request and for answering my questions!
For more information about Tabitha and her previously released novels,you can visit her website here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Author interview: Tabitha Suzuma - Part 1

So a while back I read and reviewed Tabitha Suzuma's Forbidden. Those  that have read my review will know that I just couldn't stop raving about it (Still can't as a matter of fact). Because I loved this book, I really wanted to try and track down Tabitha's publicist in order to arrange an interview.

And I'm very happy to say that her publicist as well as Tabitha kind enough to agree to answering a few questions for me. The interview is quite lengthy, so I have decided to split it into two parts. I'll be posting part 2 tomorrow. So, Without further ado, here is some information about the book and part one's answers to the questions that I've asked her.

About the book:

Sixteen-year-old Maya and seventeen-year-old Lochan have never had the chance to be 'normal' teenagers. Having pulled together for years to take care of their younger siblings while their wayward, drunken mother leaves them to fend alone, they have become much more than brother and sister.

And now, they have fallen in love. But this is a love that can never be allowed, a love that will have devastating consequences ...How can something so wrong feel so right?

Author interview:

1. You're a published author of 5 novels, Forbidden being your most recent release. Considering the rather controversial and taboo topic Forbidden deals with, can you tell us a little about the road to publication for this novel?

It was quite unusual. I'd had the idea floating around in my head for a while and finally decided to take the plunge and have a go at writing it without telling my publishers.

However, about three chapters in, I lost confidence and suddenly realised there was no way anyone was going to be willing to risk publishing a book about consensual teenage incest for young adults.

So I abandoned it and started looking for a new idea but after a couple of months, still hadn't come up with anything.

One day, I happened to be visiting my editor Charlie Sheppard at home for a purely social call (we had become good friends) when, shortly before I was about to leave, she casually asked me if I was working on anything at the moment.

With some embarrassment I told her about my 'crazy' idea of an incestuous love story, now abandoned, but instead of rolling her eyes or looking shocked, her face lit up.

I firmly told her it was a non-starter because I really wasn't willing to write a book, supposedly about incest for shock-value, only to gloss over any sexual scenes - which I felt sure was the only way of getting a book on this topic past the YA gatekeepers.

She said she understood and we left it at that. But a week later, to my complete and utter astonishment, I got a call from my agent saying that Random House wanted to commission me to write the book!

I immediately replied I would only be willing if I could keep it gritty and realistic and write openly about the couple's sexual relationship. To my amazement, they agreed. It was the first book I'd ever been commissioned to write.

2. Were you expecting to encounter opposition to the publication of this novel considering that Forbidden deals with teen incest?

Of course, which is why I abandoned the book in the first place. Even after I accepted the commission, I knew there would be difficulties once my publishers actually saw for themselves that I really had written the story with absolutely no holds barred.

3. Incest is definitely a subject that almost everyone seems to avoid talking or reading about. Consensual incest even more so. What made you decide to tackle this subject and where did the inspiration of the novel come from?

It started with the desire to write a tragic love story about star-crossed love. It really just came down to incest by a process of elimination. I wanted the book to be set in contemporary London and I needed the two teens in question to be old enough for their love for each other to be taken seriously.

But I quickly realised that (fortunately) in modern-day Britain there are very few – if any – obstacles that could keep a couple in love apart.

Cultural and religious difference maybe, but if the couple were determined enough to go against their families' wishes, they could always run away together. I needed something that would be condemned by everyone wherever they went – a relationship that could never be and moreover, was against the law.

4. Without spoiling anything for any reader, I have to say that Forbidden was one of the most heartbreaking books I've read this year (I cried buckets). How did writing this book affect you on an emotional level?

As I start off by saying in the acknowledgements, writing this book was honestly one of the most difficult things I've done in my life so far. I came close to giving up so many times.

The ending was particularly tough. In order to portray the characters' emotions convincingly, I had to experience them myself, which was incredibly painful.

I found myself spiralling into deep depression and would often end up in tears and have to take a break and pace the flat alone at night, sobbing. There were times when I couldn't even bear to read through what I'd written.

I became so caught up in the characters and the story that it began to feel as if I were writing a book about something that had really happened. I shut myself away and did nothing but write until the story became more important and more vivid to me than real life.

This led to me having a breakdown: I was hospitalised and told by psychiatrists that I must take a break from writing for the sake of my health. My mother even went as far as to say the book was slowly killing me. I ignored them all of course and kept on going, but it wasn't an easy time.
5. Many people might argue that tackling teenage incest in YA novels is something that isn't necessarily appropriate for young adult readers. What are your thoughts on this? And have you received any negative backlash relating to this?

I am confident that if people take the time to read the book before rejecting its subject matter, most people will react positively. Of course, some will reject the book outright without actually reading it, and that's their choice.

However, I have been fortunate enough to get masses of wonderful emails from my readers. So far, the feedback on Forbidden has been overwhelmingly positive which feels great.

Adults as well as teens have written in droves to tell me how much the book moved them, usually to the point of tears, and many told me they were really quite shocked to find themselves rooting for a brother and sister to be allowed to have a romantic relationship but that their feelings changed completely during the course of the book.

I don't think teenagers should be shielded from any topic because encountering taboo or controversial subjects is part of their development, of learning about the world.

