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Friday, 30 September 2011

Review: Chain Reaction

Author: Simone Elkeles

Release date: US 18th August 2011
Genre: Contemporary YA / Romance
Target audience: 12+
US Publisher: Walker

Review:

Chain Reaction is the third novel in Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry contemporary romance series.

Do not read this review if you haven’t read Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction. There will be spoilers galore! I will do my best not to give anything away for this book though. It may be a rather vague review but hey, I don’t want to ruin the experience for you.

Luis Fuentes is the youngest brother of the family and if you remember back to Alex’s story, you’ll also remember that at eleven he was the smartest. In the opening chapters of Chain Reaction he is fifteen and is a straight A student, champion swimmer and all round good boy or at least that’s what his family believe. Luis may be smart but he also he the characteristic recklessness of any Fuentes. He is an adrenalin junkie and when we meet him he rock climbing without the proper safety equipment. You know pride always comes before a fall, right?! But his life changes when his mother relocates them back to Fairfield, Chicago.

The story doesn’t stay with Luis at fifteen for long. It zooms zips forward a few years to the point where is his life has changed dramatically, he has returned to Chicago with his mum and it’s his senior year. Now any Perfect Chemistry book would not be complete without a sassy heroine. Meet Nikki Cruz – hardworking, beautiful, emotionally scarred American Mexican – who does not want to get involved with any guy. Nikki lives on the North side of Fairfield and has decided that any guy on the South side spells trouble. But when Luis and Nikki meet for the first time, it’s memorable to say the least. When they meet again, they can’t keep their eyes off each other.

Luis has his sights firmly set on college. Nikki has her sights firmly on keeping her heart intact. But then there’s the attraction between them and it drives them to distraction. Can Luis get Nikki to let down her guard and take on chance Mr Adrenalin? Oh and I forgot to mention that the Latino Blood gang have their sights on Luis and if they can’t get him, then they’ll settle for his blood.

I’m going to be honest here and say at times some of the choices Luis made with regards to the gang seemed a little out of character. I think that was the point Elkeles was trying to make. Any person who is living among such violence can be changed or influenced by it. But he had a choice and annoyingly for me, he kept making the stupid ones. He thought he was being clever. I thought he was being a nincompoop. So that was a minor irritation. Also the climactic scene lacked some of the edge that I know Elkeles can deliver so that was a little disappointment for me.

Otherwise I thought Chain Reaction was great. The romance between Luis and Nikki was entertaining, steamy and compelling. I want to know if there will be more books about the next generation of Fuentes. If there is, I’ll certainly be buying them. I just find the stories so page-turning. I am shameless romantic who will always hope for a happy ending.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Olympian Week Blog Tour: Day 2

Welcome to Day 2 of the Olympian Week Blog Tour.


If you know this blog at all, you'll know that I am a huge fan of Percy Jackson and now Rick Riordan's new series which brings us a whole new generation of half-bloods: The Heroes of Olympus. My favourite character from this new series is Leo. He is so funny and well, you've got to love a sidekick.


I am honoured to dedicate this post to the Olympian God Hephaestus. For those of you who have yet to meet him (I personally have been to Olympus many times as a well trained member of Camp Half Blood) he is the lord of blacksmiths. So assuming you (like me) ride a chariot in your spare time, you'll know how important it is to worship the God of metal and welding and stuff.

If you haven't picked up The Lost Hero yet, then do.
For those of you who are eagerly awaiting The Son of Neptune, I am delighted to share with you a sneaky peek.

So without further sacrifices into the Camp brazier, here it is:

THE SON OF NEPTUNE

Heroes of Olympus, Book Two

Publishes 4 October 2011

Rick Riordan

© Copyright Rick Riordan, 2011

PERCY

1.

The snakehaired ladies were starting to annoy Percy.

They should’ve died three days ago when he dropped a crate of bowling balls on them at the Napa Bargain Mart. They should’ve died two days ago when he ran over them with a police car in Martinez. They definitely should’ve died this morning when he cut off their heads in Tilden Park.

No matter how many times Percy killed them and watched them crumble to powder, they just kept reforming like large evil dust bunnies. He couldn’t even seem to outrun them.

He reached the top of the hill and caught his breath. How long since he’d killed them last? Maybe two hours. They never seemed to stay dead longer than that.

The past few days, he’d hardly slept. He’d eaten whatever he could scrounge – vending machine Gummi Bears, stale bagels, even a Jack in the Crack burrito, which was a new personal low. His clothes were torn, burned and splattered with monster slime.

He’d only survived this long because the two snakehaired ladies – gorgons, they called themselves –couldn’t seem to kill him either. Their claws didn’t cut his skin. Their teeth broke whenever they tried to bite him. But Percy couldn’t keep going much longer. Soon he’d collapse from exhaustion, and then – as hard as he was to kill – he was pretty sure the gorgons would find a way.

Where to run?

