Sunday, 30 June 2013

Book of the month - June 2013

The best book I read in June was...

Sarah J. Maas's Crown of Midnight, the sequel to Throne of Glass, is one of my most highly anticipated releases of the year, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of it early. Click here to see what I thought.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Book review: Fortunately, the Milk... by Neil Gaiman

The first time I read a children's book by Neil Gaiman (Coraline) I was left terrified, the second time (The Graveyard Book) slightly sad. While I loved Coraline and The Graveyard Book, the third time really has proved lucky - Fortunately, the Milk... is a charming book which had me giggling at every sentence.

Mum is away, and when there's no milk for the cereal, Dad goes down to the corner shop to get some. Only he's gone for ages and ages and ages. When he comes back, his curious children want to know what happened.

So Dad tells his son and daughter a crazy story about being abducted by aliens, escaping pirates, going on adventures with a stegosaurus who's a professor, and hanging out with the intergalactic police.

From the moment Fortunately, the Milk... begins to the moment it ends, it's full of all the stuff that children make up when they're playing, and that's its charm. Globby aliens, scary pirates, and a big rescue - these are the types of stories plenty of kids make up when hanging out with their friends. Only when an adult tells the story, however good it is, children are not likely to believe it, just like the two youngsters in the book.

While Fortunately, the Milk... is a children's novel, it's full of little asides that are great for older readers - a few references to Twilight, some really strong, modern female characters (I'll leave you to work out who), and two children who are pretty savvy.

Accompanying Gaiman's flowing storytelling are gorgeous black and white illustrations by Chris Riddell, who renders a protagonist who looks surprisingly like Gaiman (!) as well as countless creatures and plenty of pirates and wumpires (they're like vampires but with a 'wu').

Fortunately, the Milk... takes plenty of cues from the reboot of Doctor Who on BBC One, and could almost be turned into an episode of the show. In fact, I can imagine Matt Smith's Doctor telling this tale to a group of children, complete with funny voices and lots of shouting.

If you like your stories fast paced, full of adventure, and with a good dollop of laughter, you'll love Fortunately, the Milk...

•Fortunately, the Milk... is out on September 17.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Bloomsbury.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Sunday Post (#12)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It's a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, showcase books and things we received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead.

Book stuff this week on Girl!Reporter
Top Ten Tuesday - top 10 books at the top of my summer TBR list
Missing You by Meg Cabot (review)

Coming up next week on Girl!Reporter
Hopefully more than this week, since it's been pretty quiet!

What's been going on with you?

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Book review: Missing - Missing You by Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot is a genius writer whose characters always have a distinctive voice, and who feel like they could be your best friend - from Mia Thermopolis to Heather Wells.

The Missing series, geared at the slightly older end of the teen market, is no different. I picked up the first couple of books in the series years and years ago, and saw Missing You, the final book, in the library a couple of weeks ago. I couldn't resist finding out how it all ended, and despite having not read the series for years, I slipped right back into the world Cabot created within the first few pages.

Jessica Mastriani was hit by lightning while walking home, and suddenly she started having dreams about where missing people could be found. After the government got involved, Jess was sent to Afghanistan to help fight the war on terror. Now she's back in America, her powers gone, trying to live a normal life.

Until ex-boyfriend Rob Wilkins shows up and asks Jess to find his missing younger sister.

Missing You is a combination of teen love story, crime novel and a story about healing. Cabot uses the tool of Jess finding Rob's sister to show us a variety of things - Jess's discontent with her life as it is, how Jess's older brother is doing, her mum's attitude towards her life, and of course the impact her powers have had on her and those around her.

I love Jess as a character - she's brave, independent and clever, and pushed to help others even though she's been hurt in the process before.

The crime plot, for want of better phrasing, dealt with some very, very dark issues. Cabot doesn't go into much detail, and handles the storyline delicately, while also keeping the tone of the novel consistent throughout. Some may think that's not appropriate for the subject matter at hand, but I felt the voices she conveyed seemed authentically teenager-y (not a word, I know).

Overall, Missing You is a great ending to the Missing series, and fans of Cabot will love it. Those who don't know her writing would do well to start with this series.

How I got this book: From the public library.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (#8)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish, where the writers, like me, are particularly fond of lists. 

This week's topic 10 books at the top of my summer TBR list.

For this one, I'm going to try and stick to the many, many unread books on my shelves.

1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I bought this last year, and then put it on my shelf and promptly forgot about it. I am determined to getting round to reading it though, since I've heard so many good things.

2. Fallen by Lauren Kate
I'm not sure how I feel about this book, but it's another one I've seen floating around a lot, so I bought a copy. I hope to tackle it later this summer.

3. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, and want to see what Rowling's adult work is like.

4. Burn Mark by Laura Powell
Okay, I don't actually own Burn Mark, but I do own Witch Fire, its sequel, and I can't read that without reading the first book.

5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This collection of short stories has been sitting on my bookshelf for about 18 months.

6. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
I adored both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns and am really looking forward to Hosseini's latest novel, although I'll need a box of tissues to capture all the tears I'm sure to shed while reading.

7. Inferno by Dan Brown
A birthday present from this year that I want to read before my next birthday rolls round.

8. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
A modern classic that's been on my TBR list for years.

9. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
A fascinating, awe-inspiring man I'd like to learn more about.

10. Planet Google by Randall Stross
This book is probably wildly out of date now, considering how fast the internet moves, but it's all about the power of Google and how the organisation works.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Sunday Post (#11)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It's a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, showcase books and things we received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead.

Book stuff this week on Girl!Reporter

Teaser Tuesday (#7)
Raven's Gate by Anthony Horowitz (review)
Stacking the Shelves (#9) 

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas (review)

Non-book stuff this week on Girl!Reporter
DVD review: Boss season one
Games of Thrones recap/review: Mhysa
Review: The Social Animal and Public Policy, a masterclass with David Brooks 
Film review: Man of Steel
Review: Josh Groban All That Echoes tour at The O2

Coming up next week on Girl!Reporter
Who knows?!

What's new with you?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Book review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas


When I picked up Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, I certainly wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did, so I didn't forsee that I'd be eagerly awaiting its sequel, Crown of Midnight. That's exactly what I was doing though.

Having triumphed and been appointed the King of Adarlan's personal champion, former assassin Celaena Sardothien is now biding her time, bending to the King's will and waiting for the day she can be free.

Only it's not that simple. At great personal risk, Celaena hasn't been killing the men the King has been ordering her to. Instead, she's been faking their deaths.

When she returns from her latest mission and is given the name of her latest target, Celaena finds herself caught up in an increasingly dangerous situation, where she doesn't know friend from enemy, and where the danger is not just human.

Throne of Glass's focus was Celaena's battle to become the King's Champion, and therefore, beyond initial scenes in the mines of Endovier, it barely left the glass palace Celaena lives in.

Crown of Midnight, by contrast, opens up a whole new world, and was all the more compelling a book for it. We meet a host of new characters, discover more about the place where Celaena lives, her past and how the King of Adarlan became so powerful, and we find out more about the political struggles of the world in Crown of Midnight.

Maas is adept at world building, so all the new places we are introduced to are well described, and easy to picture. Her new characters, similarly, add a new dimension to the series and retain a sense of mystery. Like Celaena, I couldn't work Archer Finn out, and despite the fact that he's a doorknob (an actual doorknob, that's not an insult), Mort was one of my favourite characters in the novel.

But what of the characters we know and love, or hate, from Throne of Glass? Even though we found out more about the King of Adarlan, it only made him more frightening, not less. And there were a couple of minor characters from Throne of Glass, one in particular, who grew even more fascinating in Crown of Midnight. And of course, Nehemia continues to be a favourite of mine - she's just so kick arse.

And then there's Dorian and Chaol. I confess, of the two men in Celaena's life, Chaol was by far my favourite in Throne of Glass. While he retains his status in Crown of Midnight, this book really gave me the chance to get to know Dorian, and I liked what I saw.

The development of Dorian from handsome prince to someone genuinely conflicted is intriguing to read about, and I felt he had much more depth in Crown of Midnight. And that depth was something I really loved. 

We also got to find out a lot more about Chaol in this book, and really see him interact with Celaena. He became both a happier character and a sadder one, and both sides were fascinating to see.

As Maas continues to build layers onto her characters, I find myself really buying into them.

And Celaena. Well, she really goes through the mill in Crown of Midnight, and I can't say I always like the way she behaves, although I can always see why she's acting the way she is. Celaena often displays a high level of selfishness in this book, and has a way of completely failing to see things from another person's point of view at times. She can also be hypocritical, despising qualities in others which she herself displays.

But all her faults make Celaena a far more likeable character than if she was perfect, because it's her faults that also bring out the best in her, that make her loyal and always ready to fight for her friends (even though there are points in the book where she almost gives in).

I don't want to give too much away, which is why my description of the plot has been kind of vague, but Maas really takes the series to another level in Crown of Midnight, making the world we know bigger, the battles Celaena faces tougher, the enemies all around scarier, and the stakes much, much higher. It all ends with a bombshell that you could probably guess was coming, but is still a shock all the same.

Crown of Midnight is released on August 15 in the UK.

How I got this book: From the publisher.

Stacking the Shelves (#9)

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, and it's all about sharing the books you've added to your shelves, be they physical or virtual, sent to you for review, bought, or borrowed from the library.


Me and Mr Darcy by Alexandra Potter - a light summer read
Deja Dead, Death Du Jour, Deadly Decisions, Break No Bones and Bare Bones by Kathy Reichs - I've been wanting to read these ever since I started reading the Virals series by Reichs, and because I want to read some of the books before I start watching Bones
Mayada, Daughter of Iraq by Jean Sasson - when I was young I read Princess by this author, the story of a Saudi princess, which was fascinating and heartbreaking. This book looks intriguing, and as it's a true story (like Princess) it should strike an extra chord.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Struck by Lightning by Chris Colfer - I'm hoping to go to a book signing Colfer is doing tomorrow, but it's going to be very popular so I don't know if I'll get a space in the queue. *fingers crossed* I have his other book The Land of Stories, The Wishing Spell, so bought this for the signing. I won't be reading it until I've seen the film though (weird, I've never said that sentence that way round before!).


A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter
Missing You by Meg Cabot
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Skin Deep by Nora Roberts

What have you added to your shelves?

