Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas Book Haul 2014!

This Christmas I got six books (and let's face it, I'm going to "borrow" some of my brothers' ones, because they have tons. The 7-year-old got like 17 from Santa.) At the moment I'm "borrowing" The Knife of Never Letting Go from my 7-year-old brother. Anyway.

Here's what I got from Mam. Just one book and it's historical fiction which I don't usually read, but sure I'll give it a go. My sister got me a gorgeous notebook too, and I LOVE notebooks. 

This is everything I got from my Dad. It pretty much exactly matches what I asked for, which is predictable but cool.

I also have the books I bought secondhand a while ago (already blogged about), plus my brothers', which include The Knife of Never Letting Go, Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (think I've read it before, but it's worth another re-read, it's pretty funny) and the entire Series of Unfortunate Events. I probably won't be reading that last one, but when you add in the review books I have (if they ever download properly), I'll have tons to read over Christmas. 

The Dying of the Light Cover

I've been waiting for this book FOREVER. Well, okay, since late August, but whatever. I'm on page 51 right now and apprehensive to see how the series will end. It's not encouraging that the cover has the protagonist's skull on a bonfire, but hopefully it's just Derek messing with us. 


This is the final book in Dan Wells' Partials trilogy (you can read my reviews of the first two, Partials and Fragments here and here). It's been so long since I read Fragments and unfortunately I got it as an e-ARC so I can't reread it, but hopefully going back over the reviews will help. Anyway, I adored Fragments so I'm looking forward to this.


Another sequel to a book I adored (and reviewed), this is the second book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. It's lucky I have Christmas and people to buy gifts for me, because otherwise I'd never bother to buy sequels. Anyway, this has phenomenal writing, stunning twists and an original plot, and I can't wait to get back to it.


Finally, the start of a series rather than a sequel! I've wanted this since I read a review by Aylee, and I finally have it. The plot seems compelling, and I really should read some hard sci-fi if I profess to be such a sci-fi fan. 


Honesty time: I got this because of the film that came out recently, because I didn't really know it existed before. I saw a Tumblr gifset of her boyfriend talking to her and it was just so adorable ... I'm only human, okay? I did find a pirated copy on the internet accidentally (I swear) but it's all good because it's been properly paid for now and I only read a couple of pages. I really dislike the apparent spoiler in the TITLE of the second book (Where She Went). I mean, honestly. Don't ruin it in the title. 


The book Mam got me is historical fiction about Lady Elizabeth, Henry VIII's daughter. It's not top of my priority list, but here's hoping it'll be an unexpected gem. 

I "borrowed" my brother's The Knife of Never Letting Go (don't worry, he's fine with it). I'll be honest, it's not really my thing so far. I can't stand phonetic spelling (at least there's only a little - it was AWFUL with Blood Red Road, I couldn't finish that one). But I'm two chapters in and I'll read it after Skulduggery Pleasant: TDOTL, if just because of all the rave reviews. 

Have any of you read these? Feel free to comment below with your Christmas book hauls

Friday, 19 December 2014

Review: Foster by Claire Keegan

A small girl is sent to live with foster parents on a farm in rural Ireland, without knowing when she will return home. In the strangers’ house, she finds a warmth and affection she has not known before and slowly begins to blossom in their care. And then a secret is revealed and suddenly, she realizes how fragile her idyll is.

Publisher: Faber & Faber
Pages: 89
Rating: 2 Stars
Source: Borrowed

Given to me by my English teacher, on the recommendation that it won some book prize worth 100,000 euro or something. The rating is especially subjective with this one.

In Short: A prizewinner that I just didn't 'get'. At least, I assume so.


There isn't an awful lot to say. Foster is written from the POV of  a child, so Keegan has an excuse to do that thing literary writers love to do, as in write in a painfully innocent, astute way. I do it too, sometimes. But I'm convinced no kid is actually like that, it just looks impressive in a novel (and reads beautifully, yes). 

