Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Waiting on Wednesday #54

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! 

Unrest by Michelle Harrison
Published on 26th April 2012 by Simon and Schuster
Seventeen-year-old Elliott hasn’t slept properly for months. Not since the accident that nearly killed him. Sometimes he half-wakes, paralysed, while shadowy figures move around him. Other times he is the one moving around, while his body lies asleep on the bed. His doctors say sleep paralysis and out of body experiences are harmless - but to Elliott they’re terrifying.

Convinced that his brush with death has attracted the spirit world, Elliott secures a job at a reputedly haunted museum, determined to discover the truth. There, he meets the enigmatic Ophelia. But, as she and Elliott grow closer, Elliott draws new attention from the dead. One night, during an out of body experience, Elliott returns to bed to find his body gone. Something is occupying it, something dead that wants to live again . . . and it wants Ophelia, too . . .

So excited about this book!  I love Michelle Harrison's 13 Treasures series and if this is anywhere near as good then I know it's going to be amazing.  The cover has recently been revealed and I think it's definitely got a mysterious and spooky feel about it.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Review: Girl Meets Boy - edited by Kelly Milner Halls

Girl Meets Boy edited by Kelly Milner Halls, published by Chronicle on 1st March 2012
Goodreads synopsis:
What do guys and girls really think? Twelve of the most dynamic and engaging YA authors writing today team up for this one-of-a-kind collection of "he said/she said" stories-he tells it from the guy's point of view, she tells it from the girl's. These are stories of love and heartbreak. There's the good-looking jock who falls for a dangerous girl, and the flipside, the toxic girl who never learned to be loved; the basketball star and the artistic (and shorter) boy she never knew she wanted; the gay boy looking for love online and the girl who could help make it happen. Each story in this unforgettable collection teaches us that relationships are complicated-because there are two sides to every story.

‘Girl Meets Boy’ has an eye-catching cover and is packaged as a perfect romantic read for Spring. It’s a collection of short stories by twelve of the hottest young adult authors around about love and romance. I’m not always a massive fan of the short story format but I was excited to read this particular collection. The editor’s introduction says that the stories are about bridging the gap of gender-based misunderstandings and I think that’s a pretty accurate assessment of this title.

What I really liked was the format which is based on the idea of he said / she said, presenting both the male and female view of a relationship. Often the characters in the stories interpret events completely differently which puts an interesting spin on the stories. The authors who were teamed together included James Howe and Ellen Wittlinger, Chris Cutcher and Kelly Milner Halls, Terry Davis and Rebecca Fjelland Davis, Rita Williams-Garcia and Terry Trueman, Joseph Bruchac and Cynthia Leitich Smith and Sara Ryan and Randy Powell. Some of these authors I’d heard of before and some were completely new to me but I’m now looking forward to reading their other books.

I enjoyed certain stories more than others but then I think that’s always the case with short story collections. My favourites were probably the first in the book ‘Love or Something Like It’ by Chris Cutcher and the reply ‘Some Things Never Change’ by Kelly Milner Halls. I also felt quite touched by ‘Want to Meet’ and ‘Meeting for Real’. These were almost too short for me, as I would have liked to have seen the stories and characters developed further. That’s why I usually prefer full-length books, because the author will always have more time to explore all the issues raised.

I actually would have liked to have seen more romance in a lot of the stories too. There was much less than I’d originally anticipated and many of the stories were about the characters delving into and dealing with their own personal issues rather than romantic love in the conventional sense. These issues ranged from a girl who’d had a sex change, to a gay boy seeking love online, to a relationship between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl. 

Although my heart didn't flutter as much as I thought it would, I still really enjoyed this unique and interesting book which certainly looks very pretty on my shelves!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Oliver Twisted - JD Sharpe giveaway winner

Thank you to everyone that entered my international giveaway to win a copy of 'Oliver Twisted' by JD Sharpe.  If you weren't successful this time then check back again soon when I'll be having another giveaway on the blog.
I'm pleased to announce that the winner is:

#18 Rosie Haigh

Congratulations Rosie!  You will already have received an email from me and your book will be posted to you shortly.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Thank you once again to everyone that entered the giveaway

Friday, 24 February 2012

Review: Gladiator: Street Fighter - Simon Scarrow

Gladiator: Street Fighter by Simon Scarrow, published by Puffin on 2nd February 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Now a member of Julius Caesar’s palace, Marcus’s training continues in the city of Rome. The streets are plagued by vicious gang war attacks, and Caesar must employ his own gang leader, who learns of a plot to murder him.

Only Marcus can go in undercover. But he’s in terrible danger. If the rival gang discover him the price will be fatal. Julius Caesar’s isn’t the only life at risk...

This is the sequel to the bestselling 'Gladiator: Fight For Freedom' and is the second book in the series. 

The book follows Marcus who has been sold into slavery and now finds himself under the command of Julius Caesar.  Assigned to be Caesar's niece's bodyguard, he's also being trained to become a gladiator of the future.  However, what Marcus wants more than anything else is to gain his freedom and that of his mother while trying to conceal the secret of his true heritage from Caesar himself. 

