Sunday, 30 October 2011

In My Mailbox #47

Thanks to Kristi at The Story Siren for holding this meme every week.

I love seeing what everybody else got in their mailboxes. 

          All links go to Goodreads, where you can add the books to your wishlist if you like the look of  them.
We finally got our new digital camera this week so here are the books I got for review:
(I really enjoyed Nick Lake's Blood Ninja series so I have high hopes for this one.  It's a 2012 release) 
(Sounds quite different from some of Celia Rees other books but I'm willing to give it a go)
(I can't believe this is the last installment of the series. I'm going to be starting this one soon and I can't wait to see how it's all going to end!) 
(So excited when this one arrived.  It looks awesome and is another 2012 release)
(I'm going to be taking part in the blog tour for this book)
(Sounds intriguing and the finished version has a gorgeous cover)
(Looks like a fun read and I'm hopefully taking part in the blog tour for this one too)

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Review: The Warrior Heir - Cinda Williams Chima

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, published by Indigo on 1st September 2011

Goodreads synopsis:
Before he knew about the Roses, sixteen-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high-schoolers. Then one day Jack skips his medicine. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great - until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts. Soon, Jack learns the startling truth about himself: he is Weirlind - part of an underground society of magical people who live among us.

At the head of this magical society sit the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game - a magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death. The winning house rules the Weir. As if his bizarre magical heritage isn't enough, Jack finds out that he's not just another member of Weirlind - he's one of the last of the warriors - at a time when both houses are scouting for a player. Jack's performance on the soccer field has alerted the entire magical community to the fact that he's in Trinity. And until one of the houses is declared Jack's official sponsor, there are no limits to what they'll do to get Jack to fight for them.

Originally published in 2006, 'The Warrior Heir' has been re-published by new YA imprint Indigo, allowing the book to be brought to a whole new audience of readers.  I've never read anything by Cinda Williams Chima before so I was looking forward to trying something by a new author. 

The story centres on 16 year old Jack who was destined to become a wizard before his fate was changed forever.  When he discovers that he's Weirlind, an underground society of magical people who live among humans, it's a huge shock but even more astounding is that he's also a warrior - one of the last remaining warriors who are coveted by the magical houses.  The White Rose and the Red Rose both want to get their hands on Jack but he's determined not to give up without a fight.  I enjoyed Jack's journey in the book and his gradual awakening to who he really is.  Not only does he have to try to come to terms with being part of a magical society but he also has to cope with learning the truth about the people in his life and why they've concealed his true heritage for such a long time.  The history of the Weirlind was extremely fascinating and I liked the back story at the very start of the book which helps to establish some important information about Jack's ancestors. 

I actually have quite mixed feelings about this title.  Although the book was heavy on adventure and action, I did find it a little slow going in places.  It was very heavy on the fantasy and sometimes I found that the characters seemed to take a backseat to the rather complex magical world that Williams Chima has conjured up.  This meant that I didn't completely feel engaged with Jack and his family. The plot also seemed too predictable and whereas I felt like I should have been shocked and amazed by the storyline, I actually found that it was easy to guess what was going to happen next.  I almost gave up on the book part way through but I'm glad I carried on reading because the second half of the story was definitely better than the first and the ending was exciting.

Fans of the fantasy genre will probably enjoy this but I didn't find it entirely to my taste.  I wanted it to grab my attention and keep me glued to the pages but more often than not I kept thinking instead about what I was going to read next.  I have read some reviews of 'The Warrior Heir' which rave about it, so there's definitely an audience out there that will love it, but sadly it just wasn't for me.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Waiting on Wednesday #45

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted at Breaking the Spine that spotlights eagerly awaited upcoming releases.  Head on over there to take part or to check out all the other fabulous books that people are looking forward to reading! 

Stolen Away by Alyxandra Harvey
Published on 5th January 2012 by Bloomsbury

For seventeen years, Eloise Hart had no idea the world of Faery even existed. Now she has been abducted and trapped in the Rath of Lord Strahan, King of Faery. Strahan was only meant to rule for seven years, as Faery tradition dictates, and then give up his crown to another. But he won't comply, and now chaos threatens both worlds.

The only one who can break his stranglehold on the Faery court is his wife. . . Eloise's aunt Antonia. Using Eloise to lure Antonia, Strahan captures his wife, desperate to end the only threat to his reign. Now Eloise must become the rescuer. Together with her best friends Jo and Devin, she must forge alliances with other Fae, including a gorgeous protector named Lucas, and Strahan's mysterious son, Eldric-who may or may not betray them.

I would literally read anything by Alyxandra Harvey who is one of my favourite authors. After having won me over with her stories about the Drake family vampires, she's now moved onto faeries and is sure to have weaved her own magic over them too!  I can't wait for 'Stolen Away' which is published by Bloomsbury in January 2012.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Trailer: Crossed - Ally Condie

Here's the incredible trailer for 'Crossed' by Ally Condie, which is published by Puffin in the UK on 24th November. I was a huge fan of 'Matched', the first in this phenomenal series and I'm counting down the days until the sequel. In the meantime, watch the awesome trailer which will really whet your appetite!

