HOME             ABOUT             REVIEWS             BOOK LISTS             CONTACT             LINKS


Monday, 31 May 2010

Review: Troy

Author: Adèle Geras
Release date: 2000 UK
Genre: Historical / Historical Fantasy / Greek Mythology
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Goodreads:
The classic struggle between Greece and Troy brought to life by a panoramic chorus of voices both humble and high, human and divine.

The siege of Troy has lasted almost ten years. Inside the walled city, food is becoming scarce and the death toll is rising. From the heights of Mount Olympus, the Gods keep watch.

But Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, is bored with the endless, dreary war, and so she turns her attention to two sisters: Marpessa, who is gifted with God-sight and serves as handmaiden to Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world; and Xanthe, who is kind and loving and tends the wounded soldiers in the Blood Room. When Eros fits an arrow to his silver-lit bow and lets it fly, neither sister will escape its power.

Troy is a novel that centres upon the history of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. It is an epic story full of both comic and tragic moments. Adèle Geras takes the story of the Trojan war and turns it into a YA novel of breathtaking quality which leads me to hold her in the highest esteem.

The first character who touches you in this novel is Xanthe. She is a poor Trojan girl caring for Prince Hector's baby Astanyax and also tends to the dying and the wounded in what she calls the Blood Room. Xanthe and her sister Marpessa are found at the top of a mountain when they are just children. They are brought to live in Troy but without knowing their parentage, they have no status and are reliant upon the kindess of their employers. Xanthe is the older sister but Marpessa has an aged view of the world around her. She is an insular girl and speaks little. Marpessa is gifted with the ability to see the Gods as they walk among the mortals and create havoc with their lives. This undoubtedly ways heavily upon her shoulders as she witnesses scenes that should never be a child's burden.

Polyxena is Xanthe's best friend. She is an immensely loyal character. She looks after her grandfather who is the Prince's Singer. He keeps alive the history of the Trojans by singing songs passed down from one Singer to another. Some day in the future this role will fall to Polyxena.

Next we have, Iason who is a favourite of Prince Hector's. He works in the stables caring for the horses and has a natural affinity with animals. He is in love with Xanthe but does not have the courage to tell her. I have to admit I have a real soft spot for Iason. He seemed very earthly and dependable.

Naturally the Gods are unable to sit still on Olympus and watch the lives of the humans unfold. The phrase "divine intervention" takes on a very literal meaning in Troy. Zeus wants the long war to be over. Aphrodite amuses herself by encouraging Helen and Paris to consummate their love frequently. Cupid is generous with his arrows and Ares is an ever present figure as the bloody battle rages. Geras expertly communicates the brutality of war, the lack of glory and the stomach-curdling suffering. She also explores the fickle nature of love. Sometimes as the reader you are as unsure as the characters about how much power Aphrodite has to torture the human heart.

One of the most outstanding things about the way Troy is written is the symmetry between the character's personalities and the imagery used by Geras to show their actions. It honestly blew my mind and left me in awe of the literary quality of her writing. Geras finds so many different and equally beautiful ways to describe the rising and the setting of the sun which keeps the story firmly within the Trojan's understanding of how the world worked. It is literary magnificence.

There is so much to this story that I cannot possibly illustrate it all through this review. Troy is a story about so many types of love. The love of a parent for a child. The love of siblings. The love between a man and a woman, a boy and a girl. The power of lust to confuse the mind. It really is incredible. Especially when all those emotions are juxtaposed with the babarity of war. The whole way through reading I couldn't decide whether I supported the Trojans or the Greeks. The other realisation I had while reading was the curse of poor Helen. Her beauty is mesmerising. The men cannot help but desire her. The women resent and envy her. She must ultimately be lonely and tortured behind the mask of flawless beauty.

If you love historical fiction or Greek mythology, then Troy is an absolute must-read. It has everything you could possibly wish for in a novel: exceptional writing, an outstanding plot and deeply complex characters. Adèle Geras demostrates the perfect way to use a third person narrative. She delights you the inner voice of every character and yet shares with you the divine view of the Trojan world. Amazing!

Adèle Geras Week: Schedule of Posts

Welcome to my Adèle Geras Week here at The Bookette. This is what you can expect to see over the next week:

Monday 31st May - Review of Troy
Tuesday 1st June - A guest post by Adèle on her favourite Greek Goddess
Wednesday 2nd June - An author interview with Adèle
Thursday 3rd June - A character connection post
Friday 4th June - Review of Ithaka
Saturday 5th June - Review of Dido
Sunday 6th June - A contest to win copies of Dido UK Only (Courtesy of Random House)

There may also be additions to this schedule depending on how the week pans out.

NB: I have disable comments on this post as it is for information only.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Rambling under the miscellaneous category (3)

So many little news-type-thingys for you this week. They have been coming in thick and fast!

Song Quest Update 4
Daria of All Pencils of Mine Are Sugar Plums and winner of the cover design contest for Song Quest has also designed covers for the other two books in the series: Crystal Mark and Dark Quetzal.

Here they are in all their glory:

Stunt Bunny: Showbiz Sensation Book Launch
On Thursday evening I met up with fellow blogger Caroline of Portrait of a Woman, we had a light dinner in a very strange establishment and then headed to Tamsyn Murray's launch party for her new novel for younger readers Stunt Bunny: Showbiz Sensation. It was very exciting and if I'm honest a little intimating to be around all these people we didn't know. But it was fine because there was the timeless topic of Twilight and the issue of sparkly vampires and that broke the ice.

