Saturday, 31 March 2012

Saturday Special: April YA releases

Haven't read many of next month's, but there are several that look great!

April 1st

The False Prince - Jennifer A. Nielsen
- Looking for another fantasy series to read and this sounds like it might fit the bill, with political intrigue and action apparently abounding.

The List - Siobhan Vivian - Hard-hitting contemporary seems to be getting some mixed reviews but looks very interesting. Love the cover, as well!

April 3rd

Grave Mercy - Robin LaFevers
- I've just started this one on NetGalley and am really impressed so far. Tale of a girl who joins a convent of assassin-nuns is absolutely crazy but very good fun.

FEAR - Michael Grant - I have to be completely honest, I haven't enjoyed the last two books in the Gone series as much as I did the first two. That said, the first two in this nightmare sci-fi about a town where the adults have vanished were staggeringly great, and the others may not have hit those heights but were still good fun. I definitely want to know what happens next!

April 10th

Kill Me Softly - Sarah Cross
- Modern day fairy tale retelling which sounds awesome!

April 12th

Thou Shalt Not Road Trip - Antony John
- You had me at 'road trip' - I love them!

April 17th

Glimmer - Phoebe Kitanidis
- 2 amnesiacs in a mysterious town which seems idyllic but where no-one remembers anything bad at all. Sounds like an intriguing setting!

April 24th

Unraveling - Elizabeth Norris
- Girl gets hit by a truck and killed, only to be mysteriously revived by a boy. While snooping in her FBI agent father's files to find out more, she finds a countdown clock. But what's it counting down to? Can't wait to find out - this looks massively exciting!

Breaking Beautiful - Jennifer Shaw Wolf - Another contemporary, about a girl whose abusive boyfriend dies in a car crash which leaves her with memory loss, sounds hard-hitting and gripping.

The Selection - Kiera Cass - I'm fed up of dystopian AND it has a 'girl in a pretty dress' cover, so I'd normally be avoiding this like the plague. However, the plot sounds intriguing and Kiera's story In The Clearing in the Brave New Love anthology was so good that I'm excited for this one.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Friday Feature: Seven Great Books in Amazon UK's Kindle Spring Sale

I actually had another feature part-written, but I've delayed it slightly to share some incredible bargains in the Amazon UK Kindle Spring Sale. (Lasts until April 12th.) Happy reading!

1. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (99p) - My current front-runner for Book of the Year, this historical novel following the fate of a girl captured by the Gestapo when she's spying in France is exquisite. Review here.

2. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (£1.49) - I already own the hardback, and I've just grabbed this anyway so I can read it on the Kindle app for my iPod whenever I want. This is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read and is a stunning bargain at this price. Review here.

3. Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill (£2.99) - The most expensive book on the list, but under £3 for a novel which runs to just over 700 pages and is absolutely epic in every sense of the word can't be sniffed at. This paranormal series is action-packed, features superb characters, and Hill's world-building is amazing. Review on the Bookbag.

(If you haven't read book 1, start with that one at just £1.99 - review of it here.)

4. Oliver Twisted by JD Sharpe (99p) - Another very recent release, this is published by Egmont's superb new Electric Monkey imprint (as is Code Name Verity) and is a fun update of Dickens' classic with extra demons. Sharpe has pulled off something very clever by keeping some of the original text in place and writing the supernatural stuff around it in places. Whether you're a Dickens fan or just someone looking for a thrilling read, you should give this a try. Review of it on the Bookbag.

5. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (99p) - I struggled to get into this tale of a young girl with Asperger's trying to reach closure on the death of her brother in a school shooting, but one I got used to narrator Caitlin's voice I found it thoughtful and moving. Review here.

6. CHERUB: The Recruit by Robert Muchamore (£1.99) - The start of Muchamore's excitement-filled CHERUB series, this is a great read in its own right.

7. Here Lies Bridget by Paige Harbison (99p) - The tale of a mean girl being shown the error of her ways is somewhat similar to A Christmas Carol. It's uneven - the first bit's too long and the ending seems a tad rushed - but well worth checking out for the price. Review here.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Review of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Verity is a collaborator. Captured by the Gestapo in France in 1943, she agrees to give up information about the war effort – not even in return for her life being spared, but to gain just a few weeks and a quick and merciful death. She tells the tale of how she came to be in France, from the moment she met her friend Maddie, the pilot whose plane she bailed out of, right up until her capture. It’s a gripping tale of friendship, courage, patriotism, love, and family. And nothing – but nothing – is quite as it seems.

I have no idea how to review this. In fact, the only reason I’m even attempting to do so is that I already wimped out of trying to review Looking For Alaska this year and I figured that while not reviewing one of my favourite books of the year was just about forgivable, failing to review two would seem rude.

Anyway, the best advice to give you would be to go and read this NOW. Yes, I could ramble on about Verity and Maddie, the two wonderful heroines, and the way their friendship is handled so beautifully. Yes, I could talk about Weir’s phenomenal writing style, and the superb narration by Verity, which veers between heartbreaking, brutal, gorgeous, and surprisingly funny. I could even tell you how many times I burst into tears reading it. (Actually, the last one’s a lie, I lost count at around page 250.)

But at the end of the day, I’m so terrified of spoiling this incredible novel in even the most minor of details that I think I’ll avoid doing any of that, and just tell you to go and read it.

Highest possible recommendation and a probable front-runner for book of the year.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Tuesday Thoughts: Book Review of Cuba: My Revolution by Inverna Lockpez and Dean Haspiel with Jose Villarrubia

January, 1959. To the delight of Cubans, Fidel Castro marches into Havana, overthrowing Batista and basking in the cheers of his countrymen. 17-year-old Sonya, a budding artist, supports him completely. She gives up thoughts of making a living as a painting to train as a surgeon, a job which will be of more benefit for the revolution. What follows is a nightmare tale of the betrayal of principles, of a regime which goes bad, and of the loss of hope.

Part of me is wondering whether this is really suitable for a site which is meant to specialise in YA books, to be honest - this certainly isn't aimed at younger readers. Sonya is tortured at one point and. while it's never explicit, both the text and art are absolutely brutal in these scenes. That said, it's such an enlightening book that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to more mature teenagers with an interest in history who want to find out more about Cuba. It's based on writer Inverna Lockpez's own experiences and feels utterly authentic. The artwork, by Dean Haspiel, really complements the writing perfectly. Rather than being in full colour, it's told in black and white with splashes of pink and red, mainly used for dresses, roses, and for blood. It's a visually arresting style which is significantly easier to read than normal black and white and which seems to add to the horrors of what Sonya is going through.

Strong recommendation, particularly to fans of historical autobiographies and of graphic novels.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Monday Musings: Book Review of Stalking The Enemy by Jane Prowse (Hattori Hachi 2)

Warning - spoilers for book 1 in the Hattori Hachi series, The Revenge of Praying Mantis, will be found in this review.

That's BIG spoilers!

Huge ones!

If you haven't read book one, DON'T READ THIS REVIEW!

Hattori 'Hattie' Hachi would love the chance to be settle back into normal life now her mum has been freed. But she's always wary of the possibility of an attack by members of the Kataki, knowing she needs to get through to her sixteenth birthday and sign the scroll that will confirm her status as the Golden Child. If her twin brother Toby was to sign the scroll instead and become the Child, who knows what would happen? One thing's for sure - there'll be twists and turns before the big day is reached!

Having really enjoyed the first in the Hattori Hachi series, I was looking forward to this and it certainly didn't disappoint me. The friendship between Hattie, Mad Dog, and Neena is fabulous, and the developing romance between Hattie and Mad Dog is really sweet and nicely understated, never taking over the novel but always there in the background. In addition, the rest of the supporting cast - Hattie's parents, her mentor Yazuki, and long-lost twin Toby, who helped save the day in book one but may still not be trustworthy, are all really good.

