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Friday, 30 April 2010

Review: Wake

Author: Lisa McMann
Release date: October 2009 UK / 2008 US
Genre: Paranormal / Speculative YA
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Amazon:
For seventeen-year-old Janie, getting sucked into other people's dreams at any given moment is getting tired. Especially the falling dreams, and the standing-in-front-of-the-class-naked ones. But then there are the nightmares, the ones that chill her to the bone...like the one where she is in a strange house...in a dirty kitchen...and a sinister monster that edges ever closer. This is the nightmare that she keeps falling into, the one where, for the first time, Janie is more than a witness to someone else's twisted psyche. She is a participant...

Do you ever Wake up in the morning and try to hold on to your dream as it slips away? Do you Wake up in the middle of the night with your heart pounding and your mind whooshing along with images of barbaric torment? Do you ever Wake up and think what on Earth did that dream mean? I do. I think nearly everyone does.

But what if you slipped into the dreams of other people? Would you be mesmerised by a glimpse of their inner psyche? Dreams are such strange things, aren't they? Even Science has yet to discover the mystery and magic behind them. I think that makes them a really intriguing subject for a novel which brings me to Wake. The story of Janie who has been unable to stop herself slipping into other people's dreams since she was eight years old. Janie who realises early on that sleepovers are not her cup of tea. Janie who is trying to study for college, hold down a job at a nursing home and cope with her alcoholic mother.

Wake is written is a very accessible style. I was hooked after the first page and raced through this book so quickly. McMann uses every word to full effect which means you get to read 210 pages of concise language, dramatic plot and believable dialogue. I am in awe of the author's ability to write in such a direct and precise way.

The twist in the plot was not the most surprising but when you got further into the dynamic of the twist the mystery just kept growing. I loved that about this book. The only typical thing one could perceive in this book is the romance element. Cabel is a dark and mysterious figure at times but he is also gentle and sweet. I certainly didn't think their romance was a cop-out. I felt involved in their story and that it mattered.

Wake is not your average paranormal YA novel. It has an intriguing and beguiling premise all of its own. The characters are well-shaped and layered. The writing is swift, to the point and engaging. For fans of paranormal or speculative stories, this is a must-read. I am craving the next book Fade so badly. Wake me up when it releases in the UK!

Question: Do you dream in black and white or colour? My dreams are always in colour. I wonder what that says about me.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Character Connection: Percy Jackson

Character Connection is a weekly meme hosted by Jen @ The Introverted Reader.

This is our chance to tell the world about a character that we love in whichever way we want. More information about this meme can be found on Jen's blog here.

So it suddenly came to me yesterday that I had not put a certain demigod in my blog's spotlight. A traversty of justice, I hear you cry. I agree. So everybody say hello to the one and only Percy Jackson!

The book: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
The series: The Olympians
The author: Rick Riordan
The character: Percy Jackson, half-God, half-human, ALL hero!

I am a huge fan of Camp Half Blood. Those of you who think I am speaking in Ancient Greek right now are absolutely correct. You may wish to go to Amazon to get a translation. After Harry Potter and Twilight, Percy Jackson is the next big thing. In my last job I had two students (we will call them T and B) who were absolutely Camp Half Blood crazy. So much so that they begged me to read PJ and the Lightning Thief. Back then the cover looked like this:

I read the book and I too was hooked. Thank you T and B. You are excellent at recommending books! We are talking an all out Bookette obsession here. Hubby could tell you a few things about me and this particular obsession, I'm sure. Luckily he does not have access to my blog.

So anyway, T and B set up a Camp Half Blood RPG forum thingy which was like understanding rocket science for me. But they were very patient and taught me all about RPGs and in return I ran a creative writing club for them and others after school on a Friday. I have very fond memories of T and B. I expect that they will both be published authors at some point. They were the most inspiring creative kids that I have had the privilege of working with.
Time flies. I leave that job. I get this job. And some time in between Percy starts to look like this:

Very commercial indeed. And then it is confirmed, my favourite demigod is going to be on the big screen. Cue fangirl screams and a lot of excited dancing to hubby's dismay. Time ticks by...And wow, now Percy looks like this:

I do love this cover but I thought the film was totally lame.

So yesterday I got my hands on The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles) which is why you didn't get a post from me because I was reading. I'm not going to post a review until the book is out because if you are a Riordan fan like me, you will not want spoilers.

So why do I love Percy Jackson?
Hello! He is a demigod! He could give Hercules a run for his money. His best friend is a Satyr and he has the hots for one serious kickass chick.
Percy has one of the best voices in current tween fiction.
Kids everywhere love him. I love him. He rocks!

So today while I was washing up, I was thinking if I was half-God, half-Human, who would my Godly parent be? This is not an easy call. I'm thinking maybe Apollo. He was the sun God and seeming as I do not like going out at night this seems to make sense to me.

So if you are a Percy nut like me which Greek god would you be a son/ daughter of and why?
If you are not a Percy nut, go and read this series now! You will not be disappointed.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Review: The Fool's Girl

Author: Celia Rees
Release date: 5th April 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction, Elizabethan Era, YA
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Amazon:
Violetta and Feste have come to London to rescue the holy relics taken from the church in Illyria by the evil Malvolio. Their journey has been long and their adventures many, but it is not until they meet the playwright William Shakespeare that they get to tell the entire story from beginning to end! But where will this remarkable tale ultimately lead Violetta and her companion? And will they manage to save themselves, and the relics from the very evil intentions of Malvolio?

The Fool's Girl sees us in Elizabethan England. Shakespeare is living in London, working as a player for Burbage in the years before his career really takes off. The Fool's Girl is not a story about Shakepeare but of the life of Violetta and Feste. In this tale the events of Twelfth Night have been reworked. Violetta comes to England in search of Shakespeare's help to restore her country Illyria. She is the daughter of Duke Orsin and Viola - one of two couples who found love in despite many disguises in the famous play. Violetta's story is a sad one marked by loss and betrayal at the hands of her Uncle Sebastian. He is a bitter man twisted by the friendship his sister had with his wife the Lady Olivia - Olivia and Sebastian are the other lovebirds from the play.

