Saturday, 29 June 2013

Writer's Nook: Sophie McKenzie

Writer's Nook is a new feature at A Dream of Books where authors talk about their personal writing space and the objects or inspirational things they like to keep around them. 

I'm thrilled to welcome Sophie McKenzie to the blog for the very first Writer's Nook.

I love writing stories and, wherever I go, I tend to carry sections of my work in progress with me. I might be writing, editing or planning – and I might be carrying the relevant chapters on my laptop or as printed out pages. The point is, it’s all portable. 

Having said that, my favourite place to work is definitely at home at my desk, sitting down in front of my iMac. I like the big screen on this computer. It means I can see more of my manuscript – the one on the screen in the picture is part of the sequel to Split Second (pub. Sept 2013) - than if I’m working on my laptop. I also like having all the editing functions – from word search to cutting and pasting – at my fingertips.

To be honest, most of the surrounding area isn’t that important to me. Looking at my desk today, I can see it’s really a bit of a mess. There are probably a load of things here I could throw away. However, the following items are really important:

The router. Easy internet access means that if I want to find out something I can usually research it in a matter of minutes. For Casting Shadows, there’s a scene at the start where River and her dad are birthing lambs. Once upon a time I’d have had to wait for the right time of year then visit a farm to see a lamb being born to find out what that would involve. But all I had to do the other day was a quick search on the net.

The sharpies. Kindly provided by my publishers and handy for signing books.

The pen pot. Full of pens for when I’m editing or annotating a print out.

The ‘to do’ list. To help me remember all the writing and promotional work I’m supposed to be doing.
The cup of tea. To sustain me through the writing day.

The little Buddha. To help me keep everything in perspective when the story I’m writing isn’t going well.

The row of previously published books next to my printer. To remind me as I write that if I did it before, I can do it again!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Review: Tarnish - Katherine Longshore

Tarnish by Katherine Longshore, published by Simon and Schuster on 20th June 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
Anne Boleyn is the odd girl out. Newly arrived to the court of King Henry VIII, everything about her seems wrong, from her clothes to her manners to her witty but sharp tongue. So when the dashing poet Thomas Wyatt offers to coach her on how to shine at court - and to convince the whole court they're lovers - she accepts. Before long, Anne's popularity has soared, and even the charismatic and irresistible king takes notice. More than popularity, Anne wants a voice - but she also wants love. What began as a game becomes high stakes as Anne finds herself forced to make an impossible choice between her heart's desire and the chance to make history.

A few weeks ago I read 'Gilt' by Katherine Longshore which focused on Catherine Howard's marriage to Henry VIII.  Not having read much historical fiction lately, it was a refreshing change which I really enjoyed and I immediately decided that I had to read 'Tarnish' too. 

This book is about Anne Boleyn but provides a fresh take on her life by looking mainly at the period where she is a teenager and not yet married to Henry.  Instead the focus is mainly on the relationship between Anne and the poet Thomas Wyatt.  She is trying to secure a place at court and he believes that he can help her to do so.  They have a wager which means that if he helps her and does what he says he can, then she must follow through with his advances but if he loses then he will leave her alone once and for all.  Although already married, he is deeply infatuated with Anne and although she won't always admit it, she in return has feelings for him too. 

The crux of it is that Anne does not want to become anyone's mistress.  She wants to be legitimately married and we all know what that desire led to.  It's interesting to see a teenage Anne with all her insecurities and weaknesses, rather than a confident and scheming woman who sets out to snare the King.   

The story also looks at her difficult relationship with her family, her sister Mary, brother George and her father who she feels abandoned by.  I enjoyed seeing this angle explored as I didn't know a huge amount about her own family background prior to reading 'Tarnish'.

Most readers will obviously have some knowledge of what happened to Anne in the end but this is still a fresh and new interpretation, aimed at fans of YA historical fiction.  Katherine Longshore has definitely breathed new life into the Tudors and I hope in the future she goes on to write about some of the other English Kings and Queens as well.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Review: Gloss - Marilyn Kaye

Gloss by Marilyn Kaye, published by Macmillan Children's Books on 6th June 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
Fashion, music and attitudes are changing, and there's nowhere in in the world more exciting. Sherry, Donna, Allison and Pamela have each landed a dream internship at Gloss; America's number-one fashion magazine.

