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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

So I read The Great Gatsby...

I haven’t always read as much children’s and young adult fiction as I do now. *Gasp!* I used to read Classics too. A left over habit from my uni days.

Every once in a while I like to stretch myself and in the summer I try to read one classic. Last year it was Wuthering heights – talk about depressing stuff – this year it was The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The cover on the right is the one from my edition circa 1975. The book was first published in 1926. I don’t know about you but I find the idea of “reviewing” a classic rather intimidating. I mean lots of intellectual types have singled these books out as being important for one reason or another. Who am I to argue with those bright minds? In fact if I was still at uni, I’d probably be exploring some profound notion that Scott Fitzgerald was reflecting the Jazz age in his convoluted sentence construction and grandiose language. Is he doing that on purpose? Frankly, who cares? Not me. Was he even doing it at all? Who cares? Again, not me. Is The Great Gatsby is a good read? Yes, I thought so. At least I enjoyed it.

And even more than that, I felt there were some universal truths from my own human experience reflected in these pages.

Take this sentence for instance:
‘And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.’ Pg. 10
Does anyone else have that deep feeling that as summer begins you experience a renewal? I do. So for this alone Scott Fitzgerald had my attention.

I was also rather impressed by his character descriptions. Read this:
‘Her eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle, but the efforts of nature toward the restoration of the old alignment gave a blurred air to her face.’ Pg. 36
I would never think to go into such a description about eyebrows.

Another thing that I really loved about this (did I just use the word loved? Why yes, I did) was the author’s method of conveying the passing of time:
‘Roaring noon.’ Pg. 75 Those two words put together just shout at me “Jazz age”.
‘Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages, where new red petrol-pumps sat out in pools of light...’ Pg. 27

But perhaps my favourite image from the novel is this one:
‘In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.’ Pg. 45

Was Gatsby a great man? It depends who you ask. It was certainly interesting to read about the man at the heart of the story from the perspective of another. That’s all I’m going to say about this book.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Review: Fury

Author: Elizabeth Miles

Release date: 1st September 2011
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy / Horror
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Review:

Fury is a high school drama with terrifying paranormal twist. Enter the three furies... I can tell you this book was no Disney story. It actually gave me the creeps!

Written in the third person, Fury follows two main characters: Emily and Chase. The chapters alternate between their character journeys. Emily is a privileged popular girl, she is pretty and likeable. Along with her best friend Gabby, she rules the social circuit. But Emily is not shallow and superficial. She is actually really nice. I warmed to her immediately. Chase is a star football player. He’s captain of the team and popular with the girls. But Chase is extraordinarily image conscious. His lives on a trailer park on the outskirts of town and has to scrape together the money to keep up his preppy image. I really liked Chase too. Miles elicits the reader’s sympathy for the two Juniors by giving them tangible issues to struggle with.

Emily has fallen for Gabby’s boyfriend Zach. She knows he is off limits but he keeps flirting with her and she can’t stop thinking about him. Miles portrays Gabby as rather self-centred. She is a character of two halves. On the one hand she does charitable things. On the other she fusses over material things and what she wants for Christmas. So despite the fact that we know Emily’s betrayal is wrong, we still also have a lot of sympathy for her. The same can be said of Chase but he’s sin is less obvious and slowly unravels as the plot moves forward.

I can honestly say that I have not read a book like Fury before. I had no idea how it was going to end. That I guess is because it at times is more horror, than paranormal teen angst story. I had no pre-existing knowledge of the genre conventions. There are the three fury figures that punish the sinners of Ascension – the town where Emily and Chase live. The furies are beautiful and ruthless. They gave me the heebeejeebies: think derelict buildings, ghostly knockings and strange voices. I was reading Part 3 in bed and I had to stop because it was horribly eerie. Horror fans will probably see this as tame as a moonlight stroll. For me, it was a serial killer in the bathroom. But despite this, I still found it an absorbing read. I wanted to get to the end. I really wanted the two characters to find redemption for their sins. You’ll have to read it to find out if they do...

Fury was an easy read, it was a page-turner and the writing was of a good standard. The teen voices didn’t grate on my nerves like some of the commercial paranormal fiction out there in the market. I can’t exactly say that I loved this book. I mean, it was too unnerving and a little outside of my comfort zone. But I can say that I was completely riveted. It was dark and twisted and explored the idea that some choices are unforgivable. Intriguing and also rather sinister...

Thanks to Simon and Schuster for sending the book to review.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Review: A Tale Dark and Grimm

Author:  Adam Gidwitz

Release date: UK 4th August 2011
Genre: Fairy-tale retelling
Target audience: 8+
UK Publisher: Andersen Press

Review:

A Tale Dark and Grimm is the hilarious, twisted and bloody story of Hansel and Gretel. If you think you know their story, think again. Gidwitz will make you see those innocent children in a whole new light and wonder how the truth ever got brushed under the carpet.

I haven’t actually read any of the original Grimm fairytales. I know the standard storybook collection retelling of Hansel and Gretel like everybody does but I’ve never glimpsed their writing. So I have no idea how much of Gidwitz’s retelling stays true to the original and how much is his own invention. But it hardly matters because either way it is brilliant. Why have I never bothered to ask why Hansel and Gretel ran away? This seems such an obvious question to me now. There is a whole story to answer this question and so Gidwitz takes us on their journey and he teaches all about parental flaws. In fact we’ll learn lots of lessons and come through this journey much wiser, assuming we survive the cannibals, the warlocks and the devil himself.

Gidwitz delights the reader with his mocking of the bizarre and unpredictable laws of fairytale magic. He draws our attention to it – for example, the moon hungers after children’s flesh. Why? He doesn’t know. But the fact that he tells us this makes us feel a part of that world.