Review: Josh Groban All That Echoes at The O2

The last time Josh Groban was in London on tour (the Straight to You tour) he played the Hammersmith Apollo, a relatively small, pretty intimate venue. Those descriptors can't be applied to The O2, the venue for this year's All That Echoes tour.

The cavernous arena at The O2 should have made for a very different kind of gig - this should have been a stadium concert, but it actually retained the intimacy that Groban created at the Apollo.

Granted, this time there was no bringing people up on stage, seating them on a sofa and sharing a drink with them, but there was still a Q&A with fans, and Groban's trademark self-deprecating comments.

The show started with Brave, the first song on the newest Groban album, All That Echoes. While this was a show that included songs from earlier in Groban's career (including February Song and Machine), most of the numbers played were off the new album. Personally, there were a few old favourites I'd like to have seen performed, but that's just my wish list.

Groban did, however, perform my favourite song off the new album - Happy in my Heartache. While I love it recorded, it's even better live.

As is everything. Groban's voice is more than big enough to fill The O2, and his band are phenomenal. A particular favourite moment of mine was the musical interlude about half way through the show, which began with an amazing violin solo by lead violinist Christian Hebel. I could have watched a whole show of just music by Hebel and the rest of the band, and Groban himself came out and showed off his skills on the drums during the number.

As a local touch, Groban was accompanied on stage by London choir Ovation during I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever) and You Raise Me Up, and props go to them for being utterly brilliant.

Groban filled the arena with two hours of gorgeous music, interspersed with the kind of humour and conversation that reminds you not all music stars are manufactured and kind of plastic. Despite the hugeness of the setting, this concert felt as intimate as if it had been performed in a room half the size (or smaller).

For those looking for a stunning voice, well written songs and highly talented musicians, a Groban show should be just your bag.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Film review: Man of Steel starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon

I’m a huge superhero fan, so when I saw the trailer for Man of Steel, I breathed a sigh of relief (because it looked flipping excellent) and then hoped that all the good bits hadn't been dumped into the trailer.

I was not left disappointed.

When Christopher Nolan rebooted Batman in 2005, everyone was relieved - at last, the days of cheesy, over the top superhero films was over, in their place, new, darker, grittier retellings.

Man of Steel is to the Superman franchise what Batman Begins was to the Batman franchise.

Before Man of Steel, the last outing for Superman on the big screen was 2006’s Superman Returns, which was just a really horrible film. Before I saw it I didn’t realise it was possible to be bored during a superhero film, but I managed to be bored during Superman Returns, which was a cringeworthy production.

Thankfully Man of Steel takes no lessons from Superman Returns - this is not just a superhero story, it’s an origin story. And it’s not just the origin story of Superman, it’s the origin story for Clark Kent, and for Kal-El, because it’s those two characters who come together to make Superman.

Krypton is dying, and military commander General Zod (a terrifying Michael Shannon) attempts to stage a coup. Scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe), whose wife has just had a boy, the first natural birth on Krypton for a century, is determined that part of his planet lives.

He sends Kal-El in a pod to earth, where he lands on a Kansas farm belonging to the Kent family, who take him in and raise him, keeping his powers secret.

So far, so familiar, and part of the beauty of Man of Steel is that it retains all the elements of the Superman tale we know and love, but just uses them in different ways.

We have plucky Lois Lane (Amy Adams), caring Martha Kent (Diane Lane), heroic Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), and of course, strong, honourable Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill).

As the man of steel, Cavill hits the right mix of confused young man searching for information about his past, honourable superhero determined to do the right thing, and cute love interest for Lois.

Granted, he doesn’t get to flex his acting muscles much - although other muscles are flexed. We see him topless within the first five minutes *fans self*. Cavill’s Superman is definitely the strong, silent type in Man of Steel, although he does get a few sarcastic quips in, and there’s something about him that makes you believe he’s Superman.

It’s Crowe and Costner, as Kal-El’s biological and adopted fathers, who get to show off how good they are as actors, and who have the most work to do, next to Shannon. Crowe is almost regal as Jor-El, while Costner’s Jonathan Kent is clearly the man Clark has modelled himself on.

Man of Steel doesn’t solve the problem of how no one recognises Clark Kent is Superman (he still just puts on some glasses at the end and fools everyone), and it's just a little bit too heavy on the massive set piece action sequences for me, but it’s definitely a welcome addition to the franchise, and one that will make you forget the last attempt to translate Superman on to the big screen.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Review: The Social Animal and Public Policy, a masterclass with David Brooks

David Brooks has a CV that reads like a dream career for most journalists. 

Currently working for The New York Times, he's previously worked for publications including The Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic Monthly, has interviewed presidents and has sat in on countless political pow wows.

Brooks has also written a book, The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens, and it was lessons from that he talked about at a masterclass today, held at the headquarters of London charity Kids Company.

I don't know what I went into the masterclass expecting, but I left feeling pretty awed by Brooks, and also with lots of ideas about how we as humans should operate to ensure success, not just in our lives but for society as a whole.

There were three core things Brooks chose to address first: that most of our processes are unconscious, that emotions are at the centre of our thinking and add value to things, and that we are deeply social creatures.

Brooks gave plenty of examples from his own life as a journalist, as well as from various studies, to talk about how humans develop and how the social self is at the core of what we do, even if we don't realise.

