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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Review: The Other Countess

Author: Eve Edwards
Release date: 1st July 2010
Genre: Historical / YA Historical Romance
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Goodreads:
It's 1582 and eighteen-year-old Will Lacey's family is in trouble. After years of wasteful spending, his late father has run Lacey Hall to near ruin. Tasked with marrying his family back into fortune, the new Earl of Dorset is all set for a season at court to woo not just the Queen but potential brides with his jousting skills. But when Ellie – a strong-willed girl with nothing to her name but a worthless Spanish title – catches Will's eye, he faces a bigger battle than he could ever have anticipated.

After reviewing two rather mediocre books, I was so delighted to read The Other Countess and find that it was so completely unputdownable! I am rather in love with a story which is about just that: Love against all the odds. When you add in the historical setting (complete with knights jousting), how can you not fail to swoon? Okay perhaps if you're a feminist you're thinking this is a princess story but actually it isn't!

The characters are very cleverly casted. Ellie -- our heroine -- is a headstrong girl with a sharp tongue. She is not afraid to act outside of the social and cultural bevavioural expectations of women. She is well-educated and translates works in Latin and even Greek. She is a young woman burdened with an obsessed father. She also happens to be destitute and at the mercy of male benefactors.

William is a young man who is carrying his own burden in the form of family duty. His father wasted the family fortune and now he is left with the responsibility of finding a way to restore their fortunes. He is a handsome earl with a prejudice against the man who led his father into his obsession with alchemy. That man happens to be Ellie's father. Their two stories are intertwined from the very beginning. William is rather foolish at times but his relationships with his brothers was wholly endearing and showed an adorable softness beneath an angry and arrogant persona.

The plot is expertly paced with great cliffhanger chapter endings that just kept me wanting more. The dialogue is both endearing and amusing and I loved the way that Edwards gave this historical book a contemporary feel without it becoming absurd. I admire her skill.

In addition to the romantic theme of the novel, Edwards explored the issues of religion and alchemy. William is employed to ensure that Catholicism is kept out of his lands. There is a fear of an attempt on Queen Elizabeth's life by the Pope's spies and staunchest supporters. I liked the way the author remained unbiased to both religion and alchemy. As the reader, you could interpret the consequences of extremism where both belief systems were concerned.

Overall, this is a story that swept me away with its majesty of courtly drama, family politics and love across a social divide. I am completely enamoured of The Other Countess and the Earl of Dorset. This book has a timeless will they? won't they? appeal. Fans of The Luxe series will love this novel. Eve Edwards' debut stole my heart. I just did not want to put down. More please!

Thank you to Penguin Books for sending me the book to review.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Review: My Name is Memory

Author: Ann Brashares
Release date: June 2010
Genre: Paranormal Romance, YA crossover,
Target audience: 14+ (contains sexual content)

Summary from Goodreads:
Daniel has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Sophia (despite her changing name and form) have been drawn together-and he remembers it all. Daniel has "the memory", the ability to recall past lives and recognize souls of those he's previously known. It is a gift and a curse. For all the times that he and Sophia have been drawn together throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally, apart. A love always too short.

Interwoven through Sophia and Daniel's unfolding present day relationship are glimpses of their expansive history together. From 552 Asia Minor to 1918 England and 1972 Virginia, the two souls share a long and sometimes torturous path of seeking each other time and time again. But just when young Sophia (now "Lucy" in the present) finally begins to awaken to the secret of their shared past, to understand the true reason for the strength of their attraction, the mysterious force that has always torn them apart reappears. Ultimately, they must come to understand what stands in the way of their love if they are ever to spend a lifetime together.

My Name is Memory is a story that spans centuries and deals with themes that I find fascinating: redemption, guilt, life after death, the nature of the soul and the nuture of the spirit. On the face of it, this is a book which I should love and I desperately wanted to but sadly I couldn't get beyond a mild indifference for it.

The story of Daniel, the man who has lived many lives and retains his memories is an intriguing one. He remembers his families, his friends, his knowledge and skills but above all he remembers Sophia. He killed her in his very first life and he has carried the guilt in his memory ever since. She was not Sophia then but a girl in an African village. She was Sophia much later and I'm not going to give any more away here for fear of spoilers except to say that he loved her in the deepest way that one soul can love another. Daniel's very special memory is not his only ability. He can recognise souls from one life to another even though their physical embodiment changes with each new birth. I found this such an interesting idea. That one soul could be the same essence time and again and yet look so profoundly different after each rebirth. The concept of this book is magnificent. My indifference for the story was due to the way that it was told.

The narrative unfolds in two different ways. Daniel describes the story of his past lives through a first person narrative. Each of his chapters recounts some memory of who he is and how he longed to be with Sophia. These are then alternated with a third person narrative of his present life and meeting the current reincarnation of Sophia. I felt that Daniel's chapters were excessively detailed. They slowed the plot right down and I was often wondering if I should keep reading. What kept me reading was the mystery surrounding the relationship between the two. There is one chapter where Daniel talks about one of his lives where he kept pigeons and I was reading it thinking: I don't need to know this. Why did the author not cut this chapter out? What will this mean to the rest of the story? I obviously missed the point of the pigeon story completely.

There were other things that irritated me including the dialogue. However, the most frustrating part of the story for me was the ending. I really believed that if I read to the end it would all make sense and there would be an epic climax. Unfortunately, even the climax was littered with unneccesary detail and after the main event, the two main characters having yet another converstaion. I honestly couldn't believe it. The plot just did not unfold in a way that worked for me. I hasten to add that at the close of the book, I still did not have all my answers and I certainly would not read another one to find them out. I felt cheated! I had read this very slow and winding story only to find out that actually, I was going to have to do it again to get a level of resolution that I was happy with.

Overall, I am rather disappointed that I didn't connect with My Name is Memory. The idea was beautifully epic yet my dream of a moving and deep love story was never realised. I'm sure this book will find it's readership. The method and language often felt very adult to me as I was reading and so I wonder if YA is really the market for it. Read it if you like your stories slow like the erosion of our coastline.