Keegan is very good at painting pictures using few words (and she'd want to be - the book is under 100 pages). She also captures rural Irish accents very well, though they're really rural, i.e. "bogger" accents, and I'm afraid outsiders (mainly Americans) will think all Irish people speak like that. I like the sense of love she communicates between the Kinsellas and the child (who is never named, as far as I can remember). You do see the relationship dynamics clearly, and the author chooses her words well (unlike me).

The low rating is because I just didn't get it. There's something that happens in the middle that sounds like it'll start an adventure, or at least be a mystery to solve, but it's never mentioned again. There is no exciting plot, it's all just nicely-described mundanity. The ending is far too ambiguous for my tastes, and I left feeling unsatisfied.

I also felt misled by the blurb; the "secret" isn't that big, and certainly doesn't threaten her "fragile idyll". With the great description and use of language, I can see why English teachers would love it, but it didn't engage me in the slightest.

Another example of literary novels not being for me.

I'll probably reread it at some point; hopefully I'll see more then. 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Thoughts: The Maleficent Seven - Derek Landy

This isn't a review as such, because I can't give any semblance of impartiality. Like I said in my YA vs. Adult post, I grew up with these books. So I finally got around to reading The Maleficent Seven and loved it. I've been trying to find time to read more and that was just the ticket (which suits, because I read it on a train. Get it? Ticket? I'll stop now.)


This time, the bad guys take the stage. 

Tanith Low, now possessed by a remnant, recruits a gang of villains - many of whom will be familiar from previous Skulduggery adventures - in order to track down and steal the four God-Killer level weapons that could hurt Darquesse when she eventually emerges. Also on the trail of the weapons is a secret group of Sanctuary sorcerors, and doing his best to keep up and keep Tanith alive is one Mr. Ghastly Bespoke.

When the villains around her are lying and scheming and plotting, Tanith needs to stay two steps ahead of her teammates and her enemies. After all, she's get her own double-crosses to plan - and she's a villain herself...

This wasn't the only time I rooted for the bad-guy protagonist, but it was definitely the most fun. I laughed out loud several times while reading it, and the rest of the time just had this stupid smile on my face. Every character is hilarious. All of them, even if it's unintentional. Even though they're all either sarcastic and witty or pathetic and laughable, the characters are still so well-defined and individual. It does help that Derek had seven books before this to flesh out these characters in a more detached way - I think that when you write from the perspective of a character they become more like you, so at least Tanith and co. already had their huge personalities from being described at a distance.

To be honest, I got a bit annoyed by Dexter Vex, Saracen Rue, the Monster Hunters, that whole team, stealing screen time from Tanith. I know the Maleficent Seven needed some obstacles to getting what they wanted, but I just loved Tanith's group so much. I think the Dead Men work best when Skulduggery is with them. Also, I loved how the characters lampshaded Saracen's ability (the elusive "he knows things"). It's played with a lot in this book, and we see him in action, but sadly still no explanation.

GOD there were so many bombshells. Not exactly spoilers, more just shocking backstory. So I don't feel too bad posting some of them. Near the start Sanguine's eyes would have done something "had he not scooped them out long ago". I can't be the only one who assumed he'd been born without eyes, or that he'd lost them in his hitman business. Now I want to know why he plucked his own eyes out. Then again, eye gore is the worst.  At one point someone says about Caelan, Valkyrie's vampire ex-boyfriend: "He stalked and he tortured and he murdered every woman he became enamoured with." Valkyrie and Caelan broke it off rather violently in Death Bringer (I think), the outcome worse for him than it was for her, but by that point he was already acting incredibly creepy and definitely stalking her. So you have to wonder what would have happened if he hadn't reached a timely end. Tanith gets a backstory too, which is fun and unexpected.

We're back to my favourite thing about great series: that they have whole world populated with real characters, so there are an infinite amount of stories possible in that world, both for the author and for fanfic writers.

The fact that the book is based on Tanith is interesting, considering that Derek said he planned to kill her off in the first book. I'm very glad he didn't; while she's evil now, she's still lovable. But oh wow, what an asshole. I can't go into detail because of spoilers, but I'll just expand on what it says in the blurb; Tanith does indeed double-cross people, and murder a few people we've come to like.

