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Marching Jo

Hi! I'm Jo, a college student reading my way through various books. I particularly enjoy YA, fantasy, and horror, but I'm also beginning to delve into sci-fi, paranormal, and other genres.

Currently reading

Travels with Charley: In Search of America
John Steinbeck
London: The Biography
Peter Ackroyd
Scott Westerfeld, Keith Thompson
The Ring of Solomon
Jonathan Stroud
The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman

If I could recommend one book to read this summer, this year even, it would be The Ocean at the End of the Lane for its beautiful, clean prose and the depth of the story behind it.

Although slow going at first, the novel quickly picks up. Gaiman masterfully teases out childhood fears and brings them to the forefront of the story, making the reader shiver and wince by alternate degrees. There is a dreamlike quality to the fears expressed by the narrator and how they manifest. As someone who is fairly unshakeable when it comes to horror in fiction, I was surprised by how much Ursula frightened me as a person, as opposed to her more fantastical form. Lettie Hempstock, her mother, and grandmother are wonderful characters and are probably the biggest reason why I was drawn into the novel. I loved the suggestions of the old country that they came from and of the powers that they carried with them. I know that some of the gripes have been that the magic isn't described in more depth, but I actually found that there was a perfect amount of mystery surrounding them that didn't need to be explained away. The ending was surprisingly gentle and wrapped up just enough to be satisfying without explaining away any of the magic in the earlier chapters.

There's so much I could say about this book, but at the end of the day, all I can really do is recommend it wholeheartedly. It's one of Gaiman's shorter reads, and although different from his other works, still carries his voice and unique perspective on fantasy. This is worth buying, as you will want to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane over and over again.

Half-Sick of Shadows - David  Logan

Half-Sick of Shadows is one of those books that left me unsure of whether I had actually enjoyed reading it or not. After having read Apocalypse Cow by the other Terry Pratchett winner, Michael Logan, I wasn't sure what to expect - only that it would be, at the very least, whimsical, and in that sense, the book does deliver.

The first half of the novel is fascinating and beautifully framed. The descriptions of the Manse and its cemetery, interspersed with Edward's commentary on family life keeps the pages turning. I love the references to Tennyson. Daily life just touches the edges of the strange and fantastical, without actually delving too closely into it. Logan is very good at subtly pushing the reader towards the truth behind Edward's childish conclusions about his family, and this is by far the best, and most well thought out part of the novel.

However, it takes an unexpected downturn in the second half. Edward becomes a selfish, strange character that fails to intrigue and engage the reader. The other characters equally become lacklustre and disturbing without actually contributing to the plot. In particular, Sophia's promise is far too flimsy an excuse to keep her inside the Manse permanently, and although Logan hints at other factors, the promise, quite frankly, doesn't hold up. Although the action increases dramatically, especially towards the end, it feels meaningless and unnecessary, with no satisfying conclusion to any of it. I'm not sure what Logan was trying to achieve with the multiple deaths towards the end of the novel. As other reviewers have noted, it seems like he had run out of time to think about it. When reading, there's no time to process the deaths, and so they become trivial when I feel like I should be getting more out of the carnage. Equally, Edward's decision to run off with Alf comes out of absolutely nowhere and leaves the other characters without conclusion. The only saving grace of the novel's half-baked ending is the writing itself, which will keep you reading if nothing else.

Overall, while the premise and first half are excellent and compelling, the story feels unfocused, as if Logan couldn't decide whether to choose between the Manse or Edward and his achievements. The wonderful questions brought up at the beginning of the novel lack follow-through and the ending is unsatisfying. Alf, who is supposed to be one of the biggest focuses of the novel, becomes part of the problem, as Logan fails to develop him, or the world that he exists in. Still, it's definitely worth a read, as the story can be fascinating and engaging when given space to breathe. Borrow it from the library if you're uncertain.

Another side note: I'm not sure why it's being sold as a time travel adventure. Half-Sick of Shadows has very little to do with time travel and is more about the exploration of innocence and its loss, the origins of creativity, and family dynamics.