This book revels in its goriness. It celebrates it. The author often interrupts the story to warn us that something dark is coming. He tells us to turn back. But of course, we want to see these hideous happenings that he eludes to. We brace ourselves for the darkest times and honestly, when he interrupted with his witticisms I was reduced to cackling. It is that funny.

A Tale Dark and Grimm works so well because of the author voice. We feel like the author speaks only to us. As if he is in the room, sitting by the fire and dramatically turning the pages. Children will love this. It’s horribly grim and it’s comical and those are two things they cannot get enough of. I will be recommending this book to my students and I heartily recommend it to all of you.

Thank you to Andersen Press for sending me the book to review.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Picture Book Review: Daisy Plays Hide and Seek

Author: Ellie Sandall

Release date: 2nd May 2011
Genre: Picture Book
Target audience: 3+
UK Publisher: Egmont

Review:

Daisy Plays Hide and Seek is an adorable interactive picture book.

Daisy is a cow unlike any other. She can change colour like a chameleon and so she is really fun to play hide and seek with. Jake is sure he will be able to find Daisy and so the game begins.

Children will love this book because they will be able to spot where Daisy is hiding. Each time they turn the page they’ll see Daisy in a new environment and blending in with each new colour. Sandall makes the reader part of the story as we are playing hide and seek too.

I really loved this picture book because the plot is simple but effective. The text and the illustrations are in perfect harmony. I also found the Daisy the cow really refreshing. The overuse of unfamiliar creatures like crocodiles is incredibly wearing. So I think there is even magic in Sandall’s choice of character. The countryside backdrop was also perfect for the age group.

The illustrations are vibrant and energised. There are lots of textures and colours to delight the senses. Every double page spread is different and of course the best is left until last. There is a cliff hanger and there is resolution. It is simply wonderful and will be a joy to share. Daisy Plays Hide and Seek is gorgeous! I highly recommend it.

Picture Book Review: The Fearsome Beastie

Author: Giles Paley-Phillips

Illustrator: Gabriele Antonini
Release date: 18th May 2011
Genre: Picture Book
Target audience: 5+
UK Publisher: Maverick

Review:

The Fearsome Beastie is a humorous picture book told in rhyme.

The children of the village are frightened of the fearsome beastie. He leaves his cave and arrives in town pretending to be their friend. Then he gobbles them up – all except one – Peter.

This story reminded me of little Red Riding Hood but it had its own contemporary twist on the tale. Paley-Phillips’ voice had a comic touch and despite the tale being dark – it was conveyed with humour.

The first two double page spreads are, I think, the weakest. The illustrations and the text really don’t seem to work together. Or rather they are both doing the same job. The author is telling us the beastie leaves his cave and the illustrator is doing the exact same thing in the picture. Perhaps the text could have included some dialogue from the beastie. It needed to give the illustrator something more to work with.

The latter half of the book is much stronger and the text and the illustrations work more cohesively. I liked all the asides the author gave us in brackets – they added humour. I liked the cartoon nature of the illustrations – it reminded me of Scooby Doo. But one further point, the positioning of the text (almost as stanzas) was a bit too traditional. It would have been good to see the illustrator find a more contemporary arrangement for the text. This would have worked well with the concept of a modern fairytale.

Overall, The Fearsome Beastie is an entertaining tale that both girls and boys aged 5+ will enjoy.

Thank you to Maverick Publishing for sending the book to review.

Picture Book Review: Bouncy Bouncy Bedtime

Author: David Bedford

Illustrator: Russell Julian
Release date: 6th June 2011
Genre: Picture Book
Target audience: 3+
UK Publisher: Egmont

Review:

Bouncy Bouncy Bedtime is a picture book to read at bedtime with young listeners.

Strangely, there is no main character in this book and that leads me to form the opinion that there is no story. The writing in this book is designed to encourage young listeners to imagine many different animals bouncing on a big bed in the sky. As I do not have children, I don’t know if this concept will work for creating a calm atmosphere to induce sleep and creative dreaming. I think the beginning of the book could do the exact opposite for very excitable children at bedtime. It describes bouncing on a bed for example which I can imagine children wanting to try this out. I also have an issue with the idea of a bed in the sky. I think we often explain to children loss and death in terms of a loved one being in “heaven” which they may translate as the sky. I have no formal evidence for this but I personally find this a flaw in the concept of this book. I wonder if this book is trying to do two things: be a story about bedtime and be a story about animal traits.  For example, rather than telling a story the content reflects an aspect of the different animals. For example, lions have big claws. For me this dual purpose was ineffectual.

The writing is of an appropriate length for the target age group and I really enjoyed the use of alliteration and repetition of sounds. However, I am not sure that this book really needed to rhyme. Perhaps there would have been more of a story if the author had opted not to use it?

On balance, the strength of this picture book is in the illustrations. The tones and curvy lines used to draw the landscape and animals in the book are perfect for bedtime. The animals are cute and yet not cartoonish. The colours are warm and to me feel like they fit around the cosy, calm of bedtime. As we moved through the double page spreads, the colours become more pastel and reflect the dusk we might see in a twilight sky. I think this was an effective device used by the illustrator.

Overall, I think Bouncy Bouncy Bedtime will appeal to parents and children who like to imagine different magical things before bedtime rather than those who like a great story.


Thank you to Egmont for sending the book to review.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Review: Fire

Author: Kristin Cashore

Release date: September 2009
Genre: Fantasy / High Fantasy / YA
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Gollancz

Review:

Fire is a novel which compliments Cashore’s first novel Graceling; it is not a sequel – in fact the events happen to precede the story of Graceling – but I imagine them to be two pieces of a jigsaw which slot neatly together.

