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Monday, 28 February 2011

Irena's Review: A Trick of the Dark

Author: B.R. Collins

Release date: 6th September 2010 UK paperback
Genre: supernatural thriller/young adult
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury

Zach and his sister Annis have been uprooted by their parents from their comfortable home to a remote and half-built barn in France. Zach is being removed from his 'bad-influence' friends, their parents are trying to salvage their marriage and still remain on speaking terms whilst the bitterness of their father's affair bubbles underneath the surface. And Annis - Annis just keeps going, keeping her head down, trying to keep it together. So far so normal. And then Zach, uncommunicative and contrary as ever these days, defies everything their parents have said and makes his way to the unsafe ruined building at the edge of their new garden, and leans up against the wall. The wall bulges, totters - and suddenly collapses on top of him. Annis, horrified, sees him crumpled on the ground. Desperate, she races towards him, not daring to think anything at all. She sees him, on the ground, broken, silent, not there any more. And then, unbelievably, he moves. Zach moves. Zach, in an extraordinary and instinctive decision, has broken his bond with his own soul, the essence of himself. By doing so he has cheated death. By doing so he has also cheated life. He is unable to touch any human person again. And the essence of himself, his 'other', his soul, is chasing him, determined to rejoin what should rightfully be together. Zach is on the run, from himself, whom he can never escape, from death, but also from the life that he can never enjoy again. Perhaps only a sister can help him now.

Irena’s Review:

A Trick of the Dark is a supernatural thriller that managed to make the hairs rise on my arms on several occasions. It is a story unlike any other I have ever read, with a unique twist, written in powerful, beautiful and dark prose. I can easily use the word unputdownable.

The Randalls are going through a hard time. The parents, Edward and Helen, are struggling to keep their marriage alive, as Edward had an affair. To save their marriage and their family - because their seventeen-year-old son Zach was expelled from his school due to using drugs - they move from London to France. They want to rebuild an old barn, as well as their marriage and their family. However, Edward and Helen are not the only ones with problems. Zach is troubled and haunted by guilt because he was the one who made his father confess the affair. Annis, Zach's younger sister, is in the midst of it all, sick and tired of all the fighting, but unable to put a stop to it. She depends on her older brother, whom she admires, but he has built a wall between them. The family is on the verge of falling apart, but somehow that does not happen.

At this point, I must compliment the author for dealing with family issues in the midst of the supernatural tension. Collins showed how one stupid mistake made by one person can destroy the whole family and the truth is, the children suffer the most because they are sucked into their parents' fights and accusations, not knowing where to stand and what to do. The tension in the Randall family is very high and they just cannot seem to patch things up. There are too many accusations, too much guilt and too much anger.

Their status quo changes when Zach and Annis go to the ruins across the hill, the one place their parents forbid them to visit on the grounds of it being a dangerous derelict house. They were right; one of the walls collapses and Annis watches it kill her brother. By all laws, Zach should be dead - and then, he moves and stands up, without a scratch marring his skin.

Zach survived because of a sinister occurrence. His shadow detached itself from his soul, becoming an entity on its own, which is a chilling concept and entirely new to me. It was inspired by Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie) and the play is also mentioned several times, as Zach starred as Peter Pan in a school production of the play, which is quite ironic because he ended up actually losing his shadow. Yet while Peter Pan is a fun story, Zach's experience is anything but. Zach himself changes. One day he appears to be ecstatic and completely happy, the next frustrated because he cannot touch anyone any longer and then, suddenly, he is panicked and frightened, claiming that there is a boy after him who wants to kill him. Annis does not know who the boy is, but she has seen him and his darkness is palpable. The relationship between Annis and Zack is very strained because of everything that has happened in the family, but they still love each other and Annis is determined to save her brother - no matter what.

The story is thick with tension and as much as Zach was haunted by his shadow, I felt haunted by the story. It's a dark and powerful narrative, and the suspense is remarkable. The language is wonderful, quite poetic and abstract at times, but most of all, it's very strong. I loved reading this novel for two reasons: the suspense and the language. They are amazing. The one thing I did not appreciate was that it was never explained how Zach was able to detach himself from his shadow. I never learned whether there was something supernatural about the ruins or was it something else. That question remained unanswered. Other than that, this was an amazing story and it is great how the author managed to add family drama to the supernatural tension. The two worked together really well.

As the story evolved, I began to suspect the ending, but it still shocked me because I hoped things could end differently. Still, it's the only possible ending, the way I see it, and I truly liked it.

If you like thrillers, mysteries and a touch of the supernatural, this novel is perfect for you. I truly recommend it.

