‘Midnight Sun’ – Stephanie Meyer

Twilight from Edward’s view…yes, at the time, I read the leaked version that made its way on-line and, yes, at the time I thought it seemed a little pointless. When this project seemed to be shelved, life went on and I didn’t think of it again…until we got the news it was releasing this summer. No matter what I thought of it, I knew I’d read this because it counted as unfinished business and my curiosity would win out.

The first thing to make clear is, as so many point out, this is over-the-top, riddled with cringe-worthy similes and there’s still very little to make Bella a particularly endearing character. I have to say I expected this. The second thing to comment on is the story is the same. We know what’s going to happen and it really is a step-by-step rehash of the story we already know, so there’s little added for us. Again, no surprises.

What we did get with this story from Edward’s view was an attempt to poke beneath the surface of what still seems a very odd and unhealthy relationship. I actually found myself liking some of the big scenes coming from this perspective – things were fleshed out and it was easy to see why events were organised as they were. Learning a little more about the Cullens and their backgrounds was good. Some will kill me for saying it, but I also liked the fact there was surprisingly little focus on Jacob and the wolves. My only concern now is the somewhat cynical fear that we’re now going to get another book…this time telling us Jacob’s story. I truly hope not, as I feel this would be too much and definitely exploiting all those readers (myself included) who probably could have done without this but who read it for the nostalgia fix.

 

‘Cinderella is Dead’ – Kalynn Bayron

 

The story of Cinderella is one that everyone knows. But what would you do if the story was a lie? That is the premise of this story, and it was one I was really excited about reading so I was thrilled to get an ARC from NetGalley to read in exchange for my honest thoughts.

Our story focuses on Sophia, a young girl who lives in Lille where everyone abides by the rules set. Every year girls have to attend the Annual Ball – if they are chosen they must be subservient to their husband, and if they are not chosen nobody hears from them again. Though some recognise the problems with such a regime, none seem prepared to stand up to fight it.

Sophia would like nothing more than to live with her childhood friend, Erin. When the time comes for them to attend the Ball, things don’t quite go to plan. Sophia escapes, and takes refuge in Cinderella’s mausoleum where she is found by Cinderella’s only living descendant, Constance. Buoyed by their sense of belief, and hope for a different future, the girls take on the challenge of confronting the King. They take on a journey fraught with danger, where nobody is quite what they claim to be, in a desperate attempt to change the lives of girls in the future for the better.

While the story follows a rather predictable path, there were attempts to offer something new. We got strong female characters who weren’t afraid to stand up for their beliefs. There was the odd twist to illustrate the idea that sometimes people can hide their true desires from others, and there were hints that people can change things if they are true to their convictions. Perhaps the Cinderella retelling offers less than it might, but it was certainly an interesting read.

‘The Damned’ – Renée Ahdieh

In this second instalment of the series, we start to get answers to some of the questions that so niggled me in the opening.

This time round we begin with the aftermath of what took place with Celine and Bastien. Celine has asked for her memories to be removed in exchange for letting Bastien live. He has been turned into a vampire, thus breaking an old agreement that looks as if it’ll cause trouble. She seems to be settling into her new life, even looking forward to a future with Michael Grimaldi, but we soon learn she is not fully unaware of her past experiences.

The answers behind Celine’s immunity to the mind-altering came as something of a surprise (I wondered if there were details I’d missed from earlier). I enjoyed her determination to be true to herself, in spite of what those around her say, though it didn’t really seem that we were in a particularly different time.

It won’t come as any surprise to see Bastien and Celine are more closely linked than people might like them to be. We get hints of a much bigger picture, and the references to the past and the other worlds suggest that there could be exciting times ahead.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication.

