Monday, 30 September 2013

Review: Linked - Imogen Howson

Linked by Imogen Howson, published by Quercus on 1st August 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
For years, Elissa has suffered nightmarish visions and unexplained bruises. Finally, she's promised a cure, and an operation is scheduled. But on the eve of the procedure, Elissa discovers the truth: she's seeing the world through another girl's eyes. A world filled with wires, machines and pain. Elissa follows her visions, only to find a battered, broken girl. A girl who looks exactly like her. A twin she never knew existed. Elissa and her twin Lin go on the run, but even after changing their looks and clothes, they're barely a step ahead of the government agents who are ruthlessly tracking them down. For Lin and Elissa are too valuable to let go, and the dark truth at the heart of it all is too shocking to risk exposing...

I had such high hopes for this book.  Described as The Bourne Identity meets Inception, the tagline alone was more than enough to get me counting down the days until the release date.  I really thought it had the potential to be amazing and promised so much but for me, in the end, it failed to deliver everything I was expecting.  It had inter-planetary space travel, mid-air skirmishes, government conspiracies and much more.  It ticked so many boxes but overall I felt like the story just fell flat.  I think partly because of my lack of connection with the characters, particularly the main protagonist Elissa. 

There were hints of romance throughout between Elissa and her brother's best friend Cadan, but even that didn't interest or intrigue me enough to get me excited about the book.  The other prominent relationship is between Elissa and her twin, something which I was looking forward to seeing develop.  I didn't however feel the closeness of their bond and although I liked Lin, I would have enjoyed seeing events more from her perspective. 

I don't want to reveal any specific details about the plot because it would spoil it completely to even hint at what actually happens but I do want to say that it started so well with the opening couple of chapters completely hooking me in, but lost me about a third of the way through and from that point onwards I struggled to stay invested in the story.

I wanted to love this book so much but overall it didn't have me flipping the pages as madly as I should have done.  I have however, read plenty of positive reviews of this title so if it intrigues you in any way then I would still suggest giving it a try.   

Although I had initially thought that this was a stand-alone, it does have a sequel and 'Unravel' is due to be published by Quercus in summer 2014.   

Friday, 27 September 2013

Review: Fire With Fire by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

Fire With Fire by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian, published by Simon and Schuster on 26th September 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
Lillia, Kat, and Mary had the perfect plan. Work together in secret to take down the people who wronged them. But things didn’t exactly go the way they’d hoped at the Homecoming Dance.  Not even close.  For now, it looks like they got away with it. All they have to do is move on and pick up the pieces, forget there ever was a pact. But it’s not easy, not when Reeve is still a total jerk and Rennie’s meaner than she ever was before.

And then there’s sweet little Mary…she knows there’s something seriously wrong with her. If she can’t control her anger, she’s sure that someone will get hurt even worse than Reeve was. Mary understands now that it’s not just that Reeve bullied her—it’s that he made her love him.

Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, burn for a burn. A broken heart for a broken heart. The girls are up to the task. They’ll make Reeve fall in love with Lillia and then they will crush him. It’s the only way he’ll learn.  It seems once a fire is lit, the only thing you can do is let it burn...

'Fire with Fire' is the second book in the trilogy about three teenage girls out for revenge.  The story follows on from last year's sensational 'Burn for Burn' which first introduced Jar Island and the main characters Kat, Lillia and Mary.  This series makes for deliciously addictive reading.  I was going through a bit of a book slump but as soon as I picked this up I found it impossible to put down.  There is a slow burn throughout the book which draws you in as the drama builds up and you realise that these girls will stop at nothing to get their revenge on Reeve. 