Tamsyn did a speech as did an important Simon and Schuster person. There was lots of food and then there was a signing. I want to say a huge thanks to Caroline for being a great launch party companion. I had such a great time chatting with her.

Caroline has recently started a meme which is encouraging people to read books in translation. It is very cool and you should definitely check it out!

Melvin Burgess at the British Film Institute
Saturday 5th June, 2pm
'Acclaimed author of teenage fiction Melvin Burgess will be talking about book to screen adaptation, his writing career followed by a half-hour book signing. There is also a competition on www.spinebreakers.co.uk where the winner will win a signed copy of Melvin's new book, Nicolas Dane, as well as the chance to interview Melvin after the talk.' (Source: BFI Website) More info about this and other events at BFI can be found here

The Demon's Covenant UK Signing
Sarah Rees Brennan will be hosting an author talk, signing and then watching a film with Murder One Film Club on Tuesday June 15th, 6.30pm, Shortwave Cinema, London. More info can be found on the lovely Jenny's blog @ Wondrous Reads

Summer Scream Event @ Foyles Book Shop London
There is a super exciting event taking place at Foyles.
19th June, 12 - 4 pm
The following authors will be there for signings and author talks: Rachel Caine, Sarah Rees Brennan, Sarwat Chadda, Brian Williams & Roderick Hunt. Tickets are free but you need to book a place. Find out more @ http://www.foyles.co.uk/summer_scream.asp?

Torment news
The first chapter of Torment by Lauren Kate has been released! Check it out here: http://www.randomhouse.com/teens/fallen/Torment_SneakPeek.pdf

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares Book Trailer

I really cannot wait to read this book. My copy arrived from the publisher yesterday. Thanks very much to Hodder and Stoughton for sending it to me.

Recommendations please!
My sister's birthday is fast approaching and I need some recommendations of mermaid books. That's her thing. YA or adult. Give me what you've got!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Review: Vampire Academy

Author: Richelle Mead
Release date: UK May 2009/ US 2007
Genre: Vampire fiction / Paranormal / Urban Fantasy
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Amazon:
St Vladimir's Academy isn't just any boarding school - hidden away, it's a place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They've been on the run, but now they're being dragged back to St Vladimir's where the girls must survive a world of forbidden romances, a ruthless social scene and terrifying night time rituals. But most of all, staying alive.

Vampire Academy was certainly a book that lived up to its reputation. If you are only going to read one vampire series, I am confident enough after reading the first book to tell you now, it should be this one.

Rose is a dhampir. Lissa is a Moroi. They are best friends and they both go to St Vladimir's Academy. A boarding school for those that are gifted through their ancestry. Dhampirs are guardians of the Moroi. They are incredibly strong and fast. Moroi are vampires who can work elemental magic. The Moroi are a moral race. They only feed on willing volunteers and do not drain them of their blood only taking what they need. But there is another race --the Strigoi-- who have taken the path into darkness. They are immortal beings filled with blood lust, rage and murderous intentions. A Moroi can choose to become a Strigoi but it is a choice that has a heavy price.

Rose is a strong female lead and in every sense embodies the term heroine. She is one of the few female novices in training to be a guardian. She is as strong if not stronger than any of her male novice friends and is constantly motivated by her need to protect Lissa. Rose is perhaps not quite a name that suits her considering she is as far from a shy, retiring flower as you can get. Lissa's full name is Vasilisa Dragomir. She is descended from royal blood. The Dragomirs are one of the 12 Royal families of the Moroi.

St Vladimir's Academy harks back to many gothic traditions. The novel itself has a very gothic feeling which combined with a cast of contemporary teen characters makes it great addictive reading. I read this in two days. I really didn't want to put it down to go to sleep and found myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the dhampirs and the Moroi. Is there some significance that Richelle Mead does not give dhampir a capital letter? I think there may be. They dedicate their lives to protecting the Moroi and yet in many ways they are treated as second class citizens. I'm itching to see how this power will shift throughout the series.

I have to mention the male lead in this book. I can absolutely see why everyone mentions Dimitri. I feel I can now get the Dimitri badge for my collection. He was so dreamy and I love that he treated Rose with respect. I loved the way Richelle portrayed their mentor mentee relationship.

I need to get my hands on the second book as soon as possible. I really do. I can't believe it has taken me this long to read this book. Goodbye House of Night and Morganville. Hello Vampire Academy. This is quality, addictive plotting and excellent characterisation. Thank you Richelle Mead. I have found a vampire series that I'm not ashamed to obsess over. I definitely recommend it!

Books in the series:
Book 1: Vampire Academy
Book 2: Frostbite
Book 3: Shadow Kiss
Book 4: Blood Promise
Book 5: Spirit Bound

Spirit Bound was just recently released on May 18th.

Here is the blurb for all of you who have finished reading Blood Promise. I'm pretty sure the Spirit Bound blurb has spoilers for earlier books so look away now if you've not read the other books yet.

From Amazon:
Dimitri gave Rose the ultimate choice. And she made the wrong one… After a long and heartbreaking journey to Dimitri’s birthplace in Siberia, Rose Hathaway has finally returned to St. Vladimir’s Academy — and to her best friend, Lissa. But Rose’s heart still aches for Dimitri, and she knows he’s out there, somewhere. She failed to kill him when she had the chance. And now her worst fears are about to come true— Dimitri has tasted her blood, and now he is hunting her. Only this time, he won’t rest until Rose joins him… forever.

