Thursday, 30 August 2012

Review: Envy - Elizabeth Miles

Envy by Elizabeth Miles, published by Simon and Schuster on 30th August 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Spring is here, and the ice is slowly melting in Ascension…revealing the secrets buried beneath.

The Furies are back, and Emily Winters is about to discover that their roots in Ascension are deeper than she ever imagined. With the help of her new friend Drea, she vows to take them down. But it's hard to focus when she's desperate to make up with JD, and to figure out why Crow, a mysterious Ascension High dropout, seems to be shadowing her.

Meanwhile, new girl Skylar McVoy is determined to leave her own dark past behind. So she's thrilled when not only does popular Gabby takes her under her wing, but the stunning and sophisticated Meg offers to give her a major makeover. But everyone knows what happens to the vainest girl of all…

It's tempting to be naughty. But beware: the Furies are always watching, and their power grows stronger by the day.

Dangerous and seductive, 'Envy' was the perfect sequel to Elizabeth Miles's bestseller 'Fury'.  With a cover which is equally entrancing, I adored this book and read it from cover to cover in one day.

Returning to the small town of Ascension, Em is struggling to cope after the events of the previous book.  Still trying to find out more about The Furies and what they want, she also finds herself distanced from JD, the boy she loves.

Em's point of view is interspersed with that of a new girl, Skylar McVoy, who desperately wants to become popular and liked at Ascension High.  There's a secret in Skylar's past which is hinted at throughout but not revealed until near the end of the story.  I feared for her from the word go as she unwittingly becomes involved with The Furies and starts to act out of character.  Although she initially comes across as a little bit one-dimensional with her desire to become Queen Bee at the school, glimpses into her past reveal more about her motives and I found her an interesting character.  

There's a sinister undertone through the whole story which drew me in and kept me gripped.  You know that something terrible is going to happen but you're not quite sure what.  Everyone's lives are at threat from The Furies and their terrible need for vengeance and their desire to punish those who have committed wrongdoings.  Everytime they appeared they were really creepy, pretending to be kind and helpful when underneath they are pure evil, causing unbelievable pain and upset to those they come into contact with.    

'Envy' had a stunning ending which really threw me for a loop.  Looking back on the book I guess there are a lot of hints to what's going to happen but I still found it incredibly surprising and a brilliant change of direction for the series.    

This series is one of my favourites and I can't wait for the next instalment which is set to be called 'Eternity' and will be published in 2013. 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Review: The Forsaken - Lisa M. Stasse

The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse, published by Orchard Books on 2nd August 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Alenna Shawcross is a sixteen-year-old orphan growing up in a police state formed from the ashes of Canada, the US and Mexico after a global economic meltdown.

But when she unexpectedly fails ‘the test’ - a government initiative which supposedly identifies teens destined to be criminals - she wakes up alone on a remote island reserved for the criminally insane.

Terrified and confused, she soon encounters a group of other teen survivors battling to stay alive, including Liam, a boy who will become her love... and her lifeline.

Soon Alenna makes the terrifying discovery that there’s more to the island (and her past) than she could ever have guessed... But who can she trust? And can she ever escape?

When I read the publisher’s tagline for ‘The Forsaken’ which described it as “Lost meets the Hunger Games”, I knew that this was a book I wanted to read. Mystery happenings on a strange island and a group of teenagers trying to survive in a foreign and dangerous environment – it sounded amazing and it was!

Lisa M. Stasse has written a thrilling debut novel which captured my imagination from the very first chapter. The story is set in a future society where economic meltdown has caused a block of countries calling themselves the United Nations Alliance to form. It is this society which the main character Alenna lives in as an orphan, her parents having been taken from her when she was ten years old.

I loved the setting of this book. There’s a sense of complete isolation on the island – this is a place so remote that there’s no obvious way to leave and no easy way to survive. The landscape is alien to the teenagers who arrive on the island and there is the added threat hanging over them that the life expectancy of residents is only eighteen years old. It was interesting seeing the way in which they each tried to adapt to their environment, with some settling in better than others.

Action packed from the very first page, the story took a complete change of direction near the end.  There was a very surprising twist in the final few chapters which I didn’t seem coming at all.  I enjoyed the fact that Lisa M. Stasse kept me guessing and events never became predictable in the slightest.

I would have liked to have seen perhaps a little more romance in the book, as a relationship developments between Alenna and the gorgeous Liam but considering the circumstances, it’s understandable why this had to take a bit of a back seat. Hopefully this will be developed more as the series progresses.

Enormously enjoyable, I loved 'The Forsaken' and can't wait to read the next book!    

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Review: Gods and Warriors - Michelle Paver

Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver, published by Puffin on 28th August 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
In the turbulent world of the Mediterranean Bronze Age, long before the Greek myths, a boy and a girl battle for survival. With the help of three animal allies - a dolphin, a falcon and a lion cub - they defeat the forces of tyranny and withstand the elemental powers of the gods of land and sea.

I'm a huge fan of Michelle Paver and I loved her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.  I was therefore massively excited to have an opportunity to review the first book in her brand new series 'Gods and Warriors'.

The story is set during the Bronze Age and features an unlikely hero called Hylas, a twelve year old boy who finds himself being hunted down by rebels at the start of the book.  The beginning is fast paced and incredibly thrilling as Hylas manages to escape but finds himself separated from his younger sister Issi and out in the world on his own.

