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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Review: Grave Surprise

Author: Charlaine Harris
Release date: UK 2007
Genre: Paranormal mystery / Murder mystery
Target audience: Adult

Harper Connelly Mysteries:
Book 1: Grave Sight - my review here.

Summary from Amazon:
A bolt of lightning struck Harper Connelly when she was 15, leaving her with a strange spider web of red on her torso and right leg, episodes of weakness, shakes and headaches - and an ability to find dead people. Harper is summoned to Memphis to demonstrate her unique talent, but there are still plenty of sceptics, even as Harper stands atop a grave and announces there are two bodies buried there. The police are convinced there's something fishy going on when the grave is opened to reveal the centuries-dead remains of a man, which they'd expected (that being his grave, after all) and a dead girl, which no one expected - except Harper, of course.

Review:
Grave Surprise is the second instalment in Charliane Harris's Harper Connelly mysteries. Although this is a series, I see no reason why you couldn't read this book as a standalone paranormal murder mystery. You may miss out on a little of Harper and her brother Tolliver's back story but that is all. Grave Surprise opens with Harper taking another case as part of her unusual job. She is invited to Bingham College to identify corpses in their ancient chapel graveyard. The college professor who organised the workshop is a complete sceptic. He doesn't believe that Harper can locate dead bodies, identify the deceased and state their cause of death. Of course, Harper proves him wrong but she also gets a surprise herself because there is an extra body in the grave. It is an eleven year old girl.

I do love a good murder mystery and Grave Surprise is no exception. The plot of this book centres upon Harper trying to work out the identity of the girl's killer. Harper has a past connection with the girl's family and can't help but wonder which one of them did it. Of course, Harper is in the frame too. She found the girl and in a world of sceptics the only way she could have known that the body was there would to have seen someone do it or to have done it herself. Luckily, she is able to convince an FBI agent of her paranormal ability. She also has the support of her brother Tolliver. He is hiding something from Harper though and it could be vital to the case. The plot twists and turns and like any good mystery keeps you guessing. In this book the identity was a little trickier to work out. There are so many different people linked to the case in one way or another.

Although this is marketed an adult book in the UK, it is written in a very accessible style. The story immediately draws you in with Harper's narrative. You are constantly rooting for her or barely able to read as she takes some dangerous decisions. In terms of characterisation, this series is excellent. There is a depth to Harper and her relationship with Tolliver. They have both lived through an abusive and traumatic childhood and this gives Harper a cynicism about families and relationships. Yet opposed to that is her relationship with the dead, she says that they all want to be found and has a sort of tenderness towards them. It is a really interesting exploration of a character and I can't wait to follow Harper's next case.

Overall, Grave Surprise is a murder mystery with a firm grip on the paranormal. Great characteristion and a fast-moving unpredictable plot make this book such an enjoyable read. It's official! I am a fan of this series! Charlaine Harris is just the best!

Monday, 29 March 2010

A little update post for you

In the blogosphere
I am participating in Kris's Tribute to the Women of YA over @ Voracious YAppetite.
She has a series of posts in honour of March being Women's History Month. I think it is such a neat idea. The first post is already up: http://www.rebloco.com/2010/03/28/the-women-of-ya-a-tribute-part-i/


If you missed the first round of Character Connection, a new meme by Jen @ The Introverted Reader, you can join in this Thursday. To participate all you need to do is write a post about your love of a literary character. You can be as creative as you want which is one of the reasons I love this idea so much. All the info is on Jen's lovely blog.

Moi
I read for at least five hours yesterday! That is the most time I have spent reading on a Sunday in forever so I feel very gleeful about that.

I gave some advice to a new UK blogger who wrote me the sweetest email. Her name is Caroline and here is her blog: http://portrait-of-a-woman.blogspot.com/ Please stop by her blog and say hi!

Around London
Caroline also very kindly told me that Delphine De Vigan, author of No and Me, is launching her book at the French Institute in South Kensington on April 7th. More info here.

The lovely Ebony McKenna is coming to London all the way from Melbourne, Australia. In fact I have it on very good authority that she has already packed her bags. Ebony is going to be signing copies of her wonderfully funny YA novel Ondine: The Summer of Shambles.
Here are the dates and locations:
Tuesday April 6th 11.00 a.m Waterstones Barnet
Thursday April 8th 11.00 a.m. Slough Library





Questions
Does anyone want any further advice on book blogging? I feel like I'm touching on some things but maybe missing others. If you do, leave me a comment with your question or if you are a little embarrassed by it email me: thebookette @ googlemail.com

I'm still thinking about changing the visuals of The Bookette. What I need is a website where I can build a custom design from scratch. Any ideas?

Review: Captivate

Author: Carrie Jones
Release date: 5th April 2010 UK / 5th January 2010 US
Genre:Paranormal Romance / Urban Fantasy / Pixie Fiction
Target audience: 11+

Summary from Goodreads.com:
Zara and her friends knew they hadn't solved the pixie problem for good. Far from it. The king's needs grow deeper every day he's stuck in captivity, while his control over his people gets weaker. It's made him vulnerable. And now there's a new king in town.



A turf war is imminent, since the new pixie king, Astley, is moving in quickly. Nick nearly killed him in the woods on day one, but Zara came to his rescue. Astley swears that he and Zara are destined to be together, that he's one of the good guys. Nick isn't buying it, though Zara isn't as sure -- despite herself, she wants to trust the new king. But it's a lot more than her relationship with Nick that is at stake. It's her life -- and his.

SPOILERS for Need! Lots of them! If you haven't read it, you can read my review here.

