Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Masque of the Red Death

Araby Worth lives in a city destroyed by disease and controlled by the cruel Prince Prospero. The contagion first struck when she was a child and she was the first to wear a mask, made by her father, to keep the germs at bay. But her brother fell ill before her father had a chance to make a second mask and she has spent the rest of her life depriving herself of what her brother will never have. Instead, she spends her nights with her friend, April, at the Debauchery Club where she can lose herself.

The Masque of the Red Death is inspired by Poe rather than adapted from the original story and there are little nods to him throughout, such as the club called The Morgue. The Red Death of Poe’s story does occur but is perhaps not the ones that started it all. At first I thought the steampunk style setting was due to the plague halting progress, but as Araby remembers the beginning the timeline doesn’t account for this. If anything the plague has pushed them to invent more, steam carriages, defensive masks and research into disease. I think it’s more of a made-up world that can echo that of Poe’s era. The fashion trends subvert those of the 19th century, whereby dresses are tattered or worn short to prove that they are disease free. Because health is more important than modesty.

Araby’s time at the aptly named Debauchery Club is decadent and risky. Seeking release from her painful thoughts, she uses drugs (never implicitly mentioned but syringes and passing out give little room for doubt) and is found by Will who tests patrons of the club as they enter. She’s had a silent crush on him for a while but her pact with her dead brother holds her back. Will is love interest number one. Then there’s April’s brother Elliott, nephew to the evil prince who is most likely using her for his own agenda. Despite what would appear to be a love triangle, it’s not mushy or predictable and I found myself swaying between the two in who I wanted to “win”.

Unfortunately for me, there’s no real conclusion. Yes, it’s another young adult book that just stops and left me feeling unsatisfied. Perhaps I should just wait until trilogies and series are complete before reading them as I otherwise enjoyed it. The end can’t even be called a cliffhanger; it just sort of carries on at the same pace and then it’s the acknowledgements. If you can’t feel a story coming to a close, it’s not being done right.

The Masque of the Red Death is published in the UK by Indigo, an imprint of Orion and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 2nd August 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. There will be a giveaway coming up shortly so stay tuned!

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Violinist's Thumb

DNA. It’s in all of us but did you know it tells a story? Both of the human race and its own story of discovery. The Violinist’s Thumb is not only an introduction to the science of DNA but a trip through history from Mendel to the Human Genome Project and Neanderthals to crazy cat people.

My knowledge of DNA comes from high school biology, Jurassic Park and numerous crime shows and books, so I’m by no means in a position to understand high-brow scientific tomes. Instead, Sam Kean manages to entertain and educate. The conversational tone dips into more technical territory now and then but just as you think it’s about to go over your head, it returns to an amusing anecdote. I fell I have a better understanding of how DNA works and how it’s shaped us as humans.

I learned so many fascinating facts. That there could be a biological reason that otherwise sane people turn into crazy cat hoarders; toxoplasma gondii (a parasite caught from cats) will release dopamine into the brain when the infected individual smells cat pee. So cats make them happy. The case study here, were a couple that held the world record for most cats in one home; 689! I could go on all day about the things I picked up but I need to leave some for you to discover yourself.

What is often left out of scientific history, are the people behind the discoveries. We may know all about Mendel’s peas but not that his research was destroyed because of his politics and not his science (I’m pretty sure his fellow monks were appreciative of his pea improvement). It’s also quite common for geneticists to try and explain historical figures through their genes, what does Einstein’s brain say about his genius? And there was a wonderful section about Toulouse-Lautrec, whilst his family’s inbreeding was tragic, his disadvantages probably led to his art. Just as a genetic condition blessed and blighted the title’s inspiration, virtuoso violinist, Niccolò Paganini.

My only grumble was a couple of errors that should have been picked up by an editor. We cannot possibly be 8% not human and only 2% human; that just doesn’t add up. I know that the author meant 8% virus DNA and 2% unique to human DNA, but it wasn’t worded that way and for a scientist, maths should be important. There was another similar thing, where he stated “virtually all animals” and then excluded all mammals in the same sentence. Virtually all would imply mammals to most of us, would it not? There may have been other slip-ups but these were surrounded in paragraphs that included things I wanted to quote and realised they didn’t make sense when I looked more closely. The fact that I still think this a five star read, shows you how much I got out of it.

The Violinist's Thumb is published by Doubleday in the UK and is available now in hardback and ebook formats. Kean has chosen to use endnotes over footnotes, so this shouldn't be problematic for digital editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

666 Park Avenue

“Right, because it’s every girl’s fantasy to live in the world’s creepiest house with her fiancé’s controlling family and then have the rest of the world act insane just because she’s about to share their last name.”