The chapter perspective alternates between each of the three as their new plan takes shape and begins to unfold.  In the previous book, my favourite character was Kat, but this time around I liked Lillia a lot more.  I felt like I gradually began to understand more about her and her motivation and new facets of her personality shone through as the story progressed.  She is incredibly loyal to her friends and is determined to help Mary get payback on Reeve.  It was nice to see her grow in confidence as she begins to stand up for herself and find her own feet rather than just being known as the best friend of Rennie.  There were quite a few other characters in this book that I had previously not been too fond of but who made me change my mind about them this time around, in particular Reeve.  I actually felt quite sorry for him at times as he begins to lose everything he cares about. 

There is a jaw-dropping twist near the end that I definitely did not see coming.  I won't say too much about it because I don't want to give anything away but wow!  It made me go back and rethink everything that had happened and I'm honestly still trying to get my head around it now.  Secrets are exposed and friendships are irrevocably altered as startling revelations come to the fore and lives are changed forever. 

I'm desperate for 'Ashes to Ashes' now, which will be the next book in the series.  I can't even begin to guess what twists and turns will happen on Jar Island next as the drama and tension hots up.      

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Review: Briar Rose - Jana Oliver

Briar Rose by Jana Oliver, published by Macmillan Children's Books on 12th September 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
For Briar Rose, life is anything but a fairy tale. She's stuck in a small town in deepest Georgia with parents who won't let her out of their sight, a bunch of small-minded, gossiping neighbours and an evil ex who's spreading nasty rumours about what she may or may not have done in the back of his car. She's tired of it all, so when, on her sixteenth birthday, her parents tell her that she is cursed and will go to sleep for a hundred years when the clock strikes midnight, she's actually kind of glad to leave it all behind. She says her goodbyes, lies down, and closes her eyes . . . And then she wakes up. Cold, alone and in the middle of the darkest, most twisted fairy tale she could ever have dreamed of. Now Briar must fight her way out of the story that has been created for her, but she can't do it alone. She never believed in handsome princes, but now she's met one her only chance is to put her life in his hands, or there will be no happy ever after and no waking up.

'Briar Rose' is a southern retelling of the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. It's about a young girl who on her sixteenth birthday is doomed by a curse which threatens to rob her of everything she holds dear unless she can find a way to break it.   

I thought I was going to love this book.  I'm a massive fan of Jana Oliver's previous series The Demon Trapper's Daughter and I couldn't wait to read this as soon as I first heard about it.  The plot sounded brilliant, I love fairy tale retellings and I fell in awe of the book cover but I'm disappointed to say that the actual story I really struggled with.  I normally finish books quite quickly but this one took me over a week to read, a sign that I just wasn't hooked by the actual telling of the tale. 

It's quite an unconventional retelling and actually bared very little resemblance to the traditional version of Sleeping Beauty. The blurb of the book therefore seemed to be slightly misleading.  I wouldn't necessarily have minded this if the story had been amazing but for the most part I often found it strange and confusing, particularly when Briar enters the dream world.  Nothing here is familiar and everything seems foreign and dangerous.

I thought that the romance in the story would perhaps have redeemed things for me but unfortunately I wasn't won over either by the bond between Briar and her childhood friend Joshua.  As individual characters they were okay but together I didn't feel the spark between them.  I actually preferred the scenes between Briar's best friend Reena who tries to help her and a local boy called Pat who also finds himself pulled into the dream world. 

I'm sad to say that this book just wasn't for me although I kept on hoping until the very end that something would happen to turn it around for me.  Regardless of this, I'm still a huge fan of Oliver's work and I will certainly be reading more by her in the future.       


Monday, 23 September 2013

Review: The Burning Shadow - Michelle Paver

The Burning Shadow by Michelle Paver, published by Puffin on 1st August 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
While searching for his kidnapped sister, Outsider Hylas takes a dangerous detour when he’s captured as a slave and sent to the copper mines of Thalakrea. Hylas faces brutal overseers and lethal cave-ins while evading his enemies, the Crows. With the aid of an orphaned lion cub and his friend Pirra, Hylas must escape the mines and shatter the power of the Crows for good. But the prophecy is still at work and Hylas cannot escape its grasp, especially when the anger of the oldest god is awakened.