Review:
Captivate continues Zara's story of her life living with her gran Betty in Maine. The events in Need leave their mark on Zara's state of mind. In this book she is haunted by the identity of her biological father and is struggling with the knowledge that she is half pixie. She is riddled with guilt for the decision she had to make to protect her friends and family from the pixies. She is also hopelessly in love with Nick, her were boyfriend.

I found reading Captivate a very different experience from Need. I found it really hard to suspend my disbelief which surprised me. I actually went back to read my review of Need and I realise that I was really under the weather when I had read it and so I wanted a light and easy read. Captivate followed in this simple and teen-focused style. 

However, there are a few things that alienated me - Devyn's recovery from his accident. It happened too quickly and despite the fact that this can be justified by his were genes, I felt that it was all a bit too convenient. Zara is meant to be a staunch supporter of Amnesty International, a believer in human rights and peaceful solutions. Her descent into violent choices just didn't fit with the rest of her character. Yes, she was under extreme emotional distress and grief but again this was too convenient. Are there things we all do in the name of love? Yes of course. I just didn't find the depth of those considerations explored enough by the author. This is a book that seems to only have one layer.

The climax of the novel was certainly gripping. I was hooked by the events unfolding in the last few chapters. At times I was even moved. The introduction of Astley certainly added a new aspect to the novel. There is a feeling of foreboding and mystery where he is concerned. I definitely want to read the next book to see where Carrie Jones takes the story. Will it be a predictable love triangle? Or will it be something deeper? Captivate has the middle novel feeling. It is the book before the battle. The book that moves the story on but doesn't complete it. Read this if you enjoyed Need. It does have a real appeal to teens and fans of supernatural creatures.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy to review.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Winners of When I Was Joe

I had 247 entries in my contest not including the extra ones. Thanks to everyone for spreading the word about this amazing book.

The winners are:

Sarah Foulds
Aik Chien

Congratulations to you both. I will email you shortly please reply promptly.

More contests on the way soon!

Discussion: Let's talk about reviewing

I love Saturday discussions.

So reviewing then, this is why we are all here.
What then is the most important thing in reviewing?
Honesty, or at least it is for me. There is nothing worse than reading a review which is just a lot of politeness and not a lot of truth.

Opinions are valid. You can agree or disagree. It doesn't matter. What matters is having something balanced and fair to say. I hear from other bloggers, publishers and authors that what is important is the quality of the review.

Beyond honesty, people often mention this thing called a "Reviewer's Voice". I have read on various blogs that it can take years to develop one of these. I guess that can be true if you can't quite find what you feel about a book. Personally, I review from the heart. (Corny much?! but absolutely true) Why? That is the type of person that I am. I am a very passionate, happy-go-lucky and enthusiastic person and thus this is what you get from my reviews or at least what I intend you to get. (Does this sound like a CV??!) I do not try to be anyone other than myself when I review thus I think I have my voice. I'm actually quite fond of it.

When I think back to the reviews I've written, there are two which really epitimise my "voice". Firstly, the review I wrote of When I Was Joe by Keren David. I literally tried to type out my soul with that one and I am still proud of what I wrote. The second, is my review of Fang or rather the whole post that I did with reasons to love and hate Maximum Ride. That is still my voice and my passion but used in a very different way to create humour and also to laugh at myself for feeling so strongly about something of which the quality is questionable. I doubt anyone else remembers it to be honest but I do because it was a joy to write.

But there is another review which follows me now wherever I go. It is a review that had honesty and passion for an entirely different reason. I am no longer always thought of as The Bookette. I am the girl who wrote THAT review of Swoon. How do I know this? Well, it was mentioned several times at the online conference and not with derision but with admiration because I had taken that review as far as I could to the truth of the book and braved talking about the extreme level of its sexual content. Now my opinion is not shared by everyone and this is what I love about book blogging because we are all free to have opinions. I know some people worry about receiving mean comments from honest reviews but in my experience you gain nothing but respect by sharing your true opinion. Yes, not everyone will agree but that makes an interesting discussion.

So what is important to you when it comes to writing or reading reviews?
Have you identified your voice? What type of voice is it? Funny, sarcastic, professional?
Do you have one review that really captures your voice? If so, link it using the widget below and I will stop by them all and have a read.

This is where you have to be confident about sharing and not think by linking you are bragging. You are not. You are participating in a discussion about reviewing and voice.
So let's see those links and add your thoughts on reviewing in the comments lovely people.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Review: Lex Trent Versus The Gods

Author: Alex Bell
Release date: 4th February 2010
Genre: Comic Fantasy
Target audience: YA/ 10+

Summary from Amazon:
Law student Lex Trent’s world is inhabited by fearsome magicians, ageing crones and a menagerie of Gods and Goddesses. And while Lex is seemingly dedicated to his legal studies he’s always enjoyed a challenge – which is why he leads a double life as the notorious cat burglar ‘The Shadowman’ who has been (luckily) evading capture for years.



But Lex’s luck is about to run out because the Goddess of Fortune has selected him to be her player in the highly dangerous Games. Losing is not an option for Lex (particularly as it so often involves dying) but can he really win each of the perilous rounds? Given that the reward for doing so is money, fame and glory – all things that Lex is quite keen on – he’s going to do whatever it takes to make sure he will... and he’s certainly got good experience of cheating.

Review:
Lex Trent is a seventeen year old con man, swindler, cheat and an accomplished liar. We meet Lex while he is completing an internship with a law firm. Knowing the ins and outs of the law is useful in Lex's line of adventure. He revels in escaping justice and outwitting authority figures. One might describe him as a self interested rebel without a cause. The fantasy world of Lex Trent is an intriguing one where the Gods have divided the world in half. They have decided that humans are too unpredictable and interfer with their games. Lex's biggest ally in his mission to deceive and swindle is the Goddess of Fortune. Lady Luck may have a fickle nature but where Lex is concerned she has blessed him with good fortune. The question is when the real game begins will Lex's luck run out?

