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Monday, 30 May 2011

Review: Chasing Fire

Author: Nora Roberts

Release date: 14th April 2011
Genre: Romantic Suspense / Crime / Romance
Target audience: Adult (Strong language and explicit sexual scenes)
UK Publisher: Piatkus

Summary from Amazon:

Rowan Tripp is addicted to danger. She's been fighting the annual forest fires in the rugged Montana mountains since she was eighteen years old. She can read a wildfire like no one else - and is prepared to put her life on the line again and again to save others. But now she is mourning the death of her good friend and jump partner, Jim - and haunted by the fact that she might have been able to save him. More pressing is the fact that the new season's recruits to the 'smoke-jumping' team need to be trained. Rowan has a strict rule: NEVER get romantically involved with anyone she works with. But the moment she meets Gull Curry that rule is severely tested. And when it becomes clear that someone does blame Rowan for Jim's death, and is determined to get revenge, Rowan finds that she needs Gull's help and support more than ever ...


I am going through a phase. I have no idea what has brought it on but the only author I feel like reading is Nora Roberts. Now obviously, I am a book blogger so I have to review books. Specifically, young adult or children’s fiction. I can’t just indulge the craving to read more of this romantic suspense stuff. Okay, so I let myself off the hook once I’d read a couple of review books and started Chasing Fire. It is a standalone novel and in the same vein as Black Hills, it is a mash up of crime and romance. It turns out I like this combo very much. Which shouldn’t realise surprise me because a) I love cop shows and b) I am a hopeless romantic who believes in fairytales. If you fit this description, read on!

So Chasing Fire is set in the hills of Montana. The central characters are Rowan Tripp and Gulliver Curry. Rowan is a bit rough around the edges, she is as feisty as they come and passionate about her work battling forest fires. Gulliver is a romantic, wordy sort who has very fast feet. He is a rookie this year and is about to send Rowan’s world off kilter. Rowan is a very guarded character. She doesn’t get romantically attached to anyone. She is more your use them and lose them kind of girl. Gulliver’s job is to melt her armour and show her what true love is. So that is the romance of this story. Can the boy melt the girl’s heart and teach her to trust?

Then, there is the crime aspect. At the beginning of the story Rowan is reliving the nightmare of the previous season. Her jump partner died in an accident and she hasn’t been able to fully accept what has happened. This is true of all the people who work on the base. Perhaps I need to explain that in the course of fighting fires, the Zulies jump out of planes into the path of the fire and try to stop it spreading. They chop trees down, hose the fire, and battle for hours without rest. Heroic stuff!

Sometimes I didn’t have a clue what was going on with the fires. Roberts uses a fair bit of fire specific lingo and it was tough to follow. It wasn’t incomprehensible but it was challenging. In fact, it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t understand it all because I was more interested in character and her characterisation is brilliant. Also she is great at misleading the reader. One minute you think one character is responsible for the odd things that are happening at the base and the next you think it’s someone else. I did start to suspect the right character towards the end but I was never 100% sure.

This was another great read from Nora Roberts. It took me a while to get through it. Over a week which is unusual for me but it was because I wasn’t rushing. I just wanted to enjoy it and I really did. Now if only I didn’t have all those blog tours coming up, which I need to review books for, I could crack on with The Search which is going to be my next foray into the world of Romantic Suspense.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Review: Ondine: The Autumn Palace

Author: Ebony McKenna

Release date: 7th February 2011 UK
Genre: Fairytale Fantasy
Target audience: 11+
UK Publisher: Egmont

Summary from Amazon:

One boy, one girl, one plot to be foiled! Hamish the gorgeous man (and part time ferret) has a new job with the Duke as a spy in his Autumn Palace. So Ondine goes with him. She imagines a hugely romantic escapade together that involves lots of kissing. What she hadn't imagined was having to do endless laundry, go to school and keep Hamish the man a secret. All the while trying to find out who is plotting to kill the Duke. And if that weren't bad enough, it seems that Hamish is more interested in getting the Duke's attention than hers. Plus he's always in ferret form. Things can't go on like this! Can Ondine foil the would-be assassin, save the Duke and get her man back in gorgeous human form? It's going to take a little bit of magic, a lot of stolen kisses and some ferreting around...


Ondine: The Autumn Palace is the second book in the fairytale adventures of Ondine and the love of her life – Hamish. The story is just as humorous and endearing as The Summer of Shambles and is even more evocative of the romantic fairytale setting.

The story begins with Ondine and Hamish ready to take a train journey to visit the Duke. Hamish is ready to take on his role as a royal spy and Ondine is ready to agree to anything the Duke asks of her if it means she gets to stay with her beloved. The troubles begin when Old Aunt Col arrives to play chaperone to the couple and journeys with them to the Duke’s Autumn Palace. From the moment they arrive shocking and disastrously funny magic happens. Think raining cats and dogs with an Ebony McKenna twist on it.

Ondine and Hamish take on their new employment hoping to spend every spare minute together. But their respective careers are rather demanding and they hardly have time to spare for a split-second kiss. Time is running out for the couple because if they can’t discover who has it in for the Duke, Ondine will be sent back to her parents and be love sick without her sweetheart.

The plot is a rather mix of magical fairytale fantasy and a “whodunit”. There are so many characters who would like to see the Duke removed from power that the young couple have their work cut out. I did realise fairly early on who wanted to kill the Duke but the mystery and fun was in the why and the particular methods.