'The Burning Shadow' is the second book in Michelle Paver's Gods and Warriors series.  When I read the opening instalment last year I was extremely impressed so I was excited to pick up the threads of the main character Hylas's story and see what lay in store for him next.

The plot again follows Hylas the Outsider and Pirra, who is on the run from her life as daughter of the High Priestess.  The two have been separated but they are never far from each other's thoughts and their paths seem destined to collide again in the future.  The adversity that both characters face is shown but their strength lies in their determination to overcome all the obstacles put in their way. 

I absolutely adored the chapters told from the viewpoint of Havoc the lion cub.  Michelle Paver writes beautifully through the eyes of Havoc, conjuring a real sense of the animal's thoughts and feelings.  She also shows wonderfully the cruelty and beauty of nature working in tandem together.  Havoc and Hylas develop an amazing bond and it's this which for me is one of the main strengths of the whole book.  I've yet to come across another author who writes about animals in the way that Paver does.     

An incredible sense of history is conveyed throughout the story.  I knew very little about the Bronze Age before I started reading this series but I feel like I've gained a real understanding of this particular period of history and I'm eager to find out more about the way of life of the people that lived during this time.         

Overall, this was a tale of exciting adventure which hooked me from the very first page. The third book in the series is set to be published in 2014 and with the ending of 'The Burning Shadow' leaving the reader in great anticipation of what will come next, I for one am going to be counting down the days until it hits bookshop shelves.   

Friday, 20 September 2013

News: Susan Cooper UK event

Those of you who are big fans of Susan Cooper will be extremely excited by the news that she is appearing at her first UK event in seven years at Waterstones Piccadilly on Thursday 24 October.

The event will be chaired by Marcus Sedgwick and Susan will be talking about her life in writing, her classic Dark is Rising sequence and her epic new novel 'Ghost Hawk'.

Tickets are £5/£3 for Waterstones loyalty card holders and the event starts at 6.30pm.

For more information and to book your ticket visit the Waterstones website.

If you're a Susan Cooper fan this is definitely an event you do not want to miss!  

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Blog Tour: Little White Lies - Katie Dale

I'd like to welcome Katie Dale to A Dream of Books today.  Katie's second novel 'Little White Lies' is published by Simon and Schuster and is out now!   

Gorgeous Christian is a mystery. Why does he dye his hair, clam up whenever Lou asks about his past, and have no family photos?  But when Christian’s secret is publicly revealed, Lou finds herself in terrible danger – and keeping secrets of her own…

As lie follows lie, nothing is as it seems, and soon Lou finds herself ensnared in a web of deceit, her loyalties torn, her emotions in tatters as she faces a heart-wrenching dilemma: should she shatter the lives of those she holds dearest, or betray the guy who, against all odds, she's fallen in love with?
Katie has written a fantastic guest post all about the process of writing that 'tricky' second book.  So without further ado, it's over to Katie!
Without a doubt, having a book published has completely changed my life. It’s an incredible thrill – and still slightly surreal! – to see my books in bookshops, to sign copies, to do author events at festivals and schools – even as far afield as Moscow! 

And it’s also been a huge learning curve. A two-book deal was a dream come true for me – Hurray! Someone wants to publish not only SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE, but my next, as-yet-unwritten book too – I’m a real author! But trying to promote my first novel whilst writing my second to a deadline has been, I confess, a challenge. 

Whilst with SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE I was able to take as much time as I needed – to write and change and edit it to my heart’s content, never knowing if it would go anywhere, just writing it as a labour of love, thrilling over every success on the route to publication – being chosen as a winner of the UNDISCOVERED VOICES competition, being signed by a wonderful agent, and finally achieving that glorious yet elusive two-book deal – I have to admit that with the wonderful security and reassurance that my second novel would be published, came the pressure and stress of writing a novel in a year. Would I get it finished in time? Would it be too rushed? Would it be as good as SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE? As it’s more of a thriller, will that alienate readers who enjoyed SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE?