He scanned his surroundings. Under different circumstances, he might’ve enjoyed the view. To his left, golden hills rolled inland, dotted with lakes, woods, and a few herds of cows. To his right, the flatlands of Berkeley and Oakland marched west – a vast checkerboard of neighborhoods with several million people who probably did not want their morning interrupted by two monsters and a filthy demigod.

Farther west, San Francisco Bay glittered under a silvery haze. Past that, a wall of fog had swallowed most of San Francisco, leaving just the tops of skyscrapers and the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge.

A vague sadness weighed on Percy’s chest. Something told him he’d been to San Francisco before. The city had some connection to Annabeth – the only person he could remember from his past. His memory of her was frustratingly dim. The wolf had promised he would see her again and regain his memory ‐‐ if he succeeded in his journey.

Should he try to cross the bay?

It was tempting. He could feel the power of the ocean just over the horizon. Water always revived him. Salt water was the best. He’d discovered that two days ago when he strangled a sea monster in the Carquinez Strait. If he could reach the bay, he might be able to make a last stand. Maybe he could even drown the gorgons. But the shore was at least two miles away. He’d have to cross an entire city.

He hesitated for another reason. The wolf Lupa had taught him to sharpen his senses – to trust the instincts that had been guiding him south. His homing radar was tingling like crazy now. The end of his journey was close ‐‐ almost right under his feet. But how could that be? There was nothing on the hilltop.

The wind changed. Percy caught the sour scent of reptile. A hundred yards down the slope, something rustled through the woods – snapping branches, crunching leaves, hissing.

Gorgons.

For the millionth time, Percy wished their noses weren’t so good. They always said they could smell him because he was a demigod – the halfblood son of some old Roman god. Percy had tried rolling in mud, splashing through creeks, even keeping air freshener sticks in his pockets so he’d have that new car smell, but apparently demigod stink was hard to mask.

He scrambled to the west side of the summit. It was too steep to descend. The slope plummeted eighty feet, straight to the roof of an apartment complex built into the side of the hill. Fifty feet below that, a highway emerged from the base of the hill and wound its way toward Berkeley.

Great. No other way off the hill. He’d managed to get himself cornered.

He stared at the stream of cars flowing west toward San Francisco and wished he were in one of them. Then he realized the highway must cut through the hill. There must be a tunnel . . .right under his feet.

His internal radar went nuts. He was in the right place, just too high up. He had to check out that tunnel. He needed a way down to the highway – fast.

He slung off his backpack. He’d managed to grab a lot of supplies at the Napa Bargain Mart: a portable GPS, duct tape, lighter, super glue, water bottle, camping roll, a comfy panda pillow pet (as seen on TV) and a Swiss army knife – pretty much every tool a modern demigod could want. But he had nothing that would serve as a parachute or a sled.

That left him two options: jump eighty feet to his death, or stand and fight. Both options sounded pretty bad.

He cursed and pulled his pen from his pocket.

The pen didn’t look like much, just a regular cheap ballpoint, but when Percy uncapped it, it grew into a glowing bronze sword. The blade balanced perfectly. The leather grip fit his hand like it had been custom designed for him. Etched along the guard was an Ancient Greek word Percy somehow understood: Anaklusmos, Riptide.

He’d woken up with this sword his first night at the Wolf House ‐‐ two months ago? More? He’d lost track. He’d found himself in the courtyard of a burnedout mansion in the middle of the woods, wearing shorts, an orange T shirt and a leather necklace with a bunch of strange clay beads. Riptide had been in his hand, but he had no idea who he was or how he’d gotten there. He’d been barefoot, freezing, and confused. And then the wolves came . . .

Right next to him, a familiar voice jolted him back to the present: “There you are!”

Extract from THE SON OF NEPTUNE – HEROES OF OLYMPUS, BOOK TWO by Rick Riordan

Published by Puffin Books on October 4th 2011

© Copyright Rick Riordan, 2011



Photo by Marty Umans

Now I'm sure you're thinking that you too are a half-blood. That is a very dangerous train of thought indeed. But just say you are, well then, you should (if you're not afraid death and vengeful Gods that is) CLICK on the image below. It will take you to the HUNT for a HALF-BLOOD HERO! You could win Rick streamed live to your assembly. Global technology: I love it.


But on the off chance that clicking doesn't work, I'm suspcious that dark forces might be interfering here is the web address: http://www.percyjackson.co.uk/site/pj_halfblood_hero.php

Son of Neptune is released on 4th October! Not long to go now...

Tomorrow is Day 3 of the Olympian Blog Tour and it's in tribute to none other than Zeus, Lord of the Skies. Rick will be blogging on the Guardian Teachers' Network so be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

Author: Annabel Pitcher

Release date: Hardback edition 1st March 2011
Genre: Realism
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Orion

Review:

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is an emotive, heartbreaking story of love, friendship, prejudice and loss.