I thought the setting for the story was wonderful.  Michelle Paver always does such thorough and meticulous research and this pays off with fantastically precise details of Hylas's world.  I found the beliefs of the people of the Bronze Age hugely interesting and enjoyed reading about their connections to the spirits and their rituals in worshipping a greater power.  The descriptions of all the places that Hylas visits in the book are rich and detailed which made them easy to imagine as I was reading.

There are lots of other great characters in the book too, including Pirra who wants to experience freedom but is destined for a marriage she does not want.  Her path eventually crosses with that of Hylas as they each face personal struggles.

One of my favourite things about Paver's books is the way she depicts the relationship between people and animals.  as well as the chapters from Hylas's point of view, there are also the ones seen through the eyes of the dolphin that comes to his rescue.  From the dolphin is conveyed a sense of the vastness and beauty of the ocean and it's hidden depths.  Although animal and boy, the two share a special bond which runs extremely deep.

'Gods and Warriors' is a brilliantly written opening to what promises to be an epic adventure.  Paver is definitely back even better than ever.  This is the first in a five book series, the next of which will be published in 2013, so I'm looking forward immensely to following Hylas on the next stage of his journey.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Guest post: Bound trilogy - Sarah Bryant

I have a wonderful guest post today from author Sarah Bryant who has written a fantastic piece about how she made the transition from adult to young-adult novels.  Sarah is the author of two of my favourite books of the year so far, 'Bound' and 'Riven' which form part of her brilliant Bound trilogy.


I think everyone from my publisher to my mom raised their eyebrows when, after four and a half (more on the half later) ‘grownup’ novels, I dropped everything to write a YA paranormal romance. But the truth is, each of those four and a half novels could have been – was even trying to be – a YA novel. They all have teenage heroines, aside from one who’s just turned twenty-one and is still very much a girl. The heroines all have unusual, sometimes supernatural abilities or talents which lead them to unusual, sometimes epic, destinies. And they all find true love in the process.

But these books are also pretty heavy on politics and religion and history and a lot of other things that don’t really cut it in the YA market. So I guess the obvious question is why I chose to turn what could have been relatively simple teen fiction into much more complicated – and possibly less saleable – adult stuff. The answer is partly that my publisher didn’t do children’s books before I talked them into printing ‘Bound’. But mostly it’s because, up until quite recently, I was too much of a literary snob to write YA. And the reason for that goes way back to my childhood.

Teen paranormal romance has been my favorite guilty pleasure since I was far too young to be reading it, and I’ve been writing it since I exhausted the local library’s collection, circa age twelve. I finished my first novel, a YA paranormal romance, at age sixteen, and very nearly had it published. The ‘very nearly’, however, was my downfall. If it had seen print then, I probably would have embraced the genre as legitimate and continued down that road.

Instead, I went to an Ivy League university to study English literature, and spent the next four years reading and analyzing literary heavyweights. There was no time to read outside the curriculum, and there was certainly no Teen Literature 101 on the menu. Likewise, the creative writing masters’ program I attended afterward would have laughed me out the door if I’d put the first chapter of ‘Bound’ in front of them.

By the time I got my MLitt, I was fully convinced that I’d never be taken seriously as a writer unless I wrote about weighty ‘grownup’ things like politics and religion and history. So that’s what I did…except, somehow, my books kept being about teenage girls. And there were always ghosts and dreams, monsters and prophecies and inexplicable hands of fate somewhere in the mix. I was half way through novel number five, another weighty historical that happened to feature a teenage girl with paranormal tendencies, when I picked up ‘Twilight’.
I admit, I was blown away – but not in a fangirl kind of a way. In fact, while the story was a good, solid Gothic, I couldn’t love it because I didn’t much like either Bella (insipid and spineless) or Edward (controlling and paternalistic). What really fired me up was the book’s runaway popularity, not just with its intended audience, but with their mums and older sisters and grandmothers and, no doubt, a few boyfriends who would never admit to it. At last, it seemed, the rest of the world had figured out what I’d known all along: if you want a fast, well-plotted escape from reality, look no further than the local library’s YA section. So maybe it was time for me to write one.

I already had pages of notes for a book about a fallen angel which had never quite panned out, plus more material from a stalled web-based project on the same topic. Both had misfired, I think, because I was trying to frame them for an adult audience. Filtered through the perception of an innocent teenage girl, though, these germs of a story suddenly leapt into 3D Technicolor reality. Hot, angsty fallen angel = adolescent girl’s dream guy. But where to begin?

At first I toyed around with a historical setting, since that was what I’ve always written. Immediately I got bogged down in the details, and my husband-cum-chief-editor said, “Don’t you think kids would relate to it better if it’s set in the present?” That was maybe his best advice ever. As soon as I set it in the present day, in a place I knew very well, ‘Bound’ basically wrote itself. Four months after that conversation – compare to two years for most of my others – I had a finished book, and a brand new view of what it takes to make a good one.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll write nothing but YA ever again. In fact, when I finish the ‘Bound’ trilogy I plan to go back to grownup book 4.5, and hopefully make a go of it. But I’m also glad to have come out of my YA closet at last. True love, after all, is a rare gift, and should never be denied.