The Way of Shadows - Brent Weeks

The Way of Shadows is one of those novels that could leave you giddy from turning page after page. It certainly did for me. Azoth/ Kylar was an interesting character who developed nicely over the course of the book, and some of the plot twists were wonderful. I loved watching the characters grow up and fight each other and fall in love. There was something really appealing about Azoth's vulnerability in the beginning of the novel and the shocking events that followed. I also enjoyed Logan's side story especially where he manages to be brave and snappy while trapped and gloriously naked .

However, there were several important aspects of The Way of Shadows that made me less enamoured with the novel, particularly to do with the ending. Although I enjoyed some of the revelations, the ending is an enormous info-dump of 'plot twists'. Momma K, Durzo Blint, and Kylar - pretty much everyone except Roth/Rat - are redeemed for whatever misdeeds they've carried out. Nobody is really a villain apart from the obvious Roth. Part of me would have liked to see a little more flaw in the characters, since all of their apparent faults are revealed at the end as misinterpretations for attempts at doing good. Furthermore, Durzo Blint and Momma K are in sweet, tragic love with a child between them - something that made the ending sickly sweet.

The other problem I had with the novel was that the world is so large and confusing that although I got some of the details correct, I didn't care about certain people, or understand their motivations. There was a whole subplot that just blew straight past me because of all of the unfamiliar jargon. And while a lot of the writing was strong, there are some clumsy moments during exposition that pulled me out of the story.

One last issue that I had was Elene, or Doll Girl - beautiful, pure, and kind of dull. As a character, she doesn't develop particularly, and doesn't seem to be anything more for the story than a carrot to dangle on a stick in front of Kylar to propel him forward during times of crisis. I would have liked to see her take more initiative, and to have more a personality.

Overall, however, I did enjoy the book. Although sometimes I wanted to put the book down, most of the time it was a fun read that kept me going into the early hours of the night. I would still recommend this book as a 3.5, rather than a solid 3. If you can get past the stock female damsel character and occasionally cliched plot, the story gives you a pretty good run for its money. I consider it worth the buy, but if you're hesitant, it's definitely worth a borrow from the library.

Hunger - Michael  Grant The sequel to Gone, Hunger, is as terrifying as it is thrilling. Sam, now mayor of Perdido Beach, is struggling with his role. Food has grown scarce and constantly lurking the background is the threat of Caine and Drake. If they can't find a way out of the FAYZ soon, they'll starve. And deep within the mines is something else. Something evil... and hungry.

Wow! If you had enjoyed Gone (or even if you didn't, like me) then Hunger delivers everything you've wanted and then some. Following all of the different characters through various threats was fascinating. After all, how do you rebuild society as kids? The prose was marvellously tight and I found myself holding my breath as I zipped through the last fifty pages. Despite the large cast, Grant handles the characters really well, and each has a distinct voice, making them easier to identify with. The only thing I would have liked to see more of was what the FAYZ actually was. If you've read Gone, then you'll know about the origin, but what next? I can only assume that more will be explained in the next book, Lies .

A note of warning for anyone uncomfortable or sensitive to violence, as well as to readers in general: there is a lot of it. What really struck me was the cruelty, particularly towards certain characters such as Hunter. It became very Lord of the Flies-esque and while it certainly upped the stakes, I also wondered how far Grant would push it. As a reader of the A Song of Fire and Ice series, as well as Battle Royale and other violent novels, I was surprised to feel so uneasy about the level of cruelty and violence.

However, it is an excellent read, and probably a more accurate portrayal, than a 'fluffier' version of the novel. A big five out of five for Grant and I can't wait to read the next book!
City of Lost Souls - Cassandra Clare After the release of City of Fallen Angels, a lot of fans, myself included, wondered if The Mortal Instruments series had gone downhill. After all, the ending of City of Glass seemed very final, and only at the end of City of Fallen Angels did we see the new plot arc emerge. Well, I'm pleased to say that City of Lost Souls pulled the series back to its feet.

