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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Review: The Secret Kingdom

Author: Jenny Nimmo



Release date: 4th April 2011
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Target audience: 8+
UK Publisher: Egmont


Summary from Amazon:


This is a spell-binding new tale spun by a prizewinning storyteller. Gabar wheeled around to see a crowd of thin green creatures creeping towards him. Their wet hair dangled, their red eyes flashed and their long arms swung like slimy vines. 'Camel,' said one. 'Let us take your heavy burdens.' Gabar raised his head and bellowed. But root-like fingers were now reaching for the bag that contained the moon cloak. Timoken has to flee his secret forest kingdom after it is attacked by sneaky, shape-shifting viridees. Protected from birth by a magical moon spider web, he travels with his camel, Gabar, seeking a new kingdom - a new home. Timoken also has magic himself. He can conjure rain from the air, talk to animals and fly high in the air. And when he saves three leopard cubs from a hunter, they become enchanted too, and sworn to protect him. But the powerful, slimy green viridees are always just a breath behind him. They want the moon spider's web. And they will do anything to get it...A stunning adventure that will enthrall any fan of magical fantasy.


Review:


The Secret Kingdom is a fantasy adventure with mixes elements of the traditional and the modern to give it a surprising twist.


When I first started reading The Secret Kingdom, I was a little hesitant. Nimmo breaks many rules in the first chapter (which I’ve been learning about in my writing class) and it put me on edge. I certainly admire the author for telling the story her way and by chapter 5 I was ready to let go of my disbelief and become part of this story.


The novel begins with the Queen of the Secret Kingdom worried about her pregnancy. She has been having terrifying nightmares yet when she awakes she cannot remember them. She only has her growing fear for her unborn son. The novel’s viewpoint is a third person narrator (almost omniscient) rather than following the main character. In fact it took me quite a while to be sure that the main character was Timoken – the Queen’s son. You see the Queen also has a first-born daughter Zobayda. They are chosen by a forest jinni to be the keepers of his great magic.


Nimmo does an excellent job of setting up the tension and raising the stakes for the children because the reader knows that Zobayda is not as well protected as Timoken. There is a huge sense of foreboding. Brother and sister leave behind their beloved kingdom and set out on a journey across an unfamiliar world. Timoken and Zobayda lived many many years ago and Nimmo gives them rather unchild-like dialogue. It seemed a little risky to me at first, I didn’t know if it would appeal to the current market. But it did all make sense in the fullness of the story.


Now I’ve finished the book and I know The Secret Kingdom is chock full of action, I am much more confident that the target audience will stick with it. There are many dangers faced by Timoken and Zobayda when they are forced to flee the Secret Kingdom. There is also the ever-present fear of the creatures of the shadow world who hunt them for their magical gifts.


There is a vibrant fantasy world jumping out of every page of the book. The creatures, the setting and the growing evil all give this book a sense of exciting magical adventure.


I preferred the latter half of the book once the other child characters were introduced. I loved their personalities and their more contemporary voices. I certainly think the next book will have the perfect mix of traditional and contemporartry children’s fiction to make it a rip-roaring adventure. The Secret Kingdom is sure to capture young fantasy fans’ imaginations.


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


Read for the British Book Challenge 2011

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Giveaway: The Shadowing Hunted

So the lovely people at Egmont sent me a proof copy of this book to review:

Have you ever seen a scarier cover?

I am trying to hide my eyes whilst typing. Just looking at the screen freaks me out.

So as I would not read this book ever because it would undoubtedly give me nightmares, Egmont say I can give it to one of my brave and fearless readers.

To Enter:

Leave me a comment telling me your worst fear /nightmare and I'll choose the scariest one as the winner of the book. Please include either your Twitter @name or your email address so I can notify the winner.

International peeps are welcome to enter.

Closing date: Sunday 3rd April, midnight GMT

And now in the spirit of sharing here are five things that scare me:

  1. The dark
  2. Sweetcorn (that stuff is so wrong)
  3. Tarot cards (if there is another side, I don't want people fiddling with it)
  4. My garage door...
  5. Upsetting my postie
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.

Winner announced HERE

Monday, 28 March 2011

Irena's Review: Low Red Moon

Author: Ivy Devlin



Release date: 7th Feb 2011 UK
Genre: paranormal romance/mystery/urban fantasy
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury


Summary:


The only thing Avery Hood can remember about the night her parents died is that she saw silver—deadly silver, moving inhumanly fast. As much as she wants to remember who killed them, she can't, and there's nothing left to do but try to piece her life back together. Then Avery meets the new boy in school—Ben, mysterious and beautiful, with whom she feels a connection like nothing she's ever experienced. When Ben reveals he's a werewolf, Avery still trusts him—at first. Then she sees that sometimes his eyes flash inhuman silver. And she learns that she's not the only one who can't remember the night her parents died.


Irena’s Review:


Low Red Moon is a wonderful, intense mixture of a murder mystery, the paranormal and romance. Perhaps I am going a bit far with this comparison, but this novel did strike me as a dark spin-off of Red Riding Hood, as it features a young girl whose last name is Hood, a wolf (or rather, werewolf), a grandmother, a man posing as the woodcutter and last, but not least, a forest.


