Review

Review: The Coldest Girl In Coldtown by Holly Black

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the pubisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Opening with one of the most horrific beginnings I can remember in Young Adult fiction, The Coldest Girl In Coldtown starts with a young girl named Tana waking up after a party. After extricating herself from the bathtub in which she slept, she emerges into the living room to find the usual remains of a alcohol-fueled house party – empty bottles, bowls of half-eaten nibbles, clothes strewn around the room – along with the corpses of her friends and classmates. The only other person left alive happens to be her ex-boyfriend Aidan, whom she finds tied to a bed, and in the company of a vampire.

I have read in a couple of reviews that some people were put off by Tana’s ‘party girl image’. I don’t really understand this criticism: if I stopped reading a book because a character had an interest or trait that was unfamiliar to me then I’d never finish a book. Needless to say, I wouldn’t get very far in fantasy or science fiction. However, I did not really like Tana very much – for one, she was incredibly fickle. I was mostly confused about what she actually wanted: she couldn’t seem to decide whether she wanted to remain human or become a vampire, at times she was both strongly against and for the idea. Her relationship with Aidan was also pretty twisted and she allowed herself to be used as well as using him, which was sad. She’s obviously quite a troubled soul. Unlike Midnight and Winter, who were pretty much the ultimate ‘typical’ angsty Goth teens, and who probably have a perfectly normal home life that they’re unhappy with for reasons unknown. They just annoyed me more than anything.

I can’t really explain why, but this book just did not live up to the hype for me. In a world that’s over-saturated with vampire books and films, this didn’t feel like anything particularly original. I did like the idea of Coldtowns and mixing the archaic view of vampires with the new by introducing a reality TV show, but it just wasn’t enough. I felt the book really dragging in some spots; I don’t know if it was because I had about a week where I didn’t have time to read so the story sort of got broken into two.

Overall, not particularly my cup of tea. A good read for paranormal and vampire fans, but there was nothing of note for me here.

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Review

Review: Midnight Crossroad (Midnight #1) by Charlaine Harris

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Previously on the blog, I’ve discussed Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse Novels quite a bit. I’ve recommended books for fans of the TV show adaptation, written a guide to the series for Horror October, discussed representations of vampires in media and chatted about my thoughts on the series. The series may have dragged a little towards the end in my opinion, but I carried on reading because I had to know what happened to Sookie and co – and overall it’s a series that I’ll always cherish, for its wonderfully dark sense of humour and great cast of characters. So imagine my delight when I discovered that Charlaine was working on another series – one that promises to bring together characters from ALL of her previous series! And thanks to both Netgalley and the publisher, Gollancz, I’ve had the chance to read the first book.

The first chapter is written in a rather unusual style, introducing the reader to the small town (or rather hamlet) of Midnight, Texas. Although it was quite a nice way to set up the tiny community and its residents, there was just too much information to take in at once and some of it felt totally unnecessary – for example, about the decoration in Fiji’s house and garden. However, what the first chapter did give me was a picture of a close-knit community, that is perhaps hiding something a lot bigger and rather out of the ordinary. The idea of a small country town with just a few inhabitants, but ALL of them with something mysterious or secrets they want to keep hidden is a pretty engrossing one!

Although the story is told from several third person POVs, I suppose Manfred would be considered the main character. Everything begins when he moves into town, and the reader often sees the world through his eyes: like Manfred, they are also new to Midnight. I didn’t much like Manfred. He is an internet and telephone psychic, and whilst he genuinely has some ability (apparently, not that he has really used it yet) he actually admits that a lot of what he does is fictitious and uses psychological manipulation. He just seemed completely fraudulent to me, and then the fact that he thinks he can go at scoff at Fiji for being a witch seemed rather… laughable. He also develops a bit of fixation on one of the young girls in the town by the name of Creek, which was just creepy. Although he is revealed to be only twenty-two to her eighteen/nineteen (I originally assumed he was early to mid thirties), the way he thinks about this girl he barely knows is, for want of a better word, quite frankly rather ‘stalkerish’.

My favourite characters were Fiji, a witch who runs a shop and various classes on magic from her home, and her cat, Mr. Snuggly. Mr. Snuggly was actually one of the most interesting characters, in my opinion… I’d like to learn more about the Reverend, who is DEFINITELY hiding something and I have a suspicion as to what it might be, but looks like I’ll have to keep reading the series to confirm my theory.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Midnight Crossroad is sort of an amalgamation of all of Charlaine Harris’ previous novels, including characters from previous books, implying that they are in fact all set in the same universe. Despite the presence of a vampire, and the reference to True Blood (as ‘that synthetic stuff’) and various other supernatural entities, it felt like a very different world. Not that it’s a bad thing. The vampire in the story, Lemuel, is more accepted by his fellow citizens than many of the vampires of Bon Temps and Shreveport – although Midnight has a much, much smaller and apparently less prejudiced community. No-one seems to bat an eyelid at a vampire in their midst, and even when some more surprises come later on, everyone takes them fairly calmly. Which just goes to show that life in Midnight is not exactly ‘normal’… I found myself waiting for familiar characters from the Sookie Stackhouse Novels, but unfortunately none have appeared so far!

