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Review: Vendetta by Catherine Doyle

24638201Vendetta by Catherine Doyle (2014, Chicken House) borrowed from the library, also own eBook

Look at that cover. Just look at it. So pretty. *strokes screen*

When it comes to revenge, love is a dangerous complication.With a fierce rivalry raging between two warring families, falling in love is the deadliest thing Sophie could do. An epic debut set outside modern-day Chicago.

Yes, I liked the premise. You get the sense that this has a Godfather-esque feel to it and it certainly doesn’t disappoint in that respect.

When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion in her neighbourhood, Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nicoli, Sophie finds herself falling into a criminal underworld governed by powerful families.

Ah yeah. It’s a little cliche. But it’s also so easy to read, so easy to get swept up by this initial blossoming romance that I didn’t care. To be fair, I wouldn’t call Nicoli the ‘bad boy’. That’s all Luca.

As the boys’ dark secrets begin to come to light…

Oh. Yeah. About that. Nicoli might actually be a ‘bad boy’ in the more conventional sense in that he’s done bad things. Ha ha! The five brothers were well characterised. I really liked Gino and Valentino… until all is revealed at the end and then there was only one brother for me. Oh brother. *kneels in prayer* Luca, Luca, Luca.

Sophie is confronted with stinging truths about her own family, too. She must choose between two warring dynasties – the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break.

But whose heart? We still don’t know. Not really.

Characters – As I’ve mentioned, Luca is the shining star of this book. I think he has the most progression as a character, you can see his change, plot his arc. I suppose you could say Sophie ‘toughens up’ but I think that grit and inner strength has always been part of her, it’s not a new development. The five boys are quite fascinating. I loved how they interacted with each other. For me, it was Nicoli with whom I struggled with the most. When it’s revealed at the end (don’t worry, not really a spoiler, you can see this coming a mile away) that he’s done some horrible things, it doesn’t really match up to the person on the page. If that makes sense? Sure you can have a conflicted character, but he wasn’t even that. His actions throughout the book, even the more violent scenes, weren’t enough to back up his ‘true self’.

Writing – It’s so, so easy to get swept up in this story. Simple, smooth writing. It’s not going to break your heart, or make you cry, but it carries you along for the entire book without a hiccup.

Gossip Girl – I couldn’t help but make this comparison. There is something slightly XOXO about this. I think it’s Nicoli. He was effectively Nate. Don’t be put off by that, it’s just something that popped in my head, an observation I made while reading it and I wanted to share. :)

All in all I really enjoyed this book. It just suited me, you know? The mafia thing is fun, and the characterisation of the brothers is on point. There were some nice touches to the story, smaller details that make difference. I love careful embellishment. An addictive read.

Concept – 4/5

Plot – 3.5/5

Ending or Twist – 3.5/5

Character(s) 5/5

Overall – 4/5

 

 

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YALC – panels, signings and swag

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This was one of the best weekends EVER!

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It was very much about this book for me. I was reading it on the train on the way up from Devon and I fell in love with it. Look at the publisher’s stand! Gorgeous. They also had a tarot reader in on the Sunday. I met Moira after her panel ‘Troubled Teens’ (which I dipped out of early so I could get near the front of the signing queue) and she was so sweet.

20150719_203448You have to admit, the marketing for this book is on fleek! The tarot cards were so cute. And she has such neat writing! I’m jealous!

Panels I attended:

Thrills and Chills- Darren Shan, Will Hill, Dawn Kurtagich, Lou Morgan. Chaired by Matt Whyman. 

I was so eager to listen to this panel. I’m a horror girl at heart. Darren Shan was wonderful, and so funny. It was also nice to finally see Dawn Kurtagich in person. I’d had an email exchange with he earlier this year. What did I learn from this session? There are pretty much zero boundaries when it comes to writing horror… as long as your characters stay clothed.

20150717_154244 (1)A picture with Dawn Kurtagich after she signed my copy of The Dead House… Guys. The finished copies of these are beautiful. Scary. But the layout/structure is GORGEOUS!