The author delighted me in her characterisation of the main characters. Ondine is every bit as determined and diligent as she was in the first novel when it comes to practical tasks if not psychic ones. Hamish was just as charming and if anything revelled even more in ferreting mischief around the palace.

This novel is undoubtedly daft. You need a silly sense of humour to really get it. I am just the right type of person to enjoy this kooky, witty book. I loved the ending which was perfectly fairytale in its romance and idyllic setting. Ondine cast a spell over me but I still have one question: Will she ever find her inner witch?

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

Read for the 2011 Aussie YA Challenge

Friday, 27 May 2011

Fairy-Tale Friday: From Russia with Love #13

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.

Week 11 - A Chapter of Fish

Week 12 - The Golden Fish

Alenoushka and Her Brother

Now this story felt like a real fairytale. I can see that Disney could put their spin on this one. See what you think...

Once upon a time Alenoushka and her brother Ivanoushka wandered the world. They both became thirsty and wanted to drink from water that collected in the footprints of animals. But they knew if they did so they would turn into that animal. Eventually, Ivanoushka cannot prevent himself. He drinks from a lamb’s hoofprint and then turns into a lamb. Alenoushka is devastated. She loves her brother so much. She sits upon a haystack and weeps cuddling the lamb.

Soon a fine young gentleman comes along and tries to comfort Alenoushka. He says that he will take her to his home and that the lamb may come too if she wishes.

So Alenoushka goes to live with the gentleman and they are married. She wears fine dresses and she loves the lamb. One day while her husband is out, an old hag appears and makes her ill. Alenoushka unaware of this shares her dinner with the hag. When her husband returns, he finds his wife ill and pale. The next day when he leaves for his hunting, the hag tells Alenoushka she can be cured if she bathes in the river. The hag will cast a spell upon the water to heal her.

When Alenoushka goes to the river, the old hag throws her in and casts a spell to take her place. The lamb is the only one that knows the truth and he refuses to eat his dinner. He goes everyday to stand by the river and hears the cries of his sister. The old hag follows him and eventually the gentleman discovers that his wife is at the bottom of the river. He rescues her and then her brother turns back into a man. He marries the gentleman’s sister and they all live happily ever after. The hag runs off into the woods and is not seen again.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this one. I can’t help but love fairytales where the girl is rescued by effectively a handsome prince. It may be slightly sexist and undo years of feminism but I still think there is a certain romance about a handsome man riding on a horse to save the day.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Review: Becoming Bindy Mackenzie

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Release date: 2006 UK, this edition 2011
Genre: Contemporary YA Fiction
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Macmillan

Summary from Amazon:
It's not easy being Bindy Mackenzie. It's not her fault that she's the cleverest girl in school, and she's tired of having no friends ¬ Bindy's learning the hard way that being nice doesn't equal being popular. So it's time for a change - she's going to do whatever it takes to make people like her, even if it means being the opposite of nice . . .


Becoming Bindy Mackenzie is the third novel in Jaclyn Moriarty’s contemporary teen fiction series following the lives of pupils at Ashbury High. This novel about the life of Bindy Mackenzie and was perhaps more introspective than the other Ashbury novels but still just as compelling.

At the beginning of the novel Bindy Mackenzie is starting Year 11. She thinks this year will shape her future forever and so she must excel at everything and not let other students steal her crown. It should be noted here that Bindy is the smartest pupil at Ashbury. She is already number one at everything. The expression that it is lonely at the top really fits Bindy. While to the rest of her peers she may appear conceited, arrogant and a know-it-all, deep down she craves their friendship and wants to be a part of their world.

Bindy is dismayed to find out that an extra class has been added to her timetable this year. It is known as FAD or Friendship and Development. Bindy thinks this is a ridiculous waste of time which could be more effectively used to study, practice the piano, complete homework, write a business proposal or type up a transcript. Yes, Bindy is obsessed with completing every task. Her life revolves around study and intellectual growth. And so, this novel is Bindy’s journey into teenagedom and her quest to find out who she really is.

She begins this process by setting out to get revenge on her peers in her FAD group. She calls them the Venomous Seven. They hurt her feelings in the very first exercise and she is planning to show them her wrath. She observes their behaviour and tries to link their characteristics to poisonous animals. As well as being highly intelligent, Bindy is a voyeur. She watches people, listens to their conversations and amuses herself by writing transcripts of them. The novel is peppered with her recordings, her philosophical musings and memos to and from staff, family and other pupils.

Becoming Bindy Mackenzie is told in the unique format of Moriarty’s other novels. But this novel is more centred upon Bindy rather than multiple characters. Favourite characters from the other novels do feature – in particular Emily and Elizabeth – but we see a very limited amount of the story through their eyes. It gives the story a very personal touch and I found Bindy’s voice utterly convincing.

This novel explores communication and miscommunication. There are humorous moments but I found it more heartfelt and touching than funny. Moriarty explores teenage insecurities and how we all crave acceptance from the group. We all need to belong somewhere and yet we can all maintain our individuality. But first, we must embrace who we are for ourselves. I actually found the ending of this book a real tear-jerker. Moriarty’s writing takes my breath away. I admire her more than any other writer. I am simply in awe.

Thank you to Macmillan for sending the book to review.

Read for the Aussie YA Challenge 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

Announcement: Immortal War Blog Tour

Justin Somper has some awesome news to share with you. Watch this video to find out more Vampirates fans!

