Review: The Glass Demon by Helen Grant

Review: The Glass Demon by Helen GrantThe Glass Demon by Helen Grant
Published by Puffin on 2011-06-14
Pages: 305
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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The first death: Seventeen-year-old Lin Fox finds a body in an orchard. As she backs away in horror, she steps on broken glass.

The second death: Then blood appears on her doorstep – blood, and broken glass.

The third death: Something terrible is found in the cemetery. Shards of broken glass lie by a grave.

Who will be next? As the attacks become more sinister, Lin doesn’t know who to trust. She’s getting closer to the truth behind these chilling discoveries, but with each move the danger deepens. Because someone wants Lin gone – and won’t give up until he’s got rid of her and her family. Forever.

Thoughts: Helen Grant is one of the few YA authors to have gotten her novels reviewed by the mainstream newspapers – The Guardian, The Times, etc. have given her glowing reviews you’ll find spotted across the back cover of her books. This unusual sight made me pick up The Glass Demon, and I am pleased to report that the blurbs were right. Helen Grant is pretty fantastic.

Grant took a risk when writing The Glass Demon – even though the novel is narrated by an English girl, it is set in Germany and the majority of the dialogue is in German. (That is, fake!German that we read as English.) Jumping between languages, and all the complications that arise because of it, is part of everyday life for Lin. As someone who grew up bilingual, I adored finally reading a novel in which the protagonist had two languages to choose from. It’s unusual in YA fiction – hell, it’s unusual in adult fiction too!

US Cover

Then there’s atmosphere – something The Glass Demon had in spades. It is set in a small, creepy town in the backwoods of Germany – complete with gothic ruins and forests that the Brothers Grimm grew up in. To that Grant added a series of terrifying deaths and a demonic legend, all written in a light, suspenseful style… the book is scary yet utterly captivating.

As for Lin? Well, she’s actually rather ruthless. I simultaneously loathed her and loved her as she made both brilliant and incredibly stupid decisions.  In short, this girl was as realistic as they come – she didn’t fall head-over-heels for the “love interest”, she had wildly inappropriate thoughts about priests, and had a family that took the fun out of dysfunctional.

And then there’s the ending… which just made the book for me. It left room for interpretation while leaving no room for a sequel. In short? Fan-bloody-tastic.

Bottom line? The Glass Demon is a spooky, atmospheric, captivating read – if you are looking for an excellent standalone YA novel, look no further.

Review: The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

Review: The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. LiuThe Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu
Series: Hunter Kiss #1
Published by Ace/Roc on 2008-06-24
Pages: 320
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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By day, her tattoos are her armor. By night, they unwind from her body to take on forms of their own--demons of the flesh, turned into flesh. This is the only family demon hunter Maxine Kiss has ever known. It's the only way to live, and the very way she'll die. For one day her demons will abandon her for her daughter to assure their own survival--leaving Maxine helpless against her enemies.

But such is the way of Earth's last protector--the only one standing between humanity and the demons breaking out from behind the prison veil. It is a life lacking in love, reveling in death, until one moment--and one man-- changes everything...

Thoughts: The first line of this book was so damn good, I actually tweeted it. At the time, I thought, “This is going to be the perfect Urban Fantasy.” Unfortunately, I was proved wrong. And it truly is unfortunate, because this really really could have been a great book.

Ok, let’s start off with the prose. In UF, I tend to see the writing as a means to an end. If I become attached to the characters and understand the universe = good writing. But if the characters fall flat and the plot holes start showing = bad writing. There are numerous exceptions to that rule, but on a whole it applies. But The Iron Hunt takes different approach – one that I consider characteristic of literary fiction: gorgeous sentences with a tangential plot.

Now, this could have worked if it hadn’t been for the fact that the plot became impossible to follow. The universe wasn’t that complicated and neither was the action – but Liu’s style meant I had to re-read simple dialogue scenes in order to understand what was going on! It required a level of concentration that detracted from the story and was, quite frankly, unpleasant.

And then there’s the story itself. In short: nothing special. There’s nothing original about Liu’s characters or universe – been there, done that. Our heroine, Maxine, was a bore and rather emo. Her supporting cast of demons could have been interesting, I suppose, but they were too simple to engage with. And then there’s the “love of her life”… by far the most yawn-inducing man I’ve ever had the misfortune to read about. Unlike most UF, Liu introduces her heroine in an already stable and loving relationship. Well, at least that’s what we’re told. From the 3 scenes he’s in, all I can tell is that he has the personality of a wooden plank. Can’t see what anyone would see in him.