Fire is a lady monster. She is the daughter of Cansrel who was the only human monster in The Dells. Her father embodied the very nature of a monster – he was violent, took perverse pleasure from inflicting pain, manipulated people and abused his power. The world in which Fire lives is full of monster creatures – carnivorous raptors, lions, bugs – they have an alarming power to lure their prey to their deaths so that they can devour them. The monsters are gloriously beautiful – brightly coloured with coats that glisten and glow. Fire is just like the creatures. Her beauty and her hair are so startling that men and women wish to possess and ravish her. But Fire is not helpless despite her extraordinary affect on both the creatures and humans. She has the power to control your mind – she could make you do anything you wish if you allow your mind to be an open shell. It takes great strength and control to keep your mind walled against such power.

Fire is not like her father though – she hates the cruel, unforgivable things he did. Cansrel used his power and his friendship with King Nax causing the kingdom to the very edge of ruin. But when Cansrel dies, there is hope for the peoples’ future. Fire is determined not to use her power as a violation. She wants only to be a part of the world and not different from it. Her greatest wish is to be ordinary – she doesn’t want her presence to inspire people to lustful anger, insatiable desire or utter devotion.

Again Cashore amazed me with her skill and depth of characterisation. Through Fire’s character, she explores the question of what it is to be a true monster. I found at first the concept of these monster beings difficult to grasp. Why were they monsters, I wanted to know. How are such creatures more monstrous in their nature than others? I can’t say that I entirely understood except that they had a vampirism about them. They desired the blood of humans from my own interpretation. But more than any other, they desired the blood of Fire. In a way why or how these monster creatures came to be is irrelevant – it is the fact that they are defined as “monsters” that is important to the story. We could exchange the world monster for “other” if we wanted to. They had the power to control the mind and lure you to your doom.

The plot of this story perhaps mirrors more closely that of a historical novel. The Dells is on the brink of war with Lords Gentian and Mydogg. The action rises towards a great battle that will see many lives lost. But Fire’s own path through this story is set when she is in the forest and shot with an arrow. The poacher has a strange mist clouding his mind, the like of which Fire has never seen before. Lord Archer – Fire’s lifelong friend – is concerned about her safety and so they set out from their rural home to discover under whose orders the mysterious poacher acted.

Fire is a complex fantasy novel with many themes weaving through the plot: love, belonging and human nature. Cashore certainly knows how to satisfy the reader – I found the ending to be entirely fulfilling. I will certainly be reading more from this author. Her books are a pleasure to read and recommend.   

Friday, 19 August 2011

Review: Graceling

Author: Kristin Cashore

Release date: UK September 2009
Genre: High Fantasy /YA
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Gollancz

Review:
Graceling is a fantastic, utterly gripping fantasy novel set in the world of the seven kingdoms.

Katsa is Graced with the gift of killing. Her Grace emerged at 8 years old. The Graced can be identified by their eyes – each being a different colour. Katsa is the niece of King Randa of the Middluns. When he learns of her gift, he realises he can use her as a weapon to control his kingdom and punish any disobedient subjects. As Katsa grows up, she hones her gift and tortures many men on the King’s orders. She can kill in hundreds of different ways with her bare hands and feet if necessary. Katsa’s Grace means that the other inhabitants of the castle fear her. They will never look in her eyes. She grows up almost friendless – except for the King’s son Raffin who is not perturbed by her skills – and perceives herself as a savage, cruel beast.

But Katsa is not the unfeeling, violent thug she thinks herself to be. Without even acknowledging her changing feelings, she begins to seek out those in need and helps them. Cashore’s characterisation of Katsa is infinitely layered and despite the cruel things that Katsa has done, I really loved her. She is feisty, fierce and relentless. Fans of strong heroines will find themselves in awe of Katsa. She is charming in her rough and feral way. In fact all the main characters in Graceling are brilliantly crafted. Po is a witty, sensitive and brave Lienid Prince who is also rather mysterious. He offers Katsa friendship sharing an understanding of what it means to be Graced. Raffin is entertaining and caring and a marvel with his medicines.

The story is driven by Katsa and the contrast between the actions she is forced to carry out and those that are of her own volition. I don’t want to tell you anymore about the plot. No spoilers here. You should uncover the mystery along with Katsa and not have me spoil it for you.

I have to admit I found this book unputdownable and an absolute joy to read. I haven’t felt so involved in a book for a long time. Usually I’m looking how many pages I have until the end – a by product of being a book blogger. But with Graceling I just didn’t want the story to end. I cried in places and laughed out loud in others. This book reminded me why fantasy is my favourite genre. I read to escape into another world and live another life – one peppered with magic. That is exactly what I found in Graceling. I cannot recommend it enough. Truly. It’s magnificent.   

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Twitter recommends: "My Family" themed Picture Books

Twitter also helped me compile a list of picture books on the theme of "My Family".

Here are the recommendations:

Farther by Grahame Baker Smith

The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle

Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

Meerkat Mail by Emily Gravett

My Sister is an Alien by Rachel Bright

Rover by Micheal Rosen

Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy

Missing Mummy by Rebecca Cobb

The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith

Ruby and Grub by Abi Burlingham

Grub in Love by Abi Burlinghan

Start Reading: ME AND MY FAMILY series by Amanda Rainger

Alfie by Shirley Hughes

Thanks to the following Twitter stars for the recommendations:

@tbktweet
@abiburlingham
@LizziePoulton
@Sally_PR
@MaryMHoffman
@sallyanne_s
@BookElfLeeds

Any more recommendations? Please share them in the comments...

Twitter Recommends: If you like Wimpy Kid, try...