Becky says: Irena, wow your love for this book really jumps off my screen. I see that you are becoming quite the fan of B.R. Collins. Sounds like it had a twisty, jaw-dropping ending and is brilliantly crafted. What a fab review! Thanks for sharing it with us!
Both our thanks go to Bloomsbury Books for sending the book to review.
UK readers - Don't forget to enter to win a set of three novels by B.R. Collins including A Trick of the Dark.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Author Interview: Miriam Halahmy

Today I am delighted to share with you my interview with author Miriam Halahmy. Her YA debut Hidden is out 30th March. I can't wait to read it. Welcome to The Bookette Miriam.

I wonder if you can tell me a little bit about why you decided to write a Young Adult novel about the issue of immigration. Did you feel that today’s teens need to know more about the issue? Or it is perhaps close to your heart for a particular reason?

Miriam: Lots of important reasons. I taught in inner London schools for over 20 years and met a lot of asylum seekers, children and their families, including children who arrived here alone. Their stories are heart breaking, inspiring and full of courage. I have always had an interest in and sympathy for people who struggle against the odds.

In more recent years I have been mentoring asylum seekers who want to write down their story. They are so keen to have their voices heard. One story is about a little girl who arrived completely alone at Heathrow airport and was taken into care. All her family had been left behind in Rwanda and many of them were dead. However searches around the UK revealed that the child had two older cousins who had also managed to escape and come to the UK. They were living in Nottingham and so now they have started a new little family and are no longer completely alone in the world. Too many stories about asylum seekers are linked to negative images of crime and violence. But the truth is that the majority of people who come and live in the UK, for whatever reason, make a very positive contribution to life here.

Immigration is such a hot topic in the UK today and young people should be part of the debate as much as the adults. After all the future is in their hands. Our media is full of statistics, myths and rumours about asylum seekers. I wanted to write a book which would challenge some of these things.

So yes this is an issue very close to my heart and I hope that I can convey my passion and interest to young people. I believe that teens are very interested in the world around them and I feel that fiction can always open new doors.

Miriam and Hayling Blue

Becky: Hidden is set on Hayling Island. Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose to set the novel on an island and on this island in particular?

Miriam: My parents lived on Hayling Island for twenty five years and we loved going down to visit. I became very fond of the Island and often thought it would be a great place to set a children’s story. The Island is quite flat and has many mysterious corners. My parents lived right at the bottom, over five miles from the mainland. They were two minutes from an inlet which completely drains of water when the tide goes out, so the landscape is constantly changing. The southern edge of the inlet stretches out in a long sand spit and on the end is a well known yacht club which looks out over the Solent, the stretch of sea between Hayling Island and the Isle of Wight. This is where the illegal immigrant in HIDDEN is thrown out of his smuggler’s boat and nearly drowns. The water here is very dangerous with eddies and whirlpools which can suck you under.

I was walking on the beach one day, shortly after finishing a book for schools on asylum seekers and thought, “What if two teenagers saw a man thrown out of a boat here and waded in to save him? What if that man was an asylum seeker, who had already been refused entry to the UK but would be killed if he returned to his country? What would my characters do?

There it was, my novel was born and now it is about to be published.

Beached boat

Becky: Do you have a favourite view on the island?

Miriam: I love the view over the Isle of Wight from the beach near the fairground. It’s only a ten minute boat ride away so you can see the Isle very clearly. In the summer sun it has a soft blue haze hanging over it and at night you can see the lights of ships as they pass by. The Isle of Wight towers above flat little Hayling and has beautiful white cliffs.

I love to wander around the rows of beach huts on Hayling, looking over to the Isle of Wight. The Hayling beach is very pebbly here. Hayling Island used to have beautiful golden sandy beaches and the older people remember playing games on the beach to see who could find a stone because they were so rare.

However with coastal erosion the council had to cover the beaches with literally millions of stones. For a long time we felt the beaches were ruined for us but we are used to it now. The beach opposite the Isle of Wight is the longest stretch on the Island. Windsurfing was invented here by Peter Chilvers in 1958. He fixed a curtain to a board and took off on the waves giving birth to a brand new worldwide sport.

Becky: Windsurfing was invented there?! That is so cool! I tried windsurfing once. It was really difficult and that was on a lake where there was no tide. Anyway, I digress. How has the island changed over the years?

Miriam: In many ways it hasn’t changed. The population of the Island remains quite small, under 18,000 people. There are large stretches of the Island which are farmland still. Bicycles remain one of the most popular ways of getting about and Hayling children cycle around the Island quite safely. The bridge onto the Island remains the same and you can see most of the Wadeway uncovered at low tide. The Wadeway is over a thousand years old and was the only way to cross from the Island to the mainland until the toll bridge was built.