All in all, a very disappointing read. I had had high hopes for Liu, but she didn’t deliver. She has the potential to be a fantastic writer. Perhaps her talents would be better suited to short stories or poetry… but she should stay away from Urban Fantasy.

Bottom line? Don’t bother.

Review: The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

Review: The Iron Witch by Karen MahoneyThe Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney
Series: The Iron Witch #1
Published by Corgi Childrens on January 20th 2011
Pages: 304
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Freak. That's what her classmates call seventeen-year-old Donna Underwood. When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna's own nearly fatal injuries from the assault were fixed by magic—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. The child of alchemists, Donna feels cursed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. The only thing that keeps her sane and grounded is her relationship with her best friend, Navin Sharma.

When the darkest outcasts of Faerie—the vicious wood elves—abduct Navin, Donna finally has to accept her role in the centuries old war between the humans and the fey. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous half-fey dropout with secrets of his own, Donna races to save her friend—even if it means betraying everything her parents and the alchemist community fought to the death to protect.

Thoughts: Ok, I know it’s superficial and whatnot, but this cover is absolutely stunning. Breathtakingly stunning. The golden swirls around what appears to be a terrified girl clutching a… well, it’s something gorgeous, whatever it is. Not to mention, the special Waterstones version of this book has gold paper edges. Fierce.

Unfortunately, the book itself is not so fierce.

Let’s start off with the good stuff. The beginning of the book is absolutely swoon-worthy. The world and its characters are dark, mysterious, and gothic – rather like its cover. It was like Florence and the Machine put into words. We meet Donna and her (male) BFF heading to a party where she is far from welcome.  (Why said BFF would drag her to along to such an event is but one of the plot holes that will become evident soon enough.) There, Donna meets  Xan and there’s a spark – literally, a spark – between them.  It’s not insta-romance, but it is insta-connection. But I felt it through the pages, so I was not complaining.

But after that fabulous opening scene, the book starts to show its rather unfortunate flaws. There are absolutely no explanations for anything in this book. For example, the alchemists are seeking out eternal life at any cost. Donna knows this. Donna was taught this. It’s basically the bedrock of their alchemist community. And yet, that never bothered her?

Then there are the wood elves – cast as the ultimate creepy villians. And yet, we never find out why they are evil. Why did they kill Donna’s parents? What is supposed to be motivating them? And if they’re so bad, why is half-fey Xan such a sweetheart? And speaking of sweethearts, was there supposed to be some sort of romantic triangle going on here?  Because, if so, I missed that altogether. This is just basic plot stuff that The Iron Witch just doesn’t have.

Bottom line? If this book had been about 10x longer –  giving the characters, universe, and relationships the fleshing out they deserved – it would have been fantastic. This book is getting stars for its potential, not for its content. Alas.

Review: Blood Promise by Richelle Mead

Review: Blood Promise by Richelle MeadBlood Promise by Richelle Mead
Series: Vampire Academy #4
Published by Razorbill on August 25th 2009
Pages: 503
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Vampire Academy, Frostbite

How far will Rose go to keep her promise?

The recent Strigoi attack at St. Vladimir’s Academy was the deadliest ever in the school’s history, claiming the lives of Moroi students, teachers, and guardians alike. Even worse, the Strigoi took some of their victims with them. . . including Dimitri.

He’d rather die than be one of them, and now Rose must abandon her best friend, Lissa—the one she has sworn to protect no matter what—and keep the promise Dimitri begged her to make long ago. But with everything at stake, how can she possibly destroy the person she loves most?

Thoughts: Richelle Mead is one of those authors that makes you desperate for a conclusion. So, I’ll just come out and admit it… I read spoilers for Blood Promise before I’d even read Shadow Kissed (which, FYI, broke my heart into so many ickle pieces, I couldn’t deal enough to write a review). I knew what was going to happen before I picked up both books – and I have a pretty clear idea about the last two books in the series as well. I just had to know. Emotionally, I just wouldn’t have made it through this series without some warning of what was ahead.