The lovely Sophie @ So Many Books, So Little Time has reviewed Spirit Bound. Check out her gushing review here.

The super Harry Potter fanatic and all round wolf girl Carla has also reviewed Sprit Bound @ The Crooked Shelf. Check out her review here.

A huge thank you to the simply brilliant people at Penguin for asking me to review Vampire Academy.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Character Connection: Harper Connelly

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.

The book: Grave Sight
The author: Charlaine Harris
The character: Harper Connelly
Harper Connelly is one of my favourite heroines from an adult book. I love that she uses her ability in such a proactive way. She makes a living from being a lightning strike survivor. When she was 15, Harper was struck by lightning. She survived and now she can sense and locate dead bodies. She is often hired by families of missing people to find their dead loved ones. Harper treats her works very professionally. She also never pities herself which is a quality I love in people.

I decided I would do a tiny bit of research into lightning strike survivors for this post. I have never really looked further into a character's experience in this way (unless they are my own work in progress characters).

So far this year in America, 27 people has been struck by lightning. 2 died. 25 survived. (Source: http://www.struckbylightning.org/)

According to www.struckbylightning.org, lightning strike survivors often experience symptoms that doctors cannot verify. This must be so demoralising for someone who is experiencing pain.

These symptoms can include: muscle pains, tingling sensations, dizziness, nausea, headaches and disorientation. They may also suffer from loss or alteration of senses. (Source: http://wvlightning.com/survivor.shtml#true) I guess this is what has happened to Harper. She has an extra sensory perception. When she is near a dead body, she feels a vibration in her mind.

This stuff is really fascinating. I think Charlaine Harris must have spent ages researching the experiences of lightning strike survivors. The next time I read a Harper Connelly book I am going to be looking out for all these details.

Considering the fact that I don't really "do" adult books, I really do love this series.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Reflecting on Stephen King's On Writing

The Book: On Writing
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Memoir, Instructional texts, self-help
Target audience: Aspiring writers

I didn't really feel like I could review this book because the reason I was reading it was to find writing salvation. Or at the very least find out why so many writers recommend it to aspiring writers. I do want to share my thoughts on what I've learnt from this book because you might decide it could be helpful to you too.

This book taught me that:
  • My way of writing is okay. I'm not a plotter. I can't write a story when I've mapped out chapter by chapter what happens. It just doesn't work for me. I prefer to start with an imaginative photograph of a scene and then let the story unravel from there as I type. Apparently this does not mean I'm a failure. Phew!
  • I must write every day. Especially when I don't feel like it to keep my characters fresh in my mind. I am so trying to do this even if I only manage 200 words. I have only missed one day out of the last 20 and that was because I was at a wedding.
  • I must already have some of the skills I need because I understood all of the talk about grammar and vocabularly. Apparently my English degree wasn't a huge waste of time and money after all.
  • I must write with the door of my study closed for my first draft and resist temptations to show it to my sister. (That is a tough one but I totally agree with Mr King that it has a weird effect on me).
  • I must turn off the internet before I start writing to minimise distractions. (That is a lot easier than it sounds but I've done it two days in a row! Go me!)
  • I must keep reading! (So pleased that I have permission to read at least 80 books per year and that this is not wasting my writing time. I love this one Mr King. Thank you very much for this. I think perhaps it will be my salvation.)
Yep, this book is really good for learning about writing. Plus it has some really funny anecdotes from Stephen's childhood. I love it!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Review: Rules of Attraction

Author: Simone Elkeles
Release date: US April 2010
Genre: Romance, Teen Romance, YA
Target audience: 13+

Summary from Goodreads:
When Carlos Fuentes returns to America after living in Mexico for a year, he doesn’t want any part of the life his older brother, Alex, has laid out for him at a high school in Colorado . Carlos likes living his life on the edge and wants to carve his own path—just like Alex did. Then he meets Kiara Westford. She doesn’t talk much and is completely intimidated by Carlos’ wild ways. As they get to know one another, Carlos assumes Kiara thinks she’s too good for him, and refuses to admit that she might be getting to him. But he soon realizes that being himself is exactly what Kiara needs right now.

Rules of Attraction sees us in Colorado. Alex is at college, working part-time at a mechanics garage and of course still very much in love with Brittany. But this book is not centred around Alex. It is all about Carlos. He arrives in Colorado to stay with Alex after getting into trouble with a Mexican gang. Carlos has convinced himself that his only possible future involves gang life. He has a huge Fuentes ego and an attitude to match it. Is he as badass as Alex? It's hard to say. We know that he has been involved in drugs and if he makes one more error will find himself in juvenile detention. The beginning of the story sees Alex and Carlos at loggerheads. Alex wants to stop Carlos from repeating his mistakes. Carlos thinks those mistakes are inevitable and that everyone else expects them of him. The question is can he learn from them?

Kiara is very down to earth character and quite a tomboy. She is a model student but has to work hard for her marks. She enjoys the outdoor life and happens to love working on her car. But most importantly she has a very competitive nature. She knows Alex because he helps her out with getting parts for her car and fixing it up. Kiara volunteers to help Carlos settle in when he starts at her school. Carlos does not appreciate having a baby-sitter who has been organised for him by his brother. From their first day together, Carlos and Kiara start a game of one-upmanship. Neither wants to lose face and so the challenges get increasingly interesting as the weeks go by.