It's also an incredibly fast-paced book. It's a relatively short read at a little over 200 pages, but it there's so much action in it that another author would probably have spun it out to 500 or so. As much as I like the occasional epic, it's great to have an exciting action story that can be read in just one or two sittings. As well as that, the concept feels really fresh and despite having a girl as a central character it's definitely not a 'girly' book - boys will be just as hooked by this one! In true ninjutsu style, though, Hattie uses her skills responsibly and is a great role model.

This is becoming a really enjoyable series and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to Hattie in book 3, Curse of the Diamond Daggers!

Speaking of which, it's being published by Unbound - see the bit below, taken from my review of book one, if you'd like to play a part in funding the book - and get some cool stuff!

"Interestingly, while the first two were released by Piccadilly Press, the third is being offered via Unbound - a relatively new company where books - and swag - can be preordered, with refunds given if a certain target isn't met. It's a site which is publishing Red Dwarf's Robert Llewellyn, Labyrinth author Kate Mosse, and Monty Python's Terry Jones, amongst others, so clearly has the potential to be a real success. Rather than just release the third book on its own, they're bringing out the entire trilogy as a deluxe hardback - prices for pledges are £10 for an e-book version, £20 for the 1st edition hardback with your name in the back, or £50 for a signed first edition hardback (both with e-books included free). If you've got some cash spare, you can also get some interesting stuff for a bit more expenditure - £500 to have my name used for a character is somewhat out of my price league, but might tempt some people looking for a unique present, especially as it comes with 2 hardbacks and 2 e-books. I have to admit, £60 for a signed hardback and the ninja club kit of a Hattie hoodie, rubber throwing stars and access to a secret page on the website is probably tempting me rather more than it should for someone of my age...

If you're interested in playing a part in funding the trilogy, check out the trilogy's page on Unbound. If not, just enjoy this as a fun and thoughtful action novel."

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Sunday Special: Author Interview with Cat Clarke

Having reviewed, and really enjoyed, Torn by Cat Clarke, I was incredibly pleased to get the chance to ask this fabulous author some questions.

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

Someone impossibly good-looking, wise beyond their years and charming in every way. Or someone a bit like me. I write the sort of books I like to read.

2. Torn tells the story of a school trip gone horribly wrong - what was your own worst experience on a school trip or a holiday?

Well, there was the time I fainted getting on a ski lift and the instructor thought I was just messing around and wouldn’t stop shouting at me. Or the time my roommates and I (all aged 14ish) had to barricade ourselves in our room to protect ourselves from drunken sixth-form boys on the rampage. Or a potholing incident that might have inspired a scene in TORN (except it was about 83% less embarrassing than that scene). Needless to say, school trips were not my favourite thing in the world.

I was sick on the way back from Alton Towers once. I thought that had traumatised me for life, but looking at your experiences, I'm starting to think I was quite lucky...

3. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack to Torn?

I do! I find it very hard to write without music. For TORN, I listened to a lot of My Chemical Romance, Imogen Heap and Owl City. And when I say ‘a lot’, I mean ‘A LOT’. I often listen to the same album on repeat for days and days – sometimes even the same song (Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek being a perfect example).

What a fab soundtrack! I'm a huge fan of MCR and Owl City, in particular.

4. You have a great website and you're a frequent tweeter. How important do you think an online presence is to a YA author today?

I think it’s pretty much essential, unless your name happens to be Stephenie Meyer or Suzanne Collins. It’s a brilliant way to connect with readers and, for me, it helps to maintain my sanity when I’m locked away with only my pets and imaginary friends to talk to. Having said that, my Twitter addiction may be getting a little out of control. There may be a stint in rehab (tweehab?) in my future.

5. On the aforementioned website, you name Christopher Pike as one of your writing heroes. (Fabulous choice, by the way!) Which is your favourite of his books?

Now this is a tricky one! I loved so many of his books, but special mentions must go to the FINAL FRIENDS trilogy and REMEMBER ME. If you put a gun to my head (and please don’t do that) I’d have to go with THE MIDNIGHT CLUB, which is set in a hospice for teenagers with terminal cancer. It was probably the first book to make me cry.

Have never read the Midnight Club but it sounds great - I'll have to check it out! Final Friends is one of my favourite YA series ever - staggeringly well done.

6. What are you reading now and how are you finding it?

I’m reading THE STRAW MEN by Michael Marshall. I was looking for a scary read and someone on Twitter recommended it to me. It’s certainly not disappointing on the scary front, I can tell you that much!

Part of me wants to check it out, but having spent 4 of the past 6 Sundays reading scary stuff and needing until 2:30 in the morning to get to sleep every time, I'll perhaps leave it until later in the week! (Hollow Pike, A Witch In Winter, Poison Heart and Choker being the books at fault there.)

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

I’d ask Stephenie Meyer if chapter 13 of Twilight REALLY came to her in a dream or if that’s just a nice story. And she’d probably tell me to get lost, which would be fair enough I suppose.

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

It’s the same advice I’d give to anyone wanting to write ANYTHING. Read. A lot. Read books in your chosen genre, then read outside your genre, then read some more.

9. If you could collaborate with another author on a novel, who would you choose and why?

I’d collaborate with my awesome critique partner, Lauren. She’s an incredible writer, and working with her would be massively fun. I think it would involve pub-based writing sessions too. This might actually happen in the not-so-distant future, you know...

Let's hope so! Sounds like the resulting book could be a lot of fun!

10. What's next for Cat Clarke?

I’m writing two books this year. *tries not to panic* *fails miserably* I haven’t quite finished the book I was meant to finish last year yet, hence the panic. The book I haven’t quite finished yet is my third YA for Quercus. At the moment it’s called UNDONE, although this could change! I should really get back to writing it, I guess...

Thanks so much for asking such awesome questions!

No problem, Cat - and thanks for giving such wonderful answers! Good luck with Undone!

Saturday Special: Book Review of Fables: Legends In Exile (v1, TPB) by Bill Willingham

(This book contains the first 5 issues of the Fables series.)

Forced out of the Homelands by the evil Adversary, the characters in Fables have made their way to New York City. Those of them who look relatively human, at least. With Old King Cole as Mayor (in name, at least, despite his deputy Snow White running the show), Bigby Wolf as the Sheriff, and Prince Charming being, well, charming, towards every woman he can, these are characters you’ll already know and love – but portrayed in a way that completely reinvigorates them.

This first collected edition of the comic, containing the original five issues, is spellbinding. From the moment Jack (who’s a mixture of pretty much every Jack in fairy tale lore) reports the possible death of Snow’s sister Rose Red, to the wonderful ending, the dialogue is sparky, the characters are wonderfully captured both in their speech and in their pictures, and there’s just enough backstory given at the start to let readers get an idea of how the Fables came to NYC without drowning them in exposition.

Every character here is a delight, but my personal favourites are Snow and Bigby – although I’ll also cheerfully admit to a soft spot for the pig from the house of straw, who’s escaped from the Farm (where Fables who can’t appear human) live, and is crashing on Bigby’s couch since Bigby owes him a favour for destroying his house.

By the way, this may be a comic, but it’s certainly aimed at adults, or well-read teens, rather than young kids. When we finally learn the details of how the Fables lost the Homelands, it’s told in a way that’s clearly meant to parallel Martin Niemöller’s ‘’First they came…’’ statement, while the denouement is a ‘parlor room scene’ worthy of Agatha Christie – both likely to be lost on most younger readers. Also, Prince Charming boasts of his ‘’cocksmanship’’, and the language used by a few characters is choice.