Twelfth Night was always my favourite Shakespeare play as I was growing up. I am a reader who prefers happy stories andI naturally warm to Shakespeare's comedies. About two years ago I went with hubby to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe which must be the best place to watch the master playwright's work. So now I think maybe that is my favourite play because it is just so funny and full of sauciness. Anyway, this is an aside. I was really excited to read The Fool's Girl because it has so many things that appeal to me as a reader.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the book as much as I expected to. The narrative structure made this book feel quite alien to me. You read parts of the story from Violetta's viewpoint, parts from Feste and parts from Maria. Then you have the general third person narrative which is the thread which pulls the story together. As I was reading, I didn't feel that I was inside the story. The characters were not real to me but rather felt like they were puppets being used for a purpose. Naturally when you read a story, you want to care about the characters, to feel their every emotion and this is not my experience of this book. The only exception to this was Feste. Perhaps that is why the title suggests he is the one with the power in this novel. He was entertaining, cantankerous and endearing. I wish the whole story had been told from his point of view.

The book certainly has many strengths: the quality of the writing - Rees' use of figurative language is melodic and the authenticity of Elizabethan England was palpable - you really get a sense of place through this novel. I thought the ending was brilliant and unfolded in a spectacular fashion with constantly building dramatic tension. Actually, the end made me wish I had tried harder to feel the beginning of the story. I think The Fool's Girl requires effort on the part of the reader to concentrate and to be in the right mood to step into Violetta's shoes.

Overall, this book was not what I expected yet I think those expectations are a failing on my part rather than the author's. The novel captures the experience of being an Elizabethan player and the brilliance of the fool. I think fans of historical fiction will enjoy this because of its depth and attention to detail but they must be prepared to commit to the story because this is not an easy read.

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

Friday, 23 April 2010

Review: Sweethearts

Author: Sara Zarr
Release date: 2008 US
Genre: Contemporary Teen Life / Issues
Target audience: 12+
Publisher: Little, Brown

Summary from Amazon:
As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts.They were also one another's only friend.So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she's lost the only person who will ever understand her.Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed.Known as Jenna, she's popular, happy, and dating, everything "Jennifer" couldn't be---but she still can't shake the memory of her long-lost friend. When Cameron suddenly reappears, they are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.Sweethearts is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts.

Sweethearts is not a cute read as you might imagine from the title. It is actually a really deep story of friendship, self-perception, bullying and family life. Jennifer Harris has only one friend at school and his name is Cameron Quick. At nine years old they depend on each other for survival as two kids that are outcast from their school group. Jennifer is labelled as "Fattifer" the smelly, overweight kid. Her mum works long hours and is studying to get her nursing degree which means Jennifer is often left alone to fend for herself. Cameron's life is more brutally traumatic but this only becomes apparent as their story slowly unravels. One day Cameron just does not come back to school. There is no goodbye, no note, no explanation. He just disappears from her life and Jennifer is distraught. The other children revel in telling her cruel things and convince her that he has died. So that day Jennifer dies too. She shuts away her true self and becomes another person - Jenna Vaughn. Her mother marries a lovely man - Alan. He is a shining beacon of hope in Jenna's world and a character that warms your heart. They move house, Jenna goes to Jones Hall (a school for non-Mormon kids) and she begins a new life as an entirely different person.

Eight years after Cameron disappears, Jenna embodies a typical teen life. She has a boyfriend - Ethan - and they have been going out for three months. She has two close girl friends - Steph and Katy - but they know nothing of the person she once was. Jenna tries to hold on to all her memories of Cameron but many slip away. Sadly, there is one memory that haunts her. A memory that she has never shared with anyone. It seems to weigh on her even after all the time gone by and the death of Jennifer Harris. Jenna certainly fears being unmasked as a fraud and still hears the taunts of the bullies in her mind. She also fears her birthday which signifies everything that she wants to forget. But as her seventeenth birthday comes to a close, it becomes apparent that Cameron is back from the dead. He leaves a birthday card in her mailbox which causes Jenna to revaluate everything she thought she knew.

Jenna is a complex and troubled character who habours resentment towards her mother for never being there during the worst time in her life. She has a very negative self-perception and imagines that she never really became Jenna Vaughn and that the friendships she has will be so quickly erased. Cameron is an enigma. He is often silent and withdrawn. As the reader, we only experience a tiny piece of the truth of what happened to him in his eight year absence. Yhe pieces of the puzzle that are revealed made me weep from deep inside. The questions I was left with over what would happen in his future are the reason I cried when I finished the book.

Sweethearts is a story about love but don't read it if you are looking for a fairytale. This story is punctuated with brutality, lies and painful memories which are all startlingly conveyed by the author. Sometimes love is the most painful of all emotions and thus Sweethearts is anything but sugary. You should however read it if you like emotive stories which take you into the heart of a character and show you the truth of who they really are. It really is a meaningful book.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Character Connection: Wolf

Character Connection is a weekly meme hosted by Jen @ The Introverted Reader.

This is our chance to tell the world about a character that we love in whichever way we want. More information about this meme can be found on Jen's blog here.

This week's pick:

The series: The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
The author: Michelle Paver
The Character: Wolf

Books in the series:
Book 1: Wolf Brother
Book 2: Spirit Walker
Book 3: Soul Eater
Book 4: Outcast
Book 5: Oath Breaker
Book 6: Ghost Hunter

When I read, I normally identify with characters who are in some way a bit like me. I guess that is why we connect because we have some things in common or at least have a shared experience. So I guess it is no surprise that so far my Character Connections choices have at least all been connected by their humanity.

So I obviously have to change that...

