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Sunday, 31 July 2011

I went on holiday and I bought...

Hello. I'm back!

I had the most amazing holiday in New England with my hubby. Once I've got over my jet lag I'll post some pictures. But for now I thought I'd show you all the books I bought while I was there. It's lucky I have the rest of the summer to read them all.

(All links go to Goodreads)

At Home with the Templetons by Monica McInerney (literary fiction)

Rich Boy by Sharon Pomerantz (literary fiction)

Sweep Volume 4 by Cate Tiernan (YA)

Catch by Will Leitch (YA)

Heist Society by Ally Carter (YA)

Legacy by Cayla Kluver (YA)

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter (YA)

Hacking Havard by Robin Wasserman (YA)

Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus (YA)

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker (YA)

Possession by Elana Johnson (YA)

The Deadly Sister by Eliot Schrefer (YA)

Dust City by Robert Paul Weston (YA)

While I was away, I only read two books. It wasn't a beach holiday more an action-packed cram everything in holiday. I read The Demon Trappers #1 by Jana Oliver. It was okay. I think if you want to read a really good demon/creature fighting story, then Strange Angels is a much more thrilling read with better characterisation. So I won't bother reviewing it. I also read Angels Fall by Nora Roberts. I couldn't put it down. It was edge of your seat romantic suspense which I certainly do recommend. Now I'm reading Emerald by Karen Wallace and I'm really enjoying it.

By the way, if you haven't checked out the lovely Caroline @ Portrait of a Woman's Lesbian Teen Novels Week, you really should. She is sharing the most incredible reviews of some novels that I have never heard of and they all sound so brilliant. My pick so far is Empress of the World by Sara Ryan. Head on over there, you won't be disappointed.
In My Mailbox is a meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Fairy-Tale Friday: From Russia with Love #18

Each week Irena @ This Miss Loves To Read hosts Friday is for Fairy-Tales.

It is an opportunity to share a love of the fairy-tale genre throughout the blogosphere and discuss your favourite character, your childhood memories, new authors and all time favourites. You can find out more by visiting her POST.

Ever since I read Marcus Sedgwick’s Blood Red Snow White, I have wanted to read Arthur Ransome’s Old Peter’s Russian Tales. If you’ve read Blood Red, you’ll understand why. If you haven’t, then I suggest you add it to your wish list. I never realised how poetic fairy-tales could be until I read it.

So I am going to read one of Old Peter’s Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome each week and then share it with you here.

Click HERE for link to Posts 1 – 10 of this feature.
Post 11 - A Chapter of Fish
Post 12 - The Golden Fish
Post 13 - Alenoushka and Her Brother
Post 14 - The Firebird, The Horse of Power and the PrincessVasilissa
Post 15 - The Hunter and his Wife
Post 16 - The Three Men of Power – Evening, Midnight andSunrise
Post 17 - Salt

The end
I have reached the final chapter of the book and rather than finishing with a fairy-tale,  Ransome gives the reader a sense of a Russian village in times gone by.

The chapter is titled: The Christening in the Village

It sees the  two children who listen to the tales told by Old Peter attend the christening of a baby. The Christening takes place the day immediately after the birth. The children travel with Old Peter on the back of a cart to the village. They ask their Grandfather questions about things they see on the journey and he answers them with a folk tale. It reminded me of animal folk tales like how the Lion got his roar. These are the heart of oral tradition. One of the mini stories was about two rivers that run through Russia and how the smaller one bets his water will reach the sea first in Spring. He thaws first but the bigger river (I forget its name) has more power so even though it takes longer to melt after the winter, the great torrent that it powers reaches the sea first. It was a fitting end to a journey through Russian fairy-tales.

It has taken me many weeks, into months, to complete this feature but I'm glad I've been on this journey. I've really enjoyed seeing a new culture and some of the tales have inspired me. My favourite was The Firebird, the Horse of Power and the Princess Vasilissa.

I have seen archetypes appear again and again through these stories. It seems as if the youngest child in any family is the most challenged but wins through in the end. The hero's are often flawed and yet gifted with courage, bravery and occasionally stupidity. The villain is more often than not a familial figure - a sister, a brother, a wife, a mother, a father, a husband. I wonder what this implies about life...