Thank you Sarah for a wonderful guest post!  Don't forget that you can also find out more about Sarah and her books on her website or by following her on Twitter @Sarah_Bryant_C

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Review: Clarity - Kim Harrington

Clarity by Kim Harrington, published by Scholastic on 7th June 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Clarity “Clare” Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch a certain object, and the visions come to her. It’s a gift.

And a curse.

When a teenage girl is found murdered, Clare’s ex-boyfriend wants her to help solve the case—but Clare is still furious at the cheating jerk. Then Clare’s brother—who has supernatural gifts of his own—becomes the prime suspect, and Clare can no longer look away. Teaming up with Gabriel, the smoldering son of the new detective, Clare must venture into the depths of fear, revenge, and lust in order to track the killer. But will her sight fail her just when she needs it most?

‘Clarity’ by Kim Harrington is like a modern-day Nancy Drew mystery but with a twist. Clarity “Clare” Fern is actually a psychic who only has to touch an object to see imprints and visions. The story focuses on her search for a young girl’s killer, whilst also trying to prove the innocence of her own brother Perry.

The opening scene is quite shocking and grabbed my interest immediately. Chapter two takes place nine days earlier and shows how events unfold up to the moment that Clare’s life is on the line. This definitely hooks the reader in and got me trying to guess who couldn’t be trusted throughout the story.

I really liked the paranormal element of the story and the fact that it’s not something which has to be concealed or kept secret. Clare is very open and honest about her gift, even though she is ostracised by many of the other teenagers at her school. As psychic talents run in her family however, she always has the support of her mother and brother.

There’s a love triangle between Clare, her ex-boyfriend Justin and hot new guy in town, Gabriel. They have equal good points but I think Justin was my favourite because although he’s made mistakes where Clare is concerned, he still cares about her and wants to do the right thing. Although I did really like both boys, I have to admit that I’m getting a little bit tired of the love triangle dynamic in so many young-adult books. Sometimes it can work brilliantly but at other times it can feel a bit formulaic.

Kim Harrington’s debut novel is an enjoyable read with plenty of mystery and romance along the way. This book is a fantastic start to the series and the sequel, ‘Perception’ is due to be published in 2013.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Review: Such Wicked Intent - Kenneth Oppel

Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel, published by David Fickling Books on 2nd August 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankestein to swear off alchemy for ever. He burnd the Dark Library. He vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother’s betrothed. If only these things were not so tempting.

When Victor and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with their friend Henry, they venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledgeto raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.

*There may be spoilers from the previous book in the series.

I absolutely loved this book!  It's the sequel to 'This Dark Endeavour' and the series forms a prequel to Mary Shelley's classic novel 'Frankenstein'.  I adore gothic novels and this fits perfectly within this genre.  Gripping, thrilling and at times quite nerve-wracking, this was a fantastic read.

Bereft after the death of his twin brother Konrad, Victor vows to burn the Dark Library and leave his previous endeavours behind once and for all.  However, an unexpected discovery leads to him once more embarking on a new experiment to try and enter the spirit world and bring his brother back.  I don't want to give too much away about the plot, but Elizabeth and their friend Henry Clervall both become embroiled in Victor's quest and this may change their relationship for ever more. 

Victor's thirst for knowledge is unquenchable.  He has a scientific mind and is always pushing the boundaries of what is and isn't possible.  He generally has good intentions but his experiments don't always run smoothly and he does have a habit of drawing others into his plans.  He's always curious to see how things work which is an admirable character trait to have but it is this passion which causes a lot of problems for him and his friends.   

I read this book in one evening because the story was so gripping.  There are many elements to it which lead the reader one step closer to the events of 'Frankenstein' and these were fascinating to see unravel.  It had a truly explosive ending which had me on the edge of my seat and I'm now absolutely desperate to read the concluding part of the trilogy. 

Brilliant storytelling by Kenneth Oppel makes this a fitting tribute to a much loved classic.  I've heard that film rights to the series have been sold so I'm also looking forward to seeing it transferred to the big screen at some point in the future. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Review: Witch and Wizard: The Fire - James Patterson

Witch and Wizard: The Fire by James Patterson, published by Young Arrow on 5th December 2011

Goodreads synopsis:
Whit and Wisty Allgood have sacrificed everything to lead the Resistance against the merciless totalitarian regime that governs their world. Its supreme leader, The One Who Is The One, has banned everything they hold dear: books, music, art, and imagination. But the growing strength of the sibling' magic hasn't been enough to stop The One's evil rampage, and now he's executed the only family they had left.

Wisty knows that the time has finally come for her to face The One. But her fight and her fire only channel more power to this already formidable being. How ca she and Whit possible prepare for their imminent showdown with the ruthless villain who devastated their world- before he can become truly all-powerful?

* There may be spoilers from previous books in the series.

I've had my ups and downs with this series.  I thought it got off to a good start and then dipped a little with the second book.  I wasn't sure what to expect from 'The Fire' but overall it was an enjoyable read and I'm glad I stuck with it and got to finish Whit and Wisty's journey with them.  The ending was well written and thought out and featured the long awaited and looked forward to showdown between our hero and heroine and the dreaded The One.

Whit and Wisty's ultimate goal has always been to fulfil the prophecy and defeat The One but along the way they have learnt so many valuable life lessons and have really matured as characters. They've experienced a lot and they are no longer the naive and innocent teenagers that were first seen in 'Witch and Wizard'. They have a new determination and strength in this concluding instalment and they never shy away from making hard choices and defending the people they love.