I think teens have the right to be informed about the books they choose, so warnings such as 'unsuitable for younger readers' can certainly be useful.

But if a teenager is determined to read a book containing say explicit sex scenes or excessive violence, they will do so, even if they have to resort to the adult section.

It is part of natural human curiosity and part of growing up. Personally, I don't like books that contain gratuitous shocking material though, that seek to scandalise just in order to create a stir, attract publicity and sell to as many people as possible.

At the end of the day, I firmly believe that a truly great book is not one that leaves you shocked or disgusted but one that leaves you moved and possibly even changes your outlook on society and the world.

End of Part 1

End note: This interview also appears on the site for which I work, the link of which can be found here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book review: Once Dead, Twice Shy

Once Dead, Twice Shy
Neither here, nor there, dead but not gone - Once Dead, Twice Shy chronicles one girl's struggle to find out why she's being targeted by dark reapers.

Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison (HarperCollins)

Madison Avery should be dead. But... she's not.

After being targeted and scathed by a dark reaper on her prom night, Madison manages to steal a mysterious amulet worn around the neck of her would-be-killer.

This amulet provides her with the illusion of having a body and connects her to this world, even though she isn't really alive.

Not quite sure why the dark reapers are after her, Madison isn't about to take things lying down; and besides... not knowing what your killer did with your body or where he may be hiding it, is enough to make any girl go on an epic search hunt for answers.

Stuck on earth, she gets a little help from a light reaper (who may or may not be a good guy), a very cute boy-crush named Josh and a cheeky and feisty guardian angel.

One thing is certain: If Madison wants to make it out alive, she will have to:

a) have all her wits about her
b) harness whatever power she may or may not possess now that she's in limbo - and
c) learn about the world of light and dark reapers very, very quickly if she wants to get the upper hand.

My thoughts:

Let me start off by asking you a question: Have you ever read a book and felt as if the book was missing an introduction?  No?

Well, this is one of those books.  

Once Dead, Twice Shy has been sitting on my shelf for a good couple of months now. Much as I liked the cover, there was always a deep-rooted and inexplicable reluctance that I have felt towards this reading this book. 

But, in an effort to make a dent in my ever-growing list of books that need to be read, I decided I'd start by getting this one out of the way. And while I'm glad I ended up reading the book, I can't say that it is a book that I really, really enjoyed.

For one, that feeling of the book missing an introduction haunted me throughout the entire novel and for the first 50 pages or so, I found myself thoroughly confused as to just what was happening in the book. Turns out that the feeling I had was right.

Apparently you actually have to read the Madison Avery and the Dim Reaper short story in the Prom Nights from Hell anthology if you actually want to get the gist of the history behind Madison's story.

I actually think this was a very, very bad idea.

I can't help but wonder how many people (including myself) have jumped into this book without knowing about or having read the short story in the Prom Nights from Hell anthology. 

According to another reviewer, the short story actually sets the stage for Once Dead, Twice Shy, so if I were you, I would get my hands on the Prom Nights from Hell anthology before dipping into this one. 

Even though she does recap to an extent, I was still somewhat confused and felt as if there were a lot of key points missing in the actual summarising of just what happened to Madison.

The tone of writing is considerably light and has none of that overwhelming teenage angst  that so many novels subsist on (I love teen angst, but am not always in the mood for the heavier reads, so the tone of the novel is definitely one of the key aspects that kept me from tossing this book aside).

I loved that it was such a fast-paced read and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of humour that was sprinkled throughout the novel. 

Madison as a character, while definitely not one of my favourites, was still a pretty cool  and spunky character, even though at times she didn't come across as being all that developed. (I'm guessing that we'll probably get to see more of her growth throughout the book series)

What I did find a problem with, is that sometimes Madison came across as being almost restrained for someone who wears t-shirts and shoes with skull crosses. And while I'm not necessarily a fan of excessive cussing in YA novels, Kim Harrison almost seems to censor Madison. I found it so at odds with the spunky, punk-rock image that Madison is portrayed as.

I am aware that I am proving myself to be guilty of stereotyping here (which I really don't want to do), but the feisty, skull-cross wearing girl is, for me, almost supposed to swear - and not substitute those cussing words with phrases like "Son of a dead puppy." 

Admittedly, I found this amusing at first, but it does happen throughout of the novel, and for me, it just didn't ring true to the kind of character I thought she was.

Who really stood out for me in this novel though, was Grace, the guardian angel. I absolutely loved the way she was portrayed and I loved the fact that she kept on taunting Madison in limerick sing-song mode. She really made me giggle like mad.

She's sweet, funny and not-seen by everyone which results in some amusing situations with Madison appearing as if she's talking to her self. I think, I'd continue with this series just because of her alone - I liked her that much.

And Josh?

Also not all that memorable of a character for me, but I think Kim did a great job at setting the scene for a developing relationship which has the possibility to bloom into a full-blown romance in the next books.

The world of dark and light reapers is certainly an interesting one and one that I haven't seen around to often, so I do think that I would, at some stage, get around to read the next instalment in the series. 

It really is just a pity that some of the ideas in the novel are executed a little poorly and tends to fall a little on the flat side.

Still, if you're looking for a break from the heavier and angst-ridden type of reads out there, then this one would offer a nice enough of a distraction.

It did for me.