“Shadow Kiss” by Richelle Mead

Back to St. Vladimir’s Academy for the third book of the [I]Vampire Academy[/I] series, and for me, this series has now kicked up a gear. Rose may have made her first Strigoi kills, but she still has to prove her skills at school, and guarding anyone other than Lissa is a struggle. But it’s not just being away from Lissa that’s hard, she thinks she’s starting to see ghosts …

The ongoing saga of Rose has ratcheted up a notch, and I read the story with my heart in my mouth a lot of the time, as the electrifying connection between her and Dimitri runs as a simmering undercurrent that eventually bursts up to the surface, while the menace from the Strigoi keeps the sense of peril mounting throughout to the thrilling conclusion.

I am now (not so) patiently waiting for the next book to be delivered to the library for me to collect and continue the story.

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“Frostbite” by Richelle Mead

The second installment of this YA Vampire Academy series continues in much the same vein as the first one. After escaping from Lissa’s uncles scheming of the first book, Lissa and Rose are not long back at school before the threat of the Strigoi causes the majority of the student population to decamp to safety of the Moroi ski resort for winter break, but trouble is never far away …

I still find the unpronouncable names irritating, but the less than subtle pointing out clues to what’s going on seemed less obvious this time around.

I like the development of the characters, and I love that Rose is such a strong individual, determined to make herself the best dhampir she can, and even with her own doubts and failings, she still holds her own.

A nice change of scene as well, taking the students out of the school setting to the ski resort allowed for a look into the wider society of the vampires in this world, and broadened the story of Lissa and Rose, and where they might end up in the future.

Enjoyable story, and I’ll keep going with the series, although I’m only borrowing from the library, not buying them as I don’t think they’d stand up to multiple readings.

The “Airhead” trilogy by Meg Cabot

Em Watts is an intelligent, sensible, ordinary teenager. After a freak accident in a store, Em wakes up in hospital and is a completely different person. The Airhead trilogy follows Em’s story to find out what has happened to her (book 1), how to live with her new life (book 2) and how to bring justice the people responsible (book 3).

Meg Cabot writes in her easy, familiar way, with her usual flawed by sympathetic heroine, and it’s a great thrilling ride although quite far-fetched!

The story incorporates themes of family, friends, peer pressure, multi-billion dollar corporations and celebrity culture, but it’s overriding focus is how today’s society concentrates on looks and appearance. Meg does try to show how there is room for all types of look and being pretty or beautiful is not the be all and end all, and that everyone can look good by making the most of what they’ve been born with. She also tries to push the idea that everything you see in the media (newspaper, magazine, video and film) is faked to look perfect and that no-one looks that perfect naturally. Additionally, she endeavours to promote the importance of education which can only be a good thing!

I’ve decided to review the three books together because read as individual books, I’m not sure how much sense they make. Although Meg’s books tend to stick to around the 300 page mark, I actually think this would have benefited from being incorporated into a mega-thick single volume anthology to be read in one go. I read the first two one after the other, but unfortunately, the third one isn’t actually published in the UK yet, so I bought an import from amazon in order to finish the trilogy, so I guess that must give you some idea how much I enjoyed it!

“Flush” by Carl Hiaasen

When Noah’s dad ends up in jail for running aground a casino boat he believes is the cause of pollution in the water and on the beaches of his beloved home town in Florida Keys, it’s up to Noah and his sister Abbey to take up the fight to bring the boat owner to justice, free his dad and save the local environment from further damage.

This was an impulse buy from a charity shop when I was out for the day and needed another book to read, and although I’d read it before, it didn’t take away any of the enjoyment. Hiaasen writes exciting adventure stories for 10-14 year olds (I would guess) with a strong moral message about his environmental concerns.

As with all his books I’ve read, it’s set in the Florida Keys, and although the main story is the damage being done to the environment by man, I think it gives children the message that a small group of people can make a difference when they stand up for what is right.

Great fun, exciting and fast paced, with lots of humour, it was a very enjoyable re-read for me.

“Eleven Minutes Late” by Matthew Engel

The back cover of this book tells you it that the author travelled the length of the British railway system from Penzance to Thurso, meeting a variety of people from politicians to platform staff on charmingly bizarre trains, the most beautiful branch line, and uncovered the mysteries and explored the history of railways in Britain.

I had really high hopes for this book – a mixture of train travel, quirky characters and the nostalgia of the railways as a British institution. A promising start gave me everything I was looking for, but unfortunately, it didn’t last.

After a few chapters, the narrative took a must stronger turn towards this history of the railways and diverted away from the people and places of the journey. I stuck with it, but it gradually got drier and drier, and I actually ended up putting it down for three months.

I eventually decided I wanted to finish it, and starting it again, the history continued for quite a while, but the last couple of chapters looking more at the state of the railway today along with the conclusion of the authors journey, made me glad I made the decision to continue.

I liked the authors writing style, it was just the depth of railway history that I found hard to take, as the blurb did not reflect the content making me feel a bit cheated. I would have been much happier to have read a book that concentrated mainly on the story of the journey with a bit of history thrown in, but I got the reverse felt which was rather dry and lacking in character.

“The Gathering” by Anne Enright

This book is essentially about how the unreliable narrator, Veronica Hegarty, tries to make sense of and come to terms with, the death of her beloved brother. Through her own imagined history of her grandmothers life and how she came to meet and marry her grandfather, and the gradual revealing of an incident she witnesses when just a young child, Veronica takes us through the history of her family.

I didn’t enjoy this book much at all. Although she’s meant to be unreliable as a narrator, Veronica’s almost infatuated imagining of Ada’s relationships made the story pointless for me. Her fantastical recounting of her grandmothers sexual encounters told as if relating actual events felt like a waste of time, and when the revelation of the incident is eventually told, it had long ago been guessed by this reader.

None of the characters were properly fleshed out for me, and I think that was the main failing. If I could have believed more in the various members of the Hegarty family, I could maybe have invested more in Veronica’s story and tried to understand her story, but as it was, they were all just names on paper.

There were some good points though, and I did chuckle a couple of times during the final few chapters when the gathering of the title actually takes place, and the members of the family come home for their brothers funeral. There are some nicely observed moments of the various brothers and sisters, but it was so close to the end of the book, that it was too late to make sense of them as individual characters.

One of my other reading group members felt completely the opposite to me, and thought that it was a beautiful, honest description of a large family. She comes from a large family herself, and could identify with the various bonds and connections within the family hierarchy, so maybe I didn’t have the same sympathy with the characters coming from an only child family, but part of me says that it is the authors responsibility to make me believe and empathise with the situation, and not to feel alienated from it.

I wouldn’t be looking to read any further books by this author, but having said that, if I was given another of her books to read for a book group, I would probably give her another chance.

“Burned” by P. C. and Kristin Cast

The latest in the House of Night series, Burned is told from various points of views, including Aphrodite, Stevie Rae, Rephaim and Stark, and I think the change to the perspectives is a welcome change to the series.

I think the series is definitely getting better again, after a good start, it started to go downhill when it became formulaic, but the last couple of books have really moved the story along and captivated my interest again.

I’ve never really been bothered by the awkward attempts at teenage vernacular in the previous books, but what I found irritating this time was the attempts to write in the accent of the characters. I know where the characters are from, so I don’t need the constant apostrophised words of Stevie Rae or the attempts at Scottish dialects of some of our new characters to know how they speak.

Just one final thing … I’m loving Aphordite more with each installment! She’s by far the funniest and most interesting of them all for me. Can’t wait for Awakened but 2011 seems too far away