Jamie’s sister Rose died in a terrorist attack when he was five. He still has one sister though – Jas – she was Rose’s twin. Five years after that fateful day, Jamie wants his parents to be reconciled and for his mum to comfort him. Not because of his loss, he doesn’t miss Rose but he misses the experience of his family as a warm loving unit. Both his parents have been profoundly affected by Rose’s death. His father drinks too much and is prejudiced against all Muslims, branding them all as terrorists and a burden on our country. His mother has abandoned the family altogether after having an affair and deciding to build a life with this new man.

I found this story immensely sad to read. Pitcher captures the child’s viewpoint with a painful accuracy. The thought of children suffering in any way just breaks my heart so to read how Jamie was so hopeful that things would change and then have his hopes dashed was like torture to me. I don’t know what else to say really. It was hard to enjoy a book that was so emotionally raw.

But I can admire this book. The author is brave and should be commended to tackling the issue of prejudice against the Islamic faith as well as the immorality of inflicting a racist viewpoint on our children. Surely imposing extremist views on a child is just as much a form of child abuse as violence or neglect.

The joy in this story was Jamie’s relationship with Sunya or Girl, M. Sunya is such a sunny, uplifting character. She is brave and imaginative. I really loved how she welcomed Jamie into his new life in the Lake District. If there’s a lesson in this story, it’s that children can teach us lessons that we should never have to be taught. They can be cruel and mean. But more often they are open-minded and creative and caring. We’re lucky that the future is in their hands rather than our own.

I think I was compelled to read this book now rather than at any other time because of the ten year anniversary of September 11th. It’s hard to comprehend how many children will live with the legacy of those terrorist attacks and in so many different ways too. There are so many heartbreaking stories. This book really brought that home to me. Loss experienced as a child is every bit as painful as for an adult and yet it has a different meaning for them. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is a powerful story. It may be sad but it is also full of hope, as we all are for a warm and embracing future.

The paperback edition of My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is released on September 29th.

Thank you to Orion books for sending this book for review.
Read for the British Books Challenge 2011.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Review: Ballad

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Release date: 5th May 2011
Genre: paranormal romance/young adult
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Scholastic

Summary:

In this mesmerizing sequel to Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, music prodigy James Morgan and his best friend, Deirdre, join a private conservatory for musicians. James' musical talent attracts Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. Composing beautiful music together unexpectedly leads to mutual admiration and love. Haunted by fiery visions of death, James realizes that Deirdre and Nuala are being hunted by the Fey and plunges into a soul-scorching battle with the Queen of the Fey to save their lives.

Irena’s Review:

In Lament, the first book in the Books of Faerie series, the story focused on musician Deirdre and her forbidden romance with Luke, a soulless fairy assassin. They had to part at the end of the novel, but what makes Ballad a unique and intriguing sequel is that it does not focus on Deirdre and Luke anymore, as one might expect; instead, the focus is moved on Deirdre's best friend James and his own entanglement with the Fey. I was thrilled that the narrators of the sequel are James and the faerie muse Nuala, as they both offer interesting and exciting new insights.

At the beginning of Ballad, James is experiencing emotional pain caused by his unrequited love for Deirdre. This situation gnaws at their friendship as well and James, although focused on his music at a private conservatory for gifted musicians, cannot fill his mind, and heart, with anything else - until Nuala walks into his life. Nuala is a faerie muse who inspires artists and then feeds on the energies of their creativeness until they die and their souls come into her hands. Now, she chooses James as her new victim. Nuala is despised by the Fey and rejected by James, the first man ever to deny her, but as much as James wants to shun Nuala and as much as she wants to make him succumb to her, they cannot predict the strong bond and need that form between them, making the prey and the predator fall in love. As James and Nuala fight the unwanted emotions, but slowly begin to give in, a new danger arises and it will be a fight to the death.

I enjoyed Lament very much, but Ballad surpasses it, which makes Ballad a very worthy and wonderful sequel, indeed. Stiefvater remains true to the mythology she created in Lament, all of it based on actual Celtic mythology about faeries. The tone of the book, therefore, feels very Celtic, and in this sequel, it becomes darker and even more atmospheric. The suspense is both strong and, strangely enough, quite beautiful. The beauty comes from Stiefvater's lyrical descriptions that caress the reader's mind. The novel digs deeper into the world of the Fey, showing these fantastical creatures as truly whimsical, mischievous and merciless. The author creates a unique world.

James is a great hero who is not perfect, but who possesses many delightful qualities - he feels strongly, he is intelligent and he is a gifted musician. Nuala, first his nemesis, later on his romantic interest, is a dangerous Fey creature who survives by sucking the life out of her artistically gifted victims, but who is punished every sixteen years with a cruel and painful death. Nuala, known as leanan sídhe in the book (and in Celtic folklore), is definitely a highly intriguing creature. She is quite bad, but she evolves a lot over the course of the novel, showing that there is more to her than what mythology makes her to be. Both James and Nuala are well written characters and their story really drew me in.