Rules are different outside the Society.

Chasing down an uncertain future, Cassia makes her way to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky-taken by the Society to his certain death-only to find that he has escaped into the majestic, but treacherous, canyons. On this wild frontier are glimmers of a different life and the enthralling promise of rebellion. But even as Cassia sacrifices everything to reunite with Ky, ingenious surprises from Xander may change the game once again.

Narrated from both Cassia's and Ky's points of view, this hotly anticipated sequel to Matched will take them both to the edge of Society, where nothing is as expected and crosses and double crosses make their path more twisted than ever...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Review: Sweetly - Jackson Pearce

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce, published by Hodder on 1st October 2011

Goodreads synopsis:
As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch-like monster in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear, too.

When their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out as teens, they stumble upon a sleepy Southern town and are invited to stay with Sophia Kelly at her sweet shop. Sophia molds candied magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.

Life seems idyllic and Gretchen and Ansel finally start to forget their haunted past - until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel, who gives Gretchen a reason to fear Sophia: girls have been vanishing at Sophia's annual chocolate festival, taken by the insatiable 'witch' of Gretchen's nightmares. Can Gretchen save herself, the girls of Live Oak, andSophia?

Of one thing, Gretchen is certain: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.

I absolutely loved 'Sisters Red' by Jackson Pearce and couldn't wait to get my hands on 'Sweetly' which I devoured in one sitting.  It's a spin on the classic fairytale of Hansel and Gretl and is a perfect confectionery dream of a book!  You'll want to curl up with a mug of tea, something sweet to eat and savour every single word of this awesome story.

Gretchen's twin sister was taken when they were 6 years old.  Gretchen and her older brother Ansel escaped but their lives fell apart after that single tragic event which changed their future paths forever.  When their father dies and their step-mother throws them out, they take to the road and end up in a small town called Live Oak.  They eventually end up living with Sophia Kelly, a chocolatier who offers them a roof over their head in exchange for them helping her with jobs around her house.  What at first seems to be a perfect arrangement soon turns into something far more sinister when Gretchen discovers that each year girls go missing from Live Oak and are never seen again.  She's determined to find out the truth about Sophia's involvement but soon discovers some surprising secrets about the town and about her own sister's disappearance.

I really loved the plot of 'Sweetly' and the way that Jackson Pearce takes a story which everyone is familiar with and turns it into something completely different which keeps you guessing and keeps you on your toes.  Whilst Gretchen and Ansel enter what seems to be a fairytale world complete with the wonderful aroma of melting chocolate and delectable sweets which cure every ailment, surrounding them is the dark and eerie forest and a mystery that must be unravelled.     

The bond between the two siblings was wonderfully written and this is something which I previously enjoyed in 'Sisters Red' too.  Their relationship is real and you can see that they'd stand by each other no matter what.  Although Ansel has always been the one to look after his sister and protect her, in many ways, when they arrive in Live Oak, this is reversed and it's Gretchen who really opens her eyes to what's happening around them, whilst Ansel is struck by the pangs of first love and oblivious to anything apart from the charms of Sophia. 

I was wondering if the Fenris were going to rear their heads again and I wasn't disappointed when Gretchen first encounters werewolves in the woods.  Finally equipped with the knowledge of what actually happened to her sister, she determines to meet this threat head on and this leads to some action-packed chapters which had me completely gripped. 

A real page turner, this book had everything I wanted and more.  The story was addictive reading, the characters were real and tortured, the mystery was dark and complex and the romance sizzling.  I wanted to eat this book it was so good and Jackson Pearce is fast becoming one of my absolute favourite authors!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

In My Mailbox #46

Thanks to Kristi at The Story Siren for holding this meme every week.

I love seeing what everybody else got in their mailboxes. 

          All links go to Goodreads, where you can add the books to your wishlist if you like the look of  them.

(This one sounds incredible and I can't wait to start reading it.  I love the cover too!)

(I've had this one on my wishlist for ages now, so I was extremely excited when a proof arrived in the post this week)

(I love books sent in Arthurian England so I think I'm going to really enjoy the first in this new series)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Waiting on Wednesday #44

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted at Breaking the Spine that spotlights eagerly awaited upcoming releases.  Head on over there to take part or to check out all the other fabulous books that people are looking forward to reading! 

