Saturday 31 December 2011

Saturday Spotlight: Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf by Curtis Jobling

Okay, this feature was originally meant to spotlight books which weren't that well-known. I don't think Wereworld QUITE fits into that category, given the amount of people I've heard raving about it - but with book 3 coming out in a week's time, it seemed a good time to publish this review of the first in the series on here.

Drew Ferran knows there's a monster roaming the land where his family farm – he just doesn't realise it could be inside him. Until a terrible creature attacks his beloved mother, triggering a transformation in him, and leading his father and brother to believe he’s responsible for her death. Forced to flee to the most godforsaken parts of Lyssia, Drew becomes quickly embroiled in the world of the Werelords. Can he survive?

I've had to delete my original review of this – it was 500 words long but they were all WOW! and I didn't think it would stand much chance of being published. Having calmed down slightly from the high I was on after the incredible climax, I've tried to pick the best things about a fantastic book.

Firstly, sixteen year old Drew is a brilliant hero – an everyman who is left frantically trying to work out how he can be a werewolf without knowing it, and desperately trying to gain control over the beast within and use it to help people in a land ruled with an iron paw by the tyrannous King Leopold and his son Prince Lucas. Similarly, the villains – Leopold, Lucas, the Rat King, and various others – are pure evil, while Drew meets some engaging friends on his travels, including some of the other Werelords, caught between their natural desire for fairness and their responsibility to the people they rule over not to provoke Leopold.

Secondly, the werecreatures are fantastic – none of these lovelorn puppies imprinting on people (I’m looking at YOU Jacob Black!), but fierce fighters and valiant warriors, ranging from werebears and werefoxes to weresharks and werevermin. No mention yet of wereinsects, unless I missed it, but the boy telling Drew about the Werelords does stress that there are probably as yet unknown ones around. The world Curtis Jobling has created is deeply layered, with huge amounts of history and mythology in there and it’s incredible that there’s currently only two books confirmed in the series – surely he'll need at least a dozen to do the realm of Lyssia justice!

Finally, the amount of action in this book is incredible. There’s dramatic escapes, incredible rescues, huge battles, terrible betrayals, human sacrifices, and all of it feels perfect – everything genuinely advances the story and there’s a huge amount of character development in between the closely-packed big moments.

Incredibly highly recommended to young adult readers of 12 upwards, particularly boys – this one will get some of the guys who normally wouldn’t pick up a book if you paid them completely and utterly hooked. Here’s hoping to many more adventures in Wereworld! (From the information we find out about the fall of Wergar the Wolf king, a prequel would have me stampeding over people to get to the counter with it!)

Thursday 29 December 2011

Friday Feature: Interview with Anne-Marie Conway

Having been utterly charmed by Anne-Marie Conway's Star Makers series, and really looking forward to her upcoming standalone Butterfly Summer, I jumped at the chance to interview her.

1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

I suppose at the moment I see nine or ten year-old girls who love real-life stories as well as a bit of singing and dancing. This might change when my next book comes out, Butterfly Summer, as it is slightly more grown-up and much darker.

2. It's been rather a long time since I appeared on stage myself, but my sister has always loved being involved in drama and I know from what she's told me that your Star Makers series is extremely realistic. Do you have much first-hand knowledge of amateur dramatics?

Yes I have loads. I’ve been running my own children’s theatre company, Full Circle, for years and years. We meet on Saturday afternoons (it used to be all day but that was before I had my own children) and we put on fab musicals. I always belonged to a drama group when I was growing up so my experience really does go way back. I just LOVE putting on a musical, even though the process is SO stressful you wouldn’t believe.

3. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, do any of the Star
Makers series have a particular soundtrack?

Actually I listen to 5 live all day. I’m married to a radio journalist and we seem to have the radio on practically 24/7. I like to have background noise while I’m writing - it doesn’t distract me at all.

4. Your upcoming stand-alone novel Butterfly Summer sounds
significantly darker than the Star Makers books. Is this a sign that
your writing's moving in a new direction, or will you go back to the
lighter style in the future?

Yes Butterfly Summer is much darker and very sad. Also the book I’m working on at the moment is pretty sad and has a tragic premise. It’s not intentional, although I am very interested in the darker side of family life. However if my publishers wanted more Star Makers books I’d be happy to write them. I’ve got lots more ideas for the series but the decision is out of my hands.

5. What advice would you give to authors just starting out?

My biggest piece of advice would be to join a critiquing group and get loads of feedback. You can get so close to your work that it’s basically impossible to see the woods for the trees and another pair of eyes on it can be invaluable - not to mention the support when the rejection slips start to drop through the post (I speak from experience!)

