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Emily May (England)

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The Stars Never Rise
The Stars Never Rise
by Rachel Vincent
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast-paced and very entertaining, 9 Jun. 2015
This review is from: The Stars Never Rise (Hardcover)
The Stars Never Rise is a fast-paced, gritty blend of dystopia and urban fantasy. Set in a future America that has been ravaged by demons who possess human bodies and some other creepy zombie-like monsters called Degenerates, a new governing body has emerged - The Unified Church.

The Church demands strict obedience, punishes sins and, in return, sends its trained exorcists out to defend civilians from the demonic threat. Nina Kane, however, is a little bit more concerned about making enough money to feed herself and her sister, Melanie. Their mother is a drug addict who stumbles home at dawn and sleeps throughout the day, so Nina must do whatever she can to survive and provide for them. But when Melanie reveals a secret that could have dire consequences for the whole family, it sparks a series of events that will change both their lives forever.

Aside from just being enjoyable as hell, the book has many things I love: sisters looking out for each other, great secondary characters, a touch of humour amid the action and nastiness. Not to mention a heroine I really liked, who was flawed and tough.

I thought the first and last thirds of the book were really strong but that the third in the middle was a bit weaker. When the love interest was first introduced, I was a bit bored and couldn't wait to get back to the serious stuff. HOWEVER, the author actually really surprised me. There's a romance happening in this series but it's... not what I first thought. To be honest, I've never read one quite like it. So maybe not so much of a negative after all.

I don't think it's difficult to see some of the "reveals" coming, but the characters, the action and the sheer pull of the author's writing are so good that I didn't really care. I also really like that the ending doesn't feel like a cliffhanger but, at the same time, opens up the story and the world of the novel into something bigger and scarier. There's potential for a really great series here.

****: or, The Anatomy of Melancholy
****: or, The Anatomy of Melancholy
by Matthew Selwyn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I love stories that give the impression of growth, 30 Nov. 2014
****: The Anatomy of Melancholy is an ambitious debut; both a darkly comic portrayal of modern youth and a disturbingly insightful look at the people who are products of the digital age. It is the kind of novel that can inspire laughter and anxiety with a single sentence and which is simultaneously - through the narrator - horrifying, hilarious and evocative.

Sex, drugs, violence, discontent... our narrator pulls us through his life, which is fuelled by the over-sexualized images and unrealistic expectations created by the digital world. His commentary on life, women and people in general is entirely offensive and chilling - be prepared for an unlikable protagonist. But, especially as more pages fly by, he seems increasingly worthy of our sympathy; an unfortunate victim of the modern world.

The fragmented format of the book, which tells the narrator's frantic life in small scenes that jump quickly from one to the next, works well with the themes. I love stories that give the impression of growth, progression and development by the end, and this is one of those books that starts as a light, profanity-laden look into the mind of a horny young man - hovering somewhere between humour and serious commentary with the frequent nihilistic rants - but gathers depth and meaning as the novel moves along. You feel like you've come a long way by the end.

Addressing the reader in a constant informal conversation, the narrator is at once our pal, someone we don't like, and an echo of parts of ourselves.

Mr Selwyn has written one hell of an intriguing book.

Open Road Summer
Open Road Summer
by Emery Lord
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.65

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I feel conflicted, 9 Jun. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Open Road Summer (Hardcover)
“God,” he mutters. “Most girls love it when I write them a song.”
“Well, I’m not most girls,” I snap at him.

*eye roll* Oh yeah, this is one of those.

The more I consider every note I made for this book, the more I wonder if three stars is too generous. But I will stick to my initial instinct because there were things to really LOVE about this book. In fact, I was completely falling in love for at least the first quarter and I kept making excuses for it in my head even when everything started to go downhill. This was *almost* the wonderful Summer read I've been seeking, complete with friendship, romance and humour. Almost, though, doesn't quite cut it.

This book started so well I thought it might get five stars. That's how strongly the opening chapters lured me in. The key things I liked about this book were: the central friendship between Reagan and Dee, the romantic interest - Matt, and the multitude of beautiful settings in this road trip. I felt like I could hear the opening chords of Keith Urban's Long Hot Summer as Reagan and Dee set out on the road after being introduced to the reader in a way that made me curious and instantly sympathetic towards the narrator. This book would have hardly revolutionized the YA Contemporary market, but it did seem to promise an enjoyable and memorable read.