Having spent over seven years writing my first book, writing a book to a deadline proved quite a shock to the system, and I consequently became a hermit for most of 2012, desperately trying to meet my deadlines, and trying my hardest to write the best book possible in a (comparatively) short time, whilst trying not to neglect my family and friends too much at the same time - a juggling act that I am yet to master [ – sorry, everyone!]

And the book itself wasn’t straight-forward. In fact, the first synopsis I wrote for LITTLE WHITE LIES (then entitled SECOND CHANCE) for my publishers is pretty much unrecognizable compared to the final book! It underwent many editorial changes before I even started writing as, unlike SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE which went through 40 pages of edits(!) there wouldn’t be a lot of time for major changes at the edit stage.

Having said that, due to my quirky writing method (I don’t start writing the book from the beginning, but from the point that’s most exciting/clearest in my head), although everything went well to begin with, and I got to the end of the book fairly quickly for me – when I went back to the beginning to write the first half I found it really tricky, as I like to write books with secrets and lots of twists – which doesn’t make it easy!

Consequently, I ended up rewriting the first eight chapters several times over, ultimately changing the setting from a summer writing course in a small Yorkshire village to Sheffield university, adding the character of Kenny, changing my main character’s name from Sasha to Lucy then finally to Lou!

The sense of relief when I finally emailed off the last copyedit was immense. I felt physically and mentally exhausted, but there was a real sense of achievement, too. I’ve heard other writers compare writing a book with having a baby, and I think it’s probably very true – Paula Rawsthorne wrote a blog about this on The Edge: “Like the experience of being pregnant, the journey when writing a novel can be scary, exciting, frustrating, stimulating, exhausting and all-consuming. The gestation period can feel like an eternity and you become so emotional that you look at your ever changing body (of work) and one day love it, the next day, burst into tears at the sight of it” but once it’s finished, once you hold it in your hands as a physical object with its stunning cover, once you see it in bookshops and read the first lovely reviews it’s exciting all over again. You almost forget all the struggle and stress and emotional turmoil and can’t wait to start all over again.

It’s an emotional rollercoaster, but one I feel very privileged and excited to be riding.

An actress as well as an author, Katie loves nothing more than creating characters - both on page and onstage. She kept her parents happy by getting a “proper degree” in English Literature at Sheffield University, before finally going to drama school, then whilst she was on a belated gap year travelling through South-East Asia she found out she’d been chosen as a winner of the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices competition with the her first novel, the emotional rollercoaster SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE, which launched her writing career, and is now published all over the world. LITTLE WHITE LIES, her second novel, has just as many twists and turns, but is more of a thriller...

Website: Twitter: @katiedaleuk


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Review: Twisted Perfection - Abbi Glines

Twisted Perfection by Abbi Glines, published by Simon and Schuster on 29th August 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
Della Sloane is not your average girl. Yearning to break free of her dark and sheltered past, Della plans a solo road trip to experience real life on her own terms. But the trip is nearly cut short in the little beach town of Rosemary when she realizes she can't even pump her own gas-until Woods Kerrington shows up, more than willing to help out a pretty girl in need.

Woods's family wants him to settle down with a wealthy woman in pearls, but he can't resist this carefree girl in cutoffs passing through town. A one-night stand should have been enough, but months later, Woods can't get the irresistible Della out of his head.

When a twist of fate brings Della back to Woods, all signs point to trouble if they don't keep their distance. Neither is truly free, and a relationship could destroy both of them. With their hearts on the line, Della thinks the safest bet is to walk away. But Woods isn't about to let that happen…

I can't get enough of Abbi Glines' books!  She is the Queen of New Adult fiction and her books are always hot, steamy and totally absorbing.  I'm so happy that Simon and Schuster are publishing so many of her titles in print at the moment because they are sooo good.