Avery Hood lived a great, albeit slightly sheltered life with her parents out in the woods until a tragedy happened. Her parents were brutally murdered and the only thing Avery remembers is silver, the thing that killed them and shocked her memory into shutting down. Now, she must deal with the tragedy and with the fact that home as she knew it is no more. She has to live with her estranged grandmother, Renee, who fell out with Avery’s father years ago. Things begin to look up when a new boy, Ben, moves to the town. He also lost his family and now lives with his uncle, who was once the Hoods’ neighbour. But there is more to Ben than meets the eye. His eyes flash like silver and suddenly, as if not being able to remember the tragic night isn’t enough, Avery finds herself torn between desire and doubt.


I absolutely loved the setting and the theme of the novel. I am mentioning them together because they go hand in hand. Avery lives in a small town that is on the brink of succumbing to urbanization. On the one hand, there are the woods that are deep, thick and filled with legends related to humans who are wolves inside. On the other hand, there is the need to update the town and make it an urban paradise. Avery’s parents were fierce environmentalists and raised Avery that way. Although the murder mystery and the romance are very strong in the novel, the author managed to raise the issue of environmentalism and urbanization, adding a nice, slightly didactic touch to the novel.


The woods are very important in the novel. They are a living entity and Avery is special because she is deeply connected to the forest; so much so that the forest projects its grief through her physically. I really enjoyed the notion of a human being becoming so connected to nature. The connection is magical, but behind it lurks a bit of the issue of environmentalism I have mentioned before. It’s a very enjoyable combination.


Avery is a great heroine. She has a strong voice and an interesting background. She was raised in the woods, removed from society, home-schooled, which makes her slightly naïve and innocent, but also very intuitive. Although she is very confused in the novel, what with the recent tragedy of her parents’ murder, she never forgets that she must find out the truth. Her connection with Ben is strong, but it does not make her forget who she is and who her parents were. She has her head – and heart – in the right place. Ben is enigmatic, but his character could have been elaborated on. Not much is told about him and I would have liked to know more about him, as he did seem to be an interesting character that could have a great background.


The romance is very intense and passionate. The connection between Avery and Ben is instant and deep, but while I enjoyed their romantic moments, I think the instant-connection issue was not explained well enough. There is a reason for this connection, but it is vaguely described and I did not entirely understand it. However, putting the instant connection aside, as well as the fact that the words ‘I love you’ come out too easily (which is a ‘flaw’ of the majority of paranormal romances), Avery and Ben’s relationship was very deep and soulful and once it began to evolve, I truly enjoyed reading about their moments.


The murder mystery is suspenseful, but I suspected the killer and guessed at their identity. Still, it was shocking to know what someone would do to achieve an objective. The why behind the murder tragedy is the important part of the mystery and it is quite shocking. I really liked this bit of the novel.


The narrative is beautiful, very lyrical and it flows smoothly, pulling the reader in. The colour red – the colour of blood (as well as of grief, as described in the novel) – appears on the pages of the novel. There are pictures of trees in red ink in the bottom corners of the book and the word moon is always printed in red font. That was interesting and made the novel visually appealing as well.


I must not forget the supernatural aspect – they are very present and mostly well explained. I liked the handling of werewolves (quite close to the traditional werewolf lore), but I mostly enjoyed Avery’s special power, so to say. As I’ve said, I really liked Avery’s connection to the woods.


All in all, this was a great, intense read, featuring elements of romance, the paranormal, mystery and a pinch of food for thought. Lovers of paranormal romance and urban fantasy will surely enjoy the book.


Becky says: I really like the sound of this one. I love the sound of the setting. The contrast between the woods and the town. I want to read this now. Great review Irena!
 
Both our thanks go to Bloomsbury Books for sending the book for review.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Review: Desires of the Dead

Author: Kimberly Derting



Release date: UK 17th March 2011
Genre: Paranormal YA/ Murder Mystery
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Headline


Summary from Amazon:


Violet and Jay are finally dating, but adjusting to the new relationship is not as easy as Violet anticipated. Especially when she has to split Jay's time and attention with his new best friend, Mike, and Mike's pesky younger sister - who happens to be obsessed with Jay. Meanwhile, when Violet's special abilities lead her to the body of a young boy, her tip to the police puts her on the radar of the FBI. Violet tries to fend off the FBI's questions while maintaining the semblance of a normal life, but somebody's leaving her threatening notes and an echo around Mike's house reinforces that all is not right. Violet is forced to admit that perhaps the only people who can help her figure it out are the very people she's desperate to avoid - the FBI.


Review:


Desires of the Dead is yet another compelling teen paranormal meets murder mystery from the mesmerising Kimberly Derting.


I completely lost myself in this book and I really didn’t want it to end. I am honestly gutted that I’ll have to wait ages for the next one.


At the beginning of Desires of the Dead Violet is still coming to terms with the events that happened at the end of The Body Finder. Both in terms of her identity as a girl who can locate dead bodies and puts them to rest but also in terms of her blossoming relationship with her best friend Jay.