This week I chose Wolf from Michelle Paver's breathtaking Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. You might not know how much I love Michelle Paver because I have been adoring her books since I read Wolf Brother back in 2004 (and that was years before I became a blogger). I love everything about CofAD but my favourite character is Wolf and he is exactly that a wolf, an animal and not of the supernatural variety.

To say he is just a wolf is to misunderstand the nature of these books. Michelle Paver tells the story from the third person but she shows us the world through a wolf's eyes (as well as the eyes of the human characters )and it is incredible and often moving.

Wolf has his own unique voice. He describes Torak as "Tall Tailess" and as "pack brother". Torak was raised by wolves after the death of his father. He saves Wolf from a flood when Wolf is just a cub and they become a pack of two. Wolf and Torak communicate with yips and yowls, howling and body language.

Beyond what I have already said, the best way I can show you Wolf's perspective is to quote Michelle Paver. If you read the next two paragraphs you'll see how Wolf interprets the natural world around him:

He was a wolf - racing between the trees in the swift wolf-lope that goes on for ever. He revelled in the strength of this legs and the stretch of his back; in the suppleness that let him turn at full speed on a single paw. Oh no, the demon would never catch him!

Wolf paused to drink at a noisy little Wet, dropping the ravenskin for a moment. Then he snatched it up and settled back into his stride, climbing higher towards the Great White Cold that he'd only ever smelt in his sleeps.
© Michelle Paver, Wolf Brother, page 153
So this got me wondering, how many of you have non-human characters that you love? And I don't mean vampires and werewolves because they are of humanoid appearance. I mean animal characters who are unable to communicate through words. Do you have a favourite? Tell me in the comments!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

My questions about the US school system get answered!

So I don't know about the other UK book bloggers but I find the US school system baffling. All those different words that are not part of our vocabularly leave me confused when I'm reading about American teens. So I thought I should do something about it. I asked my lovely book twin Christina at Confessions of a Book Addict if she would answer my questions and write a guest post for The Bookette. By the way, I have said this before but I'll say it again: Go and check out Christina's blog. Today she has a post with all her questions answered about the UK education system. Can you guess who answered them? Yes! Me! Go and read her post about how things work in England. 

So here are my questions and her answers. I hope you all find them as helpful as I did. And I'm sure if you think of something you'd like to know about the US system, leave a question in the comments and I'm sure Christina would be only too happy to answer it for you.

How old are the kids in each grade?

Here in the US, we have elementary school, middle school/junior high and high school (secondary school). Most elementary schools are grades kindergarten to fifth grade. Middle/Junior high is usually 6th-8th grade. High school is then 9th grade to 12th grade. At the middle level, the kids range from 11 years old to 14 years old depending on their birthdays. At the high school level, they could be 14 years old to 18 years old, again, depending on their birthdays. What is even more confusing, it depends on the state and what they require. My friend works at an elementary school that is kindergarten through 6th grade, her junior high is 7th-9th and then high school is 10th through 12th. The norm, at least in Pennsylvania, is what I discussed first.
What do all those words like Sophomore, Junior mean?
Freshman = 9th grade students at the high school level. They are low-man on the totem pole. Some schools have freshman day in which they torture freshman. At my school, mostly sports team "tortured" the freshman teammates, but it was more like pranks and nothing severe. There's a big difference between being a 14 year old freshman and an 18 year old senior. Sometimes if you have an elective, a freshman might end up in a class with a senior. That is always intimidating, especially for the boys since they mature later than girls. :)

Sophomore = 10th grade students at the high school level. If you are a sophomore, you are in your second year at a high school.

Junior = 11th grade at the high school level. You are finally an upperclassman. Junior year of high school is considered the hardest year regarding your classes and the fact that you have to start thinking about colleges, take the SATs, etc. Junior Prom is usually a big deal and it happens in April or May. Some smaller schools may combine the Junior and Senior prom.

Senior = 12th grade at the high school level. You "rule the school." Really only the first half of senior year is rigorous, because hopefully by April (or earlier) you have decided upon a college. A lot of seniors suffer from "Senioritis" (become lazy and slack off) the second half of their senior year especially if they have already been accepted by a university. Some schools have senior privileges, special senior parking for their cars, and even a senior lounge. Many schools also have a senior project in which seniors have to do something "special" before they graduate. It could be a research project, presentation to community members, community service, etc. It ranges based on the school district. Don't forget the most exciting thing that happens senior year (except graduation).....Senior Prom! There's always a "school sponsored" after party to deter underage drinking. Some of them can be quite lavish and have an amazing theme depending on the school district you attend. Lastly, there is always Senior Cut Day--meaning most seniors will cut school on a particular day....not that I would know anything about that! :)

What are the different types of school and what ages do they cover?
What I covered before is the usual public school experience. There are also private schools. They could be private Catholic schools, all-girls private school or all-boys private school. Some of them, where I grew up, are extremely rigorous and difficult to get into to. They are competitive and extremely expensive. They do give out scholarships though.

What is the Ivy League system? (that is totally baffling)
The Ivy League System only really matters for higher education (college/university). Here's some info taken from Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, Princeton University Press (1978), "Ivy League is the name generally applied to eight universities (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale) that over the years have had common interests in scholarship as well as in athletics. Stanley Woodward, New York Herald Tribune sports writer, coined the phrase in the early thirties." If you are interested in the rest of the article, you can access it here. As a senior in high school, if you get accepted to an Ivy League school that gave you major bragging rights. It's extremely prestigious.

How do the scholarship thingys work?
Students can obtain scholarships for many reasons. As a student, you can apply for various scholarships. Some are based on academics, others on sports, and lastly, there are scholarships for other things like family heritage that private organizations put together. Some Universities will give potential students scholarships based on academics or financial aide, etc.

What size are the schools, pupil numbers, etc?
This question depends on where you live and what school district you live in. For example, the school district I teach in now has approximately 300 students per grade level at the middle school. We have approximately 1,000 students in our middle school, which is three grade levels. On the other hand, if you live in a more rural area, the numbers could be much smaller.

