Thursday, 31 March 2011

Thursday Thoughts: Review of The Demon Collector by Jon Mayhew

Originally posted at the Bookbag, thanks to the publisher for sending us a copy.

Edgy Taylor – a 19th century dog muck collector for a cruel master, Talon – wouldn't claim to have had the best of lives. His only enjoyment of his 13 years or so so far has been setting and solving riddles, while he's spent most of his time avoiding the cruelty of his employer. But when Professor Envry Janus rescues him from Talon, revealing the tanner to be a demon called Thammuz and turning him to stone, Edgy may have cause to look back on his old life with nostalgia. Because inside the Royal Society of Daemonologie, there are people who think Edgy can help them in their quest to find the heart of the legendary demon Moloch, who turned against Satan. There are people who think he's a nuisance. And there are people who want him dead. Can Edgy figure out who's who? He'll have to, because a mistake could cost him his life.

Like Mortlock, this is a wonderfully entertaining read from author Jon Mayhew who is establishing himself impressively quickly as someone who can deliver a thrilling story right from the start. The atmosphere is once again cranked up by some of the English folk world's most chilling lyrics, along with appropriate proverbs, breaking up the chapters, and again this works really well in conveying a sense of dread. I was also really impressed by Mayhew's description of the history of Moloch, Satan, the female demon Salome who chases Edgy through much of the book, and the many minor demons – some of whom are surprisingly friendly – who he meets.

Oh, and one of my few complaints from Mayhew's first book has been rectified here. I felt Mortlock, after a superb build-up, climaxed extremely quickly which was the only part I wasn't so keen on. No such problem here – it's a long, drawn out confrontation between Edgy and the villain of the piece which leads to a deeply satisfying ending which does a great job of tying together the loose ends in a very complex plot.

High recommendation here for fans of fantasy and horror, although there's nothing tremendously scary and I'd be very happy to give it to children who weren't quite teenagers yet.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Debut Authors

This is a list of the ten authors who, despite having only released one book so far, have got me hugely excited about their next one. Alphabetical order as it would be far too hard to separate them in any other way!

Teresa Flavin - While she's credited on numerous picture books The Blackhope Enigma is a first YA novel written by the superb illustrator Teresa Flavin. As you'd expect, given her other job, it's particularly strong when looking at the art involved in this excellent fantasy.

Paige Harbison - I found Here Lies Bridget a little hit or miss but enjoyed it and liked the strong moral message. I'll be really interested to see what her second book's like.

Gregory Hughes - I was less keen on Unhooking The Moon than many people for reasons I won't go into for risk of turning spoilery - however there's no doubt that Hughes is an excellent writer with a real gift for creating engaging characters. I just hope I enjoy the ending of his next book more! (Note: The review is by Jill Murphy for the Bookbag as I never got round to doing one myself.)

Curtis Jobling - Blatantly cheating here as Jobling has a number of well-received books out before writing Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf. However, I'm justifying it by saying this is the first he's written which isn't a picture book. (I'm not knocking picture books for a second, I just really wanted to include this!) Yes, it's a stretch, but why not bend the rules to feature the most outstanding high fantasy epic in YA fiction for several years. I'm desperate to read the sequel!

Savita Kalhan - The Long Weekend was the one of the tensest thrillers I've read for a long time, with a superb central hero in Sam and a chillingly plausible premise as he and his friend Lloyd fell into the hands of a dangerous man.

Irfan Master - Master's A Beautiful Lie is a gorgeously written slice of historical fiction which deals with friendship, family, and whether telling the truth is always the right thing to do. Both charming and exciting, it's also impressive for how strongly Master evokes 1940's India. Whether his next novel is set in that same time and place or elsewhere, I'm sure it will be just as engaging.

Ali McNamara - The written equivalent of the chick flicks it's based on, McNamara's From Notting Hill With Love... Actually is a really refreshing read - light and frothy with tons of movie references to spot. Definitely looking forward to her next.

Jandy Nelson - Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere was the most heartbreakingly beautiful novel of last year for me and is the one YA book I would recommend to pretty much anyone who loves great writing. Can't wait to see what she does next!

Katherine Rundell - I'll be honest and admit I wasn't particularly keen on The Girl Savage; I didn't like the characters much and found it difficult to care about what happened to them. However, Rundell's writing style is really good and I'll certainly take a look at her next book in the hope I prefer the cast in that one.

