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#MangaMonth – Black Butler by Yana Toboso

Kuroshitsuji or Black Butler has been an obsession of mine for a long time. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted searching ebay for the perfect items to compliment my Madame Red cosplay. It’s gotta be done, right?

The series follows Ciel Phantomhive, the thirteen-year-old (as of chapter 14) head of the Phantomhive noble family and the business owner of the Funtom company, a toy manufacturer. Ciel has formed a contract with Sebastian Michaelis, a demon who has taken on the disguise of Ciel’s butler after he witnessed his parents being killed and soon after getting kidnapped and tortured. In return, when Sebastian has helped Ciel finish all his tasks, such as working as an underdog for the queen and defeating London’s worst criminals, but more importantly, avenging his parents’ deaths, Sebastian will be allowed to consume Ciel’s soul.

It’s quite dark, and I love that. There’s a London victorian/gothic setting and vibe that I also dig. It’s rare for me to find a manga that’s not set in Japan that I enjoy.

It is, like most of my favourite narratives, the characters that keep me coming back for me. If it’s not the questionable relationship between Sebastian and Ciel that’s got me hooked, it’s Grell’s appearances. I live for Grell.

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I don’t want to give away any of the fun, but let’s just say he’s a colourful and entertaining character.

The artwork is crisp and clean, and the frames easy to follow. It’s clear why this has become such a sensation.

Anyone else a fan of this series? Who’s your favourite character? 

 

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Review: The Dark Light by Julia Bell

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The Dark Light by Julia Bell (expected July 16th 2015, Macmillan Children’s Books) received with thanks from NetGalley

‘Ten minutes to midnight!’ Jonathan shouts over the sound of the blazing fire. Sparks rise into the sky and mingle with the stars. ‘Only ten minutes!’ Bevins says, falling down on his knees. ‘So it begins.’

Rebekah has lived on the island her whole life, and it’s only now that she’s starting to wonder what she might experience outside her strict religious community. Alex has been sent to the island to escape her dark past, and through her eyes it’s a dark and sinister place. Thrown together by chance, Rebekah and Alex strike up an unlikely friendship and it’s together that they attempt to break free of their worlds and make a world of their own. But when a kiss between the girls is witnessed by an islander there is no escape they can make – the Rapture is coming for them all.

I knew I recognised the name from somewhere, and when I popped this sucker open I had my thoughts confirmed by the author bio. I’ve been quoting from The Creative Writing Coursebook for nearly four years of studies! That said, somehow the knowledge that she was the author of that made me nervous. I can’t explain it, but in the past I’ve not enjoyed the books of individuals who ‘practice what they preach’. And sure, that’s a grand generalisation, but it’s just a pattern I’ve noticed in my own reading tastes.

So, what worked for me?

Concept – The premise to this book is pretty gnarly, don’t you think? I mean, anything that involves an extreme religious sect/cult/circle is going to get heavy. I was looking forward to seeing how it all panned out and more than anything I wanted them all to get off that damn island! *inappropriate flashbacks to Battle Royale*

Rebekah – I really felt for her character. At times I wanted to hit her upside her head, but Bell did a great job in getting me to trust in Rebekah’s voice and motivations. Despite her brainwashed-crazy, she was a likable gal. I think she showed the most development as a character.

Grit – There were some scenes that made my skin crawl. The quote ‘the evil that men do’ springs to mind. I thought those scenes really brought the story to life. However, they were few and far between and I found the lulls difficult to get through. Some of the male characters are terrifying!

What didn’t work for me?

Alex – This story is told from a dual POV. I’m not a fan of this device, but I can be swayed. But not here. I found Alex to be weak as a character, and I don’t mean her personality, I mean her representation on the page. She identifies as lesbian, but for the life of me I don’t know why she was so obviously gay. You know? Her appearance, her attitude, her whole being was a little too cliche for me. And I just didn’t feel any connection to her. I much preferred Alex through the eyes of Rebekah (who was really interesting to read as she figured out her feelings for Alex). Oh Alex. I’m sorry, but I didn’t see the point of your POV. :(

Pace – Slow. But not. That’s sounds weird, I know. But there were some parts (especially the last third) that tripped along at a fast pace. And then there were times when I just was not engaged at all.

Ending/message – *sigh* The ending. *sighs again* The ending was… frustrating. I’d just clambered through the whole of this book and how am I rewarded? Well, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so let’s just say the part that I really gelled with in this book was thrown back at my face. Also, Alex (sorry Alex) I had no clue how her character did a complete 180. Literally, she changed her colours over the course of a chapter. But how? I don’t know. I didn’t believe it. It was weird.

And the closing sentiment? *gag*

I think by the end I was starting to really get on board with this book. The action, the pace, Rebekah being a badass… I was glued! And then everything goes to shit and I’m left with a clammy message about life? Nope. Not buying it. I might have, if a certain something had not happened. But it did. So…

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All in all I found this book easy to read. There were highs and lows, but I found Rebekah’s journey made it worth it. My main reasons behind the rating are to do with the characterisation of Alex, and ending. I felt betrayed, and not in a good way. Sometimes a book can smack you in the face and leave you mouth agog.. but still exhilarated. Here, I was just annoyed. Nice cover, but a justified 2 out 5.