Simon Scarrow brilliantly imagines the political intrigue and brutality of life in Ancient Rome.  Slaves are brought and sold by the rich without any thought to the fact that they're human beings too and people are used as pawns in political mind games.  The two factions of Julius Caesar on one side and Cato on the other are clearly depicted and Scarrow has obviously done his research well, as I found it easy to imagine myself in a bygone era where power is shared among the wealthy and influential, sometimes at the cost of other peoples' lives.

What really sold this book to me though was the central character of Marcus.  He's tough, resiliant, determined and intelligent.  Born free, he has been robbed of his freedom and is set on winning it back, willing to do whatever he has to do to achieve his goal.  I warmed to him immediately and found myself experiencing all of the highs and lows he goes through right alongside him.  Scarrow also gives a voice to the many other slaves who feature in the book, humanising them and showing them as real human beings with thoughts and feelings and cares of their own.  Strong bonds are established between many of them, although for those whose lives are tough, death is often shown to be a welcome release.       

Cleverly combining rich historical details of the period with an entertaining and enjoyable story, this book will particularly appeal to male readers who like their boy heroes tough and courageous.  Having invested in Marcus's adventure, I can't wait to see where his journey will take him next!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Review: Wonder - R.J. Palacio

Wonder by R.J. Palacio, published by Bodley Head on 1st March 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

'Wonder' is truly inspirational.  It's an amazing and emotional read that made me cry so much but that also inspired me to be a better person and a kinder person and to never forget that you shouldn't judge someone by their appearance alone.

This is the type of book that you'll be dying to press into someone elses hands to read as soon as you've finished it.  Instead of tucking it onto your shelves, share it with everyone you know.  It's incredible.  When I reached the last page I had tears in my eyes but I was also smiling after joining Auggie on his wonderful journey to best friends and happiness.

There is a lot of buzz surrounding 'Wonder' but it's not until you actually read it yourself that you understand what it's all about.  When I received this book I wasn't sure initially if it was going to be for me.  It's certainly not the sort of book that I'd normally choose for myself.  However, like the characters I learned not to be so hasty in my judgements as I soon became immersed in the story and rooting for the inspirational August - a little boy who has to endure so much but is still able to enjoy life and teach other people a thing or two about being a better person. 

This is the kind of book that doesn't come along every day.  It's very special and it's one that will stay with you long after finishing it.  You need to read this for yourself.  It's a wonder of a book!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Review: The Repossession - Sam Hawksmoor

The Repossession by Sam Hawksmoor, published on 1st March 2012 by Hodder Children’s Books

Goodreads synopsis:
34 kids missing. Vanished without a trace.

Believing she is possessed, Genie Magee's mother has imprisoned her all summer encouraged by the sinister Reverend Schneider. Beautiful Rian, love of her life, sets her free, and their escape washes them up at Marshall's remote farmhouse downriver. But why are there newspaper clippings of the missing kids pinned to Marshall's bathroom wall? And should they believe his stories about the experiments at the Fortress, an underground research station nearby?

Genie meets Denis. Missing two years now, but hasn't grown an inch. Rian is haunted by Renée, who insists she's not actually dead. Soon they discover the terrible truth about Reverend Schneider and worse, Genie is next ... and Rian can't do a thing to prevent it.

The Repossession is just the beginning.

‘The Repossession’ is a very difficult book to describe. What starts off as something of a modern day Romeo and Juliet tale with two teenagers defying the odds to run away together soon turns into a story of an altogether different nature. Part science-fiction, part romance and part action thriller, the best way to approach this book is with an open mind, prepared for literally anything to happen next.

The story centres mainly around Genie and Rian who’ve run away together to escape Genie’s zealously religious mother and the evil Reverend Schneider who has Genie locked in her room behind iron bars. Madly in love they believe they can start a new life together but trouble soon finds them when they stumble upon the secret behind why so many teenagers from their home town of Spurlake have gone missing and what’s really going on at the sinister Fortress. The revelation of some surprising secrets means that they soon have an altogether different fight on their hands.

Genie and Rian were a slightly unconventional pairing but I thought their relationship was incredibly well written and seemed entirely genuine. They display equal support and care for each other and although they're in love, there is something pure and innocent about their feelings.

A word of warning – do not for a second get complacent and think that you have the story all figured out. You don’t. I loved all the unusual twists and the change of direction and pace which the plot often took. Sam Hawksmoor has an incredible imagination and has written a story which will blow your mind and keep you guessing until the very end. I really enjoyed the scientific aspect of the book which is detailed and plausible and does make you believe that some of the events could actually happen. Many of these passages were clearly explained which was important as many of the ideas are quite complex.