But in other ways it has changed a lot. When we first moved to the Island in the 1970s it was a very popular holiday resort and the beaches were still golden sand. The sea was safe to swim in and quite shallow on the main beaches. There is a road called Creek Road at the bottom of the Island which was full of arcade machines. Kids loved spending their money down there. The car parks would fill up at the weekends and the police would close the bridge and only allow residents, like my parents, to drive onto the Island. But the holiday camps have mostly closed down, the arcades are long gone, houses have been built on Creek Road and the sandy beaches have been covered with pebbles. But the spirit and peace of the Island remains and I still love it.

The Wadeway

Becky: And how about your own relationship with the island, in what ways this did influence the story?

Miriam: I set my book on Hayling out of a love for the Island and the Islanders. Whenever I cross the bridge from the mainland I feel surrounded by blue and an enormous peace settles over me. It is a combination of returning to my last family home with my parents and also the peace and beauty of the Island. I have therefore chosen many of my favourite places to feature in this book and the following two books in the cycle of three.

The Bridge to Hayling

Becky: What was the process of research like for Hidden? Did a follow a pattern which you usually employ in your writing? Perhaps you could share a few interesting facts that you found out with us?

Miriam: It always surprises me how much research you need to do for a book. I needed to research the sea and the tides for example and yes, you could do it all over Google, but that doesn’t give you the smells in the air or the sounds of the birds. So I did lots of visits to the Island for my research. I also read all the books and booklets about the Island which I found in the Hayling Island Bookshop, the smallest indie bookshop in the UK. I blogged about it: http://miriamhalahmy.blogspot.com/2010/03/smallest-indie-bookshop-in-uk.html

I read the local papers every time I went down and I also ploughed through the archives in the local museum in Havant. But my greatest find was that five ‘little ships’ went from Hayling Island to Dunkirk in May 1940 to rescue the army from the beaches. I managed to track down two of the boats and was shown over one of them, ‘Count Dracula’ by Derek Abra who maintains the boat and takes it out on local trips. It was a very exciting day and really helped to bring alive my section in HIDDEN when Alix’s Grandpa is recalling how he went to Dunkirk aged only fourteen, with his Dad and Uncle. Between them they saved over 200 soldiers. Grandpa’s quiet bravery as a young teenager inspires Alix to be brave when she is faced with hiding an illegal immigrant.

Count Dracula

Becky: We have only just dipped our toes into 2011. This must undoubtedly be an exciting year for you as I believe you’ve been waiting for Hidden to be released for quite a while now. What other hopes or ambitions do you have for this year?

Miriam: I feel so focused on publication and getting my book noticed it is hard to think about other hopes and ambitions.

However I am writing these notes in January and traditionally January is my perfect time of year for starting a new novel. So that is exactly what I have done and my hope/ ambition/ goal is to complete a first draft in the next few months.

Other hopes and ambitions? Usual New Year stuff – get fit, lose x number of pounds, limit my intake of dark chocolate, try to overcome my aversion to cats (they make me sneeze, sorry all you cat lovers!)

Becky: No! Not reducing the amount of chocoloate you eat. That is a terrible resolution! And finally I ask every author this question: what is your favourite biscuit? (I know it’s very silly but you know I am also addicted to tea and biscuits).

Miriam: Mcvities dark chocolate digestives (the large packet of course.)

Becky: Of course, a large packet. There really shouldn't be an alternative size! Great taste in biscuits. Thanks for stopping by Miriam and answering all my questions. Cannot wait to read Hidden, the photos have also made me desperate to take a trip to the island.

If you're not following Miriam's blog, then hop over there now and read all about her writing experiences.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Upcoming Titles from Bloomsbury

Bloomsbury have some fantastic titles coming out later this year. Both from authors home and away. Here are my three top picks from British authors that I just can't wait to read.

The Opposite of Amber by Gillian Philip released April 2011
Blurb from Publisher's website:
‘They found the fifth girl right after the snow melted . . . the place where he left her was winter water, crazed with ice-feathers and dusted with snow. The traces from her body were gone, the ones that said his name, but she had an extra skin of ice that protected her and she looked perfect, like Snow White.’

Ruby and her older sister, Jinn, are on their own, just about making ends meet. Jinn is beautiful, with glittering blonde hair, and makes it her business to look after Ruby. They are horrified by, but try to ignore, the local newspaper stories of prostitutes who are murdered, their bodies eventually discovered underwater. Then the no-good Nathan Baird turns up on the scene – again – and Jinn starts to change and no longer has time to look after Ruby. And it seems to Ruby that Jinn herself needs looking after. Her beautiful glittering hair starts to lose its shine. And then Jinn disappears.

A deeply moving, chilling, and incredibly powerful thriller that celebrates the love two sisters have for each other and mourns the events beyond their control that will conspire to drive them apart.