Class size can vary as well depending on how many teachers work in the building. Here's my experience: My largest class has 29 8th grade students and my smallest has 23 7th grade students. The most students I have had in my class has been 31 students and that was a few years ago. However, due to struggling economy, many school districts will have larger class sizes, because they have had to lay off teachers. This concerns me, but I digress..... In comparison, private schools really pride themselves on smaller class sizes, which is one of the many reasons parents may send their children to a private school verses public.

If you have private schools as well as state schools, what are the yearly fees?
Public schools are funded with public dollars (taxes) -- local, state and federal. On the other hand, private schools can be expensive. I had to interview my mother for these answers, because she works in admissions at a private school. She reported the following: If you want to send your child to a private elementary school, it will cost around $18,000 dollars a year. If you want to send your child to a private school at the high school level, it will cost around $20,000-$25,000 dollars a year depending on which school you attend.

What is a GPA? (And how do I get one lol?)
G.P.A. stands for Grade Point Average and possible employers as well as colleges/universities will look at a student's GPA and compare it to other potential applicants. Here's how it works:

Normal Classes:
A= 3.5-4.0
B = 2.5-3.49
C = 1.5-2.49
D= 1.0-1.49
F = 0

AP/Honors Classes:
A = 4.5-5
B= 3.5-4.49
C = 2.5-3.49
D = 2.0-2.5
F = 0.0 -1.99

The problem with this is that there are many variations, but I've displayed the US norm for you. The ongoing debate is the fact that some schools rate an "A" as 90%-100% and other schools may say that an "A" is 93%-100%. This is a valid cause for concern! In my experience, my school district changed our "A" to 90%-100% because of this very debate.

What are the school facilities like?
This all depends on the school district you attend. Some school districts may have a brand new school with top of the line facilities/technology, but other schools may be in a dire need of repair and facilities/technology may be outdated. Some school districts may have a Smart Board in each classroom and many computers for the students to use, whereas, other school districts may still be using chalk boards and have older textbooks or not enough resources. It depends on where you live unfortunately.

How much range of extra-curricular activities?
This also depends on the school district you attend, but I will give you some basic ideas as to what most high schools offer. Basic list (not including sports): Student body government, debate club, National Honors Society, school newspaper, school yearbook, music, drama, and peer tutoring. There could also be trivia clubs (Knowledge Bowl, Math Counts) and a community service club.

Colleges and Universities really look at students extra-curricular activities when a student applies; therefore, many students will join these clubs.

What is homecoming? Rallies etc?
Homecoming is basically when you welcome back former alumni. There's usually an important football game tied to this event and there's always a school Homecoming Dance. A school may have a Homecoming Court and from that court, they vote for the Homecoming Queen and King. The Queen and King are usually crowned at the Homecoming Dance. Some schools even have a Homecoming Parade. During Homecoming Week, there are various activities at school. There may be themed days of the week such as, Spirit Day, Hat Day, Pajamas Day, etc. The night before the big game, there is always a rally. This rally may be held at the school gym or outside. There could also be a bonfire. Some schools burn the rival school's memorabilia or jersey, etc. It's quite serious for some schools. This rally will feature cheerleaders, skits, inspirational speeches, etc. My school even had a Powder Puff football game played by all girls.

Christina, a huge THANK YOU for teaching me all about the US system. You're awesome!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Review: Dreaming of Amelia

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Release date: 2nd April 2010 UK
Genre: Contemporary Teen Life / Gothic / Ghost Stories
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Amazon:
Amelia and Riley have transferred to Ashbury for their final year of school, and everyone is completely obsessed with them. Glamorous, talented and totally devoted to one another, the two of them drift through school in their own world. But there's more to the couple than meets the eye - they have secrets. And some of them are dangerous to share. As Riley starts to lose his grip on Amelia, the repercussions affect everyone around them.

A spellbinding story about ghosts, secrets, madness, passion, locked doors, femme fatales, and that terrifying moment in the final year of high school when you realise that the future’s coming to get you.

Dreaming of Amelia is the kookiest book I have ever read and that can only be a good thing. It is the story of a whole cast of characters and not particularly about any single one of them. Yes, the title has Amelia's name but she is not exactly the main character. She is the mystery to be solved if you like. The story revolves around the lives of teens who attend Ashbury High School, a private school in New South Wales, Australia. Specifically, they live in the town of Castle Hill. The format of this book is unique in my reading experience because most of it is told through the students' HSC English exam on the theme of Gothic fiction. In addition to reading their examination entries, you also get minutes from teachers meetings, teachers emails, student blog posts and the odd letter. The sum of which is one hilarious, sometimes touching, sometimes frigetning story which plays with the theme of Gothic fiction. Jaclyn Moriarty is in every sense a literary genius who had me literally cackling with laughter.
Emily, Cassie and Lydia are in their final year and the book follows them through each term using the exam paper format and English assignments as a way to communicate their stories. Emily is a complete drama queen who loves to exaggerate and embodies what I like to think of as the hyperbole of adolesence. Her voice is funny in the extreme. I could read her Gothic stories all day long. Lydia is much more controlled and I guess is the leader of the group. She has a secret that is eating away at her and causing her to keep an emotional distance from Seb (her ex boyfriend) and sometimes even her friends. Cassie does not play a huge role other than to comment upon Emily's blog and her obsession: Riley and Amelia.
Riley and Amelia are new students to Ashbury High. They both get awarded scholarship places but why they get them is a mystery and something that weaves its way through the book. Riley is at times sinister and in fitting with the Gothic, he can make your blood run cold. Riley's exam paper is full of contempt for the students around him. It is also full of his love for Amelia. The two of them seem to glide through school causing a wave of hysteria. Even the teachers are obsessed with them, they all seem to want to compete to get the great achievements out of them.
The plot is full of Gothic elements. There is Emily's ghost who haunts the Art Rooms. There is Amelia - the femme fatale (I guess). There is an atmosphere of dark mystery surrounding Amelia and Riley. There are whispers, creaks, groans and screams. There are secrets, mysteries, insanity and envy. At every turn I was left wondering what was real and what was not. It was like being in a hall of mirrors. All the characters are in the centre of the room. All the mirrors show their reflections. They are all distorted. As the reader you are at once, each and every mirror and each and every character. It sounds bizarre and it is. But is is also gripping, amusing, entertaining and emotional. At the heart of the novel there is a dark and sinister truth that is painfully sad.
Overall, Dreaming of Amelia is one quirky, eccentric and hilarious book. I am simply in love with it. The way the story is told is inspiring. Jaclyn Moriarty takes two seemingly unrelated genres: contemporary high school teen life and gothic fiction. She mashes them up and creates what can only be described as a story of epic proportions and awesomeness. I now wish to read every book she has ever written because such is the magnificence of Dreaming of Amelia.
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for sending me the book for review.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Song Quest Cover Design Contest