Two separate events happen in Violet’s life that set this plot turning. The first is when she takes a day trip with her friend Chelsea and discovers that there is a body in a location where she can’t help it. The second is the arrival of a new family in town. Both trouble Violet in different ways and cause her to withhold her feelings from the people around her. In doing so she begins to take risks but also sets upon marking out her own destiny.


In this way Violet is very proactive in this book. She is reflecting more deeply on her ability. It starts to dawn on her that she has a choice about who to trust with her secret. Jay was steadfast and as charming as in the first book. I love the connection between Violet and Jay. Despite the fact that Violet has a gift, their relationship is believable and down to earth.


I also love that Kimberly Derting uses a stable family model in this series. Violet’s parents are a source of strength for her but they also give her further internal conflict. In Desires of the Dead Violet begins to realise that her ability puts others at risk. Thus she takes it upon herself to resolve situations alone.


An exciting new addition is the character of Rafe. I found him enigmatic and loved the whole silent, intellectual air that he exuded. I foresee that I will be quite a fan of Rafe and I can’t wait to learn more about him.


Desires of the Dead is another fantastic book by Kimberly Derting. Gripping, tense and yet heart-warming, this book is an absolute must for paranormal YA and Lisa McMann fans! Just like me...


Thanks to Headline Publishing for sending me the book to review.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

BBC: Please read if you're participating

You may have noticed that I have been rather absent lately.

I haven't been commenting.
I haven't even been reading your posts.

The worst thing?

I haven't even been reading your reviews for the BBC. This makes me very sad.

This is not a post about feeling guilty about reviewing. I am done with that. I have been reading lots of review books lately. In a machine like fashion if you must know.

This is a post about the BBC. Something I am commited to making a success.

I know many people said they were not fussed about whether there were prize packs for the winners of each month. I want to check that this is still the case.

You see the thing is I am scaling back my acceptance of review books which means that I am not comfortable with publishers providing the prizes. I think they should see some results for their generous contributions. So what I am trying to say is: Are you going to be desperately upset if there are not prize packs?

I would rather choose one of my favourite British Books as a prize each month and send it to the winner. I think this would be more personal and more supportive of the writers that I love because I will be buying the book and hopefully encouraging someone else to read it.

I really need your thoughts on this. BBC is a democracy not a dictatorship.

Guest Post: Englishwoman in New York

Today I am delighted to welcome the lovely Karen Mahoney to The Bookette. Karen is a debut 2011 UK YA author. So of course I asked her if she'd write something which relates to the theme of being a British writer. So her guest post is rather surprisingly but an insightful treat. Enjoy!

Englishwoman in New York



by Karen Mahoney


So, let’s get it out there: I am British. I’m 100% English with Irish roots – and proud of it – but I set my debut novel in the United States, and populated it with American characters.


Why?


Honestly, the reason is simply that I’ve always dreamed of living in America. (Cue music and everyone singing along: Living in America!) I can’t help it – just as many Americans I know are Anglophiles at heart, I’m the other way around. I love US movies and books and TV shows, and I always knew that if I ever ‘made it’ as a writer I’d want to approach the US market; specifically, I wanted to find a New York agent to represent my work.


I’m not saying I don’t want to write anything British – of course not! – just that I particularly want to write some things that are more ‘American.’ In fact, the sequel to The Iron Witch (The Wood Queen, which should be out in January 2012), introduces a British character from the Order of the Crow which is based in London. And in the third and final book of the trilogy, Donna will hopefully get to spend some time in London. (There! An exclusive for you, Becky! ;))


So, yes… I love US-style ‘popular culture’ but that doesn’t mean I’m completely in denial of my British roots. Let’s be honest: you can’t get something much more fundamentally English than alchemy, which plays a huge role in my debut novel. Donna Underwood is born into a secret society of alchemists in the modern world, and although my particular alchemical ‘Order’ is based in Ironbridge, Massachusetts (a city I made up, though it’s sort of a mashup of Boston and London – my two favourite cities in the world), there is no denying the importance of British history in alchemy. Much of my research focused on the Elizabethan period, when the mysterious John Dee was Queen Elizabeth I’s personal astrologer and adviser, while secretly trying to summon spirits through his alchemical experiments.


So The Iron Witch might well be based in the USA, but its heart is very definitely British. As is mine. :)




Thanks for the exclusive Kaz! I completely understand you being a fan of Americanness. I am going to Boston this year and I am so excited. There is something so exotic about other cultures. My other obsession of course is Australia.... Fancy writing a book set there?

Friday, 25 March 2011

Fairy-Tale Friday: From Russia with Love #11

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.


A Chapter of Fish


This is a story about fish. How fun and refreshing! It is also very very short so I can retell for you.


On Midsummer Eve, a fish was born. It was a pike with such fierce teeth. It was born of the water and it raged and broiled. The pike grew at an unfathomable rate and soon he was the biggest fish in the river.


Big fish eat little fish. The pike opened his huge jaws and ate and ate and ate the little fish. He had such terribly fearsome teeth. The other fish in the river knew something must be done. They got together in their shoals and had a discussion.


The roach said “Let’s kill the pike.”