Girl Meets Boy by Kelly Milner Halls
Published on 1st January 2012 by Chronicle Books

There isn't a lot of information available yet about this book (I will add more as I have it) but it's an anthology of YA short stories edited by Kelly Milner Halls.  Look at that cover though!  It's utterly gorgeous and looks like the perfect romantic read for Spring.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Review and Giveaway: The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, published by Scholastic on 18th October 2011

Goodreads synopsis:
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

When I first heard about 'The Scorpio Races' I really loved the idea behind the story.  It's based on the myth of the capaill uisce or water horses who once captured from the sea, are believed to be the fastest creatures to run on the land.  The book is set on the small island of Thisby, where the Scorpio Races take place annually between the terrifying flesh-eating water horses, who may be fast but are also dangerous creatures who have been known to kill their human riders.  Although the premise was amazing, I found that when I started reading I didn't immediately connect with the story which was slow to get going and didn't grip me as I thought it would have.  I kept waiting for it to completely engage me and sweep me away but it never really happened.  

What I did like about the book was the beautifully lyrical descriptions of the water horses themselves.  I could sense the love which Maggie Stiefvater feels for these magical beasts in every passage written about them.  I thought she had captured perfectly the image of the thrashing horses, determined to return to their beloved ocean, the salty tang and spray of the sea, the bitter cold of the island itself and the wildness which surrounds it.  It almost felt like another world, separated from the reality of life on the mainland.   

The story itself may have fallen a little flat for me, but the characters really grew on me and I particularly liked the blossoming friendship between local girl Puck who lives on the island with her two brothers and the stoical Sean Kendrick.  Both want to win the race for their own personal reasons but there can only be one winner and as they grow closer together, it becomes harder for each of them to imagine what will happen to the one who loses.  Sean has previously won the race four times and is an expert on horses, but is determined to win this time so that he can win his freedom and that of his beloved horse Corr.  I loved the connection between Sean and Corr.  The two have an amazing and genuine bond between them and Sean is the only one who is able to calm Corr and ride him safely.  He puts the welfare of the horses he looks after before anything else and his selfless nature means that he's willing to help Puck to train for the same race he must win.

Puck is headstrong and stubborn and although she feels fear about competing in the races, she won't back down from the challenge.  I loved Puck and her brothers Finn and Gabe, especially Finn who doesn't know how to take a compliment.  Although their parents are both dead and Gabe is set on moving to the mainland, they still felt like a genuine family unit and I enjoyed reading the scenes between the siblings. 

It was refreshing to read a standalone YA story for a change, as so many books now seem to be part of a trilogy or a series.  If you love horses then you're sure to enjoy 'The Scorpio Races' or if you're a Maggie Steifvater fan then you'll definitely want to check this one out.  Although the story didn't completely win me over, I did find myself falling in love with the ruggedness of the island of Thisby itself and the ending of the book was absolutely perfectly written.

To celebrate the release of 'The Scorpio Races' I'm giving away a proof paperback copy of the book.  The giveaway is international but you must be a follower of my blog to enter.  Just fill out your details on the form below.  Good luck!    

Giveaway rules.
  • There will be one winner.
  • Open to International entrants.
  • Please fill out the form completely - especially the required details.
  • You must be a follower to enter.
  • Deadline for entries will be on 31 October.
  • Winner will be drawn by
  • Winner will be contacted via e-mail, and will be given 48 hours to response. Otherwise, a new winner will be drawn.
  • Any details will be deleted after use and will not be passed on to any third party.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Review: Darkness Falls - Mia James

Darkness Falls by Mia James, published by Indigo on 29th September 2011 

Goodreads synopsis:
April Dunne is having a rough time. There are vampires in her school. Not Goths, or Emos in fancy dress. Dangerous, blood-sucking semi-immortals. They run the school. They pretend to be students at it. And they're using their influence to recruit smart, rich students - aka 'bleeders' - to their own cause. What is that cause? April isn't sure. But she knows they killed a rock star for it, and innocents who got too close to the truth. One of them almost killed her. But that's nothing to what's coming next. Gabriel, her kinda-boyfriend, is dying and unless April can find a cure then not only is she going to be boyfriendless, she's also going to lose one of her major allies in the school. And she really needs allies. Because it turns out April has an ability of her own, one that could prove lethal to the 'Suckers' who've taken over the school. If any of them figure out what she is, then losing her boyfriend will be the least of her problems ...

There may be spoilers in this review from the previous book in the series.

'Darkness Falls' is the second book in the Ravenwood Mysteries series by Mia James (the pseudonym for husband and wife writing duo Tasmina and John Perry).  The story picks up from where 'By Midnight' left off.  April is learning to cope after her father's death and after the shocking discovery that she is a Fury - the one thing that vampires truly fear.  Having introduced all the characters and established the storyline, it was nice to see a bit more action in this installment as April faces the truth about who she really is and determines to track down the person responsible for her losing her beloved dad.   

One of the things that I really like about this series is the complex mystery that lies at the heart of the plot.  There are lots of angles, dead ends and unexpected twists throughout.  You never quite know who you can trust from The Faces who are the most popular girls in school, to DI Reece who's investigating April's father's murder, to the teachers who work at April's school.  Trust them at your peril because no one is really who they say they are!   I certainly think there's a lot more to April's mother than meets the eye.  She comes across as rather shallow and unreliable but I suspect she's hiding a big secret and I can't wait to find out what it is. 