In City of Lost Souls, Clary is frantic after Jace, along with Sebastian, goes missing. When the Clave put the issue on the back-burner, she decides to go after him by herself, and in doing so, accidentally stumbles into a horrible plot that threatens all the Shadowhunters have fought for.

One thing that particularly struck me about this book was how much Clary had grown in terms of capability. In City of Bones, I was struck by her physical weakness, which put her at such a disadvantage with the Shadowhunters. Now, her physical toughness means that she can cavort about with the other Shadowhunters, as well as giving her the confidence to deal with crazy-Jace and Sebastian.

I also really enjoyed seeing the different relationships pan out. I can imagine that there will be some dissatisfied shippers out there who want to see how Simon's relationships with Izzy and Maia run, but overall, I think it fits pretty well, and we can still expect to see a few hearts broken.

For those of you who have also read The Infernal Devices, there are a couple of really nice easter eggs that tie the two series together, as well as some mysteries that may be explained, or at least elaborated on in Clockwork Princess. I also have a feeling that some of the characters we see now will also be in the The Dark Artifices.

Some fans may be put off City of Lost Souls by the continuity of a series that seemed, to all intents and purposes, pretty well wrapped up, but most fans will be more than satisfied by the ending of the novel. Hopefully, City of Heavenly Fire will be even better!
The Tea Rose - Jennifer Donnelly In the East End of Victorian London, Fiona Finnegan and Joe Bristow share their hopes of getting out of the slums and of someday marrying each other. But when Fiona's father, the breadwinner, dies after a suspicious accident in the tea warehouse, things go downhill. After Fiona overhears the truth, she and her brother, Seamie, run for their lives all the way to New York, where she sets up a tea house. But despite her accumulating fortune, the ghosts of Whitechapel beckon her back to the shores of England where she comes face to face with her nightmare.

I was actually a little foolish and read The Winter Rose before I'd read The Tea Rose. BUT NEVER FEAR. Because The Tea Rose was still equally gripping and I loved the huge cast of characters that each played such an intricate role. Fiona is a fantastic female character who has the reader rooting for her every step of the way. The novel is long, but Fiona's ups and downs had me holding my breath to see how it would turn out, even having read its sequel. Meanwhile, Joe Bristow's tale is also fantastic, albeit a little less gripping. His struggles in London both contrast and parallel with Fiona's in unusual ways, making it interesting to swap back and forth between them.

The writing is intensely beautiful, particularly the descriptions. Victorian London really comes alive through subtle suggestions of a different time. All you nitpicky historians out there can relax because Donnelly has really done her research on this novel. It's a great read for anyone into historical fiction, but don't let the genre deter you if its not your thing; the romance will have you holding out for the end as well!
Legend - Marie Lu Legend is one of those books that surprises you. In what used to be Los Angeles, fifteen-year-old Day is an infamous criminal, having spent the last couple years of his life wreaking havoc for the Republic. On the other side is fifteen-year-old June, child prodigy and Republic soldier. Neither of them have a reason to cross paths.

But then June's brother is murdered and she thinks Day did it. What ensues is a fight for survival on both sides, as June seeks revenge and Day struggles to help his family survive. What the two discover along the way, however, changes the game completely - the truth.

I liked Legend primarily because hey, it's a fun read. Both Day and June are fairly well fleshed out, and the world, while slightly generic for a dystopian, is also engaging and interesting. Day's backstory is not fully developed, and I expect we'll see more of it in the sequel, but it does enough to draw the reader in.

My favourite character, however, is June. Like all others, she blindly obeys the Republic as its most promising soldier and as a result of that, she makes some choices throughout the novel that are harder to sympathise with. Lu does not shy away from a flawed character, and the mistakes added to the tension and indeed, contribute to a large chunk of the plot itself. Good to know a character can screw up every now and then.

The only problem I have was the romance, which was very contrived and lustful. By lust, I mean the attraction appears to be based on looks alone, and that it is a surface feeling. That's fine, but the weight placed on it is less than necessary. Both characters could easily hold themselves without it, and I'd rather have seen them grow into something deeper than fall so quickly into shallow 'love'.