'Twisted Perfection' focuses on Woods Kerrington, who was first introduced to readers in the Fallen Too Far series.  Woods had actually already charmed me so I couldn't wait for him to get his own story.  I knew snippets about what was going to happen but I was excited to discover more about him and the girl who was set to steal his heart.  The girl in question is Della Sloane who has emotional issues and secrets in her past.  She has a lot to overcome but when she and Woods are together they become an explosive combination.   

Emotion oozes out of the pages of this book which I could not put down.  There are highs and lows for the characters and I felt like I was with them every step of the way.  Things don't always work out as you would expect and both Della and Woods have obstacles to face but I never gave up hoping that they could find a way to be together.        

Each of Abbi's books seem to introduce a new character who I end up fascinated by.  This time it was Tripp who appears at various interludes throughout the story.  I wonder if he will eventually get his own spin-off because I definitely found him more than intriguing.  I also love how all the characters from earlier stories end up dipping in and out of each others lives as well, so we get to see how they're getting on.     

I want to live in Rosemary where the guys are hot, the romance sizzles and the sun never stops shining!   

Monday, 16 September 2013

Review: Ghost Hawk - Susan Cooper

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper, published by Bodley Head on 29th August 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
On the winter day Little Hawk is sent into the woods alone, he can take only a bow and arrows, his handcrafted tomahawk, and the amazing metal knife his father traded for with the new white settlers. If Little Hawk survives three moons by himself, he will be a man.

John Wakely is only ten when his father dies, but he has already experienced the warmth and friendship of the nearby tribes. Yet his fellow colonists aren’t as accepting of the native people. When he is apprenticed to a barrel-maker, John sees how quickly the relationships between settlers and natives are deteriorating. His friendship with Little Hawk will put both boys in grave danger.

I picked up 'Ghost Hawk' when I was looking for something a little different to read.  I love historical fiction but I hadn't really read anything set in this particular period before.  Susan Cooper has woven an intricately plotted and fascinating account of the establishment of New England, charting the evolution of the Native American tribes who were living there at the time and the rise of the settlers who arrived to claim the land as their own.

The book is divided into four main parts.  It started extremely strongly with the story of Little Hawk who leaves his family to endure a solitary three months alone in the wilderness, learning how to survive with only a bow, axe and knife.  His courage and tenacity shine through as he begins the transition to manhood.  Huge challenges face him but Little Hawk always stays true to the principles that he was taught by his family. 

Little Hawk's people treat the land with great respect.  Their way of life has existed for hundreds of years but everything starts to change when settlers from England begin to arrive, including John, a young English boy. 

The end of part one was shocking and left me wondering how Susan Cooper was going to continue the story.  I think she made an extremely brave and unusual choice but one which elevated the plot to another level entirely.  The second half of the book deals more with the growing unease between the tribes and the English people who are unable to communicate properly with each other.  Their lives are also built on different foundations and the values they hold often mean that they come into conflict with each other. 

The whole book was entrancing and the authenticity of detail shone through from the start.  Susan Cooper's writing was captivating and I thoroughly enjoyed 'Ghost Hawk'.  This is a book which I would wholeheartedly recommend to other readers.    

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Review: Split Second - Sophie McKenzie

Split Second by Sophie McKenzie, published by Simon and Schuster on 12th September 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
Bound together by the devastating consequences of a terrorist attack on a London market, teenagers Charlotte (Charlie) and Nat appear at first to have much in common. But, as Charlie gets closer to Nat and his family, she begins to wonder if perhaps he knows more about the attack than he has let on.

Sophie McKenzie is one of my favourite British authors and 'Split Second' is one of the best books I've read by her so far.  It had an extremely engaging narrative which thoroughly immersed me in the story.  I finished this book in one sitting and found it utterly gripping.