I'm planning a "If you like Wimpy Kid, try" display for when I go back to work. With the help of Twitter, here is a list of books fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid may enjoy:

The Cartoon Kid by Jeremy Strong

Scream Street by Tommy Donbavand

Peony Pinker by Jenny Alexander

S.T.I.N.K.B.O.M.B by Rob Stevens

Danny Baker Record Breaker by Steve Hartley

Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce

Dork Diaries by Renee Russell

Fantastic Frankie and the Brain-drain Machine by Anna Kemp

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

Donut Diaries by Dermot Milligan and David Tazzyman

Jiggy McCue by Michael Lawrence

Billionaire Boy by David Walliams

Milo & the Restart Button by Alan Silberberg

These are the lovely people who recommended books for the list. Go follow them:

@tbktweet
@joecraiguk
@jennyalexander4
@Sally_PR
@truffleoilyum
@rosielovesbooks
@Simonkids_UK
@CatClarke
@CRALP
@AbiBurlingham

Any more recommendations? Please leave them in the comments...

The Rise of the Blog Tour

Blog Tours. Is it just me or are they taking over the world? Or rather my inbox.

I seem to be inundated with opportunities to participate in them. But the thing is they cause me stress! I only want to participate in them with publicists who I truly love working with because they have proven themselves to be reliable and wonderful. Plus they have got to know me and my tastes in books and this I value. So if they ask me to participate I trust that I will really enjoy the book.

When I first started blogging and I was invited to be part of a blog tour. I was so excited. But I really didn't know then what I know now. If only I did...

These are my niggles with blog tours:
  • You have to read the book in a given time frame
  • If you have to pass it on, that time frame is narrowed
  • Even if you don't have to pass it on, you need to fit it in and sometimes with work that is impossible
  • You might read the book and think it is awful
  • But you've already agreed to be part of the tour
  • So you write a fair and balanced review (I always do this rather than writing unnecessarily cruel things. I value professionalism)
  • But on top of your review you are giving it extra publicity
  • I didn't like the book. Why would I want to do that?
  • My blog is my personal review space not an advertising billboard
  • Who really wants to read seven reviews of the same book in seven days?
I genuinely think that blog tours remove some of the freedoms that I need as a reader. I need to be free to read what I want, when I want. I need to be free to not finish a book if I find it boring, overly descriptive, or I'm irritated by the main character. I want to keep my blog interesting and not have the content dictated by the trends and latest releases of the publishing industry. This is what brings people here in the first place...

The only way I can keep my integrity and my sanity is by saying no, thank you. Please don't take offense. It's not you, it's me.

This post should really be titled The Bookette's Guide to reasons why I am declining to take part in [insert book title here] blog tour.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Review: White Cat

Author: Holly Black

Release date: This UK Paperback April 2011
Genre: Fantasy / Urban Fantasy
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Indigo Imprint, Orion

Review:

White Cat is a dark and twisted fantasy set in a contemporary world where some people are born with the power to curse. This magic was outlawed in 1929 and the laws of prohibition sent the gifted into the shadows. The magical worker families turned to crime and so now they use the curses are used to control their empires and fulfil their desires. They are the magical mafia. Holly Black’s White Cat is a wonderfully original and compelling read.

Cassel Sharpe is born into a family of curse workers. He has spent his whole life wanting to be a worker like the rest of his family. His older brothers have the magic in their hands, just like their parents and their grandparents. But Cassel is different because he can’t work magic. He is, however, an excellent con artist, a skill he did learn from his family – especially his mother who is currently in prison. Cassel can lie and cheat and manipulate and worse than that he can’t help but enjoy it.

The fantasy element of this novel is initially quite difficult to grasp but as you learn about Cassel and his life, you slowly come to grasp how the magic is worked. The people wear gloves but it isn’t hard to pull out a few threads and let the magic through and of course, you can choose to remove your gloves. The novel opens with Cassel standing on a roof in nothing but his underwear. It is the middle of the night and he has no idea how he got there. Did he sleepwalk? Or has someone been working him? If they were working him, what did they want him to do? And then there is the big family secret that haunts him: he is a cold-blooded killer. He murdered his childhood friend.

All this would make anyone a little paranoid and Cassel is no exception. He trusts no one, not his family, not his friends and unsurprisingly, not even himself. He may be part of a family of criminals but he is a very likeable character. The fact that Cassel wants to be good makes all the difference. I was cheering him on and hoping that he could somehow find a way out of the criminal life.

One of the things that I really liked about this book was Cassel’s intelligence. As I was making connections between the actions of other characters, he was making them too. It made the story and the plot all the more believable. There was none of that: “Why hasn’t he asked that question yet?”

This is the first novel I have read by Holly Black. I know she is a very popular author and now I can see why. White Cat is very well written and has entirely believable coherent fantasy world of its own. It’s a book that I can wholeheartedly recommend and I cannot wait to read on with Red Glove.
Thanks to Orion Books for sending me the book to review.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Review: Catch

Author: Will Leitch

Release date: December 2005
Genre: Bildungsroman
Target audience: 12+
US Publisher: Razorbill

Review:

Catch is a humorous and touching coming-of-age story. Told as a first person narrative, it is story that is so easy to fall into and it had me wanting to keep turning the pages.

Tim Temples is the narrator of this story. He is eighteen and this is his last summer before he goes to college. At the beginning of the story he is, quite honestly, a bit of an idiot. And yet, there is an endearing quality and likableness about him but that could be just because he tells us there is. Tim lives in the small town of Matton where his dad is the local hero – he was once in a minor league baseball team. So Tim is treated by everyone around him like royalty. The police wave him on when they catch him drink driving for instance. Girls are powerless to his charms. He is Mr Popular and enjoys playing the field.