Governments, unfortunately, aren't ruled by emotions, or by things like love, and they also aren't ruled by the desire to give up all sense of self and work for the greater good, like Frances Perkins, who was the first female member of the United States cabinet - back in the government of Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s. I'd not heard of Perkins before this masterclass, but her story sounds fascinating, and she sounds like the kind of leader we need more of.

Brooks left me with a lot to think about, not least how in the face of poverty and hunger we can all do our bit to try and change policy so that a greater number of people are helped.

And, if you have the chance to see Brooks speak, I recommend you do so - he's an engaging speaker, with fascinating stories and a great mind.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Book review: Raven's Gate by Anthony Horowitz

Most people probably know Anthony Horowitz for his Alex Rider series, which was turned into a film with Alex Pettyfer (and Alicia Silverstone and Ewan McGregor for you folks out there who are my age).

I've got the Alex Rider series on my shelf to read, but while browsing the shelves at the library I picked up Raven's Gate, the first in Horowitz's The Power of Five series.

Fourteen-year-old Matt Freeman finds himself in dire straits when he is arrested by the police. His aunt, who took him in after his parents died, no longer wants him, and jail isn't quite ready for him. So he's put on a government scheme, which leads to him being fostered by Jayne Deverill, who owns a farm just outside the tiny village of Lesser Malling in Yorkshire.

Matt is put to work on the farm, and on his first visit to Lesser Malling discovers it's not just Mrs Deverill who's weird, it's all the villagers. And every time Matt tries to get away he finds himself back on the road to the village, and every time he tries to get help from someone, they die.

Raven's Gate is a wonderfully creepy book. Mrs Deverill was a cross between the evil mother from Neil Gaiman's Coraline, Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's Matilda and Terence Hardiman as The Demon Headmaster from the television series of the same name I used to watch as a child. With her severe looks and cold manner, I was as scared of Mrs Deverill as Matt is in the book.

Horowitz is great at adding an extra dimension to the world we live in. Matt's story is so crazy that he thinks no one in the real world will believe him, and of course we wouldn't. But watching Matt go through what he does left me wanting to scream: "It's all TOO normal, believe him, please!"

Raven's Gate built to a spectacular climax, with a couple of great twists I didn't see coming. This may be a children's book, but as an adult I thought Horowitz's writing and plotting was clever and engaging, and I'll definitely be reading more of this series.

How I got this book: Borrowed from the public library.

Teaser Tuesday (#7)

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. 

Here are the rules:  
•Open your current read 
•Open to a random page 
•Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page 
•Be careful not to include spoilers! 
•Share the title and author too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their to be read list if they like your teaser.

From Crown of Midnight, the sequel to Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas, chapter eight:

The once beautiful lady was curled against the wall, her dress soiled and dark hair unbound and matted. She had buried her face in her arms, but Celaena could still see that her skin gleamed with sweat and had a slightly grayish hue.

What are you reading?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Game of Thrones recap/review: Mhysa

The Rains of Castamere recap/review

It seems I'm barely over the events of last week's episode of Game of Thrones and the season finale has arrived. Oh wait, I'm not over the events of last week's episode. To recap, lots of people I liked died, and others I liked were heartbroken. And it was just horrendous and I want to curl up in a ball and cry about it. Again. Still, I must move on. And so to the final episode of series three, which was full of revelations.

In and around the Wall
Bran and the gang take shelter in one of the old castles along the Wall. Bran takes the opportunity to tell a fireside tale about the Rat Chef, a man who killed a king's son and then fed him to the king. The chef was punished by being turned into a rat, doomed to eat his own young. Only the reason he was punished wasn't for the murder or for feeding the king his son, it was disrespecting guests. And so Bran becomes the first person to talk about hospitality and the rights and rules that come with it.

As the group sleep, Bran hears a noise and a scuffle ensues as the group catch an intruder. Only it's not any old intruder, it's Samwell, Gilly and the baby. Samwell recognises Bran from Jon's descriptions, and tries to persude him not to go north of the Wall. I found these scenes really touching, and it made me wish that all the good guys could just stay together and help each other, instead of constantly putting themselves in danger.

Gifting the group with dragonglass daggers, Samwell and Gilly watch them walk through the tunnel and out onto the north side of the Wall, before the pair head to Castle Black. From there a message is sent out to rulers across the kingdoms about the dangers Samwell and Gilly saw (after a touching moment where Gilly reveals she will call her baby Sam).

Meanwhile, somewhere near the Wall Ygritte tracks down Jon Snow, who confesses that he does love Ygritte, but that he's never hidden who he is. As he turns away from her, she shoots him, catching him with an arrow in the back. Then she shoots him again, and again, before he eventually escapes, badly injured, on horseback, and makes it to Castle Black, where the brothers of the Night's Watch take him in. The look on Ygritte's face as she sees Jon ride off is one of many heartbroken faces we see this week.

King's Landing
Tyrion and Sansa are getting on quite well, joking together, when Tyrion is called to a meeting of the Small Council where a gleeful Joffrey tells him both Robb and Catelyn Stark have been killed.

Joffrey can barely contain his joy, which puts him on a collision course with Tyrion, especially when the former says he plans to serve Sansa Robb's head for dinner at his wedding feast. The little scrotum that is Joffrey doesn't seem to understand he's heading into danger when he begins to argue with Tyrion, and it's only when he turns his wrath on Tywin and accuses him of being a coward that it all comes to a head.