This has been a wonderful adventure and I thank Irena for giving me the inspiration to set out into this fairy-land of Russia. I hope you've enjoyed it too.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Review: Swim the Fly

Author: Don Calame

Release date: 1st June 2011
Genre: Humour/ Comedy / Contemporary YA Fiction
Target audience: 11+
UK Publisher: Templar

Summary from Amazon:
Fifteen-year-old Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Coop and Sean, always set themselves a summertime goal. This year's? To see a real-live naked girl for the first time. But this mission impossible starts to look easy in comparison to Matt's other challenge: to swim the 100-yard butterfly and impress the gorgeous Kelly West.


Swim the Fly is a contemporary summer read and it is bursting with boy humour. Matt, Coop and Sean are on a mission to see a real live naked girl by the end of the summer. This book is laugh out loud funny and I enjoyed every moment of it.

Every summer Matt, Coop and Sean have a challenge. Each year they get more bizarre and crazy than the last and this year is no exception. At fifteen the boys fit into the category of never having even asked a girl out. Coop reckons that in order to get one step closer to actually doing it, the first step is to actually have seen a girl naked. That way they won’t be overcome with shock or the sheer pleasure of the revelation.

But Matt gives himself an even tougher task this summer. He needs to swim the one hundred yard butterfly for his team at the championships and with his puny muscles doesn’t stand a chance. Of course, he doesn’t volunteer for this challenge out of sheer love of his team. There is a girl involved and she is all his teenage mind can think about.

As soon as I read the tagline for this book, I knew I would love it. It just exuded funny. I was in stitches reading this, laughing from the depths of my tummy. It was highly insightful to see inside the mind of a teenage boy in a very tongue in cheek way. Even Matt’s Grandpa needs advice on the ladies. Matt’s family also add humour and a touching charm to this novel.

The plot is daft, a little crazy and involves a fair amount of toilet humour. It was part romantic comedy, part coming of age story, part adventure and the balance was perfect. The novel was thoroughly engaging. The voices are superb. Calame makes each of the main boy characters sound individual. The friendship between Matt, Coop and Sean is at the heart of the book.

Swim the Fly is a feel good read. It is perfect for a sunny day. As a girl reading a guy’s point of view, it was rather educational. But most importantly, it is downright funny. I cannot wait to read more from Don Calame. This book gets a fist pump, high five or other celebratory gesture. It really is fantastic.

Thanks to Templar for sending the book to review.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Bookette's Guide To ... Popular Books this Term

School's out for Summer!

So want to know which books were popular this term? Read on...

#1 being the most popular in my school library

Boys 8-12

1.       Diary of a Wimpy Kid (whole series)

2.       Football Academy by Tom Palmer (whole series)

3.       Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan

4.       Skulduggery Pleasant: Mortal Coil by Derek Landy

5.       Monster Makers: Spacemite by Ali Sparkes

6.       Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (whole series)

7.       Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

8.       The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delany

9.       Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

10.   My Brother’s Famous Bottom by Jeremy Strong

Girls 8 - 12

1.       Diary of a Wimpy Kid (whole series)

2.       Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson

3.       The Diamond Girls by Jacqueline Wilson

4.       Dork Diaries (whole series) by Renee Russell

5.       Dolphin Song by Lauren St John

6.       Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson

7.       Lily Alone by Jacqueline Wilson

8.       Cherry Crush by Cathy Cassidy

9.       Arrow by R J Anderson

10.   Do Not Read Any Further by Pat Moon
Girls seem to read more standalone novels than boys.  There is a really good mix of genres in there this term: realism, fantasy, action, comedy. Perhaps the Wimpy Kid will not be #1 in the Autumn. We shall see...

Friday, 15 July 2011

Fairy-Tale Friday: From Russia with Love #17

Each week Irena @ This Miss Loves To Read hosts Friday is for Fairy-Tales.

It is an opportunity to share a love of the fairy-tale genre throughout the blogosphere and discuss your favourite character, your childhood memories, new authors and all time favourites. You can find out more by visiting her POST.

Ever since I read Marcus Sedgwick’s Blood Red Snow White, I have wanted to read Arthur Ransome’s Old Peter’s Russian Tales. If you’ve read Blood Red, you’ll understand why. If you haven’t, then I suggest you add it to your wish list. I never realised how poetic fairy-tales could be until I read it.

