Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Book Club Picks

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

Okay, before I start this, I should point out I've never actually been part of a book club so have only vague ideas about what kind of books are suitable. But why let that get in the way of a good top 10 Tuesday?!

1. Koh-Tabu by Ann Kelley - Hugely thought-provoking. I believe it's nearly two years since I read it and I STILL wonder about whether one decision of Bonnie's was right. This is an underrated gem.

2. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins - I have a feeling a lot of people will say this one, but it's hard not to. Intense, gripping, and asking some massive questions about moral choices.

3. Dreaming of Amelia (published as Ghosts of Ashbury High in the US) by Jaclyn Moriarty - I find Moriarty's 'scrapbook' style of throwing in all kinds of different writing - exam answers, journals, poetry, and goodness knows what else - to be phenomenal, and would love to discuss her crazy inventiveness with people.

4. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher - Hard-hitting and thought-provoking, this tale of reasons why a girl committed suicide would definitely get debate going.

5. The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare by Doug Stewart - This is non-fiction, and not technically YA, but it's a wonderful coming of age tale featuring forgery, the great and good of Georgian London, and a son looking for his father's love. Massive potential for discussion here.

6/7. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee AND The Caster Chronicles by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl - Putting these together because they're my favourite novels of the South, and because the Chronicles pay homage to TKAM in so many ways - not least of which is Macon's dog Boo Radley. Lee's masterpiece is one lots of people will already have discussed at school but is worth returning to, as it's one of the greatest books ever written in my opinion, while Stohl and Garcia's fantasy sequence is a stunning series which tackles similar themes of bigotry and the hidden depths people can have.

8. The Moorehawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan - Utterly enthralling high fantasy with richly layered characters and tons of questions. A far cry from 'standard' good vs evil, this is political intrigue and moral dilemmas all the way.

9. Lottie Biggs series by Hayley Long - Mainly the first one, Lottie Biggs Is (Not) Mad, which is an incredible depiction of a narrator suffering from mental health issues.

10. Hey Dollface by Deborah Hautzig - Tender exploration of the feelings two teenage girls have for each other may be a little dated now but is still a wonderful read, and would provoke some interesting discussion on how this was considered somewhat shocking at the time of publication but seems rather tame now.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Monday Musings - Review of Daylight Saving by Edward Hogan

(I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

The Leisure World Holiday Complex, with so many sports and games available, might be the holiday of a lifetime for some teens – but Daniel Lever certainly isn’t one of them. Dragged there by his dad, and feeling guilty over his role in his parents’ separation, Daniel’s expecting he’ll hate it, and his early experiences seem to suggest he’s right. Then he meets a mysterious girl who he’d like to know better – but why do her bruises keep getting worse, and does her watch really tick backwards? More worryingly, why can’t anyone else see her?

Adult author Edward Hogan makes his teen debut here with a real chiller. Capturing the central couple and the way their relationship develops brilliantly, he also keeps things tense and fantastically atmospheric right the way through this novel. It stands out as being really unique in its premise and Hogan makes the ghost parts work very well. I also found the way that Hogan gradually revealed more and more of Daniel's backgrounds, and the events which had led to his parents' separation, to be very well done. In addition, he has an extremely readable writing style, with his dialogue being particularly good. Special mention for the superb ending, which worked perfectly and was beautifully written.

Even though Daniel was a really well developed central character and Lexi, the strange girl, was fantastic, Daniel’s father came close to stealing the entire book for me. I thought the way he handled – or struggled to handle – his split with Daniel’s mother was incredibly well done, and loved the way he and Daniel’s relationship changed as the novel progressed. Apart from anything else, it’s hard not to warm to someone who talks to tomato plants!

High recommendation for this one, Edward Hogan is definitely someone whose future work I'll be keeping a close eye on.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Sunday Supplement: February YA Book Releases

This time, I managed to actually do a look at the month ahead BEFORE we got several days into that month. Go me!

February 1st

The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin - Story of troubled girls healing in a special camp where they've been sent to recover from various issues, with a main character who self-harms, sounds incredible. This might be the one I'm most excited about.

February 2nd

Daylight Saving by Ed Hogan - I'm lucky enough to have read this ghost story already and found it to be an unusual, compelling and fantastically atmospheric read set in a wonderful location. Full review should be up tomorrow.

Someone Else's Life by Katie Dale - Contemporary tale of a girl struggling to cope with lies and omissions after finding out her 'mother', who's just passed away, wasn't really her mother after all. Some great buzz for this with comparisons to a young Jodi Picoult novel, and Jill Murphy at the Bookbag, whose opinion I generally agree with, liked it a lot.

This One Time With Julia by David Lampson - Synopsis for this one is seriously confusing but I'm intrigued, at least.

February 7th

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood - This tale of witchcraft is getting compared to the fabulous A Great And Terrible Beauty, which can't be a bad sign.

February 14th

Scarlet by AC Gaughen - Robin Hood retelling with a female Will Scarlett as the main character? Sign me up NOW!

February 16th

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour - Rock band on a road trip? Seriously can't wait for this one!

The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen - This contemporary story looks like fun with a capital F!

February 21st

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg - I tend to be less keen on books set in the afterlife than a lot of bloggers I know are, but something about this one makes me really keen to give it a try. Awesome title, apart from anything else!

February 28th

Shooting Stars by Allison Rushby - Paparazzi photographer falling for the guy in rehab she's meant to be shooting pictures of sounds like a lot of fun.

What books are everyone else looking forward to next month? Would love to hear yours in the comment section!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Saturday Spotlight: The Breakfast Club by Kate Costelloe

Saturday Spotlight is a new feature where I'm showcasing 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. Like last week's, this one is more of an MG book than a YA, but I still really enjoyed it.

Billie and her three best friends have grown to love the breakfast club they've formed, meeting every Saturday morning to pass the time and discuss the week they've had. Mario's is the perfect venue for it - so it's a huge shock when they find it's closing down! In addition, Billie's mother is adamant that she shouldn't pursue the career in music she wants more than anything, and Billie can't understand why. Can the girls find somewhere else to spend Saturday mornings, and can they persuade Billie's mum that music is what really matters to her?

It was a really pleasant surprise to read such an engaging book by an author I'd never heard of before. Costelloe has a very easy to read writing style and I love the four characters who form the Breakfast Club. The author did a great job of fleshing them all out well - although Billie, as the central character in this one, was definitely the one I felt was best developed, the other three all came across as real individuals rather than just a stock supporting cast. I was particularly intrigued by the way two of the other girls in the club started behaving badly towards a teacher who they were jealous of and Billie's reaction to their attitude.

If there was one slight drawback to the book, I found it fairly predictable - I'd guessed the vast majority of the plot really early on. That said, I'm about three times the age of the target audience and have probably read at least ten times as many books as most people who'll read it have, so it will almost certainly be far fresher to them!

I definitely enjoyed this and would recommend it to teen or pre-teen girls looking for a light read. I'm really keen to get my hands on the second in the series when it comes out!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Danielle Joseph

(People wondering why I'm posting a Friday Feature on a Saturday, I blame my internet! I thought it had posted yesterday but obviously not...)