McKenzie has cleverly taken themes which are relevant today and woven them into the book.  For example, the age of austerity, budget cuts and unemployment all factor but she has imagined what would happen in the future if these things all spiralled out of control.  How would the government respond to societal unrest?  What extent would people go to in ensuring they could feed their families? These questions and more are all subtly posed to the reader who is left to make their own minds up about the ethics of some of the characters' actions. 

The story is told through a dual narrative, featuring teenagers Nat and Charlie.  Their lives become entwined following a shocking turn of events which occurs at the start of the book.  This ensures that they will be brought together but I had no idea how entangled they were going to become with each other as they both struggle to right a series of terrible wrongs.  They become involved with a secret organisation which they believe wants to help stop a radical group from spreading terror across the UK.  As the fast-paced plot unravels, it turns out that they have no idea what truths have really been kept from them but they are about to find out. 

The book provides a frankly terrifying vision of the future of society and is not for the faint-hearted.  Sophie McKenzie has written a superbly exciting story which I feel will appeal hugely to both a male and female readership.  The sequel will be published in 2014 and will be entitled 'Every Second Counts'.   

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Review: Breathe - Abbi Glines

Breathe by Abbi Glines, published by Simon and Schuster on 29th August 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
Sadie White's summer job isn't going to be on the beach life-guarding or working at rental booths like most kids her age. With her single mother's increasing pregnancy and refusal to work, Sadie has to take over her mother's job as a domestic servant for one of the wealthy summer families on a nearby island.

When the family arrives at their summer getaway, Sadie is surprised to learn that the owner of the house is Jax Stone, one of the hottest teen rockers in the world. If Sadie hadn't spent her life raising her mother and taking care of the house she might have been normal enough to be excited about working for a rock star.

Even though Sadie isn't impressed by Jax's fame, he is drawn to her. Everything about Sadie fascinates Jax but he fights his attraction. Relationships never work in his world and as badly as he wants Sadie, he believes she deserves more. By the end of the summer, Jax discovers he can't breathe without Sadie.

This is the first book in the Sea Breeze series by Abbi Glines.  I've actually already read all of the other titles so it was slightly strange going back to the beginning with this one.  It didn't really matter too much because the stories can be read out of order but it was interesting to see how Abbi's writing has changed as the series has progressed.

'Breathe' follows local girl Sadie who goes to work in rock star Jax Stone's house for the summer.  She has grown up having to be ultra responsible with a single parent mother who is now pregnant and dependant on Sadie to look after them and earn some money.  I enjoyed seeing Jax and Sadie's burgeoning romance unfold.  He seems to be his true self when he's around her and while her innocence is just what he needs, she benefits from some of his experience too.  One of the things I love about Abbi Gline's couples is the way in which they really do seem to complete each other.  Separately they are still great individuals but together they look like they can achieve anything.

I also love seeing how two people who seem like polar opposites and come from very different social circles can be brought together.  Jax may be a famous and ridiculously wealthy music star who appears to have everything he could ever want, but when he meets Sadie everything else fades away and to him, she is the only thing that matters. 

I am a humongous fan of Abbi Glines and I will read literally anything she writes.  I hope there are many more of her books still to come because for stories with lashings of romance, heart and soul there's only one author who can deliver. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Review: The Elites - Natasha Ngan

The Elites by Natasha Ngan, published by Hot Key Books on 5th September 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
Hundreds of years into the future, wars, riots, resource crises and rising sea-levels have destroyed the old civilisations. Only one city has survived: Neo-Babel, a city full of cultures – and racial tension.

Fifteen-year-old Silver is an Elite, a citizen of Neo-Babel chosen to guard the city due to her superior DNA. She’d never dream of leaving – but then she fails to prevent the assassination of Neo Babel’s president, setting off a chain of events more shocking and devastating than she could ever have imagined. Forced to flee the city with her best friend Butterfly (a boy with genetically-enhanced wings), Silver will have to fight to find her family, uncover the truth about Neo-Babel and come to terms with her complicated feelings for Butterfly.