A thrilling read, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Repossession and after being left with an explosive cliff-hanger ending, can’t wait for the second book in the series which is sure to be another big hit!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Review: After the Snow - S.D. Crockett

After the Snow by S.D. Crockett, published by Macmillan Children’s Books on 2nd February 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Set in the haunting and barren landscape of a new ice age, After The Snow is the story of fifteen-year-old Willo, a "straggler" kid who loses his family in the opening pages. Completely alone, he is immediately flung into an icy journey of survival, adventure, friendship and self-discovery – with only the dog spirit inside his head to guide him. Meanwhile, across Britain, outlawed followers of survivalist John Blovyn are planning an escape to the fabled Islands talked of in a revolutionary book...

I’d seen some mixed reviews of ‘After the Snow’ prior to reading it so I tried to approach the book with an open mind. It doesn’t easily fit into the dystopian genre although this is how it could be pigeonholed as the story is set in a barren future wilderness. The book features fifteen year old Willo whose entire family disappears leaving him to survive alone in the cold snow of a bleak ice age.

Narrated by Willo himself, it took me a while to adjust to the style of narration which consists of his inner thoughts and ramblings. He doesn’t have a very wide vocabulary and his inner monologues are often quite short and stilted, so it was several chapters into the book before I was able to read fluently without taking so much notice of his unusual style. After a while it did seem to actually suit the book but overall I did find it difficult to get on with.

I really like books which feature one character battling against the elements and having to survive against all the odds and this seemed to sum up Willo perfectly. Although he does make several friends along the way, including Mary who he takes under his wing, he still seems a lone figure for most of the book even when in the company of others. But he’s quick-witted and has the survival instinct embedded deep inside him which always made me feel confident that he would come out on top in the end.

The overall message of the book seemed to be about having hope and believing in a better future even when things look bleak. Although I found this inspiring, I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed with ‘After the Snow’ as I was hoping for a gripping, dystopian read with interesting and appealing characters but didn’t feel that the book quite delivered all this.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Review: Legend - Marie Lu

Legend by Marie Lu, published by Puffin on 2nd February 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias' death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres.  I can't read enough books that are set in an unknown future but 'Legend' by Marie Lu is one of the most impressive titles that I've come across so far.  Billed as the first in an epic dystopian trilogy which is loosely based on a retelling of Les Miserables, it delivers the goods in spades.  So much so that it's already set to be made into a film by the producers of the Twilight Saga. 

The story is set in Los Angeles, California but it's an America that's unrecognisable to modern day USA.  Split into two warring factions - the Republic and the Colonies, this is an America where children are recruited at a certain age by taking a trial to assess their intelligence, fitness and mental astuteness.  Those who fail are never seen again.  June got the only perfect score ever recorded and is one of the Republic's best recruits.  When her brother is murdered, she vows to hunt down and capture his killer. 

The narrative alternates between June and a fifteen year old boy called Day, who is one of the most wanted criminals in the Republic and the target of June's quest for vengeance.  Sharp and fast paced, the narrative swiftly immerses you in June and Day's world where the one and only thing that matters is surviving.  I really enjoyed getting to know both characters and I loved the fact that we were presented with both a male and female perspective which often meant differing opinions of events and people.  Sometimes I wasn't entirely sure about which of them could be trusted until some of the layers of the plot began to unravel and the various agendas of some of the characters became clearer.  There are also some great secondary characters in the book including Tess who's almost like a sister to Day and Thomas, a friend of June's brother who's hiding some dangerous secrets.  

I thought that the world which Marie Lu created was absolutely incredible.  The image of a government controlling people's lives to such an extreme was both eerie and chilling.  I wanted to know more about the Colonies and the Patriots but I'm guessing that a lot more detail about them will be revealed in the next book in the series.

'Legend' was one of those books which defines the term thrilling.  Compulsive and gripping, it was full of action and excitement and you'll find it very hard to put down for a second.  It's sure to garner fans of dystopian fiction who are looking for that next amazing read and I can't recommend it highly enough. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Waiting on Wednesday #53

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! 

Where it Began by Ann Redisch Stampler
Published on 6th March 2012 by Simon Pulse

Gabby lived under the radar until her makeover. Way under. but when she started her senior year as a blonder, better-dressed version of herself, she struck gold: Billy Nash believed she was a the flawless girl she was pretending to be. The next eight months with Billy were bliss...Until the night Gabby woke up on the ground next to the remains of his BMW without a single memory of how she got there. And Billy's nowhere to be found.

All Gabby wants is to make everything perfect again. But getting her life back isn't difficult, it's impossible. Because nothing is the same, and Gabby's beginning to realize she's missed more than a few danger signs along the way.
It's time for Gabby to face the truth, even if it means everything changes. Especially if it means everything changes.