I found Danielle Joseph's Indigo Blues to be a perfect 'fluffy' sort of read - two wonderful narrators, great supporting characters, and short and engaging enough to be devoured in one sitting. I was delighted when she agreed to answer a few questions.

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

Love this question! When I first started writing YA I pictured an audience full of teens, mostly girls. Now I’m happy to say that I see everyone: boys, girls and adults too. I love how YA books are not only for teens.

2. I loved the way you told Indigo Blues using the alternating points of view of Adam and Indigo - did you find one of them easier to write than the other?

Thanks! At first I was trepidatious to write from Adam’s point of view, being a woman and all. However, once I started writing I felt very comfortable with Adam. The hardest part was switching back and forth with the chapters and keeping them in real time together.

3. Is Adam and Indigo's story done now, or could you see yourself revisiting one or both of them in the future? (I'd love to read more about Eli, personally - he was such a fantastic character!)

Thanks! I’m always open to revisiting the story. A lot of people have asked me what happens next for Adam and Indigo. And, I did have so much fun with Eli’s character and I’m sure he’d like his own book!

A sequel - or, even better, an Eli spin-off - would definitely get me excited!

4. You mentioned on Twitter recently that you'd visited the set of Radio Rebel, the upcoming Disney adaptation of your debut novel Shrinking Violet. Do you get any input into the adaptation, or do you have to just stand back and cross your fingers?

I mostly crossed my fingers, but I did read the script a couple of months before I visited the set. And I’m happy to say that I really loved the script. I didn’t know what to expect on the set, but I was presently surprised at how great the cast and crew were.

5. Following on from that previous question, is there any chance of seeing either Indigo Blues or Pure Red hit the screen?

I would love both Indigo Blues and Pure Red to hit the screen but as of now there is nothing in the works. Hopefully that will change!

6. If you could ask any other author any question, who would you ask and what would you ask them?

Oh, this is a tough question! There are so many authors I’d love to chat with. I’d probably chose to sit down with Toni Morrison and ask her what her writing process is.

7. Who or what inspired you to become an author?

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Peterson really got me started.

8. What advice would you give to someone looking to write a novel for teens?

The best thing I can say is to write from your heart, listen to everyone around you and either join a critique group or attend writing workshops. You can’t grow as a writer if you don’t believe in yourself and if you don’t listen to everything that’s going on around you.

9. What are you reading now?

I’m currently reading Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord and really enjoying it. Up next on my nightstand: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler.

I'd never heard of Touch Blue but have just checked it out on Amazon and it looks great - will definitely be trying to get hold of that one, thanks for the recommendation!

10. What's next for Danielle Joseph?

I just completed a humorous, quirky middle grade novel and now I’m revising a humorous YA road trip manuscript. So hopefully both of them will hit the shelves soon!

Fantastic! Looking forward to reading them both - especially the road trip!

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Danielle.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of My Soul To Save by Rachel Vincent

As always with my reviews of sequels, spoilers for book 1, My Soul To Take, ahead.

Kaylee Cavanagh is a bean sidhe. When someone is about to die, she screams out for their soul. So when she's at a concert and teenage star Eden collapses on stage, she's not particularly worried. No urge to scream means Eden's still alive, right? Wrong... which means Eden had no soul to lose, having already traded it away for stardom. Plunged into a race against time to save the souls of those too stupid to hold onto them, Kaylee, Nash and Tod are forced to try and head to the Netherworld to stop the evil beings who are preying on young hopefuls.

I absolutely love Rachel Vincent's world building and it was great to find out some more about the bean sidhes, reapers, and the Netherworld here. She's a genuinely fresh voice in a paranormal genre which can sometimes feel overrun by vampires, werewolves, zombies and mermaids, and deserves full marks for originality. That said, I wanted to like this one more than I actually did.

There's something about Kaylee and Nash, as characters, which stops me from feeling particularly involved in their adventures. They seem a little bland, and Kaylee's desperation to save a girl who had, let's face it, been idiotic enough to get into this whole mess by herself and who Kaylee didn't know at all seemed rather far-fetched, even given Kaylee's obvious guilt at her aunt's actions in the first book. Tod, on the other hand, is a fantastic supporting character who overshadowed the main duo for me, and I sympathised with him as he tried to save his ex-girlfriend and was driven to concealing information from Kaylee and Nash to get a better chance of doing so.

I enjoyed the way the corporation who were encouraging the teenage starlets to make deals for their souls were portrayed, although I think the fairly obvious comparisons to the Disney Channel got driven into the ground a little bit too much by the end.

Overall I found this a touch less enjoyable than the first in the series but it's still an exciting and well-plotted read which will certainly appeal to fans of YA paranormal books. Book 3 is one that I'll be keeping an eye out for, even if it's not troubling the top of my "must read" list.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: The Fine Art of Truth Or Dare by Melissa Jensen

"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:

Publication date: 16th February 2012

From Goodreads

Pretty in Pink meets Anna and the French Kiss in this charming romantic comedy

Ella is nearly invisible at the Willing School, and that's just fine by her. She's got her friends - the fabulous Frankie and their sweet cohort Sadie. She's got her art - and her idol, the unappreciated 19th-century painter Edward Willing. Still, it's hard being a nobody and having a crush on the biggest somebody in the school: Alex Bainbridge. Especially when he is your French tutor, and lessons have started becoming, well, certainly more interesting than French ever has been before. But can the invisible girl actually end up with a happily ever after with the golden boy, when no one even knows they're dating? And is Ella going to dare to be that girl?(less)

Why I Can't Wait:

I'm on a real contemporary kick at the moment, and looking for some more cool reads in the genre. Mention any of the classic 80's teen flicks and my interest immediately picks up, so this one had me at 'Pretty in Pink'.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Heroines

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

Sat at my PC yesterday I was trying to come up with a topic for today's Top Ten Tuesday freebie, and saw a joke on Twitter about a guy having a closet full of action figures of Buffy, Wonder Woman and Supergirl - does that make him a heroine addict?

Look, I didn't say it was a GOOD joke.

Anyway, with that, I started thinking of some of my favourite ever heroines in YA fiction - and once I'd reached 7 or 8, thought "Hey, here's my top 10 for the week!"

So, without further ado except for a brief disclaimer...

Characters listed alphabetically by first name. As usual with lists like these, there are so many wonderful heroines I can think of that on another day I could have brought five different ones in and still been happy with my list - but that's part of the fun of making these!

Cammie Morgan - Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter - Cammie the Chameleon starts off as a likeable character and quickly becomes completely loveable over the course of the four GG books so far. Smart, loyal, a great friend, and able to handle herself in potentially lethal situations, she stands out from the crowd even when that crowd consists of her similarly skilled Gallagher Girl sisters.

Drina Adams - Drina series by Jean Estoril - I love the Drina series, it's one of the few girls' own sequences which still holds up about half a century after first being published. The central character's development from a young girl dreaming of dancing to where she ends up (deliberately vague to avoid spoilers, which is possibly too careful even for me given the books are now out of print, I think) is outstanding.