6. I really enjoy series which, like the Star Makers Club, focus on a
different person in each book. Out of the three you've released so
far, can you pick a favourite narrator?

In some ways Polly was my favourite of the three because I loved how angry she was and how sad she felt about her mum going away. I lived without my parents from quite a young age and I know that rejected, empty feeling very well. I also love the Monty B storyline in that particular book, although my favourite line in all three books is when Sam says the dog chewed up her new braaaaaaaaaan jumper. I know it’s probably not for me to say but it really made me laugh out-loud while I was writing it.

7. Have you ever thought about collaborating with another author on a
novel? If so, who would be your dream writing partner? (Alive or dead,
I'm feeling generous!)

My husband and I had an idea for a book a little while ago which we thought we might write together because it was about football and he would have all the inside knowledge and I’d have the actual writing experience. The problem is we’d never agree on anything and he’d want to take all the credit and it might not be very good for our marriage. More seriously, I really, really want to write a funny book next and I LOVE the Mr Gum books, but I wouldn’t really want to write with Andy Stanton, I just want to write something that funny!

8. If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask
and who would you ask it to?

I would like to ask JK Rowling if there was a particular moment when she realised that Harry Potter was going to such a phenomenal success. Actually I’d like to just sit down with her and ask her lots and lots of questions. I’m afraid I am slightly obsessed, not with her books so much, but more with the way the whole story played out. I’m very ambitious and realise I’ve entered an extremely competitive and frustrating profession - so I suppose I’m more than a little envious.

9. Which book would you recommend to people who enjoy the Star Makers
Club, and why?

I suppose Jacqueline Wilson would be the obvious answer because her books are always about real-life family situations and maybe Cathy Cassidy? I’m not sure really. My favourite children’s author is Jenny Valentine but her books are a bit more grown-up than the Star Makers series.

10. What's next for Anne-Marie Conway?

Butterfly Summer which is coming out in May 2012: A dark and mysterious story about family secrets and obsessive friendships. Following that, hopefully the book I’m working on now, Forbidden Friends (working title) - and then as I said earlier, I really want to write something FUNNY! I have got some ideas about a girl and her very rude parrot - but not much else to say about it at this stage.

Many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Anne-Marie. I hope Butterfly Summer is a massive success!

Thursday Thoughts: Review of Frost Child by Gillian Philip

Fans of Gillian Philip's Firebrand novels will be thrilled to get their hands on this stunning prequel, set when Seth's mother Lilith met his father, the Sithe captain Griogair, for the first time. Starting with Griogair rescuing the youngster from the Lammyr, who have kept her captive for years, it follows Lilith trying to settle into the way of life of the Sithe as Griogair keeps an uneasy eye on her... and those of us who've read Firebrand and Bloodstone realise that he's right to be worried. When a young Sithe boy starts to bully Lilith, he’s clearly taking a massive risk…

Those of you who haven't read Firebrand or Bloodstone will no doubt be thoroughly confused, but this is fairly clearly written for Philip's existing fans rather than as a jumping-on point. That's not to say that it's inaccessible to newcomers; I feel that it will almost certainly have much more of an impact if you know how main characters Lilith, Leonora, and Griogair develop in the future though. For everyone who's already hooked on the tales of the Sithe, this is a recommendation without question - it's short but impactful, it fleshes out the background of Seth's parents, and the writing is as wonderful as we've come to expect from Philip by now. This is the kind of novella that e-readers are perfect for, and at a fantastic price.

Overall this is a very strong recommendation if you’ve read those first two books, while if you haven’t I’d urge you to check out the amazing Firebrand first, then Bloodstone, and finally turn your attention to this novella.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: The Selection by Kiera Cass

"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 Amazon

Thirty-five beautiful girls. Thirty-five beautiful rivals…

It’s the chance of a lifetime and 17-year-old America Singer should feel lucky. She has been chosen for The Selection, a reality TV lottery in which the special few compete for gorgeous Prince Maxon’s love.

Swept up in a world of elaborate gowns, glittering jewels and decadent feasts, America is living a new and glamorous life. And the prince takes a special interest in her, much to the outrage of the others.

Rivalry within The Selection is fierce and not all of the girls are prepared to play by the rules. But what they don’t know is that America has a secret – one which could throw the whole competition… and change her life forever.

Why I can't wait to read it

I'm heartily fed up of dystopia but there's something about this one which makes me want to check it out anyway. Just such an awesome premise!