One thing that bothered me was that sometimes, the descriptions and explanations were very abstract, and while I am a fan of the abstract, I would have preferred some things to be more straightforward. I love beautiful, lyrical language, but sometimes it's best to just present some things in a direct way. That aside, I think I can say now that I am quite in love with this book series and I am not ashamed to admit it.

I definitely recommend this novel to all fans of paranormal romances with a darker, different twist. Ballad will have you fall in love with the wicked, yet attractive and fascinating Fay world.

Becky says: Thank you for this wonderful review Irena. How unusual and delightful to find a sequel which is as fantastic as the first. Bravo!

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

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Review: Fallen Grace

Author: Mary Hooper

Release date: Hardback 7th June 2010
Genre: Historical fiction
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review:

Fallen Grace is a riveting tale of Victorian London and the funereal customs of the time. It has death, romance, scandal and mystery.

Grace is sixteen and has recently given birth. At the beginning of the story she is travelling on a train out of London to Brookwood cemetery to bury her stillborn child. What a sad beginning! Grace’s life is one that is balances dangerously on the poverty line. To make money she and her sister Lily sell watercresses on the streets. Grace although younger than Lily is the head of their household. Lily is a simple girl and is easily distracted by just about anything. While at the cemetery, Grace meets two people who are pivotal to the story. Mr James Solent is a young lawyer who assists Grace when she hurts her ankle. Mrs Unwin wife of a funeral director offers Grace a job as a mute. A mute is a tragic faced figure who stands mute by a grave or coffin or outside a church while the service is in progress.

This story is very evocative of the Victorian era. I felt that the time and place of the story were really at the heart of it. Grace a young woman, carer and orphan is trying to find her way in a world that is full of the corrupt thieving minded. Hooper really conveyed the sense that childhood was a very short if non-existent experience in London at this time for the working classes. She also communicated the lack of rights that children had. In some ways they were no better off than animals.

Grace was a strong, noble character and I’m sure there were girls of her age with such determination to survive and to hope for a better life at this time. It was hard for me to believe at times that she would be so strong after losing a child – not just mentally but physically. I think in the Victorian era many women still died in childbirth. Of course we can allow the author a little literary license for the purpose of plot.

There are many threads running through the story. There is the identity of the father of Grace’s stillborn baby. There is the ever present need for survival and a regular income. There are also a number of newspaper articles mentioned in the prose or at the beginning of a chapter which allude to events to come. One of the main themes of this book is death. Hooper explores the very money-orientated culture of the period and how unscrupulous funeral directors swindled and misled people into paying out for unnecessary or extravagant items.

Fallen Grace is a great read. It is rich with details of the time and there is even an appearance from Charles Dickens. So entrenched in the period was this book that it actually made me want to read some Dickens – Great Expectations perhaps. Historical fiction fans will thoroughly enjoy it.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending the book to review.

The paperback of Fallen Grace is now also available.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Announcement: The Winner of the Song Quest Cover Vote

On behalf of Catnip Books and the wonderful Katherine Roberts, I am delighted to announce the winning cover in the Song Quest public vote.
It was a hard fought contest. But the winner with 54% of the vote is....


I am delighted. This cover really fits the book in both tone and story. I do believe this public vote has been a success.

The amazingly talented designer Mandy Norman and illustrator Johanna Bansford both deserve a mention here and a round of applause. Without their work, there would have been no glorious designs to choose from. If you'd like to find out more about Mandy and check out her work, follow this LINK to her blog. If you'd also like to find out more about Johanna, please follow this LINK to her website.

Song Quest will be available with this all new look in February 2012. If you want to find out more about the book, read my review.

Also to find out more about the lovely Katherine Roberts, head over to her blog The Reclusive Muse.

Thanks to everyone who voted. I can't wait to see the finished product now. Exciting!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Review: The Comic Strip: Big Fat Book of Knowledge

Author: Tracey Turner

Illustrator: Sally Kindberg
Release date: 5th September 2011
Genre: Non-fiction (World History, Space, Greek Myths)
Target audience: 8+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review:

The Comic Strip: Big Fat Book of Knowledge is a fun informative book which will tell you all about the history of the world and the history of space, and the best Greek myths too. It is very accessible – the facts are presented in a comic book style with lots of witty asides to make you chuckle.

I decided to read the History of Space section of this book. Having done a fair amount of space research for my WIP, I am confident about stating that the facts are up to date with current theory. For example, the author does not simply attribute the beginning of the universe to the Big Bang; she considers other possibilities and details them – e.g. the Big Bounce.

There is a huge breadth of knowledge in the Space section – it covers everything from Ancient Civilisations’ interpretations of the stars to the history of the telescope and even particle physics. (In my mind, it doesn’t come any cooler). This book takes really complex scientific ideas and transforms them into bite size, witty chunks which are easy to understand. Want to know how the sun was formed? The name of the first dog to orbit the Earth? What will happen to the universe in the future? The answers are here for you to find. The best thing about this book is that when scientific theory hasn’t solved something yet – like what dark energy is - the author tells us this. Science is a process. Hopefully a bidding scientist will read this book and then go on to discover something brilliant about space or write a theory of Everything which Einstein never managed to do. When you read this, you realise how many different people have looked at an aspect of space and wondered about it enough to try to understand how it works. It’s pretty inspirational.