Despite my criticisms of this novel, I understand where the blogger hype stems from. But I could not like Reagan and, after a while, I didn't even have the energy to care about her. And no matter how good a book is, if you don't care about the protagonist, it will never be a complete hit. I get why she has issues and I used them to excuse a lot of her actions and thoughts for the first half of the book. I just don't think those issues justified her hating every single girl. Some of her inner dialogue was really annoying: "I can’t deny that she’s beautiful—but it’s such an uninteresting beautiful. Medium height, slender, with no features that particularly stand out. Beautiful but forgettable. Besides, based on the fact that she sold their breakup story to the tabloids, I assume she has the personality of a trash bag."

The truth: Reagan became just like the majority of Contemporary Romance MCs - a girl with issues hates all other girls because she's so superior. And she almost always hates them for doing the stuff she also did, like obsessing over Matt and wearing revealing shirts. But it is true that this book was a compelling, well-written read that I devoured in no time at all, so I cannot be wholly negative. In short: I feel majorly conflicted.

by J. Nelle Patrick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.70

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful blend of history and fantasy, 9 Jun. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Tsarina (Hardcover)
"Saint Petersburg was a city of illusions."

Holy hell, I want to go to Russia now. I mean, I did before. But now I really want to go. This novel so beautifully captures the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow at the height of the 1917 communist revolution. It expertly blends the historical facts with elements of Russian mythology and sensitively portrays both sides of the revolution by allowing you to come to your own conclusions about which side is to blame - if, in fact, either is. We see angry poor men being driven into the ground by the hard labour they perform, while their employers sit in cosy, gold-plated luxury. We see people being dragged from their homes and murdered by the aforementioned angry poor men for crimes they had no say in.

This novel asks that you think about one thing: It is not our fault where and into what circumstances we are born. We have no control over that. But are we to blame if we simply accept things the way they are without trying to change them?

The author says in her note at the end: The Russian Revolution, truth be told, needs little to no fictionalization to be a fascinating time period, full of beauty and horror and wonder. And I like how close to real events she has kept the framework of her story, how she weaves in the Romanov family, Grigori Rasputin and the imperial Faberge eggs (I found this addition quite fascinating). I couldn't put this wild tale of fact and fiction down.

I only realised recently just how important atmosphere is to a novel. It's not really something you consider outright when thinking about a book but I honestly believe it can make or break it. Consider your favourite books. Maybe they have an atmosphere of fast-paced, heart-pounding, will-they-live-or-die tension that drags you right into the centre of the story. Maybe there's a bittersweet sadness that makes you feel like you might burst into tears any second - even at the happy parts of the book. Maybe it's a spine-chilling creepiness. But, whatever, atmosphere is what takes you out of the real world and plants you in another. World-building is nothing without atmosphere. My point? I am rarely so wholly absorbed into another place and time as I was with Tsarina.

Look at these quotes and tell me you can't feel the Russian air on your face and the excitement and terror of the revolution:

"There were bridges from one to the next, and the canals were deep, maintained with stone walls that held the Neva River at bay. But we divided ourselves with harsher lines than the land did: the rich and the poor, the merchants and the nobles, the Whites and the Reds. When the river would occasionally flood the canals and blur the lines between islands and districts, we would hastily fix it, tighten things, firm up the boundaries and make sure the illusion, the lie, the fantasy held."

"There was no mistaking a Russian winter. It was a unique thing, a creature born and bred for Russian soil, one that sometimes brutalized the natives but often served as our secret weapon. Napoleon’s army was defeated not only by the Russian people, but by Russia herself."

"It was lonely now, our houses islands amid broken seas of our old lives."

It is so beautifully written. Part survival story in some ways, part historical fantasy in others. Despite the way it starts with Natalya and Alexei declaring their love for one another, this is far from a mere romance. It is brutal, even more so because it is based in fact. You find yourself sympathising with both sides and hating both sides simultaneously. I love novels that can make you feel so many complex emotions.

I'm also not one for patriotism or nationalism; I find myself nodding along with Virginia Woolf's "My country is the whole world" quote... but I found it very easy to get caught up in the passion Nataliya feels for her country. And I'm not even Russian! She has to make a decision whether to flee to France to escape the revolution or stay behind and risk everything to try and save her country, and I completely understood her desire not to abandon ship. There's a certain ferocious passion that infuses this novel and I think that's why everything I may not usually agree with makes so much sense.

"How could a city so full of people feel so void of souls?"