The format of the book remains the same with short chapters, alternating between the viewpoints of Whit and his sister.  I still find the fact that the chapters are so brief to be a little frustrating but I've gotten used to it by now.  The fact that the end was near meant the tension was ramped up which was welcome and led to a pacy story which had me turning the pages quickly. 

A resolution is finally reached between Whit and Celia, which I was intrigued to see as well as between the siblings and their parents.  I won't say anymore because I don't want to reveal what these resolutions actually consist of, apart from to say that they perfectly fitted the overal plot of the story.

Co-authored between James Patterson and Jill Dembowski, this was an exciting and adventurous book which featured lots of twists and turns and had a satisfactory ending at long last.  

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Review: Whisper - Alyson Noel

Whisper by Alyson Noel, published by Macmillan Children's Books on 2nd August 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Twelve-year-old Riley Bloom - ace Soul Catcher - faces her toughest challenge yet. She must travel to ancient Rome and convince dead gladiator Theocoles to accept his fate and move on. Then she meets the charming Messalina, who gives Riley a dramatic makeover, transforming her into a beautiful teenager. Finally Riley experiences her first kiss... In a world this enchanting, will she ever want to leave?

Riley Bloom is growing up in this fourth book in the popular series by Alyson Noel.  She faces yet another challenge as a soul catcher when she is sent to the Colosseum in Ancient Rome to convince Theocoles, a dead gladiator, to move on.

Riley is such a great character.  She's bright and intelligent, funny and endearing.  Although she may not always make the right choices and decisions, which is realistic considering she is only twelve, she has a habit of learning valuable lessons along the way which help her to do the right thing in the end.

In 'Whisper' she comes up against her toughest challenge yet when she has to achieve something that no other soul catcher has managed to do, get through to the pretty tough and scary Theocoles.  But she also has so much more to experience, including a first kiss and the very real possibility of finally becoming a teenager at long last.

Alyson Noel manages to convey so many important messages in her books about embracing what matters most and never forgetting to believe in yourself.  Riley learns from the mistakes she makes and in the process is becoming a much more rounded and grown-up character.

This is one of my favourite series as Riley Bloom books never disappoint.  Although a quick read, I spent a very enjoyable afternoon curled up with this title and honestly didn't want it to end.  

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Review: The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket, published by Randomhouse Children's Books on 2nd August 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Barnaby Brocket is an ordinary 8-year-old boy in most ways, but he was born different in one important way: he floats. Unlike everyone else, Barnaby does not obey the law of gravity. His parents, who have a horror of being noticed, want desperately for Barnaby to be normal, but he can't help who he is. And when the unthinkable happens, Barnaby finds himself on a journey that takes him all over the world. From Brazil to New York, Canada to Ireland, and even to space, the floating boy meets all sorts of different people--and discovers who he really is along the way.

This is a charming and heartwarming story about a young boy who dares to be different.  I wouldn't normally have picked this one up because it is predominantly aimed at younger readers but I'm so glad that I got the opportunity to read it because it was simply lovely.  The perfect book to put a smile on your face at all the exciting and wonderful adventures that our hero Barnaby gets up to along the way.

I should mention that there are also some wonderful illustrations throughout the book by Oliver Jeffers which show Barnaby on his extraordinary journey.

The story is about embracing the things that make you different rather than always trying to change and fit in with everyone else.  This is an important message to convey to children reading the book and one which we should all remember.

The book reminded me quite a lot of some of the best Roald Dahl stories where the adults are far from perfect and could actually learn a thing or two from their children.  Mr and Mrs Brocket are desperate for their whole family to be seen as normal and one of their mistakes is to value this more highly than the things which make each of them special in their own right and which should be celebrated rather than hidden away.

A pocket sized book with a pocket sized hero, Barnaby Brocket is one of those characters that you'll remember long after reading the final page.  He has a whole host of amazing experiences and sees some incredible sights as he travels around the world.  He also meets lots of interesting people who teach him some valuable life lessons.  He's an inspiring figure who we could all learn a thing or two from.

This is a great book for both children and adults.  It is a unique story which is sad in places but ultimately an uplifting tale of daring to dream.  

Monday, 13 August 2012

Review: Crusher - Niall Leonard

Crusher by Niall Leonard, published by Doubleday on 13th September 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
To catch a killer, Finn Maguire may have to become one....

Everything changed the day Finn found his father in a pool of blood, bludgeoned to death. His dull, dreary life is turned upside down as he becomes the prime suspect. How can he clear his name and find out who hated his dad enough to kill him?

Facing danger at every turn, uncovering dark family secrets and braving the seedy London underworld, Finn is about to discover that only the people you trust can really hurt you....

'Crusher' is a thrilling cat and mouse chase through the streets of London, as Finn Maguire attempts to find out who murdered his father.

When I'm not reading young-adult novels (which isn't often) I do enjoy reading the occasional crime thriller.  One of my favourite authors is Simon Kernick whose books I can devour in a single sitting.  I would put the amazing Niall Leonard in the same category because 'Crusher' (his YA debut) was just as gripping and pulse pounding and gave me sweaty palms from start to finish.  Leonard is the husband of E.L. James who is of course extremely well-known for her bestselling novel 'Fifty Shades of Gray'.  With this title however he establishes himself as a talent to be applauded in his own right because this book is fantastic.