It's interesting to see how Valkyrie is seen by others. With the book normally told from her teenage perspective, you'd think that the world of sorcerers just constantly talked about her and Skulduggery, and that they're treated with some respect but not like they're the most important people in the universe. Valyrie and Skulduggery are both arrogant (the latter more so) and that tints the story from their perspective. I like to think about how Valkyrie's adolescence influences her view of the magical world, and how it influences the magical world's view of her.

The fact that Valkyrie is only mentioned a few times is also testament to the secondary characters' ability to prop up a story by themselves.

I'd have to say I prefer this book over Kingdom of the Wicked and Last Stand of Dead Men, but maybe not Death Bringer or Skulduggery Pleasant, just because it's so much fun. Definitely recommended if you're a Minion or whatever they're calling themselves these days, but tread carefully if not. You'll still love the jokes, but it's best to read up to Book 7 or 8 first so you have context.

I still haven't read The Dying of the Light. Getting that for Christmas.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Explanation of my Genre Preferences, Part I: YA vs Adult

I never explicitly declared this a YA blog, and yet I don't go near adult books for the most part. Here I thought it might be interesting to explore why that is. I'm going to talk about my other genre preferences (particularly, why I prefer sci-fi and dystopian over contemporary, historical and paranormal romance, in general) in a later post. 

1) Why YA is so Great

YA, or Young Adult, isn't so much a genre as a huge category that contains buckets of other genres like the ones I'm going to discuss below (from the historical-adventure Temeraire series by Naomi Novik to sugary contemporary like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell).  That's why I put this up here, because it kind of encompasses everything else I like. 

There are plenty of reasons why YA is popular, but a few stand out for me. 

I've always found YA more honest, and I'm not exactly sure why. Adults like to say that teenagers are naive, and maybe we are in some things. While this doesn't make us unintelligent, we do often lack life experience (remember, this isn't true for everyone: some people face more hardship in childhood than some adults will in their entire lives). But that naivete gives us a more optimistic outlook on the world, I think, and that's a nice thing to have in a narrator. Obviously teenagers are sarcastic and often quite cynical, but we do have a heart behind all that, I think, a sense of childlike wonder that's not entirely gone. The cynicism just shows through more often because the sting of life's disappointments is still fresh. We haven't had time to develop a thick skin yet. 

Teenagers seem to get more emotionally invested in books. This is awfully stereotypical, but I've found that this is true of teenage girls especially - you just have to look at a few fandoms to see that. So the sense of community and camaraderie both between the reader and the author and between the reader and other readers of that book/series is wonderful and really heart-felt. I'm sure it's nice for the author too, to have someone really connect emotionally with your book. Letters written to YA authors are not uncommon. I think that’s lovely.

YA has a reputation for not being as good as adult/mainstream fiction, for being less respectable – and I kind of love that, because it means it doesn’t have to be highbrow, it can be about the experience without worrying about being literary. That’s not to say YA books can’t be written exquisitely, many are (Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a great example). But it’s more about the emotional connection in my view. That’s why there are – and need to be – so many memorable characters in YA; they carry the story.

I’m sure there are some literary YA novels (The Weight of Water probably counts), but the ones I love are all about character, as mentioned above, and plot. Because there are so many YA books constantly being published, plots have to be enjoyable again and again.

Note that I didn’t say unique. I’m not going to lie. Again because of the YA boom, writers make copies of popular books in the genre (see: almost every YA Paranormal Romance ever post-Twilight), and oh boy do they sell. But that’s because there’s something in the plot or the setup that really strikes a chord with readers, and they’re not too high-and-mighty to come back for more.

Part of what I love about YA books is that they’re universal. Sure, they have lots of genre divisions and you’re unlikely to be a Hunger Games tribute or a witch at Hogwarts or being chased by clones, whatever. But the underlying themes of finding your identity, asking the big questions, figuring out who you want in your life and who you need to grow away from – coming of age issues – they’re where YA really shines. Everyone has felt these at some point, which is partly why there are many adult YA readers, but teenagers and young adults are experiencing them right now, and the immediacy and urgency mirrors our lives, where we feel like everything is important because it’s new.