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Books Read in 2011 (Sort of)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Okay, having done my YA Oscars recently, I wasn't going to bother with this as it would be a very similar list - however there's so many fabulous books I've read recently that it seems a shame not to plug some more of them! So I've taken out the YA Oscar winners and come up with this list of 10, all of which are superb in their own right. Also, the YA Oscars were fixed on stuff that actually came out this year - in this, I've gone for anything I've read since January 1st, so includes books published in previous years. Oh, they're in no order.

Links go to reviews either here or on the Bookbag.

Firebrand by Gillian Philip - Just shades the sequel Bloodstone, if only because this one has perhasp the best opening scene of the year, as narrator Seth prepares to shoot his brother to give him a merciful death instead of watching him be executed for witchcraft. This is NOT your average fairy story by a long way.

Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad by Hayley Long - Described initially by me as "Brilliantly, staggeringly, life-affirmingly superb.", and I still think that's a pretty fair summary of what starts off as a fun light read and quickly becomes both darker and far more unique as Lottie finds she's suffering from a mental disorder. Two more outings for Lottie since then, both of which are very enjoyable - but this is still my favourite.

Ondine: The Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKenna - The tale of a young girl, a witch, and a ferret who used to be a handsome Scotsman. Light, frothy, and altogether absolutely marvellous. I don't think I actually reviewed this, but it's a massive recommendation.

Don't Ask by Hilary Freeman - Freeman is another author who was completely off my radar prior to this year but have read two brilliant books by her, this and Lifted. The premise of this one - girl creates fake social networking profile to befriend her boyfriend's ex and dig into his past - is stunning, and Freeman handles it brilliantly. Central character Lily, who isn't really easy to like but is very easy to understand, is fabulous.

Bang Bang You're Dead by Narinder Dhami - Stunning novel which is extremely thought-provoking. Without getting too spoilery, what seems like a book about a school shooting quickly turns into a look at the effect mental illness can have on the family of the sufferer.

Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski - Super fun, but also thought provoking, Devi finds a way to communicate with herself three years ago. Giving her younger self advice on what to do, she desperately tries to change her life to make it perfect - and things go about as well as you'd imagine. I'd never heard of Mlynowski before this year but read both this one and her recent Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have.) Both were absolutely superb but this one shades it for me as the 'changing future' aspect was handled perfectly. I don't think I ever got round to reviewing it properly, but definite recommendation.

Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy by Andy Briggs - Briggs plunges the famous lord of the jungle into modern day Africa with an incredible reboot here. Massively exciting.

Six Words and a Wish by Karen McCombie - This stand alone is McCombie at her most typical. We have a likeable narrator, a sweet friend, a bizarre family (dad's a clown, it's always Christmas at home, and older sister went missing a while ago) and an ultra cute boy. In McCombie's hands, stuff that would normally seem trite or samey just WORKS. I read this one with a massive smile on my face from start to finish.

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray - A road trip with a real difference, as three boys steal their friend's ashes and take them up to Scotland to fulfil his dream. On the way, they face pursuit, questions, and the suggestion that the 'accident' in which he died may have been welcomed by him. As touching and powerful as you'd expect given the subject matter, this is also extremely funny.

Shadowfall and Shadowblood by Tracy Revels - Can't split these two 'Holmes as a faerie' stories. Shadowblood is perhaps slightly better but you HAVE to read the original first. Crazy, insane, and totally mind boggling, but somehow Holmes and Watson's characters are PERFECT amidst all the bizarre stuff going on. (Adult not YA, although nothing making them massive unsuitable for teens.)

EDIT: We're now up to eleven, as I realise that SOMEHOW I forgot We Can Be Heroes by Catherine Bruton, which if I didn't have the memory of a goldfish and a short attention span when checking what reviews I've written this year would have been one of the first on my list. Dealing with terrorism, honour killings, and a boy who lost his father in 9/11, this is an absolute must read.

Teaser Tuesday: Ellie Foster's English Coursework by Tina Orr Munro

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!

"It's one thing to do it but quite another to be told you are rubbish at it. Actually, I don't think Jamie Harbinger had had anything at all, but that didn't stop the gossip and Sandra ended up having lots of 'chats' with the school nurse, who has the bedside manner of Cruella de Vil."

From Ellie Foster's English Coursework by Tina Orr Munro.