Finn's whole life is turned upside down when he returns home one day to find his father dead, killed at his own kitchen table.  Initially suspected by the police, he decided that he'll clear his name by finding out who the real murderer is.  Finn's had a rough life - his mother abandoned him when he was young, he has a police record for trying to sell drugs and he was never very good at school because of being dyslexic.  He is however pretty street wise, skilled at boxing and most of all determined and that will stand him in good stead for tracking down the man responsible for robbing him of his father.

The story felt very authentic and real, capturing the grittiness of the London back streets, as well as the seedy life of crime which lies behind the veneer of civilised society.  As Finn investigates further into his father's death he becomes more and more embroiled in danger.  There's a very exciting scene which takes place in Finn's house and although I can't reveal too much about it, the words tough and brutal come to mind.  

There is a massive twist near the end of the book which I never saw coming!  A trademark of crime novels is usually the red herring and most of the time I tend to guess what these are before they are revealed but not this time.  I literally had no clue at all!  I whipped through the last few pages because the story was so good that I couldn't wait to see how Niall Leonard was going to wrap everything up.

If you enjoy crime novels, then you'll love 'Crusher' which is one of the best young adult novels within this genre I've ever read.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Guest post - Shattered Dreams - Ellie James

I have a brilliant guest post today from the fabulous Ellie James, author of one of my favourite books so far this year 'Shattered Dreams' which is published by Quercus.  Here's a bit more about her Midnight Dragonfly series -  

The firstborn daughter, of the firstborn daughter, of the firstborn daughter, sixteen year old psychic Trinity Monsour has a connection to the Other Side. She knows secrets and truths she shouldn’t, feels emotions that do not belong to her, and see events that have yet to happen. They come to her as glimpses, shadowy, disjointed snapshots that flicker through her dreams. Some terrify: a girl screaming, a knife lifting, a body in the grass. But others--the dark, tortured eyes and the shattering kiss, the promise of forever--whisper to her soul.

They come without warning. They come without detail.

But they always mean the same thing: The clock is ticking, and only Trinity can stop it. 

Ellie has written a really interesting piece about her love of the unexplained and how that gave birth to the character of Trinity, so without further ado it's over to Ellie.  
Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog!
I’ve always been fascinated by the unexplained. I believe we, as humans, are much more capable than we realize, and that no one holds us back more than ourselves. For the most part, we like explanations and evidence. We like proof. In the absence of that, we tend to dismiss fantastical claims. If it can’t be seen or touched, it must not be real. And yet…
  • I routinely pick up the phone to call someone at the exact second they’re calling me.
  • After my daughter was born, for the first few weeks we were frequently awakened by the sound of my recently deceased grandmother’s favorite lullaby coming through the nursery monitor…even though we had not pushed the play button and there was no automatic timer to turn on the CD
  • One night, my daughter, then 3, woke me up to tell me how excited she was that her twin brother (whom we lost during her pregnancy) was finally going to come live with us—this before we’d told her we were expecting again, and before we knew we were having a son.
  • When I was twelve weeks along, a friend who has a history of “knowing things” told me my son would be born severely premature—and he was.
  • Another friend who talked to her mom every evening at 5pm continued to receive those calls for weeks after her mom passed away, except instead of a voice she heard only silence.
  • My aunt knew her way around an old Irish castle she’d never visited or read about.
  • My grandparents’ wedding picture really did fall over, in a quiet still room, the same instant my grandmother took her last breath.
Ask anyone and they probably have at least one woo-woo tale. Cold spots in the middle of a warm room. Intuition about future events. Blasts of mysterious emotion...
Given my love of the unexplained, it’s no surprise that the character of Trinity came to me in a dream, sneaking into a beautiful abandoned mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans. I was right there as she and her friends embarked upon a dangerous game of truth or dare. I saw the premonition that she saw, that of another girl strewn on a dirty old mattress. I awoke abruptly, and very upset. I wanted to know what happened next! Who was Trinity, and what did her vision mean? Why did she have it? What was the trigger? Had it happened before? And….what if it came true? What if, what if, what if….
As I answered those questions, the Midnight Dragonfly series was born.
I’d been writing suspense for years, but Trinity was my first Young Adult character, and she took me by complete surprise. However, I needn’t have worried. Characters have a way of taking over and telling their own stories and I quickly learned that strong characters are strong characters, regardless of age. There are, essentially, two kinds of people in this world: those who wait for life to happen, and those who make life happen.
The characters I most enjoy exploring, whether through writing or reading, tend to be the do-ers. They have:
1. Goals. This is one of the reasons a character like Katniss from the Hunger Games works so well. She has a concrete, well-defined goal that pulls her through the story. Initially she seeks to protect her sister. As the plot progresses, she seeks to survive. Goals give characters something to act upon. They put the character in the driver’s seat and allow them to move the story forward. They raise the stakes. Conversely, without goals, the story tends to happen to the character, as opposed to the character driving the story.
2. Courage. There are so many kinds of courage, the physical kind that comes from confronting danger, but also the emotional kind that comes from standing up for what you believe in and making tough choices. The strength it takes to confront something you know is wrong and the unbelievable bravery that can be required to walk away from a dysfunctional relationship. Characters with courage tend to step forward rather than shrink back. Courage makes your heart race, the adrenaline flow. Courage makes you wonder what happens next. And courage is what leads Trinity to risk her own life to discover the truth behind her visions, when it would have been so much easier to stay in her condo and pretend that when she closed her eyes, she saw nothing.
3. Hopes and dreams. It’s fabulous to be tough and brave and bold, but for a character to be real and three-dimensional, there’s got to be a softer, quieter side, as well. Hopes and dreams turn strangers into friends, and make their struggles more personal—and important.
4. Secret fear/Achilles heel. We all have them. Maybe it’s something simple, like a fear of spiders. Maybe it’s more complex, a fear of being left alone in the dark, which triggers traumatic memories. Sometimes it’s more emotional, the fear of being abandoned or not loved, not good enough. These are the traits that embody a character’s vulnerability and make people care what happens to them. Trinity was afraid of being an outcast. She was afraid of being rejected because she was different. At first this led her to try and hide the truth about her visions, but ultimately (because of #s 6 and 7) she realized her goal (to save her classmate) was more important than her fears.
Those four are all concrete. The next four are more behavioral related.
5. Say what’s on their mind. This is something I, personally, used to have a hard time with. I’d think something, but frequently bite my tongue. In my very first novel, my editor pointed out my character was doing this, too, and she encouraged me to let my heroine have her say. I did, and the most amazing thing happened: the intensity and energy level of the story soared. As my heroine began to speak up, those around her spoke up, giving way to meaty, emotional conversations. AND, I found myself speaking up, too. 