The artwork is breathtaking – there’s a close-up of Snow after Beauty mentions her ‘’tawdry little adventure with those seven dwarves’’ which captures her restrained fury beautifully, and a wonderful long shot of the hall where she holds court which shows a host of fairy-tale items surrounding the characters, just in the first few pages. The quality stays consistently high throughout the entire book, and makes it a real pleasure to just flick back and look at individual panels once you’ve read the fabulous story in full.

Very strong recommendation.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Twist Literary

Having really enjoyed Alibi, the new series from Twist Literary, I was keen to find out more about the publisher. They stopped by to answer a few questions...

1. Can you tell us a bit about the idea behind Twist Literary in general, and debut series ALIBI in particular?

Sure! We are long-time lovers of YA and have watched it grow from a category nobody paid attention to into an unstoppable force of nature. With the dawn of the digital publishing era, we felt that there was an opportunity to play with the storytelling construct in a way that traditional books just don't allow. That was the initial spark of the idea for Twist Literary - to produce YA e-books with a twist. In the case of our debut series ALIBI, that twist is having the larger story unfold within the separate mini-stories of four different characters. Some of the scenes overlap so you see select interactions from two different perspectives, which is really fun. Some of the scenes are completely unique to the character, or are continuations of "what happened after" another character left. As the reader you get to see things you normally wouldn't be able to and the result is really fun!

2. In addition to ALIBI, are there other series in the pipeline we can look forward to? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?

Rubs hands together. Yes! We actually have two new series in the pipeline. One is about the backstage drama at a TV talent competition and the other is about an elite secret society at a boarding school where everyone has something to hide. We have lots of surprises in store and can't wait to share them with our readers.

3. Your website states that your authors are 'up-and-coming voices in YA fiction'. It's great to see some new authors get the chance for something like this. How did you pick the authors you have on board?

We've been a part of the YA writing community for a while, and along the way you get to meet some pretty great authors who are just waiting for their "big break." For our debut series we reached out to people we thought were particularly talented, and a good potential fit for our characters, and asked them to audition by writing a scene between two of our characters. We screened a lot of writers and the four that you're reading here were the ones who really blew us away - they embodied the characters we created on every level, bringing them to life in a way that the story on the page could never do on its own.

4. Was it difficult coordinating the story of ALIBI, given that it's written by 4 different authors?

Oh Jim, you have no idea - this was plotting in maximum overdrive! As the characters revealed themselves to us and our authors, we had to be really mindful of the consequences of every action on the other characters in the story. It took a lot of white boards, spreadsheets, careful editing, and moxy to make it all come together. But we are so thrilled with the result!

5. What kind of readers are you hoping Twist Literary will appeal to? More than anything, we hope it will appeal to discriminating teen readers. While we often draw comparisons between other popular teen series (which we love!), we also hope the quality and sophistication of the stories and writing will draw in lovers of all well-written YA. We'd love to see fans of authors like Courtney Summers, E. Lockhart, and Siobhan Vivian embrace Twist's collection.

6. I love the Twitter teasers for ALIBI, introducing the characters! Can we expect to see more social media used for future books by Twist Literary?

Absolutely! We want our readers to be able to engage with our stories and characters on multiple levels, and social media is a big part of that. Along those lines we have a few tricks up our sleeve - more "twists" to engage our readers will be coming soon, so stay tuned.

I certainly will - I can't wait to see what comes next! Thanks for stopping by.

Remember, if you'd like to read Alibi, please stop by my giveaway!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Alibi by Annie Miles, Isabel Eckersley, John Byrne and Sorrel Provola

Abigail Shelton is dead.

And given she was found floating in her boyfriend's pool, with her hands tied behind her back and her head bleeding, she was pretty obviously murdered. But who on earth would want to kill a sweet young lady like Abby? There are four suspects - each has an alibi, but they also have a motive. Whodunnit? Read this new 4 book series to find out...

Twist Literary are a new publisher with an intriguing idea - to publish serial novellas with, as the name suggests, plenty of twists and turns. This debut series has got the concept off to a great start! The four books each focus on one of the main suspects for the killing of Abby, who are all really well developed characters. They're fun to read about and most of them are likeable - but each one has a secret they don't want other people knowing. Is it one worth killing for? Maybe...

Given this series was written by four separate authors, the characters are impressively consistent, by the way. I liked Charles slightly more than the other three but everyone's bound to have their own favourite - notably, though, every time we see a character from a new viewpoint we learn more about them. The return to scenes we've seen in previous novellas but from a different viewpoint is superb, and really works well as a way to slowly reveal more and more every time. I also thought the writing styles of the quartet of authors were great - the publisher are targetting this at fans of series like Gossip Girl, and as someone who really enjoyed the first few GG novels, at least, I think that lovers of this type of book will get a huge kick out of this series.

By the way, the books are just a couple of pounds, or three dollars, each, but you'll save some money by buying the full series at once - I'd certainly recommend this.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed this series and can't wait to see more from Twist Literary! (And for some details on what comes next, check back tomorrow for a feature...)

Finally, I'd like to thank the good people at Twist who not only provided me with a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review, but have also provided me with a second electronic copy for a giveaway! To enter, see below.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: What's Up With Jody Barton by Hayley Long

"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: 24th May 2012

From Amazon UK

Me and my sister are twins. She's Jolene and I'm Jody. We've both got brown hair, we're both left-handed and we both have these weirdly long little toes which make us look like long-toed mutants. But apart from that, I'd say we're fairly different. Well, actually, we're a lot different . . . It's hard enough being one half of the world's least identical twins, without both of you falling for the same guy. Jolene's turned flirting into a fine art, but Jody? Not so much. And as if a twinny love triangle wasn't messy enough . . . there's something nobody knows about Jody Barton. Something BIG. Told with the trademark warmth and laugh-out-loud humour of the much-loved LOTTIE BIGGS books, this is a book that will make you think, with a gobsmacking twist you won't believe.

Why I Can't Wait:

Hayley Long is just a fabulous, wonderful author, and I'm excited by the chance to read something else by her having loved her Lottie Biggs series. Plot summary sounds fun as well, but I was keen to get my hands on this from the moment I heard about it just because of who the author was.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Spring To Be (Re)Read List!

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

Something a little different here - I've somehow gone the first 2 1/2 months of the year without rereading anything, a new record for me, so one of my aims for the spring is to reread some old favourites. Here are 10:

1. Drina series by Jean Estoril - I reread individual books fairly often but haven't gone through the entire series for a while and Bunheads by Sophie Flack has got me wanting to return to these ballet classics. Probably my all-time favourite series, this has wonderful characters who develop brilliantly throughout the series and are lovely comfort reads.

2. Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher - Speaking of comfort reads, this is perhaps my all-time favourite of them. My old copy fell apart - it was already reasonably battered when I was given it second-hand by my aunt, and reading it a dozen or so times didn't help its condition. A couple of years ago a student I taught was thoughtful enough to give me a book token when he left school and I bought a new copy to replace it. Definitely looking forward to returning to it!

3. Wereworld: Rage of Lions by Curtis Jobling - I read book 2 in the amazing Wereworld series after getting it from the library. Having reviewed the other 2, I feel I need to review this one to fill the gap but don't think I could do it justice without a reread!

4. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson - One of the best contemporary YA books for years, this gorgeous road trip book was stunning. I can't wait for Matson's upcoming Second Chance Summer but this will help tide me over.

5. Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty - Moriarty is crazily talented and creates some of the best books around, pulling together exam answers, letters, blog entries, assignments and poetry to create a truly unique narrative. Somehow, I never returned to this one after reading it on its release 2 years ago - I definitely need to put that right!

6. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald - Jillian Larkin's superb Vixen has got me wanting to read more Jazz Age books, and while I'm sure there are plenty out there to discover for the first time, I'll have to reread the ultimate one just once more before trying anything new. Perhaps the greatest novel ever written, despite its short length, this tragic tale of the dark side of the American dream never fails to move me.

7. The Moorehawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan - I love epic fantasy and these three books - The Poison Throne, The Crowded Shadows and The Rebel Prince - just edge out the orignal Dragonlance trilogy and the Dark is Rising sequence as the best of all-time for me. Romance, political intrigue, and moral dilemmas make this an outstanding series.

8. The Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey - I enjoyed the first book but thought it was too long, loved the second, and found the third to be absolutely phenomenal despite its epic length. I'm so hooked on this wonderful Victorian horror series that I'd love to go back to the start and see Will Henry and Dr Peregrine Warthrop's tale unfold.

9. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson - Breathtakingly, incredibly, heartbreakingly beautiful. One of the best ever YA books, without a shadow of a doubt.

10. We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen - Third adult entry on my list, this Scandinavian seafaring epic - mainly told by a Greek chorus of unseen dwellers in the town of Marstal - is a century-spanning tale which combines romance, adventure, war, comedy, coming-of-age, and some of the most beautiful and beguiling writing of the last decade. I fell in love with this one within a hundred pages or so and am looking forward to returning to it.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Monday Musings: Book Review of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

The Comedian is dead. In a world where costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and former superheroes are either retired or working for the government, the murder of his former teammate leads the outlaw Rorschach to investigate. What he finds could change the world...

Bleak, thought-provoking, and featuring an ending which is one of the greatest ever in any medium, Watchmen is an absolute must-read. I have read thousands of comics and graphic novels in my life, including some of the all-time classics, and there are several which rank as some of the very best works of fiction I've ever laid my hands on. This one, though, towers above the rest to a staggering degree. Part of its genius is the way the book is laid out - interspersed with the main story, we get the wonderful Tales of the Black Freighter back-up, which tells a story being read by one of the comic's characters. This shows a man stranded on a desert island desperately trying to return to his hometown to save it from pirates, and is in itself an outstanding piece of work. As well as the two narratives, we get prose pieces to supplement our understanding of Watchmen's universe. Ranging from former hero Hollis Brown's autobiography extracts to newspaper articles and letters, they perfectly play their part in telling us about the setting. As good as the writing is, Dave Gibbons produces breathtaking illustrations which play just as much of a part in making this such a phenomenal book.

Watchmen is also a great starting point for people who don't usually read comics. With a set of new characters, the backstory is all explained for you, so a newcomer to comics won't get the same daunting feeling they might from seeing the mountain of books available featuring heroes like the X-Men, superman or Batman. And oh, what characters they are! Rorschach is an incredible antihero, Doctor Manhattan - the only one to be truly superpowered - incredibly sympathetic despite his awe-inspiring abilities, and the rest fit into the story perfectly.

I've intentionally kept my plot summary, and my thoughts on the characters, to the bare bones, by the way. The story, if you don't already know it, deserves to be discovered for itself as much as possible. Highest possible recommendation, truly incredible.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Sunday Special: Interview with Margie Gelbwasser

I found Margie Gelbwasser's Pieces of Us to be one of the most disturbing YA books I've ever read, but it was incredibly well-written. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to find out a bit more about this talented author.

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

I see teens and adults, males and females, often parents and their teens reading my books together.

2. Pieces of Us is exceptionally hard-hitting and I know you've talked eloquently about the importance of teens reading 'envelope pushing' books. What are some of your other favourite YA books dealing with tough issues?

Anything by Ellen Hopkins, although IDENTICAL is my favorite. I feel she isn't afraid to put out there the dark topics teens are sometimes forced to confront. Laurie Halse Anderson's books address difficult issues as well and serve as a voice for many teens. Cheryl Rainfield's novels also don't shy away from the truths she lived as well as too many teens today. When I was a teen, I devoured books by Norma Fox Mazer and Norma Klein. They were unlike anything I ever read before because they didn't just talk about crushes or parties. They delved deeper and dealt with abuse, student-teacher relationships, incest, teenage pregnancy. The topics and characters were so real and I was so thankful to have them.

I love Laurie Halse Anderson but have never read anything by the other four – will definitely check them out!

3. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack to Pieces of Us?

I actually need silence when I write or I can't focus. But I am often asked about playlists for my novels, and I do imagine certain songs telling the scenes in my books. It's just that I get lazy to write them down. I think I will come up with a playlist for POU, though. Suggestions welcome. :-)

Sounds like a challenge to my readers! I'll start off with something from Black Parade-era My Chemical Romance - maybe Disenchanted?

4. There are serious issues in Pieces of Us between parents and their kids. Who do you think is the worst ever fictional parent? How about the best?

Great question! Worst fictional parent is Snow White's stepmother. Cinderella's was bad too, but Snow White trumps because at least Cinderella's stepmom did not try to kill her. The best goes to Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. He was firm and loving and strived to show his children what fairness, justice, and kindness truly were.

Totally agree, especially on Atticus – definitely one of my favourite ever characters!

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

I would tell them to read many YA novels, specifically in the kind of genre they want to write (e.g. sci-fi, supernatural, contemp, etc.) so they can get a feel for the types of YA books out there today. I would also tell them to hang out with a few teens to see how they interact and to find out what's important to them. Watching teen shows never hurts either (I do this a lot and tell myself it's not wasting time as it's for work :-)).

Watching teen shows is always good! My personal all-time favourites are Buffy, Gilmore Girls and The OC.

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

I have always enjoyed Edith Wharton's work. Not only was she a phenomenal writer with the ability to put the reader so easily into a different time period, but she also really pushed the boundaries with her work back then. I read, too, that she had a really colorful life, went against the grain a lot, didn't fit into the expected mold of what women were supposed to be in the late 19th century and early 20th century. So I would like to ask her about all these things. It would be a terrific conversation over cocktails.

7. Kyle's parts of Pieces of Us are written in the second person narrative, one of the very few times I've seen it used in YA fiction - what made you decide to use this?

From the moment I heard Kyle's voice, it was in second person. To me, he was so damaged, that he had to remove himself from the situation to able to tell what was occurring. Originally, though, he was the first character to speak, and my editor thought it better to put him in a little later. He said he once heard, “Friends don't let friends write in second person,” which cracked me up. However, he did say he understood why Kyle was in second person and supported me. And I'm thankful I listened about moving Kyle's POV a little later into the story because a lot of people, I'm learning, have issues with stories told in 2nd person. Had I started with Kyle, I don't know how many people would have bothered to read further. :-)

8. I just found the amazing piece you wrote on your top 10 Cartoon Hotties a few years ago - you clearly have similar taste in cartoons to me! Who do you think would win in a fight between Eric from Dungeons and Dragons, Lion-O, He-Man and Iceman?

Calling it amazing is generous, but thanks. More like goofy. :-) cute as I think Eric is, he does not stand a chance against Lion-O, He-Man or Iceman, so let's take him out of the running. As for the remaining three, while Iceman has superpowers, I don't think he has the whole package of skills, powers, and wisdom. We're then left with Lion-O and He-Man, which is a very close call. In the end, I'd say He-Man will win, but only if we're looking at an earlier Lion-O. When Lion-O's spaceship crashes to Third Earth, his body didn't stop aging. So we see someone who looks like a man, but he's really 12. As the series went on, he had to learn to be a leader, control his anger, perfect his powers. He-Man, on the other hand, is already a man. He knows what's at stake. He can control his emotions. If we're looking at a mature Lion-O, a few years down the road, then I'd say it's up for grabs.