Of course there is a natural chemistry between them. Carlos is truly a Mexican heart-throb and Kiara is the picture of innocence and unmanufactured beauty. She doesn't fall for any of Carlos's tough guy attitude and his wise guy remarks. Kiara has a stutter which saps her self-confidence. It is something that she is working on. I love that Kiara is a do-er. She doesn't wait around to be trampled on.

Through the dual narrative we get to see the vulnerable side of Carlos. He is very aware of why he doesn't want to get close to people. He also resents that fact that he was forced to leave Chicago and Destiny and return to Mexico. In his past Destiny was the only thing preventing him from taking those steps to get sworn in to a gang. Back in Mexico there is nothing to stop him following that path. He felt a responsibility to protect his family. When he arrives in Colorado complete with gang tattoos, his life is again dictated by his older brother. Carlos does not do rules or listening to authority figures. 

Carlos and Kiara can't resist the attraction between them. They come together despite the reasons they both think they should be apart. There is a sweet tenderness to their relationship when they both let their guard down but I certainly thought the sparks didn't ignite as much as they did between Alex and Brittany. In the end it was still a great romantic story. The obstacles they face are more internal than external. Carlos has to get over his prejudices and misconceptions about white Americans. Kiara has to develop her self-confidence and conquer her own body-image. I did love this story. There were many moments when I squealed! There were moments when I thought my eye-balls would pop out. Carlos has a very hmmm... interesting way of describing certain parts of his manhood. Overall, for me it didn't quite reach the Perfect Chemistry benchmark but it was still completely engrossing, very racy and ultimately heart-warming. Read it!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Review: The Dead and the Gone

Author: Susan Pfeffer
Release date: UK 2008
Genre: Dystopia, Apocalyptic Fiction
Target audience: 13+

Summary from Goodreads:
Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It enthralled and devastated readers with its brutal but hopeful look at an apocalyptic event--an asteroid hitting the moon, setting off a tailspin of horrific climate changes. Now this harrowing companion novel examines the same events as they unfold in New York City, revealed through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Puerto Rican Alex Morales. When Alex's parents disappear in the aftermath of tidal waves, he must care for his two younger sisters, even as Manhattan becomes a deadly wasteland, and food and aid dwindle. With haunting themes of family, faith, personal change, and courage, this powerful new novel explores how a young man takes on unimaginable responsibilities.

I think it is impossible to read The Dead and the Gone without comparing it to Life As We Knew It. In some ways they are the two sides of the same coin. I didn't realise when I ordered this that it wasn't a continuation of the first book but rather a book that stands alongside it. It tells the story of another family's struggle to survive after the catastrophe that rocked the world. Alex is seventeen living in the poor suburbs of Manhattan with his family in a tiny basement apartment. His dad is away in Puerto Rico attending a funeral. His mother is a nurse and is working a late shift when the asteroid hits the moon and sends the whole world spiralling out of control. When it seems neither of his parents will be returning home any time soon, Alex takes on the role of man of the house and the responsibility of caring for his two younger sisters.

Briana is fifteen and dedicated to her Catholic faith. In another life Bri may have found her vocation and become a nun. In fact Alex is also deeply religious and throughout the novel his faith is tested by the actions he has to take to ensure his sisters' survival as well as his own. Julie is characterised as the baby of the family. She is the child that everyone adores except for Alex. Part of Alex's character journey is mastering his own frustrations about Julie's immaturity and also recognising that her skills contribute greatly to their survival. Julie is surprisingly strong despite her youth. She doesn't need faith in God the way that her siblings do to survive. More it is her faith in Alex and Bri that gives her the necessary hope that they will come through the darkest of hours. I really liked Julie actually there was something so real about her. Who wouldn't want to have the biggest tantrum on earth when they have their childhood ripped away from them? I think my sister would claim I was quite Julie-like when I was growing up. I couldn't possibly comment.

I found that The Dead and the Gone lacks something in the narrative. The fact that it is told in the third person detracts from the drama that is constantly unfolding around the characters. It is almost as if you observe Alex but never really get to know the truth inside him. But that is not to say that this book is not extremely brilliant. It most certainly is brilliant. It is gruesome and mind-bogglingly shocking. The things people are forced to do in order to survival are unthinkable. I could hardly face the words that I was reading in the most climatic moments of the book.

There is no question that you have to read this book if you read Life As We Knew It and found yourself haunted by the need to go and stockpile food, water, clothes etc. The Dead and the Gone is a darker story if you can believe that. There are of course moments which show the beauty of humanity and the random acts of kindness that make me love life. I am absolutely bursting to read The World We Live In. This series is a sensation! (But very scary!)

An aside:
It was really odd to read a story about a boy named Alejandro and it not be my Alex. You know Fuentes. I felt like I was betraying him or something. This Bookette is one serious weirdo sometimes!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Character Connection: Hunter Niall

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.
The books in order:
Book of Shadows and The Coven
Blood Witch and Dark Magick
Awakening and Spellbound
The Calling and Changling

The series: Wicca
The author: Cate Tiernan
The character: Hunter Niall

I love Cate Tiernan's Wicca series. They were originally published as individual volumes that at least went up to number 11. Puffin recently started re-printing them as two stories bind ups. I keep hoping and praying that they will do the whole series. If anyone can confirm or crush this hope, I would be very grateful.