6. Make mistakes. Perfection is an awesome goal, but it’s not realistic. People make mistakes, and characters need to, as well. Maybe you believe your boyfriend the first time he tells you he’ll never lie to you again. That’s okay. That’s trust. But when he lies to you again, this time you don’t believe his pathetic claims to “be better in the future” and you show him the door. That’s growth.
7. It’s okay to be afraid. Sometimes we all are. It goes back to being human. But a strong YA heroine doesn’t let this fear hold her back. She doesn’t let it overtake her life. She faces the fear. She confronts it (hence the importance of bravery) and, ultimately, finds herself that much closer to her goal.

8. No negative self-talk. This is simply my own personal life mantra, which has found its way into my work. Life is hard, and we’re often our own toughest enemy. That’s all normal. But I’d rather not see a YA heroine thinking of herself as stupid or ugly or an idiot. She can be upset with herself—sometimes, we all are. But I prefer to steer clear of the negative self-talk, unless, of course, the journey from negative to positive is part of the story goal J
And then, finally, this one seems rather obvious, but it’s a biggie for me:
9. Name. I simply can’t get to know a character until I know her name. When I’m plotting a new story, I can’t get far without the “right” name. There’s just a big difference between Anne versus Phoebe, Courtenay versus Trinity. Each name has its own vibe, and until I find the right vibe, the character can’t fully gel.
I had such an amazing time exploring Trinity—What about you? What are your favorite character traits? Your least favorite?

Most people who know Ellie think she’s your nice, ordinary wife and mom of two young kids. They see someone who does all that normal stuff, like grocery shopping, walking the dogs, going to baseball games, and somehow always forgetting to get the house cleaned and laundry done.

What they don't know is that more often than not, this LSU J-School alum is somewhere far, far away, in an extraordinary world, deeply embroiled in solving a riddle or puzzle or crime, testing the limits of possibility, exploring the unexplained, and holding her breath while two people fall in love.
Regardless of which world Ellie’s in, she loves rain and wind and thunder and lightning; the first warm kiss of spring and the first cool whisper of fall; family, friends, and animals; dreams and happy endings; Lost and Fringe; Arcade Fire and Dave Matthews, and last but not least…warm gooey chocolate chip cookies.
You can follow Ellie on Facebook or on Twitter@EllieJamesMDB.  Find out more about her Midnight Dragonfly series on her website.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Review: Shattered Dreams - Ellie James

Shattered Dreams by Ellie James, published by Quercus on 5th July 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Trinity has never known who she really is. Strange dreams haunt her nights, and she has always been able to sense things that others can't. When Jessica, the most popular girl at school, disappears, Trinity realises she will have to draw on her secret abilities to help find her. Soon, Trinity is subject to visions that terrify her and make the police sceptical. As her dreams grow darker and the visions more frightening, Trinity realises she must risk her reputation and her sanity to save a girl who hates her.

‘Shattered Dreams’ is one of those wonderful books that you start reading not really knowing much about and end up absolutely loving! It got off to a flying start and had me entranced and absorbed the whole way through. It’s earnt a place on my favourites shelf because this is one that I’ll want to pick up to read again and again. It’s the debut young-adult novel of author Ellie James and she’s certainly made her mark on the genre with this fantastic offering.

The beginning of the book sets the pace for a truly thrilling read. It starts with a nerve jangling opening in a spooky, abandoned house in New Orleans. The setting was incredibly atmospheric and I spent most of the first few chapters holding my breath. From then onwards it’s full steam ahead as the story fairly races along at a breakneck speed.

The main character Trinity arrives in New Orleans to live with her Aunt Sara after the death of her grandmother. Trying to fit in with a new group of friends, she’s drawn to the gorgeous Chase but he’s already dating Jessica, one of the most popular girls in school. When Jessica goes missing Trinity is determined to find her whatever the cost may be. My nerves were on edge the whole way through wondering if Jessica was going to be found. The suspense is heightened by some of the events which happen along the way, as we get to know more about Trinity and her ‘gift’. I’m looking forward to seeing Trinity’s family background being explored in more detail as I think there are still a lot of unanswered and intriguing questions to be dealt with.