YA books are particularly prone to becoming series (and yes, trilogies), meaning readers can grow up with them, and mature as the protagonists do. A stellar example of this is the Harry Potter series. I was just a bit too young for these (I’d finished most of the books by the time I was six, so while I understood the words I didn’t really get the emotional impact first time round), but I know for many people it was an integral part of their adolescence. It was a crucial part of my childhood, and I value it dearly, but the people who went through adolescence with it probably got the most from it.

Fortunately, I was the right age for the Skulduggery Pleasant series. I started reading them when I was, what, ten or eleven? The final book came out this year, when I’m in my late teens. The protagonist, Valkyrie, aged at a similar rate, so our underpinning experiences remained the same even as she learned magic and fought crime. (I still haven’t read Book #9, so please no spoilers).

I’m sure there are plenty more reasons, but those are the ones that jump out at me.

2) Why I Don’t Like Adult/Mainstream Fiction

Let’s just get this straight first: I do like some adult fiction. I adore a lot of Jodi Picoult’s books – in fact, when I was eleven I asked for them to be added to the school diary. My request was denied, because apparently they weren’t suitable for kids. Little Children by Tom Perrotta was alright, I liked The Rainbow Virus by Dennis Meredith,  Incidentally, I love a lot of non-fiction (mainly popular science like Wonders of the Universe by Prof. Brian Cox, with a dash of comedy-politics like Stupid White Men by Michael Moore) which I’m pretty sure is always adult. So it’s not that I’m incapable of reading Adult fiction, or that it’s too complex. I just don’t find it as engaging.

My younger sister reads a lot of adult thrillers, but when I tried getting into them I didn’t really enjoy them (though I always welcome book suggestions). The main problem I found with thrillers particularly was characterization. We’re just not brought as closely into the protagonist’s head. There are so many world-weary cops that I’m sick of them and I’ve barely even read the genre, and yet I don’t mind YA heroines sharing too many of the same traits (badass, feisty, sarcastic, strongTM) because I bond with them. I’m just not willing to spend hundreds of pages with someone I don’t care about, and the characters are less raw in Adult books.

My lack of experience with Adult books really show through here, doesn't it? But if they want me to read them, they'd better start (a) being more engaging (b) marketing them a lot better. YA books are marketed incredibly well, especially with authors on Twitter who know their demographic. Mainstream fiction needs to catch on if it wants those sweet, sweet young adult dollars. 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Review: Only Ever Yours - Louise O' Neill

Publisher: Quercus
Published: July 2014
Source: Bought
Pages: 400
Rating: 5 Stars

Wow, just wow. It has been almost two months since I read this book and I'm still reeling a little bit. But I have to review it at some point, so here you go.


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

Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year. 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. Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known. . .

I have my friend John Joe to thank for the experience of reading this book, as well as a feature I read in the Irish Times. The feature, written by Anna Carey in June of this year, really made me curious. So when I saw the book in a bookstore (duh) a few months later, I proclaimed to no one in particular "I want this for Christmas." I was in there with a group of friends, and one of them - the aforementioned John Joe, who is probably a saint - proceeded to buy it while I wasn't looking and hand it to me just past the counter. I still need to return the favour, but here's your thank you.

This book was phenomenal. I have to keep Harry Potter as my all-time favourite book just out of habit and nostalgia, but (as objectively as these things can get) I think this is the best book I've ever read. A lot of the things I want to talk about involve spoilers but I can't justify spoiling such an incredible book, so I'm a bit constrained here. Anyway.

First of all, I loved the writing. It's clear and delicate, just like the first-person narrator and main character freida. And no, that wasn't a mistake: none of the girls' names are capitalised. They are artificially made, and although they refer to each other by (noncapitalised) name because of course they see themselves as people, the Chastities (basically nuns who control the girls' education until they're 16) refer to them by number. freida is #630.