The gudgeon said “Do you have good teeth?”


The roach was silly because they didn’t have any teeth.


The perch suggested that they swallow the pike. But that was far too silly because they did not have a big enough jaw.


The perch said that they could put their prickles on end and then they would get caught in the old pike’s throat. But the gudgeon reminded them that the pike would have to swallow them first.


Luckily the smartest fish in the river came to the meeting and listened to all these ideas. Then the yersh told the other fish how they could kill the pike. He said they could starve him by leaving the big river and making home in the swallow inlets and hide among the weeds. All the fish agreed this was a very good idea. So they left the big river and the pike had nothing to eat.


The pike had to eat worms for his food and eventually got caught by one on the end of a fishing rod. The fisherman had a very delicious supper that night.


The end


This tale reminds me many traditional folk tales from around the world. How the lion got his roar for instance. It is really nice to read a tale which is about animals rather than archetypes of characters. I hope there are more tales like this to come.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Irena's Review: Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth

Author: Chris Priestley



Release date: 4th October 2010
Genre: Chillers, Short Stories
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury


Summary:


A boy is put on a train by his stepmother to make his first journey on his own. But soon that journey turns out to be more of a challenge than anyone could have imagined as the train stalls at the mouth of a tunnel and a mysterious woman in white helps the boy while away the hours by telling him stories - ghost stories with a difference.


Irena’s Review:


Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth is a collection of nine short stories that are scary by nature and are of mixture of strange and macabre plots and characters. This is the third collection of Priestley's short stories and this time, the collection features a boy travelling to school who is being entertained with scary stories on the train.


Robert Harper is a boy on his way back to school. He is a proud, intelligent and mature boy who likes to read fantasy stories, but who swears on practicality and realism in real life. When his train stops just before a tunnel's mouth, a Woman in White, as he calls her, as he has read Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White and she reminds him of the title character, offers to entertain him with stories. But they are not typical children's stories - they are true tales of terror, featuring evil fairies, ghosts that drive people insane and flies that can kill. Robert thinks the stories silly at first, but with each new story, he is pulled further into their worlds.


What is really interesting and wonderful about this collection of short stories is that they are all linked to the conversations that Robert has with the Woman in White. Robert and the woman are the frame of the story and the stories are connected to them. Therefore, the book features both short stories (that can be read as stand-alone tales) as well as Robert's story that proves to be quite intriguing and has a very good twist that brings the collection to a great conclusion.


All the characters that appear in this story are very interesting and some of them dark and frightening. Suspense is maintained throughout the book and may cause one to have goose bumps. The narrative is smooth and written in an elevated, yet engaging and understandable style. The language definitely follows the time period (I believe that all stories take place in the 19th century). The book also features nice and very fitting illustrations that spice up the stories.


I can say that these stories have stayed with me and I will gladly return to them in the future, as well as to the author, Chris Priestley. Lovers of Neil Gaiman (and, I even dare say, of Edgar Allan Poe) will surely appreciate this collection, as will all who, in general, like to read fiction that is a bit scary. I fell in love with this collection and I hope you may find something for yourself in it as well.


Becky says: Irena, this sounds like a fascinating collection of short stories. I hardly ever read short stories myself. I prefer novels where you can really get to know a character. But these sound great for fans of scary stories.


Both our thanks go to Bloomsbury Books for sending the book to review.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Review: Delirium

Author: Lauren Oliver



Release date: 3rd Feb 2011 UK hardback
Genre: Dystopia
Target audience: 12+ / Adult Crossover
UK Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton


Summary from Amazon:


There was a time when love was the most important thing in the world. People would go to the end of the earth to find it. They would tell lies for it. Even kill for it.

 
Then, at last, they found the cure.




Now, everything is different. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Haloway has always looked forward to the day when she'll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.


But then, with only ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable...



Review:


It is not very often that a book leaves me speechless but Delirium did just that. My emotions were raw upon finishing the book and I am in awe of Oliver’s power over the written word. Her writing is simply divine.


Delirium is a dystopian novel which far outclasses other novels of the same genre. The future that Oliver imagines is one where love is seen as a disease to be cured. When people reach their eighteenth birthday, they have an operation to remove the part of the brain that is open to the amor deliria nervosa infection. After the operation, people’s emotions are limited, stunted, numbed. But they live free of the fear and terrible consequences of contracting the disease – the symptoms of which are many and deadly.


The saddest thing for me reading this book is that I could understand why the main character Lena wants the cure to the disease. Losing someone you love is the most unbearable pain and so I completely empathised with her urgency to have the treatment. The other tremendously sad thing is that not only does the treatment prevent the delirious love that can blossom for a partner, but it also eliminates the precious love a mother has for a child. I found it so heartbreaking that children weren’t comforted by their parents when they hurt themselves, not hugged and wrapped up in that unconditional devotion that is so much a part of a happy childhood.


At the beginning of the novel Lena is entrenched in the society’s propaganda. She has been preparing for her evaluation for weeks. She knows all the right answers to the assessors’ questions. She can quote the Book of Shhh off by heart. But of course, a story that is about love being a disease is always going to explore the power of love to break through barriers. Whether those barriers are the iron bars of a prison, the emotional scars of a neglected childhood or the structured brainwashing of a person’s mind, we need to believe that love can tear them down.