Thanks to Hodder for sending me the book for review. Apparently I much prefer John Grisham to Ann Brashares. Who'd have thought?!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Review: 13 to Life

Author: Shannon Delany
Release date:
Genre: Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Goodreads:
Something strange is stalking the small town of Junction…

When junior Jess Gillmansen gets called out of class by Guidance, she can only presume it’s for one of two reasons. Either they’ve finally figured out who wrote the scathing anti-jock editorial in the school newspaper or they’re hosting yet another intervention for her about her mom. Although far from expecting it, she’s relieved to discover Guidance just wants her to show a new student around—but he comes with issues of his own including a police escort.

The newest member of Junction High, Pietr Rusakova has secrets to hide--secrets that will bring big trouble to the small town of Junction—secrets including dramatic changes he’s undergoing that will surely end his life early.

13 to Life is the story of Jessica Gillmansen. A girl who is determindely putting the past behind her. If she were British, I would say she had the stiff upper lip thing down to a fine art. She is forgiving; she is compassionate; she also happens to be in complete ignorance of the truth. Jessica is assigned the task of guiding around school the new guy in town Pietr Rusakova. He is your straight talking, handsome, feral kind of guy and rather adorable. He also happens to be keeping a secret and you know these curious teen girls, they just can't leave these mysteries alone, can they?

The story unfolds in the tradition of many paranormal romances. There is the high school setting and the super heart-throb jock who makes Jessica's heart beat faster. There also happen to be mean girls who dislike Jessica. There is however an interesting twist to this part of the story in the dynamic of Jessica's friendships and I thought that it gave the book a nice original touch.

I really liked the humourous tone that came through Jessica's narrative. She had me laughing out loud in the garden which was probably a little disconcerting for the neighbours. I also really liked that Jessica was fully rounded. Her identity as a lover of horses and her role as the school newspaper editor gave her an indidivdual identity. Unfortunately, the style in which the novel is written isn't really to my taste. It did take me quite a long time to get into the rhythm of it and sometimes I thought certain expressions were verging on dodgy, e.g. "substandard fare". No teens that I know would say use that turn of phrase. The other issue I had with this book was a feeling of inevitability. It was so obvious what was going to happen that I was expecting a full 360 degree twist and I didn't quite get it.

13 to Life did have a very dramatic ending and it did leave me wanting more. I do still have questions that need to be answered. As a debut author, I'm sure Shannon Delany will have much more to give. On style, this wasn't really my type of book. On themes and use of deep philoposhical questions, it most definitely was. So overall, I'm somewhere in the middle. This will certainly appeal to fans of urban fantasy and paranormal romance.

Thanks to Carla @ The Crooked Shelf for organising the ARC tour.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Author Interview: Tabitha Suzuma

For those of you that have read my review of Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma, you will know that I found it incredibly challenging and moving. I am humbled by the bravery and skill of Tabitha Suzuma's writing and I am truly delighted to have had the opportunity to ask her some questions.

My huge thanks to the wondeful people at Random House for making this possible and to Tabitha for writing such an outstanding book and for answering my many questions.

Without further ado, here is the interview:

Me: How difficult was it to make the decision to write about consensual incest? And what inspired that decision?

Tabitha: Consensual incest was a subject I had wanted to write about for a number of years. I kept rejecting the idea because I thought there was a good chance the subject matter would never get past the gatekeepers. I was only able to take the plunge once I had built up confidence in my writing ability through my previous four books. But even then I was terrified - not just that it would be deemed a subject unsuitable for teenagers but that I wouldn't be able to make it convincing. I was also really afraid of being unable to make the reader care enough about the main characters so that they didn't reject them and their actions out of hand.
I was inspired by the desire to write a tragic love story. It came down to incest by a process of elimination. I wanted the book to be set in contemporary London and I needed the two teens in question to be old enough for their love for each other to be taken seriously. But I quickly realised that (fortunately) in modern-day Britain there are very few - if any - obstacles that could keep a couple in love apart. Cultural and religious difference maybe, but if the couple were determined enough to go against their families' wishes, they could always run away together. I needed something that would be condemned by everyone wherever they went - a relationship that could never be and moreover, was against the law.

Me: I think Forbidden really pushes the boundaries of what issues you’d expect to find examined in YA. Do you choose to write about topical issues for a specific reason?

Tabitha: I don't seek out topical issues but I am constantly drawn to stories about people whose behaviour or way of thinking falls outside the norm. I am fascinated by psychology, especially mental health issues. I have plenty of personal experience in this area and this is why all my books feature main protagonists who struggle with problems of the mind.

Me: Are there topics that you still feel need to be explored through YA literature?

Tabitha: So many important topics have been explored through YA literature now, which is brilliant. I can't think of any specific topics that have been neglected and need addressing, but anything that challenges the reader to reconsider his or society's preconceived ideas is important, I think.

Me: In your acknowledgements you said that writing Forbidden was one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. What was the most challenging part of writing this particular book?

Tabitha: Oh there were so many! Keeping my sanity, for a start! Slowly transforming the sibling relationship into a romantic one was particularly tough. I had to try to make the reader believe that this really could happen. Writing the sexual scenes was also a challenge - I had to make sure that I made them realistic and not just glossed over whilst still somehow keeping them romantic. But the hardest part by far was writing the end. By then, I was so caught up in the characters and the story that it began to feel like I was writing a book about something that had really happened. In order to portray the characters' emotions convincingly, I had to experience them myself, which was really painful and frequently had me in tears.

Me: I loved every page of the book. I especially love that you didn’t make any compromises. As a reader, I was challenged the whole way through reading it. Every objection or perceptions that I had, Lochan and Maya discussed or considered. Did you consciously set out to do this?

Tabitha: I didn't consciously set out to have Lochan and Maya discuss or justify their feelings or actions. I just constantly imagined myself in their situation and how I would react, and thought of the kind of questions and worries and eventual explanations or justifications I would have myself.

Me: Lochan does some research into the legalities of his and Maya’s relationship. How much research did you have to do for the novel in terms of both their legal position and also the likelihood of this type of relationship occurring in our society?