Jane’s living in Paris when she meets too-good-to-be-true Malcolm; rich sexy and he seems to genuinely like her. So when he asks her to marry him after one month, of course she says yes and gives up her life as a trainee architect to live with him in New York. But before she leaves, she discovers her family’s secret and the reason electrics are always on the blink around her; she’s a witch. When she arrives at Matthew’s family home, she realises that she’s marrying into one of the most powerful families in New York and she’s about to lose all her freedom if she’s not careful.

666 Park Avenue can’t quite decide if it’s humour or a more straight urban fantasy. It’s certainly not romantic, with the proposal seeming incredibly rushed to me but Jane doesn’t notice anything amiss. There are some wonderful, amusing observations and a few rather dark moments but the character development is lacking and it doesn’t quite knit together. Perhaps it’s the overly materialistic environment that Jane has found herself in but I found her a bit of a wet blanket and the moments where she should have been emotional left me flat. I guess if it had been more on the funny side, the lack of realism wouldn’t have mattered much…yes I expect an element of realism in a book about witches and socialites!

It had seemed so straightforward: She had imagined a montage of herself rummaging through the stacks, the Dewey decimal system her new best friend. She was even wearing tortoiseshell glasses, although all she had in reality were sunglasses. Out of nowhere, her witchy blood would draw her, like a moth to a flame, to the one passage that would make sense of it all. Or perhaps it would even make a book jump off the shelf. The montage continued until she understood everything she could possibly want to know, without having to bother sifting through any dull, inapplicable information.

I really liked the idea though, that beneath New York’s society is one of witches in a battle for supremacy. Especially as everything is done on the sly, no big magic fights but slowly getting into people’s minds and taking over control in a way that would appear no different than other powerful movers and shakers. I also enjoyed the moments where Jane started to connect to "real" people and make friends. It just needed a little bit more oomph. It’s a quick and easy read if you’re looking for something fun to pass away a few hours. This is Gabriella Pierce’s first novel so I would certainly give her another go; a sequel, The Dark Glamour, is not far away.

666 Park Avenue is published in the UK by Canvas, an imprint of Constable & Robinson, and will be available in paperback and ebook formats on 2nd August 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Monday, 23 July 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey

Still not doing very well with Paris in July, it's like the curse of the readathon all over again! Though thinking back, I have read a few books with France as a setting. To make up for my failure I read four fantastic books last week, so check out the links to my reviews below.



Read last week:
The Uninvited by Liz Jensen
Criminal by Karin Slaughter
Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Currently reading:
Bed of Nails by Antonin Varenne
666 Park Avenue by Gabriella Pierce

Upcoming reads:
Three Strong Women by Marie Ndiaye
Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

Also on the blog:
Incoming!



Search terms:*

"google killed bookworm"
Eep!

"how to modernize a large shelving unit"
Is there a gap in the market for book blogger DIY tips?

"james smythe the testimony video game"
Interesting thought, though what would be the goal?

"undead clowns"
*shudder*

"why in shadow of night does matthew not meet himself"
Good question, I think it's just written off as magic stuff.


*Idea stolen borrowed from Amanda's Clock Rewinders feature.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

I managed to read and review Last to Die already even though I only received it Friday... Was so excited to get a copy early and Rizzoli and Isles are such easy reading. I've been looking forward to Bethany Griffin's The Masque of the Red Death for ages too so that's getting bumped up the pile. I also succumbed to a NetGalley click as so many people have been talking about Throne of Glass, it better be good!



For Review:
Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen (Bantam Press)
The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin (Indigo)
Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas (Bloomsbury)

Freebies:
Music or Death by David Owen
Strangeness on a Train by Julia Crouch




Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Pushing the Limits

Echo has no memories of the event that left her arms horribly scared. Once part of the popular crowd, she now hides away from the rumours flying around school about her. Her so-called friends think if she would only get back together with her ex-boyfriend, Luke, everything would go back to normal. But for Echo, all she wants to know is what really happened to her so that she can fill the black hole inside.

Noah has been in foster care since his parents died in a fire. He was separated from his younger brothers and wants nothing more than to be a family again. He knows what the system is like and he can’t leave them to suffer but can an 18 year old boy really become a single father? At school, he’s an outcast, known for a string of one-night stands, until he and Echo are forced together and he gets a glimpse of the broken girl underneath the girl he thought was stuck-up.

Luke used to give me butterflies. Noah spawned mutant pterodactyls.