Still, this is a great read for anyone who's looking for some easy reading dystopian fiction. A big four out of five for well rounded characters, nice prose and a tight plot!
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is about two magicians, who, locked in an ancient contest of unknown standards, place their two assistants into their own magical contest - and the formation of the Night Circus. The catch? Neither assistant knows who they're up against, the stakes or even how a winner is determined. As the displays become increasingly incredible, the Night Circus - and everyone in it - are tied up in the fate of the winner.

This book is just beautifully written. The descriptions of the circus are what had me at the beginning; lush, vivid writing that lets you hold the scene in your mind's eye with ease. The phrase "lost in a good book" comes to mind.

On top of that, the character dynamics are fascinating. While at times it is difficult to follow all of the different story lines, overall, all of the characters have individual stories that are intriguing on an individual level and eventually come to impact the novel as it progresses. Celia and Marcus, the two assistants, are brilliantly written. There is a quiet power within Celia that I particularly admire, whereas Marcus' studious and artistic nature is a perfect complement to the circus.

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness A Discovery of Witches, SUBTITLES: Twilight for adults and 'intellectuals'.

This was an enormous disappointment for me, given that there's been so much hype over the book. It is essentially Twilight's 'forbidden love' plot wrapped up in pseudo-intellectual talk, endless cups of tea, naps and yoga. And analysing wine. And constantly smelling each other. Not to mention the whole 'virgin' idea...

1) The essential plot is Twilight

That's right. Matthew Clairmont stalks Diana, smells her, hides by her window to watch her sleep, ransacks her house, invites her to dinner, won't let her do anything that he doesn't want her to do (or if she does, has a massive hissy fit about it) and therefore OF COURSE she falls in love with him. I mean, really? This was sheer laziness on the author's behalf. Clairmont is fairly likeable as a character, but he doesn't have the alien feel to him that Diana keeps mentioning. Like Edward from Twilight, Clairmont denies his nature and goes off to suck the life out of animals (and does so with respect for the animals, therefore making him incredible noble...). He's probably more human than she is. Equally, Diana manages to have whole hordes of creatures following her because they are 'bewitched' by her. Or at least that's what she thinks. Then some big supernatural force comes and tries to kill her and she can't rescue herself (for some unknown reason), so Clairmont has to come and be the hero. Cue big hospital scene.

2) The anti-feminism

I had the biggest problem accepting this. Clairmont is possessive and stalker-ish; he won't let Diana do what she wants, but what he thinks is 'best for her'. Right. She's an adult, and she can probably take care of herself without him. Why not? After all, she's only been doing it for her whole life. She's not allowed to keep secrets, but he is. Diana does actually acknowledge his anti-feminism, but her reaction is, "MEH, okay, I can devolve five hundred years." Clairmont then starts calling her 'wife' without letting her know beforehand that one of the mating rituals of vampires is to fully claim another. So they're bonded for life now. Great. On top of that, he then makes her 'feel like a virgin again', which is downright stupid. The Twilight-ness jumps to the wedding night scene, where, although there are endless kissing descriptions, actual sex is not shown. What really irritated me about this is that Clairmont does not have sex with her. Again. And again. As if he's trying to protect her chastity or some such idiocy. How an intelligent professor got herself into a relationship like this, I will never know.

3) Cups of tea, wine, yoga, naps, smelling stuff

I think I just described half the novel in that list. There is so much filler here, I'm surprised no one caught it. Diana seems overly fascinated by wine, having to describe EVERYTHING (and I do mean everything) about it about a million times throughout the novel. Ditto tea. Her yoga is her meditation, which she's big into since about a fifth of the book is yoga-d away. Naps as well. SO MANY NAPS. And then all the smelling each other, smelling other stuff, just smelling, really, is incredibly dull. Diana's life is actually not that interesting, but the author felt the need to go on anyway.