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Also, these were Dawn’s shoes. I was practically drooling. After an educated guess (I was right) I found them on Irregular Choice, in case you were interested. I know I was. Still am. Fantastic shoes. *applauds*

Apocalypse Now- Virginia Bergin, Marie Rutkoski, Francesca Haig, Moira Young, Teri Terry. Charied by Gemma Malley.

This panel was a lot of fun. There were some interesting questions about setting and the use of reality in fantasy, also that question of ‘what next’ for dystopian finction.

Meeting Marie Rutkoski afterwards was a nervous, but exciting moment for me. I love her books, The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. I turned into a mute when it was my turn. Literally no words came out other than ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’.

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I didn’t do many panels on the Saturday. I spent much of the day pootling around the rest of the LFCC, and MY GOD it was hot on the lower floors. Hoo boy. But come 3.30pm it was all about Judy Blume.

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I got on the second row, directly behind her husband! Ha ha! I think for many of us ‘older’ readers and bloggers this was a real special moment. Judy Blume is the original YA (hush, I won’t hear ‘Holden Caulfield’ from anyone, thank you) even though she doesn’t like being put into the ‘YA’ pigeonhole.

Patrick Ness was a wonderful interviewer, asking clever and also cute questions. It was something of a relief to find that someone like Judy Blume still suffers from writer’s doubt. It seems impossible that someone of that kind of success can still go through that, but perhaps it’s just one of those things that will never go away. I think it’s healthy, if you can keep it under a careful control.

Both Judy and Patrick echoed that well spoken advice for writers: READ, READ, READ.

Sunday was definitely a ‘panel’ day for me.

Mental Health in YA- Matt Whyman, Brian Conaghan, Annabel Pitcher, Holly Bourne. Chaired by Imogen Ruseel Williams.

I think this only cemented the fact that we still have a lot of work to do in the way of fiction and how it represents things such as ‘mental health’. I think it was Holly Bourne who said that she wished ‘mental health’ could be used in the same positive way as we think of having ‘physical health’. We all have ‘physical health’, but we only seem to use the term ‘mental health’ when something is ‘wrong’. I’d never thought of it that way, so that was really useful for me.

Bringing Sexy Back- Non Pratt, Louise O’Neill, Tom Ellen, Lucy Ivison. Chaired by James Dawson.

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With James dressed as the Mother of Dragons herself, you just knew you were in for a good one. This panel was probably my favourite. It was funny, laugh out loud funny, but it still had a serious side to it too. From talking about the ‘sperm book’, to censorship, to ‘he put a fish in her’, it was such an energetic and entertaining session.

Between Fantasy and Reality- Sally Green, Melinda Salisbury, Ben Aranovitch, Frances Hardinge, Amy Alward. Chaired by James Smythe.

There were some similar questions raised as in ‘Apocalypse Now’, but for me, it was when each author was discussing their researching techniques. For instance, how much ‘real’ goes into their ‘fantasy’ narrative. Melinda, Frances and Ben admitted to stealing a lot from history, and also from the ‘current’ world. Frances talked about how research dug up facts and interesting stories that she couldn’t not use. And then Sally Green admits to doing hardly any research at all. And I love that! It’s a case of what works for you.

Troubled Teens- Jenny Valentine, Kevin Brooks, Clare Furniss, Sarah Pinborough, Moira Fowley-Doyle. chaired by Gemma Malley.

The weekend was exhausting. I stumbled into a restaurant late on Sunday evening in much need for a beer (check), good food (check) and then a massive ice cream on the way back to the hotel (check).

But it was a ‘good’ kind of exhausting. A satisfied exhausting. I got to meet the lady from Star Trek who played the Borg queen which was cool, and there was so much stuff to see, to do, to buy. I picked up a lot of free stuff, and I bought a couple things too:

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And I also WON something! Chicken House were giving away the first chapter of Catherine Doyle’s Inferno, signed. (See tomorrow for my very late review of ‘Vendetta’. Oops). I had to answer three out of five questions on Vendetta, and it was HARD! But I scraped through, and won the scroll:

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I didn’t get to meet any bloggers, and I didn’t go to any bloggery things. But that’s ok. I saw plenty of people I knew from the blogosphere, but I felt too awkward to say ‘hi, I follow you on twitter and stuff’. Maybe next year, eh?