I also love the setting for these books.  Highgate Cemetery in London is so spooky and creepy and wonderfully atmospheric.  It's a perfect backdrop for a British book about vampires.  There are some fabulous descriptions of the Cemetery itself and whenever the characters are there you just know that something bad is going to happen.  

The thing that I felt fell a little flat was the romance between April and Gabriel.  Gabriel is gorgeous, sexy, brooding and an extremely enigmatic and mysterious figure.  Having got their romance off to a promising start, it seemed to become extremely up and down over the course of the book.  I thought that April was quite quick to mistrust him and jump to conclusions about his actions, considering she's supposed to be in love with him.  I didn't feel a real connection between the two of them although separately I really like their individual characters.  There just weren't enough sparks between them to satisfy the romantic in me. 

'Darkness Falls' had a stellar, explosive ending which definitely left me wanting more.  I can't wait to see what Mia James has up her sleeve next!      

Saturday, 15 October 2011

In My Mailbox #45

Thanks to Kristi at The Story Siren for holding this meme every week.

I love seeing what everybody else got in their mailboxes. 

          All links go to Goodreads, where you can add the books to your wishlist if you like the look of  them.

Unfortunately my digital camera broke this week and I'm still waiting for the new one I ordered to arrive, so no photos but here are the books I was sent for review:

(I haven't read the first book in the series yet but I've heard amazingly good things about it so I'm looking forward to reading both of these)

(This looks like it's going to be a fun and romantic read.  Btw, I keep thinking that it looks like Britney Spears on the cover!!)

(Girl Missing was great so I'm hoping the sequel will be just as good)


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Trailer: The Double Shadow - Sally Gardner

Here's the incredible trailer for Sally Gardner's new book 'The Double Shadow'. The trailer is really creepy and has definitely got me extremely intrigued about this one! It's being published by Indigo on 3rd November 2011.

Arnold Ruben has created a memory machine, a utopia housed in a picture palace, where the happiest memories replay forever, a haven in which he and his precious daughter can shelter from the war-clouds gathering over 1937 Britain. But on the day of her seventeenth birthday Amaryllis leaves Warlock Hall and the world she has known and wakes to find herself in a desolate and disturbing place. Something has gone terribly wrong with her father's plan. Against the tense backdrop of the second World War Sally Gardner explores families and what binds them, fathers and daughters, past histories, passions and cruelty, love and devastation in a novel rich in character and beautifully crafted.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Blog tour: Between - Jessica Warman

I'm very excited about getting the opportunity to take part in Jessica Warman's blog tour for her fantastic new book 'Between'.  You can read my review here.  I absolutely loved it and am now desperate to read her two previous books, 'Breathless' and 'Where the Truth Lies'.

Jessica has written a wonderful guest post so without further ado...

People ask me all the time where I get the inspiration for my characters. It’s funny, because they often have guesses, and most of the time they’re wrong. In particular, my mom always thinks she has everyone’s real-life counterpart figured out. She’ll present her theories to me with such self-satisfied confidence that sometimes I feel bad telling her how badly she’s missed the mark. (If you’re reading this, Mom, I’m sorry.)

In truth, most of my characters are a mashup of many different people who I’ve met in my life. It’s so much fun to pick and choose everything about them – looks, personality traits, family history – that I often end up creating far more background for each character than what actually makes it into the book. But I think that’s fine; actually, I think it’s important. As a writer, the better you know your characters, the more realistic they’ll be to readers.

I’ll admit that, in BETWEEN, there was one character who I based almost entirely on a real-life individual: Richie. It was so important to me that the love story between him and Liz ring true to readers; it’s one of the few things in the book that never really gets corrupted or tainted by the events that take place, and I wanted it to be as realistic and deeply felt as possible. To do this, I tried to think about a love in my life that has been long-lasting and true, one that I could really explore and dig into. So when I created Richie, I used my husband, Colin, as the source material.

Colin and I met midway through our freshman year of college. I’d just transferred to his school, and he lived down the hall from me in my new dorm. The first time I walked into my room, he was sitting on the floor, watching TV with my roommate. As soon as he and I started talking, within the first ten minutes of our conversation, all I could think was: When can I see this boy again?

We quickly became close friends. Even though we were both dating other people when we met, it was obvious to everyone around us that we were losing our marbles for each other. I can remember the first time I ever met his then-girlfriend; I looked at her and thought, “doesn’t she understand that he’s supposed to be with me?” It seemed so obvious, like our being together was the only option that made sense. When we finally started dating a few months later, nobody was the least bit surprised. We dated for a year before getting engaged. A year after that, at age 21, we were married. We will celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary this May.