The tour will be stopping at some of my favourite blogs. It is a bloody feast of shiver me timbers stuff! So don't miss out! Here is the full schedule:
Monday 6th June -- Chicklish - Extract #1

Tuesday 7th June -- My Favourite Books - An interview with Justin Somper

Wednesday 8th June -- The Crooked Shelf - Guest Post: on Lady Lola Lockwood & The Women of Vampirates

Thursday 9th June -- Feeling Fictional - Animal Antics

Friday 10th June -- The Bookette --Extract #2

Saturday 11th June - Girls Without A Bookshelf - Playlists & The Music of Vampirates

Sunday 12th June - Wondrous Reads - 10 Ways to Know You're Obsessed with Vampirates

Monday 13th June -- Daisy Chain Books - Guest Post: Ending An Era -- Killing Off Vampirates

Tuesday 14th June -- Empire of Books -- Top ten Vampirates characters ever

Wednesday 15th June -- Book Zone For Boys -- Q&A with Justin

Thursday 16th June - I Want To Read That - WIN! Vampirates swag

Can't wait!
 NB: Comments are disabled on this post as it is for infomation only.

Irena's Review: In the Sea there are Crocodiles

Author: Fabio Geda

Translator: Howard Curtis
Release date: 7th July 2011
Genre: True Life Stories
Target audience: 12+/ Adult Crossover
Publisher: Random House Children's Books


One night before putting him to bed, Enaiatollah's mother tells him three things: don't use drugs, don't use weapons, don't steal. The next day he wakes up to find she isn't there. They have fled their village in Ghazni to seek safety outside Afghanistan but his mother has decided to return home to her younger children. Ten-year-old Enaiatollah is left alone in Pakistan to fend for himself. In a book based on a true story, Italian novelist Fabio Geda describes Enaiatollah's remarkable five-year journey from Afghanistan to Italy where he finally managed to claim political asylum. His ordeal took him through Iran, Turkey and Greece, working on building sites in order to pay people-traffickers, and enduring the physical misery of border crossings squeezed into the false bottoms of lorries or trekking across inhospitable mountains. A series of almost implausible strokes of fortune enabled him to get to Turin, where he found help from an Italian family and met Fabio Geda. The result of their friendship is this unique book in which Enaiatollah's engaging, moving voice is brilliantly captured by Geda's subtle storytelling. In Geda's hands, Enaiatollah's journey becomes a universal story of stoicism in the face of fear, and the search for a place where life is liveable.

Irena’s Review:

This novel is an amazing true story about an individual's will to survive and live a life worthy of a human being.

Enaiatollah, a young Afghan boy, was left as a child in Pakistan, waking up one morning without his mother. His mother left him in Pakistan to save him from the danger at home, but that left Enaiatollah all alone to fend for himself. From the start, he was a fighter, determined to live and enjoy a somewhat normal life, but he went through a lot of hardships and countries to achieve his goal.

I do not normally read true stories, but Enaiatollah's life story truly touched me and even had me a bit open-mouthed and teary-eyed at times. By explaining his story, Enaiatollah reveals the horrors happening in the Middle East, as well as the horrors that humans are capable to inflict upon one another. Enaiatollah used to be one of the people at the bottom of society, but what makes his story special is his determination. He was always filled with a strong will to survive and lead a normal life, worthy of a human being. He wanted to go to school, have somewhere to sleep and eat, and have work. He wanted normalcy and he achieved it. Some of his success has to be ascribed to sheer luck and one can definitely be glad for that, but foremost, Enaiatollah may teach us that by trying, by fighting, by wanting to survive, one may achieve a lot. Enaiatollah left Afhganistan and travelled through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece, experiencing different hardships on the way, to finally land in Italy and find his piece of happiness. His story is truly inspirational.

I loved the way the story was told, in first person (from Enaiatollah's point of view), with simple, yet poignant narration. The story is also informational, revealing the way of life of those less fortunate (sadly a majority of the people) living in the countries where Enaiatollah lived for a while.

It is hard to review a true story, especially of living person. I cannot review one's life, but I can review a book and the way it's written, and I can say that this book is a truly well written account of one man's life. It is both touching and insightful, informative and personal.

I think you should read what Enaiatollah has to say because his story touches the very current issues happening in our world: human-trafficking, political intrigues, wars stemming from prejudices, discrimination of different races and religions. It is not an easy journey, but it's worth one's time.

Becky says: Lovely review, Irena. I also don't often read true life stories. I think they are so emotional and at time harrowing. But this book sounds like it holds an important portrayal of life in the Middle East and it is great to see translated fiction reaching the UK market.
Both our thanks go to Random House Children's Books for sending the book to review.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Review: Black Hills

Author: Nora Roberts

Release date: 2009
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Crime / Romance / Contemporary
Target audience: Adult (explicit sexual content)
UK Publisher: Piatkus

Summary from Amazon:
Lil Chance fell in love with Cooper Sullivan pretty much the first time she saw him, an awkward teenager staying with his grandparents on their cattle ranch in South Dakota while his parents went through a messy divorce. Each year, with Coop's annual summer visit, their friendship deepens - but then abruptly ends. Twelve years later and Cooper has returned to run the ranch after his grandfather is injured in a fall. Though his touch still haunts her, Lil has let nothing stop her dream of opening the Chance Wildlife Refuge, but something - or someone - has been keeping a close watch. When small pranks escalate into heartless killing, the memory of an unsolved murder in these very hills has Cooper springing to action to keep Lil safe. They both know the dangers that lurk in the wild landscape of the Black Hills. And now they must work together to unearth a killer of twisted and unnatural instincts who has singled them out as prey ...