This is a fantastic book and I think it would make an ideal Christmas present especially for boys in the 8 – 12 age range. They will love the crazy cartoons and the cheeky humour. They can dip in and out of it or read it cover to cover. Either way I’m sure they’ll love it.

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

Monday, 19 September 2011

Irena's Review: Cabinet of Curiosities

Author: Paul Doswell

Release date: 7th February 2011
Genre: Historical fiction
Target audience: 11+

Summary:

When Lukas Declercq is orphaned, his uncle summons him to Prague, a refuge for Europe’s greatest alchemists and natural philosophers, offering to take him on as an apprentice. Uncle Anselmus is court physician to Rudolph II, the reclusive and unstable Emperor. He is also curator of Rudolph's bizarre Cabinet of Curiosities, a series of vast rooms stuffed with wonders and scientific marvels, which fascinate Lukas. There is a plot brewing against the Emperor, but sinister forces have plans for Lukas too, and before he can thwart the plot against the Emperor, Lukas must gamble on loyalty in order to save his own life.

Irena’s Review:

The Cabinet of Curiosities tells an intriguing and extraordinary story about an ordinary orphaned apprentice to a court physician who suddenly becomes involved in an intricate plot to supplant the Emperor of Prague.

I can easily begin my review by saying that this little novel is almost a must-read for all lovers of historical fiction. The book features a great new setting - 16th century Prague - that was researched and described in vivid and appealing detail by Dowswell. Under the reign of Rudolph II, Prague was the perfect place for those who wanted to test the boundaries of human knowledge and nature, namely alchemists and natural philosophers, as there was no Inquisition to limit and threaten them. The natural sciences were practiced freely and this was encouraged by the Emperor. At the heart of this historical setting is the so-called Cabinet of Curiosities, the Emperor's vast private collection of beautiful, yet bizarre or extremely rare objects, such as a nail from Noah's Ark or the feathers of a phoenix. In fact, the story begins and ends with the Cabinet of Curiosities.

The first half of the novel is slow-paced, in the sense that attentions paid to developing the setting and the characters. However, despite the slow-paced nature of the first half of the narrative, the story was interesting to follow, precisely because of the many new interesting things the reader can learn about the development of medicine, alchemy and so on. The first half of the novel is very important because it defines the rest of the story. It is important to know the setting, in order to understand the intricate and intriguing plot hatched by the Spanish Inquisition, with which they wish to destroy the Emperor and turn Prague into a God-fearing place where alchemy is as in and the sinners burned. I enjoyed the plot twist and the way it unfurled. It seemed very realistic, especially considering the fact that several attempt son Rudolf's life were actually made during his reign.

The characters are well-outlined and fit into the frame of the story. Especially Lucas's journey is interesting to follow, as he really matures over the course of the novel and undergoes some significant changes. I am not familiar with Prague's history at all, I'm afraid, but I think the author did a very good job at creating the Emperor's character. He seemed very real and believable to me. Rudolph is the sort of character one cannot relate to, yet you still care and want to know what will happen to him, and I wondered about him on several occasions.

At times, things become quite intense and hard in the novel, so there is definitely some suspense to keep you turning the pages.

All in all, this is a delightful read about a different time period, as it is not every day that one can read a historical novel set in Prague. Lovers of history will be pleased, as will those who like some suspense and twisted plots in their stories.

Becky says: Thank you for your review Irena. A good point about the opportunity to read a book set in Prague. That’s definitely somewhere I’d like to visit. It sounds like after a slow book the plot really took off. Great review.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending the book for review.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Review: Cross My Heart

Author: Sasha Gould

Release date: 7th April 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Razorbill

Review:
Cross My Heart is a historical novel set in Venice. It is a tale of secrets, deceptions, power and love.
Laura was sent to live in the convent when she was twelve years old. She never understood why her father sent her away but she missed her older sister terribly. In the convent they call her La Muta – she is the silent one. She has learned not to ask questions and to wear her face as a mask to avoid the wrath of the Abbess. Despite her faith, Laura has never felt like she belonged in the convent. One night she is called to the infirmary to assist Sister Maria save a dying man. It is a night that will change her life forever. The next day she is called by the Abbess and told she is to leave the convent. Laura can hardly understand what would bring such a change. She has longed for the chance to see her family again and so she has many hopes for a happy future when she leaves.
Of course, there are great dangers ahead and Laura has not been educated as to the ways of the Venetian aristocracy. She is an innocent girl and so the plot unfolds with her becoming both a victim of deception and a deceiver in her own right.
The image of the mask and the concept of disguise are very much a part of this story. Venice is full of wealthy, beautiful characters with secrets – many of them dark and sinister. Laura has to navigate her way through this unfamiliar world of liars and false friends to find a truth. I don’t want to tell you which truth she is looking for as it is a bit of a spoiler.