One thing I particularly love about Liz and Richie’s relationship is how different they are, yet how well they fit together despite all those differences. My husband and I are total opposites in so many ways. I love to spend my spare time going for long runs; he loves to spend his spare time doing… well, doing pretty much anything besides running. I am hyper-emotional and creative and fussy, while he is calm and logical and easygoing. He loves to play the drums; I can’t stand loud noise. I’m impulsive (if you don’t believe me, you should see the tattoo I got a few years ago on a dare); he’s a planner. Like Richie and Liz, we are completely different on the surface. Yet when we’re together, I feel complete. Somehow it works.

In my wedding vows, I said something to Colin that I think about often. I told him, “You know everything about me. You know the parts of me that I love, and you love them too. But you also see the things about me that I dislike – yet somehow you love those parts of me as well.”

While there were elements to both Liz and Richie’s characters that they might not have encouraged or embraced – for example, Richie’s association with drugs, and Liz’s prissy, often bitchy personality – what I love about their relationship is that they accept those parts of each other, even though they don’t necessarily condone them. They are both so young and so immature in many ways, but together they are able to understand and appreciate each other as whole people, rather than loving bits and parts of each other, but rejecting other parts. They both have so much to learn about life, but somehow they know everything they need to about each other. In short, they know that, somehow, they fit. And they both understand how lucky they are to have found that, especially at such young ages.

It’s an incredible feeling: to look at someone and say to them, “I love you just as you are,” and to truly mean it. When those feelings are reciprocated, that’s when you know you’ve found something that could last forever. It’s something so deep and genuine that almost nothing can destroy it. Not a scheming stepsister. Not a secret. Not a terrible lie.

Not even death.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Review: Between - Jessica Warman

Between by Jessica Warman published on 3rd October 2011 by Egmont

Goodreads synopsis:
Only the good die young. Right? Elizabeth Valchar has it all: friends, money, beauty, a cute boyfriend and assured popularity. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she is found drowned next to her parents' boat. Everyone thinks it was a tragic accident - teens drinking on a boat, a misstep leading to a watery death. But Liz is still here after death, and she doesn't know why. There are gaps in her memory. Her only company Alex, a boy killed by a car a year earlier, Liz sets out to piece together her life. But their small coastal town is hiding many secrets - about families, boyfriends and friendship. Plus, Alex hates Liz for being mean when they were alive. Was she as squeaky clean as she thinks she was? Could it be that she herself is hiding the biggest secret of all? Can Liz discover the truth? And if she does, who can she tell?

'Between' is an extraordinary and powerful novel from author Jessica Warman.  Reminiscent in some respects to 'If I Stay' by Gayle Forman and 'Before I Fall' by Lauren Oliver, it employs the device of a teenage girl looking back at fragments and memories of her life, after having died.  What at first appears to simply have been a tragic accident turns out to be much more than that and so she attempts to piece together what or even who may have caused her death. 

I was emotionally entangled in the story from the very first chapter which is an outstanding opening to a book and which had me intrigued and turning the pages faster and faster.  The story is multi-layered and as I read, I found that the plot kept drawing me deeper in with some unexpected twists and turns.  I was continually surprised by the revelations about main character Elizabeth Valchar and I was as eager as her to find resolution to her death.

Elizabeth is about to turn eighteen.  She's pretty and popular and is celebrating her birthday with her closest friends and boyfriend on board her Dad's boat The Elizabeth.  From the outside, life seems golden but when Elizabeth dies, she has to try and make sense of of the events leading up to her death and what she discovers may affect all those she's left behind.  Helping Elizabeth is local boy Alex Berg, who was killed in a hit and run accident and is also stuck in a kind of limbo between life and death.  The link between them is only revealed near the end of the book and certainly shocked me as I hadn't guessed what connected two people who in life had moved in seemingly separate circles.

What I loved about the character of Elizabeth is that on the surface she seems to have it all.  She's one of those girls that everyone wants to be.  She has a seemingly perfect and gifted life, but as the plot unravels, the reader can very gradually see how emotionally unstable and mixed up she really was.  She may at first seem altogether superficial and shallow, but in actuality she's as lost as everyone else.  What's so great about 'Between' is that Jessica Warman really makes you care about a character that you may initially be dismissive of.  When the truth about her is exposed, I found myself feeling genuine sympathy towards her.

This is a tremendously well written and absorbing book that will make you not want to leave the house until you've reached the end.  It's about the flaws of human nature and what people hide underneath their glossy exteriors.  Make sure you have plenty of tissues on hand for this moving, compelling and emotional story.

Don't forget to visit the blog tomorrow when Jessica Warman herself will be stopping by as part of her blog tour for 'Between'.      

Monday, 10 October 2011

Review: VIII - H.M. Castor

VIII by H.M. Castor, published by Templar on 1st October 2011

Goodreads synopsis:
VIII is the story of Hal: a young, handsome, gifted warrior, who believes he has been chosen to lead his people. But he is plagued by the ghosts of his family's violent past and, once he rises to power, he turns to murder and rapacious cruelty. He is Henry VIII. The Tudors have always captured the popular imagination, but in VIII, Henry is presented fresh for a new generation.