It isn’t very often that I have the desire to read an adult book but this is just what happened the other day. I’m looking for a replacement for Charlaine Harris as I finished the Grave Sight series and need a sort of romance and crime mash up fix. Whether or not it has a paranormal element is irrelevant. Anyway, I was also hunting for books about rookie cops but seeming as these seem non-existent – publishers take note! – I had to find a book that would meet my requirements. While I was in a supermarket, I came across Black Hills. I read the blurb and my interest was piqued. Could it be because the two main characters meet when they are kids and fall in love in their teens? I’ll leave you to speculate. Anyway, the blurb hooked me and so I bought the book. Me. Buying adult novels of my own feel will. Hmmm... An intriguing development...

Black Hills is a really cool mash up of a romance that spans decades and a crime novel. It is totally addictive and thank goodness Nora Roberts is a writing machine so I will not have to go through such a scary search for another adult author to love for a long time. Anyway...

Lillian Chance lives on a cattle farm in South Dakota. Her parents are liberal and her home life is a happy, loving one. Cooper Sullivan is an eleven year old boy at the beginning of this 500+ page novel and he has a deep inner sadness. He is shipped out of New York for the summer by his parents (whose marriage is failing) to stay on his grandparents’ ranch in the same town. Coop expects Lil to be a snotty girl who he will detest. But when they meet, Lil proves herself to be as tough as any guy and a hotshot when it comes to baseball. Over their summers together Lil teaches Coop to love the hills, the great outdoors and how to track wildlife.

Lil is a focused, driven girl who grows into a determined, successful woman. Coop is a lost boy who doesn’t know who he is and through the course of the novel goes on a journey of discovery. The novel is divided into three parts and each sees a change to their relationship. This is a romantic story. Completely, hopelessly and adorably romantic! Oh and there are some rather steamy scenes too. In the last few chapters there were tears in my eyes. I am such a dufus but I was 100% involved in this story.

The book is more than just a romance though. It is the story of a serial killer and some parts of the story are told through very sinister, twisted eyes. Those parts scared me so I couldn’t read Black Hills just before bed. It gave me the heebie-jeebies. I obviously can’t say more about that because of spoilers.

The setting for this book is a much a part of the story as the characters. The hills of South Dakota have so much meaning for the characters. They are home and yet they are wild. This is a theme that runs throughout the novel. Black Hills is a real edge of your seat read. It amazes me how much Roberts can pack into one novel. I can’t wait to read more from her. I have already ordered Chasing Fire. Is this a sign that I am growing up? Or just that Nora Roberts plots a really great story? Maybe both.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Review: Exodus

Author: Julie Bertagna

Release date: 4th Feb 2011 UK
Genre: Dystopia / Futuristic
Target audience: 12+ (although I know some of my Year 6s have been studying this in their literature circles)
UK Publisher: Macmillan


Exodus is a powerful novel of the future. It is a visionary novel and a monumental feat of imagination.

Mara lives on the island of Wing. The island is fast disappearing. Every year the sea eats away at the land. The island inhabitants are battling against the angry weather. A century of storms have reshaped the world as we know it and soon there will be nowhere for the people of the island to take shelter. Mara lives for the days when there is a gap in the weather when she can escape the stone cottage and visit her friends. She talks to old Tain and he encourages her to believe in a future away from the island. He tells the story of New World where great cities that rise above the oceans on stilts. Mara is a girl who sees beyond the here and now. She believes in Tain’s legend and searches the Cyberweave for proof that New World exists so that the islanders can escape before it is too late.

Exodus is full of breathtaking visions of the future: the physical structure and organisation of the cities of New World, the concept of the Cyberweave and the evolutionary adaptations of some humans to survive in the weather ravaged habitat. Some of the ideas were so impossibly futuristic that I found them hard to grasp at first. The experience of being with Mara is the Cyberweave was at first disorientating and I had to read the paragraph a few times. I even put the book down and had to come back to it because it was such an extraordinarily different experience that my mind couldn’t perceive it. Certainly the more you give yourself to Exodus, the more you will get from it. I also think that the generation who have grown up with constantly changing technology will understand this book in a far more visual way that those of us who were born on the cusp of the internet revolution.

Exodus is also a book that explores the choices we make. It goes beyond the question of our right to use all of the Earth’s resources for our own luxury. It looks at what these choices will do to our futures. How will we connect to other people? Will we bond only through virtual experiences? Will it take someone who has lived a far different life on a remote island to change the course of the future? Yet among all the dark and sinister themes of this book, there are also those that one would expect to find in teenage fiction: friendship, first love and the heartbreak of loss.

This book begins in a way that I have never read before. I imagine it is as if a camera in space records the story of the people on our planet from the very first moments and into the future. It is very few words and yet it says so much about our species. The view then switches to the island and just like a camera zooms in on Mara and the people of Wing. Exodus is a literary, conceptual illustration of the future. It is exquisitely written and if you give yourself to the challenge of reading it, you’ll find it will take your breath away. I even visited this book in my dreams. It is exhilarating, frightening and extraordinary.