I was leaning towards five stars from very early with this book but I was just a little disappointed that the ending felt so rushed. We'd been set up in a beautifully atmospheric novel with characters I really liked, only for it to feel tied up too quickly. It didn't ruin the book but I thought it could have been better, which is why my rating is four stars instead of five. But don't be put off. This is an excellent book that I would recommend to all fans of historical fiction. I enjoyed it a lot. One final quote:

“You said it wasn't your fault for being born rich any more than it was my fault for being born poor. And you’re right. But if we don’t do anything to fix the world, if we just shrug and let children starve and soldiers die and people be treated like cattle . . . if we don’t fix the world, Miss Kutepova, I believe it becomes our fault.”

Dangerous Girls
Dangerous Girls
by Abigail Haas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the most underrated YA author currently writing, 9 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Dangerous Girls (Paperback)
"Wouldn't we all look guilty, if someone searched hard enough?"

Dangerous Girls is in danger. It's in danger of being underread. It's in danger of being given a quick once over and then dismissed as something vapid, senseless and probably crap. It isn't, my friends. It's damn good. Dangerous Girls is one of those multi-layered books that does several different things at once and still manages to do each one equally well. Haas does what, in my opinion, all good mystery writers should do: she doesn't hang everything precariously-balanced on her reveals. The ending is fantastic but it doesn't matter because the book is also about so many other things. It is a satisfying story from start to finish that took me through so many different emotions.

So, what is this book? It's a mature YA mystery. I use "YA" with some hesitation here because it's full of all the kinda stuff that will make some parents clutch their rosary beads - sex, alcohol abuse, drug use... oh yeah, and there's that whole murder thing too. It's about a teen summer vacation gone wrong. Anna, her best friend - Elise, her boyfriend - Tate, as well as others, all go to party hard, get laid and have fun. Then, one day, Elise is discovered stabbed to death in her bed and Anna and Tate are the prime suspects. From there, we are taken on a journey through a murder trial that seems to paint Anna in a worse light with every piece of "evidence" provided. The story of the present is also broken up with flashbacks into how Anna and Elise became friends.

This is a dark story that takes you through the many nasty corners of teen girl friendships but it also shows the other side, the importance of friends to one another and the complicated psychology behind it all. Elise is such a wonderfully complex character. I think most people know an Elise. That reckless, volatile person who is always the life of the party, so confident, often overtly sexual and looking for a new adventure at every turn. But underneath there's something a bit different, a sadness or an anger or loneliness, that hides beneath the mask they've created.

My knowledge of the law and judicial system is limited to one year at AS that I hated, so I'm far from an expert on what is realistic or not. But I've always been fascinated by the portrayal of court trials as a kind of show or circus where everyone plays their parts. Where it isn't about guilty/not guilty, but about the performance you put on and how convincingly you deliver the script. Like in the musical, Chicago. Anna's trial resembles a circus and it horrifies me at the way each little piece of a person's life can be taken out of context and manipulated to mean whatever the prosecutor chooses. Scary.

I honestly loved everything about this wild little gem and I'm now going to recommend it to everyone I know. That means YOU too.

UPDATE - I just read an advance copy of the author's second book and it is equally amazing!!

Donners of the Dead
Donners of the Dead
by Karina Halle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.58

5.0 out of 5 stars Creepy and sexy apparently go well together, 3 Mar. 2014
This review is from: Donners of the Dead (Paperback)
Woah. That was one hell of a sexy, creepy rollercoaster. If Karina Halle set out to have us sleeping with the lights on with this latest addition to her impressive works, then she can consider it mission accomplished as far as I'm concerned. I hope you're not too hung up on the concept of genre because Ms Halle gives traditional genre boundaries the middle finger with this... historical zombie horror western romance. Somehow, she manages to bring sexy cowboys and flesh-eating monsters to the table at the same time and make it work. I don't know how she does it, but I couldn't put this book down.

The dark, creepy, foreboding tone of this novel is set from the very start and it only gets scarier as the story wears on. It's an historical horror re-imagining of the true story about the Donner Party - a group of American pioneers who in 1846-7 became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. I love love love it when a fictional story weaves in elements of truth - it makes the paranormal/fantasy aspects seem even more real and believable. And the author certainly knows how to use language to create a sense of impending tragedy.

Then there's that whole steamy romance that is happening alongside the horror. He's a broody cowboy and she's half-native american. He's seen the world and she's spent her entire life in a small town, working for her uncle. An expedition into the mountains forces the unlikely pair together and they soon find out just how much their survival depends on each other. What I really love about Halle's characters is how they're all often just a tiny bit nasty at times. They're all flawed, all troublemakers and rebels. I don't think I'll ever get enough of them.