4) Describing pseudo-intellectual things

DNA and rare books and alchemical processes seem to be the most important thing, more important than moving the plot forward, in fact. It'll annoy the intellectuals and it certainly annoys everyone else. Since the author is a professor, I can see what went wrong here. The intellectual snobbery is almost accidental, in a way, because she clearly expects readers to have the same amount of knowledge on these topics as she does.

5) Where did the rest of the book go?

I get the feeling that this novel was supposed to be about a bigger, non-romantic thing. Oh, wait, yes. It's about a creepy book. I must admit, out of ANYTHING, this might have been its redeeming quality, but it barely ever shows up. Most of the time, it's buried under the sounds of Diana and Clairmont passionately not making love. I was pretty excited when it showed up again, until...

6) Oh yes, THAT...

Apparently Diana is a sort of goddess of witches, with every single power imaginable, and she's going to save everybody. Need I say more about the cliches?

Ultimately, this book was a complete disappointment, which is a shame because it had such a good initial starting point. The most redeeming quality is the fact that half the settings are libraries. Otherwise, don't read it unless you want to find out how to brew tea or do yoga.
Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1) - Susan Ee Angelfall by Susan Ee, is another fabulous read. Angel Gabriel has landed on Earth and announced that yes, it's official, the apocalypse is on. Penryn, her little sister and mentally unstable mother are on the run to safety when they are accidentally caught up in a fight between angels, where Penryn's sister is captured and taken away. Desperate to get her back, Penryn makes a reluctant alliance with Raffe, an angel with his own agenda. Together, they journey across post-apocalyptic America in order to get back their most precious things.

Initially apprehensive, I approached this book with a certain amount of scepticism. And was delighted to find out how wrong I was. Penryn is a great example of a strong female character, who doesn't need to rely on anyone but herself. When her sister is taken, she doesn't break down in tears, or ask the angel to solve all her problems; she takes matters into her own hands. On the other side, Raffe is great as a non-human character. Too many times have I heard, "BUT I'M NOT HUMAN" only for the character to act in a completely human way. And then there's the plot itself, which is both gripping and surprising. This is a particularly underrated book, but it's going for really cheap on the Amazon Kindle (its only format). Go and buy it now! You won't regret it.
Divergent  - Veronica Roth

In dystopian Chicago, sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior has one day left to choose which of the five factions she will dedicate the rest of her life to: Candor (the honest), Erudite (the knowing), Amity (the peaceful), Abnegation (the selfless) and Dauntless (the brave). However, when her choice splits her from her parents, she is torn between who she was, and who she has chosen to be. She must also fight for a place in initiation because she'd rather be dead than become one of the ostracised factionless. And while she cannot trust her friends, who all seek to gain limited places in their new faction, she relies on Four, her coach, while suppressing newfound feelings for him. But Beatrice is more than she appears, and her unique position gives her a shock when it allows her to see the corruption beneath the apparent harmony of the factions.

When I finished this book, I felt exhilarated. This book is all about choices, whether right or wrong, and Beatrice makes some very difficult ones throughout the novel. What I liked about this was that there were consequences, some of which were quite condemning. I particularly loved Beatrice, who is tough, but still willing to display kindness to those around her. What's really good is that SHE IS THE SAVIOUR - she doesn't need a man to save her. In a genre where girls are pretty much helpless, it's satisfying to see some girls toughen up and become strong protagonists.

I was also happy with the world building aspect of it; I could easily believe in Roth's vision of a dystopian Chicago (although I've never been there) and I really enjoyed aspects like the train jumping. Most of her characters are well developed and evolve throughout the novel.

The only real issue I had with the plot was the larger conflict at stake, which I felt did not have enough motivation behind it (or, if so, was not explained to an extent where I could understand the resulting actions). I also felt that in the climax, some of the more minor characters just went along with it. Sort of like, "The world's ending? Okay, let's go have tea!" Panic, funnily enough, wasn't exactly on their minds. But these were all relatively minor complaints, and you know what they say about opinions being subjective and all that...

Ultimately, the characters were interesting and gripping, which made up for any flaws that I'd perceived, and forced me to read onwards! AND TO THE SEQUEL (which will not be out for a while).