Tabitha: I got in touch with a wonderfully helpful woman at the Metropolitan Police who answered all my endless questions, both about the characters' legal positions and the details of what they experience at the end. I was also very fortunate in that shortly after starting the book I caught two brilliantly-made television documentaries on the subject. I also found a couple of fascinating magazine articles about siblings who'd had consensual incestuous relationships during their teens.

Me: How do you feel now having finished the book and it being out there for people to read? Do you worry that people will react negatively to you exploring such a taboo topic?

Tabitha: I feel exposed of course, but no more so than I do whenever I've just had a new book published. There is always an agonising wait before the verdicts begin to come in. But as for people reacting negatively to the subject, I am not too worried. I am confident enough that if people take the time to read the book before rejecting its subject matter, most people will react positively. For any who reject the book outright because without actually reading it, I'd probably feel only pity for their narrow-mindedness.

Me: Are you currently working on a new book and if so can you tell us anything about it?

Tabitha: Yes. My new book is another for older teens and is also about what some might consider a controversial subject: euthanasia.

Me: Now I always finish with this question. It seems a little light hearted for such a layered and emotionally challenging novel but none the less I shall still ask: do you have a favourite biscuit and if so, what is it? (I ask because I have a biscuit obsession).

Tabitha: Jaffa cakes! (they feature in the book!)
Wow! What an interview even if I do say so myself.
I don't know about everyone else but I cannot wait for the "euthansia" book. I also want to read Tabitha's earlier novels too. I am going to buy myself a copy of A Note of Madness to read during the Summer holiday.
If you haven't read Forbidden yet, I urge you to go and buy a copy!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Review: On the Broken Shore

Author: James Macmanus
Release date: April 2010
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Target audience: Adult

Summary from Amazon:
Have you ever wanted to just leave everything and disappear? Can the instinct for survival overcome almost anything!? Leo Kemp's life should be idyllic. He has a job that he loves at the Institute of Marine Biology and he lives in Cape Cod with his wife and daughter. But beneath the tranquil surface of their lives, heartbreak lingers; a few years ago their son was drowned in an accident at sea and the family cannot come to terms with his death. When Leo loses his job thanks to his outspoken views, he decides to go on one last field trip with his students. But the outing turns to tragedy when the sea rises up and Leo is thrown overboard. Despite everyone's best efforts, Leo is missing, presumed dead; lost at sea just like his son. The aftermath of the tragedy hits the community hard. But, amidst the grief, rumours that a man has been sighted living on an uninhabited island a few miles off shore begin to circulate. Could there be hope yet!?

On the Broken Shore is an intriguing story of family, loss, grief and obsession. Leo Kemp is an Austrailian living in Cape Cod with his wife Margot and his daughter Sam. He and his family are still trying to come to terms with the death of his son. Both Margot and Leo are stuggling with the guilt surrounding the circumstances of their son's death. Leo should never have taken him out on the water. Margot should have stopped him. Their daughter Sam is living with two parents who are strangers to each other. Leo is absorbed to the point of obsession with his research into sea mammals - particularly seals. Margot is burying her grief in her drinking and her illicit liasons with a local fisherman.

When I was reading this story, I felt like it was almost a retrospective look at one man's life. A character study of a man who was intelligent, passionate and charismatic. His students adore him. His wife was completely besotted by him when they first met. His daughter wants his undivided love and attention. Whether it is his success that drives him further and further into his work or his grief at losing his son is open to interpretation. But his obsession with saving the seals of Cape Cod and the surrounding areas eventually leads to his dismissal from the Institute who employ him also as a teacher. Leo is not the sort of man to give up easily. He decides to take his students out on the field trip he promised them and after a freak tsumani, he is thrown overboard. The coastguard and local fishermen search for Leo or at least his body but when it doesn't turn up, his best friend begins to believe in the impossible. Could Leo have become the sea mammal that he dreamed of in his childhood?

The narrative in this story is gripping and like the sea itself compels you to throw yourself in at the deep end. Leo is an enigma which I hadn't really solved even at the end of the novel. Sometimes I felt the pull of the novel was weakened by the use of excessive detail. As the reader we learn much about the life of sea mammals and the communication of seals, the regulations governing fishing in the area and in the wider world. I am left wondering how much we really needed to know. Was it important to know these things to get to the heart of Leo's obsession? Perhaps. For in my mind it was obsession not grief that drove Leo to make the choices that he did. I think he was a very selfish character who wanted to be a better man than he was. Others will say that Margot was the selfish one. It is obvious that she could not forgive Leo for what happened to their son.

Overall, I enjoyed this story. It conjured the sea, the waves, the mesmerising depth of the ocean and all its mysteries. It told a story full of loss and guilt which was engrossing. At times a little slow perhaps but none the less an intricate tale which would be a great beach read for the summer.

Thank you to Harpercollins for providing copies of On the Broken Shore for my staff book group.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Contest Winners: Dido and Ithaka

I have just used Random.org to select the winners of my two contests from my Adèle Geras Week.

The winner of the signed hardback of Dido by Adèle Geras is:
Caroline Salmon

The three runners up winning a paperback copy of Dido are:
Eleanor Wigmore
Reece Page
Katherine Roberts

(I will email you each individually and request addresses which I will need to forward to Random House as they will be dispatching the books to you directly).

The winner of a paperback copy of Ithaka is:
Hiedi Allen

(Hiedi I will email your parent/ guardian to let them know and request an address)

Congratulations to the winners!

Thank you to everyone for entering.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Review: This World We Live In

Author: Susan Pfeffer
Release date: May 2010 UK
Genre: Dystopia, Apocalyptic fiction
Target audience: 13+

Summary from Amazon:
It's been a year since a meteor collided with the moon, catastrophically altering the Earth's climate. For Miranda Evans life as she knew it no longer exists. Her friends and neighbours are dead, the landscape is frozen and food is increasingly scarce. Miranda and her family are on the edge. And then a small party of survivors arrives on their doorstep, threatening to stretch supplies to dangerous limits. Alex Morales is amongst them, and he and Miranda must put aside their differences in order to fight for food - with all of the odds against them...