Each girl is trying to make her mark on New York and each finds herself thrown head-first into the buzzing world of celebrity, high-end fashion and gossip. But everything isn't as glamorous as it seems - secrets from the past threaten to shatter their dreams.

They're finding out that romance in New York is as unpredictable and thrilling as the city itself.

'Gloss' is set in New York, 1963, where four girls have the opportunity of a lifetime to make their mark at the offices of a fashion magazine.  If you ever fancied interning at Teen Vogue or dream of becoming a fashion journalist then this book will be right up your street. 

Each of the four girls in the story: Pamela, Allison, Sherry and Donna, are very different and unique.  I liked Sherry who seems to take just about everything in her stride but I particularly enjoyed the chapters flashing back to Donna's life a year before.  She was my favourite and I thought it was great how she really matured into her own person by the end of the book.  I enjoyed the sense of excitement and anticipation that emanates from each of them.  They have an incredible opportunity to learn, grow and stretch their wings in New York of all places. 

I absolutely loved the setting.  I adored the back-drop of the Big Apple and I thought the idea of writing a story set in the sixties worked perfectly because it showed how different the attitudes to women were at that time and how they were not seen as career women but as belonging to the domestic sphere.  Sherry is a good example of this.  She has her whole future mapped out for her - go to college, marry her childhood sweetheart, become a wife and mother - until she begins to discover that there may be other things out there for her too.  She has unwittingly conformed to others expectations but her eyes are well and truly opened during her tenure at the Gloss offices.  It was also interesting to see how men treated women in the sixties and how they didn't necessarily value a woman's' ideas in the same way they would a man. 

This was a good and fairly quick read combining several of the things I love - New York, fashion and journalism, with a unique historical fiction twist. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Trailer: Dare You To - Katie McGarry

I loved 'Pushing the Limits', Katie McGarry's debut novel and I can't wait to read her new book 'Dare You To'.  Even more so after I watched this awesome trailer!

Have you read it yet?  If so, what did you think?

If anyone knew the truth about Beth Risk's home life, they'd send her mother to jail and seventeen-year-old Beth who knows where. So she protects her mom at all costs. Until the day her uncle swoops in and forces Beth to choose between her mom's freedom and her own happiness.

That's how Beth finds herself living with an aunt who doesn't want her and going to a school that doesn't understand her. At all. Except for the one guy who shouldn't get her, but does.... Ryan Stone is the town golden boy, a popular baseball star jock-with secrets he can't tell anyone. Not even the friends he shares everything with, including the constant dares to do crazy things. The craziest? Asking out the Skater girl who couldn't be less interested in him.

But what begins as a dare becomes an intense attraction neither Ryan nor Beth expected. Suddenly, the boy with the flawless image risks his dreams-and his life-for the girl he loves, and the girl who won't let anyone get too close is daring herself to want it all....

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Review: Dusk - Eve Edwards

Dusk by Eve Edwards, published by Penguin on 6th June 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
When Helen, a young hard-working nurse, meets aristocratic artist Sebastian, she doesn't expect to even like him, let alone fall in love. But against the troubled backdrop of wartime London, an unlikely but intense romance blossoms. And even the bloody trenches of the Somme, where they are both posted, cannot diminish their feelings for each other.

But Helen is concealing a secret and when a terrible crime is committed there are devastating consequences for them both.

When lives are being lost, can true love survive?

I am a huge fan of Eve Edwards and  have loved all of her previous books.  I was excited to hear about this new series because it seems ages since her last book was published.  I love historical fiction and so the idea of a story set during the First World War immediately captured my interest. 

The time-frame of the story spans from 1914-1916 but it is not told in a linear way.  Instead it jumps around a lot, focusing on current events, as well as those in the past.  I sometimes found this style a bit disjointed to read because it moved backwards and forwards rapidly.  I had to concentrate quite hard to make sure that this did not throw me.  On occasion, when I was particularly enjoying a bit of the story I was also disappointed when it trailed off and picked up in a different year completely. 