So I am going to read one of Old Peter’s Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome each week and then share it with you here.

Click HERE for link to Posts 1 – 10 of this feature.

Post 12 - The Golden Fish
Post 13 - Alenoushka and Her Brother
Post 14 - The Firebird, The Horse of Power and the PrincessVasilissa
Post 15 - The Hunter and his Wife
Post 16 - The Three Men of Power – Evening, Midnight andSunrise

This is the last fairy-tale in the collection. There is just one final post to follow in this feature.


Salt is a story of three brothers. You may remember that I read a Welsh fairytale for St David’s Day and that too was all about salt but actually they are rather different stories.

This Salt is not really about where salt comes from or why the sea is salty (which is what the Welsh tale explored).

This story is like many of the Russian tales I have read is about family and about the archetypal fairytale characters. The hero of this tale is the youngest brother Ivan who is a Ninny. Ivan is lazy and his father believes he is a ninny. Ivan’s elder brothers are given ships by their father to make their fortunes but Ivan is not. Eventually Ivan decides he wants to make his fortune and pleads with his parents for a small ship. They grant him his wish but the ship is old, his crew are ancient sailors and his cargo is rags and scraps.

When Ivan sets sail, he encounters a great storm and eventually his ship runs a ground on an island. Ivan who knows how to speak to the old sailors sets them to work on mending the sails with the scraps and rags while he investigates the island. He comes across a mountain of white. Being thirsty, he puts a handful of the white snow in his mouth but he spits it out again because it is not snow but salt.

Realising he has found real Russian salt he gets his sailors to throw everything overboard and fill the ship with salt. Then he sets sail and soon arrives at the palace of a Tsar. He tries to sell him the salt but the Tsar thinks he is trying to fool him. So Ivan puts salt in the Tsar’s food and it has never tasted so good. So the Tsar calls for Ivan and they agree a price for the salt (Ivan gets his fortune). The Tsar’s daughter wants to see on board the ship and to be honest she too is a bit of a ninny. She and Ivan are made for each other. She wants to see the anchor, they raise it and of course the ship sails with the princess on board. So she leaves her home behind, falls in love with Ivan and they marry.

Nearing home, Ivan spies his two brothers at sea. He decides to sail with them home. But seeing his success in business and beautiful wife, his brothers cast him overboard. They return home and claim to their father that they have earned the prizes themselves.

To cut a long story short, Ivan is not dead and with the help of a giant returns home and regains his riches and his loving wife.

My thoughts:
I think this story has a message for both parents and their children. Parents can often underestimate their children’s potential – this story shows that children can and do prove their worth and value. Parents can also compare their children and this something that they should never do. Children must also realise that their parents don’t know everything and that they can teach them important lessons too.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Review: Unearthly

Author: Cynthia Hand
Release date: 2nd May 2011 UK
Genre: Paranormal Romance / Angels / YA
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Egmont