The cover of this book first attracted me - it's so pretty.  Then I read the description and now I want to get my hands on a copy even more.  It sounds brilliant combining romance with a gripping thriller.  This is the author's young adult debut.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Review: The Catastrophic History of You and Me - Jess Rothenberg

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg, published by Puffin on 2nd February 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Brie's life ends at sixteen: Her boyfriend tells her he doesn't love her, and the news breaks her heart - "literally." But now that she's in heaven, Brie is about to discover that love is way more complicated than she ever imagined. Back in Half Moon Bay, her family has begun to unravel. Her best friend knows a secret about Jacob, the boy she loved and lost - and the truth behind his shattering betrayal. And then there's Patrick, Brie's mysterious new guide and resident Lost Soul who's been D&G (dead and gone) much longer than she? and who just might hold the key to her forever after. With Patrick's help, Brie will have to pass through the five stages of grief before she's ready to move on? but how do you begin again, when your heart is still in pieces?

This is the perfect book if you're looking for a Valentine's Day read with a twist.  Have you ever felt like your heart has broken in two after the end of a romance?  Well for Brie that's quite literally what happens when her boyfriend tells her that he doesn't love her and her heart breaks in half.  She ends up in the after life, looking back on her friends, family and ex-boyfriend Jacob trying to cope after her death.  'The Catastrophic History of You and Me' was one of those books which is about love and romance and boyfriends but more importantly focuses on the personal journey that Brie herself has to go through.  It's a book which comes with some unexpected surprises but will also make you treasure your own life even more after reading it.

I thought the idea for the story was incredibly clever and unusual and the book turned out to be a surprisingly funny read that was full of humour at the most unexpected times.  I found this created a good balance in the story between some of the deeply tragic events and those which were more uplifting.  One of my favourite things was the way in which the story is divided into sections, each representing one of the five stages of grief that Brie has to pass through before she can rest in peace. 

Guiding her in the afterlife is the enigmatic Patrick who there's a lot more to than you first think.  I wasn't sure how much I actually liked Patrick to begin with but as I grew to understand more about him and as his character developed, I ended up really looking forward to the moments when he appeared.  I was dying to know what secret he was keeping hidden about himself and when the big reveal came I wasn't disappointed.  I genuinely had no clue at all which doesn't usually happen to me.

I have to also just briefly mention Brie's totally adorable bassetthound called Hamloaf, who is still able to see her after she dies.  He's one of my favourite characters in the book and I loved the bond they shared.  He's one of the things which still anchors her to her old life and when she eventually comes to accept that she has to let him go, it almost broke my heart too! 

This is an impressive debut from an author who both delighted and surprised me in equal measure.  The ending was perfectly written and was so bittersweet and touching that it brought tears to my eyes.  Be warned - have a box of tissues at the ready to read this wonderful book! 

Sunday, 12 February 2012

In My Mailbox #55

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 haven't done IMM for a little while so this is actually a few weeks worth of books.

Gladiator: Street Fighter by Simon Scarrow
(Really like the sound of this book and it's a gorgeous hardback copy too)

Drive By by Jim Carrington
(Jim Carrington's books are usually quite gritty so look forward to seeing if this one's as good as previous offerings)

Bracelet of Bones by Kevin Crossley-Holland
(Haven't heard much about this book but it has a lovely shiny cover)

Dark Storm by Sarah Singleton
(I'll be reading this one as part of the British Books Challenge)

(Such a pretty cover - I keep wanting to stroke it!)

Spell Bound by Rachel Hawkins
(Love this series and can't wait to start this one and see how it's all going to end)

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
(Have been dying to get my hands on this book for ages)

Forgiven by Jana Oliver
(This is such a great series - excited to see what's going to happen to Beck and Riley next)

Dead Rules by R.S Russell
(Seen some good reviews of this title already)

Friday, 10 February 2012

Review: Every Other Day - Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, published by Quercus on 2nd February 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Every other day, Kali D'Angelo is a normal sixteen-year-old girl. She goes to public high school. She attends pep rallies. She's human.  And then every day in between . . .She's something else entirely.

Though she still looks like herself, every twenty-four hours predatory instincts take over and Kali becomes a feared demon-hunter with the undeniable urge to hunt, trap, and kill zombies, hellhounds, and other supernatural creatures. Kali has no idea why she is the way she is, but she gives in to instinct anyway. Even though the government considers it environmental terrorism.

When Kali notices a mark on the lower back of a popular girl at school, she knows instantly that the girl is marked for death by one of these creatures. Kali has twenty-four hours to save her and, unfortunately, she'll have to do it as a human. With the help of a few new friends, Kali takes a risk that her human body might not survive. . .and learns the secrets of her mysterious condition in the process.

I'm a huge fan of Jennifer Lynn Barnes's Raised by Wolves series so I had high expectations for her new paranormal YA novel which I'd had my eye on for quite a while prior to publication.  While it was an enjoyable read it didn't quite deliver for me on every level and failed to entirely win me over.

Paranormal is one of the hottest crazes on the YA market at the moment and is also one of my favourite genres, mainly because of the sizzling romances they generally feature, along with the kick-ass heroines and supernatural elements which seduce the reader into believing in another world very different to our own.  'Every Other Day' felt like it was trying to combine all of these things but not quite getting there.  There was a scientific strand running throughout the book which explained many of the aspects of the story and this seemed to have been well researched, drawing on Jennifer Lynn Barnes own background.  It was quite complicated though and sometimes I had to go back and read a page again to make sure I understood it all fully.  