Joss Stirling - Did we really need another paranormal teen romance? Yes, when it was Finding Sky ... concentrating on the intensity of the love between savants Zed and Sky as she comes to learn about her gift, this stood out from the pack. While it seemed to end as a stand-alone, I'd love to read more by Stirling, whether her next one is about Sky or another character.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Monday Musings - Review of From Notting Hill With Love... Actually by Ali McNamara

Scarlett - named after the heroine of Gone With The Wind - loves movies. Her sensible fiance David, her father and her best friend all think she's obsessed with them and needs to snap out of it. You can't live your life like a movie, after all. Or can you? Given the chance to house sit in Notting Hill for a month, she jumps at it, hoping to prove to them all that you can! But then she meets the irritating but oh-so-delicious Sean, and falls into that movie staple, a love triangle...

I have to be honest, I nearly put this down after 50 pages or so as I couldn't grow to like Scarlett much and the plot felt rather too contrived for my liking. However, I carried on, and long before the halfway point I was really enjoying it. Yes, the situations are contrived to fit as many movie references in as possible - sometimes deliberately by Scarlett, sometimes coincidentally - but the main character develops well during the course of the book, Sean is incredibly dreamy, and boring David is an easy guy to take a dislike to and root against.

There are a lot of laugh out loud moments - a Star Wars themed wedding, a trip around Disneyland Paris, and a fight between the two male leads. There's also tons of opportunities to play 'spot the movies' that McNamara is paying homage to at various points and for a film fanatic like me that definitely added to my enjoyment of the book - as did a nice set of extras, with trivia about Scarlett's favourite films and a tour of Notting Hill.

Even though this is aimed at adults there's nothing here that I'd be unhappy to recommend to my normal YA target audience on the blog and it will go down a treat with older teenage girls as well as their mothers, I'd say. To be fair it's hard to recommend this to a non-chick flick fan simply because so many of the references would fly over their heads, but if you like films like Sleepless In Seattle, Four Weddings and A Funeral, and the two mentioned in the title I think you'd really enjoy this one.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sunday Summary

Yes, Friday Feature appears to have disappeared. I had writer's block - sorry!

Here goes, though, with the 5 best things I've seen on the web this week.

I haven't read Sophie Jordan's Firelight yet, but the amount of great reviews it's had already had me really interested in it - even before reading this superb interview at I Was A Teenage Book Geek. Definitely one that's high on my to read list.

A Touch of Leah has one of the most ridiculously awesome contests I've ever seen. Author Leah Clifford is giving away FIVE signed copies of A Touch Of Mortal, her first book, and each comes with an Assortment of Awesome. The description makes it sound wonderful... but it's only for US/Canada residents! Argh - still, even if I can't win, hopefully someone reading this can. Good luck all!

I'd imagine there's a point where I can actually plug Savita Kalhan too much. However, I don't think I'm anywhere near that point yet, so if you haven't read the truly amazing The Long Weekend, check out this giveaway AND the 5 books that influenced Savita the most on Anna Reads.

How can anyone be just 19 and as great a writer as Kody Keplinger? Despite her young age, she's got an incredibly well-received novel, The Duff, out, she's got the awesome looking Shut Out being published later this year, and her blog posts are always incredibly thoughtful and well written. This one, on 'blaming the character', is no exception.

I read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly recently but never got round to reviewing it. I liked both the historical stuff and the modern day parts but when the two met it didn't do much for me. Brush Up On Your Reading was a significantly bigger fan and have a great review up here.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Thursday Thoughts: Review of If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Cellist Mia has just performed well in her audition for the ultra-prestigious Juilliard school, her boyfriend's rock band are becoming increasingly successful, and she has a loving family. Everything to live for... and then.

Left in a coma by the car crash that killed her parents and has put her young brother at death's door, Mia has to choose whether to live or die. Told in a mixture of Mia watching the people she lives react to her horrific accident, and flashbacks to show her relationship with boyfriend Adam develop and her growing interest in music, this is heartstoppingly brilliantly written. The characters - Mia herself, of course, but also Adam, her younger brother Teddy, her parents and her best friend Kim - are all lovingly crafted, the writing is lyrical, and the tension is built up to an incredible level - I honestly had no idea what Mia's final decision would be until right before she made it. I particularly loved the level of care Forman took to choose the music playing at various points in the book and loved the afterword when she talked about why she chose certain songs and tunes - more on that tomorrow in a piece on music in YA novels, though!

I think I mentioned when reviewing The Sky Is Everywhere that it was one of only two books which had ever made me cry, along with Jenny Downham's Before I Die. This goes one better, as I not only ended up weeping when reading it, but was crying again when I thought of the ending a day or two later! Definitely one of the best YA novels of recent years and highly recommended to everyone.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Waiting On Wednesday: The Ocean by Mia Castille

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

From author Mia Castile's website:

Gianna and Alex have just buried their mother. Now they have to move back to St. Petersburg, Florida to live with their recovering alcoholic father. All the new changes, however, may be more than Gia can bear. While Alex turns to football and flirting with girls, she holds her emotions inside. Together they make sense of their new lives as Gianna finds herself falling for Travis. Travis is not without his own issues. Between his insecurities and other people meddling in his life, he finds strength in Gianna. He vows to be there for her doing everything he can to make it happen. The Ocean is a story of loss, redemption, and finding happiness in the middle of it all.