I’ll go He-Man as well, I think. Although you’ve either been watching this stuff more recently than I have or have got a MUCH better memory than me! Fab answer, thanks.

9. You're active on Twitter, have a great website, and have written some fantastic articles around the net. How important do you think an online presence is to an author today?

Very important. And it's been hard for me. I'm really extroverted and interact with people much better in person. I love being able to sit down with someone and joke around and discuss topics. Online, it's very hard to make that come through, and it was also difficult to figure out how much you had to be on all these media. One friend told me the other day to think of Twitter as a party. You don't walk into a party and try to pick up a conversation from hours before. Just go in, see what's happening, and take it from there. I like that idea a lot and it's a lot less pressure than to think you have to be on top of hours of info. And since everyone interacts so much online and that's how most readers find out about you, it's important to build up some kind of presence. As for what that means, it's up to each author to decide what makes him/her comfortable.

I’ve been trying to take that advice on Twitter since I first read this answer a week or so ago and am finding it really useful – please say thanks to your friend for me!

10. What's next for Margie Gelbwasser?

I finished an MG book I'd love to get out there. I like the story a lot and it would be nice to have something younger kids can read. I'm also about 10K words into a new YA. While this one deals with an issue also (abusive relationship but where the guy is abused by his girlfriend), I promise it is not as dark as Pieces of Us. :-) And I have an idea for a cute, light YA too. We'll see what comes of that.

Thanks so much for having me! These questions have been fantastic. So original!

Can’t wait for your next books, and thanks so much for taking the time to share those answers with us!

Also, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank JKS Communications for setting this interview up!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Saturday Spotlight: Book Review of Coping With Chloe by Rosalie Warren

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.

Anna and Chloe are twins who share everything. If anything, the terrible accident Chloe suffered has brought them closer. Apart from teacher Miss Tough and new boy Joe, though, everyone seems worried by Anna's references to her twin. They seem to think Chloe's dead – but can't they understand the two girls are just sharing a body? Then Chloe falls for Joe, who Anna likes herself, and Anna is left trying to see how this could ever work…

I was fighting off tears at about six different points in this book despite it being reasonably short at around 200 pages. Warren captures the desolation of a child after a sibling's death perfectly, leaving the reader to decide whether Chloe is 'really' there or whether she's a manifestation of her twin's grief. I leant one way for most of the novel but got pushed another way towards the end, leaving me rather confused – but to be honest it's probably not that important which you believe, the book works equally well either way. There are also other fairly major issues involved in the novel, including child abuse, bullying, and parental separation, but Warren handles these all deftly and has enough lightness of touch to mean that while it's always a really emotional read, she manages to stop things from ever getting too overwhelmingly bad.

I loved the character of Anna in particular – but also had a soft spot for Miss Tough – and found her parents incredibly realistic, if phenomenally annoying. Joe was the one character I had slightly more mixed feelings on, finding his willingness to talk to the dead Chloe rather more unsettling than I think Warren intended. As love triangles go, this is definitely amongst the most bizarre I've ever read but the romance actually works reasonably well. Warren also does a great job of capturing the nastiness of bully Lisa and her hangers-on, and readers will be desperate to see her get her well-deserved comeuppance.

This has established Warren as an author I'm keen to read more of in the future and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to young teen readers, but it's an original enough idea and execution that people several years older than the characters here will still enjoy it.

Friday Feature: Ten Top Tips for Writing YA by Jeanne Bannon - part of the Invisible Blog Tour

I was able to grab a spot on Jeanne Bannon's Invisible Blog Tour - many thanks to Honey Bee Promotions for coordinating this! Jeanne was kind enough to pass on her tips on writing YA, along with a couple of extracts from Invisible. Thanks Jeanne!

Ten Top Tips for Writing YA

1. Don’t worry about guidelines for word count. The rule of thumb for YA novels is to write at least 50,000 words, but my advice is to write until the story is done. Don’t get too stuck on word count. You’ll know instinctively when your story is complete.

2. Be authentic. Teens will recognize a phony narrative or character right away. Don’t hold back on language either. If a character is the kind who swears, then write them that way.

3. Don’t be preachy. If there is a message in your novel, sprinkle it in and don’t be too in your face. Watch for author intrusion. You don’t want your teenage audience knowing a 40-year-old is writing the story, lol.

4. Try to remember what it was like to be a teen. Put yourself in their shoes. If you have teens in your life, talk to them and listen to them. It will help with authenticity.

5. Let someone in your target audience read your novel and take their advice to heart.

6. Read, read, read. Read other YA novels.

7. Join a writing critique group for input. I find this to be extremely helpful. Having other sets of eyes on your work will help you find things you’ve missed.

8. Don’t make too many of your characters sulky and complaining. Be sure to make your main character likeable. He or she can, and should, still have their flaws, but on the whole you want your readers to like and identify with him or her.

9. Leave your chapters off on a cliff hanger when possible. Make your readers want to turn the page.

10. Enjoy the process. Have fun. And leave your readers wanting a sequel.

Jeanne's book Invisible is out now and looks great!

Lola’s not pretty. Lola’s not popular. Lola wishes she could disappear … and then one day she does just that... For seventeen-year-old Lola Savullo, life is a struggle. Born to funky parents who are more in than she could ever be, Lola’s dream of becoming a writer makes her an outsider even in her own home. Bullied and despised, Lola still has the support of her best pal Charlie and Grandma Rose. Not only is she freakishly tall, Lola’s a big girl and when forced to wear a bathing suit at her summer job as a camp counselor, Lola’s only escape from deep embarrassment seems to be to literally vanish. Soon after, she discovers the roots of her new “ability”. Slowly, with Charlie’s help, Lola learns to control the new super power. The possibilities are endless. Yet power can be abused, too… Then, when tragedy strikes, Lola must summon her inner strength, both at home and at school. She has to stand up for herself, despite the temptations and possibilities of her newfound super power. A coming-of-age story that will warm the heart.

Extract from Invisible:

Chapter Three

I always leave Grandma Rose’s apartment with a smile on my face and an ache in my heart. I wish my mother were like her. How lucky for my mom to have such a wonderful, almost normal, mother. I’m stuck with a parent in an ever-present state of adolescence, whose life’s mission is to desperately hang onto what’s left of her looks. My mom, with her rat’s nest of hair stacked high on her head, dyed cherry red with chunky blonde highlights and dark brown lowlights, and extensions thrown in for good measure. A woman can’t ever have too much hair, she’s forever saying. Giving me her version of what passes as parental advice. I prefer Gran’s words of wisdom – “extensions make a woman look trampy” and “dye your hair only when the white comes in.” It seems more dignified, because I think a woman can have too much hair.

Dad’s just as bad, with his funky jeans, Ed Hardy T-shirts, pointy-toed boots, pierced ears, tattoos and a soul patch. He’s going to be fifty next year, for God’s sake. The thought makes me cringe. I live with dim-witted middle-aged teenagers.

Gran tells me all the time it’s not what’s on the outside that’s important and I know she’s right. I suppose I’m a bit of a hypocrite, since I’m always complaining about my weight or my height, or the fact I don’t have a boyfriend. But I’m supposed to be obsessed with fitting in and with my looks; after all, I’m the teenager.

It’s only a ten-minute walk home from Gran’s. I tilt my face toward the sun, soaking in the warmth of the spring day as I make my way along familiar streets. When I approach the park on the corners of Whiteside Avenue and Moorehouse Drive, I stop dead. Sudden dread causes the beat of blood to fill my ears.