Her father is a self-centred imbecile. He is determined to marry Laura off to whichever man can secure him a position on the Grand Council. His political position and his wealth are all he cares about. And so, poor innocent Laura is devastated when she meets her betrothed: Vincenzo – an old, decaying man who looks at her like a piece of succulent meat. Laura cannot face being married to such a man. She would rather return to the convent and be a bride of Christ. In among all this fear and anguish, there is the joy of first love too. But Laura’s father will never let her marry a poor man. An opportunity to escape the marriage is presented to her but it comes at a heavy price. Is it a price she is willing to pay? The consequences may be greater than she ever imagined.

I found Cross My Heart such an easy book to get into. The writing was elegant, the story was full of drama – think masked balls, cloaked figures, daggers and spies – and the love story was endearing. I loved all the gondola references, the way the author evoked Venice through her descriptions of the architecture and the feeling that the book was built on “secrets and lies”. Fans of Mary Hoffman’s David and Karen Wallace’s Emerald are sure to enjoy this book. I know that I certainly did.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Review: The Calling, Changeling and Strife

Author: Cate Tiernan
Release date: First published in 2001, this one volume edition 2009
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Penguin Razorbill

Book of Shadows and The Coven is the first book in the reprinted version of Cate Tiernan's Wicca Series.

Here's what Amazon has to say about the first book:

Sixteen-year-old Morgan is not who she thought she was... Something is happening to Morgan. She sees things, feels things in a new way. She has discovered a power inside her that normal people don't posses. A dark magickal power. And it scares her. She never chose to learn witchcraft but now witchcraft is choosing her. Her power is seductive. And it hasn't gone unnoticed...


The second book in the series is Blood Witch and Dark Magic.
The third is Awakening and Spellbound.
Please do not read any further if you haven't read the first three books. There will be spoilers.

The Calling and Changeling
Amazon says:
Morgan has discovered much about her powers. But who are her friends and who are her enemies? And who really is she? Morgan is now seventeen years old and her powers have grown with her. But as she struggles to discover who she really is, terrible dreams of someone else, someone in trouble, haunt her. Are they the person Morgan needs to find to truly find herself?

The review:
 
The Calling continues Morgan's journey of discovery of Wicca and her true identity as a blood witch. She has been experiencing premonitions and travels with her friends to New York to try to stop her vision coming to pass. As with the other books in the Wicca series, I found The Calling really easy to read and a real page turner. However, I am now at the point where I am frustrated by the start of each book as Morgan tells us again all about her life. At this point we are reading technically the seventh book and it is becoming rather tiresome to be reintroduced to the things we already know. I understand the necessity of this for new readers but it is a real annoyance.
 
I also found the plot of The Calling highly predictable and was in no doubt as to how the book was going to end. This was a real disappointment as I love this series. I have to say I also found Tiernan's dialogue for her English characters irritating to the point where I wanted to pull my own teeth out. Contrary to popular belief we do not call people "love" all the time.
 
Changeling was a much more interesting and engaging read as Morgan reluctantly gets to know her biological father. It had me on the edge of my seat and I felt really satisfied with every page that I turned. Changeling completely lived up to my expectations of the Wicca series.
 
Overall, I really enjoyed Changeling and I am now yet again desperate for the next installment. I want to know whether Killian will reappear, whether Ciaran knows Morgan's true name and whether Morgan will truly open up to the gorgeous Hunter Niall. If you loved the other Wicca books, then definitely continue reading. Changeling will leave you wanting more.

Strife
The review:
I’m revisiting this review which was first posted in September 2009 and I suppose updating it. I still stand by all the points I made. It’s a testament to Cate Tiernan’s writing that I have been desperate to read the next book and that I was not going to give up until I got my hands on a copy. Penguin decided not to reprint the remaining books in the series in the UK so now I have finally got my hands on the US copy. I’m reading Sweep not Wicca or rather I am, it is just under a different name. This bind up is Volume 3 and I needed to read the last book– Strife. The recap in the novel’s opening was actually very useful to me this time but I still found it grated on my nerves. But that is irrelevant. Reading Strife was just such a comfy experience. It felt like coming home and it reminded me why I love series books: You really get to know the characters and their motivations, their struggles and in this case especially their strife. Morgan’s problems are twofold in this book. Firstly, strange and sinister magical episodes keep happening around her and yet she can’t sense that she is using her magic. Secondly, her parents are frustrated by her falling grades and her obsession with Wicca.