The overriding theme of Pushing the Limits is a desire to be normal, whatever normal may be. Both Echo and Noah have been struck by tragedy more than once. Echo lost her brother to the war, her mother to mental illness and her popularity to an event she can’t even remember. It’s incredibly frustrating for her that no one will just tell her but her on-going therapy is realistic and there is no sudden revelation. Noah not only lost his parents, but also access to his remaining family, his brothers that he loves so much and, like Echo, has also lost the acceptance of his peers.

After the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure if I was going to love it as it starts off with typical school politics on the battlefield that is the cafeteria, but as soon as Echo and Noah started their awkward friendship, I was hooked. Every character has their flaws and, what seem like stereotypes at the start, get prised apart as little truths come out. Every moment of honesty seems like a success and Echo starts to see that her world isn’t black and white; there are things she is too self-absorbed to understand. And yes, teenagers in general are self-absorbed so this isn’t a criticism of her as a character, more that her growing awareness echoes her steps to becoming an adult.

Whilst Echo’s overcoming tragedy story is not uncommon in young adult fiction, it was good to see the topic of custody tackled. There are thousands of young adults that do take on the role of caregivers, whether or not their parents are still alive, and Katie McGarry highlights the stark reality of what it involves. Life in the system has made Noah grow up faster than other kids but he has to grow up a lot more before he can really see what’s in front of him.

The central relationship is a gripping rollercoaster ride, whilst moments may be predictable I was never sure if they’d get their happy ending or not. After all, how many of us have normal? I loved Noah character except half way through he started calling Echo baby all the time and it just sound insincere. Maybe this is just my older, more cynical mind but wish it had been toned down a bit. These teenagers swear, drink, smoke pot and have sex. It’s refreshing not to skirt around the things that everyone knows is going on without endorsing the behaviour. Contemporary young adult writing at its best.

Pushing the Limits is published in the UK by MIRA Ink and will be available to buy in paperback and ebook editions on 3rd August 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones



Saturday, 21 July 2012

Last to Die

Three children, orphaned twice over, first their birth families, then three years later the families that took them in. Detective Jane Rizzoli doesn’t believe in coincidences but must stand back whilst Crowe chases after the wrong guy. Maura meets two of the children at Evensong when she is visiting Rat at the mysterious boarding school. It would turn out that all the children there have something in common but before Maura can convince Rat to leave, she and Jane start to put together the pieces of a complex puzzle that goes well beyond the streets of Boston.

Last to Die is the 11th (or 10th if you discount The Bone Garden) book in this series and therefore the remainder of this review will contain spoilers for the previous instalments. If you haven’t started yet (and why not?) here’s the reading order:

#1 The Surgeon
#2 The Apprentice
#3 The Sinner
#4 Body Double
#5 Vanish
#6 The Mephisto Club
#7 The Bone Garden
#8 Keeping the Dead
#9 The Killing Place
#10 The Silent Girl
#11 Last to Die

As always with Rizzoli and Isles, it’s a fast-paced, quick read which is the perfect way to spend a lazy Saturday. I did feel that Jane’s family problems were forgotten about, understandably considering the murder investigation, but would have liked to have come back with a solution once everything was settled. What is Angie Rizzoli going to do? Take back her useless husband or be happy with Korsak? It’s not pivotal to the plot but it’s not fair to keep us hanging! Also I was expecting a bit more development with Maura’s love-life, especially as she finally walked away from you-know-who in The Silent Girl.

Evensong was introduced at the end of The Killing Place and it was good to see the school looked at in more detail and pick back up with Rat and his dog, Bear. Although Rat is now referred to with his real name, Julian, and I kept forgetting who he was. Of course, as Anthony Sansone is involved with the school, so are the paranoid Mephisto Society and you start to wonder at their involvement. Could the flashbacks to events in Rome, told in first person, be connected to them? I did feel the plot suffered a little with relying on characters popping up and telling the detectives things rather than good old investigative skills but it was twisty enough to keep me engaged until the end.

The epilogue dwells on Evensong rather than Jane or Maura which leads me to think Gerritsen is setting herself up for a young adult book or series, like many other successful authors are doing. Her younger characters are intriguing enough that I’d be interested in reading more about them if she does go down that road.

When you get attached to characters in series, it’s a little disappointing when the book ends so soon. Would love to see a bit more of their personal lives again, although fans of the action will no doubt love this instalment. I enjoyed, but wanted more!