Every night Tim and his posse – The Horsemen – take his Blazer around town. They do the circuit until they find some girls. They make out, eat hideous fast food and then they do it all again the next night. So how does this character make you like him? Well, in part it is because he recognises these things of himself. He is the one telling you this is what they do for a good time. And of course, it is the beginning and you know that Tim will change. His journey is honest, hilariously so at times and touching too. If there is a moment that Tim gets your sympathy, it is the introduction of his older brother Doug who has returned from college. Tim is worried about Doug because he thinks college has ruined him. Doug didn’t get his diploma; he didn’t succeed at college baseball. He has none of his usual spark and *gasp* he has a bit of a belly.

Beneath all this humour and Tim’s adolescent urges, there is the story of a boy who isn’t sure what the future holds for him or even if he is ready for it. While the town prepares for the annual Bagelfest event, Tim spends his summer days carting boxes of those inedible things at the plant. He finds a solace in the repetitive manual nature of the task and he also meets Helena. She is twenty-three and is the meanest girl in town. So of course Tim can’t help but find her an exciting new challenge. Helena’s story is much darker than you might expect. Despite their instant dislike for each other when they first meet, their relationship sets them both on a journey of self-discovery.  

I think this book is the perfect pre-college/university read. It has a universal appeal with the matter of fact narrative and the situational humour. I found Catch unexpectedly uplifting. It has a bizarre charm all of its own. Like all good coming-of-age stories, you’ll learn a little bit about life along the way too.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Hunting Lila Blog Tour: Five Things You Didn't Know About Sarah Alderson

Welcome to the final stop of the Hunting Lila Blog Tour. If you remember back in April, I reviewed Sarah's book as part of my Simon and Schuster British author focus.
If you missed my review, you can find it HERE.

Today, the lovely Sarah is going to share with us five (well actually ten because I couldn't decide which things to pick) fascinating things about herself. So without further ado, here they are:

Ten things you never knew about me...

by Sarah Alderson


1. I grew up in south London and worked for a charity for nine years doing something really bossy. Then one day I got bored and my husband and I decided to quit our jobs, pack our bags and take our tutu-wearing, princess obsessed toddler on a round the world trip to find a new place to live. On my list of things to do that year were the following items:  1. Resign 2. Find a new home somewhere hot where I can lie by the pool all day 3. Write a book 4. Get published.

I managed all four! And every day still, that blows my mind.

2. I thought up the idea for Hunting Lila whilst swimming. I had never written anything creative before (other than lots of funding proposals and a lot of fake sick notes when I was at school which I'd then forge my mum's signature on) but I was trying to figure out what to do when travelling and then I thought 'I know! I'll write a book' and the idea for Lila literally just popped into my head... well, it took about ten lengths.

Every time I got stuck I just started saying 'what if...', what if her mother was murdered, and what if her brother is chasing the killers and what if... and then four months later I had finished Hunting Lila. Even now I swim almost every day (though in a slightly nicer setting overlooking rice paddies), it's where all my plotting takes place. Whole conversations and scenes play out in my head as I'm doing laps. When I'm daydreaming up Alex scenes I can swim for hours...I got quite fit writing that book.

3. I am a really fast writer. I wrote Hunting Lila in four and a half months at night, after work, when my daughter was asleep. I wrote the sequel on the beach in India, finishing it in just under three and a half months. I then started another book Fated, whilst we were in the States on a road trip around California. It took me just two and a half months to write it. That story, about a teenage demon slayer, is out in January.  I wrote the sequel to Fated in two months and the third book in that series in just under a month. I'm hoping to beat my personal best and write a book in one week at some point. Though that might require amphetamine.

4. I can write anywhere; on the beach, in bed, in cars, on planes, on buses, but usually I write at my desk in our house in Bali overlooking the rice paddies. I just need my headphones and my spotify playlists and I'm there, in the story.

5. There's 35,000 words of edited scenes on my hard drive. My first draft was so ridiculously long. Only three people have read those deleted scenes but maybe one day I'll include them on my website, a bit like they do on DVDS with the extras. That could be fun.
6. I spent a year in Italy when I was 21, ostensibly studying. I didn't go to a single class. Instead I spent my time eating pizza, drinking wine and lazing around the tiny artists' garrett I shared with my boyfriend. That was a great time. I've always been a ridiculous romantic.

7. Lila's school is based on the school I went to in south London. It was an all girls' school. I did a lot of acting, so that I could get to hang out with the boys from the boys' school around the corner. I think my love of drama and theatre is obvious when I write. People have said my books are just like films...and in my head they really are.

8. My claim to fame is that I've been in a film with Harrison Ford and Sean Bean. When I was ten I was in Patriot Games (you might need to look that up if it was before your time). Ok, I was only an extra but still. Before that I was also an Elf in the Hobbit somewhere in Croydon.

9. The character Suki's name was originally Kuni but my editor made me change it because she thought it sounded too rude. If you've read Chaucer you might be able to figure out why.

10. There's an error with the book cover for Hunting Lila. Lila would never wear heels to run in! She hates heels. Part way through the book she discovers something - something awful and that's when the hunt begins.  She actually runs away barefoot. Planning's not her strong point.
Hunting Lila is available now in all great book shops.
Sarah's second book Fade is out in January. I, for one, can't wait!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Review: Bloodstone

Author: Gillian Philip

Release date: 19th August 2011
Genre: Fantasy/ YA
Audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Strident

Review:

Bloodstone is the second novel in Gillian Philip’s Rebel Angels series. I absolutely loved Firebrand. It was one of my favourite books of 2010. You can read my review here.