I loved the main characters: Helen and Sebastian, whom the story is built around.  Helen is a nurse on the front line, while Sebastian is fighting in the war.  Eve Edwards shows how the two first met and the progression of their romantic relationship, while also showing the adversity that they must face to be together.  I particularly liked Helen who comes across as very shy and reserved, but actually shows incredible strength of will and bravery, as well as a fiery temper when she is defending something or someone she believes in.  I can't imagine being left all alone without any family but this is exactly the predicament that she has to cope with. 

Edwards deftly shows the brutality and horror of the war and there are some quite gritty and hard-to-read scenes in the book.  For anyone interested in this particular period of history, then this title will definitely have a lot of appeal.  I enjoyed it but at times I felt like there was something missing.  I can't quite put my finger on what but it did mean that I wasn't as hooked as I was expecting to be.    

This is the first in a trilogy, which will be followed by 'Dawn' which is due to be published next year. 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Review: One Moment - Kristina McBride

One Moment by Kristina McBride, published by Usborne on 1st July 2013 

Goodreads synopsis:
It was supposed to be the best summer of Maggie’s life. Now it's the one she'd do anything to forget.

Maggie Reynolds remembers hanging out at the gorge with her closest friends after a party the night before. She remembers climbing the path hand in hand with her perfect boyfriend, Joey. She remembers that last kiss, soft, lingering, safe. So why can’t she remember what happened next?

All it takes is one second for everything to change. One moment to realize that it’s the people you love who hurt you the most.
I've been trying to read more contemporary YA fiction lately and 'One Moment' by Kristina McBride fit the bill perfectly.  It didn't hurt either that there was a quote from Cat Patrick, one of my favourite authors, on the front cover which really sold it for me.

Maggie loves Joey.  It's as simple as that.  Part of a group of six close friends who have grown-up together, their friendship has gradually evolved into something more.  Maggie can't imagine herself with anyone else but the gorgeous, happy-go-lucky Joey that she's always known but when a tragic accident changes everything, she starts to question whether or not she ever knew the real Joey at all.  The plot is actually very simple but when I'd pieced all the elements together it became a moving and eloquent story about friendship and love.  

A huge part of the book is Maggie looking back at her time with Joey and recalling small incidences which happened between them in a new light.  I felt an enormous sense of empathy with her as she began to unravel so many truths and lies that had been lying just beneath the surface the whole time.  There was one minor incident near the very beginning which led me to predict what was really going on quite early in the book.  Although I guessed the truth that Maggie was struggling to remember, I still thoroughly enjoyed seeing her gradually work things through for herself in a mature and sensible way.   

There is an unexpectedly romantic aspect to the story too which slowly crept up on me.  I'm glad that this was more of an undercurrent than the main focus because I think it would have detracted too much from Maggie learning about true friendship and trust.  A nice balance was obtained between the two and the scene at the end perfectly concluded events.   

Moving and emotional and beautifully told, I thought this book was wonderful.  It makes you think what you would do if that image of your perfect boyfriend was shattered into a million pieces.  I will definitely be looking out for more by Kristina McBride in the future.   

Friday, 14 June 2013

Blog Tour: Gloss - Marilyn Kaye

I'm hosting a stop on the blog tour for Marilyn Kaye's new book 'Gloss' today.  If you love fashion, New York and the 1960's then you need to get your hands on a copy! 

I have an extract from chapter one of the book to share with you.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Review: Angelfall - Susan Ee

Angelfall by Susan Ee, published by Hodder and Stoughton on 23rd May 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
It's been six weeks since the angels of the apocalypse destroyed the world as we know it. Only pockets of humanity remain.

Savage street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night.

When angels fly away with a helpless girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back...

I want to start this review by admitting that I'd not heard of this book prior to receiving a copy; a fact which amazes me because I've since discovered that 'Angelfall' is an internet phenomenon and garnered more reviews that most other books.  If you're as in the dark as I was, then I want to plead with you to read it now! 