Although I did enjoy the book, I had a couple of criticisms. For the first third of the story, until Midnight’s residents made a shocking discovery, and the surprising twist that comes with it, it felt a bit dry. It wasn’t until that moment that I felt the book really picked up. I also have to question the logic of the citizens of Midnight. One character’s girlfriend ups and leaves two months prior to the beginning of the story. Without a single possession. And he ASSUMES that she’s just left him because she doesn’t love him, has met someone else etc – why would she go without a single thing? Why would you not report her as missing sooner? If someone you love DISAPPEARS without taking a single thing with them, not their purse, phone, passport etc, why would you assume it’s because they don’t care? The other problem I had with the book was the conclusion: Midnight’s residents deal with their ‘villain’ in a very illogical and stupid way, pretty much putting themselves at risk.

In conclusion, whilst I enjoyed Midnight Crossroad it didn’t feel like anything special. The conclusion was shocking, but for everything supernatural about Midnight it just seemed so… normal. However, if you’re a fan of Charlaine’s previous work, I’d recommend giving it a try.

 

And thanks to Gollancz, I also have an exciting link to share with you all: a free sample of the first four chapters of Midnight Crossroad!

 

Review

Review: She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Most sixteen year olds would probably be terrified at the very idea of travelling to New York with no-one but a much younger brother (and his stuffed toy raven) for company, with no idea of where they will be staying or what they’ll find when they reach their destination. Laureth Peak is looking for her father, who is prone to disappearing for several days at a time, but this time she has reason to think something bad has happened. So, accompanied by her little brother, she steals her mum’s credit card, buys two plane tickets to New York, and flies across the Atlantic. You might say that perhaps taking her brother with her would only make the search more difficult, but here’s the thing – Laureth is blind.

Obviously I can’t say this book was an accurate depiction of what it is to be blind. I have no right to say that, nor do I have any idea what it would be like. But I do feel that Marcus Sedgwick’s writing both revealed and hid things from the view of the reader, as if something was just out of your sight or a little blurry – and at times, completely unseen. With his descriptions, which were of course Laureth’s, I was never able to get a clear cut picture of the scene around the characters. Just like Laureth, I relied on Benjamin (her little brother) for images of the surroundings, and this worked really well.

Disabilities and impairments are not often represented in Young Adult fiction, or fiction in general, that frequently. Often, they seem to enhance another ability or sense in a superhero-esque way, or make the character seem weak and helpless. But Laureth is not weak, or helpless. She doesn’t know any other way of life, being born blind, and she doesn’t resent the fact that she was. She lives a normal life, and it gives out such a positive message. Her blindness barely hinders her, and her main fear is not being unable to do something, but people being aware that she is blind and judging her. I don’t really want to say she is brave, for fear of sounding patronising, but that’s what she is. I’d be pretty scared of flying to New York by myself, and I’m twenty-three – and Laureth doesn’t even know what she’ll find at the other end. She is intelligent and mature, and her narrative voice is lovely, as well as wonderfully quirky at times – mostly thanks to her dad’s journal entries.

I thought that She Is Not Invisible was a truly delightful book, highly original and a breath of fresh air. The way that Laureth and Benjamin worked together was adorable, not to mention the ‘conversations’ between Benjamin and his toy raven, Stan. It’s not particularly fast-paced, and some may find the portions of Laureth’s father’s journal dull – but no book is going to please everyone. A very thought-provoking read.

Review

Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

It is rather difficult to write a review for this book for some reason, because not much really happened.

That is not to say that it was a dull book, but the story progresses very slowly. The book begins with a young William Bellman, and slowly takes the reader through his life: from the start of the story where he kills a rook, through his advancement at the mill, through all the deaths and hardships of his life and on to the opening of his mourning emporium, Bellman & Black. And throughout his life, a mysterious figure, dressed all in black.

Although the book is snail-paced, it works very well for showing William’s character and nature: inquisitive and curious, hard-working and dedicated. The reader also gets a feel for how William’s life feels, with the people he loves dying all around him, whilst he still fights on. What’s most interesting is that, despite the book feeling this way, it skips over big chunks of time – one minute William is just a young boy, the next he is nearly twenty years old, then suddenly in his thirties.

The chapters are interspersed with facts about rooks, occasionally hinting at how rooks never forget, creating an eerie tone that looms over William throughout the course of the book. However, this is pretty much as eerie as it gets. There are no big shocks, no horrific moments, even the mysterious Mr. Black isn’t that creepy. For something labelled as a ghost story, it sure doesn’t feel like one.

I wasn’t very satisfied by the ending. I was expecting some sort of big surprise or revelation, some explanation for the previous events: but nothing. However, despite the slow pace of the book, and not much happening, it is when Bellman finally opens his ‘mourning emporium’ that things get much more interesting. I loved the description of the building and all the items within – who knew there could be so many shades of black?!

I also spent the majority of the book working out where it was supposed to be set. It kept mentioning Stroud in the chapters about the wool mill, which is the town where I went to school and used to play a big part in the wool industry, so I assume it is based in Gloucestershire. It also mentions Bristol and Oxford, which widens the area but I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s set in the south-west of England somewhere!

Overall, definitely an interesting story and concept, although with some rather dull moments – however these aren’t too common – though I would have liked more of a resolution.