Bloodstone sees the time slip forward to the present day in the mortal world. The uncivilised witch hunts which were in full swing in Firebrand are long gone. At the beginning of the novel Seth and Conal are living in the full mortal world of television and leather jackets. They have been hunting the bloodstone for Kate for hundreds of years. In order to stay sane they return to the Sithe world through the watergate and remind themselves of their home.

I reread Firebrand before reading Bloodstone and in some ways it made my experiencing more challenging. I found the modern mortal world so unbecoming for the Sithe. I couldn’t really fit them there in my imagination. They belong in their own medieval, raw and earthy world. I missed Seth roaming the ragged landscape. But on the other hand, by reading Firebrand again, I was again adoring of Seth and his feral ways.

Bloodstone features the familiar faces: Conal, Leonora, Reultan, Sionnach, Eili. But it also introduces us to two new and very significant characters: Jed and Finn. Seth being a Sithe warrior and not one to deny himself earthly pleasures begins a relationship with a full mortal. I guess that is in part where the trouble begins. The full mortal has a son – Jed - and Seth has to meddle with his mind so that he doesn’t remember his presence. In Bloodstone we not only follow Seth’s journey but Jed’s too seeing some of the story from his perspective. Then there is Finn who Seth enjoys goading so passionately. Finn has no knowledge of the Sithe world and her true identity. She is tormented by her peers at school and like a live volcano could erupt at any moment. Bloodstone is her journey too but I didn’t realise this until the end.

The plot twists and turns in so many directions that I had no idea where the author was taking us. There was no sign of the stone and at times I didn’t understand the choices that Seth was making. His intentions were unclear. But do not despair; this is in no way a criticism of the story. Rather Philip takes the reader on a most mazelike journey through the darkest reaches of the mind, the most painful beats of the heart. I am still very much in love with the rugged Seth.

Bloodstone is breathtakingly dramatic and beautifully crafted. The ending was both heart-breaking and endearing. That is Philip’s power to make you really feel the emotion of the characters as if they speak only to you. I wonder where she will take us next. Will the series dive further into the future? Will it touch upon dystopian or will the magic of the Sithe world bleed into the mortal world? I can’t wait to find out.

Thanks to Strident for sending the book to review.

Read for the British Books Challenge 2011.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Author Interview: Karen Wallace

Please welcome Karen Wallace author of Emerald to The Bookette. I was lucky enough to be able to ask Karen a few questions about her wonderful new historical novel. I hope you enjoy...

The Bookette: I guess the first question must be why emerald? Why not sapphire for instance? Does the colour, precious stone have a deeper meaning which relates to Emerald’s character?

KW: Green is the colour of envy and jealousy and there is a lot of both in the story.  A flawless emerald is rare and so are green eyes.  Emerald seemed a strong name to me and I wanted her to be a special character as rare as a fine emerald and with unforgettable green eyes. 

The Bookette: Emerald is a courageous, noble character. From the very first page I empathised with her plight living a life not of her own choosing. Can you share with us a little of your character crafting process? Where do you begin?

KW: I wanted Emerald to be first and foremost a natural character.  In many ways, I used the same approach to building her up as I did with the character of Nancy in ‘Raspberries on the Yangtze’.  Writing in the first person helped enormously and that was really the breakthrough.  The temptation is to let the demands of the historical background define the character, the challenge is to do it the other way round.

The Bookette: I really loved the scene where Emerald goes fly fishing. Do you have any special interest in fishing? If not, how do you go about writing a scene like that? Do you go out and observe fly fishers? Or is it purely your imagination of how it might work?

KW: I used to live in Ireland and we did a lot of flyfishing.  I’m not very good at it but have listened to enough stories – true or false – to know how to go about catching a fish.  I made up the knack of putting your mind somewhere else but it seemed to make sense to me.

The Bookette: Whenever I visit a stately home or estate, I always think that it must be an idyllic existence, to have the freedom of the garden, great rooms to dance in, and a sumptuous chamber to sleep in. Hawkstone Hall in part met this notion but it also showed the more brutal aspects of the lifestyle. No supermarkets with pre-packed chicken for instance and the use of herbs as medicine. Do you think it is important to convey the truth of a historical setting and lifestyle? If so, why?

KW: I believe it is absolutely essential to re create as honestly as one can the historical background.  The magic can’t work if the characters don’t operate within the restrictions and constrictions of their time.  This applied particularly to the growing attraction between Sam and Emerald.  They never over stepped the conventions but because we are seeing it and feeling it through Emerald, we get a real sense of the charge between them. 

The job of writing historical fiction is to re create a world that is convincing.  To convince the reader, that world  has to be accurate in every sense of the word.

The Bookette: My favourite character was Meg. She was an adorable little urchin. Which is your favourite character from Emerald and why?

KW: I really liked Meg, as well.  I’m not sure quite where she came from but I needed her as a comic motif but also as an innocent commentator.  She says what she thinks because she doesn’t know any better.  And once she started ‘talking’, I always looked forward to the moment she opened her mouth because I was never quite sure what was going to come out!

The Bookette: I love historical fiction. Can you recommend any other titles that fans of Emerald will enjoy?

KW: My first historical novel was called “Wendy’ which was my idea of Wendy Darling’s story in Peter Pan.  It has nothing to do with the character of Peter Pan.  ‘Wendy’ is all about an Edwardian childhood.  And once again, the accuracy and honesty of the background detail is crucial to the success of the story.

As for other suggestions, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, is extraordinary.