Tywin sends Joffrey to bed like the child he is, and then proceeds to tell Tyrion that he needs to get Sansa pregnant, fast, so that their child can rule in the north on behalf of the king. Tyrion has some major issues with this, rightly pointing out that Sansa is definitely not going to sleep with him now.

He's also the second person to point out that killing guests in your home is unforgiveable, and will come back to haunt you.

And so Tyrion heads back to Sansa, who simply looks at him like her heart has been shattered.

Lord Varys visits Shae and offers her diamonds to leave King's Landing, so that Tyrion may have a chance to become the great ruler he can be. She refuses and tells Varys Tyrion must send her away himself. He's too busy getting drunk with Pod though, and then bonding with Cersei, who tells him that he should give Sansa a child so that she has something to take pride in.

Cersei reveals that her children are the only thing that make her happy, even Joffrey, who was a happy baby. When her brother questions how long the Lannisters must keep fighting for, Cersei's only answer is until they stop having enemies. 

And then Cersei gets the surprise of her life, when Jaime walks back into her life. I can't tell if she's happy to see him or not, and I don't think she and Jaime can either, although it's clear they feel deeply for each other (in a gross, incest-y way).

Walder Frey's place/somewhere dark and dingy
Walder Frey is happily munching on lunch, while chatting to Roose Bolton and watching maids clean the floor of his dining room of Stark blood.

As the pair discuss events - Blackfish got away (yay!) - it is revealed that Ramsay Snow, the creepy guy who's been torturing Theon Greyjoy, is actually Bolton's bastard son. And he's been torturing Theon because the poor boy was given up by his own men.

It's been a few weeks since we saw Theon, and as we revisit he's not really in any good state. Ramsay has cut off his manhood, and is now determined to break what little sanity Theon, or Reek as Ramsay insists on naming him, has left.

Theon's manhood, meanwhile, is mailed to his father and sister. The former could give two hoots and doesn't care about Ramsay's threat to kill Theon, but the latter has suddenly grown a conscience and takes off in a boat with 50 of the Iron Island's deadliest men to rescue her little brother. I do find Yara's change of heart a bit sudden, and I wonder what's made her suddenly sympathetic to her younger brother. Is it simply that he's blood and she can't abhor the way he's being treated?

Pearls of wisdom come this week from Gendry, who bonds with Ser Davos Seaworth when the latter visits him in his prison cell. When Ser Davos asks why Gendry succumbed to Melisandre, Gendry answers with words that could be used as an excuse for many things that happen in Game of Thrones: "Big words, no clothes, what would you have done?"

Gendry's honesty works and later, when Stannis Baratheon orders Gendry be killed Ser Davos frees Gendry and sends him back to King's Landing. Stannis sentences Ser Davos to death instead, but the Onion Knight is wily - having learnt to read he is in possession of a note from the Night's Watch which details the horrors stirring beyond the Wall.

Melisandre is quick to switch tack, advising Stannis that beyond the Wall is where the real battle lies, and so Stannis spares Ser Davos, so that the knight can help him form his army.

On the road
Arya and the Hound, having escaped from Walder Frey's joint (after seeing Greywind's head stitched to Robb Stark's body), are back on the road. I'm not sure where they're heading, but I'm guessing King's Landing since there's nowhere else for them to turn.

On their way they pass a group of Frey's men, boasting about killing the Starks. Arya slips off the horse and heads over to the group, lulling them into a false sense of security and then repeatedly stabbing one of them to death. The Hound handles the others and then rounds on Arya, asking where she got the knife from - it's his. As the Hound tucks into food, Arya picks up the coin Jaqen H'ghar gave her and says the magic words: "Valar Morghulis."

Daenerys waits outside the gates of Yunkai with her warriors, waiting for those inside to come out. They do, and after listening to Daenerys tell them they must free themselves, the group start chanting. The word they're chanting? Mhysa. It means 'mother'.

Daenerys lets her dragons fly, and then walks into the crowd, where she is picked up and greeted like a queen, like the queen we've seen her grown into. In the final scene of the series, we see a triumphant Daenerys surrounded by an army of her people, with her dragons flying overhead.

And there we have it, season three of Game of Thrones is over. It's been painful, really painful, although perhaps not as painful as it has been for Theon Greyjoy. Still, despite all the pain, the final episode ended with some hope, especially for Daenerys (ever more worshipped), Jon Snow (back at home with family) and even Bran (off to conquer a new world). It even ended with a hope of sorts for Jaime Lannister, who will hopefully continue on the path Brienne has set him on and become a good man.

Just a year to wait and then we'll see.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

DVD review: Boss Season One, starring Kelsey Grammer

Political intrigue, double crossing, scandal and more converge in Kelsey Grammer's new programme, Boss.

Tom Kane (Grammer) is mayor of Chicago, and rules with an iron fist. Behind the scenes, he has just discovered he has an incurable degenerative illness, one that is already starting to affect his mental faculties, and which will soon begin to have a physical effect too.

A combination of Shakespearean tragedy and American melodrama, it's Grammer's acting that is the most compelling aspect of Boss. He is simultaneously terrifying and unpredictable, yet under it all he also draws our sympathies.