There are three boys and a girl – Nino Campese, Tyler Campbell, his girlfriend Julia and Jon Kingsbury. They’re seniors like me and even though we’ve known each other since kindergarten, once adolescence hit and separated the weak from the strong, the cool from the nerd, I became prey. I was hunted by those better looking, and with more attitude, simply for their entertainment.

I plunge my hands into the pockets of my jean jacket and hang my head. Taking large quick steps, I tread quietly. They’re talking and laughing and the foul scent of cigarette smoke wafts past me in the breeze. From the corner of my eye, I spot Julia and Tyler sharing a butt as they cling together under the large plastic orange slide. Nino’s holding court and Tyler’s laughing at something Nino has said and Jon, well Jon just stands there, looking bored.

Why is he with them? My heart sinks. I thought Jon was different.

Tyler’s eyes flicker my way; immediately I pick up my pace.

“Hey!” someone yells.

I don’t answer.

“Where do you think you’re goin’, ya fat cow?” Nino hollers, as he jogs up beside me followed by Julia and Tyler.

“Home,” I say, not stopping.

Nino jumps into my path. “Where’s your girlfriend, Savullo?” He sneers and spits a snotty gob at my feet.

“Lesbo freak,” Julia chimes in and flicks a butt at my face.

It bounces off my chin with a burning sting. I glare down at her with her hawkish nose and eyes that are too close together. “Get out of my way,” I growl through gritted teeth and try to step around them, but Tyler grabs my elbow, his fingers bite into my flesh and a small groan escapes me.

“We’re not done talkin’ yet, hippo,” he snarls.

I yank free. Tears sting my eyes and the heat of anger and embarrassment reddens my face.

“Leave me alone!” I scream and push. Tyler’s tall, but skinny and I manage to knock him on his ass. But as soon as I take a step, Nino and Julia are on me.

“Leave her alone,” Jon calls. He hung back from the action and is still standing by the orange slide.

I slam a shoulder into Julia’s face and hear a crunch as my bulk meets her nose. Blood spurts and the purple blur of manicured nails flash past, as she whips a hand to her face.

She gazes up at me in surprise. “You broke my nose, you bitch!” Then she looks at Tyler with eyes that say “you better do something about this.”

My heart beats so hard, the swishing of blood in my ears is a roar. They’re swearing, yelling and threatening me, but panic has taken over as adrenaline pushes into my veins, and I make out nothing coherent.

I turn and try to run back the way I’d come. But another hand is on me, biting the flesh of my upper arm through the fabric of my jacket. Then a fist smashes into the back of my head. “You’re nothin’ but a fat dyke.”

My knees smack the gritty concrete as my legs buckle, and deep heaving sobs erupt from me. Why do they hate me?

“Where the hell did she go?” Nino asks, his voice laced with astonishment.

“Holy shit!” Julia and Tyler exclaim at the same time. “What the…?”

Slowly, I pivot and look at them. They’re turning in circles, searching for me.

Jon is with them now. “She’s gone,” he whispers in wide-eyed disbelief.

“What? How?” Nino asks.

I creep away on elastic legs.

Bio of Jeanne Bannon:

I’ve worked in the publishing industry for over twenty years. I started my career as a freelance journalist, then worked as an in-house editor for LexisNexis Canada and currently work as a freelance editor and writer.

I’ve had several short stories published and won first place in the Writes of Caledon Short Story Contest. My novels, The Barely Boy and Dark Angel were finalists in the 2010 and 2011 Strongest Start Contests. One of my short stories “Thom’s Journey” is part of an Anthology entitled A Visitor to Sandahl and is available at

Invisible, my debut novel, is about a teenage girl who isn’t happy with herself and wishes she could disappear. And one day she does. Invisible is available on Amazon, Smashwords, and the Solstice Publishing website.

When not reading or writing, I enjoy being with my daughters, Nina and Sara and my husband, David. I’m also the proud mother of two fur babies, a sweet Miniature Schnauzer named Emily and Spencer, a rambunctious tabby, who can be a very bad boy.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Sinking Deeper - Or My Questionable (Possibly Heroic) Decision to Invent a Sea Monster?

(I was sent a copy of Sinking Deeper by author Steve Vernon in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

Fourteen-year-old Roland MacTavish never expects to move away from Deeper Harbour and his grandfather, who's also his best friend. His mother is the mayor and his father is the police chief - why on earth would he leave the seaside town? But when his parents announce they're divorcing and his mother is stepping down as mayor to move to Ottawa, taking Roland with her, the youngster knows this calls for a plan. Can he, Granddad Angus, and Dulcie the "punk-goth-freakazoid" rejuvenate the sleepy town as a tourist hotspot by creating a sea monster?

I have such a backlog of stuff to read that I nearly replied to author Steve Vernon's request that I reviewed this with a 'thanks but no thanks' e-mail. However, the subtitle intrigued me enough to check it out and I'm really glad I did - this is something of a gem. Right from the opening chapter, in which Angus and Dulcie break narrator Roland out of an unlocked jail cell as it's more dramatic than just tapping on the door, it's a captivating and charming tale. It helps that at rather less than 200 pages long, it's fast-paced, doesn't waste any words, and has a fun and engaging plot. Roland himself and Angus are by far the two best-developed characters - I would have liked to see a bit more of Dulcie, who arguably feels like a bit of a third wheel in the combination for much of the book despite a great introduction to her - but the rest of the cast are fun to read about as well, and the sleepy backwater town is a setting that I loved. Roland has a sarcastic narrative style which works well for the majority of the book although occasionally gets a little bit too much. There are some fabulous quotes, including Roland's optimistic philosophy “A ‘we’ll see’ can always develop into a ‘let me think about it,’ which might evolve into a fully grown ‘why the heck not?’”

I wasn't sure what to expect from the ending but found it to be really sweet and surprisingly moving. I enjoyed this one a lot and would definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Meant To Be by Lauren Morrill

"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: 13th November 2012

From Goodreads

Meant to be or not meant to be . . . that is the question.

It's one thing to fall head over heels into a puddle of hazelnut coffee, and quite another to fall for the—gasp—wrong guy. Straight-A junior Julia may be accident prone, but she's queen of following rules and being prepared. That's why she keeps a pencil sharpener in her purse and a pocket Shakespeare in her, well, pocket. And that's also why she's chosen Mark Bixford, her childhood crush, as her MTB ("meant to be").

But this spring break, Julia's rules are about to get defenestrated (SAT word: to be thrown from a window) when she's partnered with her personal nemesis, class-clown Jason, on a school trip to London. After one wild party, Julia starts receiving romantic texts . . . from an unknown number! Jason promises to help discover the identity of her mysterious new suitor if she agrees to break a few rules along the way. And thus begins a wild goose chase through London, leading Julia closer and closer to the biggest surprise of all: true love.

Because sometimes the things you least expect are the most meant to be.

Why I Can't Wait:

There's a plot summary with the word 'defenestrated' in. How can you not love that?! Also, I'm on a major contemporary kick at the moment and this sounds extremely cool.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten YA Contemporary Books

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

This week, bloggers got free rein to choose any genre, and after much thinking, I went for YA contemporary as I've read some amazing books in this genre fairly recently.

We Can Be Heroes by Catherine Bruton - Jam packed with issues - bereavement, prejudice towards Muslims, and family problems - but with a light enough touch to be a great read, this is stunning.

Beat The Band by Don Calame - Gross-out humour at its finest. As good as Swim The Fly was, this sequel, focusing on the unruly Coop is an absolutely sidesplitting coming of age tale.