I’m a sucker for all things historical – books, films, TV series, and the Tudors is my absolute favourite period.  I love reading about the Royal Family and the various Kings and the Queens that ruled over England and I find the political intrigue, revolutions and plotting that went on throughout the Tudor period absolutely fascinating. ‘VIII’ by H.M. Castor was therefore exactly the sort of book that appealed to my reading tastes.  Described as Wolf Hall for the teen and crossover market, this title has broad appeal and has been pitched perfectly for those who enjoy this particular genre. 

The book takes an interesting approach to the retelling of Henry VIII’s reign, devoting more attention to the character of the young Hal before he becomes King. I thought this was a really clever way of exploring his motivations for wanting to become King, as well as his relationship with his mother, grandmother and brother Arthur. These early years and the people who figure in his life are seen to have a huge influence on his later reign.  The first person narrative also works well as a device to provide insight into Hal's character, helping the reader to understand how he could transition from being a sweet boy into a ruthless King. 

All too often historical novels can get bogged down in a little too much historical detail. Although this obviously serves to set the scene for the period and paints an interesting picture of the past, it can sometimes make for heavy reading.  In my opinion 'VIII' struck exactly the right balance.  All the facts are there and a huge amount of research has obviously been carried out to make sure that the facts are retold accurately but the story is very much character driven which ensures that the book is an entertaining and informative read.   

The book shows another side to Henry VIII, beyond the King who was known to have six wives but the story does also follow Hal's descent into the well known figure he's usually depicted as.  I enjoyed seeing Hal's relationship with his first wife Catherine and the way that this marriage eventually deteriorates because of his desperation to have an heir to the throne.  Male offspring were obviously hugely important as they ensured the security of the throne from those that would seek to take it.  This was an integral part of the book and is shown as central to many of the decisions that Hal ends up taking.   

The only thing that I didn't enjoy quite so much in the book was the apparent ghost story.  I found this to be slightly superfluous to the main plot and I didn't always feel that the paranormal side of things worked well with this genre.  However, historical fiction lovers should definitely get their hands on this offering from an exciting talent and I'm looking forward to seeing what period H.M. Castor will turn her hand to next.    

Sunday, 9 October 2011

In My Mailbox #44

Thanks to Kristi at The Story Siren for holding this meme every week.

I love seeing what everybody else got in their mailboxes. 

          All links go to Goodreads, where you can add the books to your wishlist if you like the look of  them.

I got two exciting books for review this week:

(I adored Sisters Red so I've been eagerly anticipating this new title from Jackson Pearce for months.  This is a gorgeous shiny hardback copy!)

(The final book in the series - I think it's going to be amazing)

I also bought two books from The Works. They always seem to have so many great titles for such reasonable prices:

(I haven't actually read the first in this series yet but I do own it so will hopefully get to it soon)
(This is the 10th book in the awesome Morganville Vampires series)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Review: Ashes - Ilsa J. Bick

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick, published by Quercus on 29th September 2011

Goodreads synopsis:
Alex has run away and is hiking through the wilderness with her dead parents' ashes, about to say goodbye to the life she no longer wants to live. But then the world suddenly changes. An electromagnetic pulse sweeps through the sky zapping every electronic device and killing the vast majority of adults. For those spared, it's a question of who can be trusted and who has changed... Everyone still alive has turned - some for the better (those who acquired a superhuman sense) while others for the worse (those who acquired a taste for human flesh). Desperate to find out what happened and to avoid the zombies that are on the hunt, Alex meets up with Tom - an Army veteran who escaped one war only to find something worse at home - and Ellie, a young girl whose grandfather was killed by the electromagnetic pulse. This improvised family will have to use every ounce of courage they have just to find food, shelter, while fighting off the 'Changed' and those desperate to stay alive.

'Ashes' is a deeply terrifying, heart-poundingly scary, dark and twisted story which will leave your heart racing and your fingernails bitten down to the quick.  Guaranteed!  There are cliffhangers galore at the end of each section of the book and you will be truly terrified and mesmerised by the twists and turns which lead the characters down a very dark path indeed. 

I loved this book!  In fact I more than loved it - it's definitely one of the best reads of the year so far!  Ilsa J. Bick has pulled out all the stops to ensure that the reader is constantly kept on the edge of their seat.  Anything and I mean absolutely anything is possible in a story which shocks and scares but literally makes such compulsive reading that you won't be able to put it down.

The story is tightly plotted and mapped out perfectly and if you enjoyed either 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy or the more recent 'Dark Inside' by Jeyn Roberts then this is the book for you.  It's an awesome tale of survival against the odds which will make you gasp and cry.  I constantly felt like there was going to be something around every corner as I turned the pages with sweaty palms and shaking fingers.  I enjoyed seeing the main character, seventeen year old Alex, surviving on her own in the wilderness.  Even with all she's confronted with she remains capable and level-headed, although her story is not one for the faint hearted.  I loved the relationship which develops between Alex and Ellie, a young girl who Alex comes to the rescue of, as well as the blossoming friendship between Alex and Tom.  People may be ripping each other apart around them but they're a unit and they're determined to survive together.