This novel is a comic fantasy which is both witty and imaginative. In the press release that accompanied the book it is likened to The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddle and the writing of Terry Prachett. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of either. Comic fantasy isn't my particular blend of fantasy. I have yet to discover why this is because I am a complete dreamer and lover of magic and mythology. While I was reading this book, I found it so hard to connect with Lex. He is selfish, arrogant and conceited. That is his charm but it didn't rub off on me. I was a much bigger fan of Lucius who is a sweet and caring boy. I'm not sure that the author intended the reader to connect with Lex anyway but to simply be amused by him. I guess I don't have that sense of humour which is a shame because the imaginative scope of Lex's world is ingenius.

It took me a long time to become a part of this story but I'm really glad that I read the book to the end. For me the last 70 pages were the most interesting. Alex Bell created a really satisfying ending which left me feeling pleased that I perserved. Although this book isn't really for me, I can recognise the qualities which will appeal to fans of comic fantasies. It is a witty, adventurous novel set in a bizarre fantasy world. A great read for those who love Prachett and books like Muddle Earth but sadly that reader is not me.

Thank you to Headline for sending me the book for review.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Character Connection: Fang

The lovely Jen @ The Introverted Reader has started a new meme. Today is the first day and so I would like to wish her lots of luck in her new venture and just say that I think it is genius.

This is probably not the best it could be but the wonderful thing about this meme is it is about love of a character and using that to create a post.

Creativity. I love it.

So here I am writing a blog post to Fang without spoilers because you would all hate me to reveal that ending in the most recent book which made me cry.

Author: James Patterson
Series: Maximum Ride
Book: Fang

Dear Fang,

I am a huge fan, like the absoulte biggest. I totally wish I could grow a pair or wings and fly with you and the flock. I'm still waiting for my mutant gene to kick in. I wonder what it will be...maybe I'll be able to leap fifty feet in the air. Maybe I'll be able to do the whole mind trick like what Angel's got going on. Maybe I'll have x-ray vision. That would be cool...I wonder what colour...never mind.

I think you and Max are like a dream couple. You're all silent and smouldering and she's all kick-ass leader material. A great combo! I seriously wanted to give Dylan reconstructive surgery when he showed up. No one likes Mr Perfection. I mean who would want to be with a guy with rippling muscles, glossy blond hair, a gorgeous smile? 

So anyway Fang, I am totally crushing on you but of course I want you to be with Max. I mean I have a husband who is totally the best at cooking meatballs anyway.

Mutant bird boy, why are you reading this post? You should totally be out saving the world from evil scientists and natural disasters and stuff.

You know what would be cool is if you did a contest on your blog to win one of your feathers. I would love to own one of your feathers. Think about it. Please?

Stay safe and watch out for tho dopplegangers!

Love, the biggest mutant bird kid wannabee

The Bookette

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Your questions answered!

Following on from yesterday's honesty post. (By the way, thanks for the many supportive comments that you all left. I really never expected that post to get so much attention. I feel a little embarrassed by it all.) 

Anyway, I'm going to answer the questions that people asked me to find out at the conference. Sharing and community, people! This is what it is all about.

What do publishers expect from bloggers? Would they rather see a negative review, or no review at all if that review was going to be negative?

The publishers said they do not mind if you try a book outside your comfort zone and don't enjoy it. A well-written fair review is what they hope for. We need to move away from this dialogue of positive and negative reviews and start thinking of reviews in terms of being fair and balanced. If you don't enjoy a book, you need to give clear and concise reasons and don't just say "this book is absolute rubbish". But say, "I found the point where Jacob and Bella kiss not in fitting with the rest of the novel. Up until this point it is unequivocal that Bella and Edward are infatuated. For me this detracted from the overall flow of the story." (Okay that was a lame example but you get the idea).

I'd like to know when it is acceptable to request a book from them. How far in advance should you request a book? Can you ever request books after they've been published?



Yes, you may request books that are already in print. In terms of how far in advance, I think it depends on your relationship with each specific publisher. One publisher told me "not to be afraid to ask if I have a specific title that I'd like to review". The earliest book that I asked for was Montacute House by Lucy Jago. I requested it in January and it isn't out until May. I wanted to review it as part of my promotion of UK debut authors. Receiving a book that early is unusual but it guarantees a review from me near to or on release day. Anyway, Bloomsbury sent it to me so I guess 5 months early can be ok sometimes.
 
I just popped back to the conference to pick up if anyone else had an idea about this and the lovely Cindy was told by her contact that the sooner you can ask for a book the better. The publisher puts you on a list and will send it when it comes in.  That sounds very organised!
 
What do they look for in a book blog? How many hits do they like to see each month? Do they care about comment numbers? Google ranking? Do they even look at factors like that, or just send books to anyone that enquires?
 
This very much depends on the publisher. The one thing that was unanimous was that they want good quality reviews. That matters more than follower numbers or number of hits etc. They do indeed look at hits, comments and followers but there is no one number that means you are guaranteed to have a review copy request granted. Also, the other important thing was frequency of posting. The more you post the better in the publishers' eyes.
 
How do they look for book blogs? Do they look for book blogs or just rely on bloggers contacting them?



They use Twitter, search engines and recommendations from their established bloggers. They don't rely on bloggers contacting them but they don't mind if you do as long as you are professional.
I myself have been put on publishers' databases of bloggers through connecting with publicists through Twitter. If you look me up @the_bookette, you'll see that I have listed Publishers. You can click through that list and follow the ones that work you. (Many of them are UK but it will give you a starting point).
 
So these are the things you said you wanted to know.
I might do another post later this week about the other topics discussed.