Of all the characters in this series, Hunter Niall is my favourite.

I'll give you five reasons why:
  1. He is an English witch and has many of our nation's quirks. 
  2. He is blond and extraordinarily handsome. (There are not enough gorgeous blond guys in books)
  3. He is duty-bound.
  4. He is unable to hide his emotions.
  5. He is looking for redemption. I just adore characters who are in need of salvation. 
And, that's all you're going to get because otherwise this post would be spoiler-tastic!

On another note a Book of Shadows is where witches record all their learning from Wicca. You can actually buy them. I found this out when I was seraching google images for the book cover. When I first started reading this series it spooked me a little bit. I guess it is as close to "real" magic as you can get. Of course, one might argue that science is a form of magic because it performs miracles. Look at all those advancements in medicines. In my mind science is a little bit magic and that scares me too sometimes. Something to think about...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Bookette's Guide to Planning a Book Week

On Saturday Sophie of So Many Books, So Little Time asked me a very perceptive question. Were authors visits to my school fun or really stressful? The short answer was both.
I promised a while back that I would write a post on How To Plan a Book Week and hopefully this will show why it can be a challenging as well as brilliant part of being a school librarian.

Where to start planning (4 - 6 months early):
First of all, you need to get permission from your line manager and head teacher.
I'm very lucky that both are very supportive of the library's role in wider so school life but for some librarians this is the first battle.
Secondly, you need to secure funding for your Book Week. This academic year the Head Master said I could have £500 for events. A full day visit from an author is a minimum of £250. So naturally the money the school sets aside can only go so far. I spent way more that £500 on the two Book Weeks for this year. The good news is that in next year's budget £1500 has been allocated to Book Week Events. One might say (if one wasn't modest) that I made this happen through a lot of hard work....
The next and really important thing is to work out in the academic year when the Book Week should take place. There are hundreds of different things scheduled for the children to take part in through the year so finding the right time is crucial. Often librarians like to tie book weeks in with National Children's Book Week in October or World Book Day in March. Next year because of other strains on the timetable my March Book Week is being moved forward to February. Once the date is set make sure it is recorded by all the departments you will be working with. The worst possible thing that can happen is finiding out that the students have been booked to go on a trip or something.

So you have the OK from above, the money and the dates. What's next?

You need to decide which students you are going to target. Is it a Book Week for the whole school or like me do you divide the school in half? This works for me because my cohort of students is so wide.
The next step is to work out which type of visitors you want the pupils to work with. You may decide that Year 3 would benefit from working with a performance poet, Nursery with an interactive storyteller, Year 5 with a popular author and Year 1 with an illustrator. If you have the money available, you could investigate all the options. But more likely, there will be a limited budget so I normally invite two visitors. This year for the lower school it was a storyteller and an author/ illustrator. It is really important to look into the different types of workshops and talks that authors offer.

Different sessions have included:
  • Introducing their book, reading from it, discussing how they came to be a writer and then a book signing
  • Talking about a number of different books, getting the students up the front and completing little challenges
  • Talking about ways into writing and modelling how to come up with interesting ideas
  • Demonstrating how an illustrator draws a character and then taking students through that process step by step
The possibilities are vast and so you need to decide what you want the students to get out of the session.
My priority is always a buzz around reading and the encouragement to try a new author, genre.

Once you have your aims. You can start to contact the authors who tick your boxes. There are lots of ways to contact authors in this social networking society. Often they have a website with a special section for school visit information. You can also use www.contactanauthor.co.uk or write to the author's publisher.

As I said before the sessions vary, you need to speak to the individual author to find out the following things:
  • How long do they like their workshops to be an hour? half an hour? Is this flexible?
  • How many sessions do they like to fit in during one visit?
  • How big do they like the audience to be? Some like huge audiences of 200! Some say 30 is more than enough!
  • Where do they like sessions to take place? I prefer all things to take place in the library but some authors who offer movement and literacy sessions need a big hall-sized space.
Once you've confirm what they offer, you can of course think about it and get back to them. Let's say you are happy with everything they offer. Now you must make sure that they are available for a suitable day in your week. This is where you should check the pupils' timetables to make sure you won't have to interrupt double lessons like PE or technology. (You do not want to upset other members of staff).

Then you confirm the booking. The author will send you a formal letter with the details of the booking. They may need you to collect them from the station on the visit morning. This should all be detailed in the letter. You want them to arrive with time to spare before the first session. Traffic and unexpected delays should all be anticipated.

So let's say now that you have your two authors chosen and booked.

For Book Weeks I always have a Book Fair which is provided by Scholastic. I open this after school three nights of the week so parents can bring their children and buy books. You must book this very far in advance because around those key bookish dates suppliers can be very busy.

1 - 3 months before Book Week:
You need to organise a supply of the author's books to be sold on the day to harness all that enthusiasm they have generated.  Make sure you discuss this with your finance department. They do not like surprises in my experience. I order books on sale or return from my usual supplier. You can get books heavily discounted from the author's publisher for these types of events or better still involve your local independent book shop and they can sell the books on your behalf. Make sure you order more than enough books. I have never run out of copies to sell but can you imagine the disappointment if all but one child were able to buy a copy....