As you all know, I want to get Song Quest by the wonderful Katherine Roberts back in print. First published in 1999 by Element and then in 2000 by Chicken House in the UK and in 2001 by Scholastic in the US.

Book trends change over time obviously. We are going through an explosion of all things paranormal right now. Not only do trends change over time but covers change also. Another of my favourite authors - Marcus Segdwick - is having his whole backlist updated with more commercial covers. He is published by Orion.

So what was in vogue ten years ago is pretty outdated now. Thus, I thought I should run a contest for you guys to design a new cover for Song Quest. I have of course checked that this is ok with Katherine and she thought it was a great idea and even agreed to choose the winning design. Hopefully, this will give potential publishers ideas for a fresh new look for the series and encourage them to reprint  them with a whole new audience in mind (i.e. my students).

Now I know that there will be very few entrants who will have read the book so I will add the blurb and Katherine's background to the series below to give you a flavour for the cover. You can also read my review which might generate some ideas. If you want any more details added, you can leave me a comment and I will  do my best.

To enter:
Design a new look cover for Song Quest. Please use a jpg. format.
Email me (thebookette @ googlemail.com) your entry with your name and a link to your blog
Open internationally
(You do NOT need to follow my blog to enter)
Closing date: 8th May 2010 Midnight GMT


The winner will be selected by Katherine and I will post all entries on my blog.

The prize (kindly donated by Katherine) is a signed hardback copy of Crystal Mark (second book in the Echorium Sequence). There will also be some goodies from me but I haven't decided what they will be yet. Check back to this post as I will update it.

Song Quest summary from the Katherine'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.

The Echorium Sequence
Long ago, before human history began, the world was inhabited by beautiful creatures  - half human, half animal - who knew the secret of using the ancient  power of Song to control their  environment.  These Half Creatures lived in harmony with their human neighbours.

But the humans, impatient for progress, began to turn their back on the old ways. they made tools and built great towns and cities, ships to sail the seas, and wheels to travel the land. They made war on one another, destroying the very things they ahd built. The Half Creatures fled to the remote regions of the world - deep into forests, to the bottom of lakes, and far beneath the waves - taking their secrets with them.

Not all humans forgot the old Songs. Those who saw how destructive their way of life had become set out across the sea to find a haven. On an island of enchanted blue-stone, they built a school and taught their children the five ancient Songs of Power: Challa for healing, Kashe for laughter, Shi for sadness, Aushan for discipline, and Yehn for death.

News of the enchanted isle where people were healed by the power of Song quickly spead to the furthest corners of the world. The island became known as the Isle of Echoes, the school become the Echorium, and the people who lived there became the Singers.

The Singers made it their mission to restore harmony to the world. They dyed their hair blue to enchance the power of their Songs and added diplomatic skills to their lessons. Any youngster who voice could not manage the Songs was trained in self defence so they could help protect the Echorium. Singers negotitated treaties with the world's leaders and ensured these treaties were kept. When necessary, they sailed to the mainland to stop wars and put an end to cruelty. Their children were able to speak with the Half Creatures and became friends with them. But as the  fame and influence of the Singers grew, so did their human enemies.

Welcome to the world of the Singers!
© Katherine Roberts 1999
Good luck everyone and please just shout if you need anything else to inspire your design!

P.S. Please link this contest everywhere you can possibly think of! Tweets, links, posts: all very much appreciated.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Review: Dark Life

Author: Kat Falls
Release date: August 2010
Genre: Sci-fi Adventure / Underwater Western / Dystopia
Target audience: 10+

Summary from Goodreads:
Set in an apocalyptic future where rising oceans have swallowed up entire regions and people live packed like sardines on the dry land left, DARK LIFE is the harrowing tale of underwater pioneers who have carved out a life for themselves in the harsh deep-sea environment, farming the seafloor in exchange for the land deed.

The story follows Ty, who has lived his whole life on his family's homestead and has dreams of claiming his own stake when he turns eighteen. But when outlaws' attacks on government supply ships and settlements...
... threaten to destroy the underwater territory, Ty finds himself in a fight to stop the outlaws and save the only home he has ever known.
Joined by a girl from the Topside who has come subsea to look for her prospector brother, Ty ventures into the frontier's rough underworld and begins to discover some dark secrets to Dark Life.