Despite the very emotive nature of this book, there were bright moments of humour and glorious golden touches of all kinds of happiness that love can bring into a life. But the clock ticks as Lena’s cure date gets closer and closer. Just as she is wishing that the day will finally come and she can fit in with everyone else, she experiences the first awakening of love.


I don’t want to say anymore because it really is a story that needs to be discovered word by word by the reader. Whereby reading you can let the sounds and the rhythm of the prose dance around on your tongue. It is poetic, powerful and moving. Delirium is not to be missed!


Thanks to Hodder for sending me the book to review.

Review: Hidden

Author: Miriam Halahmy



Release date: UK 31st March 2011
Genre: Realism / Contemporary YA Fiction / Bildungsroman
Target audience: 11+
UK Publisher: Meadowside Children’s Books


Summary from Amazon:


Hidden is a brave debut novel, tackling the complex issues of immigration and human-rights laws, through the eyes of teenage Alix. A literary, coming-of-age novel dealing with prejudice, judgement, courage, preconceptions and the difficulty of sorting right from wrong. Challenging, charming, compelling. Fourteen year old Alix lives at the bottom of Hayling Island near the beach. It is a quiet backwater, far removed from world events such as war, terror and refugees. Alix has never even given a thought to asylum seekers, she has enough problems of her own: Dad has a new life that doesn't include her, Grandpa is dead and Mum is helpless and needy. Then one day on the beach Alix and Samir pull a drowning man out of the incoming tide: Mohammed, an illegal immigrant and a student. Mohammed has been tortured by rebels in Iraq for helping the allied forces and has spent all his money to escape. Alone, helpless, and desperate not to be deported, Mohammed's destiny lies in Alix's hands. However, hiding an injured immigrant is fraught with difficulties. Faced with the biggest moral dilemma of her life, what will Alix do, and who can she trust?


Review:


Hidden is a touching and contemporary story about immigration, human rights and the courage to stand up for what you believe in.


Alix is in Year 10 and she lives on Hayling Island. Things are home are becomingly increasingly challenging – her father left, her grandfather passed away and her mother has broken her leg – Alix is finding the responsibility of keeping things together weighing down on her.


One of the themes of this novel is appearances. Or rather the impulse to judge people on appearances – the busybody neighbour, the mad man on the beach, the Muslim boy in class – the story lets you walk in their shoes (if only for a moment) and see the world that bit differently.


At the heart of Hidden is the issue of immigration and Halahmy mesmerises the reader with this tale rather than making them feel they are being “educated”. The right to seek asylum, persecution, what it means to be a refugee are all explained and yet it never once feels like lecture. Samir is a refugee from Iraq. He came to England when he was just nine and he was absorbed by the British system. At school Alix thinks of him as a silent figure in the back row. But when she sees a gang picking on him in the street, she can’t stop herself getting involved.


Alix is such a likable character. She has all these thoughts which she fears may be construed as racist but really it is just the fear of what she doesn’t understand talking. As she gets to know Samir, they become friends and develop a trusting bond. That bond is tested to the very limits when they rescue an illegal immigrant from the sea and try to keep him safe and hidden. It is incredibly moving.


I really empathised with Samir. I’ve never considered how homesick refugees must be when they are wrenched from their homeland. I know how much I love the UK. I would miss it so much if I was forced to go and live somewhere entirely alien and never know if I’d return. It left such a well of emotion inside me. Hidden really is an emotive and convincing read.


Halahmy’s young adult debut left me feeling inspired and empowered to stand up for the things that I believe in and to have to courage to make sure that my voice is always heard. The Iraqi cultural references felt so authentic and vivid that I really feel I know a bit more about their beautiful world.


Everyone should read this book and take a moment to see their world through another person’s eyes. It’s invigorating!

Thanks to Meadowside Children's Books for sending the book to review.


Read for the British Books Challenge 2011
Read for the Debut Author Challenge 2011

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Review: West of the Moon + UK Giveaway

Author: Katherine Langrish


Release date: 3rd March 2011
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: HarperCollins


Summary from Amazon:


An epic and action-packed fantasy adventure that weaves together Norse legends, shadowy creatures and an unforgettable hero.


When Peer is orphaned he is taken by his wicked uncles to live at their foreboding mill in the shadow of Troll Fell. Here he meets beautiful and spirited Hilde and after a terrifying encounter with the sinister creatures who live below the fell the pair form an inseparable bond. They are thirsty for adventure, so when a Viking longship docks at their village, they decide to set sail for Vinland – a mysterious place across the perilous sea. But are the ship's captain and his sword wielding son really honest sailors? What creatures lurk in the shadows and forests of the new land? And will Peer and Hilde ever return?


Spanning years and continents and filled with brilliantly imagined characters and creatures, this is gripping, atmospheric fantasy at its best.


Review:


West of the Moon is a great, sweeping story of an orphaned boy coming-of-age and experiencing the most important lessons in life.