Unearthly is a compelling story of angelic destiny and teenage rebellion.
Clara is part-angel. She inherited her divine abilities from her mother. At fourteen she learned that she will be given a purpose, a duty that she must fulfil upon this Earth. So when she experiences a vision of a boy at the mercy of a forest fire, she is ready to accept her destiny and find a way to save him. With her mother’s help, Clara begins to decipher the heavenly message and it leads her to Wyoming. Along with her brother Jeffrey, they start a new life in Jackson Hole. Sixteen year old Clara becomes the new girl at a rather unusual school and sets out to discover more about the mysterious boy from her vision.
There is no denying that I was completely swept up in this story. I loved all the angelic references. I loved Hand’s interpretation of an angel’s inner light. She calls it ‘glory’ and it is both a wonderful and terrible experience for Clara. But my favourite aspect of the angel mythology in this book was the concept of purpose. The idea that there is a divine purpose that an angel must fulfil is so interesting. It leads to so many questions of inner conflict. What if you are not strong enough to fulfil your purpose? What if by fulfilling your purpose you cause something terrible to happen? Who has the right to give you a purpose? How do you find the faith in yourself and your God to see it through?
There is undoubtedly a risk of alienating non-religious readers in exploring such an idea. But as someone who will happily admit to being a fence sitter and not having a religion, I felt that the author hit just the right tone. A book about angels without any reference to God is just plain weird. God and angels go hand in hand as a concept as far as I am concerned. In my own interpretation they are the servants of God. Which brings us nicely to the concept of Lucifer and the idea that one might choose to rebel against the will of God. Because let’s face it, if there is a human aspect to angels then that humanity leads to free will and arguably the selfish desires of the human heart. Hand does touch upon the fallen angels but there seems to be so much more to come in future books. This is a trilogy, thanks goodness! I certainly cannot wait to see which direction she takes the series in.
Fans of paranormal romances, and frankly romance in general, will be besotted with Tucker. He is a self-proclaimed cowboy – boots and all. Tucker’s character is very much earth-bound. He felt “earthly” in contrast to Clara’s “otherworldly” nature. Tucker’s family are not well off and he has multiple jobs. He loves to ride and has a way with horses. He knows the landscape of the hills and alpine slopes of the area around Jackson Hole. As a love interest, he is swoon worthy. But he also acts as a gateway for Clara to become one with the “new world”. The setting is beautifully described by Hand and furthered the sense of wonderment to the story. Perhaps the true glory in this book is the way it makes you feel so alive and in harmony with nature.
There is still so much more I could say about Unearthly. There is the theme of friendship and isolation. There is the important portrayal of Clara’s mother – it was a delight to see a parent very present in a paranormal story for a change. It is a book that I cannot wait to read again. If you’re looking for a great angel story with all the trappings of teenage angst, this is for you. Unearthly gets The Bookette’s seal of approval! And ok I admit it, her adoration too.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Irena's Review: The Avenger

Author: P.C. Cast
Release date: 12th July 2010
Genre: Fantasy / Romance
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Nocturne

For Alexandra Patton, the Time Raiders project sends the reluctant psychic back to60 AD Briton-a world where she can barely understand the accents, let alone its culture of brutality and superstition. Armed only with her "freakish “ability to talk to the dead, Alex must use all her gifts to entice Caradoc, a savagely sexy Druid warrior, into helping her succeed in her mission. What they discover along the way is pure passion. Now, torn between duty and the man of her dreams, should Alex return home if given the chance? Or dare she risk everything to begin anew in this strange and mystical land?

Irena’s Review:

Alexandra Patton is a young woman who can see and speak with ghosts. It is a special ability that weighs down on her, so she isolates herself in the peaceful solitude somewhere in the American Prairie, where she doesn't have to meet too many people - and ghosts. She is a tough woman and she used to be in the army, but there came a point when Alexandra became overwhelmed and vulnerable, and she had to put a stop to her old life. Now, she is sought out precisely because of her ability and she is asked to travel back in time and bring back an artefact that will save the planet from the destruction of an evil race called the Centaurs. Reluctantly, Alexandra finds herself in old Briton only a few days away from a great battle led by the legendary Queen Boudica. It is a world that fits Alexandra like a glove, but nothing is easy in life and Alexandra must make choices.

This novel is definitely a light, yet highly adventurous read that takes one back in time, to 60 AD Briton, to be precise, when the Romans tried to defeat the Celts, but one Celtic woman, the famous Queen Boudica, fought like a lioness to free her people. The novel focuses on the history and on the old Celtic pagan traditions really well. As I recently watched a documentary about Queen Boudica, I am happy to say that the historical aspect of the novel was quite accurate and informative. I also enjoyed reading about the old Celtic connection to earth and to their Goddess. The author made the Goddess real and all descriptions of encounters with this benevolent supernatural being, as well as of the development of Alexandra's gift, were vivid and well described, adding an ancient magical feel to the story. There were quite a few such moments in the novel and they are a very gripping, as well as important addition to the story.

Alexandra is a great, energetic and brave character who also possesses vulnerabilities and flaws that make her all the more human. The hero of the novel, Caradoc, is a Druid and a warrior, and he is quite an attractive character. Like Alexandra, he is brave, strong and quite spiritual, and their bond is deep and strong. What bothered me was that their connection was never truly explained. It was evident that they were always meant to be together, and they already had a connection when they were separated by time and did not know about the existence of one another, but the bond did not have a clear basis. Perhaps it was some ancient Celtic thing, but honestly, I would have liked to know a bit more about it. So, I was bothered by the lack of a basis for their deep bond, but I did like their relationship very much. Other characters were a nice addition to the story and I think that Queen Boudica was presented quite faithfully.