Now all the major things are organised.

3 - 4 weeks before Book Week:
You should contact the author's publisher a few weeks before and requests posters and book marks for display. Get these up around school, in classrooms and do a huge display in the library, you want to generate hype.

Plan out the timetable for the week and distribute to all class teachers, senior management and display it in the staffroom. Give people chance to say this isn't going to work so you can rejig things if necessary.

Plan any additional in house activities. Quizzes, puzzles, competitions etc and all the prep that goes with these.

2 weeks before Book Week:
Write home to parents and tell them about the lovely things you are planning for their children. Send the letter with a book order form so you can collect money in early and make sure you have lots of book sales.

The week before:
  • Email the authors and let them know how much the children are looking forward to seeing them.
  • Double check to see if they need any specific resources - flipchart, pens, pencils etc
  • Get all the resources together and store them in one place
  • Remind staff about the plan of events  - you are relying on teachers to bring their classes on time
  • Remind pupils to bring in money to buy books
On the day:
  • Have books beautifully displayed on tables
  • Have water ready for author
  • Collect the author if necessary (leaving plenty of time)
  • Welcome them and give them a chance to use the facilities
  • Offer a drink - tea or coffee (water should already be out for them where they will be working)
  • Talk them through the day
  • Thank them for coming
  • Have lunch with them (school should provide this)
  • Enjoy all the sessions - you should introduce the author at the beginning and then (with their permission take lots of photos)
  • Take money from pupils for books and making sure the signings are orderly (trampled authors are not happy ones)
  • Make sure you have the author's invoive - they need to be paid
  • Take author back to station if necessary
  • Tell them they were brilliant
After the event:
  • Bring in cakes or biscuits for staff to thank them for helping
  • Get students to provide feedback - this can be verbal or a more formal questionnaire
  • Email the author with student feedback
  • Enjoy seeing the author's books borrowed again and again
  • Use the photos you took in a newsletter or for a display
  • Give yourself a pat on the back
  • Start thinking about the next Book Week
So I think I just about covered everything. As you can see, there are lots of things to think about and during the actual week your feet won't touch the ground. But the sessions will be great if you did your homework and you will get to see the result of all your planning for months to come.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Review: Wintercraft

Author: Jenna Burtenshaw
Release date: May 13th 2010 UK
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Goodreads:
Ten years ago Kate Winters' parents were taken by the High Council's wardens to help with the country's war effort. Now the wardens are back...and prisoners, including Kate's uncle Artemis, are taken south on the terrifying Night Train. Kate and her friend Edgar are hunted by a far more dangerous enemy. Silas Dane -- the High Council's most feared man -- recognises Kate as one of the Skilled; a rare group of people able to see through the veil between the living and the dead. His spirit was damaged by the High Council's experiments into the veil, and he's convinced that Kate can undo the damage and allow him to find peace. The knowledge Kate needs lies within Wintercraft -- a book thought to be hidden deep beneath the graveyard city of Fume. But the Night of Souls, when the veil between life and death is at its thinnest, is just days away and the High Council have their own sinister plans for Kate and Wintercraft. To help Artemis, Edgar and herself, Kate must honour her pact with a murderer and come face to face with the true nature of death.

Wintercraft is an atmospheric fantasy. The Wardens harvest the towns perodically to take the people as slaves to fight in an ongoing war with the continent. Kate Winters lives with her uncle Artemis. Years ago her parents were taken by force to fulfil the will of the wardens. The Wardens return to Kate's home town led by the dark and sinister Silas Dane. He is a man who is feared by all who look upon him. Silas is searching for more than just potential soldiers. He is looking for a girl who is gifted with the Skill. The Skilled are a dying race who are believed to see into the veil of the afterlife. They are persecuted for the threat they pose to the order and authority of the High Council.

Wintercraft is the sort of novel that builds slowly. Kate is oblivious to the truth behind her parents' disappearance and her own special identity. She is the reluctant hero who is about to embark on her journey of self-discovery. I felt it very difficult to get to know Kate. I had no sense of what she liked or disliked, what fueled her passion and what would strike fear into her heart. I think this could be because Kate does not really know herself or the truth about the world around her; however, it did make me feel rather removed from the beginning of the story.

Edgar was definitely my favourite character. I liked him from the word "go". I'm not sure I can explain why except as to say I could see to the heart of him from the very beginning and he was my champion throughout the story.

Silas was an enigma and perhaps the most interesting character in the book. The twists that created the centre of his character were fascinating and gave the book an edge.

Da'ru was in my opinion the flattest character. I think villian's must be the most difficult to construct. I do not believe that people are born evil and so I just do not except characters being portrayed in this way. Unfortunately I don't have any insight into how one avoids this. I can only say that it doesn't read well with me.

The most striking thing about this novel is the description of the world in which Kate lives. In particular I think I need to highlight the Night Train as a truly magnificent idea. The mechanical monstrosity of it all and the City of the Bone Men were really engaging and created a very industrial feel to the latter half of the book. In addition to this, the ending was brilliant. It was very well-executed and highly satisfying.

Overall, Wintercraft succeeds in creating a dark, industrial world at war with itself. There are definite shining moments in both description and plot twists. The characterisation could have more depth. I think this book will appeal to fans of high fantasy who are looking to widen their landscapes. I certainly hope their is more to come and that we get the chance to look deeper into Burtenshaw's characters.