Kali D'Angelo is a sixteen year old who is human one day and slaying supernatural creatures the next, a cycle that she repeats over and over every twenty-four hours.  I never felt like I got to know to know the real Kali well enough.  She keeps a lot hidden from the people around her but too much felt like it was concealed from the reader as well.  This may have been because her character is quite introverted and shy but I wanted to know more about who she really was and what made her tick outside of being characterised as a demon slayer.

There was no real romance in the book, although an attempt was made to establish one between Kali and the mysterious Zev, who she doesn't actually meet properly until near the end of the book.  I missed the romance, the dates, the kissing!  Instead, the emphasis is on Kali's burgeoning bond with her new friends who all seem extremely different but are gradually brought together throughout the book to fight a common cause.  I loved Skylar in particular   I also really liked the plot concerning Kali's mother which was intriguing and often quite sinister at times but again could have done with more development.    

I'm not sure if this is a stand-alone novel or planned as part of a series but the ending leaves the latter open as a possibility.  If there is a sequel it will be interesting to see what happens with the story and characters next and might allow for some of the more intriguing aspects of the book to be explored in greater detail.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Review: Hollow Pike - James Dawson

Hollow Pike by James Dawson, published by Indigo on 2nd February 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Something wicked this way comes... She thought she'd be safe in the country, but you can't escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her. Lis thinks she's being paranoid - after all who would want to murder her? She doesn't believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn't believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you? Not until you're alone in the woods, after dark - and a twig snaps... Hollow Pike - where witchcraft never sleeps.

There has been a lot of pre-publication buzz surrounding this debut by British author James Dawson, so I couldn't wait to pick it up as soon as it arrived.  I initially thought that it was going to be about witches and witchcraft but although that was an element of the story it didn't figure as predominantly as I'd imagined.  The plot is actually more concerned with learning to start life over with a fresh slate in front of you and given that chance what you'll do with it.  That's the dilemma that faces Lis London when she moves from her home in Wales to live with her sister in the town of Hollow Pike.

Told in a third person narrative, I was impressed that a male author could write so convincingly from a female point of view.  The dialogue was fresh and engaging and I immediately felt a connection to Lis who was bullied at her old school and has moved away to escape the people who've taunted her for so long.  The book conveys quite a serious message about the impact that bullying can have on people and this was dealt with in a sensitive manner but without pulling any punches about the damage that it can cause.   

I found the start of the book a little slow going which mainly focused on introducing the key players and establishing the plot.  However, the second half was much better with the tension really being ramped up, leading to an explosive ending which sent shivers down my spine.  The story itself seemed to change direction quite rapidly, but I thought it cleverly combined different genres, mixing together a paranormal tale about witches with a contemporary modern day thriller.  I would have liked to have seen more of the romance between Lis and local boy Danny, but on the other hand, it was nice to see girl power trumping the boys for once!     

Overall 'Hollow Pike' was an enjoyable and exciting read which continually left me guessing about all the secrets that the characters were keeping hidden.  I often didn't know who could be trusted and who was hiding something.  I'm really looking forward to future offerings from this very talented British author.    

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Blog Tour: Hollow Pike - James Dawson

I have a fabulous guest post today from James Dawson, the debut author of 'Hollow Pike' which is a gripping and thrilling read about witchcraft and supernatural goings on.  If you haven't grabbed yourself a copy yet then what are you waiting for! 

Who is the ‘Girl Next Door’?

Please allow me to introduce Lis London, the main character of new YA thriller Hollow Pike. In the spirit of ‘show-not-tell’, to really get to know Miss London, you’ll have to buy the book (available now at all good bookshops!). Moreover, I’d really struggle to provide a list of adjectives to describe her, and yet I feel I know her inside out. You guessed it – she’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.

Readers of young adult fiction are more than familiar with this character. Bella Swan, Luce Price, Grace Brisbane and Nora Grey have all gone before Lis, perfect examples of the ‘relatable’ female protagonists of various sagas.

The girls above have a lot in common. First aesthetics. ‘Pretty-but-not-too-pretty’ is a mainstay of YA fiction. Why? All of the girls-next-door are beautiful (in a unique, quirky way) but more than their actual looks, it’s their perceived beauty that counts. A girl who knew she was hot would be a big turn off to any reader, but especially a teenage girl. No-one wants a vain, arrogant best friend – and the MC of a YA novel should be a potential BFF to the reader. Therefore, these girls are doomed to a life of unruly hair, slightly too prominent noses and frustrating ‘boyish’ figures.

Some personality traits are more desirable than others too. While a YA heroine is allowed flaws, her moral compass must firmly point north at all times. If she does stray from the righteous path, it must be because of a) love or b) some greater good. For instance, stealing, lying, betrayal and cheating – while fairly common place in most secondary schools, are not going to fly in YA. That’s right, our girl-next-door is a role model for young readers, whether she likes it or not. As an author, I knew Lis had to be a ‘good girl’, and that’s fine. Lis is a good egg – she loves her friends, she’s never judgemental and has ambition. If Lis inspires other young adults (male or female) to be good eggs too, that is a positive thing.