When I Was Joe by Keren David - Action packed, exciting, and harrowing. This thriller about a boy in the witness protection scheme and the girl he falls for can be hard to read at times it's so intense, but you won't be able to put it down when you've started it. Sequel Almost True is also superb.

Before I Die by Jenny Downham - I welled up watching the trailer for the upcoming movie based on this one. The book had me in floods by the last few chapters. Heartbreaking but a must read.

Looking for Alaska by John Green - Staggering, but near-unreviewable because I was so petrified of spoiling it. All I'll tell you is it's heartbreaking, wonderful, and often hilarious.

Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt - Book of the year so far for me, this romance featuring a girl scarred from a car crash and a boy shunned as a New Age traveller has it all. Fabulous characters, wonderful writing, and a brilliant plot.

Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad by Hayley Long - Starts off light-hearted, becomes a surprisingly deep study of mental illness. Wonderfully well written and a hugely likeable heroine in Lottie.

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson - I love road trip books and movies in general and this stands out as the very, very best. The scrapbook style makes it gorgeous to look at while the writing is superb.

Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty - I disqualified her masterpiece, Dreaming of Amelia, because I don't think it QUITE counts as contemporary due to some of the stuff happening. This is Moriarty's second-best book and is still a classic. Told via letters, diary entries, and transcripts, it's a unique tale and is one of the funniest books I've ever read.

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson - I paused reading this one for half an hour because I was on a train and knew I wouldn't be able to hold back the tears. An absolutely phenomenal treatment of grief.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Monday Musings: Book Review of The Revenge of Praying Mantis by Jane Prowse

When Hattori Hachi's mother disappears, she's plunged into a whole new life. Because Hattori is the Golden Child, and suddenly the strange training rituals her mother always insisted on her taking part in without telling her dad are starting to make rather more sense... Aided by her friends Mad Dog and Neena and the laundry lady from downstairs, can Hattie overcome the feared ninja warrior Praying Mantis to rescue her mother? She'll have to watch her back - because enemies can be found where you least expect them!

I think there are a few other YA books out there about ninjas, but this is the first I've read and I really enjoyed it. Prowse's explanation of ninjutsu is clear and her crisp prose makes the action scenes really exciting, but the real strength here is the characterisation, particularly of the supporting cast. Mad Dog, a troubled boy from the Foundry care home which Hattie's mother had been involved with, and Neena, who's not really cut out for the ninja stuff but does her best to be a loyal helper anyway, are particularly well-drawn, while Hattie herself is a likeable heroine.

It's also a book with a really strong message about standing up for yourself but only fighting when it's absolutely necessary, and about the nature of friendship and trying to get along with people you don't necessarily immediately warm to. It's thought-provoking and a far cry from the mindless action of some similar books. Similarly, Hattie's journey through the dans of ninjutsu is very believable, being slow enough to convey the amount of effort she's needing to put into it - rather than the instant success you occasionally find to move the plot along in some books like this - yet never boring. It also helps that Mad Dog's progress is in marked contrast to hers and this shows how difficult it is to achieve her goal. Oh, one last strong point - I love Camden Town, and found it a brilliant location for Hattie's adventures, with Prowse describing it really well.

The book ends on something of a cliffhanger and I look forward to reading more about Hattie - thankfully I already have book 2, Stalking The Enemy, while book 3 is set to be released later this year. Interestingly, while the first two were released by Piccadilly Press, the third is being offered via Unbound - a relatively new company where books - and swag - can be preordered, with refunds given if a certain target isn't met. It's a site which is publishing Red Dwarf's Robert Llewellyn, Labyrinth author Kate Mosse, and Monty Python's Terry Jones, amongst others, so clearly has the potential to be a real success. Rather than just release the third book on its own, they're bringing out the entire trilogy as a deluxe hardback - prices for pledges are £10 for an e-book version, £20 for the 1st edition hardback with your name in the back, or £50 for a signed first edition hardback (both with e-books included free). If you've got some cash spare, you can also get some interesting stuff for a bit more expenditure - £500 to have my name used for a character is somewhat out of my price league, but might tempt some people looking for a unique present, especially as it comes with 2 hardbacks and 2 e-books. I have to admit, £60 for a signed hardback and the ninja club kit of a Hattie hoodie, rubber throwing stars and access to a secret page on the website is probably tempting me rather more than it should for someone of my age...

If you're interested in playing a part in funding the trilogy, check out the trilogy's page on Unbound. If not, just enjoy this as a fun and thoughtful action novel.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sunday Special: February in Review

Having decided not to do a top 10 for January as originally planned given the amount of phenomenal books which wouldn’t have gotten into it, I thought February might be easier – some chance! This was an unbelievably strong month for me, with the vast majority of books I read being very good or better. If you want a quick list of everything rated 4 stars or better, scroll to the bottom of the post. For fuller details, keep on reading!

Books read in February – alphabetical by author surname.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews – There is no way a book about a girl dying of leukemia has any right to be this funny. Andrews shows himself to be a hugely accomplished writer here, managing to produce a book which is both moving and hilarious. Strong recommendation.

Poison Apples by Lily Archer – Three girls who all have wicked stepmothers decide to fight back by becoming evil stepdaughters in this modern day fairy-tale update. Huge potential which I didn’t think was really realised fully. It was fine, just doesn’t stand out as anything special, with characters seeming a tiny bit flat.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler – I think I was expecting too much from this after Asher’s phenomenal Thirteen Reasons Why. This is a very different book with a much lighter touch than that and I originally felt disappointed by it because of that. Taken on its own merits, it’s a fun story with some interesting thoughts about just how much teenage life has changed since the mid 90’s when I was a teen myself.

Torn by Cat Clarke – Twisty tale of a prank which goes horribly wrong, leaving a spoilt mean girl dead and narrator Alice struggling to cope with her involvement in the situation. Superb characters and Clarke’s excellent writing style make this a massive recommendation.

I Love You Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle – Stunningly funny and with more depth than it initially appears to have, this crude comedy is along the lines of Don Calame’s novels and the American Pie movies. The film adaptation of this one takes some liberties with the plot but is surprisingly watchable.

Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine – Dealing with Asperger’s syndrome, the aftermath of a school shooting, and a grieving family, this is a very ambitious novel which feels a tad rushed as a result of the amount crammed in. It’s still well worth reading, though.

Bunheads by Sophie Flack - Introspective tale of a ballet dancer trying to choose between her career and her first boyfriend is detailed and very realistic – as you’d expect, since author Sophie Flack is a former dancer herself. A quiet book but a really good read, this is recommended to all, not just ballet fans.

Looking for Alaska by John Green – Staggering. I intentionally avoided reviewing this one because I couldn’t work out ANY way of saying much without spoiling it. If you like heartbreaking, wonderful, and often hilarious books, you need to read this. (In fairness, I’m perhaps the only person who likes YA fiction who HADN’T read this already, so you probably know that.) This was the 7th book I read this month and was comfortably expecting it to win Book of the Month. It got beaten in the end, but it’s still amazing.

Brave New Love edited by Paula Guran – Dystopian short story collection. Really hit and miss but with six strong stories including a couple of real gems. Diana Peterfreund’s Foundlings alone would make it worth your while.

The Headmaster’s Daughter by Peter Hayden – This was a really interesting read. It’s the tale of a school trying to deal with the death of a beloved headmistress and the new headmaster’s differing views, as well as the boys who are beguiled by his beautiful daughter. Written by teacher along with several pupils who helped him plan it, it captured the atmosphere of the school perfectly. I didn’t do a full review as it seems to be out of print – but it’s well worth picking up if you see it in a library or second-hand bookshop.