And watch out on Saturday because I intend to start a discussion about that all important thing: reviewing!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Honesty: What I'm feeling about book blogging

Last night I went to bed very tired and angsty. It had been three long days being online participating in the Book Bloggers Conference.

Did I enjoy it?
Did I learn a lot?
Did I network?
Did I make some new friends or enjoy discussing blog stuff with some old ones?
Yes is the answer to all those questions. In the words of Ron Weasley "That was bloody brilliant!"

Why then was I angsty? Because I was tired? No I don't think so.

Yesterday, a wonderful honest blogger who is nearly half my age wrote that he felt blogging was becoming a popularity contest. Add that to a whole weekend of discussion and reflection on blogging, my mind was set to thinking.

Yesterday, one of my favourite bloggers said she felt that since becoming a blogger buying books was an addiction and it scared her. Familiar anyone?

Well it is to me.

But the thing that has been eating away at me for a couple of weeks is that some people think it is ok to belittle new book bloggers.

Recently I have been offended by an innocent comment. I'm an adult. I should have a thicker skin. I have been a children's librarian for more than 2 years now. I have been reading YA since I was 19. I like to think I know a fair bit about children's literature. The issue for some more established bloggers is that because I have only been blogging since last August, I do not have the right to want to build professional relationships with publishers. Is this about free books? No, certainly not. If anything, I'm nearing a point where I no longer want to accept books for review. I'm not there yet but the day may come.

Why is it assumed that the only reason new people start blogging is to get free books?
And, even if they do, is it such a bad thing? Personally, as long as a book blogger writes good quality reviews then I couldn't care less what their motivation is for being a blogger.

Where is this competitive feeling in book blogging coming from?

I have spent three days sharing thoughts, opinions, knowledge and resources with many bloggers through the conference. We were there because we love blogging and want to improve and develop. It has certainly helped me get clarity. There was no sense that we were competing to get some mystery prize. We were in it together.

Where is this post going?
I'm not entirely sure. I feel like I'm not in control of my blogging. I spend so long commenting that I'm not doing the most important thing which is reading. I still haven't read most of the books I got for Christmas. I don't want to be a slave to consumerism. I don't want to buy books just for the sake of it.

Decisions
I won't be participating in IMM that much anymore. Maybe once a month. Maybe not at all. IMM is a great way for new bloggers to get involved and get their site out there for other bloggers to find. I don't feel like that's why I'm doing it anymore. It used to be fun. Now it feels like it eats up all of Sunday. I want to read on Sundays. Most people will know the new books that I got for review because the other UK peeps have them too.

Following
I am going to unfollow some blogs and tweeples. Probably not many but I want to feel like it is manageable and that my comments actually contribute and are not just "great review". Feel free to unfollow me if you've been thinking that Bookette posts a load of annoying nonsense and is so far up her own ****.

Community
Blogging is great because it brings people together. For us bookish types, it is about sharing our passion and opinions about reading. There are many great bloggers out there who welcome every new blogger. I'm thinking of Chicklish and Jo @ Ink and Paper Fantasy Reviews and my own introduction to this world was shaped by the lovely Jenny @ Wondrous Reads. I want to make sure that newbies feel welcome and are able to ask any question of me even if *gasp* they want to know how to get their hands on ARCs. This is the type of person that I am and it is the type of person that I want to be.

Looking forward
Time for a few changes. I am The Bookette and I am putting my best foot forward. I am here to support newbie book bloggers and I am proud of it.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Last call! Online Book Bloggers Conference

This is a quick post to let you know that the Online Book Bloggers Conference starts tomorrow. We have been in pre-conference discussions on the Ning all week and although I have not done much of anything else, I have been enjoying every second.

So far I have a four point to do list to improve my blog and the conference hasn't started yet. The good news is that I am now certain this isn't a dogdy scam but a chance for book bloggers to learn and network and ask questions both profound and mundane.

Come join us. It does cost money £13.50 in UK money but I actually feel like it is worth it. The amount of work that Terry has put into this is incredible.
Am I being sponsored for write this post? Of course not! I have my reputation to protect. It would be great to see some more of my blogger friends there but I of course shall share what I learn with you anyhow.

Before I go, here is a video which tells you more about how the conference actually works.

Review: No and Me

Author: Delphine De Vigan
Release date: 1st March 2010 UK
Genre: Realism / Issues
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Waterstones.com:
Lou Bertignac has an IQ of 160 and a good friend in class rebel Lucas. At home her father puts a brave face on things but cries in secret in the bathroom, while her mother rarely speaks and hardly ever leaves the house. To escape this desolate world, Lou goes often to Gare d'Austerlitz to see the big emotions in the smiles and tears of arrival and departure. But there she also sees the homeless, meets a girl called No, only a few years older than herself, and decides to make homelessness the topic of her class presentation. Bit by bit, Lou and No become friends until, the project over, No disappears. Heartbroken, Lou asks her parents the unaskable question and her parents say: Yes, No can come to live with them. So Lou goes down into the underworld of Paris's street people to bring her friend up to the light of a home and family life, she thinks.



Review:
No and Me is the story of Lou Bertignac. A girl who is gifted with an extraordinarily high IQ of 160. For that reason, she is a thirteen year old studying in a class of fifteen year olds. Not only does she stand out because she interprets the world differently, but because she is smaller and less physically developed than the rest of her classmates. Lou's narrative voice is genuinely engaging and endearing. The style of the writing is so accessible that I just fell into the heart of this story and did not want to put it down.
 