West of the Moon is told in three parts. The first part sees Peer grieving for his father after he dies of an untreated wound. Peer is wrenched from everything he knows and taken by his Uncle Baldur to live in the mill at Trollsvik. The second part sees Peer in a kind of limbo. No longer a boy but not quite a man, he struggles to find his place in the world. And the third part sees Peer go off on a great adventure and visit a mysterious land. The third part was my favourite as it was all about the final discovery of Peer’s identity.


Peer is a courageous character without ever realising that he is so. His twin uncles are huge brutes and bullies of men and they treat him cruelly. They also mistreat the poor Nis that lives in the mill and don’t reward it for its help around the place. The first part of the story is centred upon the trolls that live under the hill in Trollsvik. They are a source of constant mischief and are meddlesome. While living with his uncles, Peer makes a friend in Hilde who lives up on the hill. Her father has a long history with the trolls which goes back to the time when he took a piece of their treasure. Peer and Hilde have to journey into the lair of the trolls and face the Troll King.


Hilde is an independent and strong-willed girl who is loved by all who meet her. In the fantasy world of West of the Moon, there is a traditional division of labour and Hilde does a great job of breaking through the domestic expectations that the men have of her. She fights off trolls, isn’t afraid to speak her mind and believes she should have the chance to see more of the world than the fells and hills around Trollsvik.


The connection between Peer and Hilde really captured my heart. There is a sort of romance between them born of a long and trusting friendship. It is just enough to be heart-warming without putting off younger readers who will revel in their daring adventures.


One of my favourite things about this epic story is the characterisation of the villains. Langrish goes beyond the convention to have a defined simplistic “evil” as opposition in her fantasy. We set out thinking that the trolls are cruel, self-interested and vile beings but in the course of the story we see beyond the folktales and the myths and recognise the family values that the people share with them.


As I have already mentioned, my favourite part of the story was Part Three. I loved the introduction of the Skraelings and the chapters that showed the world through their eyes. Langrish portrayed a wonderfully descriptive view of Vinland through the character of Kwimu.


West of the Moon is a charming and vibrant fantasy story. Peer’s journey of discovery teaches us to see the world from another person’s standpoint and find the heart of our true self. A delight!


Thanks to HarperCollins for sending the book to review.
 
And  a huge thanks to Katherine for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.
 
Check out Katherine's website HERE and her blog HERE
 
The next stop on the tour is at Girls Without a Bookshelf be sure to check it out on March 21st.
 
Giveaway:
 
I have one copy of West of the Moon to giveaway.
 
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.
  • Closing date: Wednesday 30th March 2011

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. WINNER announced HERE

Monday, 14 March 2011

Guest Post: West of the Moon Blog Tour

Today I am delighted to share with you a guest post from the wonderful Katherine Langrish. If you need a recommendation for a great fantasy novel, she's your gal! Read and enjoy!

 
My fave UK kids/YA authors/literature

by Katherine Langrish


This is lovely. I’ve actually been asked to talk about to talk about my favourite UK children’s and YA authors! I can’t think of anything I would rather do. The only problem is getting me to stop.


I had better explain up front that I have a bias towards fantasy – I write it myself, I absolutely love it, and much of what I read has a tendency that way. Not all, but quite a lot. And with that proviso, let me do my Ancient Mariner act, grab you by the sleeve, fix you with my glittering eye, and – beginning with books for children – tell you that you must, must, MUST read…


Katherine Roberts, who has written about a dozen fantasy books for older children. My favourites are The Echorium Sequence (a brilliantly imaginative trilogy set in a fantastic other world, in which Half Creatures like merlees and quetzals live alongside humans): ‘Song Quest’, ‘Crystal Mask’, and ‘Dark Quetzal’ – and her epic novel ‘I Am The Great Horse’, the story of Alexander as told by his black stallion Bucephalus.


Mary Hoffman’s ‘Stravaganza’ series, ‘City of Masks’ and its sequels, also for older children – in which teenagers from this world are able to travel to an alternate 16th century Italy by means of magical talismans, and have the most exciting adventures whilst also facing and solving real-life problems and dilemmas such as bullying, illness, relationships and so on.

Liz Kessler’s delightful books are for slightly younger children, especially girls. ‘The Tale of Emily Windsnap’ is the first of several books about a girl who discovers she is half mermaid, and can grow a tail when she gets into water. Emily and her best friend Shona have many marvellous underwater adventures, and Liz’s writing is just wonderful – fresh, sparkling, colourful and attractive.


Fiona Dunbar writes for ‘tweens’, perfectly pitched adventures with strong storylines and heroines. I’m particularly addicted to the ‘Silk Sisters’ trilogy, beginning with ‘Pink Chameleon’, set a decade or two into the future, a wildly funny yet thought-provoking mixture of science fiction and – believe it or not – fashion. Just how far can genome research and nano-technology take us? What if you really ARE what you wear?


There are so many more to talk about - Ellen Renner, for example, whose ‘Castle of Shadows’ and ‘City of Thieves’ remind me of Joan Aiken’s books: excellent stories of mystery and adventure set in a nineteenth century city not-quite-like London – children’s fantasy with a touch of steam punk. And Inbali Iserles with ‘The Tygrine Cat’ and its sequel ‘The Tygrine Cat on the Run’: delicately written and sharply observed animal fantasies in which the cats really behave like cats… and many others.