Dark Life is a fascinating tale which has an old-school charm. It takes me back to a time when I used to watch Westerns at my grandparents' house. But there is nothing out-dated about this book, it is a novel set in the future after the collapse of the the world's infrastructure because of the rising oceans. Brave pioneers set out to build a life beneath the oceans and the story follows Ty, the child of two scientists who live beneath the waves and were the first Benthic Territory settlers. Ty was the first child born sub-sea level. He is as much a part of the ocean as any fish and he has grand plans to stake his claim on an area and make it his home. Unfortunately, there are dangerous outlaws raiding government ships and their actions are threatening the survival of the subsea settlers. It is all so good I have the desire to call them "filthy varmints" and don a cowboy hat. Yee ha!
The author has an extraordinary talent for transporting us to an underwater world which still holds so much mystery for humanity. We always hear scientists talking about exploration of planets, stars and galaxies but we still have not explored every inch of the astounding world beneath the water's surface. The amazing descriptions of the sea life in Dark Life really captivated me. As did, all the ingenius tools that the author invented for humans to be able to live below sea-level. The imaginative power of this book really blew me away.
The plot itself is relatively simple. In this way it does imitate the traditional western although I feel far from an expert to be able to comment more fully on this. It was certainly gripping although it lacked twists. The characterisation was another huge strength of this book but Ty is completely believable and a great perspective to read the story from. The other child characters are also interesting. Gemma was a great leading lady. She had bags of gusto and her wittisms made me chuckle. Ty's sister Zoe was a little bizarre with her obsession with scary ocean creatures but in a really good way. Hewitt had very understandable frustrations about living under the sea and I could emphathise easily with his loneliness.
The unusual descriptions and attention to oceanic detail were one of my favourite things about this book. It has a huge appeal for anyone remotely interested in sea life. Dark Life is also very complete in itself but I felt that there could have been more exploration of the dark gifts. This makes me think a sequel is in order.
Overall, a fascinating story which will take you to the far reach of the ocean floor. It will entertain you with its funny dialogue and have you rather enamoured of its hero. A great read which I definitely recommend!
Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for sending me a copy to review.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Character Connection: Emily Thompson

Character Connection is a weekly meme hosted by Jen @ The Introverted Reader.

This is our chance to tell the world about a character that we love in whichever way we want. More information about this meme can be found on Jen's blog here.
The Book: Dreaming of Amelia
The Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
The character: Emily Melissa-Anne Thomspon.

This week sees me with a few firsts. This is the first time I've chosen a female character. This is the first time I'm spotlighting a character that I'm actually reading about. Yes, I haven't finished the book! But I feel so inspired by the way this book is written that I really wanted to write this post.

Emily is the most hilarious voice I have ever come across in YA. Every other line sees me laughing out loud. Jaclyn Moriarty has really captured the hyperbole of adolescence with this character. But in a way the reason I've chosen Emily is because of the format of the book. Emily's teacher gives them some bizarre assignments. One of which is keeping a blog about the journey home. Now I have an affinity with characters who blog so I kind of got it into my head that I need to do a blog post about my journey home just like Emily. So here it is:

My Journey Home on Monday
So as soon as I lock the library door, I'm thinking okay so this is my journey home. I'm going to blog about this. I dash through the playground and head to my car. I notice that there are very few cars today. I get in the car and shove my bag behind my seat. This is no different to any other day. Except that today my main thought is about FOOD because it is lunch time and I'm super hungry.

And off we go. Me and my little car. I head down to the T-junction and I filter straight onto the main road. Wow, I'm thinking that doesn't normally happen.
Straight ahead I see Winston Churchill as I do every day on the way home from work. I always wonder why a Winston Chucrhill statue is at the edge of that green space. But today is different. I do not think about why the statue is here. I am too busy observing that Winston has been royally pooped upon by some giantic bird. Poor Winston his head is covered in a white splatter. I briefly wonder if it is paint. There seems a lot of splatter for bird poop.

Up to the roundabout and now I'm thinking should I stop at the bakers on my way? There is always a huge dilemma about whether there will be anywhere to park. But my stomach is saying FEED ME and all I can think about is FOOD. As I drive past the bakers, I see a space up ahead and think aha! I must be meant to buy my lunch here.

I get out the car and go into the bakers. Exciting stuff. So I'm in the bakers and I'm looking at all the different sandwich fillings and in the end I decide on chicken and cucumber. I queue like all proper English girls and then I place my order. I choose white bread.
The man in front is discussing his requirements. He is disappointed that the bakery lady has no white crustry rolls left. He opts for two soft white and a crusty wholemeal. I'm riveted. He wants egg and tomato and that confuses the assistant further. He doesn't want mayo!
I pay for my sandwich and off I go. I can't remember how much it cost. I'm not even sure she told me. I just handed over a fiver and collected my change.

Back in the car and now I have the hell of getting back on to the road. Ah, it is clear. I move out. I realise I should have paid more attention to the front of the car as I nearly take out the young guy returning to his Jaguar. He lives. It is all okay.

So I carry on and this is when I notice that it is not only Winston Churchill that has been royally shat on because my poor little car has a huge dollop of bird poop complete with green bits in it on the passenger side of the windscreen. Ah, I feel I am suddenly connected with Winston Churchill.

On and on we go, me and my little car and past the speed camera and it is a 30 zone. My speedo says 31. I don't get flashed. I swear that yellow box is not set right.

Now I'm thinking about the fact that I'm going to write about my journey home and that I have spent far too much time thinking about that and not the road ahead. I think to myself I'm a terrible driver. Then I'm thinking about the fact that I'm obsessing about doing this blog post because Dreaming of Amelia is inspiring in a crazy way. Then I see the connection between myself and Emily. She obsesses over Riley and Amelia. I obsess over things too. Lately it has been Perfect Chemistry but my mum can list off things I've been obsessed with over my life. She describes this phase as when I have a "bee in my bonnet". Her favourite incident to tell people about is when I became obsessed with the idea of working at Haven Holidays. It always embarrasses me that story so I'm not going to tell it.

Whoops, I've lost concentration again. So this is why there are so many road accidents every year.

Me and the little car are still bobbing along. The speed changes depending on where we are. Right now we are in a 60 zone. I notice there are lots of other silver cars.
I notice that the road is so many different shades of grey and I think this is annoying because grey is the most boring colour. Then I think hmmm...I wear grey a lot.
Then I think that my journey home involves a lot of thinking and this is different to Emily's because she has Lydia and Cassie to talk to. All I have is my bag and my huge umbrella. I think at this point that if I were going to talk to an object on the way home an umbrella seems like the perfect one. I don't know why. I do not decide to talk to the umbrella.