Lou is a remarkable girl who carries out investigations and experiments on the world around her. She tests a range of ready meals to see how much of their content is the same. She measures, she calculates and she seeks to understand the workings of the world. She drifts off on tangents as her mind runs with an idea and she appears disconnected from the people around her. Lou is a fully rounded, quirky and interesting character to read about. There are two other main characters in this novel No and Lucas. No is an eighteen year old homeless girl who Lou connects with and in a way investigates. Lucas is seventeen and is in the same class as Lou because he has been held back two years. He is the ultimate cool guy and rather charming. Each of these characters has a striking depth and mystery about them.
 
The plot explores their three identities and the relationship between them. In fact in terms of action, there isn't all that much that happens in this book. It is definitely character driven and that is its beauty. The interactions between Lou, No and Lucas and the outside world are fascinating. It is Lou's telling of the story that makes you want to read on.
 
No and Me also explores contemporary issues. It shows the reader the realities of life for young homeless women in France. It looks at grief, loss and mental illness. It touches on the wrongs in society and inequality and the bureaucracy and barriers that prevents change.
 
This was a book that I enjoyed every second of reading. The simple narrative is honest, funny and endearing. The heart of the book had meaning and depth. It took me into present day France and showed me some dark truths. But there was also hope and that hope was Lou. A quirky and courageous character who had me believing in a better future so long as we strive for it. No and Me is a great story!
 

NB: No and Me is currently in production in France and is due for release at the cinema in the Autumn.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Burned

This meme is hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine.

So I'm ashamed to say it but the book that I am waiting on this week is:

Burned by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Released by Atom on April 27th 2010

WARNING: This summary from Amazon is spoilertastic for earlier House of Night novels!

Y'all need to get yourselves together. Here's a newsflash from the only High Priestess you have left at this dang school: Zoey isn't dead. And believe me, I know dead. I've been there, done that and got the fricken tee-shirt. Zoey Redbird is the youngest High Priestess in House of Night history and is the only person ? vamp or fledgling ? that can stop the evil Neferet from raising all kinds of immortal trouble. And she might just have a chance if she wasn't so busy being dead. Well, dead is too strong a word. Stevie Rae knows she can bring her BFF back from her unscheduled va-cay in the Otherworld. But it's going to take a lot more than hoping to bring Zoey back. Stevie Rae will have to give up a few secrets of her own ...

Okay, so we all know I think this series is like totally lame and everything but I'm hooked and I have to see it through to the end whenever that may be.

So tell me what novels are your guilty pleasures?

Monday, 15 March 2010

Review: Song Quest and Tour Sign Up

Author: Katherine Roberts
Genre: Fantasy
Release date: 1999 Element / 2000 UK Chicken House/ 2001 Scholastic US
Target audience: 10+

Important note: Song Quest is currently out of print. It is a great traversty and I am trying to do my little bit to change this. You can still purchase the book from Amazon Marketplace.

Summary from the author's website:
When a ship is wrecked on the Isle of Echoes, novice Singer Rialle hears the cries of the fish-tailed merlee, who are being hunted by the mainlanders. She is sent with a Singer delegation across the sea to the Karch, where she discovers her rival, the runaway Kherron, has been tricked by the Khizpriest into helping the enemy. Only by working together can the two young Singers rescue the merlee and return to the Echorium to break the power of the dark crystal.
Review:
I first read Song Quest back in 2001 when I was an eager student at University. I can vividly remember reading it on the train and then continuing to race through it in the undergrad common room while my intellectual friends talked of politics and other things like the pub. This was not a usual habit for me in those days. I didn't really have time to read fiction that wasn't on the syllabus but there was something about this book that spoke to me. I swear this is where my love of YA fiction originated. I guess I owe my career to this book. Would it be fair to say that I have a sentimental attachment to this novel? Yes, it would and with good reason. It is brilliant. That's why! The Echorium Sequence is one of my absolute favourite fantasy series if not the favourite. Okay, enough reminiscing! I have re-read Song Quest to kick start my campaign to get this award-winning novel back in print. I know my students would love this book. I need to be able to stock it in the library. I need to be able to force people to go into shops and buy it.

Song Quest sees us living on the Isle of Echoes. Home to the Singers of the Echorium who protect the lives of Half Creatures and can heal the sick with their Songs of Power. The towns people live in awe of the Singers and have many exaggerated ideas of their abilities. Rialle is our heroine. A Final Year Singer-in-training who loves everything that the Echorium represents. The story opens with Rialle and her classmates having a lesson on the beach below the Five Thousand steps to the Echorium. A ship has been wrecked and they are searching for more than just the goods that may have been washed up. Rialle is about to find out the truth behind the stories of the Half Creatures that are in the Echorium's illustrious history. Here we also meet the adorable Frenn who is loyal, funny, gallant and probably my favourite character. Then there is Kherron who is wildly jealous of Rialle's singing ability and resents the attention and praise she receives from her teachers. Kherron desperately wants to sing on the Pentangle. This is where the Singers stand and join in song. One at each point of the star and voice the five Songs of Power. Each song casts a powerful magic which can heal or harm.

The fantasy landscape of this novel is original and beautiful. The Singers wear their flip-flops in the Echorium and the breeze blows through the draped windows. They wear grey robes that flow freely. It all gives a sense of the island as one of crystal, ethereal beauty and a place of serenity. Every detail is well-thought out. The Singers dye their hair blue and this helps magnify the power of their Songs. On the mainland the Karchlord has dominion over the towns people and they live in fear of him and his men.

The plot moves swiftly and will keep you reading on and on. Roberts expertly captures the readers attention as Rialle undertakes her dangerous quest. This is edge of your seat, hold your breath until you get to the end, stuff. Beautifully written and captivating. Rialle and her friends each grow and develop as the novel progresses and the ending is just perfect.