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

Sunday, 16 May 2010

A special one-off book bloggers meet up IMM

So you all know I haven't done IMM in quite a while. Having Sundays free for reading has been lovely, but today I wanted to share with you all the books that I bought yesterday when I met up with some other UK bloggers for a day of ummm... awesome bookishness.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Signed) by Patrick Ness

I borrowed this from the library I used to work in about two years ago but when the lovely Lynsey of Narratively Speaking showed me that Foyles had signed copies, it seemed like the perfect time to add it to my book collection. I am known to be a bit of a Chaos Walking fan girl.

Summary from Goodreads:
Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown.

But Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets.
Or are there?
Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence.
Which is impossible.
Prentisstown has been lying to him.
And now he's going to have to run...

Monsters of Men (Signed) by Patrick Ness
I knew there was a reason that I hadn't ordered this from Amazon. I have been longing for this book for ages. Something deep inside me must have known I should wait until I went to Waterstones Piccadilly. It was so funny. I found this signed copy when I first got there and I had to buy it strauight away because I thought it was the only one left. Anyway, I needn't have worried. They had lots more signed copies in a special book case and there were also signed copies on sale in Blackwells and Foyles on Charing Cross Road. 

I won't include the blurb in case you haven't read Books 1 & 2. No one likes a spoiler!

Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

I found this book and I just loved the blurb!

Summary from Goodreads:
Magpie Windwitch is not like other faeries, most of whom live in tranquil seclusion. When she learns that escaped devils are creeping back into the world, she travels all over with her faithful clan of crows, hunting them down. The hunt will take her to the great forest of Dreamdark, where she must unravel the mystery of the worst enemy her folk have ever known. Can one small, determined faerie defeat the forces that threaten to unmake the world?

Growing Wings by Laurel Winter

This one has been on my wish list for ages. I found a little imported copy in Foyles and I just had to have it!!!

Summary from Goodreads:
When 11-year-old Linnet discovers she is growing wings, her bewilderment is confounded by her mother's obvious distress. As it turns out, her mother also grew wings on the cusp of adolescence, only to have them cut off by her mother. Linnet's life seems to speed up rapidly after her shocking discovery; she soon finds herself alone on her estranged grandmother's doorstep, and shortly thereafter, at a type of secret residence for winged people like herself. As she tries to adapt to a life she never expected, Linnet struggles with desires common to anyone who has ever wanted desperately to fit in, while simultaneously seeking to embrace uniqueness.

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien

So because I am having an apocalyptic phase I wanted something dystopian. Sammee of I Want To Read That suggested I bought this. I think she bought it too. Apparently it is a modern classic...

Summary from Goodreads:
There is no one left alive...I know, because after the war ended, and all the telephones went dead, my family went...to see what was happening. They never came back...

Ann Burden is sixteen and, as far she she knows, the only person left in the world. The nuclear radiation that destroyed the rest of the world has not touched the valley where she lives, and so she has remained, surviving as best she knows how, for the past year.

The smoke from a distant campfire shatters Ann's solitude. Someone else is still alive, and making his way toward the valley: John Loomis, a scientist, protected from the radiation by a "safe-suit." He asserts his will almost immediately. And as his behavior becomes more and more extreme - finally culminating in violent confrontation - Ann must choose how she will live, in a world unlike any she has known.

Spray by Harry Edge

I thought this had a very intriguing blurb. I wasn't alone Cat of This counts as writing, right? agreed with me. So I bought it and I'm going to pass it on to her when I'm done.

Summary from the back of the book:
It's a scorching summer and a group of teenagers sign up for an assassination game on the streets of a big city. Their weapons: pressurised water pistols. For some, it's more than harmless fun. To win they'll use any means necessary ...

Two hundred players. Three weeks of tense, cat-and-mouse action. It's a game where every stalker is being stalked and only one player will be left standing ...

Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott

I have been meaning to read this for ages because Sammee of I Want To Read That wrote a review of this that made me think it sounded fab. This will be my first read of an Elizabeth Scott novel...

Summary from Goodreads:
My name is Danielle. I'm eighteen. I've been stealing things for as long as I can remember.

Dani has been trained as a thief by the best--her mother. Together, they move from town to town, targeting wealthy homes and making a living by stealing antique silver. They never stay in one place long enough to make real connections, real friends--a real life

In the beach town of Heaven, though, everything changes. For the first time, Dani starts to feel at home. She's making friends and has even met a guy. But these people can never know the real Dani--because of who she is. When it turns out that her new friend lives in the house they've targeted for their next job and the cute guy is a cop, Dani must question where her loyalties lie: with the life she's always known--or the one she's always wanted.

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Okay so this was an impulse buy ... Has anyone read it?

Summary fro Goodreads:
NAOMI AND ELY ARE BEST FRIENDS. Naomi loves and is in love with Ely, and Ely loves Naomi, but prefers to be in love with boys. So they create their "No Kiss List" of people neither of them is allowed to kiss. And this works fine - until Bruce. Bruce is Naomi's boyfriend, so there's no reason to put him on the List. But Ely kissed Bruce even though he is boring. The result: a rift of universal proportions and the potential end of "Naomi and Ely: the institution." Can these best friends come back together again?

And finally, a book that was a gift from Jo @ Ink and Paper Fantasy Reviews because she had two copies.