Half Bad
Half Bad
by Sally Green
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where is the next book? WANT. NEED. MUST HAVE., 3 Mar. 2014
This review is from: Half Bad (Paperback)
Do you know a story that goes something like this >>>> There's a poor family consisting of a mother and her bunch of kids, each one from a different father. Then there's that one kid (or more) who had a dad who was known for causing trouble... maybe he drank a lot, got into fights, ended up in prison... you know the kid I'm talking about? The one who has that dad? Well, everyone expects he'll turn out just the same. Everyone has their eye on that kid his whole life, expecting him to become just like his father, watching for his first mistake. And it makes him angry that people constantly expect the worst of him. It makes him lash out and get into fights and become something of a delinquent. It makes him exactly what everyone expected him to be. And people nod their heads and say "See! I told you so". And no one will ever know if that kid was always his father's son or if the other people in his life made him that way.

Half Bad is, in many ways, that story. The story of a boy who was never given a chance. A story of nature vs nurture, outsiders, family and prophecy. But... with witches!

This is a book set in an alternate universe version of England where witches live alongside humans (or Fains): the "good" white witches, and the "evil" black witches. Then there's half bloods (or half codes) like Nathan who are the product of both. Unsurprisingly - and as every decent novel should remember, in my opinion - there is never really anything as simple as "good" or "evil", despite what Nathan has been told his whole life. As he grows up in a world that distrusts him, he realises that the good guys often do bad things and those who are evil might not be all they first seem.

Half Bad is two main things and both of them are good. For the first, it is a coming-of-age story about a boy who must grow up in a difficult world and learn to survive the best way he can. It's strange how very... real this story felt, despite the strong fantasy element throughout. I suppose that's because of the parallels that can easily be drawn between Nathan's story and that of anyone who has ever been given a label before they've even had a chance to work out who they are. I really liked all of the characters in this novel (and there were quite a few). The author seems to have that special knack for delivering characters who do bad things and make the wrong decisions but still manage to get you on their side. Characters you initially think are going to be merely "evil" (like Celia) are developed into something far more three dimensional and complex.

But I said this book was two things and it is. As well as a very realistic story about a boy growing up, it's also a fast-paced, vicious, gruesome page-turner. It's not a small book but once I found time to sit down and read it, I was mesmerised until I finished it late last night. My friend practically had to drag me away to go see 12 Years a Slave, even though I'd been looking forward to it for ages.

Cannot wait for the sequel.


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book Geek - Marvellous, 22 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Unteachable (Kindle Edition)
Unteachable is a lyrical, intoxicating novel that creates an atmosphere of such feverish intensity you feel a little high, a little out of control, just by reading it. I fell into this story and got lost amongst the lights of the carnival, the smell of beer and sweat, and the MC's apprehension. I felt the pull of this story from the very beginning when Maise takes a ride on that fateful rollercoaster at the carnival and her life starts to change forever. Because this book is a romance and the romantic aspect is the foundation of the story, but it's also about something else. I suppose it is really a coming-of-age tale. Of being a young woman balanced between childhood and the scary world of adults. It asks what it means to grow up. And if any of us ever really do.

Maise O'Malley is the star of this show and I loved her instantly. I didn't expect her to be so funny. She's wickedly sarcastic, she's shamelessly rebellious, she's not afraid of being more than a little crude at times. But, of course, she's so much more than all of that too. She feels more real that any of the NA protagonists I've met with recently, there's something genuine about the way she boxes her troubles up and locks them away behind doors with sexy, devil-may-care smiles. I feel like there's something known about pain here. All these NA novels I've read about girls with issues, girls running from dark pasts, girls who were abused... and none of them seem to capture that darkness, that melancholy of being screwed up for a very long time. There's something sadder about the way Maise brushes it off with a shrug and a joke about Freud, it affected me more than the melodrama of other novels. I don't know the author's story, but she certainly writes with a convincing flair that suggests some level of firsthand experience with the thoughts and emotions swirling away behind Maise's closed doors. I love it when an author writes something, a thought or a feeling, that you never realised was exactly how you felt at a certain time or in a certain situation until it was laid out before you in a book. Inexplicable sensations are suddenly explained and it's hard not to smile or laugh or cry along with the characters.