Genie Magee - The Repossession by Sam Hawksmoor - Part of me feels bad throwing in a character from a series which isn't even out yet, but having been lucky enough to review this one for The Bookbag I couldn't possibly leave Genie out. The psychically gifted Genie and her boyfriend Rian are both superb characters, and I think she'll be a big favourite with readers this year. Can't wait for the sequel in August!

Jen Robins - Abbey Girls series - Starting the series as a slightly nervous schoolgirl and growing up to be the heart of the series as a married lady, I love the way Jen develops as a character. I find the Abbey series hit and miss as to how well they've lasted through the years, but the best of them are still extremely readable.

Kat Stephenson - The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson series by Stephanie Burgis - I don't think I've ever been hooked on a series so quickly, having absolutely devoured the first couple in this trilogy last week and eagerly anticipating book 3. Vivacious, witty, and incredibly loyal to her family, Kat is a wonderful Georgian heroine who can not only use magic but also throw a mean punch.

Lottie Biggs - Lottie Biggs trilogy by Hayley Long - I described the first in the Lottie Biggs series as "brilliantly, staggeringly, life-affirmingly superb". It's a pretty apt description of the narrator of this wonderful contemporary series herself, mind.

Nell Beecham - Mist by Kathryn James - From Nell's quip to her new friend Evan after she threatens to break a bully's thigh bone with the Heavenly Strike kick - "My mum's a police officer. Do you think I'd get ballet lessons?" - right to the end of this refreshing adventure, she's a seriously cool heroine. Can't wait to read book 2, Frost!

Nia Lloyd - Emlyn's Moon by Jenny Nimmo - I love the change we see in Nia over the course of this book, from "Nia can't do nothing" as her brothers nickname her, to a young girl acknowledging her talents and playing a part in settling family rows dating back years.

Violet Willoughby - Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey - Likeable, spunky and clever, Violet - the daughter and not very willing assistant of a charlatan medium - is a great character in this excellent standalone from Alyxandra Harvey.

Wynter Moorehawke - Moorehawke trilogy by Celine Kiernan - The central character in my favourite fantasy series of recent years - although, to be fair, Curtis Jobling's Wereworld is running it close - apprentice carpenter Wynter is just wonderful. I love the relationships between her and her friends Razi and Christopher, and between her and her father, there's fabulous character development throughout the series, and the actions of all of the characters are deeply thought-provoking.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Monday Musings: Book Review of A Tangle of Magicks by Stephanie Burgis

A Tangle of Magicks is the second in the Kat Stephenson series, spoilers for book 1 - published as A Most Improper Magick in the UK and as Kat, Incorrigible in the US - below.

As the Stephenson family flee scandalous rumours being spread by Kat's nemesis Lady Fotherington, they head to Bath to stay with snooty relatives of Stepmama - without eldest sister Elissa and her new husband, but with brother Charles, a chronic gambler, in tow. As bad as the family's problems in society are, though, they pale into comparison to Kat's magical misery, as the leader of the Order of Guardians banishes her when Lady Fotherington provokes her into losing her temper. With the Roman baths sizzling with wild magic, and danger seeming to lurk at nearly every turn, can Kat save the day?

I described the first of these Georgian adventures as spellbinding; if anything that would be rather understating it for this one. With a little over eleven months of the year to go, it's hard to imagine I'll read another book with a central character as loyal, feisty, clever and altogether wonderful as Kat is, while the supporting cast is perhaps even more superb than first time around. Stepmama is becoming a favourite of mine - she's definitely not likeable, but she's some way away from being a typical 'wicked stepmother' figure. There's also real character development here, and the stunning climax, in which an unexpected character steps up to help Kat try to save the day, brought me close to tears it was so powerful.

Special mention for just how brilliant the writing is; I particularly love the dialogue but Burgis also does an outstanding job of bringing Georgian England to life – I could picture Bath perfectly as I read through this one.

Earth shatteringly amazing, and without doubt a massive recommendation. Book 3 is fixed rather firmly to the top of my 'most anticipated' list!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Saturday Spotlight: For The Record by Ellie Irving

Saturday Spotlight is a new feature where I'm showcasing 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. This one is aimed at a slightly younger audience than most of the books I review are, but it was still one of my favourites of last year.

Ellie Irving was kind enough to do an interview with me in November last year, which can be found here.

Luke is obsessed with records. He's so busy planning on breaking world records when he grows up, and playing world records DVD games, that he doesn't take much of an interest in what's going on around him. But that's about to change, because when the village of Port Bren is chosen to host a waste-incinerator plant his house will be demolished and the graveyard where his dad's buried will be destroyed – unless the village is too historically important for this to happen. How can they put themselves on the map in one week? Luke comes up with the idea to break 50 world records… but why won't his mum let him take part?

This is a real charmer which tweens and younger teens are going to lap up. It's an easy to read book despite the fairly lengthy chapters – it's full of gentle humour, traditional English eccentrics who'll raise a smile from the adults reading, a sweet romance for Luke's mum, and a lovely narrator. Luke is a very sweet character, who's rather serious and obviously still grieving for his father a year or so after his death, and his relationship with his mum is really well portrayed, especially once she has two men taking an interest in her. The other inhabitants of Port Bren, and visitors such as the record adjudicator Simon who turns up depressed because he knows that everyone wanted the more famous Vinnie Denton, and becomes more and more drawn to the village, are all delightful. That's except, of course, for the necessary money grabbing villains wanting the development to go ahead who we all suspect will come to a Bad End! But not that Bad, because this is too sweet a book for anything really awful to happen.

There's never much of a doubt that Port Bren will be saved (look at the subtitle, "How we saved Port Bren with cake and other household goods"!) but the journey to get there has a couple of fun twists and turns and always managed to hold my attention. Some of the records attempted and achieved are impressively zany (Irving thanks someone in the notes for telling her to ramp up the crazy and it's clear she took that advice!) and there's a wonderful list of all the attempts at the back of the book complete with who tried them and whether they passed or failed which is entertaining in itself.

Overall, this is a high recommendation which children and parents alike will enjoy as a nice light read.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Helena Close

One of the most powerful novels I've read for some time was Helena Close's The Clever One, so when she agreed to do an interview I was absolutely thrilled to get the chance to ask her some questions.

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

I see dead people.. jk - .I see all age groups really - moms, dads, grannies, teens, twenty somethings. A good book should have no age limit - not that I'm presuming my books are good!!!

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

Read as much as possible. And write every day. Treat it like a job. Don't bother waiting to be inspired - learn the craft through hard graft and the inspiration will look after itself. Ignore the little voice in your head that tells you that you're rubbish - we all have one of those and we learn to ignore it.

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

It would be Cormac McCarthy - probably my favourite living writer. And the question would be simple - why are you a much better writer than me?

4. The Clever One features some very mature themes - do you feel it's suitable for all ages, or would you rather younger teens waited until they're a bit older to read it?

I don't think it's suitable for younger teens - although they probably could relate to a lot of the themes in it but I think if they were older they would have a better understanding of the themes.That said - life is scary unfortunately.

5. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, did The Clever One have a particular soundtrack?

I never listen to music/radio etc while working. I usually work in complete silence. But often there's a soundtrack in my head - for The Clever One it was the soundtrack of the time - The Killers, Kings Of Leon, Fionn Regan.

6. I know you're a big fan of This is England 88, and in some ways your gritty writing reminds me of Shane Meadows' work on the screen. Would you like to see The Clever One adapted as a film or TV programme?

Shane Meadows is a fantastic writer - his stories - though bleak and gritty - are full of heart. I was a huge fan of the movie This is England and was very doubtful about 86 and 88 but Shane didn't let me down. Brilliant writing. Storytelling at its very best. I take any comparison between my writing and his as a huge compliment!

I have to be honest, while I loved the film of TIE, I couldn't get into the TV series. I'll have to give it another go.

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!)

I wrote four novels with my best friend Trisha Rainsford under the pen name Sarah O Brien. We are currently just finishing our fifth. We also wrote a kid's novel called BandWorld. It's currently seeking a home in the publishing world. I'd love to collaborate with Cormac McCarthy but my current writing partner may take offence and I might end up dead. I don't think Cormac would be the collaborating type. And I love my current set-up - doing something I love with my best friend - it's the dream gig - I just wished it paid a little more!!! Trisha is hilarious and we laugh our way through our working day.

8. Which book would you recommend to people who enjoyed The Clever One while they're eagerly waiting for your next novel?

Easy. Matt Haig's the Radleys. Loved loved loved this book about a vampire family - real vampires - not the silly kind in Twilight that just want hot girlfriends. And another book called Dogboy by Eva Hornung. Harrowing but wonderful.

Dogboy sounds really interesting, and I agree with you on the Radleys being a great read.

9. What do you enjoy most about writing? What would you rather not do at all?

I love writing. I enjoy every aspect of it - even the parts that shouldn't be fun. I love when a book finally comes together - when all the jigsaw pieces fall into place and you're searching for ages for the final few pieces and then they just fall out of the ether when you least expect it. That's the best feeling in the world. I love it.

10. What's next for Helena Close?

I've just finished my fourth novel. It's called The Day You Left - and it's about a 14 year old boy whose mother walked out on him four years ago and suddenly one summer she arrives back looking to play happy families... and of course I have an idea composting away for the fifth novel...and the movie...and the short story collection....

Will be looking forward to them all! Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions, Helena.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis

12-year old Kat Stephenson is about to try to save her family's fortune. Her brother's gambling debts have them on the brink of ruin, her father's reputation was damaged when he married her mother - a witch - and her stepmother's solution is to marry off Kat's eldest sister Elissa to Sir Neville Collingwood. What's a girl to do, other than turn to her mother's magic to try and get them out of this situation?

The best way to describe this Georgian romp is, appropriately, spellbinding! Kat is an absolutely fabulous heroine - vivacious, witty, and incredibly loyal to her family. The supporting cast is wonderful, most of them appearing to have stepped right out of a Jane Austen novel, with Kat's stepmother and the awful Sir Neville, who lost his first wife in rather suspicious circumstances, being two of the most entertaining. Kat's relationship with her sisters also stands out as especially good - somewhat mothered by them, it's a great portrayal of a young girl trying to show them that she can have her own ways of being helpful.

Burgis has also created an outstanding world here - arguably two outstanding worlds, because as well as Regency England, complete with Gothic abbeys, high society, and highwaymen, we get the strange place to which Kat is transported by her mother's mirror, where she finds out that her mother was both a witch and a Guardian, and the Order of the Guardians want Kat to join. Some of them, at least...

Absolutely massive recommendation as quite possibly the best for tweens and younger teens that I've read for ages, and a strong contender for my favourite overall this month despite me having read an incredible amount of absolutely brilliant books. Will be grabbing the sequel at the weekend - I couldn't get it before then as I finished this on Tuesday and knew I'd have nowhere near enough willpower to resist reading book 2 and get on with the day job. Book 3 is out in April, and will be pre-ordering that one!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books For People Who Don't Usually Read Non-Fiction

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

Apart from YA fiction, my other great love when it comes to books is non-fiction. I thought I'd take this opportunity to recommend 10 that readers may enjoy. (All of these are 'adult' non-fiction but, apart from the gambling theme of book 2, there's little to stop them being suitable for teens.)

1. The Boys of Summer - Roger Kahn - Virtually three books in one, this starts as an memoir of sportswriter Kahn's childhood in Brooklyn, moves on to his time covering the legendary Dodgers team for which Jackie Robinson broke the color line, and ends up by tracing that team in retirement. Outstandingly well-written and a wonderful portrayal of some colossal figures. Oh, and as if that wasn't enough, the title inspired one of my all-time favourite songs.

2. Breaking Vegas - Ben Mezrich - While Mezrich's Bringing Down The House (filmed as 21) is the more famous of his gambling books, this one is slightly superior for my money. Mezrich takes the true story of Semyon Dukach, the MIT student who used three techniques to clean out the blackjack tables on the strip. Mezrich writes thrillers which just happen to be non-fiction - the excitement levels in this one could give Dan Brown et al a real run for their money.

3. The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare - Doug Stewart - A 19 year old boy in Georgian England tries to win his Shakespeare-obsessed father's love by forging letters purporting to be from the great writer, and manages to fool Robert Southey, James Boswell, and the future William IV, amongst others. As crazy as the idea was, it's amazing to see that it worked for a while, and that William Henry Ireland stuck with it despite the dangers involved. Given the potential for tragedy with forgery punishable by death at the time, this is near-Shakespearian in itself.

4. The Last Amateurs - John Feinstein - The best piece of work by an outstanding sports writer, the Last Amateurs follows the Patriot League in America. For people who haven't heard of it, the Patriot League is a rarity in American college sports as it's populated by student-athletes who actually study and play the game for love, rather than aim to get into the NBA and forget about the actual schoolwork. Feinstein's sympathetic picture of the seven schools involved is a beautiful tribute to the sport and features some memorable characters, especially the Holy Cross walk-on Chris Spitler.

5. Mom's Cancer - Brian Fies - Originally a webcomic, this graphic novel - can a non-fiction book be called a graphic novel? - is a stunning depiction of the writer's mother's battle with cancer. It's a real tearjerker but has some subtle humour and uplifting moments as well.

6. Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson - While all of Bryson's books are good, his trip around Great Britain, going to many places I've seen for myself, is my all-time favourite.

7. On The Slow Train Again - Michael Williams - Michael Williams has a languid style of writing with wonderful use of language which draws you into this cosy look at the railway network, and 12 journeys in particular.

8. Pirates Of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the 17th-Century Mediterranean - Adrian Tinniswood - As you may have worked out from some of my earlier comments, it tends to be the characters I find really intriguing in non-fiction. This one has more captivating ones than most, featuring an array of pirates including John Ward, the Englishman who horrified his countrymen with his piracy then horrified them even more by converting to Islam, and the Dutchman Danseker the Devil Captain.

