Monday, 18 April 2011

Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe - Jenny Colgan

I haven't had much of a chance to read over the last week. My sister and niece were visiting from Australia and so we were out and about quite a bit. I did manage to order Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe for my Kindle, however, and it had arrived when I turned my Kindle on to check on Thursday morning and I finished reading Sunday night.

I first discovered Jenny Colgan almost 10 years ago when I picked up Looking for Andrew McCarthy in a little book store in Melbourne. A quick look at the reviews on Amazon tells me it's a bit of a Marmite book, with polarised reviews, but I obviously enjoyed it because every time I went into a book store I had a look to see if she had any other books out. Over the years I've read and enjoyed all of them (some more than others, but all are worth a read). I was delighted to find her on twitter and discover that she is as funny as her books. She replies to tweets as well. Well worth a follow if you like her books.

So, onto this one. Issy was raised by her Grampa Joe. Joe ran a string of bakeries and Issy grew up amid the flour and icing. Joe had her baking from an early age and Issy has continued into her adult life, experimenting with different flavours and trying them out on her friends and colleagues. When she finds herself suddenly jobless, Issy turns her hobby into a career. Will her relationship with boss Greame survive? Or will banking advisor Austin steal her heart?

This is a lovely read. The supporting characters are well rounded and have interesting side stories of their own. I especially liked single mum Pearl and I fell in love with Austin in the Head Teacher's office. A couple of scenes with Grampa Joe had me in tears. The outcome might be what you'd expect, but there are a couple of surprises for the supporting characters and Issy's is an enjoyable journey, no matter the destination.

Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe definitely takes advantage of the current fashion for cupcakes. Each chapter opens with a recipe, reflecting the events of that chapter. I think the Getting What You Want lemon cake is my favourite and I'll definitely be trying a few of them. There's also a nice little surprise at the end for those planning a Royal Wedding afternoon tea.

Now, if you'll excuse me, my daughter and I are going to make some cupcakes. Vanilla with strawberry buttercream, I think.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

City of Fallen Angels - Cassandra Clare

***Contains some spoilers***

I was most excited on Thursday to turn on my Kindle and find that City of Fallen Angels had been delivered. I had pre-ordered it earlier in the week. When Cassandra Clare's previous book, Clockwork Angel, was released I trolled book stores looking for it. WH Smith hadn't heard of it and Waterstones didn't have any in stock and I had to wait a week to get it from Amazon. This is why I love my Kindle (but I've already posted about that...).

For those not familiar with The Mortal Instruments, it's an urban fantasy series, largely set in New York City, about demon slayers known as Shadowhunters. 16 year old Clary discovers that there's more to the City than meets the eye. She discovers a world of demons, vampires, warlocks and werewolves. When her mother disappears and her long, lost father turns up with evil plans, Clary must work with the Shadowhunters to find the Mortal Instruments and her mother. Along the way she falls in love with Jace, the most talented of the Shadowhunters.

Cassandra Clare is an avid tweeter (@cassieclare) and for the past few months has been sharing teasers conducting character Q&As with fans. This had created a real sense of anticipation and I was not exempt from that.

So, I started reading on Thursday afternoon, read all of Friday evening, staying up far too late, and finished it early this morning while squished between the baby and the pre-schooler. First impression - wow! Second impression - wow! I really enjoyed immersing myself in this world again.

The book starts six weeks after the events of City of Glass. Clary and Jace are together and Clary has started Shadowhunter training. Simon is dating both Maia and Isabelle and hasn't quite figured out how to tell his mother he's a vampire. Alec and Magnus are doing the Grand Tour and Luke and Jocelyn are planning their wedding.

From there, as you would expect in a Cassandra Clare novel, things don't go smoothly. Jace is pulling away from Clary, Camille turns up to cause trouble and Simon finds himself homeless. Cassandra has come up with a bigger and nastier villain than Valentine in Lilith, but I won't say any more about her lest I spoil too much.

The book kept me absorbed throughout. The final battle in particular prevented me from going to bed - I just had to find out what happened.

I wasn't sure where she could go after Lilith, but the door has been left open for an excellent villain in City of Lost Souls and Jace and Clary still have a way to go before they get their much hoped for HEA. It's going to be a long wait until next January.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

How cool is the Kindle?

I love books. Real books, the paper kind that have a smell and a feel and a personality. I didn't want a Kindle. But then something happened. Friends started talking about their Kindles and how great they were. I started thinking maybe a Kindle wouldn't be a bad thing. After all, we're trying to de-clutter and I already had enough books to start a small library. Within a week I'd gone from not wanting a Kindle to needing one desperately. I then had a little shopping accident where one slipped into my basket and two weeks later my shiny new toy arrived.