Ellie James has packed an incredible amount of romance, drama, mystery and excitement into this book. There’s a potential love triangle on the horizon for Trinity and a lot more twists and turns to come in the story yet.

If you are a fan of The Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting that you’ll definitely enjoy ‘Shattered Dreams’. I can’t recommend this one highly enough and encourage you to go and get your hands on a copy now!

The sequel ‘Broken Illusions’ is due to be published by Quercus in Spring 2013.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Guest post: Dreamless - Josephine Angelini

Today on the blog I have a fabulous guest post from the wonderful Josephine Angelini, author of 'Starcrossed' and the recently published 'Dreamless'.

Helen Hamilton Vs. Two of My Favorite Heroes!
The hero of my Starcrossed trilogy, Helen Hamilton, is a late bloomer. She starts off clueless, grows to be only semi-informed by the start of Dreamless, and barely manages to pull of some pretty nifty problem solving by the end of it. In the final book, Goddess, her hero-skills grow even more, but she still manages to make a ton of mistakes along the way. Helen may be a demigod, but she’s also extremely human. Those are the kind of characters I like—the ones that make mistakes, but keep going anyway. You know, the human ones.

Usually when someone asks me to reference my favorite books or characters I end up referencing stories that are about forty years old and that no teen has ever heard of. So this time around, I’m going to talk about characters that I know all of you know—Harry Potter, for starters.

Let’s face it. Harry isn’t the brightest bulb on the branch. Neither is Helen. Harry isn’t the best wizard. Helen has a ton of power and only a vague idea how to use it. In pretty much every situation that both Harry and Helen find themselves in, they need the help of their friends to get through it. But get through it they do, and to me that’s the most important part. They keep at it. They may not like the situations they find themselves in, but they never stop fighting. That’s a hero.

Another favorite hero (or heroine) of mine is Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. Like my misguided Helen, Elizabeth is another girl that gets it all wrong. She’s wrong about Mr. Darcy, she’s wrong about Mr. Bingley and her sister, and she’s totally wrong about Mr. Wickham. But despite misreading just about everyone in the cast of characters, our Lizzy B is willing to grow and change without changing who she is as person. Okay, so she’s wrong, like, a lot. By the end of the book she has to apologize for some of her mistakes, but even still, I never get the sense that she’s lost an ounce of her spirit. In fact, when she stands up to Mr. Darcy’s rich and over-bearing aunt, it seems that she’s only grown stronger because of the things she’s been through. That’s the way it’s done. That’s the way a hero does it.

We don’t love heroes because they are never wrong. We love them because they learn from their mistakes and grow stronger. We love that they aren’t perfect, but that they keep trying anyway. We love them because they are like us. 

Find out more about Josephine on her website and follow her on Twitter@josieangelini

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Review: Why We Broke Up - Daniel Handler

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, published by Electric Monkey on 6th August 2012
Goodreads synopsis:
This is the box, Ed. Inside is everything. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket from Greta in the Wind, a note from you, a box of matches, your protractor, Joan's book, the stolen sugar, a toy truck, those ugly earrings, a comb from the motel, and the rest of it. This is it Ed. The whole story of how we broke up.

This book is simply gorgeous!  Written by Daniel Handler, author of the fabulous Lemony Snicket series, it is beautifully illustrated throughout by Maira Kalman.  When it first arrived, I spent ages leafing through it just looking at all the lovely art.  This book is so lovely that you'll want to have it sitting on your shelves so that you can pull it down and show it off to all your friends.

The premise of 'Why We Broke Up' is to chart the end of the relationship between Min and her boyfriend Ed.  At the very start, Min returns to him a box full of items which are connected to the time they spent together and then proceeds to tell him through a series of letters which make up the book itself, why each of these are significant to the reason they are no longer a couple.  I thought that their story was uniquely told by Handler, who takes us back to show us the start, middle and end of their love and the pain felt by Min over their break-up.

Min and Ed are an unusual couple because he is your typical jock, sometimes more interested in playing basketball than in spending time with her.  She's the polar opposite in so many ways.  She's extremely cultured and loves old films (a passion I share with her!).  She has a few close friends, such as the fabulous Al but isn't part of the social scene in the same way that Ed is and so the two come across as not having many mutual interests.  I liked the way that she tried to always remain true to herself, even though she's often being pulled in different directions by her feeling for Ed.

The story itself started off well, but I thought that it started getting a bit repetitive in the middle and I seemed to be waiting for something more to happen.  As much of the book is about Min's feelings and emotions, I found it quite slow in places, with not enough actually going on to keep my interest at times.

I think I actually loved the idea of the book, more than I loved the actual book itself.  I like the fact that Daniel Handler tries to explore the pain of a break-up and of the loss of a first love but although I connected with the character of Min, I found Ed came across as slightly shallow and I never felt that I'd really gotten to the bottom of what made him who he was.

'Why We Broke Up' is an interesting (and gorgeous) book but probably not one that I'd want to read over and over again.  Although for me it didn't tick all the boxes, I have read some brilliant reviews of this title, so I would suggest reading it and giving it a try...if only to enjoy the simply divine artwork thoughout.  