 

‘The Extraordinaries’ – T.J. Klune

The Extraordinaries has a rather unusual take on the super-hero story and I wasn’t totally sure whether we were meant to see this as genuine fantasy, fan-fiction comedy, or some weird hybrid. Elements of this were very funny, the hints of what’s to come in the bigger picture are definitely interesting but there’s a few elements that I feel will make this problematic.
Our main character is Nick Bell, son of a local cop. Nick has ADHD and is struggling since the killing of his mother. He has a close group of friends that he claims are the school outcasts, though their bond is close enough they don’t seem to take much notice of this. His ex, Owen, still hangs around and pushes his buttons – but seems very keen to see how Nick’s best friend Seth reacts. Nick keeps himself occupied by writing fan fiction about his crush on the superhero Shadow Star.
From the outset we see how important the superhero is to Nick. He ends up rescued by him, but then there’s the small matter of Power Storm, his nemesis. We don’t know quite what’s going on (although it doesn’t take long to figure some parts out) but the rapidly escalating violence between these two starts to cause problems.
The focus on Nick means we are, naturally, kept a little in the dark about some aspects of the world-building and events taking place. As Nick learns, so do we. Watching him bounce round causing chaos was funny, but not particularly helpful at times. However, once we get further details of the role certain characters play it certainly offered more interest- don’t want to give anything away, but the revelations about Nick’s mum right at the end certainly imply there’s more to this than we’ve got here.
Unfortunately, the humour and general lighthearted focus was marred by some of the details given and the characters’ reactions. As the son of a cop, Nick gets away with a lot. In light of current affairs and concern about police behaviour, to have him joking about such affairs seems in bad taste. We find out his dad was demoted after punching someone involved in a case. Few details are given, but it adds nothing to this story and seemed a poor decision to feature when so much is being talked about with regard to the behaviour of those in charge of maintaining law and order. I’ve seen a couple of reviews where this feature was picked up on and vociferously decried, so it’ll be interesting to see whether attention is paid to these advance reviews and whether any changes are made prior to publication.
Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts.

 

‘The Fascinators’ – Andrew Eliopulos

The Fascinators was one of those reads that I’m not quite sure what to make of.

The prologue opens by getting us to see young Liv picked up by a group that we know nothing about and hints at something awful happening before completely switching focus. The story then shifts to a trio made up of Sam, James and Delia. They practise magic and are definitely something of an oddity in their hometown. We don’t know where their magic comes from or why it’s such a big deal to them, and this lack of detail was part of the issue with the book for me.

These characters live in a world where magic is fundamental to the story unfolding for us, yet we are never shown how we come to this position. With the arrival of new guy Denver we can see there’s a shift in the dynamics but it’s unclear just why this comes about.

A key factor in this story is the focus on Sam coming to terms with his feelings for James and how this impacts on their group dynamic. There’s clearly been tension for some time before we encounter the group but we don’t really get to understand this until a lot later on, by which time we’ve probably decided our views on them all and what we want to happen.

In terms of plot, it’s actually quite straightforward – but without really getting a full picture of the world/attitudes to magic it was quite hard to really understand the significance of details until quite late on. Sam was infuriating at times, but the end result was actually quite positive and suggested that his relationship with James could have been held up to closer scrutiny.

 

‘The Challenger’ – Taran Matharu

Talk about leaving you hanging! A frustrating (yet fitting) end to a cracking story.

Picking up not long after the events of Book One, Cade learns that he is to act as the representative in a much bigger battle. It’s a threat he is ill-equipped to deal with, so the priority for the group at the start is to find armour.

Unfortunately, while searching for what they need the group are taken by slavers. Cade has to barter for his freedom – resulting in them being forced to participate in the emperor’s gladiatorial games.

What follows is fraught with danger, but wholly believable. Seen from Cade’s perspective we are made to witness a number of awful battles as he strives to complete the tasks put in front of him to secure what he needs to have a chance of success. We get a lot of awful scenes, but Cade’s honest reactions to these mean we never see them as anything other than a very necessary step towards what he needs to do to get home (or be in with a chance to).

There’s hints of romance, which you could see coming a mile off. There’s deepening bonds of friendship and there’s a clear sense that these characters we come to care about are mere pawns in a much bigger game.

I am so grateful to NetGalley for granting me access to this in exchange for my thoughts. Now I need to dig a little and see what the plans for part three are…I have questions that I’m really hoping will be answered!

 

‘The Kingdom of Back’ – Marie Lu

In some ways I think this is a story that could have been told many times over, that of a talented young woman denied the chance to share her talent purely because of her gender.