What a revelation! It was fabulous having dozens of books at my fingertips and I excitedly set about downloading free books. I also spent a small fortune buying books. I think I spent around £50 in the first few weeks. 1-click buying is far too tempting.

So I've had the Kindle a while now and things have settled down and I don't get quite as excited about it. That changed this week, though. I pre-ordered a Kindle book for the first time. I ordered it on Monday and today it magically appeared! On release day! No waiting for crappy delivery companies to bring it at their leisure (and lie about delivering it on Friday when it doesn't materialise until Monday - yes, DHL at home I'm talking about you), or trolling book shops trying to find one that's heard of the book and has it in stock.

The book I was so excited about? City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare. It's the fourth book in The Mortal Instruments Series and has been much anticipated. I'm four chapters in at the moment and really enjoying it. I will of course write about it when I'm done.

I still love real books, but I've bought over 20 Kindle books and only a handful of paper books in the last 6 months. I'm definitely a convert.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Lover Unleashed - J.R. Ward

Be warned, this may be slightly spoilery.

Lover Unleashed is the latest instalment in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. For those who are yet to meet the Brothers, they are a band of vampire warriors who fight to protect the civilian vampire population from The Lessening Society (soulless, former humans recruited by The Omega to kill all vampires).

These vampires are not humans who were bitten and they definitely don't sparkle (not that we don't love the Cullens). In this world, vampires are a separate species to humans. They look similar but are slightly anatomically different. Humans and vampires can interbreed and produce offspring, an important point in several of the books.

My husband refers to this as my "vampire porn" and to be fair, that's not far from the mark. This is no Twilight; the Brothers are definitely for adults only. Each book focuses on a different Brother while fitting into the ongoing storyline of the war between the Brothers and the Lessers.

If you're into vampire fiction and you like your smut to come with a decent storyline, then I highly recommend you give the Black Dagger Brotherhood a go. Dark Lover is the first in the series and it really is best to read them in order.

So, onto this book. At the close of the previous instalment, Wrath came back from the other side with an injured Payne. This book focuses on the struggle to restore feeling and movement to the now paralysed Payne. Who could possibly save her other than Doc Jane's former friend and colleague, Manny Manelo? The only trouble is, Manny thinks Jane is dead and is somewhat confused when she turns up looking for him at her own graveside.

Rather predictably, Manny and Payne fall for each other and what do you know? Manny has some vampire blood in his family tree. The surprise is that the book doesn't really centre around the two of them as much as you'd expect. This is as much V and Jane's story as Payne and Manny's. The other Brothers and their shellans are hardly present at all. Also missing are the Lessers. There are battles of course, and hints that something big is coming, but there are no Lesser POVs in the book at all. It is actually nice to get a break from the Lessening Society politics, which I thought was becoming a little tiresome, particularly after the Lash storyline of previous books.

Lover Unleashed introduces a new enemy - Xcor and his band of bastards. Xcor has a warrior sized grudge against Payne and designs on Wrath's throne. Xcor and Throe are an interesting addition and I'm sure we'll see more of them in the next book.

The occasional chapters featuring Quinn point to the possibility that the next book will centre around the Quinn/Blay/Saxton/Layla love quadrangle and it looks like there will be some interesting developments in that storyline.

I enjoyed it, but not as much as some of the previous books. Everyone has their favourite Brother and given how little many of them appear in the book (some no more than extras in one scene) you may be disappointed if V isn't yours.

If you've read it, leave a comment and let me know what you thought and who your favourite Brother is.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Matched - Allie Condie

Matched is Allie Condie's d├ębut novel. It's the first instalment of a dystopian trilogy aimed at young adults. As such, it's going to draw obvious comparisons with The Hunger Games. There are similarities, but there are also marked differences. I actually found the book more reminiscent of The Giver by Lois Lowry (worth looking up if you like dystopian fiction).

I'm finding it really difficult to write about this book without giving too much away. I'll start by saying I loved it. It was recommended to me by Stupidgirl who knew I'd loved The Hunger Games and thought this was even better. It certainly is a great read. Matched grabbed me from the first scene. I read it in two days and felt bereft when I reached the end. The cover, however is pretty awful - don't let it put you off!

The central character is 17 year old Cassia. As the book opens she's heading to her Matching ceremony where she'll learn who she'll marry. In this society, all your decisions are made for you - what you wear, where you live, what your job will be, what and how much you eat and who you will marry. Cassia soon discovers that the Officials are capable of making mistakes, this leads her to question what other mistakes may have been made and whether her society is as perfect as it seems. The story develops as a pretty classic love triangle, but it's different enough to hold your interest throughout. There are some really moving scenes - I was in tears for parts of this book (although that could have been the new baby hormones).

The second book in the trilogy, Crossed, is due out in November. I can't wait :)