Wolf Blood by N.M. Browne released July 2011 (no cover as yet)
Blurb from Publisher's website
A Celtic warrior girl is held captive and enslaved by a rival tribe. When fever takes her only friend she knows she must escape, but she runs straight into the path of two Roman foot soldiers. Thinking they will kill a warrior instantly, the girl disguises herself as a beggar and asks to share their fire. Using her gift as a seer she discovers that one of the soldiers is not what he seems. Celtic blood courses through his veins too, but there is something else. He is a shapeshifter – a Versipellum. He shares his soul with that of the wolf.

The girl needs to reach the leader of her dead friend’s tribe, and the boy must escape the Romans before they discover his true nature. Their only chance of survival is to help each other. But what will happen when their powers are combined?

David by Mary Hoffman released July 2011 (no cover as yet)
Blurb from Publisher's website
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, a city in a state of constant siege, this is a rich, colourful and thrilling tale.

Exciting, no?!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Fairy-Tale Friday: From Russia with Love #8

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.

Post 1: The Hut in the Forest, The Silver Dish and the Transparent Apple

Post 2: Sadko
Post 3: Frost
Post 4: The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship
Post 5: Baba Yaga
Post 6: The Cat who became Head-Forester
Post 7: The Little Daughter of the Snow

Prince Ivan, the Witch Baby and the Little Sister of the Sun

This is a very long tale and I didn’t understand the ending even though I read it twice so I’m not going to summarise it for you. I will say that it was very much in the tradition of the other tales I’ve read and there were certain elements that I loved about it.

One thing that was different about this tale is that the main character is a boy prince and he has a name – Ivan. He was born mute and so his parents didn’t love him. They believed that any child who could speak would be better than Ivan. So they prayed for such a child. They got what they wished for – a daughter. But she was born an evil witch with iron teeth. She ate her parents and she wants to eat her little brother but Ivan escapes. He goes to the end of the world on a black stallion and lives in the cloud castle of the little sister of the sun.

I really liked Ivan. He was kind-hearted and innocent. Very much in the tradition of the child victim/ hero of these Russian tales. I hadn’t realised until I started this feature how much the familial situation features in fairytales. Be it sibling, parent, or step-relation, the family figure always seems to be a source of external and sometimes internal conflict.

The other characters that Ivan met along the way all added a charm and quirky feel to the story – the two grandmothers who sew, the tree-rooter and the mountain-thrower. Again there were the three meetings before reaching the hero reaches destination.

I was enchanted by the little sister of the sun. She was a happy-go-lucky and caring girl who didn’t stop Ivan following his heart.

I loved this line: ‘They borrow the stars to play ball, and put them back at night whenever they remember’.

It would have been my favourite tale if only I understood how Ivan and little sister of the sun conquered the baby witch. There is definitely something sinister about an overgrown baby with gnashing iron teeth.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Review: Shadow Web

Author: N M Browne

Release date: UK paperback 4th February 2008
Genre: Thriller / Mystery with a touch of Sci-Fi
Target audience: 11+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury

Summary from Amazon:
Jessica Allendon is bored and Googles her name. Weirdly, she finds another girl, same age, same name, also living in London. They arrange to meet. At the designated time and place, Jess sees the girl, shock registering on both their faces as they realise they look identical. They shake hands and in that instant are catapulted into each other's worlds. Jessica finds herself somewhere which looks like the London of 50 years ago, but the year is still 2008. In this parallel London, the history is different, key war memorials are missing, and the Jessica whose life she now inhabits was involved in a dark and sinister conspiracy. Jess must convince everyone she is the same girl, at all costs, if she wants to get back to her London - alive.

Shadow Web is a twisting tale of an alternate universe. It is part thriller, part historical novel and entirely action-packed.

Jess is your average sixteen year old girl. She lives not too far from Central London in Sheen and has a good relationship with her mum. One evening she is googling herself on the internet when she comes across an intriguing person of the same name. The other Jessica wants to meet her and so Jess ropes her best friend Johnno into going with her to the rendezvous point at Waterloo. When she arrives, there is some great cosmic melding of the two universes and the two Jessicas end out in each other’s world.

Jess finds herself in an alternate London which is in some ways very historical. There are still workhouses. Women are viewed as second class citizens and have no right to vote. They have very few opportunities and are largely uneducated. The power in this alternate society lies with rich white men – one might still argue that this is true in our world of course. The Constabulary seem to be there more to protect the status quo than to protect the citizens.

In other ways the alternate London is rather high-tech. They have a version of the internet. They are exploring the far reaches of scientific understanding. They have explosive devices. Jessica finds herself thrown into a world that is all double-agents, conspiracy theories and alliances rather than friendships.