I’m feeling so satisfied after finishing this book. The storyline maybe on the predictable side but I honestly don’t care, I still want to turn the page and I am sticking with this series until the very end! I am a fan of Cate Tiernan! Next up: Sweep Volume 4.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Review: The Thief-Taker's Apprentice

Author: Stephen Deas

Release date: UK paperback April 2011
Genre: High Fantasy
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Gollancz

Review:

The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is a tale of bounty-hunters and thieves set in a historic fantasy world. It’s not your fantastical creatures or special power type of fantasy, more an alternate world with temples, priests and the occasional witch doctor.

Berren is a teenage dung-sweeper and pickpocket. He is one of Hatchet’s boys and lives a miserable life in Shipwrights by the docks. He shares a rotten floor with a lot of other unwashed boys, eats scraps of stale bread and basically stinks of fish and poop! Berren has a simple ambition: he wants to make money. He does this by cutting purses. He feels no guilt about his thieving. It doesn’t weigh on his conscience. When there is a public execution in the centre of town, he goes to watch like all the other boys. He enjoys seeing the blood as the guilty have their heads chopped off but it is the lure of ten gold Emperors, which the Thief-Taker has earned, that really gets his blood pumping. All that lovely money! Berren is determined to cut the Thief-Taker’s purse. He thinks that such a glorious sum could change his life forever. So he spends the rest of the day looking for the Thief-Taker and of course goes about his thievery.

It won’t surprise you to find out that Berren becomes Master Sy’s apprentice. I think it comes as a surprise to both of them though. At the beginning of the novel Berren has a rather romanticised idea of a thief-taker’s work. He thinks it’s all swashing buckling and sword-fights. The story follows Berren as he begins his education into what it takes to be a bounty-hunter. It requires patience, investigative skills and intuition. But there’s no denying that it is also a very violent profession.

Both Berren and Master Syannis are great characters. Convincingly written, Berren is as lustful as any teenage boy. Deas portrays him as courageous whilst still being naive and motivated by money and power. The reasons behind Master Sy’s offer of an apprenticeship are mysterious and seem to hint at an intriguing secret to be revealed in the future. It is the relationship between Berren and Master Sy that really make this book a joy to read. It leapt off the page through the dialogue and the grudging respect that Berren feels for his Master without ever him ever actually verbalising it. Their connection was endearing. (I don’t think they’d appreciate me saying that though).

The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is the first book in a series but it is still a satisfying story and doesn’t end on an annoying cliff-hanger. I think boys who enjoy fantasy but have outgrown a series like Spooks by Joseph Delaney will enjoy this. It had a boy-sy feel – I guess because of the descriptions of beheading etc. But the violence isn’t at all gratuitous; it fits the story and the setting. Of course, girls like me who love high fantasy will also enjoy this. I can’t wait to read the follow up The Warlock’s Shadow and find out about the mysterious Sun and Moon temples and Master Sy’s home land. The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is like Oliver meets Graceling sort of. Well, it’s great anyway. I recommend it.

**Borrowed from the public library.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Exclusive: Cast your vote for Song Quest's new cover

Welcome to the most exciting and exclusive event to ever happen at The Bookette: The Song Quest cover public vote!

Back in March 2010 I blogged about the fact that one of my favourite books was out of print. I thought it was a travesty, I really did. I told the blogosphere that I wanted Song Quest by Katherine Roberts back in print and the blogosphere listened. My heartfelt thanks go to the lovely Non at Catnip Books for reading my post and being my very own "Jim'll fix it!" Soon Song Quest will be able to take pride of place in my school library. The release date is scheduled for February 2012. But Song Quest's journey is not quite complete. Catnip, Katherine and I need your help. Catnip have commissioned two possible covers for Song Quest. Here they are:

#1

























#2




































As you can see the background colour really creates a sense of atmosphere about the book and because we love them both, Non has bravely said that you *yes, you* can make the final choice. What an exclusive opportunity to have a direct impact on the publishing industry! I cannot believe that I have been lucky enough to be involved in this process.

So here’s what we need you to do:

We need you to cast your vote for the cover of your choice. You have just one week to have your say. The voting will close on Friday 16th September 2011 at 6pm.

To make the voting as easy as possible, we'd like you to follow this link to Facebook and like your favourite: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150362183725861.395807.313172075860&type=1

Of course, I'd love to hear your reactions to both covers in the comments but it will be the Facebook votes that count.

You have all been very supportive of my mission and so before it finally is complete, I ask you one last thing: Tweet this, Facebook it, blog about it, whatever you can really. The more people that hear about this public vote, the more people will hear about this enchanting book and perhaps they will even come to understand how brilliant blogging can be.

Thanks everyone!