But moving on to UK YA fiction. Where to start? You already know and don’t need me to tell you about writers like Philip Pullman. But there are so many other great British YA writers! Ann Halam (who also writes award winning adult sci-fi as Gwyneth Jones) has been a favourite of mine for years now. She has never written a bad book, and she never repeats herself. Two recent recommendations would be ‘Siberia’, a futuristic mix of science, adventure and fairytale, in which a young girl crosses a dangerous, frozen land dotted with prison camps and derelict settlements, in search of her mother, bearing with her a tiny nutshell containing the seeds of new life. And ‘Snakehead’, a witty and dramatic re-imagining of the Medusa and Perseus story.


Then there’s Susan Price, who won the Guardian for the wonderful ‘Sterkarm Handshake’, with its sequel ‘A Sterkarm Kiss’, two brilliant time travel novels, in which a commercial company of dubious morals sends 21st century employees into an alternate 16th century Scottish borderlands via a Tube, with the aim of exploiting the natives. The natives, however, are the dangerous, passionate, and uncontrollable Sterkarm clan, whose motto is ‘Who dares meddle with me?’ Grim, gritty, and funny by turns, these two books are totally gripping accounts of the clash of two incompatible worlds.


Celia Rees is another UK writer whom you will all already know – her well-written, well-researched historical novels will carry you away to 16th century Puritan America (‘Witch Child’) or the 18th century Caribbean (‘Pirates!’), or Revolutionary France (‘Sovay’). Her strong, intelligent heroines try out careers as pioneers, pirates or even highwaymen, and their adventures are always gripping.


Leslie Wilson has written two wonderful novels (not fantasy, for once!) set in Nazi Germany: ‘Last Train from Kummerdorf’ and ‘Saving Rafael’. The first follows the fortunes of two German refugee children escaping from the advancing Russian army in the last stages of World War II, and is partly based on her own mother’s experiences. The second is about one ordinary German family’s attempts to help their Jewish neighbours as the Third Reich gathers strength, and is also a touching love story.


Nicola Morgan’s ‘Wasted’ is a brilliantly conceived and written novel about chance – and also a love story. What if you lived your life according to the fall of a coin? That’s what Jack, the hero, tries to do. But why? And will the results lead to triumph of tragedy? And Gillian Philip, who has written a couple of gripping contemporary thrillers, has recently published one of the best YA fantasies I read all last year: ‘Firebrand’, whose hero Seth McGregor (bastard prince of the Sithe or Scottish faeries) is a grittily attractive hero as he battles his amoral Queen, Kate NicNiven.


I could go on. There’s B.R. Collins, whose novel ‘Traitor Game’ is an arresting take on fantasy. Two teenage boys invent a world, and as their real life friendship is darkened by suspicion and betrayal, shadows fall across their fantasy world too. Julie Hearn writes imaginative and witty historical fiction, with a touch of fantasy – try ‘The Merrybegot’ (US title ‘The Minister’s Daughter’) or ‘Hazel’.


And here, I think, I’m running out of space, and probably your patience. Three cheers for British children’s fiction. It’s full of immensely talented, exciting writers, and I for one can’t wait to read whatever they come up with next.


Thanks for stopping by Katherine. You have mentioned some of my personal favourites. The lovely Katherine Roberts and Gillian Philip. I think I am going to investigate Ann Halam's adult sci-fi. I loved Siberia. Thanks for the recommendations.
 
Readers: Visit Katherine's website HERE and her wonderful BLOG here. And don't forget to pop back on Wednesday to read my review of West of the Moon and enter for the chance to win a copy.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Review: Entangled

Author: Cat Clarke



Release date: 6th January 2010 UK
Genre: Gritty Realism
Target audience: 14+
UK Publisher: Quercus


Review:
Entangled is an emotional journey. It is raw and tender and sad and funny and for me about the deep inner truth that lies inside all of us.


We enter Grace’s story on Day 3. She is sitting at a table and writing. Why? Because there is no other option. She is being held against her will. She is a prisoner within a crisp white room. A mysterious boy-practically-a-man named Ethan is keeping her locked up. He hasn’t hurt her yet but why else would he be keeping her there? Grace meets Ethan on the night that she decides to commit suicide. That is not a spoiler (in case you are wondering) it is the first line of the book. The mystery of the story is far more complex.


I can hardly say any more for fear of giving the plot away. So I am not going to. This is likely to be a really weird and baffling review.


When I was reading Entangled, I felt like I had Cat in my head reading out the story. Grace’s voice is convincing as an angry, defensive seventeen year old. I liked her from the beginning. Yes she is snarky and at times self-centred but I think there is a truth in that. We can all be that way especially if we have insecurities about who we are or what we look like.