This World We Live In has left me feeling more than a little disturbed. If you thought things were looking up at the end of Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone, you were very wrong. Perhaps some of the physical changes to the world have ceased but the mental and emotional ramifications for the survivors live on. How people react to an ever worsening existence where there is not enough food to go around and no social infrastructure has left me almost speechless. I am disturbed...

I am going to keep this review spoiler free and very short because so much of what I got from this story was the result of not having even the slightest inkling of what was going to happen. I would not want to ruin that intense and dramatic experience for you.

We are back with Miranda's diary as she picks up her pen again to start documenting the changes to the world and to her family. Her story and Alex Morales's story come together in This World We Live In. There are new characters introduced to us through Miranda's eyes and I wanted to reach out to each one. You want to comfort them and tell them there will be a future but the truth is I wasn't sure there was going to be one. When is a future really a future? Is it when there is a path to follow? Is it when there is hope to live a better life? Is it as simple as waking up every day and it being tomorrow? So many questions...

I finally feel that I am over my apocalyptic phase. Now I have read this series I feel a little more prepared if the world ever comes to an end. I know the worse and I don't ever want to face it. This book makes you confront your own humanity. Oh my, I don't know how else to explain the warring emotions that I'm left with. It is a tiny feeling of hope and a huge amount of shock, disgust, fear and admiration. I am in awe of Susan Pfeffer. To write a book that goes where this one does, well, it takes a brave person. This World We Live In is a mind-blowingly traumatising book and as such you must read it!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Review: The Worst of Me

Author: Kate Le Vann
Release date: January 2010
Genre: Contemporary Teen Life / Issues / Teen Romance
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Publisher's website:
A subtle and sharply insightful portrayal of the sometimes painful process of growing up, thinking for yourself.

Cassidy has been feeling unsettled and adrift, but things look up when she meets an older boy called Jonah. She loves spending time with him and his friends, flattered to be included in their discussions. Jonah is sweet and sensitive and she’s never felt so happy.

But then Cassidy hears disturbing news about Jonah which shakes her trust in him and makes her question her own judgement. If you love someone, how far should you go to overlook their faults?

The Worst of Me is a poignant story about love, perception and beliefs. The novel is narrated by Cassidy a sixteen year old girl who is coming to terms with the end of her relationship with long-term boyfriend Ian. She is also struggling to find a middle-ground with her mother's boyfriend. She feels isolated and she has lost her sense of identity. Her narrative is a fascinating insight into how we all paint an image of ourselves but actually what we show isn't what we truly feel.

One day after hearing her mum and Paul arguing about her, Cassidy goes out and finds herself hiding in the cinema. The anonymity and thrill of being alone sooth her frustrated mind and her absence form home gives her the chance to punish her mother for the hurtful things she has said. After the film, she sits in a cafe and this is where she meets Jonah and his friends. The four boys have recently transfered to the sixth form at Cassidy's school. In a way they give her the chance to reinvent herself and be someone knew. They know nothing about her or her break up with Ian and so she gets to portray a confident and slightly aloof image of herself.

Cassidy and Jonah have an instant connection and they soon begin to explore it. This is where the novel begins to make you ask questions. Cassidy pretends that she is more mature than her friends and in a way above them. She doesn't necessarily believe that she is but because she is feeling isolated from them she becomes more and more integrated and associated with Jonah's group. The trouble is that Jonah's friends are making a name for themselves at school and it isn't a positive one. In Cassidy's mind they think that religion is the greatest source of conflict in the world. In the eyes of others' their views are racist and bigoted. Cassidy doesn't know what to think and she lacks any true opinions of her own.

I was enthralled by Cassidy's dilemma. She had met this amazing guy who understood her and then she is told  by her friends that he is a racist and a bigot. She wants to trust in Jonah but there are so many little doubts that invade her mind. This book certainly raised some interesting questions about our society and how people are just generally ignorant. I recently read an articlein New Scientist online by Bernard Beckett and so I had already been thinking about extreme atheism and this book furthered that thinking.

There are a couple of minor things that I felt could have been improved in this novel. When Cassidy talks to her friend Sam about the rumours concerning Jonah, the tone is a little too preachy and it really didn't need to be. The author could have let it play out differently and Sam could have been almost judgemental about Cassisy's questions. I hate to admit this but I know if she asked me some of those things, I would have got on my soap box. The other thing I felt was that perhaps Sam was the too obvious choice for advice. He is the marginalised gay character who deals with prejudice on a daily basis. It wasn't that it didn't work but when you're tackling such imporant topics I think you have to be really hard on yourself and think about how you're stereotyping people. I hate labels. I have a real thing about them. They make me shout at the television. A truly powerful novel is one that shows you the deep flaws of stereotyping or a similar issue without you ever realising it is doing it.

However, I have to say the climax scene of this book was such an amazing concept and I was rather in awe of it. Obviously, I can't tell you more because of spoilers but I would have read the book for that alone. It was so fresh and interesting. Overall, the dynamics between the characters were riveting and kept the plot unfolding at a quick pace. The questions raised by this novel are important, relevant and uncompromising. Definitely, worth reading if you enjoy contemporary teen fiction which pushes you to think about who you are, what you do and what you believe. I cannot wait to read more by Kate Le Vann.

Thanks to the author for sending me her book to review.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Review: Forbidden

Author: Tabitha Suzuma
Release date: June 2010 UK
Genre: Teen issues, Contemporary teen life, topical, relationships
Target audience: 14+

Summary from Amazon:
She is pretty and talented - sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But ...They are brother and sister. Forbidden will take you on an extraordinary emotional journey. Passionate and shocking, this is a book you will remember long after you have put it down.

I'm just pulling myself back together after reading Forbidden. Yes, it tackles a very conversial topic - consensual incestuous relationships. But the author does not do it lightly. There is so much depth to the characters in this novel and so much consideration of the topic, I really think Tabitha Suzuma deserves to be applauded for her bravery.

Lochan is seventeen, nearly eighteen. He is studying for his A Levels and wants to get into UCL. Academically speaking, he is a very able student. Yet he suffers an acute phobia of social interaction. He is fine at home with his family but outside of those walls he can bearly communicate. He doesn't answer questions in class; he doesn't chat in the hall ways. He lives completely inside of himself. Being forced into talking out loud brings on severely disabling panic attacks. It would be fair to say that he is living on the precipice of sanity. Even the slightest change could send him over the edge. Sometimes Lochan's dialogue is a little more adult than you might expect. At first it threw me off but I got to realise that his extensive vocabularly was just another side of his very complex identity.

Maya is sixteen. She is studying for her AS Levels. She is a much more social person than Lochan. She has friends, she lets people into her life and she is a very strong person. Part of the reason this story works is because Maya is very self-aware and very conscious of her decisions.

Lochan and Maya are brother and sister. Their life is not an easy one. Their father left them years ago. Their mother is a drunk who has decided to abdandon them for all intents and purposes. She is reliving her youth through her relationship with Dave and leaves Lochan and Maya to look after everything. They have three other siblings. Kit, 13, is struggling to cope with Lochan's role as the repsonsible adult. He resents his brother being head of the household. Tiffin, 8, who just wants to play football with his mates. And, Willa, 5, who is tries her best to do everything she is told.

Lochan and Maya together share the responsibility of caring for their younger siblings. They do the cooking, the washing, the bedtime stories, the housework, the food shopping. The list just goes on and on. Whilst trying to manage all of that, they are studying for their exams. I felt deeply for both of them. The author drags you right into their psyches so that you can see how much their sanity depends upon the support of the other.

But then one day their relationship develops. They have never really felt the same way towards each other as they do to their siblings, but then a physical closeness between them ignites a sexual response. They both know that an incestous relationship is illegal, taboo, sick, disgusting etc etc. This is actually what they say in the novel but they cannot switch off their physical, mental and emotional reponses to one another.

When I went into reading this book, I had so many questions in my mind about the way society perceives sexual relationships between a consenting brother and a sister. So many types of families and relationships are now viewed as socially acceptable in our society. I couldn't help but think really if they wanted to be together then why shouldn't they? Granted most of us have an inbuilt mechanism, a biological barrier, I guess that tells us our siblings are not attractive. We need that biological function for the survival of the human race. But if two people happen not to have it, are they really doing something so morally wrong that they deserve to be imprisoned? The book does answer some of these questions indirectly as Lochan and Maya discuss how the world would view their love. The law protects us against incest because such relationsips are more likely to be abusive and not consensual. I have to say that I am bursting with questions about norms and values, crime and deviance, freedom and abuse from reading this book. If you are at all interested in sociology, you will find this book completely absorbing. I have very little answers. Except to say that Forbidden is a fascinating, dark, emotionally challenging novel that left me sobbing and contemplative. I really encourage you to be brave and read it!

Thank you to Random House for asking me to review it.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Review: The Moonstone Legacy [blog tour]

Authors: Diana de Gunzburg and Tony Wild
Release date: 31st May 2010
Genre: Literary YA/ Adventure / Mystery
Target audience: 10+

Summary from Amazon:
In a sacred cave high in the mountains of northern India, a white-haired hermit sits cross-legged, and signs his final testament: "George Abercrombie, 1874...". In present-day England, fourteen years old Lizzy Abercrombie's mother dies in a tragic accident on the full moon. But was it really an accident? Lizzy discovers that her death may be linked to a mysterious family curse. Determined to solve the mystery, her quest takes her from a doomed Anglo-Indian mansion on the Yorkshire moors to India where she uncovers the terrible truth about her ancestor and a stolen inheritance. But her discoveries put her in mortal danger from a ruthless enemy...

Inspired by the classic The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, this novel brings the mystery and intrigue of the past into the 21st century. The Moonstone Legacy is set in contemporary England and centres upon the Abercrombie family. It is two years since the death of Lizzy's mother and she is determinedly putting the past behind her. Unfortunately, her father is still agonising over the loss of his wife and the curse that is allegedly blighting the Abercrombie family. Lizzy is a plucky young heroine who seeks the truth behind the loss of her mother and the strange disapperance of her great ancester George Abercrombie. I was intrigued to read this novel as it is marketed as literary YA. An interesting concept which tempted me out of my comfort zone.

The setting of this story is my favourite part of this book. Shalimar was built by George Abercrombie as the family home and in the tradition of Indian palaces. Shalimar is a great estate and extremely opulent in its majesty, design and presence. Lizzy is mesmerised by the mansion and admires it from a far. Shalimar is the home of her Uncle William and his wife Lavinia and their children Samuel and Samantha. Lizzy and her father live in one of the small cottages on the estate and rent it from her Uncle. She goes to the local comprehensive school and her cousins go to a private boarding school. They have so much and so many opportunities. Lizzy cannot help but be envious of their beautiful horses. The twins are cruel and belitte Lizzy for her lack of public school finesse.

I have to say I found the characterisation in this novel to be very disconcerting. I honestly didn't find Lizzy a believable 14 year old girl. Her expressions and her behaviour for me pointed to a character of around 12. The twins are almost charicatures of mean people. I cannot put it in any more eloquent terms. Their dialogue was one dimensional, their behaviour petty. It made you dislike them which was obviously the goal of the authors but it also made me question the skill of the writing. I read them as a cliche and to me this conflicts with the concept of this as a literary novel.

The plot of The Moonstone Legacy had the potential to be gripping and frighteningly mysterious. In the middle part of the novel, I really did feel entranced by the Indian heritage and all that Lizzy was learning about her Uncle George's history with the East India Company. This is a part of British colonial history that I sadly do not know much about and it fascinated me. Sadly, though I lost it towards the end of the novel. I didn't feel that I needed to know the dark secret that was at the heart of the book. Whether this points to my lack of attention span or the way in which the novel is plotted, remains to be seen. I guess it would be fair to say both of those things factored into my lack of connection with the book overall.

I actually think that this book would appeal to the tween market rather than the teen. I think fans of The Puzzle Ring would enjoy it as it has that epic adventure / quest feel to it. Lizzy is every part the heroine and younger readers will connect with that I'm sure. Personally, this book just isn't for me. I loved the Indian heritage that is weaved into the story. I didn't like the characterisation or the plot line. The Moonstone Legacy is perhaps an adventure for the younger reader.

Thank you to Pushkin Press for sending me the book to review.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Review: Theodore Boone (Young Lawyer)

Author: John Grisham
Release date:
Genre: YA Legal Thriller
Target audience: 10+

Summary from Goodreads:
A perfect murder
A faceless witness

A lone courtroom champion knows the whole truth . . . and he’s only thirteen years old
Meet Theodore Boone

In the small city of Strattenburg, there are many lawyers, and though he’s only thirteen years old, Theo Boone thinks he’s one of them. Theo knows every judge, policeman, court clerk—and a lot about the law. He dreams of being a great trial lawyer, of a life in the courtroom.

But Theo finds himself in court much sooner than expected. Because he knows so much—maybe too much—he is suddenly dragged into the middle of a sensational murder trial. A cold-blooded killer is about to go free, and only Theo knows the truth.

When you hear that a huge name in adult fiction is branching out into the YA market, you can't help but be curious. Add to that the fact that John Grisham has invented a whole new genre -The Young Adult Legal Thriller - and well, I jumped at the chance to review this and I'm really glad I did. Theodore Boone: Young Lawyer has such a broad appeal. Anyone from ten to ninety-two would enjoy this book. Theo is thirteen and he is a rather peculiar teen. He spends his spare time at the court house and he watches trial after trial. His parents are both lawyers. His mum Marcella Boone is a divorce lawyer. His dad Woods Boone is a real estate lawyer. Theo is passionate about the law and justice. He cannot decide if he wants to be a criminal laywer or a judge. We enter Theo's life at a very exciting time. The biggest trial ever to come to the city of Strattenberg is about to begin. A man - Pete Duffy - is accused by the prosceution of murdering his wife. Theo is desperate to watch every second of the trial but like most thirteen year olds he has to go to school. Luckily for Theo, his Government teacher is an ex-lawyer so his class do get to watch the opening statements.
On the surface it is hard to work out how a teen protagonist could be a lawyer but Grisham really makes it work. Many of Theo's fellow pupils come to him for help. He has his own little office at the back of his parents' law firm and that in itself made this book a joy to read. I can see that it will have an immense appeal to kids who feel powerless in an adult dominated world. Theo uses his parents' access codes to get into all sorts of important websites. It is very cool and although it doesn't sound believeable, it is written in such a way that you really don't care. You are too busy having a fun time learning about the criminal justice system through Theo's explanations of the law to his friends.
The characterisation in this book was quirky and a little comedic. Theo's parents are very habitual people (like me actually). They eat at the same time everyday. They go to the same places at the same time every week. It really made me laugh because I am so like this. Perhaps I should have been a lawyer rather than a librarian? The plot is also really well crafted. The main case of the state versus Mr Duffy is the main engine driving through the story but then there are also all these little cases that Theo resolves for his clients. It works really well and keeps you interested while you're hearing about how the trial is unfolding.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Theodore Boone. It has a definite appeal to fans of murder mysteries and crime novels. It is a very easy read and fast paced. The fact that there is no swearing, no violence and no sexual content means that I would be more than happy for a nine/ ten year old to read this. The issue of the murder is dealt with very clinically and so no worries there either. Theodore Boone is a great quirky read that will teach you about all about criminal law and at the same time amuse and entertain you. I can't wait for the next instalment. Just super fun!
Thanks to Just So for asking me to review this.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Character Connection: Elizabeth Clarry

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: Feeling Sorry for Celia
The author: Jaclyn Moriarty
The character: Elizabeth Clarry

Summary from Goodreads:
Life is pretty complicated for Elizabeth Clarry. Her best friend Celia keeps disappearing, her absent father suddenly reappears, and her communication with her mother consists entirely of wacky notes left on the fridge. On top of everything else, because her English teacher wants to rekindle the "Joy of the Envelope," a Complete and Utter Stranger knows more about Elizabeth than anyone else. But Elizabeth is on the verge of some major changes. She may lose her best friend, find a wonderful new friend, kiss the sexiest guy alive, and run in a marathon. So much can happen in the time it takes to write a letter....

Elizabeth Clarry is a warm and comic girl. She can cook the most amazing meals. She even manages to successfully make a Lemon Souffle on her first attempt. Personally I wouldn't know where to begin. Cooking is not in my repetoire of skills.

Elizabeth also loves to run long-distances which I find a little bizarre but very admirable. I have never been one to over-indulge where exercise is concerned.

Her parents are divorced and she is trying to develop a relationship with her estranged father (who tries too hard). I can definitely relate to that! I remember back to when my dad left my mum and all those meals out... At least I can assure Elizabeth that it gets easier.

Elizabeth writes letters to a girl at the local state school as part of her English teacher's mission to develop links between their schools.

So this got me wondering...what five things would I tell a stranger in a letter?

This is what I came up with:
  1. I would confess to the huge mistake that I made at work just before half term which still makes me cringe when I think about it.
  2. I would recommend that they read Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles and everything that Jaclyn Moriarty has ever written because she is amazing.
  3. I would tell them that to date my work-in-progress is now at 82953 words but I still wouldn't tell them what it's about.
  4. I would tell them that hubby has promised to take me to Boston next year for a holiday and that I'm planning on buying a whole suitcase worth of books to bring back and so will be saving up to pay for the extra baggage allowance.
  5. I am learning through blogging that I like a much broader range of books than I ever believed possible and I love my bloggy friends for that and all the support they give me.
What would you tell a stranger in a letter?

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Melvin Burgess Event Summary

Last week I emailed a few of my British blogger friends to find out if they were free at the weekend to attend the Spinebreakers' Melvin Burgess event. Luckily Caroline from Portrait of a Woman, Jo of Once Upon a Book Case and Non editor for the brilliant Catnip Publishing all said they were.

So on Saturday 5th June I met Caroline and Jo at Embankment tube. We had lunch sitting in the shade of the park and surprise, surprise talked about books, being a blogger and aspiring to write. Then we headed over to the British Film Institute for the event. We got hopelessly distracted by the second hand book stalls which populate the pavement outside BFI. We were nearly late for the start of the event...