Monday 26 December 2011

Monday Musings: Review of The Clever One by Helena Close

Sixteen year old Maeve is the clever one in her family. So clever that she can't believe how stupid the others can be - especially her slightly older sister Fiona, a 'pramface' now after falling pregnant to her no good boyfriend Big. After the news broke of Fiona's pregnancy, Maeve told her best friend Mark that she wanted nothing to do with the baby. But she didn't count on loving baby Harvey so much that she'd do anything to protect him - so she sets a plan in motion to rid their family of Big and the rest of the scumbags he associates with.

Author Helena Close has created a memorable, if not necessarily likeable, heroine in Maeve, and depicts Limerick in a realistic and gritty manner. It's definitely not one for younger teens - one of the very first scenes sees Maeve throw up over a boy who's trying to force her to go further than she wants with him, and that quickly seems incredibly tame compared to some of the later events in the novel. That said, none of the events seem to be there just to shock - they're believable consequences of Maeve’s actions, and we can see how quickly events can spiral out of control.

I found parts of the book to be rather predictable – particularly the romantic subplot between Maeve and Mark – while others, especially the ending, took me completely by surprise. I’d hesitate to call this a particularly enjoyable read; the bleakness of the subject matter makes that description rather inappropriate. It is, though, a very powerful novel and definitely worth reading if you want a gritty and realistic drama. I’ll just repeat once more my warning that this is for more mature teens only!

Overall, this is a well-written tale with some excellent characters, and I look forward to reading more from Helena Close in the future.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Saturday Spotlight: A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master

Saturday/Sunday Spotlight is a new feature I have planned where I'll showcase some of the books I've reviewed for The Bookbag by posting reviews here for the first time. I'm trying to use it to promote books which people may have missed originally - we start off with a fabulous one, which won my YA Oscar for Best Male Character in a Leading Role.

Bedridden with cancer, Bilal's bapuji, or father, doesn't realise how far the plan for the Partition of India has progressed. Bilal has kept the news from him as he was worried that it would kill him – but when he accepts that death is imminent, Bilal swears to at least save him the pain of having his heart broken before he passes away. Along with his friends Chota, Manjeet and Saleem, Bilal swears to stop him from ever finding out. 1947 India, though, is a dangerous place for everyone, and there are people in their town who don't think that Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus should be doing anything together.

This novel manages to be utterly charming and seriously exciting at the same time. The friendship between the four boys, and the love Bilal has for his father, are beautifully portrayed and there are some thrilling sequences as the situation gets ever tenser approaching the day of Partition and arguments between the different religious groups more and more violent. All of the characters – from the main group of children, to Bilal's teacher, the town doctor, Bilal's older brother, and the local printer – are wonderfully well-rounded creations and even though he appears on relatively few pages, Bilal's bapuji is someone who feels truly real because of the way the other characters talk about him.

It's not an easy read by any means – there are some violent scenes, especially one where Bilal and Doctorji are confronted by men who accuse them of being spies, and another where the boys watch a brutal cockfight. It's extremely thought provoking, raising the question of whether Bilal is right to lie to his bapuji to protect him, or whether the dying man deserves to be told the truth even if it will hurt him. The book also does a brilliant job of evoking 1940's India, an unusual setting for a young adult novel, and really increased my interest in this time period.

As coming of age stories go, this is extremely strong and debut author Irfan Master has definitely catapulted himself straight onto my list of novelists to keep a close eye on.

Friday 23 December 2011

YA Oscars 2011

I originally had grand plans for a YA Oscars where I’d try to get some other bloggers involved, do a shortlist, and so on – but life, as it usually does, got in the way!

Anyway, here goes a somewhat condensed version. Last year’s can be found here while my similar midyear post (with a couple of the same winners) can be found here.

I’ve limited books to one award each, and categories tend to fluctuate a little to allow me to showcase the books I really want to praise. Links go to reviews at The Bookbag, which is where I originally reviewed most of them.

Best Male Character in a Lead Role – Bilal, from A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master

Master’s tale of an India on the verge of Partition is a stunning novel, with a truly memorable cast of characters of whom Bilal is the best. His struggle to hide the truth about Partition from his dying father is beautifully handled.

Best Female Character in a Lead Role – Violet, from Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Medium’s daughter Violet is stunned when a ghost appears to her – especially since she had always believed that ghosts were merely creations of her fraudulent mother’s trickery. Her quest to solve the dead girl’s murder is fabulous; she’s a really spunky and likable heroine.

Best Male Character in a Supporting Role – Link, from Beautiful Chaos by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia.