I've read a few reviews of 'Ashes' where people have felt let down by the second half of the book but for me, the suspense was maintained throughout.  I thought it was an astounding story from start to finish and a real rollercoaster ride of a book. I couldn't put it down and when I did have to momentarily pause or put it down I found myself unable to think about anything but the plot and the characters' journey. 

'Ashes' is quite literally incredible.  I can't wait for more and I'm dying to know what's going to happen to Alex next.  The follow-up is entitled 'Shadows' and will be out next year.  How can I possibly wait that long?!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Waiting on Wednesday #43

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted at Breaking the Spine that spotlights eagerly awaited upcoming releases.  Head on over there to take part or to check out all the other fabulous books that people are looking forward to reading! 

Enticed by Jessica Shirvington
Published on 1st March 2012 by Orchard Books

Since Violet Eden discovered she was Grigori - part angel, part human - her world has been shaken to its core. No longer sure who to trust, Violet soon realises that everyone is hiding something. Even her soulmate, Lincoln. Only one thing is certain: dark angel Phoenix has a hold over her more dangerous than ever...

In the race to win the battle against the darkness, Violet's own powers will be pushed to the extreme. And the ultimate betrayal will be revealed...

Having recently read the first in this new angel series by Jessica Shirvington, I'm eager for more.  'Enticed' sounds like a great sequel and I'm looking forward to seeing how the triangle between Violet, Lincoln and Phoenix is going to play out. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Review: Velvet - Mary Hooper

Velvet by Mary Hooper, published by Bloomsbury on 5th September 2011

Goodreads synopsis:
Rose is a laundress in a Victorian steam laundry. With both her mother and father dead, she is an orphan and has to rely upon her own wits to make a living. The laundry is scalding, back-breaking work and Rose is desperate to create a better life for herself. Then Rose is noticed by Madame Savoya, a famed medium, who asks Rose to come to work for her. Rose is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Rose realises that Madame is not all that she says she is, and Rose's very life is in danger...

I actually haven't read anything by Mary Hooper before but when I first heard about 'Velvet' I was instantly drawn in by the concept of a story about spiritualists and mediums set during the Victorian era.  I find it fascinating how people could (and obviously still can) be drawn into trying to communicate with their dead friends, relatives and loved ones and how the craze for spiritualists swept across England during this period in time.  The rich squandered huge sums of money on this and were so captivated by entrancing clairvoyants that they were in some cases willing to do just about anything to maintain a connection with the dead.  Hooper lays bare all the tricks of the trade as she shows the lengths mediums were prepared to go to in their quest to fool those grieving for wives, husbands, daughters, brothers etc and in the process secure a hefty sum of money for their own pockets.

I really enjoyed the fact that although this was a historical novel and huge amounts of research had obviously been done to ensure that the Victorian era was recreated authentically, particularly through the use of Old Bailey records, the book was still rich in a character driven plot which really came to life on the pages.  I loved the main character Velvet who goes to work for Madame Savoya as her assistant, after losing her job in a steam laundry.  She hopes to better herself after losing her mother and believing her father dead.  Velvet is a pretty gutsy character and has had to learn to survive and stand on her own too feet.  Although I found her to be a little naive at times whilst in the employee of Madame Savoya, she does eventually open her eyes to what's going on around her and when she unravels all she's seen and witnessed, she isn't afraid to speak up and try to put things right. 

Returning to the subject of historical research, I also found the notes at the back of the novel incredibly interesting, with Mary Hooper's own words and insights into spiritualism and baby farms.  The inclusion of a sub-plot featuring baby farms was horrifying but also of course incredibly relevant to the period and really helped to show the absolute depths that some women found themselves having to stoop to when they became with child, but in many cases were unable to keep it themselves as they had to go out and earn a full day's wage.  I couldn't believe that baby farms actually still existed up to a hundred years ago but the incorporation of details such as these assisted in bringing the Victorian era alive. 

For those that enjoy a good romance, there's a dash of this added to with Velvet being wooed by handsome and loyal Charlie who she's known since they were children.  Charlie is kind and reliable and is definitely always there when Velvet needs him the most - and even when she doesn't realise she does!

'Velvet' was an extremely enjoyable read and I shall now be seeking out more of Mary Hooper's previous work.  I would definitely recommend it to other fans of historical fiction and for those who are looking for an engrossing and compelling read.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Blog tour: VIII - H.M. Castor

Today I'm taking part in the blog tour for H.M. Castor's new book 'VIII', which is about the infamous Henry VIII and which is sure to be a sure-fire hit with historical fiction lovers.

I'd like to welcome Harriet herself to the blog to talk about why villains also make such good heroes. 