Clash by Colin Mulhern – Dual narrative of the supposedly psychotic Alex and classmate Kyle, a nice kid and talented artist, both suffering in their home life, is well-written but seemed to have something missing. I can’t really put my finger on it, either, which is why I never reviewed – it’s good and I think a lot of people will really enjoy it, I was just expecting a bit more.

Ondine: The Winter Palace by Ebony McKenna – I didn’t like this as much as the first Ondine; that said I absolutely LOVED the first Ondine so this was still pretty good. Worth a read if you want a comic fantasy with a light touch.

Pulse by Tricia Rayburn – FINALLY got this one after realizing it was book 2 in the series, not book 3 as I’d originally thought. (For people as confused as I was, this is called Undercurrent in the US.) I wasn’t as impressed as I was by Siren – Vanessa’s boyfriend Simon fades into the background a bit and it becomes a bit of a standard ‘love triangle’ novel. Still pretty good and fans of paranormal romance should find it well worth checking out.

Get A Life by Laura Peyton Roberts – Picking this up as a freebie for Kindle, I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality. It’s the story of a group of mismatched teens at Clearwater Crossing High School who come together to fundraise for a friend diagnosed with leukemia. Despite being a bit on the twee side now and again, it’s generally a pleasant read with some very likeable teens – notably Peter and Jenna, in rare portrayals of realistic committed Christian characters. There are 20 in the series, and while I’m not quite convinced I’ll read the entire run, I’ve splashed out the princely sum of 77p on book 2, Reality Check, and am looking forward to seeing what happened next.

Desert Angel by Charlie Price – Tense and taut thriller. I prefer books which have better character development personally, but this is an exciting read where the pace never lets up as Angel tries to evade the man who killed her mother.

Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid – 2012 is set to be an incredible year for debut authors judging from what I’ve seen so far. This tale of two twin sisters – one disfigured and one dead, abusive parents, and people who’ll turn a blind eye to terrible happenings proclaims Reid as a phenomenal talent. That said, you’ll need a strong stomach given the contents. If you can handle it, though, a riveting and thought-provoking read which I’m guessing will be winning some big awards.

Putting Boys On The Ledge by Stephanie Rowe – Short but really engaging, I enjoyed this novella despite it being a tad predictable. I loved central character Blueberry and look forward to reading the other three books in the series focusing on her three friends. I particularly recommended it to teens who don’t read much, given the short length and breezy writing style.

Dead Rules by RS Russell - Um, yeah. The first of this year which I really, really, didn’t enjoy. Two dire main characters and a boring plot made this a rare miss for the usually super-reliable Quercus Books.

Oliver Twisted by JD Sharpe and Charles Dickens – Sharpe takes some original passages from the classic Oliver Twist and throws supernatural stuff around them. It’s an intriguing idea which has something for everyone – the pleasure of recognising the original parts for Dickens fans, and a bloodthirsty thriller for those new to it. Possibly quote of the year so far with the tagline ‘Please Sir I want some GORE’.

A Witch in Winter by Ruth Warburton – Super spooky, fabulous narrator, brilliant love interest and an exceptional location of a coastal town where nothing is quite what it seems. Huge recommendation and I can’t wait for book two!

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman – Not quite sure how I didn’t get around to reviewing this. It’s a teen Da Vinci Code type novel with great action and an interesting plot. Completely farfetched and unbelievable in the same way as a lot of these types of novels are, it’s still well worth your time. I’m really surprised it’s not being marketed as a crossover – it more than holds its own against the majority of adult books in the genre.

The Alchemy of Forever by Avery Williams – Paranormal romance has some good points – notably the idea of Incarnates, who transfer their souls into others’ bodies so they can live forever. It’s rushed, though, and the characters aren’t great. Reasonable for genre fans.

Choker by Elizabeth Woods – Phenomenally tense psychological thriller. DO read it. DON’T read it at night when you’re on your own – I didn’t sleep for hours! (Having previously made the same mistake with Poison Heart by SB Hayes… will I never learn?!)

YA Book of the Month, though, goes to...

Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt – I didn’t bother with the drum rolls or fanfares; this was a foregone conclusion to anyone who reads my Twitter regularly as I haven’t stopped raving about it since reading it. The best of the 70+ books I’ve read this year by quite some distance, Laura Jarratt tells an incredible story, looks at disfigurement, discrimination and grief, and creates an incredible central pairing and wonderful supporting characters. An absolute must read.

MG reads

The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean – Boy whose death on his fourteenth birthday is foretold runs away on that day, has madcap scrapes, and takes several other identities. I’ve read so many reviews saying this is incredible that I had really high expectations and felt a bit let down. That said, it’s pretty good – but the level of whimsy was a bit too high for me personally.

But the MG book of the month is...

A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler – Given I barely read any MG this month, it feels a bit silly actually awarding a Book of the Month. This was so good, however, that I’ll do it anyway. After a slow start, things get going really quickly as main character Jenni accidentally gets pitched forward a year in time and finds out that tragedy has struck – can she somehow go back and change the past? Really thought-provoking in the way it deals with the ripple effect an event can have, this is a fantastic book and a huge recommendation.

Highly Commended: (These are all the books I rated 4 ½ or 5 stars this month.)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Torn by Cat Clarke
I Love You Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid
A Witch in Winter by Ruth Warburton
Choker by Elizabeth Woods
Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt
A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler

Commended (These are the books I rated 4 stars this month.)

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine
Bunheads by Sophie Flack
The Headmaster’s Daughter by Peter Hayden
Get A Life by Laura Peyton Roberts
Putting Boys on the Ledge by Stephanie Rowe
Oliver Twisted by JD Sharpe and Charles Dickens
The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Saturday Special: Book Review of Virals by Kathy Reichs

Tory Brennan is just a normal girl with an extraordinary aunt - the renowned forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan. Desperate to follow in her relative's footsteps, she seems to have little opportunity to do so living in South Carolina - but that quickly changes when she and her friends stumble on a decades old corpse. Desperately trying to find out what happened to the dead person, and cure a sick dog they've liberated from a laboratory on their island home, the quartet's lives have suddenly become rather complicated. And that's before a mysterious virus hits them all and leaves them with some very strange side effects...

First things first, this is connected to Kathy Reichs' adult books through the relationship between the two main characters but from what I can gather - having never read any of her others - is a rather different style, focusing more on the adventure aspect, with a touch of sci-fi, than the mystery part. I've seen several harsh reviews from adult fans who apparently hadn't realised it was a YA book and clearly went into it with different expectations than I did, coming to it as a first time Reichs reader. (To be fair, the hardback definitely looks more like an adult novel than a YA book and the publishers should have anticipated people getting confused here.) If you approach it with an open mind, I'm fairly sure you'll find it an enjoyable sci-fi thriller. Tory is a strong main character, her friends are a little on the generic side but reasonably well characterised, and the two love interests at school are interesting characters. I thought it was a bit slow to really get going - there's a fantastic prologue where we see Tory and her friends escaping from people who are shooting at them, but we're then taken back to see how they got to this situation and it takes a little longer than I'd have liked to get there. Similarly, we find out early on that Tory and her friends 'evolve', which is intriguing, but this doesn't actually happen until a long way in.

That said, once the action does get going properly it's fast and furious. With some incredibly tense scenes leading up to a superb climax, it's easy to see why Reichs is such a popular writer. I also appreciated the ending being an actual ending which wrapped everything up properly rather than a cliffhanger - but I'll definitely be picking up a copy of book 2, Seizure, as soon as I get a chance.

Recommended to fans of exciting thrillers and strong female narrators. Adult fans of Reichs, please be aware that it may not be what you're used to - but give it a chance and you'll hopefully enjoy it!