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

So excited to read this. THANKS Jo!

Summary from Amazon:
Max Carver's father - a watchmaker and inventor - decides to move his family to a small town on the coast, to an old house that once belonged to a prestigious surgeon, Dr Richard Fleischmann. But the house holds many secrets and stories of its own. Behind it is an overgrown garden full of statues surrounded by a metal fence topped with a six-pointed star. When he goes to investigate, Max finds that the statues seem to consist of a kind of circus troop with the large statue of a clown at its centre. Max has the curious sensation that the statue is beckoning to him. As the family settles in they grow increasingly uneasy: they discover a box of old films belonging to the Fleischmanns; his sister has disturbing dreams and his other sister hears voices whispering to her from an old wardrobe. They also discover the wreck of a boat that sank many years ago in a terrible storm. Everyone on board perished except for one man - an engineer who built the lighthouse at the end of the beach. During the dive, Max sees something that leaves him cold - on the old mast floats a tattered flag with the symbol of the six-pointed star. As they learn more about the wreck, the chilling story of the Prince of the Mists begins to emerge.

I did get some review books too but hey I'll be here all day if I tell you about those. Surely you want me to go and comment on all your blogs? Yes, I thought so. Follow me on Goodreads if you want to keep up to date with the books that arrive for review. Here is the link to my profile.

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Review: Life as we knew it

Author: Susan Pfeffer
Release date: This edition 2006 UK
Genre: Dystopia, Apocaylptic Fiction, YA
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Goodreads:
It's almost the end of Miranda's sophomore year in high school, and her journal reflects the busy life of a typical teenager: conversations with friends, fights with mom, and fervent hopes for a driver's license. When Miranda first begins hearing the reports of a meteor on a collision course with the moon, it hardly seems worth a mention in her diary. But after the meteor hits, pushing the moon off its axis and causing worldwide earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, all the things Miranda used to take for granted begin to disappear. Food and gas shortages, along with extreme weather changes, come to her small Pennsylvania town; and Miranda's voice is by turns petulant, angry, and finally resigned, as her family is forced to make tough choices while they consider their increasingly limited options. Yet even as suspicious neighbors stockpile food in anticipation of a looming winter without heat or electricity, Miranda knows that that her future is still hers to decide even if life as she knew it is over.

If ever there was a book to make you fear the future, surely it must be Life as we knew it. This is the story of Miranda and her family who live in Pennsylvania. One Spring evening they stand outside with the rest of the people on their street waiting for a great cosmic event. Scientists have calculated that a meteor will crash into the moon and that the great spectacle will be visible from Earth. It will perhaps even be seen by the naked eye. This is not the first time in  history that people have watched the sky above them as the universe moves in its never ending pattern. But this time the Scientists miscalulate the outcome of the impact - it is not clear whether it is the size, density, speed of impact, trajectory of the meteor that they misinterpret - suddenly the moon shifs in its orbit and moves closer to the Earth causing devastation to our beloved planet. Life as we knew it is a story of survival against all the odds, about the fragility of human life and about family.

Ever since the volcanic ash incident caused British airspace to close, I've felt the need to read an apocalyptic book. I have been meaning to read Life as we knew it for ages but now seemed like a fitting time so I requested it at the public library. Once I started reading it I really couldn't stop despite the fact that it chilled me to the bone. The night I started reading it I had bad strange dreams. I started reading again as soon as I woke up and declared to hubby that I needed breakfast in bed because I just had to know what happens.

The novel is told as Miranda's diary. She doesn't start the diary because of the catastrophe but it becomes one of her coping mechanisms for dealing with a world that is so suddenly unrecognisable. Her voice is very honest and it is so easy to empathise with her. I loved that she was the middle child because I could recognise some of my less popular personality traits in the things that she said and did. It is hard to imagine everything you do getting ripped away from you. I can't imagine not being able to log on and write a blog post, check my emails, order books from Amazon, watch my favourite TV shows. I now feel justified in stockpiling books because I know I would go insane if I couldn't read my way through an apocalypse. Actually I'm sure apocalypse is the right word for this type of event. It has too many religious connotations. It is more a global meteoric crisis or something but anyway, I would lose my abililty to be rational if I couldn't read.

Through Miranda's diary you learn about her family, how deeply she loves them and how they depend on each other to survive. Miranda's mum is a pillar of strength as are both her brothers. They were all characters that I connected with and I desperately wanted them to find a way to survive.

The plot cranks the tension up and up to the point where you are clenching your fists and your heartrate is off the spectrum. It is a scary book because it shows you how modern society is at the mercy of the natural world. We think we have come such a long way in our understanding of science and our use of technology but have we done this at the expense of losing important skills for survival? I have no idea how to bake bread or grow crops. This book certainly got me thinking about being more self-sufficient and less reliant on Tesco.

I guess that Life as we knew it is not a book for the faint hearted. (I may fit in the category but I could not put it down). The story is frightening and it is riddled with death by starvation, illness, suicide. But it is still a story of hope because people are amazingly resourceful when they have to be. There is so much love in Miranda's family too and a refusal to give up despite the odds being weighed against them. I am simply addicted to this and I cannot wait for my copy of The Dead and the Gone to arrive. I'm not sure a book obsession about the end of life as we know it is a healthy one but I can't help myself. I recommend this to people who love stories of courage in the face of adversity and amazing dystopias.