The plot of Shadow Web is complex. As you read through Jess’s eyes, you can’t help but be confused about where the other characters’ allegiances lie. She doesn’t know who she should confide in and is alone in this alien universe. It is every part the thriller as the events race on leaving Jess wondering just who her doppelganger really was and what side she had chosen to align with.

The novel raises some really interesting questions about the choices we’ve made throughout history. It turns many fundamental events on its head. Britain is still ruling an Empire that it took without asking and the novel explores the morality of this issue. Browne constantly places Jess in unfamiliar surroundings which unnerve and disorientate her. Everything she knows is irrelevant and her life is in danger if the authorities discover the truth of her identity.

Overall, Shadow Web is a pacey, rip-roaring story. Jess is an easy to love character in a mysterious, dangerous world. A great read for fans of spy novels and tense thrillers!

Thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending the book for review.

Read for the British Books Challenge

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

UK Giveaway: B.R. Collins Trio

On behalf of Bloomsbury Books I am delighted to host a UK giveaway of five sets of three novels by B.R. Collins. Here are the three fabulously dark titles:

Click on the links to read the blurbs on Goodreads:
You can also read Irena's review of Tyme's End HERE

To Enter:
Complete the form below.

Open to UK entrants only.
You do not have to be a follower of The Bookette to enter.

Please note:
Under 16s must get parent / guardian permission before entering and provide their email address rather than their own. Check my Contest Policy for further information.

I will need to pass the postal addresses of the winners to Bloomsbury Books.
Closing date: Wednesday 2nd March 2011, GMT

Best of luck!

And many thanks to Bloomsbury Books for their generosity.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Irena's Review: Drawing with Light

Author: Julia Green
Release date:
Genre: Contemporary YA Fiction
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury

Kat and Emily have grown up without their mother for almost as long as they can remember. And now Dad is with Cassy and they all muddle along together well enough - even though they are living in a cramped caravan while their new house is being renovated. Then Cassy and Dad tell them that Cassy is pregnant, and everything seems to shift. Emily feels a new urge to find her own mother. How could she have left them the way she did? Never writing to them? Not communicating with them? And as Emily begins her search, not knowing what she will find, she is at the same time embarking on a new relationship of her own, that of her romance with Seb.

Irena's Review:
Drawing with Light is a novel about family and family relationships, in particular the relationship between a parent and a child, especially when one parent is missing. It is also a novel about growing up and finding yourself - and in order to find yourself, you have to go back to your roots, perhaps find your real mother who left you, even if it hurts.

Emily Woodman is a normal sixteen-year-old girl who finds herself in slightly extraordinary circumstances. Her father and stepmother Cassy, who has been with Emily and her older sister Kat for almost all their lives, have bought a house and while it is being renovated, the family is forced to live in a caravan in the middle of nowhere. Kat is able to avoid the situation by going to university, but Emily remains stuck in the caravan, with very little privacy and quiet for school work. The tension is high in the caravan precisely because there is no privacy, but the tension grows when an accidental comment from a teacher prompts Emily into thinking about her birth mother, Francesca, especially because Emily is a photographer just like her mother.

It is obvious that after fourteen years of absence, the wounds are still fresh. Emily, Kat and their father have not gone past the fact that their wife and mother left them for another man. Now that Emily wants to know why that happened and who Francesca really is - if she is still out there - the relationship between Emily and her father becomes very strained. When Cassy reveals she is pregnant, Emily feels that she will be abandoned once more, so she begins to search for her mother intensely. She is helped by a boy, Seb, who is the most special person in Emily's like and she can trust Seb, but hurt makes Emily angry and things are not easy for her and Seb, either.

This novel is a very realistic depiction of family life after one parent leaves. The other parent is left with all the burden, problems and pain that such an act entails and there are wounds that may never heal. It is especially difficult for children and Green shows that really well. It is not easy to move on and there is also this question: can the person who left ever be forgiven? Do they deserve it if they are truly sorry? It is a difficult question, but Green offers a great reply. Nothing is definite, but it is important to grow and be faithful to yourself. In the novel, it is also shown that it is important for people to know who they are and for that, it is crucial that they know where they come from - who their parents are. It may not seem so, but it is important to know how we are similar to and different from our parents.

I really enjoyed reading about the relationship between Emily and Seb. They are two lost people who found each other. Emily is lost because she does not know who her mother really is and the feeling of abandoned can be a nagging one. Seb is a very smart boy, but he does not have a purpose in life and struggles with that. Emily and Seb help each other find what they are looking for and the process of their growing relationship, as well as of their healing, is quite beautiful to read.

Photography is important in this novel and while I do not know much about this form of art, it is given great attention and is very vivid in the story. The way Emily sees the world through the lenses of a camera is very exquisite. It is apparent that Emily is both an artist, but she also finds comfort in photography. Photography is also her one true link to her mother, which makes it all the more special and important in the novel.