The funny thing is, the girl next door to me in South West London is a Ugandan Muslim girl who goes the high school up the road. No, the archetype we’re thinking of is Hayden Panettiere or Selena Gomez – who, in reality, are millionaires living in Hollywood mansions. These ‘All American Girls’, sociologically speaking, are constructed more as a remedy to other (often less flattering) cultural stereotypes such as ‘tomboy’, ‘girly girl’ or ‘femme fatale’. They don’t necessarily have characteristics of their own – what sets them apart is their lack of ‘traditional’ feminine traits. In the Marvel Comics world, Mary-Jane Watson is literally presented as the girl next door to Peter Parker – beyond this simple fact she is hard to describe. I personally think the archetype was set by Judy Garland as one Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz – the wide eyed wonderment and moral purity filtering down to Buffy, Bella and beyond.

With this in mind, perhaps the Girl-Next-Door isn’t such a bad thing. Perhaps better to strive for an ‘average, approachable girl’ than a one-note ‘tomboy’. But I know what you’re shouting – there’s no such thing as an ‘average girl’, everyone’s different. All I could do, as an author, was think how I and my friends would react in the situations Lis finds herself in. While writing Hollow Pike, I based Lis on two very dear friends. This, to me, seemed like the best way of making Lis ‘real’. I wonder if all writers do this.

Anyway, I’d love to know what readers think of Lis London. She’s already my BFF, so I hope you take her to your hearts too. Look after her, she’s a good egg.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Blog tour: Oliver Twisted - J.D Sharpe

I have a wonderful guest post today by J.D Sharpe, the author of the fabulous 'Oliver Twisted'.  This was a fantastic read combining all the things I loved about Dicken's original novel with a fresh and unique new twist.

Me, Dickens and London

London was Dickens’s greatest inspiration. He knew its backstreets and alleys better than anyone. The slums that populated the city may have long-since been torn down for tube stations, but his vivid descriptions remain with us, a living, breathing history. Dickens often walked the streets, for hours on end, plotting his novels and observing the lives of men, women and children around him. With his words he conjures up for us the sights, smells and sounds of a bygone London.

As a born and bred Londoner, the city has a lot to do with how I define myself as a person. I love its busyness, its craziness. I love its glitter and grittiness. Living in London is like living in Technicolor, you have to be switched on and aware in a way that just isn’t quite the same anywhere else.

I no longer live in London but if you opened up my veins I think I would bleed a Central Line red with a bit of Piccadilly Line blue.

To write Oliver Twisted, I did quite a lot of research on Dickens. He had his frustrations with the city - he hated the poverty he saw and the bureaucracy of government that had its seat in London but when all is said and done he loved the city as much as I do.

So, as we are both such fans of big smoke, here are some of my favourite London haunts/memories and some of Dickens’s as well.

Favourite Theatre
CD  For Dickens his favourite theatre may well have been the Lyceum Theatre. A stage adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities was performed here with Dickens overseeing rehearsals. It is said he might have even directed the play!

JD  One of my favourite theatre experiences has got to be Accomplice. It is part show, part tour, part mystery and all of awesome. You can buy tickets at the Menier Chocolate Factory but London is really your stage for this event!

Favourite Restaurant
CD Rules is one of the oldest restaurants In London, it began its life in 1798. Dickens used to eat here often as have many other actors and literary greats including HG Wells and Charlie Chaplin.

JD Abu Zaad – A fantastic Syrian restaurant in Shepherds Bush. Great kebabs and fabulous fruit juices.

London Childhood Home
CD Dickens spent a chunk his childhood in Camden, at 16 Bayham Street to be precise although this building has now been torn down. He lived here while working near Covent Garden more of that later.

JD Hornsey. Home of Alexandra Palace Ice Rink, thespian Crouch End with lovely cafes, and the awesome Stroud Green and Harringey Library where I spent many an hour immersed in books when I was younger.

Toughest London Job
JD Working in a McDonalds, near the old Arsenal football stadium, when I was 16. Let’s just say that football fans + hungry does not = a pretty picture.

CD. Working just off the Strand, sticking labels onto pots of paste blacking used for boot polish when he was just 12 years old.

Favourite way to see London
CD Walking

Dickens would walk anything from 10 to 20 miles a day. He did this for exercise, recreation and thinking time. These series of apps capture his walks brilliantly.

JD Tube. I love writing on the tube, something about the movement helps me to think. Also it’s a great place to people watch [not in a creepy way] and is a marvellous vehicle of discoveries.

So, the next time you’re at a loose end, get a travel card and get off at a stop you’ve never been to before. I love doing this. I remember the first time I headed south of the river and went to Elephant and Castle because it sounded so cool.