So now we are just passing the petrol station. There are lots of potholes. I hate potholes. Sometimes on the journey home I muse about the origin of potholes and wonder if they are made by mini meteorites. But today I don't think about that because I'm thinking about how Dreaming of Amelia doesn't seem to really be about Riley and Amelia. I don't mind that. I like the book so far. It is kooky.

The road swirls one way, then the other. The same old, same old.

And now me and little car are in the village and I see a Robin Reliant coming the other way. I think yay! I can include that in my blog post. I try to decide what colour it is. It is blue but a strange shade. I don't know the name of that shade. I wish I did.

Now we pass the pub. I must be concentrating on driving for a change now as I don't remember thinking. Down at the bottom of the hill, I turn right. Nearly home. I'm thinking about FOOD again now because I really am hungry. I think my sister would say "You're always hungry" (because I usually am.)

At yet another roundabout I turn left. There really are hardly any cars today. I take a right. Follow the road round. I notice the strange sound that has been coming intermittently from my steering wheel. It is really starting to worry me. I told hubby about it but he says I imagine these noises. I do not! Okay, there was the one time. But this is different, the noise is happening more and more. Hmmm...

I pull into the garages. Back into the same space I was in this morning before I left. Handbrake up, ignition off. Grab my bag and out the car. Lock it. Walk to front door. Find keys. Open door. Step in. Kick door shut. Ah, I'm home.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

I interview the lovely Ebony McKenna (in person)

On Thursday 8th April I got to do something very exciting indeed. I travelled into central London to interview Ebony McKenna the author of Ondine: The Summer of Shambles. This opportunity was courtesy of the lovely Alistair at Egmont Books and through the power of Twitter.
Ebony flew over from her home in Melbourne, Australia to promote her debut novel and part of her book tour was meeting moi!
I can't tell you how crazy nervous and excited I was the day before as I have been following Ebony's blog since I reviewed Ondine and she has been following mine. Really it was more like meeting a friend for a coffee than an interview but it was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon and it totally rocked.

We met at Patisserie Valerie just off Leicester Square. After the introductions and the arrival of our order we settled down to chat and for me to ask question after question. It was brilliant.