So, despite having a pretty fair idea what would happen in this book, it still blew me away. I wondered how far Mead could take vigilante!Rose. I mean, the book is over 400 pages long and there’s only so much angst a girl can handle. But as Rose makes her way through Russia, Mead takes the opportunity to introduce some fabulous new characters: including Sydney, who will be the star of the spin-off series.

Along with the painful Dimitri/Rose action – which kept a lump in my throat the whole time – there are about a dozen new plot lines that pop up in Blood Promise. For one thing, we got a look at a very different Moroi/Dhamphir society – the one Dimitri was raised in, and boy does that ever explain him. We also got a whole new insight into the twisted world of Strigolis, and introduced to a whole new branch of supernatural none of us had even known about. I adored all the new intrigue. When it really comes down to it, the Vampire Academy is all plot plot plot and it’s fantastic.

On top of that, Rose went through some extraordinarily terrifying things in this book. Seriously, there’s death and torture and blood and prostitutes. It’s not stuff for weaklings, and even knowing how everything could turn out did not comfort me! Rose proved to be stronger than I think humanly possible. I couldn’t help but be proud of this girl for keeping herself together, both physically and mentally.

On the less-positive side… I still don’t see what Rose sees in Lissa. I find her rather bland and continue to only be interested in her because of her friendship with our leading lady. I also don’t get the fuss over Adrian. He seems a perfectly all right guy, but that’s it. I guess he’s a great rebound… but I found his woe-is-me business is extremely unattractive.

Bottom line?  I loved this book for its angsty, plotty goodness.  In case you haven’t heard, the Vampire Academy series is a Must. Read.

Review: Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre

Review: Wanderlust by Ann AguirreWanderlust by Ann Aguirre
Series: Sirantha Jax #2
Published by Ace/Roc
Pages: 312
Genres: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Grimspace, Doubleblind, Killbox

Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. Jax has worked for the Farwan Corporation her entire career. But now the word’s out that the Corp deliberately crashed a passenger ship, and their stranglehold on intergalactic commerce has crumbled—which means that Jax is out of a job.

She’s also broke, due to being declared dead a little prematurely. So when the government asks her to head up a vital diplomatic mission, Jax takes it. Her mandate: journey to the planet Ithiss-Tor and convince them to join the Conglomerate.

But Jax’s payday is light years away. First, she’ll have to contend with Syndicate criminals, a stormy relationship with her pilot, man-eating aliens, and her own grimspace-weakened body. She’ll be lucky just to make it to Ithiss-Tor alive…

Thoughts: Ann Aguirre is one of those authors who can make me cry like a baby, keep me on tenter-hooks during an action sequence, and make me drink coffee at 4am so that I can keep reading. The only reason this book isn’t getting 5 stars is because it falls slightly short of it’s predecessor Grimspace – but not by much.

Everything I love about science fiction is in this book. The familiar-yet-different worlds, species with bizarre cultures taking the lead – it’s like Star Trek meets Firefly meets, well, Ann Aguirre. This woman can write action and drama and romance, all while developing a stunning universe for her characters to play in.  Although there isn’t quite as much mind-blowing action and drama in this book (although I don’t see how that would have been possible, given how much happened in Grimspace) there’s still a whole ton of it. I am constantly amazed by just how much plot Aguirre can pack into the pages!

I loved that Vel, who had a brief but essential part in Grimspace, returned for Wanderlust. He is not just alien in his appearance but in his attitude, and something about that makes me want him to love Jax. If any of you watch The Good Wife, the relationship between Jax and Vel is rather like that of Alicia and Kalinda. Vel is just so otherworldly and aloof, you never know quite how he’ll react. But when he does act in Jax’s favour? It makes it that much more meaningful.  As for Jax herself, she really grows into herself and her relationship with March in this book. She is one of my very favourite characters – nitty, gritty, kick-ass, and screwed up. And let me just say that the scenes between her and March? They made me cry without making me want to kill either character (quite a tough job!).

Unfortunately, there was one reveal towards the end of the book that had me thinking “seriously?”. It was just a bit too cliche and threw me slightly off-kilter for what would have otherwise been a fantastic ending.

Bottom line? A fantastic sequel in a fantastic series.  I’d recommend Ann Aguirre’s books to anyone who wants their books both character-driven and plot-driven – Wanderlust has both in spades.

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