9. There's A Golden Sky: How 20 years of the Premier League has changed football forever - Ian Ridley - 20 years after the seminal Season in the Cold, Ridley releases an absolute masterpiece which shows the way the cash injection into the top flight has changed English football forever. Interviews with a wide range of people, from Gazza to Truro City chairman Kevin Heaney, and from Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck to the calamitous Spencer Trethewy, still loathed in Aldershot for his part in their downfall, make this a must read for football fans.

10. I Blame The Scapegoats - John O'Farrell - Just about the best of O'Farrell's witty and insightful collection of newspaper columns. I can dip into this time and time again and it never fails to raise a smile.

Teaser Tuesday: A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis

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!

"You would think, if he wanted to make a good picking, he would aim for the top.

If I found out that he had wasted his time attacking some completely impoverished family in full moonlight while we were driving down that whole long, shadowy road full of possibilities, I would... well, I would be seriously disappointed."

From A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis (published as Kat, Incorrigible in the US)

Monday, 16 January 2012

Monday Musings: Book Review of The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Young Max Carver moves with his family to a small town on the coast, to a house which once belonged to a brilliant surgeon. From the time they set foot there, though, something doesn’t appear to be right. Max finds an overgrown garden full of creepy statues, his father discovers a collection of old home movies, and one of his sisters is haunted by mysterious dreams while the other hears strange voices. Then, Max meets Roland, another youngster, and finds out about the evil being who is the Prince of Mist…

This is Zafon's first novel, published 20 years ago in Spain but only translated fairly recently, after the massive successes of his two adult books, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game. Originally a YA book, it is now being marketed as a crossover, and while it has markedly less lyricism of his two most famous works, there are enough atmosphere and thrills to keep the most demanding reader satisfied. If anything, it's perhaps too chilling to be a recommendation for the younger end of the YA scale - I was severely tempted to leave the light on all night after reading it myself! With mysteriously moving statues, scary cats, and the maelvolent Prince of Mist himself, this is a ghost story which could have been written in the 19th century and would have fitted in perfectly with the literature of the day. The prose is rather old-fashioned but this adds to the atmosphere and there’s nothing that young readers are likely to struggle with. It's a short but engrossing read which most people will finish quickly - depending on whether they need to put the book down for a few hours to give their heart rate a chance to recover, at least!

High recommendation to all, particularly fans of Zafon’s adult novels.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Saturday Spotlight: Book Review of The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan

Saturday 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 - I can't believe I've not actually posted the review for this one here before given it's one of my very favourite of recent years, and I've been lucky enough to interview Savita, but guess I haven't.

Sam's just moved to a new school yet again, but this time he's made a good friend really quickly. He and Lloyd get on so well together that they're spending time with each other after school a lot - until they make one horrible mistake and end up trapped in a car speeding far away from their hometown, with a strange and creepy driver. Once they reach a big house, Sam is quickly separated from Lloyd - can he figure out a way to escape alive?

This is a phenomenally tense book right from the start, as a car pulls up while the boys are waiting in the pouring rain and the driver shouts for them to jump in. Both of them assume it's the other one's father driving, a horribly plausible mistake for two boys of their age to make, but they quickly realise their mistake. Unfortunately, with the child locks on the car, they're powerless to correct it...

Sam is a fantastic main character, brave and resourceful but never implausibly so, while Lloyd and their kidnapper are also vividly realised. Kalhan also deserves huge plaudits for her writing style; it's pacy, ratchets up the tension, and the vocabulary she uses is simple and makes the book very accessible, even to reluctant readers.

I'm going out on a limb here and will claim that this may be one of the most important books published all year. The realism of the book makes it extremely uncomfortable reading at times, but while it can be hard-going, especially since there's no attempt to sugar coat the boys' predicament, it's one of the things that make it a must read for kids who are growing up and think they're ready to be allowed off by themselves. While teachers and parents can lecture and talk to them about 'stranger danger' for hours and hours, this is so impactful that it will stick in children's minds for far longer than any number of talks. It may well scare the living daylights out of them - but in this context that's probably a good thing, if it helps them to think about staying safe.

Given just how scary it is at times, though, I'm wary of giving this a recommendation without throwing in a warning – parents will be far better placed to judge whether their children are ready for it than I could ever be, and I'd strongly suggest they found time to read through it before passing it on. It's a slim book, weighing in at a little under 200 pages, and I got through it in less than an hour myself since I was completely absorbed in it – if you have a child who's starting to be allowed out by themselves it's well worth taking the time to read it and see whether you think they're ready for it yet. If you decide they are, I honestly can't recommend this gripping book highly enough.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Thursday Thoughts:Book Review of Indigo Blues by Danielle Joseph

High school senior Indigo briefly dated an older boy called Adam. He took the relationship more seriously than she did, and she broke it off. He moved away... and that's the end of that, yes? Except... the reason Adam moved away was to become a rock star. Suddenly, he's top of the charts with a song about the girl who broke his heart. Indigo just wants to forget their relationship, but how can she do that when half her school, and several journalists, want to hear all the gory details about the pair of them?

First things first, this is a light read. It's fluffy, there's not a huge amount of stuff happening, and there's no real sub-plots - it focuses fairly narrowly on how the pair have been affected by the break-up and by Adam's rise to fame. (I mention that because I've seen a few reviews which criticise it for being too shallow.) Taken for what it is, though, it's a lot of fun. It features two engaging narrators, with Adam and Indigo taking it in turns to tell the story, and both of them coming across as likeable people who you want to root for. There's also some great supporting characters, particularly Indigo's 14 year-old brother Eli, who's trying his best to help Indigo deal with the situation - and being about as sensitive as you'd expect a teenage boy in these circumstances to be.

It's also a fairly short, and fast, read, which was a plus point. I think there was perhaps a tiny issue with the pacing - as mentioned earlier, there wasn't all that much happening, but given the reasonably short length I found that okay. I enjoyed Danielle Joseph's writing style, and thought her dialogue was especially good - all of the characters sounded really believable.

All in all, I'd happily recommend this to anyone just looking to kick back and relax with something fun and undemanding for a while. I know the summer seems like months away (oh, wait, it IS months away...) but this would be a perfect beach read.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Waiting On Wednesday: The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe

"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:

Publication date: January 24th 2012 by Disney-Hyperion (on Goodreads, anyway. Amazon UK is light on info so not sure when it's making it over here.)

From Goodreads

It starts with an itch you just can't shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you'll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in.

And then you're dead.

When a deadly virus begins to sweep through sixteen-year-old Kaelyn’s community, the government quarantines her island—no one can leave, and no one can come back.

Those still healthy must fight for dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival. As everything familiar comes crashing down, Kaelyn joins forces with a former rival and discovers a new love in the midst of heartbreak. When the virus starts to rob her of friends and family, she clings to the belief that there must be a way to save the people she holds dearest.

Because how will she go on if there isn't?

Megan Crewe crafts a powerful and gripping exploration of self-preservation, first love, and hope. Poignant and dizzying, this heart-wrenching story of one girl’s bravery and unbeatable spirit will leave readers fervently awaiting the next book in this standout new series.