Thanks to Macmillan for sending the book to review.

Read for the British Books Challenge 2011

Monday, 16 May 2011

Irena's Review: Burning Secrets

Author: Clare Chambers

Release date: 3rd March 2011
Genre: Thriller/ Mystery / YA
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: HarperCollins


An intense and thrilling teen mystery set on a tranquil island where all seems perfect! Daniel has dark secrets and a troubled past. So when his family move to the island of Wragge, a gentle backwater where local life remains undisturbed he feels he's escaped. But outsiders aren't always welcome and the more Daniel tries to conceal, the more he reveals about sinister goings on. Does this picture perfect community have something even greater to hide?

Irena’s Review:

Burning Secrets is a thriller that explores mysteries and the fact that not all things that look nice are actually that way.

Daniel, a teenage boy with a difficult past, his mom - recently divorced - and his sister Louie, also a teenage with her own monsters haunting her, decide to start anew on the island of Wragge, a small and picture-perfect place that doesn't seem to know the concept of secrets. The island of Wragge forms a close-knit and private community where everyone knows everyone and everything, which makes Daniel, harbouring secrets, quite uncomfortable. Slowly, however, and especially after meeting a girl, Ramsay, Daniel feels that he could feel this island a try, as does his troubled sister Louie.

But something is not right. Wragge is too perfect a place and especially the students at the school too content, too placid and too attached to the school and the island to ever want to leave Wragge, even to study. When Daniel meets the music teacher, Helen, and she tells him about her suspicion, Daniel is pulled into a big and dangerous mystery, reluctantly, but surely. Now, he must discover the truth about the dangerous and twisted crack in the perfection of Wragge and when his sister Louie becomes involves, in a way Daniel never wanted to happen, he knows he must solve the mystery, even if he doesn't want anything to do with it.

My favourite aspect of the novel was the setting. Wragge is a small and beautiful island reminiscent of a small, private seacoast resort in Northern England. The locals are very close and know everything about each other. They don't feel the need to lock their doors, they trust everyone they know and they have a suspicion of outsiders who might bring disturbances into their perfect community. Especially the children are not how one would picture normal teenagers. No one is rebellious and everyone is happy to stay on the island forever. It is clear from the start that something is wrong on Wragge. Too much perfection is not natural and the reader knows Wragge has secrets.

The rhythm of the novel is delightful. The reader is introduced to the island in detail and although the pace might seem slow, it suits the story. The tension begins to build in the middle of the novel and keep the rest of it bathing in suspense.

The novel definitely makes for a thrilling read and the mystery, once revealed, is shocking. It makes one wonder at the things a person would do to keep changes away forever and maintain perfection after experiencing a tragedy.

However, I must confess I had a few problems with the novel. While the plot was really good, the second half of the novel was rushed and certain events were done too quickly. The ending felt rushed, too, and although I didn't mind the open ending concerning one character, as it suits the story, I did mind that the final revelation was handled so quickly. Also, things seemed to return back to normal a bit too fast and Daniel's and Louie's past was not explored enough. The general picture was given, but I still had a lot of questions and I missed the answers. I could only speculate and imagine, but in the case of Daniel and Louie, it would have been great to have a more detailed account of what happened on the fateful night that changed them, and why exactly did that happen.

Still, I can say that Burning Secrets is a good, thrilling mystery with a delightful setting and a good twist. Fans of mysteries, crime novels and thrillers will surely enjoy reading it.

Becky says: Great review Irena. It really sounds like the setting adding so much to the thrilling nature of the book. It is a shame that the resolution came too quickly for you and didn’t really answer all your questions. But nonetheless, it does sound like a novel full of twists and a gripping read.

Both our thanks go to HarperCollins for sending the book to review.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Review: Finding Cassie Crazy

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Release date: 2003, this ed 2010
Genre: Contemporary Teenage Fiction
Target audience: 11+
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books

Summary from Amazon:
Cassie, Em and Lydia are best friends in Year 10 at Ashbury High. Ashbury students claim that all the kids at downtown Brookfield High are drug-dealers and psychopaths. Their English teacher, encouraging the Adventure of the Scary and the New and the Joy of the Envelope, starts a Pen-Pal Project. The hilarious letters between the girls and three unknown Brookfield boys lead to an escalation of the war between the schools, to secret romance, and to Cassie learning to face the dark fears that she hides from her friends.


Finding Cassie Crazy is the funniest, most touching and extraordinarily brilliant book ever! I am completely in love with it. I could read it every day for forever. Jaclyn Moriarty deserves to walk on a bed of marshmallows or something. I love her!

This is my third Ashbury High read and I have been reading them all out of order but it really hasn’t detracted from my enjoyment in any way. Finding Cassie Crazy is my favourite so far. It was laugh out loud funny. We are not talking a little chuckle here. We are talking full on guffawing in the garden to the point where my husband was considering locking me out there.

Lydia, Emily and Cassie are in Year 10 and their quirky English teacher Mr Botherit has set them a new assignment. They are going to start a Pen-Pal project with students at a nearby State school – Brookfield. The girls write to their pen friends with varying expectations. They each get a reply from a different boy and so the story unfolds through their exchanges – some witty, some heart-warming, some sinister and all utterly compelling.