Last to Die will be published on 16th August 2012 in the UK by Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld, in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Criminal

Atlanta, 1974: Amanda Wagner and Evelyn Mitchell are young, female police officers in a man’s world. A step up from secretaries, they are assigned to sex crimes and rarely see a serious case. When they are sent to Techwood Homes in the projects to speak to a rape victim, they find themselves in a world populated with drug users, prostitutes and the poor, a far cry from the white, middle class homes that Amanda is used to visiting. They are already suspicious of why they were sent out there, so when they realise the prostitutes are disappearing, they start to dig further. But the men aren’t happy, girls aren’t meant to be police after all…

This is really Amanda’s story. The woman introduced in 1974 is a world apart from the one we have come to know in the present day. She is the daughter of the notorious Duke who is currently on suspension pending investigation. She may think that the family name holds clout but she soon learns that it’s nothing to be proud of. She really wanted an office job and isn’t at all suited to a life of fighting crime, she’s more than happy writing up reports for the homicide detectives. Evelyn is another matter, everyone's shocked that she returned to the force after giving birth, it’s not like she needs the money. Amanda’s father would disapprove of them being friends but despite their differences they become closer and Amanda slowly evolves into an independent woman who wants to be judged on her abilities not her gender.

Setting the story in the 70s has given Karin the opportunity to explore a period of change in Atlanta. Women’s rights were only starting to emerge and even finding somewhere to live without a man to sign things proved difficult. That women could be expected to uphold the law in the role of a police officer seemed laughable to many. Yet they offered equal pay so it was an attractive proposition to young women who dearly wanted to earn their own living. Evelyn and Amanda are ridiculed on a daily basis just because they are women although their intelligence, bravery, compassion and perseverance mean they end up doing a better job than anyone else.

The story does jump between the past and the present, with Amanda’s story revealing hidden parts of Will Trent’s past and going a long way to explain their unorthodox working relationship. Will and Sara’s relationship is still on rocky ground and he’s scared that she’ll leave him if she knows everything about him, that she is far too good for her. Whilst Criminal reveals a lot about him, his part in the plot is minimal so he comes across as a rather needy character if you haven’t grown to know and love him through earlier books. I would hope that he can start to put the past behind him and realise how amazing Sara is to him. It’s starting to get a bit annoying how Angie keeps popping up and being manipulative and setting him back all over again. Can we start a Liberate Will Trent campaign? And more Betty the Chihuahua please!

The moment that my brain started to make the connections between past and present, I didn’t want to put Criminal down. There are some incredibly moving moments between the characters and the historical element really puts into perspective how much has changed and we shouldn’t take our liberty for granted. Not to mention, Karin Slaughter manages to concoct disturbing criminal minds and makes you double check the locks before you go to sleep…

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Uninvited

When the others joined him and saw the blood, they all had the same thought: a terrible accident. But it was a mistake to think that, because a few seconds later the child jolted awake and grabbed the tool again. Before anyone realised her intention, she’d put it to her father’s face and fired.

When a seven year old kills her grandmother and blinds her father with a nail-gun, it is considered a tragic, yet isolated incident. Hesketh Lock works for a company that investigates corporate sabotage and is sent to Taiwan to unearth a whistle-blower at a timber plant. The man in question is a loyal employee and claims he was forced into it. His behaviour is bizarre and he speaks of the Hungry Ghosts and starving children. A few days later he commits suicide. But Sunny Chen is only the first, as Hesketh continues his work, a pattern starts to emerge, and if there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s finding patterns in human behaviour.

Hesketh has Asperger’s and it was refreshing to see this in an adult character. It has become a bit of a literary device to allow child narrators to be a bit cleverer and more interesting than the more average child. His lack of social skills are shown in his failed relationship with Kaitlin, his resulting one-night stands and even that his closest relationship is with his young stepson, Freddy. His logical manner of thinking and lack of deceit, make him the perfect candidate for his job and his tendency to go off on a tangent helps, rather than hinders, the narrative. One of his coping mechanisms is to fold origami, both focussing his mind but also in awkward situations, a small gift of origami seems to be the perfect gesture.

The concept of children turning against their parents may be a shocking one but it does raise a lot of questions. Children are never seen as a threat. What would you do in such circumstances, if you couldn’t sleep in your own home for fear of your child? Hesketh is desperate to be a father figure for Freddy even though they are not related and despite everything, he doesn’t want to give up on him. I began to find the children genuinely creepy.

The ending seems to tail off a bit but I loved the character of Hesketh, I could have kept on reading whatever else was going on. I’m not sure there will be enough of an explanation for some readers but I’m not going to give you any clues! As with The Rapture, Liz Jensen explores the factors that could lead to the end of our world as we know it.

The Uninvited is published by Bloomsbury Circus, the wonderful new imprint from Bloomsbury showcasing literary talent. It is available to buy now in the UK in trade paperback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones