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Monday, 29 November 2010

Guest Review: The Blackhope Enigma

Author: Teresa Flavin
Release date: 1st July 2010 UK
Genre: Fantasy Adventure/ YA
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Templar

Summary:
An old painting... A strange labyrinth... The sudden appearance of skeletons in a locked room... For centuries, Blackhope Tower has been shrouded in intrigue, which seems to centre around a curious painting hanging in the Mariner's Chamber. Its meaning has baffled historians, but when fourteen-year-old Sunni Forrest visits the tower, she finds herself transported to the very heart of the Blackhope enigma, and the painting itself. Can she and her friend Blaise overcome its dangers and evade their ruthless pursuers? And will they find their way home...alive? An age-old mystery is about to unravel.



Irena's Review:
The Blackhope Enigma is an adventurous, fun and intelligent story about three children who happen to find themselves in an alternate world, as well as about their pursuers and friends they meet on their quest to simply return home.


One day, Sunni Forrest and her art-class friend Blaise see with their own eyes how Sunni's (younger) stepbrother Dean disappears while standing on the labyrinth in the floor of the Mariner's Chamber in Blackhope Tower, whispering a word he had just learned for fun and to annoy Sunni, and suddenly, they see him in the famous painting - The Mariner's Return to Arcadia - painted by the renowned Italian Renaissance painter Fausto Corvo. This happens while Sunni and Blaise are sketching Fausto's painting for their project on Corvo. Sunni follows Dean into the painting bravely, determined to bring her stepbrother back, and the next day, despite Sunni's wishes, Blaise follows them.





The three children find themselves in a world created by Fausto Corvo, who knew how to practice magic. It is a world inside the painting, consisting of several layers, each offering a unique world of its own. People live inside the painting, unaware of how much time has passed outside, as the world that is Arcadia is too perfect and inviting to leave. And inside the painting, a few months means that about two hundred years have passed in the real world. The children meet friends who want to assist them and also greedy enemies who are after Corvo's secret masterpieces believed to be hidden inside Arcadia. The children simply want to return home, but instead they enter a great and dangerous adventure quite unexpectedly.


The author created a great, exciting and exotic world, or rather worlds inside the painting. Arcadia looks perfect, but there are many dangers lurking in the shadows. I truly liked the concept behind Arcadia and its history. This place was created by a famous painter, well-known for the mysteries that still surround him. He was so well-described and his presence in the novel so well-established that one could easily believe he was an actual historical person, instead of being a fictional character. Arcadia seemed really cleverly constructed to me and the author gave the notion of parallel worlds her own mark. It reminded me of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll in this respect - like Alice, the children stumble into a new, parallel world unexpectedly and encounter many strange and interesting things and creatures/people - but as I've said, Flavin definitely created her parallel world in her own way.


The characters are well-constructed and fun to read about. What I truly appreciate about the three children is the fact that especially Sunni and Blaise do not spend their free time hanging around the local mall or watching TV. They sketch whenever they can and show great interest in art. They cherish knowledge, have a well developed logical way of thinking and are very inquisitive. That was a nice change from all the teenage characters that are either stoned all the time or have the minds of a fifty-year-old academic. Sunni and Blaise are still obviously fourteen years old, but they grasp for knowledge and want to know the world they live in.

 
The plot was really fun and adventurous, quite tense at times. It definitely kept me turning the pages. It ran smoothly and I was interested in the story throughout the novel. All questions I had were answered, so there were no loose ends left, which I appreciate a lot. Everything worked out just fine and there was no ambiguity. Perhaps things worked out a bit too conveniently for the children once they had to explain why they went missing. But then again, that might just be nit-picking on my part. There are open-minded individuals everywhere, so anything is possible, really.



All in all, this was a very fun adventurous fantasy and will definitely prove to be a treat for those who like fantasy, adventures and a touch of mystery. I have to point out that I don't often read fantasy books, yet still, I found this novel to be a riveting and original read.
 
 
Becky says: Thank you to Irena for sharing her thoughts on The Blackhope Enigma. It sounds such a vivid and magical book which returns to some of the traditions of children's classics. Both our thanks go to Templar/ Bounce Marketing for sending the book to review.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Complete: The Typically British Challenge

If you look back on the comments in my sign up post, Lauren from I Was A Teenage Book Geek predicted that I would finish The Typically British Challenge by April and she was CORRECT. Lauren, I think I am either very predictable or you are a secret psychic...

These are the eight Typically British Books that I read:
  1. When I Was Joe by Keren David - review here
  2. The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh - review here
  3. Bad Faith by Gillian Philip - review here
  4. Mission Telemark by Amanda Mitchison - review here
  5. Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd- review here
  6. Crossing the Line by Gillian Philip- review here
  7. Song Quest by Katherine Roberts - review here
  8. Numbers by Rachel Ward - review here
I enjoyed every one of these novels. Keren David and Gillian Philip are now firmly entrenched on my favourite authors list. They are both amazingly talented. I think you'll find I read more than eight British Books in 2010 and I officially earned the title CREAM CRACKERED! 

Thank you to Book Chick City for hosting such an awesome challenge!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Review: The Set Up (Medusa Project Book 1)

Author: Sophie McKenzie

Release date: 6th July 2009
Genre: Paranormal Thriller
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Simon and Schuster


Summary from Amazon:
Fourteen years ago, scientist William Fox implanted four babies with the Medusa gene - a gene for psychic abilities. But Fox died and the babies were hidden away for years. Now the children are teenagers - and unaware that their psychic powers are about to kick in. Cocky, charismatic Nico thinks his emerging telekinetic abilities will bring him money, power and the girl of his dreams. He's about to find out just how wrong he is...


Review:
The Set-Up is a real feel good, page-turning thriller. It is the first book in the Medusa Project series which will surely be just as high on action and drama.


Nico is the voice of the story. The brilliant opening reveals his character effortlessly and the setting for the story. He is fourteen, sitting in an assembly hall surrounded by other students and he is smitten with his best friend Ketty. From the off, we know Nico wants to be with Ketty and as the reader you are really cheering him on. The trouble with Nico is that he is an adorable dufus. He is the type of character that acts first, regrets later which of course makes him rather endearing if a little frustrating at times to read about.


It is not at all a spoiler to say that Nico has a gift. We find this out very early on. He is telekinetic and through the course of the novel learns why it is important to control it but also the consequences of using his gift. Of course, there is only one thing that Nico wants and that is to be with Ketty. The trouble is she has started going out with the rich, vain Billy Martin. The question Nico asks himself is: what will impress Ketty? He thinks the answer is money and so the story continues with Nico making some hilarious and rather daft choices in an attempt to impress her.


The plot of the novel is every part the thriller with the humour of Nico’s voice thrown in for great entertainment. There is a constant flow of action and consequence. There are kidnappings, helicopter rides and a big show down where the teens have to take on the all powerful adults.


There are of course some deeper questions which filter through the story about our right to privacy, about the ethics of scientific research and about the nature of choices. They are not explicit and they never interfere with the telling of Nico’s story but they are most certainly there below the surface.


I think The Set-Up will have a wide cross-gender appeal. Boys will enjoy the action and battle sequences. Girls will enjoy the love story and the highs and lows of teenage hormones and difficult parental relationships. At the heart of the book is a fun concept: a group of genetically-modified teens discover they have a super power. I’m excited to see how the team dynamics develop over the course of the series. I highly recommend this fun, page-turning read to anyone who is looking for an escapist series.


Thank you to the lovely Catherine at Simon and Schuster for giving me this book to review after my writing teacher recommended it.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

2011 Debut Author Challenge

Here is my sign up post for The Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge 2011.

The challenge?
To read 12 YA or pre-teen debut novels published in 2011.

Want more information?
Go to THIS post on The Story Siren's blog.

Want to join up?
Go to THIS post

I am a UK book blogger so I will be doing my best to read brand new British talent. I am collecting a list UK debuts together for Kristi. To check it out go HERE.

So far these are the books that I'm planning on reading are:
  1. Entangled by Cat Clarke REVIEW
  2. Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis REVIEW
  3. Paranormalcy by Kiersten White REVIEW
  4. Hidden by Miriam Halahmy REVIEW
  5. Hunting Lila by Sarah Alderson REVIEW
  6. The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham REVIEW
  7. Unearthly by Cynthia Hand REVIEW
  8. Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien REVIEW
  9. Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard REVIEW
  10. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson REVIEW
  11. Divergent by Veronica Roth REVIEW
  12. Blood Red Road by Moira Young REVIEW
  13. My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher REVIEW
  14. ...?
Exciting! Thank you to Kristi for all the amazing work she puts into promote new literary talent!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Guest Review: The Poisoned House

Author: Michael Ford
Release date:
Genre: Paranormal / Historical / YA
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury Books

Summary:

Abigail is a maidservant in Greave Hall, an elegant London household governed by the tyrannical housekeeper, Mrs Cotton. Whilst the widowed master slips slowly into madness, Mrs Cotton gradually usurps the position of gentlewoman of the house. She wears his dead wife's jewellery and clothes, entertains guests as though the house is her own and reserves her most despotic treatment for Abi. In the dead of night, Abi makes a desperate bid for freedom, but is soon captured and returned to Greave Hall. As Mrs Cotton's malice intensifies, a ghostly presence distracts Abi with clues to a deadly secret. And Abi now realises that she can trust no one in the house.






Irena's Review:
The Poisoned House is a true Victorian Gothic novel. Set in 1856 London, it follows the life of recently orphaned Abigail Tamper working as a maidservant in Greave Hall, where the widowed master of the house is only a shadow of his old self and the housekeeper and the master's sister-in-law, Mrs Cotton, dominates the house as if she were its rightful mistress.






The story begins with Abigail's failed escape from Greave Hall. Her mother died one year ago and Abigail has no reason to stay in the cold house, so she decides to run away in the middle of the night, but Mrs Cotton is a formidable figure who always seems to be one step ahead of everyone and she has Abigail brought back to Greave Hall not long after the girl escaped. Abigail is forced to stay and work under the tyranny of Mrs Cotton, who tends to resort both to mental abuse and physical punishment of the servants and Abi is a particular thorn in her foot.






After this event, strange, paranormal things begin to happen to Abigail and after an uncanny encounter with one Dr Reinhardt, who is a medium communicating with the dead, it becomes clear to Abi that her mother's spirit hasn't left. It is restless and wants to tell Abi something very important. Abigail's mother was murdered and Abi must find out who the murderer is. Abi is not friendless in Greave Hall. She has Lizzie, another maidservant, Cook and Rob, the coachman. Even the aloof Mr Lock, the lord's butler, is good to her. But Abi finds herself in a situation where it is not safe to trust anyone in the house. When Lord Greave's son Samuel returns wounded from the Crimean war as a hero, he is the only person that Abi feels she can trust because Abi suspects that Mrs Cotton is the criminal and she might even harm Samuel, who is Abi's good friend.






The suspense in this novel is wonderful and it builds consistently from the first page and only dissipates at the very end of the story, and even then, a sense of unease lingers. The atmosphere is delightfully Victorian and Gothic and brings to mind the atmosphere of Thornfield Hall from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and even of Wuthering Heights created by Emily Brontë in the novel of the same name. Mrs Cotton reminded me of Nurse Ratchett from One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, but she is far crueler and directly cold than Nurse Ratchett. The paranormal activity and Mrs Cotton herself are the key elements to the suspenseful feeling permeating the novel. The mystery grows thicker with every page and the final revelation is quite shocking.






Abigal Tamper is a great heroine. She is young and inexperienced, but she knows what she wants and she is a brave girl. She accepts her situation in life very maturely and although she knows her place and understands that she must be careful and alert, she is not afraid to act when that becomes necessary. Mrs Cotton is a great antagonist, cold and self-righteous, as well as cruel, but she is not the only villain of the story, which makes everything all the more exciting. Other characters are not quite so significant and are not truly developed, but they serve well in supporting and shaping the story.






I liked the vague ending, as it offers many possibilities for Abi, but I do wish two things had been made clear. I would have liked to know what happened to Abi's best friend Lizzie, also a maidservant in Greave Hall, who had been dismissed by Mrs Cotton, especially since in the end, Abi was in a position to help her. And the other thing I would have liked to be made clearer was Abigail's future. A hint would have been enough, showing the reader how she might have decided to live her life from that point on. Otherwise, I think that the way the story ended really fit the entire scheme of the novel and was pleasing for me as a reader.






All in all, the novel provided me with a great, suspenseful read and lovers of mysteries and the Gothic atmosphere will be delighted to read this ghost story set in the Victorian era.
 
 
Becky says: Irena, this novel certainly sounds like it embodies everything gothic. It sounds a little terrifying and well-paced. What a great review! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Both our thanks go to Bloomsbury Books for sending The Poisoned House for review.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Author: Ally Condie

Release date: 2nd December 2010 UK
Genre: Dystopia
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Penguin Razorbill


Summary from Amazon:
On her seventeenth birthday, Cassia meets her Match. Society dictates he is her perfect partner for life. Except he’s not. In Cassia’s society, Officials decide who people love. How many children they have. Where they work. When they die. But, as Cassia finds herself falling in love with another boy, she is determined to make some choices of her own. And that’s when her whole world begins to unravel . . .


Review:
I’m not sure that I have quite put my thoughts together after reading Matched. It is the sort of story that you become completely consumed by, where the ending really matters to you. It is also the type of novel that makes you ask huge questions about the freedoms we have and often take for granted.


Cassia is seventeen. The novel opens with her travelling to her Matching Banquet. Along with her parents and her best friend Xander, she goes to the ceremony where her future life partner will be revealed. Everything in their society is calculated, measured, weighed, formulated and assessed. It is a society based on measurable and perfected social outcomes. Outcomes are predicted. People are categorised and documented as data. It is a system that ensures quality. People have no more or no less than anyone else. It is system that Cassia believes in and so she is excited at the prospect of learning about her match. She has hopes and dreams for a contented life with her match, she is happy to leave it in the hands of the Society. But there is a glitch in the perfect system and suddenly Cassia finds herself thinking about another boy and torn between two possible futures instead of the single one she has always believed there to be.


If I tell you anymore more than this, I think it would spoil it for you. There are beautiful moments of blossoming love in Matched. You are swept completely along with the snatched moments Cassia chooses to hide from the ever watchful Officials. There are also sinister moments when you see just how far the Officials are willing to go to prevent people from having any choices at all. Food is delivered and prepared individually for each person. They must not share. Everyone carries three tablets: a blue one, a green one and a red one.


The other thing that in infinitely dark is the realisation that the Officials are just ordinary people like Cassia, born into the system, monitored by the system and then selected to do the optimum job for the system, if this is an Official in one way or another then so be it.


I must also mention the musical nature of the writing and the eradication of all creativity from society. The culture of society extends to one hundred poems, one hundred songs. There are no new original words created and shared. Handwriting is part of the old way. No one remembers how anymore. Words are not words but data typed on a pad. It is so sad. It makes me want to write poem after poem, draw and paint, and imagine thousands of scientifically impossible things.


Matched is a dystopia with a love story at its heart. Perhaps it is only love that can give a person the power to rise against the machine, to add 2 + 2 and find out that it equals the whole sky and the sun and the stars. I felt truly captivated by this story. I was immersed in the characters, lost in the words and enthralled by the plot.
Thank you to Penguin Razorbill for sending me the book to review.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

2011 UK Debuts

Hello Everyone,

It is that time again when we band together to find the new authors that will be debuting in the UK next year. 2011 is sure to be filled with spell-binding literary talent.

I have started to compile a list which will be a page rather than a post because it is easier to edit. You can view that by clicking on the tab at the top or by following THIS link.

So please if you have found one, tell us (in the comments of this post) the title and the author and if you are really feeling helpful the publisher and the date of release. Hopefully with the wonderful Story Siren's challenge, we can generate lots of publicity for our new tweenie and teen British writers.

Happy searching!

The Bookette

P.S. These are the ones I've found so far
P.P.S. Don't forget I will be updating THIS page rather than the post you are currently reading

Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf by Curtis Jobling (Paperback - 6 Jan 2011) Puffin



Being Billy by Phil Earle (Paperback - 6 Jan 2011) Puffin


Entangled by Cat Clarke (Paperback - 6 Jan 2011) Quercus


Artichoke Hearts by Sita Brahmachari (Paperback - 7 Jan 2011) MacMillan


Small Blue Thing by S. C. Ransom (Paperback - 13 Jan 2011) Nosy Crow


The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney (Paperback - 3 Feb 2011) Corgi Imprint Random House


My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher - (Paperback 1 Mar 2011) Orion


Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis (Paperback - May 2011) OUP


Lydia's Tin Lid Drum by Neale Osborne (Paperback – August 2011) OUP


Monday, 15 November 2010

Guest Review: She's So Dead to Us

Author: Kieran Scott
Release date: 2nd September 2010 UK
Genre: Contemporary / Teen Chick Lit / YA
Target audience: 12+

Summary:

Perfect, picturesque Orchard Hill. It was the last thing Ally Ryan saw in the rear-view mirror as her mother drove them out of town and away from the shame of the scandal her father caused when his hedge fund went south and practically bankrupted all their friends -- friends that liked having trust funds and new cars, and that didn't like constant reminders that they had been swindled. So it was adios, Orchard Hill. Now, two years later, Ally's mother has landed a job back at the site of their downfall. So instead of Ally's new low-key, happy life, it'll be back into the snake pit with the likes of Shannen Moore and Hammond Ross. But then there's Jake Graydon. Handsome, wealthy, bored Jake Graydon. He moved to town after Ally left and knows nothing of her scandal, but does know that he likes her. And she likes him. So off into the sunset they can go, right? Too bad Jake's friends have a problem with his new crush since it would make Ally happy. And if anyone deserves to be unhappy, it's Ally Ryan. Ally was hoping to have left all the drama in the past, but some things just can't be forgotten. Isn't there more to life than money?






Irena's Review:
She's So Dead to Us is the first book in a planned trilogy, with the second title, He's So Not Worth It, coming out in summer 2011.






When I first decided to read this novel, I was expecting a light read about teenage rivalry, cheerleaders and cute jocks. But the book surprised me very nicely: it was filled with high-school drama, serious issues and showed how far some spiteful people harbouring great resentment will go to crush their foes. Because the thing is, once your former best friend becomes your worst enemy, you are in big trouble.






Ally Ryan is a great heroine of this novel, showing both strength and vulnerability. She is sporty and smart, and just wants to be treated with friendship and respect because she is not responsible for her father's failure. A year and a half ago, her father made an unintentional mistake that cost the Ryan family all their fortune, and this same mistake affected their friends as well. They lost a lot of money (although not their entire fortunes, like the Ryans did) and the Ryans moved away without saying goodbye to their former best friends. Once a Crestie, a rich girl from Orchard Hill, Ally Ryan returns to Orchard Hill as a Norm, a middle-class girl with a mom who has to work for a living, instead of sitting at home and indulging in expensive mani-pedi. Ally is rejected by all her former friends and the only boy who is willing to accept her, Jake Graydon, can't do so publicly because he is a member of the same clique Ally once belonged to, but she is now an outcast and the object of their hatred. And, Jake lives in Ally's former house. The fact that her father left the family and no one knows where he is does not help Ally in the slightest.






Ally is a strong teenager who has been through a lot and she knows what she wants, but nostalgia hasn't left her, so she decides to trust her former friends in the beginning, only to realise that they have turned into her enemies and their leader is none other than Ally's former best friend Shannen Moore. When Jake Graydon, a member of Shannen's clique, shows interest in Ally, Shannen will stop at nothing to humiliate her former best friend. I truly enjoyed the intrigue building throughout the story. The Crestie girls kept surprising me with their bad intentions and their little revenge schemes. They are typical teenage girls, but with a lot of money and time on their hands. Instead of using it for something constructive, they concoct plans to destroy Ally, making her pay for what her father did and for daring to set her eyes on "one of them".




This "one of them" is Jake Graydon, a nice counterpart to Ally. Both of them are the narrators of the story. He is the boy every girl at school wants. He is very good-looking, sporty and arrogant, but with an essentially good heart. He likes to fool around with girls, but then he sees Ally and he's just not the same anymore. Ally is confident and sporty, but also vulnerable and romantic. It seems that these two people are too different to be together, but their differences are exactly what makes them perfect for each other. But things are never simple for them because it appears that Jake can't be both Ally's boyfriend and Shannen's friend. His greatest flaw is that, for all his supposed male bravado, he is still scared of what people will say.






Apart from the tense teenage drama, the reader can also read about family drama. Ally's mom would like to move on, but her husband disappeared and she cannot even divorce him. Ally has to deal with the fact that in spite of this, Ally's mom starts seeing someone and Ally feels threatened by the prospect of acquiring a stepfather and a stepsister, both of them being Cresties. Eventually, things begin to normalize and Ally finds herself accepting her new life - until Shannen delivers the final blow.






This novel is filled with drama, romance, hatred and revenge. It portrays teenage life realistically, spicing it up with extra drama and mean, scheming girls. Ally and Jake are well-written and likeable characters, but one can hardly feel any sympathy for Shannen. This girl has also experienced grief in her life and I would have expected her to be more mature, but she hurts people, even though she knows how pain feels. Although it is easy to hate Shannen, her character is well-constructed as well and she provides the reader with some good drama and entertainment in the novel. The plot is very engaging and it made me turn the pages fast. The novel ends on a great cliff-hanger that promises even more drama and tension in the upcoming sequel. I can say that I will gladly read the sequel when it comes out next year.






If you like young adult fiction and some good teenage and family drama, I definitely recommend this novel to you.
 
Becky says: Irena, thank you for your guest review. She's So Dead to Us sounds like a highly charged and entertaining drama. I can see that you really enjoyed it. Both our thanks go to Simon and Schuster for sending the book to review.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Review: The Lost Hero

Author: Rick Riordan
Release date: 12th October 2010
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Target audience: 9+

Summary from Amazon:
When Jason, Piper and Leo crash land at Camp Half-Blood, they have no idea what to expect. Apparently this is the only safe place for children of the Greek Gods – despite the monsters roaming the woods and demigods practising archery with flaming arrows and explosives.



But rumours of a terrible curse – and a missing hero – are flying around camp.


It seems Jason, Piper and Leo are the chosen ones to embark on a terrifying new quest, which they must complete by the winter solstice. In just four days time.


CAN THE TRIO SUCCEED ON THIS DEADLY MISSION- AND WHAT MUST THEY SACRIFICE IN ORDER TO SURVIVE?

Review:
The Lost Hero is all the fantastical adventure of Percy Jackson with some brand new, brilliantly crafted characters thrown in.

The novel is set about three months after the end of The Last Olympian. This is the world of Camp Half Blood, demigods and Greek mythology which we have all come to love. But of course, this is not a Percy novel. A new quest is about to begin. At the start of The Lost Hero we meet three new characters: Jason, Leo and Piper. Jason wakes up on a school bus. He can't remember who he is or where he came from. Piper and Leo know who he is though. He is Leo's best friend and Piper's boyfriend. They think they have known him for months but sometimes the Mist can even fool demigods.

Soon enough the monsters who were imprisoned in Tartarus begin to reform. Evil winds attempt to destroy the three demigods before their journey has even started. Cue Annabeth's entrance and the revelation of all things Camp Half Blood. For fans of Percy, the beginning may seem very familiar. We learn about the climbing lava wall, the claimings and the cabins. But some changes have happened since our last visit and they will be fresh enough to hold any established fan's attention. New readers who wish to begin with The Lost Hero can jump right on in. A complete novel in itself, you can easily follow the story. You may, like Jason, wonder what is so special about this Percy guy but hey, it will help you emphasise.

My favourite aspect of this novel was Leo. He is the BEST comic character in tweenie fiction. I laughed out loud so many times when I was reading his parts of the book. The narrative is in the third person but it switches between following Piper, Leo and Jason. I would read seventeen novels all about Leo. He was just so amusing and on a more serious note, I could relate to him needing time with non-organic life forms. I would even go so far as to say that I love Leo MORE than Percy. Yes people, it is true!

It is really hard to review your favourite authors. You just love them. You don't even want to work out why. You just want to enjoy the fact that they weave incredibly tight plots, create such funny characters and amazing settings. So I am really at a loss as to what to say here. But I'll try...

There was only one thing that I didn't enjoy in the whole of the book and it was characterisation of some of the villian's minions. I know tweenies will love it but I found it just a little too silly. Mind you, I was in a bad mood that day so maybe it was my fault.

The Lost Hero will take you on a grand quest. Each character takes a literal and metaphorical journey becoming an adored companion as you read. You'll travel to ice kingdoms if you read this, witness the destruction of a mountain and find out your babysitter might not have been who you thought she was.



The ending will leave you squealing for more, more, more! I feel a show down coming on in The Son of Neptune. Yee ha!

Anyway...

Am I addicted? Certainly.

When the Myth Master is at work, how can you not be? This book is awesomeness of Godly proportions!


Thank you to Just So for Puffin Books for sending me the book to review.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Yes, my blog went haywire!

Hello all,

Yes there was a blog crisis yesterday. The solution? I had to change the background and so the whole thing  looks completely different.

I'm not sure my blog will stay looking this way but for now at least you can read it!

That is all!

The Bookette

P.S. It is nearly the weekend! I may actually finish a book if I am lucky.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

How can school libraries use E-Readers?

At work I have been offered some money to purchase E-Readers for the school library. Obviously, this is very exciting and it is great that my school are proactive in considering the use of new technologies to promote reading.

The trouble is as yet I have not come up with an effective way to use them. I have been trawling the internet trying to find articles about how other school libraries are using them but I haven't found much.

I have found some research that has shown that they motivate older students but can actually switch off the youngest readers. I can see that an E-Reader would be brilliant for text books as on the most basic level they are so much lighter and you can have as many on there as you like. But the school library doesn't deal in text books. It deals with maybe one or two copies of a book. If I buy one on the E-Reader, I'll have to buy an extra copy for the library. I think this money may stretch to ten E-Readers.

So I throw this question out into the Blogosphere: How can school libraries use E-Readers effectively?

All ideas welcome from librarians, pupils, readers, bloggers and industry professionals! Help me find a way to make this opportunity work for my students. Pretty please!

Oh and if you've read any interesting articles and have the links to hand, please feel free to paste them in the comments.

Thanks!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Guest Review: Hear the Dead Cry

Author: Charlie Price
Release date: 5th August 2010 UK
Genre: YA Mystery
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Random House Children's Books

Summary:

Is Murray psychic? He talks to the dead and comforts them in their lonely graves, even as they provide solace for him-they are his best friends. When he hears a new voice in the cemetery, he's sure it's Nikki, the cheerleader who has been missing for months. But who will believe him? He's a loser. Can he even believe in himself? Along comes Pearl, daughter of the cemetery caretaker, who befriends Murray and tries to enter his world. Together they may prove the astonishing possibility that Nikki is closer than anyone thinks.




Irena's Review:
Previously titled Dead Connection, Hear the Dead Cry is a novel about several people who, quite unintentionally, help in the discovery of the truth regarding the disappearance of high-school cheerleader Nikki Parker.


The story begins with Murray Kiefer, a teenage outcast, who can hear dead people talk. He spends all his free time at a cemetery, listening to his dead friends - for he most certainly sees them as friends - talk about themselves, revealing to him their stories and even helping him in the end. Murray is happy when surrounded by the dead, as the living - especially his mother who brings home a new man every week and neglects her son massively - merely disappoint him and don't understand him. Then, there is Pearl, his first human friend and the daughter of the cemetery caretaker, whom he learns to trust eventually, but not without complications. When Murray first hears a new ghost's distressed cries for help, he and Pearl embark on a mission: to find what happened to the ghost and determine whether she truly is the missing Nikki Parker.


Murray and Pearl are not alone in their quest. The reader meets Detective Gates, a tormented cop, who wants to solve the case of the missing Nikki, but he has no clues. Then, he meets his only and sadly unreliable witness to the possible murder of Nikki Parker, a young recovering schizophrenic by the name of Mr Robert Compton. And then, there is the always drunk and aggressive Billup, a cop who often doesn't remember what he did the previous night and who happens to hate Murray for a particular reason. What could his role be in this mystery?


The novel introduces very interesting and well-rounded characters. Every one of them has a sad life story to tell, but these strangers have something in common: Nikki Parker. They just don't know it. The mystery and the suspense it entails build up very nicely and the ending is very surprising. Clues to the criminal's identity are given, but nothing is what it seems and the truth is quite shocking, in a good sense. The unpredictability of Nikki Parker's case truly was a delight. However, the story ends so very abruptly that I can say it does not even have a proper ending. That was another shock for me as a reader, but this time it was not a good shock. The criminal is discovered, but it is never revealed if he/she was arrested or charged with anything. The person simply requests for a lawyer and that is the end of the matter.


The policemen in the story reject clairvoyance entirely and although Murray knows exactly where the body of Nikki Parker is, his statement is ignored and the body is never recovered. I am glad the author brought up the issue of clairvoyance used for solving crimes. Clairvoyance is still very much frowned upon, but there have been cases when there was nothing else left but clairvoyance, so policemen allowed a psychic to join their forces. In this novel, clairvoyance is entirely ignored and although one must allow these policemen the benefit of doubt, it is still quite irresponsible to ignore a young man's statement that he knows where a body is. Clairvoyant or not, one does not ignore such a bold statement relating to a seemingly unsolvable case. But my complaint is not about clairvoyance being ignored in the novel. I like it that this issue was raised. My complaint is about the lack of an actual ending. The ending is not vague; it is just omitted, it seems.


Some parts of the novel that should be elaborated on are not explained much. Although the narrative is smooth and engaging, it is also dry and lacks some depth. For example, I would have liked to see Murray talk to the ghosts more often. He seems to be a clairvoyant and I would have liked to see this side of him better explored. The story is good, but it seems to be rushed, which results in a lack of depth and abrupt endings. I wouldn't mind if fifty or so more pages were added to the novel.



However, the story has a good plot and serves for an enjoyable read. I like the mystery, its suspenseful unravelling and the characters that are present in the novel. Especially the characters are very well constructed. I would not mind reading more from this author.


Becky says: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Hear the Dead Cry Irena! And both our thanks go to Random House Children's Books for the review copy.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Introducing a Guest Reviewer!

You may remember my recent post about the Art of Saying No [Thank You]. Well I was delighted to find some real solutions to the problem of having an abundance of review copies. The best and most exciting of those solutions was to welcome a guest reviewer to The Bookette.

I am pleased to say that Irena of This Miss Loves To Read is my official saviour and is helping me out and is now my wonderful Guest Reviewer.

I am absolutely delighted as I know her reviews are balanced, insightful and beautifully written. If you haven't stopped by her blog, then I recommend that you do. She shares my love of Charlaine Harris and she has her own Friday Fairytale meme which is fascinating.

Irena's first review will be up here tomorrow but I thought it would be nice if she could tell us a little about herself by way of an introduction you in case you've not met before.

Here is Irena, telling us a little about herself:
I live in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Slovenia is a small country, but it has a lot to offer, from mountains to the sea coast, and a very good thing about living here is that it only takes 5-6 hours by car to get from Ljubljana to Venice. I started my book blog in May 2010 and I've loved every minute of it. I have met some great book bloggers, discovered great new books and I feel that if a book blog was an actual physical place, it'd be one of my favourite places in the world, apart from the local library and my two favourite bookstores in Ljubljana. I am not really bound by book genres; I just love to read good stories. I graduated in English, choosing literature as my subject or, to be more precise, Ann Radcliffe and her impact on the English Gothic literature. I would like to work as a teacher or a translator of literature, whichever comes my way first. I would even do both. In my spare time, I like to read (obviously), write, sing, watch movies and do embroidery. I started sewing napkins and stuff after writing my B.A. degree - I got completely lost in the 18th century world.:) I've been taking singing lessons for four years now and I also sing in a choir, but I used to sing in three choirs, which was just a bit too much. Something else that I love: stand-up comedy. It's my only reason to get on YouTube. I am addicted to stand-up comedy. My favourite stand-up comedians are Jeff Dunham, George Carlin (R.I.P.), Brian Regan, Russell Peters and Robin Williams. I would like to end my introduction with my favourite quote. "Behind every man stands a surprised mother-in-law." (Voltaire) Which is, from my experience, definitely true.:)

Irena, I am impressed. You can sing. I can sing too but only in imitation of a dog whining.
I am sure that the variety of your choices of books to review will show how widely you do read. It is quite incredible. Thank you so much for being a part of The Bookette. I hope this is the beginning of a great partnership.

Readers, I also asked Irena to show us where she lives. Here are a few pics:

This is her favourite view of Ljubljana, the old city centre with the castle.

She lives very close to the city centre and from her room, this is her view!

And this is what she sees from her kitchen window. Wow!
Please make Irena feel welcome.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Review: Drawing, Doodling and Colouring for Christmas

Designed and Illustrated by: Erica Harrison, Katie Lovell and Antonia Miller
Text by: Fiona Watt
Target audience:  6+
UK Publisher: Usborne

Review:
The Usborne book of Drawing, Doodling and Colouring for Christmas is the most delightful activity book. This non-fiction book is full of single and double page spreads to complete on a variety of Christmas themes. You can colour and doodle the pages on everything from Santa and snowmen to winter scenes and festive patterns.

You do not have to be an expert at drawing to enjoy this book. In fact I think its design is engaging and accessible for any child or in fact big kid at heart.

What better way is there to review an activtity book other than to give it a go yourself? So on this note, I'm going to show you some before and after shots of Christmas Doodle Book.

Here is a wintry high street to complete the drawings and colour in:

Before:

After:


And some owls to doodle...

Before:



After:



Every time I looked through this book, I found another scene to feel excited about drawing or doodling. I also didn't feel afraid to make a mistake. The drawings are free hand and so you feel comfortable putting pen directly on the page and just letting the creative juices flow.

This another example of the designs which I love. The stamps are ready to draw and colour. There is also a page where children can draw of write their Christmas list.


This book seems to me to be the perfect gift to give instead of an advent calendar. It is just the book to get the whole family in the festive spirit in the weeks leading up to Christmas. For children who are drawn to creative activities it will be a complete hit. The book has minimal by effective text to guide the budding artist on how to complete the single and double page spreads. 

Overall, this is a high quality and beautiful activity book. The colours are bright. The designs are exciting and have a cross-gender appeal. I absolutely adore it and cannot wait to spend more afternoons with my pens and pencils doodling it. I highly recommend it!

Thank you so much to the lovely people at Usborne for letting me choose this book to review. It was an absolute pleasure.

Article: On My Reader Identity and Non-Fiction

Well as I am sure you all know, today is the first ever National Non-Fiction Day. You can find out more about it on the official website. The Federation of Children's Book Groups have been working amazingly hard behind the scenes to make today a huge success. I just want to say a personal thank you to Melanie at Library Mice as she has been a driving force behind the impact today is having in blogosphere.

And now, for a little article all about my reader identity and non-fiction. Enjoy!

When I think about myself as a reader, I always think of myself as a lover of fiction. I love stories. I love characters. I love the journey of a character. I have never thought of my reader identity as anything beyond fiction until now. Hearing about National Non-Fiction Day got me thinking about how non-fiction books are a part of my reading life and how my identity as a reader goes beyond stories after all.

Once I got to thinking about it, I was blown away by how much I do love reading non-fiction. It may not be a book but I am addicted to New Scientist magazine. I love physics even though I hardly ever understand it. New Scientist has blown my mind many a time but especially the recent article on Quantum Machines. The possibility of multiple universes is so exciting. In our constantly advancing world Scientific developments are happening every day and in order to keep up with them I read magazines and online articles and really enjoy doing so.

As for an actual type of non-fiction book that I love, well there is travel guides. I know you can find lots of information via google but personally I love travel guides. I love that they have pull out maps and that all the information is easy to find with the index. Hubby and I are planning our trip to New England with an Insight Guide (of the same name) at the moment. I love being able to keep going back to the book and finding somewhere else to put on our list of places to visit.

I also love books about writing. For the last few months I have been working my way through James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure. It is taking a long time because there are exercises to try out at the end of every chapter and in order to get the most out of the book, I am trying all of them. I'm not suggesting if you read a writing self-help book, you'll become a brilliant writer. But I am saying that it can help you become more analytical of your own writing and maybe see it from a different perspective.

Then there are art and craft books. I love trying creative activities. I love that there are books with hundreds of patterns from around the world. I try to use these to inspire my glass work. Now I am thinking how much my life as a reader shapes everything I do, even when I am in the studio being taught a completely different skill, my reading is shaping the work that I produce. It is staggering!

There are so many more non-fiction books that influence me but there is one that I could not live without. My Collins Dictionary and Thesaurus. It is HUGE!!! It sits on my desk and is effectively my bible. I love it. I'm on my second one actually because I used it so much while I was doing my degree. Discovering a new word is one of the best feelings. It is just as much a part of being a reader as enjoying a story and so I conclude that my reading identity is one that is constantly evolving. I hope I keep learning about myself.

Happy National Non-Fiction Day! Watch out for my review of a very Chrismassy book later today!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Review: Angel

Author: L.A. Weatherly
Release date: UK 1st October 2010
Genre: Paranormal Romance / Angel Fiction
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Usborne

Summary from Amazon:
Willow knows she s different from other girls. And not just because she loves tinkering around with cars. Willow has a gift. She can look into peoples futures, know their dreams, their hopes and their regrets, just by touching them. She has no idea where she gets this power from... But Alex does. Gorgeous, mysterious Alex knows Willows secret and is on a mission to stop her. The dark forces within Willow make her dangerous and irresistible. In spite of himself, Alex finds he is falling in love with his sworn enemy.

Review:
Angel is an epic novel which takes the concept of angels and subverts our view of them. The angelic beings of L.A. Weatherly's novel take an almost sci-fi representation as they come to Earth from an alternate universe.

Angel is the story of Willow. A girl who has a psychic connection with the world around her. She can read people just by touching them and see the many possible paths that their lives might take. Willow lives in the town of Pawntucket. Her life hasn't been an easy one. Her mother has a mental illness and Willow often feels alone in the world. I loved that Willow embraced her identity as "different" and "eccentric". She doesn't try to fit in to the teenage trends of high school but is just herself however embarrassing that may be to her friend Nina.

The other main character in this story is Alex. A seventeen year old boy who has lived a man's life, who has never been to school or had a childhood. He is an angel assassin and upholds his duty to rid the world of the mysterious and sinister beings who have come to Earth. Alex has a raw anger and prejudice towards the angels. They ripped the people he loved from him. He also carried a burden of guilt about his brother's death which marks him out as a tortured character.

The plot of Angel was immensely complex in terms of paranormal romances. I could see how reading this novel the complexity of the plot will easily sustain the three books in the series. The sci-fi representation of the angels as alien beings feeding off the souls of humans was intriguing. At the beginning of the novel I felt that they were more vampire than angel really, laregly because of their constant hunger and desire to feed. As the novel continued, I began to see nuances in the angels' characterisation. The choice of prey, the fact that the humans are so grateful to be visited by an angel, it all makes for compelling reading.

Another aspect which I thought was really powerful in this novel was the idea of the Church of Angels. L.A. Weatherly creates a cult based upon the humans' fanatism about the angels and their visitations. This seemed to me to be topical and had me fascinated.

The dialogue and connection between Willow and Alex was believable and entertaining. This is a relationship that develops over the whole course of the novel rather than a love at first sight scenario. As the reader, you care about them and hope that they can get past their prejudices.

Overall, I have to say this book struck me as very "Hollywood" and I mean as a huge compliment. It had a sweeping romance, car chase scenes, a good versus evil battle and a helicopter entrance. In my mind it was more Star Wars than Twilight and that can only be a good thing. Angel is genre subversion at its best!

Thank you to Usborne Books for sending me the review copy.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Event Summary: Foyles Fear Fest

Yesterday I went along to the Foyles Fear Fest event. The theme was angels versus demons and even though I never celebrate Halloween, it was such a ghoulish way to spend the afternoon. There was a slimy lucky dip full of creepy crawlies, the staff were the living dead, the room was full of cobwebs and there was a frankly scream-worthy mummy which had glowing red eyes and vibrated every time you touched it. Oh let me not forget the very atmospheric screaming in the background.

I can honestly say it was one of the best events I've been to. Not only was it sumpremely well-organised but the discussions were fascinating and went far beyond the books the authors had written.

There were five authors on the panel: William Hussey, Sarwat Chadda, Sam Enthoven, Lee Weatherly and Cliff McNish.


Jeremy Vile was our host for the event and it took the format of a chat show. Jeremy asked the panelists questions about the choices they made in their writing when exploring the angels versus demons mythology.

I was absolutely blown away by the depth of the discussion. The authors talked about how the concept of angels has become personalised in modern society. Apparently, there is an abundance of books on angelology and now many people believe that each person has their very own angel. They discussed the fact that angels and demons appeal to us because they allow us to remove responsibility from our selves. If we always have an angel to look after us, then maybe we can take more risks with our selves. If the world is populated by demons, then our actions can be attributed to the evil that is manipulating us. I completely agree that religion has become more personalised. Fewer people go to church but still many people believe in some sort of God. I wonder if it is because we afraid that we are alone in the universe. I am not religious and yet I can see that one of the greatest appeals of any religion is the sense of community that it gives to people and the connectedness between people.

It really was fascinating and I am still contemplating some of the themes that were discussed. Take the idea of the Archangel Michael, he was, according to Sarwat, the right hand of God and his role was to fulfil the work of God unquestioningly. The writers discussed how characters who follow rules unquestioningly are not interesting to read about. It is the freedom of a character to make choices - good or bad - that make them appealing or intriguing to us as readers.

This was what I discussed with Cliff as I got my book signed. I first did the whole fan girl thing and told him that Angel was one of my favourite books (which is true obviously). I told him that I love the ambiguity of the story. He told me that in the US the book has faced some criticism because of the portrayal of angels. I could tell you more about why it has faced opposition but that would be a giant sized spoiler so I won't. Just go and buy his book. It is worth every penny! Any how, I talked to him about Paradise Lost which is another of my passions and said that Lucifer is the most interesting character as the charismatic hero. He is the angel who expresses free will and leads the uprising. Whether that choice is perecived as wrong or right is irrevelant, it is the fact that he makes a choice which is interesting. It was such an intellectual discussion for a Sunday afternoon and I have to say it was one of those days where I came away feeling that one of my favourite writers lived up to the hero status that I attributed to them. See?! Complete fan girl.

After the talk and the signing, Caroline (Portrait of a Woman), Lynsey  (Narratively Speaking) and I played around in the grave yard and took home a goodie bag.

It was also great to see Liz from MFB and upcoming debut author Kaz Mahoney. Here is a little pic I took of them:



Thank you very much to Foyles for hosting such an amazing event. Thank you also to the authors for creating such a stimulating debate. And finally, thank you to the lovely publicists who put things in our goodie bags especially Sally at Usborne.