Raeder's writing was, for me, perfect. Atmospheric, pretty without quite hitting the purple end of the scale, just beautiful. Like this:

"I biked up to the water tower on the hill overlooking the prairie. Climbed the rust-eaten struts up to a crow's nest some stoners had hammered together out of Mississippi driftwood. It wasn't as hot tonight, and a restless wind raked through the grass, smelling of loam and barley. From here the carnival lights looked like fireflies swirling madly in place, trapped under an invisible jar. Just like me."

I especially love the use of past tense in this book, the way Maise tells the story from a present the reader is far away from reaching. She keeps talking about how "I didn't know back then" and "I wonder what would have been different had I made another choice that day" and I actually loved it. The hindsight makes the whole thing seem somehow tragically inevitable. It works. You know certain things are coming and, rather than dampen the tension, it heightens it an incredible amount. I was sat there with a pounding heart, knowing what was coming, and sometimes wanting to hide behind my hands and not watch what I knew would happen. This, combined with the film metaphors woven throughout, made for a stunning, exciting novel.

And the sex scenes were really hot. Just sayin'.

The Secret Circle [DVD]
The Secret Circle [DVD]
Dvd ~ Britt Robertson

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Good!, 26 Sept. 2012
This review is from: The Secret Circle [DVD] (DVD)
Yet another supernatural US TV series? With ridiculously attractive teenagers who must fight the forces of evil whilst trying to have a normal love life? What could this series possibly offer that we haven't seen a million times before?

Quite a lot actually. Despite the shallow premise of teen witches in a small town, this is a very well-written series with mysteries and twists around every corner. The actors are young and beautiful but they are also extremely talented - Phoebe Tonkin, in particular, stood out for her portrayal of a flawed and interesting high school queen bee.

The relationship drama is well-balanced with the supernatural issues and the series paints a vivid portrait of the difficulties of being a teen. The first few episodes will pique your curiosity, the next few will hook you, the rest will feed your addiction. There was so much potential here that it's sad to see the show get cancelled after only one season, but I can assure you that this doesn't reflect the quality of the show.

Definitely worth watching and, in my opinion, BETTER than Vampire Diaries.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 30, 2013 11:16 AM GMT

Harmonic Feedback
Harmonic Feedback
by Tara Kelly
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.04

5.0 out of 5 stars The Book Geek, 6 July 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Harmonic Feedback (Hardcover)
I've had Harmonic Feedback on my bookshelf for over a year and I kept putting if off because I'm not a big fan of books about music - I only like music when I can actually hear it. However, the story has very little to do with music beyond being about a girl who wants a career in sound design. So I'd say that if the music theme is putting you off, you have nothing to worry about.

I remember in my review of Holier Than Thou saying that the characters lacked charisma and I think this novel is a perfect example of characters which just ooze that charismatic factor. I don't mean they're super-good and always likeable, but I really cared about what happened to them, they were important to me with funny and different personalities that had me charmed from the very beginning. Ms Kelly doesn't use your standard array of characters, everyone has their faults but everyone is given a chance to act like a person rather than a mere stereotype - even the girl who at first seems like the typical pretty but mean high schooler.

Though I know living with autism is a day-to-day struggle, I also have to admit that I was originally put off by this aspect of the story too. I expected something that tried to be deeply meaningful and touching that would just make me want to barf, I expected the author to attempt to manipulate my emotions so I pitied Drea. I was completely wrong. As someone with first-hand experience of ADHD and Asperger's syndrome, Ms Kelly skillfully showed the awkwardness, the misunderstandings and the frustration which comes with such conditions, but she does so in a very funny way. From Drea's cringy moments in school to her outrageously inappropriate grandmother, this story is full of laughs.

One of my favourite things about the characters is that the author does something not too typical of YA - unless you're Sara Zarr or Siobhan Vivian - and turns slut-shaming on its head by having Drea's best friend be the "school slut". Naomi is reckless and totally horny, a lot of the other girls at school don't like her because of her reputation - and yet, the reader does. I did. I'm really glad the author didn't feel the need to draw that invisible but damaging line between the "good girls" and the "sluts".

Another thing I really enjoyed about this view of the world through the eyes of someone with Asperger's is the way it allows us to see the ridiculousness of humanity at times. Drea can't understand why people don't just say what they mean, why the words coming out of their mouths aren't always what they're thinking. It's a rather interesting look at human behaviour and how we believe the normal people are those who know how to lie and interpret one thing from something entirely different. Drea's perspective was very refreshing to me and something I've never got from other books about people with autism (etc.).

I really think a lot of people will be surprised by how good the first three quarters if this are, I'm just surprised Harmonic Feedback hasn't been more widely read by now.

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