Why I'm waiting for it: While I'd never judge a book by its cover the sheer gorgeousness of The Ocean's got my attention for long enough to see the plot summary and the awesome trailer which is on Mia's website. I'm a sucker for books about new beginnings or people returning to their past so am really looking forward to seeing how Gianna and Alex cope back in St Petersburg - and from the trailer, the central pairing sounds really great.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Teaser Tuesdays - Second From Last In The Sack Race by David Nobbs

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"Why did tha pick up lumps of earth, Henry?"

"I'm nobbut a lad, I have to be naughty sometimes."

This is a reread of one of my all-time favourite comic books - perfect for when I'm feeling down!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Monday Musings - Review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In a dystopian society, the people of Padem for the main part live in abject poverty, forced to pay for the Districts' long-ago revolt against the Capitol by offering up a yearly sacrifice of a boy and a girl for the Hunger Games - a kill or be killed televised event in which 23 children will die but one will emerge victorious. Into this horrific spectacle steps Katniss Everdeen, one of the most resourceful and fiery heroines of recent years in YA fiction, as she volunteers to replace her younger sister when Prim is chosen by lottery to be the tribue from District 12, the weakest of the Districts. Can she overcome all of the odds to survive?

Collins' writing is fast and furious here, and while there's nothing particularly original - the story could be described as Theseus meets Lord of the Flies meets the Running Man meets Big Brother, with the latter becoming particularly prominent as Katniss learns to play for the camera to increase her chances of survival. That said, the author's style is engaging and exciting enough to carry it off and several characters - notably Katniss herself and 12 year old Rue, who becomes an ally during the Games - stand out as richly detailed creations.

There's the by now standard love triangle for YA fiction, as the other District 12 tribute Peeta declares his love for Katniss live on TV on the way into the Games, while back at home there's the smouldering Gale, who has been her hunting parnter for years. It's pretty well-handled without really living up to the excitement of the rest of the book, and the growing relationship between Katniss and Peeta despite their knowledge that only one of them can win the Games develops well.

As a start to a trilogy this is superb, with an ending which immediately had me salivating over the chance to read sequel Catching Fire (review hopefully up next week!) and I'd have no hesitation to recommend it - with the slight warning that, as you'd expect from the subject matter, there's some seriously brutal stuff in here and younger or easily disturbed viewers may wish to steer clear for now. (On that subject, good luck to the film makers on dealing with some of these deaths in a way that isn't going to get them an 18 rating - they'll need it!)

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Sunday Summary - 5 Great Web Pages!

Here we go, my first proper update for ages - the best 5 things I've found on the web this week.

The most important thing on the list – no offence to anyone else included – is undoubtedly the amazing Authors For Japan auction which finishes TODAY! Amazing stuff including 5 copies of the YA Yeah Yeah favourite The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan, signed copy of the Sarra Manning book of your choice plus a character name in her next adult novel, chapter or short story critiques, coffee and cake in London with agent turned author Alison Bond to kickstart your writing dreams, and 170 or so more lots. Plus, you’re donating to a really worthy cause. Ends at 8pm TODAY so be quick!

Author Kody Keplinger’s blog post “I Didn’t Know I Was Bullied” is perhaps the most powerful blog post I can ever recall reading. I won’t even attempt to summarise it, this is a complete must-read for all teenagers.

The awesome Small Review’s superb Review Comparisons are a brilliant way to see what other bloggers are saying about books. Today’s, on Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly, is incredibly in depth.

Unshelved’s new comic strip sees the updated version of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. An e-reader is everyone’s dream, right? Wrong… seriously hilarious!

5 star Call Me Crazy reviews tend to be so enthusiastic they leave me wishing I hadn’t read them until I had a copy of the book in my hand because I can’t cope with the wait to get it! This one of The Liar Society is no exception – fantastic review of what looks like a great book.

And We're Back!

Huge apologies for disappearing for five weeks - mixture of personal/family/work/PC issues ALL hitting me in quick succession! Let's see if we can get things going again with an actual schedule for updates...

Starting today, this is what I'm aiming for.

Sunday - Sunday Summary
. The 5 best book-related things I've found on the web this week.

Monday - Monday Musings. Review.

Tuesday - Alternating between Tuesday Top Ten and Teaser Tuesday.

Wednesday - Waiting on Wednesday.

Thursday - Thursday Thoughts. Review.

Friday - Friday Features. Author interviews (have a couple lined up for the next few months), some book discussions - any other suggestions, anyone?

Saturday - day off to get some sleep!

Hope that previous readers will return and I pick up some new ones!