Sunday, 21 August 2011

Heartless by Gail Carriger

Cream or Lemon?
I've always loved the covers for this series, the first three being taken from the Clockwork Couture website (an awesome site for all you steampunk dress up fans) and despite an obvious change in model for this installment, they've still managed to completely embody the genre with the simplest of concepts. Apparently (according to The Steampunk Bible) this genre is specifically called Mannerspunk, clearly a name not thought up by a British person seeing as spunk has a whole different (and stickier) meaning over here. I much preferred Miss Carriger's turn of phrase, this book here is a Comedy of Manners.

Cucumber or Fish Paste?
Lady Alexia Maccon, preternatural, wife to a werewolf Alpha and muhjah to the Queen, is much too busy fighting off vampire assassins and consoling eccentrically dressed french scientists to give much thought to the fact she's heavily pregnant with a child that should never have existed. So when an absent minded ghost warns her the Queen is in danger Alexia waddles on, armed with her trusty parasol, to face off zombie porcupines, lovesick werewolves and her overly demanding sister in order to uncover the dastardly conspirators.

High Noon or High Tea?
Oh yes! Yes, yes, yes!! If you can't tell I am so pleased with this book it's leaking out of my fingers as I type. I had been a little disappointed with Blameless, the last installment (though really the standard was so high to begin with it was still excellent) but thankfully Miss Carriger has pulled it back for the fourth book in this hugely enjoyable series.

As always Lady Alexia Maccon is a joy to follow around as she sticks her pronounced nose into the bad guys' business and always makes sure to do so in the most proper fashion. Throughout all the books I've loved her stout practicality in the face of all things she takes on (and she has survived a lot, not least of all being married to a man who thinks nothing of yelling out orders in the nude and is still completely incapable of tying a proper cravat.) I also adore the fact Alexia completely lacks that silly girl romanticism a lot of Victorian heroines tend to waft about like a lace hankie. Despite the larger then life cast of secondary characters the stories are all about her, she solves the mysteries, she fights off the nasties and she figures her way out the traps usually saving everybody else along the way. She is the unholy love child of Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones and Mrs Beeton (I'm not sure how this would come about but I'm betting some perv has posted their fanfic somewhere on the internet).

And even more amazing, she spends the entire story on the verge of giving birth! Now I've read books with pregnant characters, watched TV shows and movies with them and they've run the gambit from depressed teenage mistakes to smug glowing earth mothers. But never has a character made being pregnant in life threatening situations look so much fun.

""Oh I can't think." She rubbed at her belly, annoyed at the fuzziness her own brain, the persistent product of lack of sleep, physical discomfort, and hunger. She seemed to spend all her time either eating or dozing - sometimes dozing while eating and, once or twice, eating while dozing. Pregnancy had given her a new window into the human capacity for consumption. 
"Oh, blast it, I'm positively starving."
Instantly all three men proffered up comestibles extracted from inner waistcoat pockets. Professor Lyall's offering was a ham sandwich wrapped in brown paper, Lord Maccon's a weather beaten apple, and Lord Akeldama's a small box of turkish delight.
Months of training had seen the entire werewolf household running attendance on an increasingly grumpy Alexia and learning, to a man, that if food was not provided promptly, fur might fly, or worse, Lady Maccon would start to weep. As a result, several of the pack now crinkled as they moved, having desperately stashed snacks about their personage."

In addition to a stellar leading lady the Parasol Protectorate features one of the greatest supporting cast of characters in any series I have read. They grow with each book, revealing hidden pasts and secrets and Heartless was no exception. There are some shocking revelations in this book regarding Alexia's father and a certain member of the ensemble that had me forgetting all about the mornay sauce I was supposed to be whisking (I had to start again!). And as always the scenes between Lord and Lady Maccon are still wonderful to read, this is in fact one of only two series I can think of that hasn't lost it's spark despite the two main characters getting married (the other being, of course, the awesome Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourne) clearly a great feat for any author.

If you have not yet picked up one of Miss Carriger's books, do it now! And do it in this order:

Timeless (out March 2012)

You can thank me later.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Cinder & Ella by Melissa Lemon

So pretty! This is quite obviously a fairy tale retelling (or is it a re-imagining?) Loving the whimsicality of this cover and the gnarly old tree is a big part of the actual story so extra points for that.