It's on its secondary storylines that Boss falls down, partly because there are too many of them. Kane's wife Meredith (Connie Nielsen) is pursuing her own political agenda, and comes off as a one dimensional ice queen. Their daughter Emma (Hannah Ware) is struggling to keep the clinic she runs afloat and herself away from the drug habit which caused her parents to cut all contact with her.

Meanwhile there's a storyline I didn't quite understand about O'Hare airport, a journalist who's determined to get to the bottom of a story about contaminated water, and a gubernatorial race between grizzled incumbent McCall Cullen (Francis Guinan) is battling handsome young hopeful Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner), who is having an affair with Kane aid Kitty O'Neill (Kathleen Robertson), who spends most of her time explaining stuff or with her top off, or sometimes both.

Kelsey Grammer plays Chicago mayor Tom Kane. Picture: Lionsgate
Splitting the attention between so many storylines and people who rarely interact is ambitious, but means that it's easy to lose grip with what's happening, even if what's happening is as horrid as someone getting their ear cut off. Personally, I would have cut two or three of the plot points and just concentrated on those that directly involve the presence of Kane, since scenes with him are easily the most interesting.

Boss is good, and certainly got better with each episode in the series, but I can't help but feel most of the elements that make it up have been done better elsewhere: The West Wing did the political figure hiding a degenerative illness storyline with much more humanity, even though it was full of much more hope than Boss; The Wire did corruption in more detail; The Sopranos did the threats better; and Game of Thrones has the monopoly on sexposition.

But I would recommend Boss, if only for Grammer's performance, which will have you wondering how he can be the same person who played Frasier. If Grammer can continue to bring that scary edge to Kane in the second season, and if some of the secondary characters and storylines can be drawn with more layers, Boss will go from average to great.

Boss is out on DVD on June 10.

The Sunday Post (#10)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It's a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, showcase books and things we received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead.

Reviews this week on Girl!Reporter
Flawless by Lara Chapman
The Academy Game On by Monica Seles
Joyland by Stephen King
Code by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs

Non-book stuff this week on Girl!Reporter
Games of Thrones recap/review: The Rains of Castamere

Coming up next week on Girl!Reporter
Raven's Gate by Anthony Horowitz (review)

What's new with you? 

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Book review: Code by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know I'm a big fan of the Virals series by Kathy Reichs.

This third instalment, Code (following Virals and Seizure), is written by Reichs and her son Brendan, and yet again, it's a corker of a book.

Tory and her three outcast friends, Hiram (Hi), Sheldon and Ben, find themselves in the midst of another mystery when Hi introduces them to the world of geocaching - people hide things and then post the coordinates onlines, you have to go find them.

Finding a cache on Loggerhead, the island housing the facility in which the foursome caught a human form of parvovirus which gave them weird abilities, the Virals are thrust into a game with serious consequences.

The Gamemaster isn't mucking around, and if they don't win the game, the consequences will be dire.

In between the danger and mystery and strange powers, Tory is facing all the normal problems of growing up, including the ever-increasing presence of her dad's girlfriend in her life, and the annoying tradition of being a debutante.

Code is the scariest book in the Virals series so far, and also the most complicated. I thought I had the mystery sussed from pretty early on, and knew exactly who the Gamemaster was, but I didn't at all. The plot is clever and twisting, but always logical when you look back.

For me a highlight of this book was Tory's increasingly complicated social life, and the return of Chance Clayborne, the son a millionaire (billionaire?) corrupt politician, who knows something weird is going on with Tory and her friends.

I like that instead of introducing dozens of new characters in each book, Virals sticks with old characters, developing relationships between them, and showing just how complicated life can be, even without the added pressure of bring able to morph into a super strong version of yourself.

With every book in the series, the story of the Virals has become more compelling, and I look forward to what comes next.

How I got this book: Borrowed from the public library.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Book review: Joyland by Stephen King

I've only read one book by Stephen King. That book was Misery, and it alternately had me terrified and going: "Ew."

So I was expecting Joyland, a new King novel published by Hard Case Crime (a pulp crime publisher) to be a murder mystery with a healthy dash of horror - especially because the action was set in an amusement park and the murder that was a mystery happened in the park's house of horrors.

What I got instead was a coming of age story, shot through with a heap of heartbreak and plenty of healing.

Devin Jones gets a summer job working at Joyland, and soon finds out his girlfriend has been cheating on him. She doesn't even have the courtesy to break up with him properly, writing him a letter instead. Heartbroken, Devin throws himself into work, forming relationships with people that will last a lifetime, and a connection to a place that he will never forget.

King gets the murder in early. On the day of his job interview at Joyland, Devin goes to meet his future landlady, who fills him in on all the juicy details. A young girl and her lover went into the house of horrors, and the young girl never came out. There are plenty of pictures of the couple together around the park, but none in which the man's face can be seen. And it's said the girl, Linda, still haunts the place she died, while the killer has never been found.

Devin arrives at the park a few years after the murder, and finds himself quickly captured by the story. But King's novel, unexpectedly, shifts the ghost story, and even the crime solving, to the backseat as Devin finds himself a star at Joyland, fitting right in with the carnies (even using the slang they have), so much so that he decides to not go back to college and stay at the amusement park for the year instead.