My Villain, My Hero
Villains. Baddies. Often the most intriguing characters in a story. Films & books abound with wonderful examples – one of my personal favourites is the Viscount de Valmont in Laclos’ novel Dangerous Liaisons (as played by John Malkovich in the film and Alan Rickman in the original production of Christopher Hampton’s play… One of the great regrets of my life is that I lived near(ish) to the RSC at that time and yet missed seeing the amazing Mr Rickman create the role. What was I thinking???).

Long before I read Dangerous Liaisons, however, an utterly wonderful children’s book gave me a love of storybook baddies. The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber (described by Neil Gaiman, in his introduction to the current edition, as “probably the best book in the world”) is a fantastical fairytale in which the most delicious character is the wicked Duke, a gloved and glittering figure, whose cold laugh puts out torches and whose voice sounds “like iron dropped on velvet”. My schoolteacher read it to us when I was nine. It made such an impact on me that I can still picture her, sitting on her desk in our portakabin classroom as my mind quietly blew in my back-row seat.

Did this long appreciation of an intriguing baddie lead directly to the writing of VIII, (my new YA novel, told through the eyes of Henry VIII)? I have to suppose it did. Henry was the king, after all, who ordered the judicial murders of two of his wives, as well as of countless close friends and members of his own extended family. Even his daughter’s elderly former governess went to the block on his orders. A baddie if ever there was one – and a real-life baddie to boot.

Here my thinking screeches to a halt. A real-life baddie? That’s different, surely? You can’t see real-life villains as fantastical and delicious… they killed real people, after all. Even a time gap of 500 years doesn’t stop me hating Henry’s deeds. Part of me loathes him with such a passion that I have fantasies of digging him up and of giving that skeleton a piece of my mind (the therapist’s room is just here, Ms Castor – please step this way…).

But – wait. You simply cannot write from that angry, loathing place. If one of your characters – most especially your protagonist (the character often called ‘the hero’ of a book) – does dreadful things, you have to drop your judgement of those deeds before you sit at your desk.

It’s not that you change your moral code, and suddenly decide to condone hideous behaviour. It’s that condoning or condemning is not what you’re doing: you’re trying to understand how it came to this. You’re trying to feel, inch by inch, the reality of how a loveable, insecure young boy could become a monster – in Henry’s case. To walk in his shoes.

I had to ask myself: what does it feel like to be thought the most virtuous, ‘perfect’ prince in Christendom? What does it feel like to be king at just 17? And how does it go so wrong? How does the angel fall?

VIII is a psychological thriller – it’s the tale of a boy’s battle with his demons. Henry lives in a world of chivalrous ideals, of angels and devils, of passionate obsessions and cold hatreds. The story is told in the first person: in writing it I wanted to learn to look at the world through Henry’s eyes, because he didn’t think he was a villain. On the contrary he thought, at every stage, that he was doing the right thing. What’s more, his ambition was to be, not just good, but perfect – glorious. And it was that drive for perfection that led him, inexorably, towards evil… That, for me, is a fascinating story – and one that is just as relevant now as it was 500 years ago. The temptation of clinging to comforting yet impossible dreams in the teeth of everything life throws at us is one we all face. And it can lead to disaster.

The very excellent Robert McKee, in his book on screenwriting called Story, relates the tale of an interviewer remarking to the actor Lee Marvin how awful it must be to play so many bad characters. McKee quotes Marvin’s response: “Me? I don’t play bad people. I play people struggling to get through their day, doing the best they can with what life’s given them.”

Baddies do not see themselves as baddies. And McKee says of a story’s characters, “If you can’t love them, don’t write them.” No exceptions. Villains too.

So my protagonist, my hero, is a villain. No. It doesn’t feel right to say that any more. Now that I have written VIII, I feel oddly split about Henry. When I stand outside the story, I am still appalled at what he became, by the end. When I step into it, into the world of the book, I am in an intense, intoxicating mental space, and I see a young boy grappling with fear, a teenager longing for approval…

I will be fascinated to find out how other people experience VIII. Will you understand and empathise, even as Henry degenerates from gorgeous, glamorous hero into something altogether more unpleasant? Will you find yourself rooting for him, despite everything? Get in touch and tell me, because I’d love to know!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

In My Mailbox #43

Thanks to Kristi at The Story Siren for holding this meme every week.

I love seeing what everybody else got in their mailboxes. 

          All links go to Goodreads, where you can add the books to your wishlist if you like the look of  them.

I'm posting IMM a day earlier this week as I have an exciting blog tour post tomorrow.
Here are the books I bought this week (I was quite restrained for once!)

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter
(The cover of this book is achingly gorgeous and it sounds wonderful too! This one has been on my radar for ages now)

Hunting Lila by Sarah Alderson
(I've heard nothing but good things about this book so I really hope it lives up to expectations)

Heist Society by Ally Carter
(I love the Gallagher Girls books so I just had to try Ally Carter's brand new series)
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