A special thanks to Katherine, Non and Liz for EVERYTHING!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Review: Red Glove

Author: Holly Black

Release date: UK 16th June 2011
Genre: Fantasy / Urban Fantasy / YA
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Gollancz

Review:

Red Glove is the second book Holly Black’s urban fantasy series The Curse Workers. If you want to read my review of the first novel White Cat, follow this link. There will be spoilers in this review for those who haven’t read the first book. You have been warned!
This story opens with Cassel on a job with his criminal mother in Atlantic City. Now Cassel knows that he is in fact a worker, his problems have got a whole lot bigger. Mrs Sharpe is looking for a new mark to fleece for every penny he is worth. Now you’ve got to admit having a criminal mother is a pretty awful in itself (there’s the fear that she’ll get caught and get put back in prison for a start), but when you add to that the fact that she has every intention of getting you to help her pull off the con, you’ve got the mother of all problems. Excuse the pun. So from the beginning the reader is pulled into Cassel’s viewpoint. We sympathise with him even though we might also find it rather exotic to have such an extraordinary problem.

When Cassel returns to school, which I’ve begun to see as his safe haven, his chance for normality, he finds out that his brother has been murdered. I know that must have read like a huge spoiler but it isn’t because it tells you so on the blurb! The plot of this story is essentially Cassel assuming the role of detective to work out who killed his brother. But not a clean detective obviously, he uses all the lessons he learned growing up into a crime family to help him work it out. One of the ways in which Cassel has developed from the boy in White Cat, is that he will now accept help from his friends. He doesn’t push them away as much and that was heart-warming to see. Also, Sam (Cassel’s roommate) is awesome. He wants to work in special effects and so has some outlandish ideas to help Cassel err... commit crimes. I have to say Ms Black that is some pretty nifty planning you must have done to make all the parts work as a whole. I am in awe!
There are some really thought-provoking issues explored in The Curse Workers series. How does a child who is born into a family of criminals avoid becoming one of them?  Is it ever right to curse someone? Do people who have the power to harm others deserve to the same rights as those who don’t? I never realised that urban fantasy could be written to be so ideologically challenging until I read this series. I always perceived it to be about the age old battle between good and evil. Of course, Red Glove is about that too but it is written with so much more subtlety. Another issue that it got me thinking about is family. How far do you go to protect them? Is there anything you wouldn’t do?
Red Glove is every bit as satisfying as White Cat. The plot is wound so tight, you have to be careful that it doesn’t spring back and hit you in the eye. The writing is superb. Cassel’s viewpoint is completely convincing. I am so impressed with this series. It’s brilliant!
Thank you to my hubby for treating me to this book! x

Monday, 5 September 2011

Review: Dust City

Author: Robert Paul Weston

Release date: 30th September 2010 US
Genre: Fantasy / Fairytale
Target audience: 12+?
US Publisher: Razorbill

Review:

Dust City is a fantasy that plays with the concept of a fairytale – think Grimm not Disney.
Henry is a teenage wolf who is currently residing in a facility for wayward animalia. It took me a while to get my head around this idea. He is an evolved wolf if you like. Fully sentient, can communicate as if he were a human and walk on his back legs, I guess. He has a snout and a furry face; he has claws and big teeth to eat you with. But for all other intents and purposes, he is a boy. He thinks about the usual things teenage boys do: girls. But Henry has a burden to carry and that is the fact that his father is in prison for the murder of Red Riding Hood. Henry hasn’t been to visit his father since his conviction and he wants nothing to do with him.

Whilst in the home for wayward wolves, Henry avoids confrontation. Henry is different from the other wolves. He doesn’t have the competitive edge and he isn’t prone to violence. His best friend is the only hominid in the facility. Jack is a thief. This story world is part fairytale – it’s peppered with elves, dwarves and other fantastical creatures. It also part urban – the old magic which can transform you into the future best version of yourself has disappeared with all the fairies – the landscape is the city, the back streets, the concrete garden. Miracles – true miracles – are not performed any more. There is a scientific temporary form of magic which is constructed from the last remnants of fairy dust. Henry hates the dust; it’s what killed his mother.

The story is really about Henry’s journey to discover what his best self and worse self can be. Is he no better than the old wolves with a thirst for mindless violence and blood? Or is he in essence good? The story explores the nature of good and evil and how both can live inside us. The plot is driven by the question that haunts Henry – why did all the fairies leave? Where did they go? How can he get them back?
I did enjoy this book. I enjoyed the beginning more than the middle. The early parts of the novel are delightfully humorous as the author plays with the fairytale concept. I felt that it was a crazy interpretation of modern fairytale but in a really fun vibrant way. Sadly, as the novel continued it lost some of its humour and progressed into a dark tale which at times was violent. Not in a gratuitous sense but rather it took the story into a place which made it less comically bizarre and more, well... grim. My feeling is that this book would have worked better if it was a 10+ book rather than a teen book. The concept is quirky and daft so I think that would have appealed to a younger audience. I would have removed the more violent scenes and made the book shorter. The reason I think it doesn’t work as a teen novel is that there wasn’t enough introspection and emotional drive. Teen novels are perhaps known for the angst, the agonising of the main character over a personal dilemma. So for it to work well for that market, I needed Henry to express a deeper turmoil about his father’s identity and his own potential for evil.
Overall, the book is well crafted and entertaining. I certainly think it will appeal to those looking for a read that is out of the box. If you want to try something zany, Dust City will fit the bill.