Why I Can't Wait:

Because when ever I say I'm bored of dystopian stuff, something like this looks amazing and draws me back in. The idea of an unknown epidemic spreading and the government quarantining an island to cut it off sounds plausible enough to be really chilling.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book

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

This week's is a fabulous one - ten authors, either debut ones, those taking a break, or those who are sadly no longer with us, who you'd love to write a new book.

I've tried to leave out any authors who've got newAs confirmed on Goodreads/Amazon etc, or have told me a bit in interviews about the stuff they're working on. So that explains the lack of people like Curtis Jobling, Gillian Philip, Savita Kalhan, Will Hill, and Ellie Irving, despite me being desperate to read the next books by all of them. Order is just the order in which they sprang to mind.

1. Megan Miranda - Yes, I've got someone whose debut novel was published last week on here. But what a debut - chilling, beautifully written, and completely gripping, I'll definitely be on board for her second when it comes along.

2. Robert Cormier - Sadly not to be, as Cormier passed away 12 years ago. I always found him hit-and-miss - there's some books, like I Am The Cheese, which I couldn't get into at all - but given just how incredibly powerful his best stuff was, I'd be happy to take the risk there. The Chocolate War and The Bumblebee Flies Anyway are still two of the best books ever written for young a dults, in my opinion.

3. J K Rowling - I want to know what happens next! Come on, JKR - another 7 books about Albus Severus would suit us fine...

4. Irfan Master - Master's debut last year, A Beautiful Lie, was one of my favourite historical YA books for a long time. Set in an India rapidly approaching Partition, he told a wonderful story in a perfect setting. I definitely want his next one!

5. Ann Kelley - Having thought Kelley's Koh Tabu was fantastic and incredibly thought-provoking, I got really excited when I saw she had a new one called Lost Girls on Goodreads - only to read the synopsis and find out it's Koh Tabu being published under another name. Fingers crosses there's an actual new one around the corner...

6. Celine Kiernan - While the Wereworld series is keeping my need for high fantasy going, if the author of my other favourite epic fantasy sequence of recent years wanted to release something new I'd be thrilled. Especially if it was anywhere near as complex and wonderful as the Moorhawke Trilogy.

7. Susan Cooper - Speaking of high fantasy, my all time favourite YA sequence is still The Dark Is Rising. Having written a number of other wonderful novels, and picture books for younger readers, I believe Susan is enjoying a well-earned retirement now - but one more book by her would be an absolute dream.

8. Deborah Hautzig - Hautzig has written a huge amount of books, but most were for young children. Given how phenomenal her two YA books, Second Star To The Right and Hey Dollface were, I've always though it was a real shame she never wrote a third YA novel. (And a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth...)

9. Jandy Nelson - Not sure whether she belongs on this list or not; there's a History of Luck listed on Goodreads and Amazon but it's audio only and there are very few details available, so I won't get my hopes up. Because if there is another one coming from the author of the phenomenal The Sky Is Everywhere, perhaps the most heartbreakingly beautiful book of the last few years, my hopes will be sky high!

10. Shehan Karunatilaka - I'll throw in an adult author here. Chinaman, Karunatilaka's gorgeously written, lyrical, and bittersweet tale of the greatest Sri Lankan cricketer you never saw, was an absolute gem of a book. Count me first in the queue when it comes to his next book!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Monday Musings: Review of Department 19 by Will Hill

Does the world need another vampire book? I have to be honest, before reading this, I would have said no, not really. Does the world need another MG/YA vampire book? Still thinking no. Does the world need an MG/YA vampire book where the good guys carry T-18 pneumatic metal stake launchers, are led by descendants of the heroes of Dracula, and include Frankenstein's monster?

Well, when you put it that way...

I picked this up when it was reduced on Kindle the other day after seeing a fair amount of buzz about it but not really reading many reviews, and this has to be the best £1.99 I've spent for a long, long time. (Sorry, back up to £4.49 now - but still a bargain at the price!) It follows reluctant hero Jamie as, teaming with the monster (who now calls himself Frankenstein to honour his creator) and the ultra-secret Blacklight department, he's thrust into a world he knows nothing about in order to try and find the vampire who's kidnapped his mother. It's got great action, fantastic characters – my favourites being Frankenstein, and the vampire Larissa, a teenage girl who has incredible chemistry with Jamie, who is clearly attracted to her but doesn’t know whether he can trust her – some fabulous world-building, with flashbacks helping to clearly explain the history of the vampires, and a staggeringly good ending. This ending finishes off the story with a sense of real satisfaction, but which also sets up the next in the series, The Rising, brilliantly. I definitely can’t wait to read that one, as I’m keen to see what happens next to the characters I’ve grown to really enjoy reading about – those of them who survive, anyway!

Absolutely massive recommendation.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Sunday Special: Book Review of Wereworld: Shadow of the Hawk by Curtis Jobling

As always, spoilers for books 1 and 2 below.

Fairly major ones, at that.

Just so we're clear...

At the start of Shadow of the Hawk, our heroes are in disarray. Drew, having bitten off his hand to escape Vanmorten and the undead, is in captivity, about to be forced to fight as a gladiator. The Staglord Manfred and the Wereshark Vega, two of the three remaining members of the Wolf's Council, are on the run, spiriting Drew's mother to safety. And Hector, the third of the Council... oh, Hector!

The young Boarlord is a changed man from the one who was such an innocent in the first book in this series. Haunted by the vile of his brother Vincent, Hector has become increasingly paranoid, unable to decide who he can trust, and Shadow of the Hawk sees him fall further into the darkness. It's a stunning piece of character development from Curtis Jobling - as is the way that Vega, the Prince of Pirates, continues to grow into a more honourable and loyal man than the trickster he once was.

In addition to what's left of our old favourites (apart from Gretchen and Whitley, who take a back seat, to my disappointment), we meet some great new characters here, including a wererhino, werelizards, and a seriously gruesome new baddie in the shape of the Werewalrus Slotha, as well as more who I’ll avoid mentioning to let you have the fun of finding them yourselves. We also see the third plot strand follow Drew's brother Trent Ferran, convinced that Drew is the murderer who killed his mother and joining the Catlords to hunt him in a quest for revenge. In some ways, despite the sections featuring Trent and the albino Catlord Frost being fairly short and few in number, they were perhaps my favourite parts of the book. Trent is an exceptional character, and I grew increasingly intrigued by his personality as we saw more of him.

Even with such a sprawling cast, though, the action is kept focused, fast, and furious, with some superb fight scenes – particularly the last couple. Melded with the action, we have more of the political intrigue we saw in the first two books, as alliances are formed and broken, a shade more romance, and more rousing dialogue.

All in all, this is epic high fantasy at its highest and most epic, and the ending has somehow managed to get me anticipating book four even more expectantly than I was this one – no mean feat!

Massive recommendation, needless to say. (With the proviso that if you’ve somehow missed out on Jobling’s previous work, you REALLY need to start with Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf and read them in order to get the full enjoyment out of the saga.)