This is the third novel in the series called The Time Raiders, but it can be easily read as a stand-alone novel. From what I've gathered, all the books in the series feature time travel because artefacts from the past have to be gathered to save Earth from Centaurs, an evil alien race, but each story features a different heroine and hero. The Avenger was definitely an entertaining and adventurous read for me. It is a nice mixture of fantasy and facts, and it is a perfect summer read.

I will definitely read more from this author.

Becky says: This sounds like a light read which might be good if you're feeling under the weather and not looking for anything too heavy. I don't think it is really for me but I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Irena.
Both our thanks go to Nocturne for sending the book for review.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Guest Post: Why Italy? - David Blog Tour

Why Italy?

By Mary Hoffman

“Whenever I go anywhere but Italy for a vacation, I always feel as if I have made a mistake.” Erica Jong from “My Italy”, Travel and Leisure, September 1996. I can identify with this sentiment! Italy certainly does feature in a lot of my books in some form or another. The Stravaganza sequence takes place in Talia, which is Italy in a parallel universe, at the end of the sixteenth century. The real Italy, in 1316, is where my first historical novel, The Falconer’s Knot, is set and, even in Troubadour, which begins in the Languedoc, we are in Italy (Piedmont) by the end.

My own first experience of the “leg-shaped shape country” was ordinary enough – a sun and sea holiday with my parents on the Italian Riviera when I was fourteen. It was definitely enlivened by the presence of an older teenage boy who unaccountably took a fancy to me. He was very serious; for him it was not just a holiday romance and if I hadn’t been a bit overwhelmed by his intensity, I might now be a Signora of Turin! I have given two of my characters in Stravaganza his name – one the forename and one the surname.

There was no art on that holiday, just lots of beautiful weather, nice food and that touch of romance. But I also got interested in the language, through trying to communicate with my Torinese suitor in a mixture of French and Latin. I went back to the same resort the following year, with my parents and my best girl friend. But I had still not been to Rome, Venice or Florence so my experience of Italy was still very limited and we were only just across the border from France.

France was where we usually had our summer holidays and I could manage to communicate there more or less with my schoolgirl French. But I didn’t do French A level because I was taking Classics as well as English and Art. So when I went to university and discovered we had to do an exam paper in Part One of the degree on Literature in a European Language, even though I was studying English Literature, I thought I might choose to do Italian.

That way I wouldn’t be up against all the students who had taken A Level French, I reckoned and maybe be marked more leniently! It was a cunning plan, in fact. So in my first summer vacation I went to Florence for a month to try to learn the language properly. And that’s when I found there was more to the country than sandy beaches and warm sunshine. I discovered Italian Renaissance and Medieval Art and it was a turning point in my life.

I suppose I must have learned some Italian because I took my paper on Dante and Ariosto – goodness knows how! But I didn’t really seriously take up the language again till many years later, when I did my A level in Italian in 2000. We then moved from London to Oxfordshire and I was very keen to keep the language up. I was lucky enough to find a weekly class for adults in Oxford in Italian Literature, which I have now been doing for ten years. There are still some silly mistakes in my speaking and writing but I can read a whole novel without using a dictionary.

Of course we had been going to Italy in between – it is our basic holiday destination, like Erica Jong’s, particularly Tuscany. People sometimes assume we have a second home there, to which I can only say “Magari!” that useful Italian word which means something like “I wish!”

I go more or less every year to the Bologna Book Fair, where Rights are bought and sold for children’s books. After a hectic few days there, I often – as this year, 2011 – go on to Florence for a short break. And we get a couple of weeks in our favourite country each summer. So that’s two trips to Italy a year and sometimes I’m lucky enough to fit in a third one (lots of carbon-offsetting!).

What do I love about Italy? The art, the food, the wine, the climate, the scenery - of Tuscany in particular - and the language. I don’t like its politics or some of the attitude to animals and Italian bureaucracy has some of the worst red tape in the world! But no country is perfect and, even though I might find some of these things impossible if I lived there all the time, I can overlook them for short periods.

And of course I shall be setting more books there so I’ll have to do many more research visits!