I love angel books but sometimes find them slightly formulaic because it's a subject which so many authors have written about.  I imagine it must be hard to find a fresh approach.  I thought there was very little new ground to explore but I was wrong.  Wholeheartedly and completely wrong.  Susan Ee has taken a subject which I'm fascinated with and intrigued me even more.  She's covered new ground, developed a new angle for the genre and produced a five star, spellbinding read. 

The premise of the story is that angels have attacked humanity and people are now living in fear for their lives.  Penryn is trying to protect her mother and younger sister Paige when they are attacked and Paige is taken.  The plot focuses on Penryn's struggle to save her sibling, whilst at the same time, trying to survive in a hostile world.

Penryn is a fantastic character.  She's desperate to get her sister back and is willing to do anything to achieve that.  She places herself in dangerous situations but never loses her head and never loses sight of her goal.  She has to face some terrible sights in the book but she is single-minded and won't back down whatever the personal cost. 

I found myself unconsciously rooting for Penryn and Raffe, the wingless angel, before even really realising how much I liked them together.  Although she starts off only helping him to get him to lead her to the other angels, they develop a very strong bond throughout the book.  I'm looking forward to seeing this grow further in the sequel to 'Angelfall'. 

There are a couple of gruesome bits in the story which I could probably have done without, but these do reinforce the horror of the world which they now inhabit and which they have to try to stay alive in.

This was a stunning, spellbinding story which absolutely captivated me.  It's hard to list all the things I loved about it but it pulled at my heartstrings and captured my imagination.  Please do read it because you won't regret it!       

Monday, 10 June 2013

Review: As You Were - Samantha Summers

As You Were by Samantha Summers, published on 14th December 2012

Goodreads synopsis:
Ronnie and Kalen are finally together, living their life in secret under the radar of the people who want Kalen dead. But when a visit from an old friend sends Kalen away on a rescue mission, Ronnie finds herself plunged back into the world of Project Five Fifteen quicker than she ever thought possible.

It’s fast becoming clear The Agency will never give up their hunt for the boys, and a betrayal closer to home starts a chain reaction that will change everything. Now, caught in a deadly web of lies and deceit, Ronnie is forced to question who she can trust; even the person she once trusted most.

As enemies close in, Kalen’s past threatens to destroy the happiness they sacrificed so much for, and it’s only a matter of time before the ultimate choice must be made…

This is the second book in the Project Five Fifteen series and the sequel to the amazingly good 'First Light'.

I stayed up until 2.00am reading 'As You Were' because I loved it so much and I couldn't bear the thought of going to bed not knowing how the story was going to be concluded.  I adored it even more than the first instalment and it gave me everything I wanted and more.

My absolute favourite thing about the book was the romance between Ronnie and Kalen.  After deciding to run away with him, 'As You Were' picks up with the two of them in the Swiss Alps, enjoying being together but always looking over their shoulders and aware of the threat of danger.  With The Agency still after Kalen and the other boys, they don't know how much time they will have with each other so they try to make the most of every moment.

I love the fact that their relationship is the heart and soul of the series.  Even when they're not together, they are always in each others mind.  Kalen is loving, caring and always protective of Ronnie which I found so sweet.  He's not afraid to make it very clear that she is his girlfriend and I loved the occasional jealous moments he has about her.  He's always aware of the danger he's put her in and wants only for her to be safe and happy. 

They are one of my all-time favourite book couples!  Samantha Summers provided me with so many happy moments reading this book because amidst the action and danger there are some wonderful scenes between them.  Their romance is what really makes the series tick for me.

I enjoyed getting to know more about the other boys as well, particularly Ace who is utterly adorable.  The short flash-backs to their time as part of the Project provide intriguing glimpses into their pasts, as well as bringing more understanding about their characters and personalities.  It would be great to see the others finding someone special, as Kalen has.  I would definitely read a spin-off featuring the others. 

The whole book is a real roller-coaster of a ride.  Each chapter is packed full of excitement, fraught with danger and laced with romance.  There is also a jaw-dropping revelation at the end which makes me even more desperate to find out what lies in store next. 