'The Elites' is 23 year old Natasha Ngan's first book and is a hugely impressive debut.  I'd heard a lot of buzz about it prior to publication so I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy and delve into the incredible world that Natasha has created. 

The story takes place against the backdrop of the city of Neo-Babel, which is still standing after the wars and destruction that destroyed everything else around them.  It features two unusual characters Silver and Butterfly who are two of The Elites, chosen to protect the city because of their exceptional DNA.  The Elites are the fastest, the most intelligent and the most adept and it's a role that carries great prestige and honour.  After a series of events and the abduction of Silver's parents, the two friends discover a dangerous truth about Neo-Babel that changes their whole future and makes them question everything they have always believed in.

I loved the friendship between Silver and Butterfly.  I could tell immediately that they would always look out for each other and that really came across in the story when they each find themselves in some difficult situations.  Their relationship is pivotal to the book but does begin to evolve half-way through.  Personally, I wasn't too keen on this but I may still change my mind.  

This book has been compared to 'The Hunger Games' but I actually think it's very different to that series.  I would say it leans more heavily towards the fantasy genre.  It has an unusual cast of characters, a unique backdrop and a story with true heart, which all combine to make this an amazing read.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is a stunning debut that I'm sure readers will adore. 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Review: Portal 24 - Meredith Stroud

Portal 24 by Meredith Stroud, published by Hot Key Books on 5th September 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
When teen con-artist Darius is approached by a mysterious government agent about joining a 'Project Oberon', he has no idea what to expect. Certainly not that Project Oberon is actually a top-secret experiment which sends teens back through time to prevent disasters before they happen! Before Darius has time to wonder why he's been chosen, his first mission arrives in the form of a huge electromagnetic weapon of mass destruction, which will kill millions of people in New York - unless Darius and the team can stop it.

I really wanted to read this book because I love stories which involve time-travel and the overall synopsis sounded really great.  It's about a secret government organisation called Oberon which recruits teenagers as agents and then sends them back in time to stop catastrophic events from happening.  At the beginning of the story street-smart Darius becomes the newest recruit and is made to leave his entire life behind. 

Although it was the time-travel element which originally hooked me onto the idea of reading this book, I have to say that I found the way it was dealt with quite confusing at times.  The passages explaining how it worked were just too confusing and over-complicated and I've read other books which have provided much clearer and more believable explanations. 

The book features an interesting cast of characters.  As well as Darius, his team also consists of fierce and feisty Bianca, along with Leon, Malik and Constance.  None of them were particularly big favourites of mine, although Darius did grow on me as the book progressed and he turned out to have some rather surprising skills. 

This was a fairly quick read at only 240 pages long but sadly didn't end up winning me over.  It lacked that special ingredient which makes me fall in love with a book.  I liked the fact that it was action-packed and full of adventure but I found it a bit lacking at times.  I'm not sure if there will be a sequel but if so, I don't think I'll be joining for the rest of the ride.   

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Review: Love is a Number - Lee Monroe

Love is a Number by Lee Monroe, published by Hodder Children's Books on 4th July 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
When her beloved boyfriend Huck dies, Eloise is wrecked. All she has left of him are the texts that he sent: short, succinct - but full of love.

They keep Huck alive. And so Eloise texts him back as if he can receive her messages from beyond the grave. She never expected to get a reply ....

Dan is travelling South America in one last hurrah before university and real life kick in.

He's ready for love, but not of the casual kind. He's not met a girl that's set his world alight. But he's ready for her when she decides to make an appearance. One night on his travels, Dan discovers an abandoned phone.

He pockets it, then forgets about it. He never expected it to ring ....

Being a big fan of Lee Monroe's Dark Heart trilogy, I was excited to see that she had a new book out.  Rather than focusing on the paranormal, 'Love is a Number' is a contemporary young-adult story about two teenagers whose lives are set on a collision course due to a series of unexpected events.  I was expecting something different to Monroe's previous work and that's exactly what I got. 