Anyway, Non met us inside BFI. I got our tickets from the desk and then we went inside. The cinema attendant gave us all a Spinebreakers tag and then we sat down in Row C, Seats 5  - 9. Yes we had one too many because poor Cat of This Counts as Writing, Right? wasn't well enough to come. Hope you're feeling better Cat!

The boy above was a Spinebreakers guy and not a member of our motley crew. This is really quite irrevelant except to say that it sets the scene for us sitting inside NF3 listening to Melvin Burgess in interview with Iyare (currently working freelance but has worked for BBC Blast and 6 Music). Iyare has a blog and you can check it out here.

For once I took notes because I just had this feeling that Melvin Burgess would be fascinating to listen to and I was not wrong.

Melvin Burgess pretty much decided at school that he was going to be a writer. When he first started writing, most of his novels could be described as fantasies. If you know Melvin Burgess, then this may come as a surprise. If you don't, he is the most controversial British teen writer. He has a huge reputation for not pulling any punches in his writing. Go Melvin!

For a while he lived in Bristol. He was around interesting people. It was an age of punk and politics. It challenged his thinking and I guess began to shape his view of the world. He never set out to write about topical / controversial issues. It just kind of happened. He realised after the publication of his first book Cry of the Wolf that there was no such thing as teenage fiction. There were books for the 11/12 year old market but not for 15/16/17 year olds. Melvin cited here the exceptions to that rule Robert Cormier and Aidan Chambers.

So he started to think back to how he was at 14. He was working in a chemist earning 12.5p per hour. He used to fill his blazer pockets with pills and then hand them out at school and at parties. WARNING: This type of behaviour is illegal and not condoned by Melvin or by The Bookette. But it is how he came to write Junk. A novel that won the Carnegie Medal and is critically acclaimed for its exploration of heroine addiction. Junk rocketed Melvin to fame because of its controversy. He felt that this novel was important because there were so many exaggerations of what illegal drugs did to people back in the 70s. He said people ignored the fact that the reason teens did it was to have a good time. Adults just seemed to spout lies about drugs and what they could do to you. Times have changed though and we have a much better understanding about the long term side effects of drug misuse.

Melvin explained writing as a process of speaking convincingly as someone else. Asking himself: what would I be like if I was in this situation, if I had been raised by these parents, in this era etc? So with each character there is at least a part of him inside. When he was explaining this, I found myself relating this to my own work-in-progress and I could see exactly what he was saying especially when it comes to my main character. Fascinating!

He also said he is a great believer in putting stuff into your brain and waiting for it to come out. He explained it like this: our consciouness is only a small part of our brain. We see and hear things and we absorb them. Then while we sleep our subconscious mind processes all these things. It is the huge area of the brain that we don't use while awake and then voila all that we have absorbed can be transformed by our imaginations into something that flows into writing when we wake up.

His most recent novel Nicholas Dane is about child abuse which took place in state institutions in the UK during the 80s (I think). Although Melvin doesn't go out looking for peoples' stories, this time he did do extensive research and interviews with victims of this type abuse. He told a funny story from one of his interviewees and explained that far from being meek and mild these kids would be very proactive in trying to find ways to escape from the institutions. I swear my heart was in my mouth when he was saying this. It must have been so shocking and emotionally draining to do this type of research.

Melvin also talked about the habit of writing. He said he thinks there are two types of writers. Morning ones and evening ones. He is a morning one although he understands the beauty of writing late into the night. He said in the morning (because the brain is rested) concentrating on writing is so much easier and what you actually produce is of a better quality. Thank you Melvin I am a morning writer. Actually, I am an all round morning person. There is of course nothing wrong with being a night writer. Whatever works for you. He also said that there is research into this concept of 10000 hours. If you do something for 10000 hours you will be brilliant at it. Apparently, it is the difference between a concert pianist and a music teacher. Having done a little research for you, I can tell you that this theory is penned by Malcolm Gladwell. He details this idea in his non-fiction book Outliers: The Story of Success. The 10000 hour rule is simple. Do something for that many hours, you will be brilliant. If anyone wants me to buy a copy of this, read and review it leave me a comment and I will do so.

The important thing is to find your body rhythm and go with it. If you're the type of person who feels completely focused after an hour run, do your writing when you get back and have had a shower. If you work best with music pumping and traffic noise outside, go with it. You just need to work out what works for you.

Iyare asked Melvin about Parental Advisory Stickers. In my school librarian mode, my ears twitched at this point. Melvin said he didn't mind if his books had these stickers and I agreed with both him and Iyare: they improve sales. Anything parents should worry about makes kids very interested indeed.

Another interesting thing that Melvin has been working on is using cross-platform / new media technologies in writing. He has written two stories via Twitter and encouraged us to give it a try. I'm still contemplating this one. People would actually be able to read what I write and I won't be able to take it back. I can't think of anything more scary! You can read his Twitter tales on his website. Link here. One thing Melvin pointed out is that people seem to think these new technologies will create some sort of "uber book". Nonsense. In one format or another, they are just a way of telling a story and a story is a story.

One issue Melvin feels passionately about is the BBC's decision to abdandon certain markets. In his words shutting down 6 Music and BBC Switch is "pathetic". The BBC is meant to be for everyone so how can they justify abandoning keys areas in the media market. He thinks they want to leave it up to Channel 4 but unfortunately Channel 4 do not have any money. Apparently, any one in the media business knows this and now we all do too. He said that teenagers don't have any power. In the UK the voting age is 18 but up until then teens don't any power to change anything. He described them as a "prejudiced minority".

And finally on recommendations of teen writers, Melvin Burgess says we should check out two Japanese writers.
Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara
Out, Grotesque and Real World by Natsuo Kirino

This was the end of the interview and Q and A. Jo, Non, Caroline and I all lined up to get out books signed.

I bought a copy of Nicholas Dane even though I expect it will break my heart into a million pieces.

I'm asking him here if there are any themes or issues he still wants to write about. He said he didn't think there were any taboos left. I explained that I'd been reading Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma and that incest seemed like the last taboo. But since then I've thought about more issues that should be examined in YA. They are: teen suicide pacts (remember the mystery of Brigend), child prostitution and medicating kids so they conform (like on the Louis Theroux documentary. I love Louis Theroux).