I know I haven't done this book the justice it deserves. I can't communicate the love I have for this book in words. It is a feeling I have inside. I just know this is an incredible fantasy series that brings me great joy. I just don't know how to say that. Song Quest is the perfect read for any fantasy lover. All I can say is read this book. It is an epic fantasy adventure full of laughter, danger, mysterious plot and colourful imagination.


Blog tour sign up:
Now, I have bought an extra copy of Song Quest from Amazon Marketplace. I'm hardly going to part with my beautiful hardback, am I?!

I am going to send this extra copy on tour around as many UK blogs as I can. Please say below if you would like to be a part of the tour and I will email you. If you're interested and you're an international blogger, leave me a comment telling me so and I just might buy another copy to send out to you guys too. Please state your country in the comments. Your help to get Song Quest back in print is needed and very much appreciated.

Katherine's website can be found here. You can also follow her unicorn's blog here. I do and I love it!

On another note, Katherine is writing a series now about the daughter of King Arthur. I really want to read it but she hasn't found a publisher yet. Talk about injustice! She is an award-winning and superb author. How can she not have a publisher for this series?! I don't understand. Merlin is a huge hit with kids right now. A new take on the King Arthur story is something I wish I could recommend to my students in the school library. Publishers are too focused on paranormal romance. It makes me very frustrated!

The Bookette

Friday, 12 March 2010

Review: Numbers

Author: Rachel Ward
Release date: 5th January 2009 UK / February 2010 US
Genre: Gritty realism with a hint of the paranormal
Target audience: 13+

Summary from Chicken House:
Since her mother’s death when she was seven, fifteen-year-old Jem has kept a secret. When her eyes meet someone else’s, a number comes into her head – the date on which they will die.



Knowing that nothing can last forever, Jem avoids relationships, until she meets Spider, another outsider, and her life takes a happier turn. But on their first day-out together, waiting for a ride on the London Eye, Jem realises something terrible - everyone in the queue has the same number – and her world is about to explode.

Review:
Numbers is a powerful, gritty and dark portrayal of teenage life in the UK. It has one element of the paranormal but the book is firmly grounded in our society. Fifteen year old Jem is living with her foster mum Karen. She is disaffected. The system isn't working for her. She is unhappy at school and intentionally shuts herself off from other people. Her story is hard-hitting realism that at times left a bitter taste in my mouth. Rachel Ward conveys the pain and resentment building inside Jem with a shocking accuracy. Her voice is still echoing around my head. The issue which sets Jem apart from our other disaffected youths is her ability to see the numbers. Every time Jem looks into a person's eyes, she can see their number. The date they are going to die. How does a character in such need of love and affection allow herself to connect with another person if she knows they are going to die? She doesn't or not at least until she meets Spider. He doesn't actually give her a choice.

Spider is such an endearing character. He is bursting with a zest for life, an insatiable energy and an admirable sense of optimism. Jem is almost his opposite. She is controlled, at times robotic and the only emotions she allows herself to feel are those which are destructive and fuel her anger. Perhaps their friendship is an unlikely pairing but I think they both share a feeling of being part of the underclass, of not belonging in the system. They have a cruel teacher who humiliates students by predicting their future to be one of unemployment, drugs, crime or of uninspiring jobs. The sad truth is for many of our young people this poverty cycle is real and demoralising. They see themselves fated to live a life of hardship and misery. It would be nice to think in real life that teachers have the power to improve the chances of social mobility for their students. I'll leave that thought there before I get all emotional about the state of the inequality of opportunity in British society.

The plot of this book was powerful and swift-moving. The cliffhangers at the end of the chapters kept me wanting to read on and on. I wanted to know if the numbers were set in stone or whether Jem would have the power to change them. There was one part of the story that I thought was a bit too unrealistic. Without giving anything away, it was the scene with the police dog. However, the skilful writing in this novel made me stare the harsh reality of the teen life straight in the eye. It was a pretty awful sight but it was certainly powerful.

Overall, Numbers is a book which will force you to confront the dark, failing parts of our society right in the face. It will grab you and won't let you go until you get to the end. I was reminded a little of Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses series and think if you enjoyed that, you'll be hooked on Numbers. It is not an easy read but an engaging one which left me thinking about life, death and the power to be in control of your own destiny. I highly recommend it.


NB: Thanks to Lauren @ I Was A Teeange Book Geek and Chloe @ The Book Bug for encouraging me to read this.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Charlaine Harris Event Summary and Spider Winner!

I am pretty tired today. Yesterday I left the house at 7.00 a.m. I worked until 5.00 pm and then hubby collected me and we drove to the nearby tube, hopped on and then a while later disembarked at Leicester Square. We had a quick slice of pizza and then we went into the Prince Charles Cinema for the very exciting Evening with Charlaine Harris.

There must have been nearly 300 people in the cinema who had booked tickets for the event. As hubby pointed out, most of them were women. (Isn't he just the best for being my chaperone at all these events?!)

The evening began by the important man from Orion called Mark saying how wonderful Charlaine was for the rocketing sales of Sookie Stackhouse. We then got an exclusive preview of the next series of True Blood to be aired in the UK. At first there was no sound coming out and the audience were a little grumpy but then they fixed it and they were all "ooohs" and "ahhhs". It was really funny because hubby says to me "I'm not sure you should be reading this. It looks a little raunchy!". I laughed and said "it is!" Bless him! I don't actually watch the programme but there were a lot of ladies swooning over some man named Alexander Skarsgard.

Once we'd watched the preview which couldn't have been more than two or three minutes long. Chalaine was welcomed to the stage by Mark and she then talked about her books. These are some of the things she told us. She has been contracted to write a total of 13 Sookie books. She has finished book 10 and is now into writing book 11. There will be more faeries in these two books. She does know how the series will end but no she won't tell us. She did say that Sookie will never become a vampire. She does know who Sookie will end up with and no she won't tell us that either. She loves the work the director and producer are doing with True Blood and she loves the casting. For you people who are absolutely in love with this Alexander bloke, he is going to be at Comic Con in San Diego next year so I suggest you buy yourselves a ticket!