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#Manga Month: Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya

Welcome to Manga Month! I’ll be posting simultaenously here and here. Naturally, the posts about the literature itself will be put here, whereas other stuff related to the manga will appear on my sister blog. Other book reviews will still pop up during the month.

I decided to start with Fruits Basket, or ‘Faruba’, because it’s what started it all for me. I picked up volume one in W H Smith, on a whim, and seeing the odd way you were supposed to read it (more about the reading style here) coupled with such beautiful illustrations made it impossible not to buy it.

I was hooked from the first frame.

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A family with an ancient curse…

And the girl who will change their lives forever…

Tohru Honda was an orphan with no place to go until the mysterious Sohma family offered her a place to call home. Now her ordinary high school life is turned upside down as she’s introduced to the Sohma’s world of magical curses and family secrets.

I would later learn that it is categorised as ‘shoujo’ (again, see here for ‘genres’ etc) and it would become my favourite category of manga.

What is it about Fruits Basket that makes it so special though?

For my first experience with manga I definitely lucked out. Over the years I’ve read some great manga as well as some dodgy stuff too, and I can truly appreciate how gorgeous Faruba really is.

I think it’s the characters. It has to be. More than the story (which is obviously important), because I was willing to follow this set of characters to the ends of the earth and back, regardless of what may happen. Tohru is so lovable and the manga-ka (author) gives you so many potential book boyfriends in this series that even now I couldn’t say who was my favourite.

Based on the animals of the chinese zodiac, I found the eventual pairing easy to predict. That said, I was obsessed with Akito. I don’t mind admitting it. And how telling that is in hindsight! HA! (I don’t want to say anything, even now after all these years, because I would hate to spoil it for anyone new to the series)

But anyone that has read/watched Fruits Basket will understand why I have a soft spot for the Mabudaichi Trio:

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Have you read Fruits Basket? Who’s your favourite Sohma?

 

 

 

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To read, or not to read… my ‘Grey’ dilemma

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I’ve seen some reviews around of the new ‘Grey’. Let me just make it clear; I have not read Fifty Shades. And it is unlikely that I ever will. I’ve read snippets online, and that is already too much.

Similarly, I haven’t seen the film. And it is unlikely that I ever will.

So when I spot massive posters for James’ ‘Grey’ in the W H Smith window in Winchester, I want to gag. And not in any kinky kind of way. Uh huh. I went there. Gag.

I’ve seen some reviews and I’ve had a proper chuckle at John Crace’s Digested Read of it, and it’s pretty much as I expected. Same shit, different character.

That said…

I find myself more compelled to read this version of events. I’ve seen Christian (I had to google this dude’s name.. oops) described as a psycho, creepy, disturbed, unforgivable. And I want to know who it was that said it was ‘about as sexy as a misery memoir’. Now THIS intrigues me. Even if it is a total car crash of a story I’m sorta digging the idea that this dude might be a complete psychopath coloured into something else through Ana’s eyes.

If the reviews are to be believed, then it only confirms everything I already thought about this portrayal of an unhealthy relationship.

But to those that HAVE read Fifty Shades, and Grey, I need to know if I can get away with just reading this latest release? (hurr hurr, ‘release’)

I’m not judgemental of anyone who has read and enjoyed this series; books is books. Read what makes you happy.

 

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Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Niell

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Borrowed from my local library.

In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful.

It’s impossible not to feel the comparison to Atwood’s ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ in this book, and I like that. I think Atwood has become such a strong staple in this SF/dystopian ‘genre’ (I’m using these terms loosely) that it’s high time she steps up next to Orwell as a source of inspiration. True?

For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.

I liked the idea of being given ‘options’ (if you can call them that). It’s still relatable, even at an extreme, reminicent of afternoons spent with the career’s advisor at school and classmates suddenly turning competitive and vicious and superior about it all.

Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.

It took me a long time to really ‘click’ with Freida. I could appreciate the kinds of things I felt the text was trying to tell me about young girls and the pressures forced upon them etc. But I found Freida a little… vapid at first. Is that fair? I think so. She grew on me though, the further away from the ‘norm’ she deviated. Isabel, however, was enthralling. I loved her character and how her story unfolded. I thought the relationship between Isabel and Freida was brilliantly conceived.

But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. ..
And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

Like I said, Isabel has such a compelling story that I forgave the prattling and tittering that went on between the other girls. The dialogue between the other girls made for an interesting and, to be fair, accurate representation of how ‘girls’ can interact. And by this I mean the highly excited and extreme way ‘girls’ can be perceived/expected to be. But I found some of the conversation a little tedious.

Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known.

The ending of this book SLAYED ME! Bleak. Dark. Desperate. And so perfect. Just when you think she’s found some kind of ‘peace’ if not a HEA, the last few pages come to smack you in the face.

For me the last quarter of this book made up for what I felt was a mediocre first half. I thought the setting was well used and I enjoyed the familiarity of the girls’ routines and there were some really quirky (and let’s face it, disturbing) objects they interacted with.

