Sunday, 30 September 2012


I  first saw Cinder by Marissa Meyer as one of the top reads on Shelfari.  With not a lot else to read at the time, I found that a copy was available from the library, and thought, why not give it a go?  Full disclosure here: while I'm not, or at least try not to be, a YA snob, I seem to have a problem with picking Young Adult novels that are any good.  I'm often lured by beautiful, or strange, covers only to be disappointed by what I read inside.  So, I went in with low expectations for this futuristic tale of a young cyborg, as you can see by the picture that Cinder has a gorgeous cover.

A forbidden romance.
A deadly plague.
Earth's fate hinges on one girl . . .
CINDER, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She's reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen - and a dangerous temptation.
Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth's future.
This is not the fairytale you remember. But it's one you won't forget.

In the beginning, although I found the characters intriguing, I wasn't a fan of how Meyer was deliberately forcing all the Cinderella aspects into her story.  For example Cinder's step-mother isn't really her step-mother, she's her adopted mother.  However, this annoyance changed once I noticed a familiarity to the Sailor Moon story and I was won over instantly.  Let it be known that I'm a sucker for a story with a Sailor Moon inspired plot.  Especially when said plot takes place in a futuristic New Beijing.  I loved the descriptions of the different settings; such as the castle and Cinder's workshop in the slum-like markets.

Cinder is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles, and Meyer states her intentions to keep the series fresh within the last few pages and also with what seems like a Kelley Armstrong 'Women of the Otherworld' switch of main narrator for the next book, Scarlett.  For me Cinder was an impressive example of when YA fiction is written well, and I hope Meyer's tales can carry on improving.

The Damned Busters

After accidentally summoning a demon while playing poker, the normally mild-mannered Chesney Anstruther refuses to sell his soul… which leads through various confusions to, well, Hell going on strike. Which means that nothing bad ever happens in the world – and that actually turns out to be a really bad thing.
There’s only one thing for it. Satan offers Chesney the ultimate deal – sign the damned contract, and he can have his heart’s desire. And thus the strangest superhero duo ever seen – in Hell or on Earth – is born!

Chesney's tale has everything that I should love in a book: Super Heroes, God and the Devil, Angels and Demons.  But, for me, Matthew Hughes' The Damned Busters is a mash up that follows too closely to the rules.  Funny in places, and I liked the ending, but I can't say this was one of my favourite books and I'm not even sure if half of it was processed through my melon.  However, my melancholy attitude towards The Damned Busters could be explained partially because I started this directly after finishing Blackbirds, which is probably my book of the year, maybe even decade.  Despite my lack of enthusiasm about the book, I did eventually finish The Damned Busters (which is always a good thing) as there was potential for it to be great and I've got book no.2, Costume Not Included, waiting to be read.

When She Woke

Hillary Jordan's When She Woke, is an updated version of Nigel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter by way of Margaret Atwood.  This was a fantastic read, inspired by a dinner conversation that Jordan had with an uncle, and is a must for any fans of speculative fiction. 
In the future, crimes are not only punished with a jail sentence, but with a technique called melanchroming, which dyes a criminal's skin a certain colour depending on their crime.  Yellow for petty crime, Green for more aggravated assaults, Red for murder.  When She Woke follows Hannah, a red who had an illegal abortion, and how she navigates her once restricted world in her new skin.  

I loved the use of flashbacks, trickled throughout, that provided more information as to how complex Hannah's character really is.  Jordan slowly reveals how Hannah has been trapped in her faith for so long, been told to keep quiet when she tried to question her life, and now her life has become one big question mark.

I was amazed that Jordan was able to use stereotypes to the advantage of her story, without ever making it feel cliched.  I was also impressed at the non-preachy nature of When She Woke.  For a book about someone whose religion has been used against them, it's certainly not a piece of propaganda for atheism, but rather about the power of an individual having a choice rather than being led by the mob.

When She Woke is relentless and I couldn't put it down until I found out exactly how Hannah's story would play out.  A fabulous, intelligent and insightful read that is absolutely on my Christmas list.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Ferney/The Lives She Left Behind

Mike Martin and his wife Gally are looking to make a fresh start in the country.  A diversion leads them to a hidden away cottage on the outskirts of a small village and Gally instantly knows this is where she is meant to be.  It is not long after their arrival that they meet an elderly man named Ferney, who immediately forms a bond with Gally and seems to know more about her than she does herself.   

Ferney has an interesting concept, but sadly the book itself was not my cup of tea.  James Long obviously has a vast knowledge (or did plenty of research) of the history of the area where Ferney is set and tries to put it all into the book.  While interesting at first, sometimes these historical revelations and retelling jarred and slowed the pace of the story down.  Rather than focusing on the characters and their development, it felt that Long was more interested in conveying his wealth of knowledge.

 My main problem with Ferney, however, was that I could not buy into the 'love story' that spanned many centuries, often thinking of poor Mike.  This man, who loved his wife, had already given up his dream job to keep her happy and was then paying for the renovation of the cottage, all the while being treated like he was inconsequential.  In turn Ferney and Gally came across as selfish individuals, who HAD to be together.  I kept asking myself why?  I couldn't find any evidence in the book and this further emphasised my animosity towards these characters.  Maybe I missed something?  Ferny wasn't terrible,  Long has a adept way of describing the bucolic surroundings and maybe with a bit of editing an easy to follow writing style, but it just wasn't for me.   

With that, I was not looking forward to reading the continuation of Ferney and Gally's story in The Lives She Left Behind.  However, I was surprised to find that the sequel was far superior. 

The Lives She Left Behind, Long introduces Jo, a girl who has always had an invisible friend, a voice inside her head named Gally.  Set twenty years after Ferney, sixteen-year-old Jo and her two friends volunteer to help out at an archaeological dig near Pen Selwood.  It is there she meets Mike Martin, another volunteer, and then shortly after a boy named Luke falls from the sky.  From this moment on their lives become entangled, and Mike must face a past he would like to forget.

The most redeeming feature for me was that Long had Galley and Ferney realise the consequences of their desire for each other and their all consuming love.  The plot for this book was driven more by the characters rather than the history of the villages and not until the end does Long indulge in a couple of long historical ramblings.  While some of the characters may still be stereotypes, I would feel much more comfortable recommending The Lives She Left Behind over Ferney to any fans of chick-lit with a twist.