For more Wereworld goodness, check out the author's blog and the excellent website.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Saturday Spotlight: Review of Koh Tabu by Ann Kelley

Bonnie MacDonald is thrilled to be going to a beautiful tropical island with the rest of the Amelia Earhart Cadets, especially as the only adult present will be the incredibly glamorous Layla Campbell, nicknamed the Duchess, who treats them all like adults. But the dream holiday becomes a nightmare - after landing on the wrong island despite dire warnings from the boatman who took them there, a storm kills him and one of Bonnie's friends and wrecks the boat, leaving them trapped with no-one knowing where they are. With the Duchess shining rather less brightly as she’s revealed to be practically useless in the face of danger, it's left to Bonnie and her friend Jas to try and keep the remaining girls alive and find a way to be rescued.

This is a truly spine-chilling story, mainly because it always seems completely believable. It's set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War - the girls are the children of soldiers based in Thailand - and as well as being stranded on the island, the survivors have to cope with not knowing whether their parents are alive after they see explosions in the distance. With this in mind, the disintegration of the recently widowed Mrs Campbell seems utterly plausible, as does the way Bonnie and some of the other girls are forced to take responsibility for themselves so quickly.

I don't think I can honestly say I particularly liked Bonnie - a couple of decisions she makes have horrendous consequences, and one in particular will cause a wide range of reactions from teenagers and adults reading, ranging from those who will completely agree with it and those who will be absolutely horrified by it - but I've rarely felt a narrator was so well-drawn. Even when she's considering some steps which would appear absolutely ridiculous in the hands of a lesser author, I was still convinced it was completely the right thought process for her character as Ann Kelley describes her. The character development of Bonnie is excellent, and the descriptions throughout the book are superb, especially those of the plants and animals of the island.

This held me completely spellbound from beginning to end as I raced through it, desperate to find out what happened to everyone. It’s also very thought-provoking indeed – I still can’t work out whether I think Bonnie was right to make the decision I referred to above, and I’d imagine it’s likely to provoke some interesting discussions between readers. This is an extremely high recommendation – with the warning attached that it’s not something I’d give to young or easily scared teens, especially if you’re ever planning on taking them on a boat trip or to an island!

Friday Feature: Top Ten to come in January

After seeing a few fantastic previews of books for the month ahead, I figured I'd start doing a monthly one. With my usual sense of timing, I only came up with the idea yesterday, so some of these are already out - sorry about that!

Click on the titles to go to Goodreads, with more info.

3rd January

Wereworld: Shadow of the Hawk by Curtis Jobling - Epic fantasy fans NEED to be on board for the third in this amazing series. (Check out my Waiting on Wednesday post for more details.)

Cracked by K.M. Walter - Contemporary debut about two teens in a psych ward sounds absolutely amazing.

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler - Rumour has it that this is worth it for the cupcake recipes at the start of every chapter alone - but it also sounds like an excellent romance.

Unraveling Isobel by Eileen Cook - Gothic mansions, hot stepbrothers, and possible ghosts? Sign me up...

Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala - Drama about a girl suffering in an abusive relationship and running away sounds AMAZING.

5th Jan

A Witch in Winter by Ruth Warburton - This looks good enough to rekindle my interest in paranormal romance...

Night School by C. J. Daugherty - I raved about this, and the below book, on Tuesday.

10th Jan

Ditched: A Love Story by Robin Mellom

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges - Necromancy in 19th century Russia? Sounds very different from the 'usual' paranormal romance.

31st Jan

The Edumacation of Jay Baker by Jay Clark - Sounds like a cute, fun, read.

Like the look of any of these? Or are there any books out this month which you think I've missed out? Please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Review of The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

For as long as she can remember, Belly and her brother Stephen have holidayed in Cousins Beach with her mother, her mother’s friend Susannah, and Susannah’s two sons Conrad and Jeremiah. Belly lives for these summers – even if Conrad and Jeremiah only ever seem to see her as the young tag-along. This summer, though, she knows that’s going to change…

I’d read a lot of great reviews of this one, and I think perhaps my expectations were raised a bit too highly before starting it. I wanted to love it – but just couldn’t, really. There’s no question that Jenny Han is a talented author writing some lovely prose at times, but I found Belly to be a rather vapid narrator – immature, bratty, and seemingly willing to trample over other boys’ feelings to get close to the guy she wants. I appreciate that probably makes her a really realistic character for a girl of her age dealing with hormones and growing up – but it didn’t particularly make her someone I liked reading about. Perhaps because of her narration, I also thought the boys she was chasing after weren’t particularly good characters. Neither seemed all that well-rounded.

Having said that, there are some really strong points to the novel. As someone who also used to holiday in the same place every year and meet up with the same people, I thought Han captured the strange relationship you develop with these friends who you only meet once every month very strongly. I also enjoyed the use of flashbacks to previous summers to show how the central quartet had changed as they’d grown up. Finally, there were a couple of sub-plots which added a bit of depth to the novel, and would probably have made it a real tearjerker if I’d been able to feel a bit more invested in the characters.

Overall, this is a mild recommendation to people who enjoy contemporary teen romances, but comes as something of a disappointment to me.

That said, as I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of bloggers out there who absolutely loved it – so if you’re looking for a more positive viewpoint as a second opinion, it’s well worth checking out Fluttering Butterflies or Wondrous Reads.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Wereworld: Shadow of the Hawk by Curtis Jobling

"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


Enslaved by the Goatlord Kesslar, young werewolf Drew finds himself on the volcanic isle of Scoria, forced to fight in the arena for the Lizardlords. With the help of an unlikely ally, he must find a way to break free - but who has ever managed to escape?

Meanwhile, Hector the Wereboar flees the forces of the Catlords. Now on board the pirate ship Maelstrom, the enemy's net is closing in. Haunted by the spirits of the dead, Hector is soon left wondering who the true enemy is . . .

Book three in the Wereworld fantasy-adventure series from Curtis Jobling, the award-winning designer of Bob the Builder. Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf was shortlisted for the 2011 Waterstone's Children's Book Prize.

Perfect for fans of Christopher Paolini's Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr and Inheritance books.

Why I Can't Wait:

I love epic fantasy done well; the Wereworld series is epic fantasy done REALLY well. Drew is a fabulous central character, Hector's change over the course of book 2 was utterly gripping, and with Rage of Lions ending on such a massive cliffhanger, I need to know what happens NOW!

Release date: 5 Jan 2012 - TOMORROW! Yay!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I'm Excited To Read in 2012

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

Today's is an awesome one, picking the ten books bloggers are most looking forward to in the upcoming year. I found it insanely difficult to narrow it down to 10, and have left out a few which I'm doing Waiting on Wednesdays on over the next couple of months, just to try and spread the word about as many of the fabulous-looking upcoming releases as possible!

Links go to Goodreads as there's very little on Amazon about a few of them.


Ditched: A Love Story by Robin Mellom - YA contemporary about a girl who gets ditched at prom by her best friend, and spends the next morning trying to figure out how she ended up dateless. Sounds fun and frothy, a perfect light read.