The turning point for me personally was when Freida began to royally fuck things up, but by only doing things that I might have done in the same situation. It’s those moments when you know what will keep you safe, but your heart tells your brain to ‘do one’ and you end up in a difficult mess to climb out of. I really don’t want to give anything away, but my heart was right with her, being squeezed and torn out.

A thought provoking read which felt slow in parts but the ending slaps you so hard… I can almost forgive it everything. *rubs cheek… still sore*

I can see why this won the YA Book Prize 2015, it’s really great writing, just maybe not quite the right fit for me. A happy 4 out of 5 for this one. 

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Review: Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

21943246Borrowed from the library. Simon & Schuster, 2014

I really liked the look of this book and I kept my eye on it around pub day. But I started to notice some rather unsavory and unimpressed reviews and so it ended up being pushed a little further down my TBR list.

I was in a different library to my local when I spotted this and having my hands on it, I couldn’t NOT take it home with me. Shoved it in the scanner and escaped with that sucker!

Brit Pheiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn’t prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants;but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

I liked the mystery and intrigue Fitzpatrick sets up from the beginning. I’ll admit now, so we don’t come to any sort of awkward impasse later, Britt and her friend are a pair of the most annoying characters to have ever graced the pages of a YA. She made me want to hit myself with it, and it was the hardback version too.

I’m not being completely fair because I thought that Britt showed some real grit and determination in places, and I appreciate how she grew as person by the end. But it doesn’t forgive her ‘horror story female’ modus operandi. Sometimes when someone says ‘stay here’, you should listen to them. It’s probably going to work out better for you.

Foo. Ok, that’s out of my system now.

I loved how the small details made a big difference to the tone and overall plot of the story.

Britt is forced to guide the men off the mountain, and knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.

I tweeted about this book as I was reading it because I had it figured out about 60% in. I was like ‘yep, I’ve got your number book, you can’t fool me.’ And I was right! I’m not going to spoil it for those of you who haven’t read it, but even if you do figure it out before the end, I found it didn’t take away from the reading pleasure any.

But nothing is as it seems, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

Friend or foe, indeed! *waggles eyebrows*

Mason was probably the best character in the book. Even when I had the twist sorted in my head, I still couldn’t properly figure him out, and I really dug that.

Huh, one thing though. This is YA, right? For me it was walking a fine line between YA and NA.

Concept – 3/5

Plot – 4/5

Ending or Twist – 4/5

Character(s) 3/5

Overall – 3.5/5

It was very readable. I mean, even when I wanted to just leave Britt in a hole somewhere, she had ‘something’ that kept me with her. (I’m fickle, I know). I loved the setting and pace of the book, it just lacked that certain sparkle I look for in a story.

 

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Juvie by Steve Watkins

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Borrowed from the library. Candlewick Press, 2013.

You can’t blame me for picking this just because of the cover, right? It’s awesome. And I’m not even ashamed that my secondary motive for picking this up is because of a certain Netflix series…

Sadie Windas has always been the responsible one — she’s the star player on her AAU basketball team, she gets good grades, she dates a cute soccer player, and she tries to help out at home. Not like her older sister, Carla, who leaves her three-year-old daughter, Lulu, with Aunt Sadie while she parties and gets high.

The set up for this book was well done, I feel. The way the relationship with her sister changes and evolves was really interesting, especially when Sadie’s role as the younger sister isn’t presented in the expected ways.

But when both sisters are caught up in a drug deal — wrong place, wrong time — it falls to Sadie to confess to a crime she didn’t commit to keep Carla out of jail and Lulu out of foster care. Sadie is supposed to get off with a slap on the wrist, but somehow, impossibly, gets sentenced to six months in juvie.

The shit has hitteth the fan. This, actually, was the only part I wasn’t 100% happy to run with. Sadie isn’t completely blameless, but I felt like she was given the martyr card to use too flippantly. It was the mother’s stance in all this that I had the most trouble accepting.

As life as Sadie knew it disappears beyond the stark bars of her cell, her anger — at her ex-boyfriend, at Carla, and at herself — fills the empty space left behind.

Once Sadie is in juvie, the story really takes off. I think the use of flashbacks were useful, but I grew restless reading them because I wanted to be in the present with Sadie, living through hell with her! The set up is very much like Orange is the New Black, Sadie/Piper is shown in the past while living through the trials and tribulations of the present.

The scenes set in juvie were great. The character set was great, even though the descriptions do err on the side of cliche in places. But what I enjoyed the most about this book, I think, was how it had a focus and didn’t stray from it. There was no romance-for-the-sake-of-romance, there was no gratuitous violence or unmotivated actions, and I was quickly absorbed in the story.

Very much a character led story, I could compare it to a Sarah Dessen (without the romance), in the way it explores character development and personal trails and triumphs. It’s in the familial ties too, and the gentle way the internal monologue is expressed.

Concept – 4/5

Plot – 4/5

Ending or Twist – 3/5

Characters – 4/5

Overall – 4/5

A solid read. It’s both gentle and tough in equal measures with writing that’s sound as a pound.