YALC was so much fun. I’m already counting down the days ’til next time.

 

 

 

 

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#QuietYA Guest Post by Maria Andreu + Giveaway!

Maria Andreu, author of The Secret Side of Empty (July 2015), explores the meaning behind ‘#QuietYA’ and the motivations driving (surely) every writer. It’s such a pleasure to host this piece on my blog as part of the Quiet YA tour (is that the right word?), anyway I read this and was like ‘yep, this is one cool lady’.

The hashtag #QuietYA first came to my attention when someone tweeted the title of my book with it attached a few weeks back.  Was my book quiet, I wondered?  Full of stuff like a slow-speed chase, the fireworks of first love and a protagonist who finds a way to give voice to the secrets she thinks stain and define her, it’s not the first word I’d use to describe it.

I dug a little deeper and found I wasn’t the only one wondering what #QuietYA meant.  Laurie Halse Anderson, the grand lady of beautiful YA prose (although the qualifier “YA” feels unnecessary in that sentence) also posted the question a few months ago.  It was in the Twitter responses to her inquiry that I found the answer.  #QuietYA is a term coined for books “that aren’t best sellers, award winners and/or adapted into movies and are only YA.”  Under that definition, my book, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY, does mostly qualify as #QuietYA.  It has won a couple of smaller awards, but not the kind that get end-cap placement at chain stores or fancy gold stickers on the cover, (although I was humbled and honored to learn of the recognition it did get, so I’m in no way discounting it).  But, in fact, it didn’t make best sellers’ lists or thrust its author into the limelight.

Does that matter?’

Here I am reminded of the old tree falling in the forest with nobody there to hear.  Most every writer would be lying if she said that she gave no thought to whether her book finds readers.  With truly no attachment to “success,” nearly all motivation to publish and promote a book is gone.  If what we truly care about is just telling a great story, why go through the swamp of revisions, football-sized fields of rejection and the winds of a mercurial publishing business?  Why not just sit around the fire pit and tell your kids your stories?  Of course the act of writing something down assumes (or at least gives rise to the hope for) a reader.  A book is a conversation you have through time with people you don’t know about what’s really in your heart.

And, yet, retaining sanity and productivity as a writer requires letting go of those hopes. Not permanently – impossible – and not just once, but over and over again, sometimes daily, sometimes hourly.  You can’t write to the ghostly crowd, or even to the one true love you hope will come across your words one day.  You must only give voice to a truth, then another, and another, until you have (you hope!) a story worth telling.  And reading.

So, if a book falls in a forest of other books and it doesn’t make any best sellers’ lists, win any of the big awards or have Hollywood knocking at your door, is it a book that matters?  The obvious answer for the author of what can be defined as a “quiet book,” is yes, of course.  Although I’d be lying if hearing it for the first time didn’t feel a bit like being the plainer girl at the prom being told that she looks really nice and everyone is special in her own way while the girl with the bounciest, golden curls and the Neiman Marcus dress gets named prom queen.  It was like knowing you weren’t the prettiest girl there but hoping no one had noticed, only to have someone come up and say that pretty isn’t everything.

But, of course, the thinking behind the #QuietYA hashtag is that it’s important to look beyond the surface of what seems to be doing well in YA to discover the books that may surprise you.  The things that often catch our eye and put a book on our radar – flashy bookstore placement, big name blurbs – can sometimes have less to do with merit and more to do with marketing budget and connections.  Which is not to say that books that get the attention don’t deserve it.  (My heart swells with the beautiful words and stories we have available to us today).  It’s only to say that they’re not the only ones.

Amen!

And because we’re making big noise about ‘quiet’ YA, here’s the details of the giveaway (US only, soz). I’ve jumbled together a mosaic of the covers of the books up for grabs, just CLICK HERE to be sent through to the Rafflecopter page. Win! Win! Win!

 

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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.