Thanks for a fascinating guest post, Mary. I really want to go to Italy one day. I have ever since I read A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. It is really interesting how a place can make you want to write a novel. And how reading a novel can make you want to visit a place as if by doing so, you can actually live the book.

Want to know more about Mary? Or become an online fan? Follow these links:





Thanks to Bloomsbury Books for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Amy and Roger's Epic Blog Tour: Guest Post

Today we have a special treat. Morgan Matson has detoured to The Bookette to tell us about her research for Amy and Roger's Epic Detour.

A&R Road Trip Research

by Morgan Matson

A lot of the questions I get from a lot of readers of Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour are about the trip that I describe in the book – is it real? Can I take it? Did you take it?

And the answer to all three is yes.

I had driven across America twice before I started to write the book, and wrote the first draft based on those experiences.  But I also knew that I would have to do a more focused trip, since I wanted Amy and Roger to go places that I hadn’t yet been – like Graceland, home of Elvis Presley.  So I wrote the first draft, flew out to California, rented a car, and retraced the trip I’d written about.

Of course, because it was a road trip, the trip kept changing on me (like when it snowed in Colorado.  In May).  Which, of course, then ended up changing the trip in the book as well.  The final version was very different from my initial draft, because of all the things I’d experienced on my research road trip.  And I was very thorough.  I ate a lot of fast food, just to make sure that I really understood the differences from state to state.  And if there was a famous dessert somewhere, well, I’d just have to try it, wouldn’t I?  Perhaps multiple times! All in the name of authenticity.

I took notes when I would crash in my hotel rooms at night, trying to remember what I’d seen as I’d sped through the different states.  But the best way of capturing the trip ended up being through pictures.  There are lots of pictures in Amy & Roger – these are all pictures that I took on my trip.  I’ve included some here that didn’t make it into the book, showing a little bit more of the research trip.  And, um, the food I ate along the way J

    I am hitting the road in a red Jeep Liberty.  This is the same car that Amy & Roger drive in the book.  Clearly, I am a method writer. Also pictured? A Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Ice Blended, which puts the frappuccino to shame.
    Yosemite National Park wants you to be Bear Aware.  Because if you don’t take all the food out of your car, a bear will most likely attack it.  As this helpfully demonstrates.
    This is from when I was driving on The Loneliest Road in America, which cuts through Utah and Nevada.  There’s just nothing there.  And it goes on for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Beautiful, but also scary for those of us (me) with no car maintenance skills…
    This was in Colorado – can see how much SNOW is behind me?  I actually had to get off the road at one point because it was snowing so hard.  This was taken in MAY.  Why is it snowing in MAY?
    Okay, Colorado.  I get it.
    Frozen custard in Kansas. Thicker than ice cream, and hard to find in America outside the Midwest. SO good.
    The lovely Kansas motto, which becomes a reference in the book.  This translates to “Through adversity to the stars,” and it’s one of my very favorite state mottos.
    A photo taken in Oklahoma.  When you’re on a road trip by yourself, you end up taking a lot of pictures in this way, and try not to look too much like a zombie.  But I loved the sky in this shot.
    Great food is about to ensue.
    And here it is – the classic Southern meal – grits, bacon, and sweet tea.  Yumm…
    I have just paid my respects to Elvis at Graceland. And then visited the gift shop.

Thanks for sharing your research with us Morgan. I am now really hungry for some frozen custard. I adore custard so I desperately want to try the frozen variety. I also want waffles...

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour is out today. Go and buy a copy. It is such a brilliant book. Want to know more about it? Read my review HERE.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Review: Paper Covers Rock

Author: Jenny Hubbard

Release date: 14th June 2011 US
Genre: Realism / Bildungsroman
Target audience: 12+
US Publisher: Delacourte Press

Paper Covers Rock is a literary tale which explores the honour code of an all boys’ boarding school. It is a novel that transcends genre and is hard to define – it is part thriller, part coming of age story, part exploration of grief, loss, sanity and love. It is also pays homage to the Great American Novel and yet at times it questions that weighty label. Between so few pages, Jenny Hubbard weaves a story about transgressions with the poetry of life and the nature of truth. It is not an easily accessible read but it is a rewarding one and I know that I’ll be periodically rereading this book for years to come.