I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t that rather forlorn pink elephant on top of the shopping mall . . .

Monday, 6 February 2012

Review and Giveaway: Oliver Twisted - JD Sharpe

Oliver Twisted by JD Sharpe, published by Electric Monkey on 6th February 2012 

Goodreads synopsis:
The world according to Oliver Twisted is simple. Vampyres feed on the defenceless. Orphans are sacrificed to hungry gods. And if a woe-begotten catches your scent it will hunt you for ever. When a talking corpse reveals that Oliver will find his destiny in London, he sets out to seek the truth. Even if it means losing his soul.

'Oliver Twisted' is one of the first offerings from Egmont's new young adult imprint Electric Monkey.  Published to tie-in with the bicentenary of Charles Dickens, 'Oliver Twisted' puts a fresh spin on the Dickens classic while remaining true to the spirit of the original. 

I'm a huge admirer of Dicken's work so I was immediately intrigued about this title.  Much like the author JD Sharpe, I've always loved 'Oliver Twist' and enjoyed the story of an orphan boy whose life eventually takes a turn for the better after enduring hardship and adversity.  I was curious to see how the author was going to reintroduce this story to a whole new audience of readers while injecting it with a modern twist.  The introduction of vampyres, zombies and werewolves does the job quite nicely!

Familiar characters are not forgotten and are cleverly interwoven into the story, including faces such as the Artful Dodger, Nancy, Bill Sykes and the wicked Fagin.  It was fun to see Dodger turning himself into a wisp of smoke and Fagin having a magical hold over his boys.

A new backstory is invented for Oliver who is still an orphan but now also becomes a pawn who the infamous and evil Brotherhood want to use to defeat the Knights of Nostradamus.  I thought this was an interesting subversion of the original plot and meant that the story actually became far darker and creepier than the classic we all know and love.  Before starting this book I did worry that it might be a bit too gory for my tastes but in actuality I found that there were just the right amount of thrills and spills to make this a compulsive and exciting read.

'Oliver Twisted' is an inventive take on a much loved classic and one which will have widespread appeal for both a male and female readership.  I really enjoyed reading it and look forward to more books by JD Sharpe in the future.  

To celebrate the release of 'Oliver Twisted' I'm giving away a 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 22nd February.
  • 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.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Review: Desert Angel - Charlie Price

Desert Angel by Charlie Price, published by Corgi on 2nd February 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Nowhere is safe...

Angel is on the run. Her mother is dead, her body buried in a shallow grave by her latest boyfriend, Scotty, a ruthless, illegal hunter who is prone to violence and who wants Angel dead before she can talk to the police.
Angel has lived through more than a young girl should have but she's determined to stay alive.
But in the scorching heat of the open desert, where can she hide?

Dubbed as a 'cat and mouse thriller', I thought that 'Desert Angel' was going to be a gripping and exciting read.  Although some parts of the story were pretty tense, it didn't quite live up to my expectations.  Angel is on the run, being chased by Scotty, the man who murdered her mother and then tried to kill her too.  Only fourteen years old she's wise beyond her years but is now caught in a desperate struggle for survival with a dangerous killer. 

There is a claustrophobic feel about the story and you get the sense that no matter where Angel goes, Scotty will hunt her down and find her.  However, whereas I thought that Angel was going to have to rely on her wits and survival instincts alone and that most of the story would take place in the middle of the desert, in reality, Angel soon meets a number of people who are willing to help her, including Rita who becomes like a proper mother to Angel.  This changed the dimensions of the story quite significantly and meant that the story was rather more sedate in places than it could have been.  In particular, I found that the passages which took place in the local school were rather at odds with the main plot and slowed down the overall flow of the story.

Scotty was a sinister figure throughout, particularly because some of his actions against Angel are never spoken aloud but the implication of what he's done to her are explicit never the less.  He also comes across as an insane and unhinged individual who is ruthless in his single-minded pursuit of her.   

I found the ending of the book quite abrupt and after the inevitable showdown everything seemed to be wrapped up quite quickly, leaving some parts feeling slightly underdeveloped.  Although I had high hopes for 'Desert Angel' it just didn't deliver on its earlier promise.     

Friday, 3 February 2012

Review: The Storyteller - Antonia Michaelis

The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis, published by Amulet Books on 1st January 2012 

Goodreads synopsis:
Anna and Abel couldn’t be more different. They are both seventeen and in their last year of school, but while Anna lives in a nice old town house and comes from a well-to-do family, Abel, the school drug dealer, lives in a big, prisonlike tower block at the edge of town. Anna is afraid of him until she realizes that he is caring for his six-year-old sister on his own. Fascinated, Anna follows the two and listens as Abel tells little Micha the story of a tiny queen assailed by dark forces. It’s a beautiful fairy tale that Anna comes to see has a basis in reality. Abel is in real danger of losing Micha to their abusive father and to his own inability to make ends meet. Anna gradually falls in love with Abel, but when his “enemies” begin to turn up dead, she fears she has fallen for a murderer. Has she?