The narrative alternates between the two main characters: Eloise or Lo as she is known and Daniel.  We find out at the beginning of the story that Eloise's boyfriend Huck has died.  She is trying to pick up the pieces of her life again but can't seem to dig herself out of the depression that she's sunk into following her loss.  I kind of had a love/hate relationship with Eloise.  I sympathised with her predicament and the difficult time she was going through, but as I began to learn more about her I didn't particularly like what I discovered.  She has allowed herself to be steered through life by her mother who goes as far as to choose her clothes and who she should be friends with, but up until this point she hasn't ever really stood up for herself.  It was nice to see her gradually becoming more independent and doing what she feels is right rather than what people tell her to do.

Daniel is in Spain and trying to open himself up to new experiences before he starts university.  I thought he was a great character and had a very appealing personality.  As he begins to mature as a person, so many good qualities about him shone through and I thoroughly enjoyed the chapters which centred around him and his journey.

I did think that the story was a little bit predictable at times.  It was slow to start but it picked up in the second half when I became more engrossed in the events surrounding the characters.  It's not hugely heavy on romance but is more about finding yourself and making true friendships which will last through life.

Although this is probably a book that I wouldn't pick up to read again, it was still a nice, sweet read which will appeal to fans of contemporary YA. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

Review: Belle Epoque - Elizabeth Ross

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, published by Hot Key Books on 5th September 2013

Goodreads synopsis:
When sixteen-year-old Maude runs away to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Increasingly desperate for money, she answers a mysterious advert: 'Young Women Wanted for Undemanding Work. Apply In Person To The Durandeau Agency.' But the work is very strange indeed. Maude discovers she is to be a repoussoir - an ugly young woman hired by Parisian socialites to enhance their beauty.

Maude is humiliated - but faced with destitution, what choice does she have? Quickly (and secretly) selected as the perfect companion for the Countess Dubern's daughter Isabelle, Maude is thrown into a decadent world full of parties, glamour and astonishing cruelty. Maude finds that academic Isabelle is equally disenchanted with the Parisian social scene, and the girls form a tight bond. But when bohemian artist Paul and the handsome Duke d'Avaray are introduced into the girls' lives, their friendship will be tested to its limits. The girls are about to discover the true meaning of being beautiful...

Elizabeth Ross was inspired to write 'Belle Epoque' after reading Emile Zola's short story Les Repoussoirs.  I found this fascinating because not only am I a huge fan of Zola's work but also the idea of young women being used as beauty foils was a really interesting concept.  I was looking forward to seeing how Ross was going to treat this unusual subject.

'Belle Epoque' is set in Paris, France in 1888.  The Eiffel Tower is currently being constructed and has divided the opinion of the French people, some of whom admire the ambition and architecture and others who abhor it.  This nicely mirrors one of the themes of the book - beauty and the fact that beauty is often subjective and in the eye of the beholder. 

The main character Maude is a repoussoir.  She is hired by Countess Dubern to make her daughter Isabelle look more beautiful and attractive to prospective suitors.  Maude plays her part reluctantly and dreams of something more for herself.  She struggles with the idea that she is a mere accessory to Isabelle, someone who will constantly be overlooked and strives to carve out a real future for herself.  She is often torn between her duty to her employer and her growing friendship with Isabelle who does not know the truth about her.  I enjoyed Maude's development throughout the novel and how she grew as an individual.  She has to face adversity but she always attempts to hold her head up high and do what she believes in, even when it often makes things harder for herself.   

My only real criticism of the book is that I thought the sub-plot involving Paul the musician, was almost a distraction to the main story.  I can see why the author incorporated it but personally, I preferred it when the focus was on Maude's relationships with some of the other female figures in the plot.   

Ross's debut novel is a treat to read.  Her writing is sophisticated and her characters beautifully crafted.  I enjoyed the way she explored the concept of beauty and what it really is and I was pleasantly surprised by just how mush I enjoyed this excellent book.   
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