Emily is just so brilliant in this book. She has a habit of malapropisms hence my uncontrollable laughter. Lydia is imaginative and wants to be a writer. In her first letter she tells her pen-friend that she is a road sign. Crazy? For sure. But brilliant reading? Hell yes! Cassie is a more timid girl and unlike Emily isn’t one for the spotlight. She is trying to come to terms with the loss of her father. The friendship between the girls is so endearing and their personalities are so alive that they felt like real people. How I love them all!

I have to give a mention to Charlie and Seb. What charming and slightly delinquent heroes they are! How can one not fall in love with a boy who is willing to participate in secret assignments? Or who think up the funniest names that begin with ‘A’?! I could read those letters back and forth between the girls and the guys all day long. Finding Cassie Crazy is in part a story about bereavement but it is so much more. It is about falling in love for the first time, standing up for what you believe in, crossing cultural divides and breaking down stereotypes. It amazes me how much Moriarty can communicate through diary entries, letters, transcripts and emails. If there was ever a writer that I wanted to be, it would be Jaclyn Moriarty. She is the queen of the contemporary teenage fiction world and I am happy to be one of her subjects.

Read for the Aussie YA Challenge 2011

Monday, 9 May 2011

Irena's Review: Long Lankin

Author: Lindsay Barraclough

Release date: 7th April 2011
Genre: horror/thriller/young adult
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Random House Children’s Books


When Cora and her little sister Mimi are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Bryers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome, and are desperate to go back to London. But Auntie Ida's life was devastated the last time two young girls were at Guerdon Hall, and now her nieces' arrival has reawoken an evil that has lain waiting for years. A haunting voice in an empty room ...A strange, scarred man lurking in the graveyard ...A mysterious warning, scrawled on the walls of the abandoned church ...Along with Roger and Peter, two young village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries - before it is too late for Mimi.

Irena’s Review:

Long Lankin is a chilling story based on an English folk song about a man called Lankin who murdered a child and his mother with a witch's help. Both the song and the novel tell a haunting story that can definitely make the hairs rise on your skin.

At the end of the 1960s, Cora and her little sister Mimi have to leave London to stay with their mother's Auntie Ida due to certain family issues. It is clear from the start that they are not welcome at Guerdon Hall, the home of their aunt. Luckily, the girls find friends in the village of Bryers Guerdon - Roger and his younger brother Pete.

Auntie Ida forbids many things to the girls: they must never open the windows in the house, they must never roam certain parts of the house, they must never go to the almost abandoned old church, and so on and so forth. Mimi seems to adapt to the new situation quickly, but Cora is curious and wants to get to the bottom of certain things that Auntie Ida said. She cannot stand the mystery and she feels it's important that she solve it. When they break one rule and go to the church, they see a strange man that frightens the children and it is then that Cora begins to investigate the strange rumours in the village and the family history. What she discovers is shocking and terrifying.

The story is told from three points of view: Cora's, Roger's and Auntie Ida's. This really gives the reader a good idea about what is going on in the book. All the main characters are really well outlined. Cora is a thinker, a determined and curious girl who wants to find out the truth. Roger is a carefree local boy who wants to help her, as he has questions of his own. He has a big family, so he is able to forget things at times, which at times irritates Cora, but together they make a great team. Auntie Ida is a haunted, deeply wounded woman with a tragic history who wants to put the past behind her, but certain things never rest. These characters make the story very dynamic and keep a healthy pace. The novel also features a great, scary villain who is really well outlined and described.

I loved the atmosphere of the novel. It is both very English and very Gothic. There is a lot of suspense and tension that build gradually and definitely reach a very exciting peak, and the very last chapter is so gripping and chilling that it left me with dry mouth. The author really handled the story so very well and transformed the folk song about Long Lankin into a true thriller that is as much a delight to read as it is scary. There are elements of family drama, of history and of the supernatural, and I really got the sense of a typical English village somewhere in a marshy area where superstitions and legends are often more than just a rumour. This is a true English ghost story that might make you look for monsters under your bed.

I was a bit disappointed with the very ending. Everything was resolved, but I still have some questions. However, the main elements reached a dramatic conclusion that left me satisfied and slightly shaken because of its intensity. I'm afraid I have to be vague because I really don't wish to give away anything and spoil the fun, but I can tell you that this is a suspenseful, scary ghost story, yet highly enjoyable. It's a veritable page-turner.

I'd like to end this review with a few lines from the folk song, to give you an idea (a few stanzas are included before the first chapter begins):
Said my lord to my lady, as he rode away:

"Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the hay."

"Let the doors be all bolted and the windows all pinned,

And leave not a hole for a mouse to creep in."


So he pricked him, he pricked him all over with a pin,

And the nurse held the basin for the blood to flow in.


My lady came down, she was thinking no harm

Long Lankin stood ready to catch her in his arm.

Becky says: What an in depth review Irena! I have to say I don’t ever want to read this book. It sounds so frightening. I think it would give me nightmares for weeks after reading. It is great to see a UK debut author being so well received though. I am sad that the ending didn’t quite come off for you but none the less it does sound like you were thrilled by the story.

Both our thanks go to RHCB for sending the book to review.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Author Interview: Cora Harrison

I have completely fallen in love with Cora Harrison's Jane Austen novels and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask her a few questions. I hope you enjoy reading the answers as much as I did!

The Bookette: Where does your interest in Jane Austen stem from do you think? Is there a particular childhood memory or time in your life that you remember being inspired by her?