This is a realistic story about the ups and downs of growing up and being a child with only one parent; not because one parent died, but because they left. I truly enjoyed the family dynamic and the story, narrated from Emily's point of view, is very intense because Emily's emotions are very intense. She feels everything strongly and sometimes, she goes into extremes, but that is part of growing up, too.

This story should appeal to all teens, but I think it should be read by adults as well. Sometimes, adults may underestimate a child's emotions in difficult situations, but the key to surviving family crises is to simply stick together.
Becky says: Lovely review Irena. I wish I had read this after my parents separated. I think it would have helped me deal with the emotional challenges. I'm also reading intrigued about the photography aspect that sounds such an interesting way to develop a character. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Both our thanks go to Bloomsbury Books for sending the book for review.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Author Interview: B.R. Collins

I want to start this post by thanking Irena because she been an absolute star reviewing so many books for me. As if she wasn't already generous enough with her time and support, she also interviewed B.R. Collins and so I am the lucky one who gets to share it with you here.

So a huge thanks to both Irena and B.R. Collins for taking part.

Welcome to their rather fab interview and a couple of questions that I sneaked on the end!

Irena: Tyme's End is only a house, yet it is a powerful entity in the novel and can be considered as a character. What do you think makes a house a character - its history, its inhabitants, or both? Or it is possible that some houses simply "have" something even when completely empty?

B.R. Collins: To be honest, I'm not sure. I think physical characteristics are important, of course - if a house is cold and dark it feels unwelcoming, if it's old it feels different from a new building, and so on... But how the people in it feel about it is probably the most crucial thing, so that when we're content somewhere the place itself feels like a good place. I know that the places I love the most aren't always the most beautiful, but the places where I've been happiest. That said, what I wanted to do with Tyme's End was to create a sense of a place where the past pervaded everything, where the emotions hung in the air and didn't fade. If you believe in ghosts, I suppose that's a way of saying that places can hang on to memory independently of their inhabitants, that somehow the human history has become detached from the people who lived it and clings on in the actual fabric of the space. I don't know if I do believe in ghosts, but all the same there are feelings you get in places that aren't rational or obviously explainable - and you don't know if that's the place itself, or you...

Irena: The story is divided into three parts and features four characters that are at its centre - Bibi, the two Olivers and H.J. Martin. Which one of the stories inspired you to write this novel? How did the rest of the novel follow?

B.R. Collins: Initially the whole book was set in 1996, and was quite straightforward structurally, only following Oliver junior’s story. It was much more focused on the supernatural, with no real romance (he did have a girlfriend called Bibi, but she didn't do very much). But it just didn’t work for me – I felt that there was something missing, that somehow I hadn’t quite located the heart of the book. It was really only a ghost story, and I knew that what had driven me to write it was more complicated than that, and that what I really wanted to write was something that explored more clearly the themes that ghost stories always touch on: the way we feel about the past, the way it affects us in unpredictable, sometimes threatening ways, the way it’s at once knowable and unknowable... And so later, when I came to redraft it after several years, I scrapped 50,000 words of it, and started again. This time I knew that I wanted to focus more on H. J. Martin and Oliver senior, and also I wanted to introduce something fresher and lighter to counterbalance that. Bibi's story had been brewing in my head for a while, in a different sort of compartment, and suddenly I found that she was outside Tyme's End, demanding to be let in!

Irena: Tyme's End provides the reader with a great gothic setting and a haunting atmosphere. Is there an actual house that inspired Tyme's End? How did Tyme's End come to be in your imagination?

B.R. Collins: Tyme's End has been through lots of metamorphoses. When I started thinking about it, I was still very much thinking of H. J. Martin as a thinly-disguised T. E. Lawrence - so I suppose what came to mind for his house was something like Clouds Hill, Lawrence's house, a little workman's cottage in Dorset. But there's something about small houses - they're just not as scary... With a small house you pretty much know what's in every room, if something's there you'll hear it, so the feeling of being overwhelmingly alone isn't quite the same. Then H. J. Martin changed, and Tyme's End became more and more important, and I thought, no, forget Clouds Hill, it's definitely a big, beautiful house. As it happens, I don't know any houses like that - I went to Bateman's, Rudyard Kipling's house, to have a look, but with the National Trust you can't look at everything, the whole layout of the house is always a bit of a mystery - and so I found a manor house that was for sale and got photos and floorplans off the estate agent's website! I worked from those, and I built up a very detailed picture in my mind's eye. When the book came out I wrote to the owners of that house, explaining what had happened and asking if I could possibly have a look, just to see how different it was in real life - but they never wrote back, sadly.

Irena: I was quite fascinated by H.J. Martin's character. Did any author in particular inspire you to create him? How did you come to outline this intriguing character?