At the heart of the story are three boys. There is the narrator – Alex Stromm – the Good Solid Kid. There is his friend Thomas Broughton who tragically dies and in doing so is the catalyst for the story. Then there is Glenn Albright Everson, the third, – the Golden Boy. The story is told through Alex’s secret journal as he documents the events leading up to Thomas’s death and the aftermath, the guilt and the grief. Thomas tells the story with the help of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – the heading of the chapters’ structure his narrative around this Great American Novel. I have not read Moby Dick – neither has Alex, he can’t get past the first chapter – but that did not prevent me from understanding this novel. If anything, Alex’s references to the Greats of American Literature really made me want to sample their work and see if it “fitted” me.

I don’t want to talk about the plot because I think you need to discover what happened that tragic day by reading the novel the way the author intended. I will tell you that Hubbard captures the human need to follow a code. She explores how it is easier to follow a code than to deviate from it. There is a security in the unwritten code however unforgiving and brutal that code is. Despite the deep reflective nature of the book, there are brief moments of humour. For me the real comfort was communicated through Alex and his beautiful poetry. Alex is rather a fantasist. He is in love with his English teacher Miss Dovecott and she awakens in him a great lust but also his gift for poetry. His narrative is painfully honest and convincing which brings me to the nature of truth. Can we ever find peace without it? Are their values that are more important than truth? I could go on but I could never say all that Hubbard says in these eloquently written pages.

Paper Covers Rock does not perhaps leave one with a wonderful perception of boarding schools – in some ways it reminded me a little of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld which I absolutely love. If there is only one of Alex’s observations that will stay with me, it will be this: it will take our whole lives for us to find out who we are because we become closer to, or further away from, our true selves with every decision that we make. Paper Covers Rock mesmerised me. It drew me into its poetry. I can’t wait to see what Jenny Hubbard writes next. This book spoke to me. Breathtaking.  

Monday, 4 July 2011

Review: David

Author: Mary Hoffman
Release date: 4th July 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury

Summary from Amazon:
Michelangelo's statue of David is renowned all over the world. Thousands flock to Florence to admire the artistry behind this Renaissance masterpiece, and to admire the beauty of the human form captured in the marble. But the identity of the model for this statue that has been so revered for over five hundred years has been lost ...In this epic story Mary Hoffman uses her persuasive narrative skills to imagine the story of Gabriele, an eighteen-year-old who, by becoming Michelangelo's model, finds himself drawn into a world of spies, politicking, sabotage and murder. Set against the backdrop of Florence, this is a rich, colourful and thrilling tale.


David is a vivid historical novel; it is both a coming of age story and an exploration of the Florentine politics of the sixteenth century. It is a wonder of a book and refreshingly different.

David is actually the story of Gabriele, the milk-brother of the famous artist and sculptor Michelangelo. Gabriele is eighteen when he leaves his home, Settignano, a small village, and arrives in the city of Florence in search of work as a stone-cutter. Gabriele is a naive young man who lacks a practical understanding of the wider world. He is easily led and also rather fickle with his affections. He left his fifteen year old sweetheart, Rosalia, in the village and he does not remain faithful to her. In fact, on his first night in Florence after being robbed, he is taken in by an aristocratic lady, Clarice, and is seduced by her. Michelangelo is away with his work but eventually he returns to Florence and Gabriele takes residence with him and his brothers.

Angelo, as Gabriele calls him, is an intriguing character. The author gives us an interpretation of the man as being highly protective of his creative work and also involved in it to the point of obsession. Angelo is renowned for his abilities and this novel is also partly his visualisation of the statue of David. Angelo takes an abandoned piece of marble and turns it into a mighty symbol of the Florentine republic. The two years it takes to complete the statue take Gabriele on a journey. He sets out an innocent, uneducated boy, embarrassed by his own beauty and unworldly in matters of the heart. As he poses for Angelo and becomes the face of David, he learns to be comfortable in his naked form and learns the true nature of love – in many forms – love of fine art, parental love, faithful love, brotherly love and love of a cause. Gabriele learns to act with the courage of David.