I'm only sad that as this is a self-published title, more people haven't discovered the series yet.  I read a lot but not often do I feel as obsessive about a book as I do about this one.  Samantha Summers is definitely an author to watch!  The third instalment will be called 'Becoming' but as far as I know there's no release date for it yet.  I don't think I can bear the wait to find out what will happen to all my beloved characters, so I think I'll have to make sure that I have 'As You Were' close at hand for a re-read.   

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Review: The Academy: Game On - Monica Seles

The Academy: Game On by Monica Seles, published by Bloomsbury on 6th June 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
Young tennis star Maya’s dreams have finally come true! She’s got the scholarship. She’s got the drive. She’s on her way from small town to pro career . . . But when Maya starts boarding at the sports training school, her fantasy of the Academy doesn’t quite match the reality – because where there are beautiful, talented teens, there’s plenty of drama.

I really wanted to read this book because I'm a massive sports fan and there just aren't enough YA books out there set in the sporting world.  Another plus was that 'The Academy: Game On' is written by tennis superstar Monica Seles, so I was expecting some interesting insights into what it takes to become a top notch tennis player. 

At the start of the book Maya Hart arrives at the academy, where sporting greats are made.  She faces stiff competition but is determined to succeed, as tennis is the only thing she's ever wanted to do.  With access to top coaches and an amazing facility, she starts off as very single-minded but gradually finds her head turned by some of the new people she meets.  There's her arch-rival Nicole, room mate Cleo and new friend Renee, along with hot brothers Jake and Travis who she develops a complicated relationship with.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen more of the tennis aspect of the story.  Considering the fact that the plot is set in a sports academy, at times it felt like events could have been happening anywhere.  I did feel like I gradually began to understand the cut-throat nature that the young people in the book have to develop to try and make it but I would have enjoyed seeing more of their struggles and less of the non-stop partying. 

The book is predominantly about making friends, being popular and trying to fit in but also being true to yourself and who you are.  These are all things that Maya has to learn throughout the course of the story as she has to learn to make her own decisions without her parents by her side.   

I'm impressed with the efforts of Seles in her first YA offering but I hope that the next book in the series has a little more depth to it, as well as drawing more on her own experiences of being a professional tennis player. 

Monday, 3 June 2013

Review: Shipwrecked - Siobhan Curham

Shipwrecked by Siobhan Curham, published by Electric Monkey on 3rd June 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
Grace Delaney and her fellow dance students are en route to perform on a South Pacific cruise-ship when a freak storm hits and they find themselves stranded on a deserted island. With the tropical heat rising, passions and tensions swell to breaking point. And the island itself is quietly steaming with a terrible secret..

Siobhan Curham is the author of the wonderful 'Dear Dylan' and 'Finding Cherokee Brown' both of which I have previously enjoyed.  Her new title 'Shipwrecked' is aimed at a slightly older teen audience and is the first in a saga.  Described as Gossip Girl meets Lost, the tagline made the book sound extremely promising and I was looking forward to a thrilling and sizzling summer read.   

Grace Delaney along with her friends, are en route to perform on a South Pacific cruise ship when a storm hits, leaving them stranded on a deserted island.  As they try to survive with little hope of rescue, strange things start happening and they fear that the island may not be quite so deserted after all.  I really loved the idea for this story and the plot sounded so promising but although all the elements were there for this to be a stand-out read, I felt like it didn't grab me as much as I was expecting it to. 

The pace of the story was slow and I found my attention wandering in the beginning half of the book, even with the dramatic events of the shipwreck.  It did start to pick up in the later chapters when there are some spooky goings-on but it was a little predictable at times.  I do feel like there is still so much more to come and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the series unfolds. 

I quite liked the main character Grace and events are told from her point of view as she struggles to cope with life on the island.  I enjoyed seeing her develop friendships with Cruz, Flea and Belle but I wasn't as keen on some of the secondary characters such as Jenna, Cariss and Todd who seemed a bit one-dimensional.

Although I didn't end up loving 'Shipwrecked', I'm keen to see what direction Siobhan Curham will take the story in next.  I still think that this could be a great series, but sadly, for me, the opening instalment failed to wow me which was disappointing considering the immense talents of this usually brilliant author. 
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