B.R. Collins: Thank you! As I've mentioned above, H. J. Martin was definitely inspired by T. E. Lawrence, "Lawrence of Arabia" - as was the whole book, in a way. When I was fourteen or fifteen I had a real T. E. Lawrence “phase”, when I read anything and everything about him. He was a fascinating man, flawed and charismatic, and he was my hero – and of course when you’re in love with a historical figure sooner or later you realise that you’ll never meet them, that no matter how many books you read or how close you get to their possessions, they’re gone. There’s this one-way mirror, so you can see them but they can’t see you, and that inspires a strange sort of loneliness. That was one of the things that inspired Tyme’s End. When I wrote the first draft there was much more emphasis on Oliver’s hero-worship of H. J. Martin, so that he almost willed him back to life; but in the end that didn’t work in the context, so it was one of the things that went. With that, I let go of some of the T. E. Lawrence-ness of the character. Now, although H. J. Martin is obviously inspired by Lawrence – there’s the wartime career, and the death by motorcycle crash – he’s a nasty bit of work, and not recognisably like Lawrence except in those details. I did think of adding an author’s note at the end, to explain that the resemblance was there but superficial – but then I thought that a) if you knew about Lawrence you’d see both the resemblances and the differences, and if you didn’t it didn’t matter, and b) author’s notes can be a bit pompous!

Irena: I am a romantic at heart and since the day of perfection that Bibi and Oliver Junior spent together has really stayed with me, I must ask - do you think they have a future together in any way behind the scenes? Or were they meant to meet for that short, yet wonderful period of time to help each other heal?

B.R. Collins: Actually, I don't know! I suppose I've always imagined that that was it, that they have that one very intense encounter, which changes both their lives, and never see each other again. I think maybe that's more romantic... but then again I suppose they might meet again one day. As they get older the age difference will mean less, so maybe there is a possibility of a future together...

Becky: Do you have any recommendations for other British young adult writers that our readers will enjoy?

B.R. Collins: Absolutely. If you enjoyed the ghost section of Tyme's End I would recommend all of Robert Westall, Susan Hill's ghost books, Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, Mal Peet's Keeper, Nick Manns' Control Shift, and J. M. Faulkner's The Lost Stradivarius - to start with! If you liked the romance best, there's Meg Rosoff, of course, Adele Geras, and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle; if you liked the last section best, it's worth trying Rosemary Sutcliff, who is brilliant, Daphne du Maurier, and maybe John Buchan. And for a wonderful, funny, playful and profound exploration of time and history, read Penelope Lively's The Ghost of Thomas Kempe - it's for children rather than young adults, but it is fantastic.

Becky: The question which we always ask at The Bookette - do you have a favourite biscuit? Are you a tea of coffee person?

B.R. Collins: Hmmm. I'm definitely a tea person - although I do like coffee, I could live without it, and I really couldn't live without tea. As for biscuits... I'll pretty much eat anything. But if I really have to choose, I think I'll say those French macaroons with creamy stuff in the middle. May as well live dangerously...
Ooh French macaroons... we've never had that answer before. I don't even think I've tried one before. I shall be on the look out on my next visit to the supermarket.
Thanks again to Irena and B.R. Collins for taking part.
If you haven't read Irena's review of Tyme's End, what are you waiting for?! Read it HERE
Watch out next week for an exciting B.R. Collins giveaway!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Fairy-tale Friday: From Russia with Love #7

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.

Post 1: The Hut in the Forest, The Silver Dish and the Transparent Apple

Post 2: Sadko
Post 3: Frost
Post 4: The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship
Post 5: Baba Yaga
Post 6: The Cat who became Head-Forester

The Little Daughter of the Snow

There was once an old man and an old woman who were very sad because they had no children. They often would watch the children of the village playing outside through their window. They had no child to be called in for tea, no child to keep warm and no child to love.

One day they saw the children building Baba Yaga out of snow. It gave the old couple an idea. They went out into the snow and built a sweet young girl from snow. They made her very tenderly. That night the snow girl came alive and so they had a little daughter of the snow. The little daughter promised to stay with the old couple for as long as they truly love her.

All through the winter the little daughter played with the village children and the old couple loved her dearly. Then one day the children went off to play in the forest. They all loved to play with little snow. But they went too far into the forest and little snow got lost. She climbed a tree and sobbed for she was very scared.

Soon a big bear came along and offered to take her home. But she wouldn’t trust the bear not to eat her so she stayed up the tree. Then came along a wolf who also offered to take her home. But again she was afraid she would become his dinner and so stayed high up the tree. Finally a fox came along. He offered to take her home and because she was not afraid of the fox, she took up his offer and came safely back home.