CH: I read Jane Austen for the first time when I was only about twelve. It was Pride & Prejudice and I adored it. I remember carefully drawing, colouring and cutting out a whole set of figures dressed in regency costumes and constructing a ballroom from an empty cardboard box. Elizabeth Bennet had a beautiful lemon coloured ball gown and she was the belle of the ball.

It’s, I suppose, an indication of Jane Austen’s genius that I have appreciated different aspects of her writing at different times of my life – in the same way as different novels have been my favourites in turn. Romance, wit, humour, understanding of character, the creation of a completely realistic environment – Jane Austen has to be one of the most loved authors in the world.

The Bookette: What are the challenges in characterising Jane considering that she was a real person?

CH: As I said, Jane Austen is hugely loved and that made it tricky portraying her. However, I have concentrated on her teen years where virtually nothing is known of her and I think that made matters easier. My picture of her is inspired by her juvenilia – all written by Jane between the ages of thirteen and nineteen and these are so comic – so anarchic that her character as a funny, lively, exuberant young girl came across so strongly that I never hesitated over writing her dialogue or describing her actions. She was intensely real to me in both I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend’ and ‘Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend’.

The Bookette: You describe the ball gowns of your characters beautifully. Did you research into the fashions of the period? Do you have a particular favourite style of dress?

CH: Yes, I did do a lot of research. I found some wonderful books – the best were Penelope Byrde’s ‘Jane Austen Fashion’ and Sarah Downing’s ‘Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen’. I also spent hours in the museum of costume in Bath and there I found my favourite dress. It was made from white muslin and had tiny glass beads embroidered on the train. It is still incredibly beautiful and I couldn’t help making use of it for Jenny’s first ball.

The Bookette: If you could take one thing from Jane Austen’s era and transport it into the twenty-first century, what would it be and why?

CH: Oh, it would have to be the balls. When Jane Austen was a girl she probably went to a ball about once a fortnight as all the families living around used to hold dances and then there were balls in Basingstoke Assembly Rooms once a fortnight. I think occasions like that for young girls to dress up and wear beautiful floor-length gowns are much fewer these days. And, in addition, the music is so loud that the opportunity for finely veiled flirtatious and witty remarks is very limited!

The Bookette: Who is your favourite Jane Austen hero and why?

CH: Mr Knightley from Emma has to be my favourite of Austen’s heroes – he has a sense of humour, confidence, and is a hopeless romantic underneath it all. Jenny’s Captain Thomas Williams is inspired by him.

The Bookette: Are you planning to write more historical novels about Jane Austen or any other literary figure?

CH: I would love to write about Anna Austen, Jane’s niece. Anna was always falling in love with unsuitable men and annoying her parent, especially her stepmother, Mary. She was strong-willed, funny, and very pretty and it would be great to get the opportunity to portray her life for teenager two hundred years later.

The Bookette: And finally, I like to ask this question of every author I get to interview. It is to do with my very Britishness which as a Jane Austen fan I’m sure you’ll understand. What are you favourite types of cookies (we call them biscuits) to enjoy with a cup of tea?

CH: Definitely home-made ginger biscuits.

I have a little plan that on Jane’s birthday December 16 I shall make black butter. Jane speaks of making it in one of her letters and I thought it didn’t sound too nice, but now I have found a recipe for it and it is made from blackberries, apples, sugar, ginger, cinnamon and spice. I feel it will be delicious spread on my home-made ginger biscuits.

The Bookette: Thank you so much for answering my questions Cora. I cannot wait to read a book about Anna!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Review: Paradise Barn

Author: Victor Watson

Release date: 1st September 2009
Genre: Murder Mystery
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Catnip Publishing

Summary from the publisher’s website:

September 1940. War rages across Europe, and thousands of people, men, women and children, have lost their lives. Despite the air fights overhead life in the quiet village of Great Deeping in the Fens goes on much as usual, until an unthinkable event: a murder. Molly, Annie and Adam, an evacuee from London, are determined to solve the mystery of the Paradise Barn. But it’s one thing hunting for clues, another to track down a murderer. With the war bringing so many strangers to the village, who can they really trust?


Paradise Barn is a charming murder mystery set in Britain during the Second World War.

Molly and Abigail live in the rural town of Great Deeping. Their fathers are absent – they are away doing their bit for the war effort – the two girls have been best friends for as long as they can remember. At the beginning of the novel Molly and Abigail discuss the disturbing fact that there has been a murder. Molly in particular cannot understand how someone could take a life when there is already so much loss happening around them because of the war. The girls set out to solve the crime and restore harmony to their lives.

There is one more event that changes life for the girls and that is the arrival of an evacuee from London. Adam Swales arrives on the train with his sketchbook stays with Molly in her mother’s guest house. The three children set out to discover the identity of the murderer and through the course of doing so develop a great friendship.

The style of writing in this novel is very accessible and the dialogue is charmingly old-fashioned. I think it has a universal appeal. Boys will enjoy the military references and the back drop of the war. Girls will enjoy the friendship between Abigail and Molly and the difficulties they face adding an extra person into their lives.

Paradise Barn has a rather unusual viewpoint. I felt most of the time that Molly was the main character but occasionally the author slipped away to tell us what Adam, Abigail and sometimes even what the occasional adult might be thinking. Molly was a sweet and thoughtful girl. Abigail was rather more confident and opinionated. Adam was very decisive. He was a boy of action and courage.