The Bookette: Extraordinary...but the size of Wolf Hall is rather intimating. Karen, thank you so much for answering my questions. Congratulations on the publication of Emerald. It’s available to buy in all good UK bookshops now. Want to know more about Emerald? Check out my review.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Review: Emerald

Author: Karen Wallace

Release date: 4th August 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Summary from Amazon:
Emerald St. John is in trouble. She has been condemned to marry a man she hates, her enemies are conspiring to have her pet bear Molly torn apart in the baiting pits, and the man she loves is far away on the high seas. And she has stumbled into a web of spies with a plot to poison Queen Elizabeth I. To save herself and the kingdom, Emerald must beat the spies at their own game - which means transforming herself from a country girl into a lady of the court. Can she do it in time?

Review:

Sometimes a book is just simply a pleasure to read. Emerald is one of those books. It is so easy to get into and the writing let’s you sink right into it like a favourite armchair. It is historical novel set in the sixteenth century which explores the themes of power and courage.

When Emerald’s father dies, she and her brother Richard are sent away from their family home to live with their Aunt and Uncle at Hawkstone Hall. Emerald is just seven at the time and cannot understand why her father would insist upon this in his will when their mother is still alive. Emerald is afraid and Richard swears that he will take care of her but then he is sent to sea. So Emerald grows up alone and bonds with her Aunt Frances but unfortunately not with her cousin Arabella.

The story is really about what happens to Emerald now she is sixteen. Her mother writes to her Uncle Charles and informs him that Emerald will marry Lord Suckley. Emerald has never met this man and partitions her Uncle to prevent the marriage. Her Uncle despite his open dislike of Suckley refuses to do so. Emerald pins her hopes on Richard saving her from a fate worse than death. Suckley is a hideous man in both character and appearance. His name says it all and when I think of him I shudder.

Emerald is not entirely alone at Hawkstone. She has a friend in the little urchin Meg who idolises her. Meg was my favourite character. A minor character and yet she had a very distinctive, humorous voice and was incredibly brave. Emerald also has a friend in Sarah – a servant who as a young girl joined the steward’s service and played with Emerald - who is willing to help her despite all the risks. Certainly the female characters in this story are the bold and the brave, the courageous and the daring, but they are of course forced to play by the rules of a patriarchal society.

I cannot review this book without a mention of the other main theme in this story - love. Emerald is a story of romantic courtly love, as well as familial love, love of a monarch, love of place, love of a pet, love of a friend. If you haven’t read any historical fiction before, then I think Emerald is a great introduction to the genre. If you are a fan of historical fiction, then you’ll feel right at home here. The setting is convincing, the heroine inspiring, the hero mysterious and charming, the plot page turning; all in all, Emerald is a riveting, enjoyable read.

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

Read for the British Books Challenge 2011.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

I cannot wait for this book...

I just cannot wait for Darkness Falls (Immortal Beloved #2) by Cate Tiernan to be released. It's not coming out until January 2012 in the UK.

Somehow the cover was revealed 4 days ago without my noticing. Perhaps it was the jet lag?
Anyway, I just had to post it here because I love it. So atmospheric...


I spy the eggs and I wonder what they signifiy?????????

Here is the blurb from Amazon:

He is the thorn in my side, nightmare of my past, destroyer of my family . . . And the one whose fevered kisses I had relived over and over as I lay exhausted and unable to sleep.

And yet night after night, he - who had kicked down hundreds of doors - had not brought himself to knock on mine.


Nastasya has lived for more than 400 years but things never get any easier. As she learns more about herself, she questions whether it will ever be possible to break free from the darkness of her former life. Can she turn away from the one person she wants to be with above all others? Should her past determine who she should - or should not - love?

Desire, death and painful secrets are revealed in this compulsively addictive sequel to Immortal Beloved.

Desire????? Death????? Exciting, no? CAN. NOT. WAIT!!!!!!!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Review: Nobel Genes

Author: Rune Michaels
Release date: 10th August 2010 US
Genre: Contemporary YA/ Ethics
Target audience: 12+

Review:

Nobel Genes is a story about who we are and where we come from. It is a contemporary story set in America and it raises questions about the ethics of genetics and the origin of our identity.

When I finished reading this book, I knew that I had enjoyed it but I couldn’t for the life of me remember the main character’s name. So I searched through the book and realised that he never actually tells us his name which is very much in tune with the story. It is a first person narrative told by a boy. I don’t think he reveals his age either but I imagined him to be around eleven. The boy is referred to by others in terms of labels. He is “the kid”, “Nobel son”, and “paperboy”. So Nobel Genes is partly a story about identity. The boy is obsessed with finding his father who gave him these genes. His father is a mystery. The donor bank cannot reveal who his Nobel father is and so the boy has many fantasies about the great achievements of his father.

In a way this story is not so much about the Nobel father as it is about the boy’s mother. She is suffering with mental health issues and cannot leave the house. The boy takes on the role of his mum’s carer – even buying her cigarettes, monitoring her behaviour. He is very aware that if social services find out he is taking care of his mum, he will be taken from her. It is a sad and moving story and it was nice to see young adult fiction exploring the role of a young carer.

The way the story is told is rather unusual. There is very little dialogue. The boy’s narrative is almost stream of consciousness as he reveals his life to the reader. It feels as if he is speaking directly to you and thus it is easily accessible. And yet, it is also edge of your seat reading because you cannot help but feel for this boy who is burdened by responsibility.

I loved the science references in this novel. This morning when I woke up there was one phrase that was imprinted on my thoughts and it was: primordial soup. The ending is suitably ambiguous and though it may not leave you feeling wholly satisfied, it did fit with the story. There was a beautiful symmetry to it. Read Nobel Genes if you’re looking for something different and moving.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Bookette's Holiday Snaps

I promised a post of holiday snaps and even though my sleeping pattern is still crazy, here it is!

Day 1 - We flew into Boston and navigated our way to the hotel. Slept.