The old couple were so happy to see their little daughter of the snow; they thanked the fox and wanted to reward him. They gave a crust of bread. But then he said that he deserved a greater reward for the safe return of their daughter. He asked for a plump a red hen. At first the couple were willing to give him their hen. But then the woman had an idea. She put the hen in one sack and then one of her dogs in another.

The couple opened the sack and the hen flew out. The fox was about to speed after it when the old woman opened the sack and the dog flew out after the fox.

Poor little daughter said to the old couple that they loved the hen more than her and so she would leave. All that remained in their house was a puddle. They were very sad but the little daughter of the snow laughed and sang about how they loved a hen more than their little girl.

But all was not sad for little daughter because she was welcomed home by her father Frost and her mother Snow.

The end

My thoughts:
I really liked this one. I loved that the little snow girl seemed get one over on the old couple. I also loved that it was so simple and that is felt very traditional within the fairytale genre. Of course, the cold frosty setting is the representation of Russia which I love the most.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Announcement: The 10pm Question Blog Tour

I am very excited to be on board The 10pm Question Blog Tour.

Here is what you can expect to enjoy from the tour:

28th Feb - Hop on over to Chicklish to read an exclusive extract

1st March - Stop on by the Book Mogul to see the wonderful Kate de Goldi answer some of Kirsty's buring questions

2nd March - Be HERE! Kate and I will be generating a discussion based on an extract from The 10pm Question

3rd March - The lovely Nayu will be hosting a guest post from Kate all about her writing life

4th March - Kate will be sharing another guest post at Once Upon a Bookcase - this time on theme of mental illness.

5th March - The final stop is over at the fabulous I Want To Read That where the lovely Sammee will be giving away copies of The 10pm Question courtesy of Templar and will be reviewing the book.

A special thank you to Templar for inviting me to be a part of this tour. That week is going to be brill!

So in the spirit of a book which involves so many questions, if there's something you've been wanting to ask me, whether it be about blogging or being a children's librarian, ask it in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.

Go on: be brave. Ask away.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Review: The Returners

Author: Gemma Malley
Release date: UK Paperback 1st Feb 2010
Genre: Dystopia
Target audience: 13+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury

Summary from Amazon:
Will Hodges' life is a mess! His mother is dead, he has no friends and he thinks he is being followed by a strange group of people who tell him they know him. But Will can't remember them ...at first. And when he does, he doesn't like what he can remember. While Will is struggling with unsettling memories, he learns that his past is a lot deeper than many people's, and he has to find out if he is strong enough to break links with the powerful hold that history has on him. This compelling novel, set in an alternate future, challenges readers to consider the role we all have to play in making our society, and asks how much we are prepared to stand up for what's right.

The Returners is a dark and twisted story of a not too distant future.

Will is an insular character who has spent years trying to shut out his emotions. The book begins with him sitting by a lake watching the ducks and remembering his mother’s suicide. The Returners has two strands running through it. Firstly there is Will and his troubled past. He is struggling with his life, his toxic relationship with his father, his anger at the loss of his mother and his own self-imposed loneliness. Then there is the society in which Will lives. Britain in 2016 is an angry place. Malley explores what might happen if the recession goes so deep that we enter economic depression and the conflict that this ignites in people as they look for someone to blame for their suffering.

The questions and social conflicts that Malley explores in The Returners are ones that I often find myself thinking about. What gives us a right over territorial boundaries? Who says I’m entitled to more opportunities, wealth and prospects just because I was born in a certain place? How can we show our angry unemployed workforce that immigration is a positive force for our country? And does our country really belong to us anyway? I loved that The Returners probed some of these political issues without ever feeling like I was having a lesson in politics.

Back to the character of Will and how he ties these themes into a story which also explores the notion of reincarnation. Will has dark and torturous dreams. Ever since Will can he remember, he has been seeing people that have a vague familiarity. He calls them freaks. The people who seem to recognise him and that he recognises but yet doesn’t know at all. Will seems psychologically traumatised by his past but he doesn’t open up and discuss the paranoia that troubles him. He keeps it locked up tight inside.

The two parts of this story weave together in a twisting tale of violence and corruption. The Returners is certainly not a feel good read. It is almost a study of inner darkness. Yet it is an important book. It doesn’t skirt around the important issues of our time. It is contemporary, brave and compelling. This book is for readers who like their reading gritty and challenging.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending the book for review.

Read for the British Books Challenge 2011

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Winners of Clan of the Cave Bear

I am pleased to announce the five winners of a copy of The Clan of the Cave Bear.

They are:
Natalie  Doyle
Susan Norminton
Gary Mills
Christine Williams
Natasha Ball

Congratulations! You all should have received an email from me. Please reply!

Thanks to Holler PR for inviting me to host this giveaway.