Before reading David, I had heard of course of the statue. But being rather a Neanderthal where art is concerned, I actually had no idea that it represents the biblical David conquering the giant Goliath. I felt like this book educated me about the beauty of fine art and the incredible meaning behind it. Hoffman communicated the moment of connection with a piece of art so evocatively that I feel inspired to try to see the story hidden inside. I would now also love to go to Florence and see the statue. I feel as if I have already walked those streets and seen stone-cutters covered in the fine powder of their craft such is the author’s power to transport you to the very heart and place of the story.

David is a complex and challenging novel. Its themes are more in tune with older teens than younger. I think it would make an excellent adult crossover as there are so many layers here to enjoy. Those who are questioning the establishment and revelling in revolutionary ideals will find a solace and honest reflection in David. Written with an exceptional sense of setting and with an artist’s passion, David will move and enchant you.

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

Read for the British Books Challenge 2011

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Review: Birthmarked

Author: Caragh O’Brien

Release date: 28th April 2011 UK
Genre: Dystopia
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Summary from Amazon:

IN THE ENCLAVE, YOUR SCARS SET YOU APART, and the newly born will change the future. In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother's footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be "advanced" into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve. Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying. A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.


Birthmarked was an intriguing dystopian novel which draws on themes of science, genetic screening and the idea of the “perfected” human.

Gaia lives in Wharfton. Her mother is a midwife and her father a tailor. At the beginning of the novel Gaia delivers her first baby unassisted and advances it to the Enclave. This is her duty. She must pass three babies each month to the privileged society who live behind the wall. In return for her loyalty her family receive water, electricity and a protein to help them live. Life outside the wall is hard. The families live in poverty and have to use their resourcefulness and sense of interdependency to survive. Gaia could never have been advanced to the Enclave and have a more prosperous life because she has a scar on her face from an accident as a child. Only the perfect babies may be given for advancement.

Gaia is an interesting character. She is strong but of course at the beginning of the novel she is indoctrinated to believe that it is just and right to serve the Enclave. I have to say that I was not too keen on the scenes which show Gaia in her role as a midwife. I do not have any desire to read about childbirth but it is vital to the plot. Thankfully there aren’t too many scenes of midwifery. And the other aspects of the setting and plot are a delight to the reader’s eye.

My favourite parts of this novel were Gaia’s memories of her life with her parents. Her relationship with her father was so tender and I felt as if there was a special artistry to O’Brien’s writing in these passages. I also enjoyed the way the author explored the theme of disfigurement. The layers were peeled back so that it was more than a superficial mention but rather an in depth exploration about living with a birthmark. It affects Gaia’s self-esteem which you’d expect but I liked that O’Brien went further to show how she had learnt to use it to her advantage and at times as a barrier to protect herself.

Sadly there were times when I felt the author tried too hard to explain things. I liked the chrome spoons as a method to explain the concept of DNA. However, I did feel that there was a stiltedness to the language in these more science related scenes. I don’t need DNA explained to me. I wonder if contemporary teen readers would? Or whether it was for the benefit of the characters? I understand that the author wanted to raise the stakes for the population of the Enclave so perhaps this was the best way to do it. I’m undecided.

I felt like I have seen this ending in a number of dystopian novels that have been released this year but it in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the novel. I do think there is a challenge ahead for dystopian fiction as there is a trend with the genre to refer to life beyond the confines of the society in which the main character lives. In the case of Birthmarked Gaia doesn’t know what lies beyond the boundaries of Wharfton and the Enclave. So I am left with mixed feelings – intrigue and suspicion – O’Brien must delight us in future books with the mystery of the unknown and give it her unique twist. Birthmarked was certainly a complex and intriguing novel – the setting certainly evoked a feeling of the fantastical which I haven’t seen in dystopian fiction before – it was an enjoyable read.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for sending the book to review.

Read for the Debut Author Challenge 2011

Friday, 1 July 2011

July BBC Review Link Up

This time I am organised and ready to go with the link up. Go me!

This month the prize is going to be a copy of FIREBRAND by Gillian Philip. I read this book last year and it was so amazing. It was my favourite fantasy book of 2011. The second book BLOODSTONE is out in August and I cannot wait. Seriously. The hero is to die for! I have a bit of a crush quite frankly. I'll pick a winner at the end of the month and send it out via The Book Depository.

Well done to all those people who have reached the 25 book stage. Way to go!

Now let's see those links.