Monday, 6 August 2012

News: The History Keepers - Damian Dibben

Doubleday Children's Books has recently published 'Circus Maximus' by Damian Dibben. This is the much anticipated sequel to 'The History Keepers: The Storm Begins'.  You can read my review of the first book in the series here.

The History Keepers are in terrible danger once more. Stocks of Atomium - the crucial ingredient which allows them to travel through time - are perilously low, and the agents must embark on a risky mission to find more. And now a new and even more evil member of the Zeldt family is planning a hideous take-over of the Ancient world, and they are forced to travel further back into history than ever before in order to save the day. Well, all of the days actually. In this exciting sequel, "The History Keepers" embark upon another rollercoaster adventure that takes us into the heart of the ancient world, from the doors to Hades, to the streets of Rome at the height of its glorious empire. You think the chariot race in Ben Hur is exciting? Wait till you see the History Keepers racing round Rome...

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Soul Fire - Kate Harrison giveaway winners

Thank you to everyone that entered my giveaway to win copies of 'Soul Fire' by Kate Harrison. 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 winners are:

#1. April Hunter

#2. Karen Smith

Congratulations! You will be receiving an email from me shortly requesting your postal details.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Review: Debutantes - Cora Harrison

Debutantes by Cora Harrison, published by Macmillan Children's Books on 2nd August 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
It’s 1923 and London is a whirl of jazz, dancing and parties. Violet, Daisy, Poppy and Rose Derrington are desperate to be part of it, but stuck in an enormous crumbling house in the country, with no money and no fashionable dresses, the excitement seems a lifetime away.

Luckily the girls each have a plan for escaping their humdrum country life: Rose wants to be a novelist, Poppy a jazz musician and Daisy a famous film director. Violet, however, has only one ambition: to become the perfect Debutante, so that she can go to London and catch the eye of Prince George, the most eligible bachelor in the country.

But a house as big and old as Beech Grove Manor hides many secrets, and Daisy is about to uncover one so huge it could ruin all their plans—ruin everything—forever.

The 1920s are hot at the moment and there are plenty of books and films coming out at the moment which are set during this decade. ‘Debutantes’ by Cora Harrison is one of them and follows four sisters, Violet, Daisy, Poppy and Rose, as they try to make their mark on the world away from their closeted lives at Beech Grove Manor..

I have to start by saying that this book has a simply stunning cover! It’s so pretty that it’s sure to catch the eye when it’s on the shelves in bookshops. For those who love their cover art then this is definitely one for you.

Having read ‘Wentworth Hall’ by Abby Grahame quite recently, I found that this book was in a very similar vein, but that’s good because I loved the former! Much of the story is told through the eyes of Daisy who has ambitions to become a film-director. She feels responsible for her other sisters and much of her focus is on ensuring that Violet gets to become a debutante. The girls are in the precarious position of being female and therefore unable to inherit their father’s property. They instead have to try and secure their own futures, through marriage or a career.

A secondary storyline develops during the second-half of the book which focuses on Daisy herself. I found this a little bit too predictable and the twist was never really a big surprise. It’s teased at throughout but it seemed pretty obvious to me as I was reading what was going to happen.

I enjoyed all the description and detail of the period which gave me real insight into the type of lives that the characters led, from the servants to the rich and wealthy of society. The division between the two is quite stringent but there are some instances where the lines become blurred. I felt transported back to this particular era and particularly enjoyed all the wonderful passages about the fashions and dresses of the time.

‘Debutantes’ was a charming read which I really enjoyed. It’s light and summery and the perfect book to make you smile when you turn the final page. It is, I believe, the first in a new series by Cora Harrison so I shall look forward to seeing what the characters get up to next.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood - Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, published by Orchard Books on 5th July 2012
Goodreads synopsis:
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before.

‘Anna Dressed in Blood’ is not my typical read but I’d heard so many good things about it that I wanted to give it a try. This is definitely one of those books that you shouldn’t read at night or when you are alone in the house. It’s extremely scary and creepy and certain bits sent shivers down my spine.

The story focuses on seventeen year old Cas who hunts murderers. But these aren’t just any old murderers, these are ghosts who avenge their deaths by killing others over and over again. Following in his father’s footstep Cas hunts them down and destroys them. His ultimate goal s to find the ghost who killed his father.

Before he does this however, Cas and his mother move to a new town so that he can first dispatch Anna Dressed in Blood, a truly terrifying ghost who is responsible for the deaths of many. Anna is a scary sight – she wears a white dress stained with her own blood, which drips in her wake. She haunts the house where she grew up and where people have been known to enter and never leave.

Now this book is definitely not for younger readers, as the warning on the back reads. I have to admit that I found some bits extremely gruesome and the amount of blood spilled throughout the story put me off a bit. If you are at all freaked out by blood, guts and gore then I wouldn’t recommend you read this one.

Cas’s job is made harder when he starts to feel sympathy for Anna and develops feelings for her along the way. Personally, I just didn’t feel the connection between the two. There are certain secrets revealed about Anna later in the book but even though these shed new light on her character, I found it hard to believe that she and Cas could be romantically linked.

Having had quite high expectations for this book, I have to say that they weren’t wholly met but overall it was still an engaging read with plenty of thrills and jump out of your seat moments along the way.
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