As well as Grace and Ethan, there are Sal and Nat. I don’t have any strong feelings about Sal. I will say that her “wake up and be positive everyday-ness” is kind of me. I am a half glass full kind of girl and I think that sometimes this outlook can be really difficult for other people to cope with who don’t share it. On the one hand the half-empty people love it, they feed off my enthusiasm and lemon zestiness and on the other hand, they hate it because it isn’t something that comes naturally to them and it reminds them that I have a contentedness they are missing out on. I am not saying that my outlook or their outlook is right, but this friction between outlooks is something that is real and challenging in close friendships.


I do have strong feelings about Nat. I do not like him. What can I say? There was one scene that really made me mad at him. If you’ve read the book, it is probably not the one you’re thinking of.


Entangled is an absolute page-turner. I felt compelled to know more, more, more. The further I got into Grace’s story the more emotional I felt. She has a deep inner sadness. At the beginning of the story Grace has many questions. At the end of the novel, I had questions. But I’ve decided that at the heart of this novel is the premise that some questions can never be answered. Incredibly sad, because it is true. Entangled is a book to make you weep and remind you that everybody needs somebody to understand them.


Thank you to Quercus for sending me the book to review.

Read for the British Books Challenge

Friday, 11 March 2011

Fairy-Tale Friday: From Russia with Love #10

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
Post 8: Prince Ivan, the Witch Baby and Little Sister of the Sun
Post 9: The Stolen Turnips, the Magic Tablecloth, the Sneezing Goat and the Wooden Whistle

Little Master Misery


This is another long and winding tale and it would make a gigantic post to read so I am just going to give you a sense of what it is about.


There were two brothers. One who went off and made his fortune, loved all things extravagant and enjoyed making merry with the merchants. The other was a poor man, who had no money for food and his wife and children were starving. The poor brother swallows his pride and asks his brother for help. He works for him for a week and the rich brother pays him with a loaf of bread. He also invites him to his name-day celebration – a grand feast. The poor brother and wife his go along but the rich brother is so self-involved that he forgets to asks the servants to give food and wine to his family guests. They go home hungry and that is when they meet Little Master Misery.


The tale goes on from there. What’s different about this tale is that neither brother is defined as good or evil. When the poor brother gets the chance of riches, he takes them and traps little Master Misery. The rich one who at first helps his brother becomes resentful of his change of fortune and of course, he forgot about him at the feast. The characterisation is much more ambiguous than I’ve seen in the other Russian tales.


Little Master Misery is not innocent either. He encourages the poor brother and then later the rich brother to spend away what possessions they own in the tavern. They drink themselves into poverty.


So reading this tale, I wasn’t wishing any of the characters a happy ending. Kindness should be repaid with kindness not cruelty and perhaps that is the heart of this story. This one wasn’t really for me but perhaps it is a more realistic exploration of human nature.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Review: I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend

Author: Cora Harrison



Release date: UK hardback 5th March 2010, this paperback edition 7th January 2011
Genre: Historical fiction
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books


Summary from Amazon:
Based on real events, I WAS JANE AUSTEN’S BEST FRIEND is the secret diary of Jenny Cooper, Jane Austen’s teenage friend and confidante. Their evenings are a blur of beautiful dresses, balls, gossip and romance; their days are spent writing about them - Jenny in her diary, Jane in her first attempts at fiction. When Jenny falls utterly in love with a handsome naval officer, obstacles stand in their way. Who better to help her than Jane herself, who already considers herself an expert in love and relationships?


Review:


I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend is a delightful, witty and entirely addictive historical novel!


I hadn’t really intended on reading I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend but when I ordered it for the library, one of my students asked me to read it before she did in case it had too much kissing. So of course, as a diligent and obliging librarian, I said I would. And I am so glad that I did.


I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend is the story of Jenny Cooper – Jane’s best friend – who documents her life in her journal. Jenny is the heroine of the story and from the very first page I was gripped by her narrative. Talk about an opening! Jenny is desperately worried because Jane is sick with a fever and she thinks she might die if she doesn’t receive some proper care. The two girls are suck at a hideous boarding school with the cruel Mrs Cawley. So Jenny does a remarkably brave and risky thing, she sneaks out at midnight through a window and walks alone through the streets of Southampton to send a letter to Jane’s mother. As Jane rightly says, if this is to be a novel, then a handsome hero must soon appear.


I really loved the historical aspects of this story but I also loved how it felt contemporary too. Jenny is an adorable character. She is shy yet brave, graceful and also grieving for the loss of her mother. Her only remaining family is her brother and his bossy wife. They are the reason she is living in the terrifying boarding school at the beginning of the story. Jenny feels very burdensome to her brother and does not feel she can explain how much she hates it there.


Jane is every bit that you imagine Jane Austen to be when you’ve read her novels. She is incredibly sharp with her wit, tomboyish and loves to make up stories inspired by the people around her. She also has a tender side which is portrayed through her relationship with her brother George.


Once free of the boarding school, Jenny and Jane experience many delights of their time, they go to grand balls, dance, wear beautiful dresses and of course discuss finding love with handsome young men (of fortune).


I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend is an absolute feel good read. I didn’t want the story to end. It was hopelessly romantic and charming. It made me feel giggly and lightheaded. Friendship, romance, humour and the historical setting, make this book so utterly brilliant. I highly recommend it!