Branching Out
The little house of Willow top was once a happy place for Weston of Willow Top, his beautiful wife Adela and their four wonderful daughters: Katrina the eldest, Cinder, Ella and Beatrice the little one. But one fateful day the evil Prince Monticello comes spreading lies and falsities about his father the King. The girls father is so inspired by these words he leaves with nary a word. Years past and their mother grows distant, Katrina becomes vain and Beatrice grows spoilt. Only Cinder (with a little help from Ella) keeps the home running smoothly. But when she decides to go work in the Kings castle Ella can no longer stand to live in a house were she is ignored and bullied. Setting out on her own she starts a series of events which will lead her to confront the evil Prince, fall in love with a clumsy knight and maybe return her father home.

Hack, Slash and Burn
Oh dear. Like many people who enjoy young adult and fantasy stories, a great fairy tale rewrite (reproduction? recreation?) is one of my favorite things to sink into on a lazy Sunday. But this was not an enjoyable read for me at all, but I'll get to that in a bit firstly the good stuff.

I did appreciate the idea behind this reconstruction of the Cinderella story, having the two separate girls who are melded into one in the mind of their heartbroken and distant mother. But thats all this was, a good idea executed weakly. The girls were kind of vague and wishy washy to me, Ella eventually comes into her own towards the end, developing a little into a stronger likable character but Cinder remains limp  and pale throughout the story. I barely noticed her unless she was getting all hot and heavy over the obviously evil Prince, and then I just felt annoyed at her for being so weak.
"The prince was always careful not to be caught in one of his lies, but this time he had come close. There were too many knights in the kingdom to keep track of them all and until that moment, Monticello had not realized that the knight standing before him was the knight he had been waiting for.  
Monticello walked to Cinder and whispered in her ear.  
"I will go and hear what he has to say and then bring the news to you. I won't allow him to spoil your evening any further." He stroked her soft, round cheek and nudged her toward her seat at the table. "Sit back down, Cinder. This is a ball. And you are supposed to be having a good time.""
Another thing I did like was the little bits of legend Ms Lemon sprinkled in, especially the legend of the trees, how very person is linked to a certain tree in the world and as they thrive so does the tree. That was a nice touch that was somewhat ruined by the rules of the trees constantly changing, one minute chopping down someone's tree and burning it proves to have no direct effect on them at all. And then all of a sudden choking a tree with weeds will causes the tree's person to become fatally ill. Make up your mind!

And lastly I was not a huge fan of the strange matter-of-fact writing style. Sometimes authors can take flowery language too far but a little masterful description can really lift some stories. None of that here, the whole book was written in such straight forward 'they did this and then that happened which lead to this and by the way that was because of that' kind of way that it never once pulled me in to the story. After reading a few other reviews I have to agree with the theory that this had to have been written more as moral fable rather then a actual novel. Something to be used for classes and lessons rather then personal enjoyment and the long list of discussion questions at the end cements this.

All in all this wasn't a terrible book, because it wasn't really a book. It was a lesson. That said I'm still not sure what it was meant to be teaching me seeing as the baddie seemed to have no reason for being evil and in the end his defeat was one of those 'why didn't they do that before?' moments that always annoys me. I think this book would be fine to read to small children (unless you're against your kid hearing about kissing or sword fights but then I guess you got bigger problems then deciding what to read to them) but I wouldn't recommend this to teenagers or adults, there are lots more superior takes on fairy tales out there.

Cinder & Ella is released on the 8th November 2011. I received this advanced reader copy for review from the magical genies at NetGalley and was in no way offered any wishes or jewels for my review.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Follow Friday

It's that time again! Make sure you head over to Parajunkie's View and check out the humungoid list of fellow book bloggers!

This weeks Featured Bloggers are the lovely Amber and Rosemelie at Me, My Shelf and I (is that not the greatest name ever?) and Bonnie with her cozy corner over Hands and Home. Make sure you head on over and check them out.

This week's question: 
Q. Talk about the book that most changed or influenced your life (was it a book that turned you from an average to avid reader, did it help you deal with a particularly difficult situation, does it bring you comfort every time you read it?).

Easy it was The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, I remember loving the film as a tiny child and then discovering that it was also a book at my school's library! It was the first time I realised that books were a trillion times better then any films or TV. That was were my obsession with reading really took off.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Chemical Face Peel
I'm not sure I really like this picture, it doesn't really represent the type of book this actually is. And it's kind of embarrassing to whip out in public, Hey look at me! Look at the hot nekkid chick in a two piece, are those bullets? No they're lipsticks, cos she's a woman and women love the lipstick! So a bit too 'beach read chick lit' for my tastes but by no means the worst they could have gone with.