After Charlaine finished taking, she took questions from the audience for a good half an hour or more. There were some hilarious questions. There was also lots of "Charlaine, thank you. You make my life worth living". It was absolutely brilliant. There was also a man there who didn't ask a question but came to thank Charlaine for donating a lot of money to the Brentwood Theatre to prevent its closure. How amazing is Chalaine!

There was one question that gets asked at every signing. It is starting to drive me insane. Can you guess what it is? This is the general gist: "How do you feel about the success of Twilight considering the first Sookie books were published earlier?" Me and lots of people near me graoned and rolled our eyes. There were vampire books before Twilight and there will be for a long time to come. Get over it! That is the most boring question on Earth.

One question that I thought was interesting was: How have your books been received in the South considering that they contain sexual content, gay and lesbian relationships etc? Charlaine said until recently no one from her town had read her books and so didn't know the sorts of issues she was exploring in the Sookie books. Then once the TV show hit the screens, she thought local people would become aware of their content. However, she said people have been amazingly tolerant and that they seem to think the TV show has added sexual content that she didn't write. She doesn't try to correct them.

Thinking of the future, Charlaine has said she doesn't have to stop at book 13 and that she is keeping an open mind. Now that she has completed the Harper Connelly series she would like to explore some other ideas while contiuing to write Sookie books. She is intrigued by Manfred a character from the Harper books and would like to explore him further. (No pun intended).

Overall, Chalaine had a brilliant sense of humour. There were some crazy questions: Once Sookie has decided on who she's going to be with will there be more sex in the books? I was laughing my head off at that one. The answer: yes and Sookie will take to it enthusiastically. Anyway, I hope I've given you an idea of what the event was like. I wish you could have all been there because I know how amazing it is to meet your favourite authors. After the questions, we stayed in our seats and were taken up row by row to get our books signed. We waited for about an hour. I did get an extra book signed to giveaway because I just adore you people but I'm not going to do another giveaway until my When I Was Joe one has finished, so watch out for that in two weeks or so.

As promised at the beginning, the winner of Spider is Amber Kirk. (I will send your parent/ guardian an email Amber).

A special mention for Christina because you wouldn't have got to read this post if she didn't demand some details. I'm feeling so lazy and tired today. In the end we were home just about 10pm. A long but brilliant day.

Waiting on Wednesday: Accomplice

This meme is hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine.

This week continuing on my initation into the world of gritty realism I'm waiting on:

Accomplice by Eireann Corrigan
Released by Chicken House July 2010

How far can you go for attention?



Finn and Chloe have it all figured out. It’s not enough to be clever, good looking or sporty. To get on, you’ve got to get noticed. You’ve got to be famous for something, right? Chloe decides there’s another way to get attention.


She and Finn will stage her own disappearance - and then Finn will be the one who finds and saves her. It seems like a good idea, until things go badly wrong. What seemed victimless isn’t so innocent anymore. And it’s Finn who must deal with the fall-out.


Accomplice is a compulsive thriller that will have teens drawn to the ultimate attention-seeking premise: staging your own kidnapping!


You can read an extract here.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Book Bloggers Online Conference (more info for you)

I had an update email from Terry about the online conference. I can't believe it is next weekend (19th and 20th)! Exciting!

Here is the info about the sessions and panelists:

What Bloggers are Looking for From Publishers

Are Publishers providing easy access to information? What are we looking for and what would help a blogger be more effective with their time.
- Doug from The SciFiGuy Blog -
http://www.scifiguy.ca/


YA Publishing and Blogging
Jennifer Bonnell Senior Editor Penguin
Blogger - The Neverending Shelf - http://www.theneverendingshelf.com/ (Yay! Go Kate!)
Blogger/YA librarian - Green Bean Teen Queen - http://www.greenbeanteenqueen.com/

Standardizing Review Practices/ Legal End of Blogging


What information is important to Publishers when considering review sites?
The Wild Rose Press Review Co-Ordinator Lisa Dawn
FTC Laws and what they mean to Bloggers and Reviewers
Presented by lawyer Bruce Miller


Building Online Community
Mary T. McCarthy - Professional Writer Blog Owner: Pajamas and Coffee
Molly - The Bumbles Blog

Cover Art - What Bloggers Want to See and Post
How important are covers to bloggers? Do Publishers agree?
- Renee Rocco Publisher of Lyrical Press
- Cover Artist Kendra of Creations by Kendra - http://www.creationsbykendra.com/


Reaching Out to Readers - Live Events
 
All the info about the conference can be found at: http://www.romanceinthebackseat.com/bbpcon.html
 
ME AGAIN!
Now I have my part to play. Terry has asked me to put together a list of questions that UK bloggers would like to be answered by UK publishers. He has publishing people who are interested in working with us which is very nice indeed.
 
Are you a new or established blogger?  Experienced or a novice? Have a question that you would like answered related to British book blogging? Let me know in the comments or email me if you're really shy and we'll get you those answers!
 