And here is Jo getting her books signed. Lots of them! She heartily recommends Doing It! We read a little of it in the park before the event and it certainly had us all giggling.

And here is Non. She bought Sara's Face. Melvin said this is one of his favs even though it is less popular.

And here is Caroline. I missed her photo opportunity with Melvin so I thought I'd include this one instead. Caroline bought a copy of Doing It! I can't wait for her review.

This event was organised by Spinkbreakers. A website for 13 - 18 year olds where they can review books, upload cretive content and get involved in a creative community. I seriously wish there was something like this when I was that age. But hey, if you are 13 - 18, check it out. You could be hosting the next fabulous event.

Thanks to Jo, Caroline and Non for being by event buddies. Love you guys!

Hey if you're a British blogger, you should really come to the next author event. John Green is coming to the UK. He is talking and signing at Waterstones Piccadilly on August 14th. More info is on Jo's blog. Check it out here. I am going to organise us meeting up for lunch before the signing so if you decide you're going to come, send me an email at thebookette @ googlemail.com.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Unicorn Glitter Award

I was given an award by an author. Suddenly, I feel like I must have made it.
Go me!
Joking aside, Katherine Roberts has given me the Glitter Unicorn Award for my Song Quest Campaign. I feel kind of special...

I just had to post about this one. I'm slightly concerned because they say pride comes before a fall and I felt quite proud when I received this.

On Katherine's post it says this is for bloggers who post in the spirit of "Enchanted Mists". It could be something creative, something mythical or something otherwordly.

If you accept this Award, the rules of the award are:
1. Pass this award on to five other blogs you think would make my horn glitter.
2. Add this award to the sidebar of your blog with a link back to this blog/post.
3. Tell us your favourite

Poem or song
Myth or legend
Enchanted creature

So here are my favourites:
Book - Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (*squeals*)
Film - You've Got Mail (seriously)
Poem - On The Pulse of Morning by Maya Angelou (Love this with all my being)
Myth/ Legend - King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (Men of honour who ride horses *swoon*)
Enchanted creature - Angels!!!! (As if you didn't know that already).

I'm going to break the rules on this award because I only want to pass it on to two people. I don't comment on their blogs every day but when I visit their creative posts I am always moved and they always post in the spirit of Enchanted Mists.
They are:
Robby @ Once Upon a Book Blog
Choco @ In Which A Girl Reads

You are both very inspiring for your work and your views. I'm going to email you the link to this post.

Thank you to Katherine for the award.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Review: Feeling Sorry for Celia

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Release date: 2001 UK
Genre: Contemporary teen life, teen romance, YA, teen issues
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Goodreads:
Life is pretty complicated for Elizabeth Clarry. Her best friend Celia keeps disappearing, her absent father suddenly reappears, and her communication with her mother consists entirely of wacky notes left on the fridge. On top of everything else, because her English teacher wants to rekindle the "Joy of the Envelope," a Complete and Utter Stranger knows more about Elizabeth than anyone else. But Elizabeth is on the verge of some major changes. She may lose her best friend, find a wonderful new friend, kiss the sexiest guy alive, and run in a marathon. So much can happen in the time it takes to write a letter....

Feeling Sorry for Celia is the comic yet touching story of Elizabeth Clarry. The whole novel is told through letters to and from Elizabeth. The inventive Mr Botherit -- Elizabeth's English teacher -- sets the class an assignment. They must write to a stranger at the local state school. Elizabeth muses over the fact that this is Mr Botherit's way of hanging on to the dark age of envelopes but he is also aiming to forge ties between the young people at Ashbury High and those at Broomfield. Elizabeth's very witty letters immediately pull you into the story. Her voice is addictive. I read this book in one sitting. I just did not want to put it down.

Elizabeth's first letter to a stranger happens to be given to Christina. At first it seems the girls may be opposites. Elizabeth detests porridge with a passion. Christina loves it. Could it be that their letter-exchange will never get over this insurmountable hurdle? Thankfully, no. One should not judge a person on their feeling towards what constitutes an appropriate breakfast. The exchange of letters between Elizabeth and Christina reveals the differing challenges of their lives. Elizabeth is an only child. She is just starting to develop a relationship with her estranged father. At home she spends a lot of time alone as her mum works late but they have a very touching relationship. Christina is the eldest of five children. She loves her siblings and spends much time being responsible for them but sharing her room with her younger sister leaves her with little privacy. Each girl can see the attraction and the pitfalls of the other's life.

Elizabeth is burdened by the worry of her best friend Celia's disappearance. Celia has had a liberal upbringing which lacks boundaries. She has a tendency to disappear when the mood takes her and go off on great adventures. This time when Celia disappears she doesn't let even Elizabeth know where she is and so Elizabeth is understnadably worried. Celia is a flighty and selfish character. Christina's best friend Maddie is a love-struck girl who falls in love with any boy at the blink of an eyelid and then convinces them that they should run away together. It wears Christina down to see her friend so utterly self-absorbed and ruthless when it comes to her conquests.

Both Elizabeth and Christina share their worries and their personal dilemmas through the letters. They offer each other support without ever giving the other advice. Intermingled with their letters are various letters to Elizabeth from different associations. The Cold Hard Truth Association tell her frankly that the boy she likes is way above her level. The Society of Teenagers tell her she will never find a place with them because she has never kissed a boy or had a boyfriend. They are a hilarious addition to the novel and add some light relief to the sad and poignant story that is the missing Celia and the general coming to terms with the highs and lows of teenage relationships.

Feeling Sorry for Celia is a novel which gets to the heart of teenage worries, relationships and most importantly friendships. This novel is a journey which makes you care deeply about what happens to the main characters. At times it is highly amusing. I completely related to Elizabeth's voice. At times it is sad. People are so naturally self-absorbed. At other times it warms the heart. Friendship can heal even the deepest wounds. Every page is filled with teenage truth. I absolutely loved this book. I want to write like Jaclyn Moriarty. She is a genius. I feel all squishy inside when I think about this book. This one is a keeper!