I thought I was going to love this book.  The synopsis sounded entrancing and the cover is beautiful and eye catching.  I also nearly always adore books which combine elements of fairytales so this one sounded like the perfect read.  Sadly, even taking all that into consideration, this book didn't compel me as I imagined it would and I had problems with the subject matter and some of the topics which the author touched upon in the story.  This is a very heavy read and for this reason I would probably only recommend it to the slightly older teen age bracket.  It's not your typical romantic fare and is much darker than I was anticipating at the start. 

The main character Anna falls in love with Abel who looks after his younger sister Micha and who has a bad reputation at their school.  Irresistibly drawn to him, Anna believes that Abel is a puzzle she can solve and finds herself quickly falling under his spell.  Abel is a storyteller (hence the title) and begins to weave a magical tale for his sister and Anna about an orphan queen with a diamond heart.  As Abel's story progresses and bad things start to happen, Anna begins to see similarities between his story and real life people and events.  Now in theory this sounds quite good but on paper it just didn't work for me.  It was more like a teaspoon of romance and a then a bucket full of violence, abuse drug taking and murder - themes which didn't appeal to me at all. 

I didn't click with Anna and Abel as characters either and I didn't like the violent nature of their relationship.  Without giving anything away, there's a major scene between them in the book which had me stop reading and put this book down.  I very nearly didn't pick it up again.  I found their romance hard to believe in and for me, Abel was too dark and secretive which instead of leaving me feeling intrigued, left me mistrusting him and being wary of him and his true intentions towards Anna. 

The one bit of the book that I did enjoy was the fairytale of the orphan queen, the lighthouse keeper, the rose girl and the sea lion which did have a magical quality about it and I actually found it more interesting than the main storyline which wasn't a good sign.

Part thriller and part love story, the tone of 'The Storyteller' was quite dark and sinister.  Much of the book was shocking and violent which I didn't like and actually left me feeling very unsettled.  I think the author has been brave in confronting some extremely sensitive and hard hitting subjects but unfortunately it just wasn't for me. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Review: A Beautiful Evil - Kelly Keaton

A Beautiful Evil by Kelly Keaton, published by Simon and Schuster on 2nd February 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
When Ari first arrived in the dilapidated city of New 2, all she wanted was to figure out who she was. But what she discovered was beyond her worst nightmare. Ari can already sense the evil growing inside her—a power the goddess Athena will stop at nothing to possess.

Desperate to hold on to her humanity and protect her loved ones, Ari must fight back. But Athena’s playing mind games, not just with Ari but with those she cares about most. And Athena has a very special plan for the brooding and sexy Sebastian.

Ari is determined to defeat Athena, but time is running out. With no other options, Ari must unleash the very thing she’s afraid of: herself.

This is a stellar sequel to 'Darkness Becomes Her' which was one of my surprise favourites of last year.  The plot is significantly advanced and plenty of lingering questions are answered.  There's no danger of second book syndrome here with this fantastic read which kept me gripped from start to finish.

The story picks up with Ari wanting to rescue her father and Violet from the clutches of Athena, as well as figure out a way to break the curse which has plagued her family.  I loved her determination to save the people who matter to her and I enjoyed seeing her trying to embrace her powers, however much they scare her, so that she can take down Athena once and for all.  She's an unstoppable force when she sets her mind to something and she's often willing to sacrifice herself to ensure the safety of others which is an admirable quality.

She also has to navigate her relationship with Sebastian who continues to be charming and mysterious.  He's sexy and gorgeous, plus he has one of my favourite names of all time - what more could you want!  His character takes a major step in this book which I definitely did not see coming.  I'm looking forward to finding out how this will affect the two of them in the next instalment. 

I was pleased that we got to learn more about all the Gods and the personal history of Athena which I found really interesting.  Ari also gets to explore the Novem Library which is in a very unusual place and throws new light on what she's up against.  The mythological aspect of the series is one of the things I love best about these books, so I was glad that a significant amount of time was spent on ensuring this was interwoven into the plot.    

Seductive storytelling and full on action makes this a book not to be missed.  Fans of the paranormal romance genre should go out and grab this one now.  You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Waiting on Wednesday #52

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! 

Bunheads by Sophie Flack
Published on 1st March 2012 by Atom
As a dancer with the Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward is living her childhood dream. She gets to be up on stage in front of adoring crowds every night. And while she might not be a prima ballerina yet, she's moving up the ranks and surely if she works hard enough she can make it happen.

But devoting her whole life to ballet leaves very little time for anything else: friends, family, school have all fallen by the wayside. Hannah doesn't mind, until a chance encounter in a restaurant brings Jacob into her life. He's cute, he plays guitar and he's offering a whole future that Hannah never considered. And now she must choose between her lifelong dream or what could be the love of her life...
I am obsessed with books that are set in the ballet world so when I first heard about this title I knew I wanted to read it.  I've heard quite a lot of buzz about 'Bunheads' already so I'm counting down the days until it's released. 
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