Night School by C. J. Daugherty
- After her brother runs away from home and she gets arrested, Allie gets sent to the mysterious Cimmeria Academy. No computers or phones allowed, and then there's the secretive Night School... - I'm intrigued by the 'no computers or phones' thing and it has me wanting to find out more - can any teen today cope without them?! Oh yeah, there's a murder, apparently...


Daylight Saving by Edward Hogan - YA ghost story which involves an overweight boy with his depressed dad at a holiday complex. He meets a mysterious girl whose bruises keep getting worse, and whose watch seems to be ticking backwards... Not usually that keen on ghost stories, but this sounds super atmospheric and generally amazing.


So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore - Set in Boston, a bullied 13 year old whose parents are getting divorced finds the diary of a long dead maid. With the help of a library archivist, widowed and estranged from her only daughter, she sets out to find out more about the woman who the diary belonged to. I love 'historical detective work' type books, where the main characters are digging into the past, so this sounds great!

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman - Nora is desperate to prove that her perfect boyfriend couldn't have murdered her best friend. The quest to find him innocent leads to Prague, secret societies, and a shadowy conspiracy involving the Lumen Dei. This sounds very DaVinci Code-ish, and I'm intrigued to see how well it works in a YA novel.

Welcome Caller This Is Chloe by Shelley Coriell - Lonely, former popular, girl ends up hosting struggling school radio station's call-in show, with a bunch of misfits as a supporting cast. Sounds fun and funky.

What's Up With Jody Barton? by Hayley Long - Identical twins are both interested in the same guy. Main character Jody has a lot less experience flirting than Jolene - and a BIG secret. Looks like a fun plot - and beside, it's Hayley Long, it's a must read, obviously.


The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee - Sixteen-year-old Rinn Jacobs has secrets: One, she’s bipolar. Two, she killed her grandmother. Okay, that synopsis is the only one so far I've lifted from Goodreads, but is there any way anybody honestly thinks I could improve on it? I'm not even summarising the rest, that line has me absolutely and completely hooked.


Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry - Two teens in court imposed therapy work together to learn about their case files, but fall in love as they find out shattering truths about their families. A couple of advance reviews on Goodreads have me pretty pumped for this one.

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson - Quinn's boyfriend is a hero in his town, since he's serving in Afghanistan. So when she's caught kissing someone else, everyone immediately hates her. She could clear her name, but only by revealing some secrets she said she'd never tell. When her boyfriend goes MIA, she's faced with a difficult decision... This is perhaps the one I'm most excited about - the summary sounds fabulous, a really current and interesting story.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Monday Musings: Review of New Girl by Paige Harbison

Note: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

There’s a new girl at the exclusive Manderley Academy. Everyone knows, though, that she’s only there because Becca Normandy… isn’t. Becca disappeared mysteriously at the end of the previous school year, and the new girl is taking her place. Both in school, and with Becca’s friends – and perhaps even the boys in Becca’s life. Perhaps she shouldn’t get too comfortable, though… because the rumour keeps going around that Becca’s coming back.

First things first, I should mention that this is a retelling of Daphne DuMaurier’s classic Rebecca – but having never read that book, I’m coming into it cold, and just looking at it as a stand-alone.

Secondly, I have to say that the start of this one wasn’t particularly promising. We’re asked to believe that the new girl (who remains nameless until nearly the end) had parents who uproot her from school with a year to go because of a wish she’d expressed when she was 13 to attend Manderley. We’re asked to believe that, to avoid hurting their feelings, she pretends she’s happy with this even though she hasn’t thought about Manderley for years and doesn’t want to leave her friend. And we’re also asked to believe that Becca’s room has been left exactly as it was when she disappeared, with her possessions still there – I’m quite happy to accept that her room-mate may have left it as a kind of shrine, but surely the staff would have got involved? We’re dangerously close to Lewis Caroll’s ‘six impossible things before breakfast’ territory here. (In fairness, given the last five books I’ve read have included vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and various other paranormal stuff, most readers of young adult fiction have to be pretty good at suspending their disbelief these days!)

That said, once you get past that somewhat strange start, there’s an awful lot to like about Paige Harbison’s second novel. Her debut, Here Lies Bridget, was an entertaining read with some solid characters but flawed pacing, at least in my eyes. The pacing here is far better, I must say, and the novel is genuinely exciting as we try to work out just what happened to Becca and whether there’s a chance she’ll return. I also really loved the way the novel follows a dual structure, flicking between the first-person perspective of the new girl and third-person narration following Becca when she first arrived at school, as the two continually end up in similar situations. The two narratives taking place a year apart was also a superb way of showing character development, as we got to see the new girl’s impression of each person, before seeing how Becca’s actions had had an effect on them.

Overall, definite recommendation for fans of intriguing and exciting contemporary fiction.

Sunday Special: New Year's Blogging Resolutions

Firstly - happy new year, everyone!

Secondly, decided to make some resolutions to help me improve my blogging. I figure if I actually make them public, I'm (slightly) more likely to stick with them, so here goes...

1. Post at least 3 times a week. I’m aiming for a minimum of a Tuesday Top Ten, a Waiting on Wednesday, and one review – either a new one or a ‘Spotlight’ at the weekend – every week. That has to be doable, doesn’t it?

2. Review at least three quarters of the YA books I read. There are books I read last year which I really liked, but didn’t get round to writing a review for. I wish I had, because in a couple of cases there doesn’t seem to have been much talk about them and it would be great to help some awesome authors get the recognition they deserve.

3. Get more interviews – I had a fabulous period earlier in the year then kind of tailed of. Aiming for one a month, I think.

4. Read more blogs. I keep deciding I’m too busy to read blogs then waste hours doing something else – how dumb is that? Of course, when I do read them, I really enjoy them, so I should definitely do it more often.

5. Comment more often on blogs. I love receiving comments so the fact that I’ve read goodness knows how many fabulous reviews without always taking the time to leave a comment thanking the blogger is stupid. Must try harder!

6. Read library books more quickly. I’m developing an insanely stupid habit of getting out a library book, not getting round to reading it, renewing it, leaving it another few weeks, and finally trying it after about six weeks only to put it down within a couple of chapters because I don’t like it. I’m going to try and take less out, and read them more promptly, so I’m not keeping them off the shelves.

7. Buy more Kindle books and less iPod apps. I love reading Kindle books on my iPod, but get distracted far too easily by stuff like W.E.L.D.E.R. – (DON’T try it if you get addicted to games!) I’m going to try and limit my game playing time and spend more time reading, especially given the insane amount of books I currently have unread on the Kindle app, and the amount of crazily cheap ones you can pick up if you time it right.

8. Update my interviews and reviews archives EVERY time I publish anything instead of leaving it for months. So easy and quick to do, and I’m always too lazy to do it.

9. Run a giveaway - I've spent all year wanting to run one, but being afraid I'll mess it up! (If anyone has done them and has any advice to give, please leave a comment - thanks!)

If anyone wants to share theirs, leave a comment! Here's to a healthy, happy, and fruitful 2012 for everyone.