The deepest bonds in the book are formed between Devin and Erin - one of his housemates and one of Joyland's Hollywood Girls. The pair keep in touch for years, and Erin's husband is in fact one of Joyland's other summer workers. Joyland, narrated by a Devin 40 years older and wiser, is full of tidbits from Devin's whole life as well as his summer at the amusement park.

And Devin also forms a deep bond with a child named Mike, who is wheelchair bound because of his muscular dystrophy, and Mike's mother Anne. This comes quite late in the book, so I won't spoil anything for you, although the pair are mentioned frequently throughout.

King's novel is pulp fiction, matching its garish cartoon cover, but it's surprisingly moving and so full to the brim it will have you constantly examining every word in case you've missed something. Misery may have left me terrified, but Joyland helped heal any wounds I had left from my first experience of a King novel, just like Joyland helped Devin heal from his first heartbreak.

How I got this book: Sent a review copy by the publisher (thanks!) in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Book review: The Academy, Game On by Monica Seles

Yes, that Monica Seles. The one who won nine Grand Slam titles in her tennis career. She's written a book.

Well, she's co written a book with a guy called James LaRosa, but his name is in tiny print inside, so you probably wouldn't even notice.

The first in a series, Game On is set at a place called The Academy. Sixteen-year-old Maya has just managed to swing herself a tennis scholarship to the place, but things don't start so well when she has a run in with The Academy's owner Nails (yes, Nails), gets ignored by his gorgeous son Travis, and gets tricked into breaking and entering by the hottest tennis property around, Nicole.

Don't go into Game On expecting a serious read, this is utterly ridiculous. I'm sure there are places kind of like this out there, and Seles herself went to a sports academy at the age of 13, but The Academy just seems completely unreal. From the initial description it's like a small, really, really expensive town. It's got villas for the rich students to live in, and shops like Versace on campus, not to mention the 52 tennis courts (although I'm sure there are less the second time they're mentioned).

Maya is typically naive when she turns up at The Academy, but quickly makes friends with her roommate Cleo, a golfer. After some chance encounters, Maya finds her fortunes turning around - she's suddenly dating Travis, has his father's approval, is living with Nicole and her newfound celebrity status means she's getting away with a whole lot.

I could see nearly every "twist" of Game On miles away, so I wasn't reading it for the plot (which moved very, very fast at the end and ran back and forth over itself), and I wasn't reading it for the reality, since Maya barely picks up a tennis racket unless she absolutely has to for much of the book - weird, considering she's at an elite sports academy on a scholarship.

What I did read it for was the friendship between Maya and Cleo, and later with rich girl Renee, who, while a bit of a cliche, is still a lovely one, and for bad boy Jake.

While I'm not sure I'll pick up the sequel Game On was a delightfully trashy read that I enjoyed spending time on.

How I got this book: Picked up from the publisher Bloomsbury.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Game of Thrones recap/review: The Rains of Castamere

Second Sons recap/review

It's been two weeks since Game of Thrones has been on our screens, and with this, the ninth episode of 10, we were bound to get something that made our jaws drop. Drop, they did - in horror. Remember that thing that happened at the end of season one with Ned Stark (I still can't talk about it)? Multiply by a thousand and you get The Rains of Castamere. This was an episode about the Starks, and just like our previous dealings with this family, tragedy is never too far away. Was The Rains of Castamere too violent? Were its final scenes gratuitous? Or should we have realised that Game of Thrones is never afraid to take the bloodiest, most difficult road?

The Wall/In the North
Samwell and Gilly continue making their way to the Wall. During their walk Samwell tells Gilly all about the castle they will use to get through to the other side, stunning the girl with the knowledge he has gained from books. As the Wall finally comes into view, Gilly stares up at it in wonder, before telling her baby that Craster always said no wildling would stare upon the Wall and live. Gilly thinks Craster was wrong, but I predict these words will come back to haunt Gilly. It's an interesting little scene, but not one that was essential to this episode, and I think we could have done without it.

Meanwhile Jon Snow and the wildlings decide to attack a man who breeds horses for the Night's Watch. Jon tries to persuade the wildlings not to kill the man, and when that doesn't work he makes sure the guy is alerted to the presence of the wildlings. The old man manages to get away, and leads the wildlings to an abandoned tower, inside which Bran, Rickon, Osha, Hoder, Jojen and his sister are hiding.

Hoder, afraid of the thunder, starts yelling, and outside the tower Orell stares up, convinced he has heard people inside. He gets distracted when the group capture the old man, and he nominates Jon to kill him to prove he is loyal to the wildlings.

Inside, Bran has quietened Hodor by getting inside his mind, and Jojen prompts him to do the same with the direwolves outside the tower, who will kill the wildlings.

As Jon attacks the wildlings, and Ygritte desperately tries to fight alongside him, the direwolves attack. Jon, after killing Orell and telling him in his final moments that he was right about Jon, rides off into the storm, leaving a heartbroken and betrayed looking Ygritte behind.

The worst moment was not Ygritte's sad face though, it was the knowledge than Bran, Rickon and Jon were within metres of each other, and missed seeing each other. Determined to continue on to the Wall, Bran orders Osha to take Rickon to the Umbers, while he journeys beyond the Wall.