The girls can't read. This is a spoiler but not a huge one - it's just something that's never explicitly mentioned until maybe 66% through. The girls always talk about going on MyFace (their version of Facebook) but they're constantly looking at pictures of other girls and uploading videos of themselves talking. I had presumed there was text because reading is such a big part of our lives, but there isn't. They get by without it. After all, they're toys for men's pleasure - why do they need to be able to read?

Also, O' Neill doesn't avoid talking about race, although she does keep it nicely balanced. At one point Freida is playing Your Face or Mine, a comparison game where you choose which girl is prettier, in bed. She chooses the black girl and sees that the white one has been chosen fifty times today. And then she says: "I stare at myself in my mirrors, imagining taking a grater to my skin, peeling off the top layer. My bones might be white enough." There are other indications too, but this was an important moment for me because - being a white girl - I admit I had assumed that she was white, that I was whitewashing her in my own mind. This is why books can't just avoid the topic of race and presume people will fill in diversity for themselves. It's also why initiatives like We Need Diverse Books are important.

The foreshadowing is incredible. So subtle the first time, but upon rereading the details jump out at you. This is especially strong with isabel.

Conversations between the girls:

"No way," alessandra says. "I would kill for your lips. And blue eyes are cuter, everyone knows that." megan raises an eyebrow. "Blue and green eyes."

"Yeah, but I'd much prefer your nose. It's straighter than mine," rosie says, squeezing the tip of her own perfectly straight nose.

"Well, at least you're not fat like me."

"What? Have you seen my thighs? I'm practically veering into isabel territory," rosie says, pinching non-existent thigh fat. She waits, hiding a tiny smile as the garden bursts with dissenting voices.

"You are so not fat. I'm fat."

They sound so annoying, don't they? But as a girl, you can see a glimmer of truth, particularly in the "fat" comments. Theirs is just exacerbated because they've been mentally abused since birth and there's so much competition to finish in the top ten in the year so they can become companions.

Only Ever Yours is so heartbreaking. It doesn't pull any punches. Any. Towards the end I was desperately hoping for a deus ex machina but there was none. freida never caught a break just because we felt sorry for her, and O' Neill didn't hide behind vagueness during the horrors she went through. Not that it was physical, mind you - there was little physical pain in the book. Most of it is psychological and mental and oh god is it powerful. It's taking my breath away just thinking about it now.

There's a beautiful exploration of LGBT issues here that I wish I could delve into but can't for fear of spoilers. It's really great though.

Only Ever Yours bears resemblance to older dystopians like Brave New World, or so I've heard (as I haven't actually read the older ones yet) like the way Messages are played as the eves sleep to subconsciously influence them: "Nobody will ever love a fat girl" "Fat girls should be made obsolete" "Good girls are always happy and easy-going".

But honestly - who cares? This is INCREDIBLE.

Feminism is an awful swear word, the new f-word. This is especially relevant with Time's recent blunder, in proposing that the word be banned. Funny how reality echoes fiction sometimes, isn't it? It's lucky that we currently have non-lab-made women to make the media think twice.

The chastities ensure there can be no female solidarity, as the girls are constantly forced to compare amongst themselves and vilify anyone even a couple of pounds over target weight. There's one scene where a "fat" girl is sent to the front of the classroom and everyone is expected to shout insults at her. And they do. Why wouldn't they? It's all they know.

The eves place beauty over life - while it's not explicitly said, the eves seem to be euthanized somewhere around forty before they get old and saggy, the worst fate of all. Their biggest fear is being ugly - they would prefer to die before losing their beauty, as they've been told it's their greatest and only asset.

I have so much more to say about this book, but I'm afraid of spoiling it. I'll just say that it really truly blew me away and if there's one book I recommend buying for Christmas, it's this one. 

Other Reviews:*

*This feature comes from Aylee at Recovering Potter Addict. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

I won NaNo!

(Okay, not strictly NaNoWriMo - only the Young Writers Program, where you can set your own goal. I set mine for 20,000 words and got there, woop. Only a few scenes left in the novel now.)

Anyone else who tried it, YWP or not - how did you get on?

(I have a review for Only Ever Yours coming at last, watch this space.)

(More brackets.)