The Back, Sack and Crack
The Miss America Teen Dream pageant contestants are so super excited to be jetting off to the tropics for the chance to be crowned the ultimate teen! But one freak storm and a fatal crash later the few surviving girls find themselves stranded on a deserted island with no food, no shelter and no bronzer. But instead of freaking out these ladies get organised and discover their combined talents are essential to their survival. Talents that become very useful when it seems this island isn't so deserted after all, and I don't mean the hot reality TV Pirate boys who end up crashing the party. Elvis obsessed warlords, secret volcano bases and exploding lady hair remover must all be overcome if the girls are going to finally find out which of them will be crowned Miss Teen Dream.
First and foremost, this is a silly book. It most certainly does not at any point stop being silly and whenever you may feel like it has started to take itself a bit more seriously it'll fall on it's arse and blow a raspberry at you for thinking such a ridiculous thing. And I enjoyed it immensely.

Lets start with the surviving contestants, of which there are only a handful left after the crash, at first glance they're your run of the mill, fake eye lash wearing, glitter wafting, thong wielding image obsessed teens. The kind of airheads who, after something as horrific as a plane crash and the death of all their new friends, are worrying about their lack of moisturiser. But try no to judge these ladies too harshly, they may not be Bear Grylls but they certainly figure their situation out pretty sharpish and band together admirably in order to survive. In fact that was something I didn't miss in this book, the mean girl character, she has no place here and I'm glad of that. Oh there's still arguments and some of the girls definitely don't get on, but none of that bitchy evilness thats so prevalent in other teen books.
""What about this?" Miss New Mexico pointed to the tray lodged in her forehead. 
Taylor looked to Tiara and Brittani, who shurugged in unison. 
"We can't take it out. Not without surgery. I know my head wounds," Nicole confirmed. She smiled and gave a small wave. "Hi. Miss Colorado, the Centennial State."  
Miss New Mexico broke into a full-blown wail. The girls tried to comfort her, to no avail. 
"You know what you should do?" Petra said with new authority. "Bangs. So 1960's chic. You'd hardly notice the, um, the...addition." 
"Love bangs!" Mary Lou said.
"Miss Florida was the only one who had bangs and she's de- um, she's no longer participating in the pageant system. So you'd really stand out."
Miss New Mexico stared, dumbfounded,. "Stand out? Stand out! I have a freaking tray stuck in my forehead!" She broke into fresh sobs.
Taylor clapped for attention. "Miss New Mexico, let's not get all down in the bummer basement where the creepy things live. There are people in heathen China who don't even have airline trays. We have a lot to be grateful for."
You get to know a few of the girls really well and there's no way I could pick just one favorite, they were all great for entirely different reasons. There's Adina (New Hampshire) the snarky one who only entered the pageant to expose the harm she believes it does to young women (teenage undercover journalists we need more books about these guys!)  I felt the most affinity with Adina (probably like most readers she reminded me of my teenage self) she's smart but hasn't yet figured out that she doesn't know everything.
Then there's Mary Lou (Nebraska) I loved her so much, hers was the most heart wrenching backstory (which I won't spoil) but she totally overcomes the lies she was tricked into believing about herself and transforms in to this awesome wild woman!
And I most certainly cannot leave out the insane adventures of Miss "Do not Mess With" Texas Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins. A girl who can kill a man with her bare hands, fashion explosives out of pretty much anything and whose eventual descent into bat-shit-mental provides the book with some of it's best moments. And Petra with her BIG secret and Nicole battling against her own identity and Shanti who becomes the girl I most want to be best friends with. I genuinely liked them all.

One of the best things in this book are the footnotes, Ms Bray can wield the footnote like a weapon of comedy (much like the master footer himself Sir Terry Pratchett) nearly every other page was chock full of hilarious asides and tit bits fleshing out their world, which is basically just a sillier version of our own. And she doesn't stop at footnotes, we are also treated to transcripts of corporate adverts and mini bios of the contestants, all of which had me snorting with laughter (much to the dismay of my boyfriend who tried so hard to resist asking what was so funny).

All in all I really enjoyed this book, it was irreverent, ridiculous and just plain foolish but it made me laugh, a lot, and that makes it a worthwhile read as far as I'm concerned.