It's worth pointing out that while the last episode of Game of Thrones was about sons, this one is very much about mothers. Osha has become a mother figure to Bran and Rickon, and Catelyn and Robb's relationship as mother and son this week is brought to the fore again, only to be completely destroyed within hours...

A few brief scenes with Daenerys this week, which, while useful, did distract from what should have stayed a Stark centred episode.

Daario Naharis comes up with a plan to sack the city of Yunkai. He will access through a back gate, taking with him Jorah Mormont and the leader of the Unsullied. As the trio leave to preapre for their mission Barristan Selmy stops Jorah and says he wants to go with them. Jorah reminds Barristan that he is of the Queen's Guard, and so needs to stay with Daenerys all the time, and do whatever it takes to keep her safe.

The three successfully break into Yunkai, but are set upon by around a dozen slaves from the city. After killing them, they take a moment to breathe, only for streams more men to come pouring out.

Back at camp, Daenerys is getting increasingly tense. It's been a long time since we've seen her act uncertain, but she drops her guard to ask Barristan how long it takes to sack a city. As he goes to answer, Jorah and the captain of the Unsullied come back, splattered with blood. Jorah tells Daenerys that the slaves gave in and Yunkai is now theirs.

For a brief moment happiness crosses Daenerys' face, but then the smile gets wiped off when she realises Daario isn't with them. It's okay, though, he's not dead! In he swans, carrying the flag of Yunkai, which he presents to Daenerys.

Walder Frey's place
And so it was here that much of the action of this episode took place.

The episode opened with Robb seeking advice from his mother, repairing the broken relationship the two have had for so long. She offers him some tips, but her strategy amounts to: "Kill them all." It's something that will come back to haunt everyone later.

The Starks and Tullys make their way to Walder Frey's castle, where Robb grovels before Frey and his daughters. The comedy here and throughout these scenes - Walder's inability to remember the name of one of his daughters, the line-up scenario, the names, Edmure Tully's facial expressions - only serve to heighten the tragedy that comes later. Frey forgives Robb, and tells him his men can set up camp outside, but he has room for some of his guests in the castle.

Meanwhile Arya and the Hound, after stealing a cart of pig meat, arrive outside Frey's castle. As Arya stares at it across the river, the Hound tells her she is nervous. She is so close, yet she's afraid she'll never get there. It's a premonition I didn't see coming (I guess that's the point).

And so to our second wedding in two episodes, as Edmure Tully marries Roslin Frey. Having dreaded this moment, he's pleasantly surprised to find she's actually quite pretty and in the end this wedding, unlike that of Sansa and Tyrion, actually passes off joyfully. The bride and groom seem to be enjoying each other's company at the head table, unlike Sansa and Tyrion, who were simply enduring. The joy in Edmure and Roslin's case is simply another harbinger of doom.

As the happy couple are taken off for the bedding ceremony (quite an ominous ritual), Talisa and Robb share a moment while Catelyn looks on proudly. But out of the corner of her eye she catches sight of one of Frey's men shutting the doors to the banquet hall, and then clocks that the band has started playing a sort-of funeral march - The Rains of Castamere.

You can see the cogs turning in Catelyn's mind, but it's only when she sits down next to Roose Bolton and as Frey makes a speech that she realises what is going to happen. Pulling back the sleeve of Bolton's top, she sees he is wearing chain mail underneath. It's these little moments that, again, make the horror to come all the more awful.

And then it all goes mad. In a horrific scene, a man comes out of nowhere and stabs Talisa repeatedly in the stomach, while arrows fly from one end of the hall to another, catching Robb and Catelyn, and Robb's men have their throats cut one by one. Outside, the same thing is happening.

The episode cuts between scenes inside the castle and outside, where Arya slips away from the Hound, realising something is wrong. As she watches, she sees men slaughtered, and then hears the howling of Robb's direwolf. Unable to do anything, she has to watch as a group of men shoot it dead. When she catches a glimpse of it beneath the door of its pen, she sees its eyes shut, a symbol of what has gone on inside.

Robb crawls his way over to Talisa, who is already dead, while Catelyn takes the chance to grab a knife and Frey's wife. She threatens to kill Frey's wife if he doesn't let Robb leave, and promises that if Robb goes she will stay as a hostage, and the Starks will never seek revenge on the Freys. As she talks and talks, Frey calmly sits there, until at last he says he can always find another wife. As Robb utters the word "mother", Roose Bolton stabs him in the heart, and tells him the Lannisters send their greetings.

Catelyn drops Frey's wife to the floor, slashing her neck in the process, and blood spurts everywhere. As Catelyn watches her son die, a man steps up to her and slashes her neck. And so, in one fell swoop, we've lost the oldest Starks, and the Tullys.

These are the most horrific scenes we've seen on Game of Thrones, hands down. While the murders are gruesome, it's they way and why they're carried out that makes them so much more terrible - at the whim of a man who feels slighted and so wanted a little bit of revenge.

Whatever you say about the Lannisters, and the Baratheons, and the Starks, and the Targaryens, they are all fighting a war and bloodshed is part of that. But at Frey's castle, the Tullys and Starks were meant to be safe, and found themselves destroyed by a man who wasn't fighting a war, he was simply fighting a loss of pride.


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