Day 2 - We walked the Freedom Trail in 90+ heat. It was crazy. My husband climbed the monument at Bunker Hill. I waited in the room downstairs and listened to the history of the site.



Then when the heat got too much for us, we took refuge in the Museum of Science. There was a really cool dude who had this lightning machine. It was so loud we had to cover our ears. I can't tell you much more about that day because I was exhausted from the heat and jet lag but I do remember watching PM's Qs in the hotel lobby waiting for the bus to take us to the tube. It was really interesting to hear another nation explaining our political system on the news.

Day 3 - We toured Harvard. Horray. I had been really looking forward to this and I wasn't disappointed. The guide was a Harvard Sophomore and she gave us an insider's view. I was riveted. The statue below is John Harvard who is actually not the founder of Harvard but he donated lots of money. Oh, and it's not really him. No one knew what he looked like so they just got a random student to model as him. Cool, huh?!




Then we had booked tickets for the Duck Tour which uses an amphibious vehicle to drive and sail? you around the city. The guy leading the tour was Colonel Duck Tape. He was part actor, part tour guide, 100% crazy. I loved it.



I also got to spend a while in Barnes and Noble and Borders that day so I was very very happy.

Day 4 - We drove out of Boston and up the Maine coast. This was the day it hit 106. I thought my skin was going to melt off. Thank goodness for the aircon in the car. We stopped at lots of little picturesque places but not for long. I loved Maine. Out of the three states we visited, it was my favourite. In the evening it was a bit difficult to find a place for dinner and we got a bit lost but in doing so we found the coolest diner for breakfast the next day. Amy and Roger are so right. It is all about the detour.



Day 5 - We spent the morning on Crescent Beach and did some reading. It was cloudy so it was cool enough to just sit there and do nothing. But then by lunch time that heat wave was back and we had to disappear into the shade again.



In the evening I suggested we drive into Portland. It's one of Maine's biggest cities so the hubby was a hit afraid what with not knowing the US Highway Code but it was surprisingly easy. We had a huge dinner. I had shrimp and our waitress studied at the University of London so she was delighted to meet some Brits in her home town. Portland is fairly lively at night so we mooched about and bought postcards, walked along the wharf, it was charming.



Day 6 - We ate breakfast at the diner again. And then we went into the State Park of Sebago Lake and went for a swim. It was just the right temperature and it was really beautiful.



Then in the afternoon we drove further up the coast and went to Long Lake where we went on the coolest boat ever and had a guided tour of the lake. We also played mini golf. My husband won. He always does. Then we headed for the New Hampshire White Mountains and checked in at the Comfort Inn at North Conway. We stayed in a suite. It was so luxurious compared to the cringe worthy placed we'd stayed before so I was very very happy.



Day 7 - In the morning my husband took the car up the Mount Washington Auto Route. I completely chickened out when I read: "People who are afraid of heights may not appreciate this driving experience. There are no guiderails on the auto-route". So I stayed in the visitor centre with the lovely staff and read my book. It was heaven. In the afternoon we took a trip on the North Conway Scenic Railway. I love train rides. I can't explain why. I just do and this was a train from 1896 so I was pretty excited.



Day 8 - It was our wedding anniversary. We drove up into the mountains and then did a short trail walk to some Thompson Falls. It was early so we were the only people there. At the bottom of the waterfall there are some stepping stones and I said to my hubby "Are you sure I'm safe to walk on these?" (I'm a neurotic holidayer). He says "Of course it's safe". What does he do five minutes later? Slip and somehow crush his toe between two rocks. He was in agony. He could hardly walk for the rest of the holiday. I seriously thought he'd broken it. But today most of the purple and blackness has gone. It was like a mouldy chipolata.



In the evening we had Chinese, managed to fit in some more mini-golf (hubby won again) and went to the cutest playhouse to see Hairspray. It was brilliant. The cast were really good considering that this was a local theatre and they have not much more than a weekend to rehearse each play they put on.



Day 9 - I signed up for a horse ride through the woods. My husband went off for a drive through the mountains. The ride was great. I have very little experience but the guides took really good care of me and my horse for the morning - Jed - was so well behaved. It was a really peaceful way to see off the beaten track. I recommend it. No pics of that I'm afraid as hubby took the camera.

In the afternoon we drove from the White Mountains back to Massachusetts and stayed at the Comfort Inn in Portsmouth. (Note: I am a big fan of The Comfort Inn). We walked around a bit and had dinner in a waterfront restaurant.

Day 10 - We drove south to visit Salem. My husband's poor toe (how I wish I took a picture) meant he wasn't up to much walking and seeming as I hate it, I happily suggested we take the tour trolley around. Another guided tour which I really enjoyed. There is nothing like good stories to make the things we see have meaning. Lunch at the harbour and then the drive back to the airport to fly home.




An English Girl's Top Five Tips for a Holiday in New England:

  • Take your own teabags and while you're at it a travel kettle and some long life milk. Trust me; this will stand between you and insanity. If you ask for hot water for tea while you’re out and about, the restaurants are more than happy to give it to you.
  • Take insect repellent for the mountains and lakes. Otherwise you will be a feast for the mini-beasts.
  • Always opt for the guided tour where possible - how else will you know that Matt Damon used to sleep in a certain dormitory?
  • Ask the hotel receptionist where it is good to eat. The locals always know the best establishments.
  • Don't take many books with you. Save the space to buy lots of new ones to take home.

I guess I'll finish this post off by answering the question about whether I needed an extra suitcase for all my new books. No I did not. I put some in my case, some in hubby's, some in my hand luggage and then bought two more for the airport shop once we'd checked in. So there you go. I didn't even need to leave my flip-flops behind. But I would have though, if push came to shove.