Since Link won this last year, I spent five minutes trying to think of someone else to spread the love around a bit. Really, though, it’s a no contest, as Link is such a wonderfully loyal friend and a fantastic character in his own right that I couldn’t give it to anyone else.

Best Female Character in a Supporting Role – Cynthia, from Dark Mirror by MJ Putney

Given that Cynthia’s first entrance into the book makes her seem like a stereotypical bitchy teenager, her subsequent development is all the more impressive.

Best Debut Novel – For The Record by Ellie Irving

Super sweet charmer with some of the most likeably eccentric characters for ages, in a wonderfully described Jersey village. The story of the villagers rallying round to save their homes by breaking world records is an inspired idea which is brilliantly written by Irving.

Best Fantasy Novel – The Dagger and Coin: The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

I feel I should be recommending a YA book given this is technically a YA blog, but Abraham’s phenomenal start to this series beats down all other considerations. Taking four incredibly overused archetypes – A cynical hero escaping before the fighting starts, a noble son forced into war when he wants to be studying, an orphaned girl disguised as a boy to save a fortune, and a court baron trying to protect his king’s life from traitors – Abraham turns them into incredibly well-rounded characters who I came to care deeply about.

Best Novel for Younger Teens – Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

A real weepie, and beautifully written, LaFleur’s second novel is a staggeringly good coming of age tale as she tells of a young girl struggling to cope with a new school, returning family members, and the legacy left to her by her dead father.

Best Novel for Older Teens – Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

From the first moment I picked this up, and saw the scrapbook style based around the main narrative, I was entranced. Incredibly, in addition to being breathtakingly wonderful to look at, the actual story is just as gorgeous as Amy tries to come to terms with her grief at her father's death, and Roger tries to deal with the end of a relationship, while they travel across Matson's wonderfully described America. (I have a feeling this hit the UK in 2010 if we’re getting technical, but it’s too brilliant not to put in.)

Best Adult Novel – Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka

One of the most beautifully written books I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Getting to the end of the first few pages of this I had to pinch myself because I couldn't believe that I was lucky enough to have a free copy of this - being a book reviewer had NEVER seemed so fantastic! Journalist WG Karunasena's search for the lost legend of Sri Lankan cricket, Pradeep Mathew, is gorgeous, gripping, and heartbreakingly bittersweet.

Best Author – Rick Yancey, for The Monstrumologist: Isle of Blood

560 pages is a crazy length for a YA book, but I only realised this at 3:30 or so in the morning having stayed up half the night finishing the third in this series – while reading it, I didn’t even notice the length. What was always a good series has become absolutely stellar by now, and Yancey’s use of language is phenomenal, as are his characterization and dialogue.

Favourite Interview of the Year – Okay, I have absolutely loved doing all the interviews and really couldn’t separate the numerous fabulous authors who’ve given their time to talk to me. That said, Savita Kalhan deserves a special mention for being the first ever author I interviewed and while her book The Long Weekend was out in 2010 and won one of my awards last year, I’ll take this opportunity to recommend it one more time.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Butterfly Summer by Anne-Marie Conway

(If anyone noticed, huge apologies for the long absence! Things got chaotic in my real life job, leaving no time for the pleasures of blogging. Fingers crossed things will calm down now...)

"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:

Butterfly Summer by Anne Marie Conway

From Amazon

Some secrets last a lifetime. When Becky and her mum move to the tiny village of Oakbridge, Mum is hoping for a new beginning. But when Becky discovers an old photo of her mum in hospital clutching a baby, twelve years before Becky was born, Becky becomes haunted by the thought that her mum is keeping something from her. Stifled by her mum's over-protectiveness and depressive moods, Becky feels more alone than ever. The only place she finds comfort is at the beautiful local Butterfly Garden with her new friend, the wild-spirited and impulsive Rosa May. But Becky can't shake off the unanswered questions. Why can't she swim? Where is her dad? Who is the baby in the photo? And why is her mum lying to her? As the two girls spend more time together however, Rosa May's unpredictable temper and possessive streak suggests that she is hiding something as well...and in the heat of the sun-drenched summer, it seems that Becky is the only one in the dark.

Why I can't wait to read it

Conway's Star Makers Club series is just lovely - perfect comfort reading, or for a lazy day getting to know some wonderfully well-written characters. This sounds altogether darker, and extremely intriguing. I was fairly confident after reading the sypnosis that I could anticipate what would happen - but then remembered that reading the second of the Star Makers books, I'd been 100% sure I knew what was going on there and had been incredibly wrong, so I'll avoid making the same mistake again here.