The Bookette

Review: Lord Sunday

Author: Garth Nix
Genre: Fantasy
Release date: 4th March 2010
Target audience: 9+

Summary from Amazon.co.uk:
In this seventh and last book of THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM, the mysteries of the House, the Architect, the Trustees, the Keys and the Will are revealed, and the fate of Arthur, our Earth, and the entire Universe is finally decided. Arthur has wrested the Sixth Key from Superior Saturday, but has fallen from the Incomparable Gardens; fallen not to the Upper House but to somewhere completely unexpected. Alone in enemy territory, as his mind and body are further transformed by the power of the Keys, Arthur must struggle with himself as much as with his many enemies. Meanwhile, Arthur's friend Suzy Blue plots an escape from her prison in Saturday's tower, as battle rages above and below. Saturday's elite force is pressing on into the Incomparable Gardens, while her massed sorcerers fight a desperate rear-guard action against the Piper and his Newnith army. On earth, Leaf has to cope with the aftermath of a nuclear strike. Responsible for all the Sleepers in Friday's private hospital, she needs all the help she can get, particularly as Leaf herself has become a target for intruders from the House. And the tide of Nothing continues to rise, destroying everything in its path ...

The Keys to the Kingdom Series:
1. Mister Monday
2. Grim Tuesday
3. Drowned Wednesday
4. Sir Thursday
5. Lady Friday
6. Superior Saturday
7. Lord Sunday

Lord Sunday review and reflections on a series:
For those of you who haven't read any books from The Keys to The Kingdom series, I advise you to start at the beginning. This series (as the titles suggest) are meant to be read in order and I honestly think they wouldn't make much sense if you tried to read them any other way. Nix creates a highly complex world in the House which opens on to all the dimensions in existence. The secondary realms, of which Earth is one, are a part of the Architect's creation. It all began with the House. The fantasy lanscape of the House, the Incomparable Gardens, the Great Maze and many other bizarre parts of Nix's world are quirky, original and entirely imaginative. The House is occupied by hundreds of thousands of denizens - human-like beings who each have a role in the maitenance of the House. Arthur is the hero of our tale and he is chosen by the Will of the Architect to challenge Lord Monday and his siblings and to win the seven keys to the kingdom to restore order. Indeed, The Keys to the Kingdom is a complex tale of heroism, friendship and the lengthy battle of good versus evil.

Lord Sunday starts where Superior Saturday left us on the greatest of all life-threatening cliff-hangers. It is fair to say that at the end of Book 6, I felt a little cheated. The action stopped almost mid-battle and it left me desperate for the grand finale. For those of you who are fans of this series, I highly recommend that you give Superior Saturday another read immediately before Lord Sunday. I wished that I have done that because there was so much that I didn't remember and it really would have helped.

In this book Arthur is finally crossing the threshold into the phyical state of being a denizen and leaving his humanity behind. Lord Sunday sees him alone for most of the novel as he grows into the image of a true hero. His companions are spread widely across the rest of the House and its demenses. Leaf is trying to save the sleeping patients in Lady Friday's hospital. Suzi Turquoise Blue is leading the Piper's children. Each of the main characters gets their moment to shine in this book.

All our questions are answered Lord Sunday. It has taken a good few days for the penny to drop and  for me to finally understand the greater purpose in this series. I find myself surprised that I didn't realise this before. I feel that I'm not telling you enough but for those who are already at this point there is no turning back. For those who are wondering whether to embark on this journey, I will point out that Nix is aiming this series at a younger audience. It has the imaginative feel of childhood about it and the love of a great adventure. It also has the ends nicely tied up in a way that offers the security that younger readers may need but that older readers may find a little too convenient. There are some great and funny characters in this series which can take the young-at-heart on a grand adventure.


NB: For anyone aged 12+ interested in reading something by Garth Nix, I recommend Sabriel. It is definitely more YA and both the follow up books are fantastic!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

In My Mailbox #21

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren and she was inspired by Alea, Pop Culture Junkie.

This weekend is going so quickly. I can't believe it is Sunday already. I still feel really tired.

Anyway, this is what I have in my mailbox this week. (Summaries from amazon.co.uk)

For Review:

Spider by Linda Strachan

Sent to me by the author after seeing my comment on the contest post. Don't forget to enter if you haven't already. The  closing date for entries is March 9th.

A hard-hitting, provocative novel about teenage love, loyalty and fast cars. Spider is an adrenaline-fuelled ride - a glimpse into a life spinning out of control. Spider is on his last warning. If he's caught joyriding again he'll be sent down, no questions asked. He's trying to stick to the straight and narrow but his girlfriend Deanna and mate Andy reckon he should risk one last run.


Paper Towns by John Green

Thank you to Bloomsbury for this. I'm looking forward to reading it as I haven't read a book by John Green before and I hear that he is an amazing writer.

Who is the real Margo? Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life - dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge - he follows. After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. She has disappeared. Q soon learns that there are clues in her disappearance ...and they are for him. Trailing Margo's disconnected path across the USA, the closer Q gets, the less sure he is of who he is looking for.


The Summer That Changed Everything by Ann Brashares

Thank you to Random House for asking me to review this. I have no idea if I will like it because it sounds rather girly to me.

Three girls. One summer. Their friendship to salvage ...Ama, desperate to live up to her family's expectations, finds herself on an outdoor adventure summer camp. Can she stick it out or will this be the first time in her life she's ever failed anything? Tomboy, loner Polly discovers that her grandmother used to be a model and decides she's going to follow in her footsteps - even if it means starving herself to get thin. Jo's parents' are still grieving the death of her older brother and she's stuck in the middle of their messy divorce. She's got her own problems this summer too - has she made a mistake by turning her back on her old friends? Having let their friendship fade, can these three girls, with their three very different lives, struggle through the summer without each other, or will they realise they've made a mistake?

Bought:

Ships by Robert Crowther

I couldn't resist buying this book from the Pop-Up Book Artist. It is a complete work of art. I took a picture of one of the spreads so you can see what I mean. I guess I'm over my issue with boats now after reading the extraordinarily boring Star of the Sea. Robert has a whole series of these pop-ups on transport. They would make a perfect gift for boys age 7 - 9 who love cars, ships, planes or trains. Here is a link to Amazon if you're interested.

That's everything folks!