Me: Is this your first visit to the UK?
Ebony: No, this is actually my fourth.
Me: Really?
Ebony: Sure. I came here as a child. I also came once with my boyfriend and then for my honeymoon. [She ticks them off her fingers] Same guy. I married the boyfriend.
Me: Really. Awww...that's great. [I'm thinking she's a real romantic] So how has the book tour been? How do you feel seeing Ondine out there?
Ebony: It has been so great. I really wanted to come and meet the people that have worked so hard on Ondine. I wanted to thank them in person and show my appreciation. It has been just brilliant and all the folks at Egmont are fab. I just love the cover of the book. The girl who designed it, Emma. I saw her and ran had to hug her.
Me: The cover is gorgeous. [I get my finished copy out of my bag] I love the foils. They are so shiny. [I know, I'm lame]
Ebony: Yes and the heart. The heart is just beautiful. On one of the flats they sent me there was a silhouette of Brugel the city where Ondine is set. I really loved it but it was just too much. Maybe they'll get the chance to use it on Book 2.
Me: At the moment do you just have the two book deal with Egmont because I can see a whole six/ seven book series of Ondine adventures?
Ebony: Yes two books at the moment. We have to see how they fly. There is no knowing how they'll be received so we have to wait and see. But Ondine is out there and it is so exciting. I went to Waterstones and spoke to the booksellers and signed lots of copies and they got the special sticker, you know?
Me: Yes, signed books are great. [Laughing] I'm always on the lookout for signed books for giveaways so maybe other bloggers are too.
Ebony: Ooh yes, that's good. All those reviews coming through. It is so exciting to think other people are reading about my book and maybe they will tell their friends and then copies will be sold.
Me: I'm sure. Ondine isn't like any other book out there. Although it is a love story with the paranormal twist [we are both laughing because of Shambles/Hamish - the ferret], it is different because it is funny and you know what word describes your book best? Charming. Yep, charming is definitely the perfect word for Ondine.
Ebony: [Laughing] Thanks, thanks so much. I'm so glad you get it. When I read your review, I was so happy because I thought she gets it.
Me: And when I read it, I thought I know who would love this book. Nina, from Happy Endings. Ondine is just so Nina. She wrote a lovely review, didn't she?
Ebony: She really did [and then quotes her favourite line. I'm thinking reviews really matter to authors. We bloggers don't realise just how much]. Then there was that one that well it wasn't bad but it wasn't brilliant either. I blogged about it. Do you remember?
Me: Me, yes I remember but I still don't think it was bad and just because one person doesn't get it doesn't make it any less of a good book. We all have tastes and so not every book will appeal to every person.
Ebony: Yeah, you're right. It reminds me of that review you wrote. The one about the ship.
Me: Star of the Sea? Yeah, I thought that was the most boring book on Earth. [We both laugh]. But my husband really liked it. Weird.
So back to my questions. It says on your website that you've written books before but that Ondine was that first one to get published. What was different about Ondine? Is it a case of your writing progressing or just being in the right place at the right time?
Ebony: Well I had written six books before Ondine. Three sci-fi books that I had with an agent but after a year of trying we just couldn't sell them. I think maybe my writing has improved but with Ondine I was just writing it for me. I didn't have a clue where it would fit with the market but I just went with it. Sometimes I would feel like I was keeping up with Ondine and Hamish as I saw the story playing out in front of me.
Me: So is this the first YA specific book you've written?
Ebony: Yes the others were all adult and the romance books I wrote [she whispers] were rude [we both giggle].
Me: Well Ondine is very innocent although it deals with lots of issues faced by teens today. Egmont are marketing it as 12+ do you think that's the right audience? I mean there isn't really any sexual content. Just one kiss and lots of emotions.
Ebony: Oh, but what a kiss? [We are laughing]
Me: Indeed.
Ebony: When I was at one of the events, a parent said to me that she didn't want her eleven year old daughter reading about boyfriends. I thought hmmm...that's fair enough.
Me: Really, I'm surprised. [I'm thinking. I bet the daughter wanted to read about boyfriends. It's the librarian in me]
Ebony: The book event was great. We had these huge cupcakes to entice people into the shop and then I talked to them about the book. There was a steady flow of people.
Me: That's great. So what other things have you had to do as part of the tour?
Ebony: Well a lot of talking to book sellers. The really important thing is to get them to stock it. That's the biggest battle. Egmont has done some special deal with Waterstones so Ondine is on the tables. I'm so excited. Not only is it in there, it is on the tables.
Me: That's great. What books was it next to?
Ebony: [Gets her camera out of the bag and shows me a photo] Look there she is. Next to Gone, Dr Proctor's Fart Powder and a Meg Cabot.
Me: Ah yes, Gone is another another Egmont book.
Ebony: Yes and so are these. [She reels off titles that I wish I could remember, she continues] Then I also did a talk and signing at Slough library which was great. Alistair introduced me and said I had come all the way from Australia.
Me: Had they had the chance to read the book?
Ebony: Yes. Alistair had organised so that the library had something like twenty copies. [I'm thinking Alistair is very good at his job.] The kids had some very good questions. One asked me what I would change if I could change anything about Ondine. I said the beginning. I think there was too much exposition.
Me: Can you be more specific?
Ebony: I just think it went on too long. I should have jumped right it. I waffled. [I laugh. I think there are a lot of people guilty of that!] With book two, we are just going through a big edit. We chopped off the first two chapters. [She proceeds to tell me how it begins but I'm not going to give spoilers].
Me: Tell me about your writing group.
Ebony: Well we meet once a month and it really helps me to stay motivated. We have a reward system with chocolate. We spend a day together doing all kinds of things. Sometimes focusing on critiquing each other's work. Once we even had a session on writing query letters to agents.
Me: I need to get me one of these writing group things. So how is your writing day?
Ebony: In the morning I've learnt not to check my emails until I've done some writing. I mean over here everyone is asleep when I'm awake so I've realised I don't need to. I write until about 11 and then I do my other job which is turning episodes of a cookery show into a readable format for the internet.
Me: That sounds really cool. You know how much I love Australian TV. So this is a cliche but I need to know. Do all the guys have blond hair and look like surfers?
Ebony: [Laughing] Yeah pretty much.
Me: [Sigh] So do you have a pool? What's your house like?
Ebony: No we don't have a pool. My son keeps asking for one. My inlaws have a pool and they are ten minutes away. Our house is what you would call a bungalow but it is just normal. We live in the suburbs of the city. We don't have kangaroos but we do have kookaburras.
Me: Cool. [Dreaming of a life in Summer Bay.]
Ebony: Sometimes it is so hot, you can't go outside.
Me: Do the kids still have to go to school on those days?
Ebony: Yeah.
Me: [Surprised] I guess they have air conditioning.
Ebony: [Nodding] In most parts of the school.
Me: Okay, I'll stop digressing now. Back to my questions. Lately I've read some comments from bloggers that the family unit isn't realistically presented in YA. I mean most families function perfectly well. What do you think about that?
Ebony: Well I never set out to write a study of family life but family is definitely an important source of conflict in Ondine. She's the baby. She wants to have the same freedom as her sisters. She wants to be treated like an adult but he dad is over-protective. He wants to keep her safe.
Me: Exactly and that is how most kids experience family life. Over protective parents and annoying siblings.
Ebony: When I first thought of Ondine, she was an orphan for all of two seconds. It is easier to get rid of the parents but I think conflict should come from within.
Me: I agree. I can't stand all of these love triangle stories at the moment. It seems like a cop-out. You know Vampire Diaries. Do you have that in Australia?
Ebony: Yep.
Me: So are you Team Stefan or Team Damon?
Ebony: Damon of course.
Me: Really? I'm Team Matt. I don't understand why she doesn't choose the human guy.
Ebony: Seriously, I don't get the whole Stefan thing. If you're not going to embrace the whole blood-sucking thing, you may as well stake yourself. I mean he's lived for over 100 years. What he hasn't seen by this point probably isn't worth seeing, right?!
Me: That's hilarious. I love your viewpoint. I think that is the best thing anyone has ever said to me about vampires.
Ebony: I'm not advocating suicide or anything. But I mean, why wouldn't you just end it if you didn't enjoy being a vampire?
Me: [Laughing] I have never thought of it that way but it is a good point. I still prefer the human guy though. He is always so nice.
Ebony: [Laughing at me] Back to characters I think they should have that moment where they don't know how things will get better but the conflict should be internal not something caused by someone else. An inner battle.
Me: Definitely.
Ebony: This has been such a fantastic end to my tour. Thank you so much.
Me: It's been brilliant. Thank you and lots of luck with Ondine.

Then we walked back to Leicester Square tube stop. It was really just the best way to spend an afternoon. Ebony was as wonderful in real life as she is on her blog. I want to say a huge big THANK YOU to Alistair for making the interview possible. I loved every minute of it.

For those of you who haven't had the chance to read the Amazon blurb for Ondine: The Summer of Shambles, here it is:
Still need convincing? Read my review here.
This is a brilliantly witty fairy tale with a mystery that is as surreal as it is sinister. One girl. One boy. One spell to be broken. Ondine de Groot is a normal fifteen-year-old who lives with her family in the European country of Brugel. She has a pet ferret called Shambles. But Shambles is no ordinary ferret...He's Hamish McPhee, a boy cursed by a witch. A witch who happens to be related to Ondine. When Shambles turns back into Hamish temporarily, Ondine knows that she has to help him break the spell. He is the most gorgeous boy she has ever met and her one true love! He just can't remain a ferret forever. Can he?

You can buy Ondine: The Summer of Shambles from Amazon and The Book Depository.

You can follow Ebony McKenna on Twitter @EbonyMcKenna or on her blog. You can also find out more about her on her website.