Our focus is Nannerl, the older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A girl I had never heard of, yet the author’s note suggests her talent was comparable – if not, in some ways, more than that of her lauded younger brother.

We follow Nannerl as she recounts her forays into composition, and her growing frustration at the way her talent is ignored by her father as he touts his young children around the world in an attempt to ensure the name of Mozart is never forgotten.

While the historical element of the story is interesting, I was more entranced by the fantasy elements Lu employs to examine Nannerl’s feelings about the events she lives. We watch as she conjures up The Kingdom of Back, a mystical place, and is persuaded to undertake a number of quests in order to achieve her heart’s desire.

This was, evidently, a story that had captivated Lu and one that seems to have taken her years to finish/share with the world. It will certainly introduce someone overlooked to readers, but it also offers us the opportunity to see an imaginative exploration of two very talented children and how their relationships develops over time.

 

‘Supernova (Renegades 3)’ – Marissa Meyer

A fitting end to this superhero series, where we get a lot of what we expected but not everything is as straightforward as it seems.

Picking up after the events of book two, Nova is all too aware that it is only a matter of time before her double identity is revealed. While she is in love with Adrian and has come to respect the Renegades, the years preparing her have ensured she is hard to sway from her intended course of action. Determined to rescue Ace, Nova takes greater chances and there were times where I wondered if this was really the same girl we’d seen through the previous two books.

Regardless of our views on Nova’s behaviour, she is plunged into the thick of the action here. Some are determined to make her pay for her actions, but there are others prepared to look beyond what they’ve been told – who think there’s a chance of a different approach.

Nova is placed in some difficult circumstances here. Not everyone behaves honourably, and yet there’s support for Nova where we might not have foreseen it. If you’re in this for the action you won’t be disappointed, and there was a clear attempt to answer some of the questions we’ve had about these characters and their lives.

You need to know that not everyone survives. Everyone is changed, in some way. And there’s a wonderful reveal at the end – which we had been given little clues about – that hints there could be more to come.

 

‘The Guinevere Deception’ – Kiersten White

For as long as I can remember I have loved the stories of King Arthur and his knights. I was fascinated by studying Thomas Malory’s Works, and once again Kiersten White takes something familiar and much-loved and turns it into something new, a little darker and completely absorbing.

We begin our journey with Guinevere travelling to Camelot for the first time to meet her husband-to-be, Arthur. Her wonder at seeing this land and the way Arthur rules is interesting, but it’s clear from the beginning that this isn’t quite what we think. Guinevere is hiding a secret. She is not who people think she is, and her father Merlin has arranged this situation so that Guinevere can use her hidden magic to help protect Arthur.

A good part of the book focuses on Guinevere settling into Camelot. She picks up on things others don’t notice, and while it’s not particularly exciting it’s essential for us to understand how things develop later.

There are many familiar faces here. We see Lancelot and come to understand the bond shared between Arthur’s queen and favourite knight. We have, throughout, an unknown narrator who is clearly allied to dark magic. We don’t learn quite how this character links until very late on, but I loved the way White chooses to flesh out characters that it’s easy to see in a certain way. She shows us their courtly behaviours, but we gain insight into the people behind these public faces. We come to see them as people, and this development means we can’t help but feel very real fear at what might be in store.

 

‘Chain of Gold’ – Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare…you’ve done it again.

Another group of characters tightly bound by their bonds/expectations and desires…where things aren’t always quite what they seem, and where we end up in dangerous situations with nobody batting an eyelid.

There’s a lot of characters in this, and it was a bit confusing to start with. However, as we start to focus on the main group it became a lot easier to follow.
The story is one of those that seems to become more complex the more we learn. It focuses on our Shadowhunters trying to learn who might be responsible for conjuring demons that are killing Shadowhunters. There’s clearly some link with key Shadowhunter families – and we do get some answers.

Once I felt the characters we were focusing on were little more established, I got quite taken in by this. There were enough hints of action to come and suggestions of potential plot strands to make me curious to see what comes next, and I was definitely in turn amused and upset by/for Cordelia, James, Anna, Matthew and Alistair – amongst others.