There really aren’t enough modern mysteries for children. It is a genre that often gets neglected but hopefully things are starting to change. Certainly my pupils tell me they want to read mysteries. Paradise Barn is a wonderful introduction to the genre. It is a “whodunit?” but it is also so much more. It is about the struggles of friendship, the hideous results of war and the realisation that evil isn’t always as clear cut as you might think it is. I really enjoyed this book!

Thanks for Catnip for sending the book for review.
Read for the British Books Challenge 2011

Friday, 6 May 2011

Fairy-Tale Friday: From Russia with Love #12

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.

Week 11 - A Chapter of Fish

It has been quite a long time since I posted a fairytale Friday. I have had too many other things to be getting on with and so it fell by the wayside. I keep promising myself I’ll get to the end of the book. It just might take a while.

Today’s fairytale is...

The Golden Fish

This fairytale is every bit a tale of morality. The sin explored is greed.

There was once an old man who lived with his wife in a hut close to the sea. They were very poor. The man went out to the sea and cast out his net. When he pulled it back, it was extraordinarily heavy. He expected to find a feast of fish but strangely it only held one fish. The Golden Fish. It was small and would have made a tiny meal for the couple.

But when the man looked at it, the Golden Fish spoke. The man was so surprised that he granted the fish his wish to live. He put him back in the sea and to reward his kindness the Golden Fish was willing to grant the man anything he wished for. But the old man was happy with his life and so he didn’t ask for anything.

He returned home without any supper for his wife and told her about the Golden Fish. She chastised the old man for not asking for food. She sent him off to ask the fish for some dinner. So the old man did just that and when he returned home, his wife greeted him with a loaf of bread. What follows is the wife telling the husband to ask for more, more, more until she is a rich Tsarina living in a palace and beats her own husband treating him as a poor beggar. Yet when the wife asks for more, the old man still returns to the fish and puts in her requests. The final thing the wife asks for is to be ruler of the seas and all the fish. This brings the wrath of the Golden Fish and the seas rise up in an angry torrent and there is a great storm.

The old man survives and when he returns home the palace is gone and his old hut is there in its place with his wife waiting for him.

My thoughts:

I wonder if the Golden Fish story is a metaphor for God and Satan. I’m not sure about that, I’d be interested to hear what Irena thinks as she can analyse fairytales in much more depth than me. It seems there is a cautionary tale in there about doing what your wife tells you. I think I should get my husband to read it.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Review: Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend

Author: Cora Harrison

Release date: 1st April 2011 UK
Genre: Historical fiction
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Summary from Amazon:

Jane wants to meet a hero worthy of her extraordinary imagination: a gentleman who is dashing and daring and handsome and brave; who can dance like a viscount and duel like a king. Jane and Jenny are whiling away the season in Bath and there are plenty of dances, rumours and scandals to entertain them. But a good reputation, once lost, is gone forever; and Jane is in danger of becoming the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons…


Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend is a charming historical tale which tells the story of Jenny Cooper – who was very possibly Jane’s best friend. This novel follows on from the romantic endeavours of I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend. I recommend you read the books in the correct order so that you can fully appreciate the sheer delights of this imagining of Jane’s life. This review has spoilers for the first book. So be warned...

Jenny and Jane are very excited at the beginning of the novel. The handsome and gallant Captain Thomas Williams has proposed marriage and Jenny has accepted. But this would not be a truly romantic story if the tale ended there. A true story of love must involve many obstacles. The hero and the heroine must conquer all the trials in order to be rewarded with love.

Jenny’s brother, Edward-John, is a stuffy and weak-spined man. He is far too influenced by his wife Augusta (what a perfect name for a hideous old witch) and she encourages him to prevent the engagement. As her legal guardian, Edward-John has the final say over who may marry young Jenny. Heartbreak and much sobbing ensue but of course the wonderful Captain Williams does not take no for an answer. Let’s hear a young for the naval hero!

This story is told through Jenny’s journal. Her jotting about entertaining conversations, events and Jane’s stories move the plot along. There are also the letters she exchanges with her beaux. But perhaps this is a little more Jane’s story than Jenny’s. We know that Jenny has found an eligible man who will make his fortune. The same cannot be said of Jane. She, as one might imagine, is a flighty and rather intoxicating girl to be around. Men are mesmerised by her charms and sharp tongue which means Jane becomes the object of many single young ladies’ hatred. Jane lives more inside her fantastical musings about the people around her than actually in her own real life. She doesn’t know the true yearnings of her own heart. So does she steal the object of another young lady’s affection? You’ll have to read the book to find out. In truth this is Jane’s journey to find what love is and not what a young romantic novelist might dream it to be. Heroism and chivalry can come in many guises!

This novel takes place in Bath. I loved Harrison’s description of the Royal Crescent, the Pump House and the luxurious shops. It makes me want to revisit bath and especially the Ball Rooms. This story was full of finely researched details. It lavishly portrays the life of the wealthy and their fine attire. I suddenly desire to have a dress made from scratch. Does anyone else ever feel that we have lost some of the beauty of our cultural heritage when we can just buy factory-made clothes?

Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend is the sort of book that should be read in a huge bubble bath with copious amounts of handmade chocolate. It is sheer indulgence. It sweet and entertaining but it is also compelling. I read it in one sitting. I just had to know how it ended. Romantic, endearing and timeless, this book will be enjoyed by giggly girls for years to come. This is series is now a firm favourite of mine.

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