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Thursday, 28 February 2013

Review: Two Way Street

Author: Lauren Barnholdt

Release date: US 26th June 2007

Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA, 12+
Publisher: Simon Pulse


Two Way Street is a contemporary romance told through a dual narrative.

Courtney is desperate to get out of the road trip she had planned with her ex-boyfriend. Jordan broke up with her because he met a girl on Myspace or so he told Courtney (yes, this book needs updating to say Facebook). But in fact, Jordan’s keeping a painful secret from Courtney and he broke up with her to protect her. He starts out as the bad guy but he’s really the good guy. You know when you’re with the right person because they make you a better one. This was the case with Jordan and Courtney. Until they broke up and little white lies make things a whole lot more complicated.

The best thing about this novel is that you get to see the story from both Courtney and Jordan’s point of view. The story moves seamlessly between them and as the reader you can see how they misread the actions of the other.

Even though it’s about heartbreak, I found this book really amusing. Lloyd (Courtney’s childhood crush) is a caricature. B.J (Jordan’s best friend) is a lunatic. His relationship with Jocelyn (Courtney’s best friend) is pretty insane and all of the characters act irrationally because of love. It was full of melodrama but in the best possible way. I guess this is what they call “a situation comedy”.

The plot is fairly simple – a girl endures a road trip with her ex – but it really works well. You could say that not much happens on the road trip itself. They talk. They don’t talk. They answer their phones. They don’t answer their phones. They eat. They don’t eat. It’s really the before parts of the story that are interesting. The parts where they reveal how they met, how they fell in love, why they broke up – these are what bring the tension into the road trip.

This book is so easy it read. I felt like I speed read it but I hadn’t intended to. The book isn’t really weighed down with detail. We get the odd glimpse of Courtney through Jordan’s eyes and vice versa but other than that; it’s mostly dialogue and events unfolding in the past which affect the present. Two Way Street is a page-turner; I found it light and fluffy but also highly entertaining. If you enjoy contemporary YA romance, you’ll enjoy this.

Recommended for fans of:

Source: Bought and read on my Kobo

Monday, 25 February 2013

Reading Group Questions: Pegasus

So this time around I chose a fantasy novel for my students to read. It was such a contrast to the style of writing for the thriller we read. Anyway these were our discussion questions in case they are of use to other school or public librarians.

Discussion Questions: Pegasus by Robin McKinley

  • How does the author reinvent the Pegasus myth?
  • What characteristics define Sylvii? In what ways is she similar or different from Ebon?
  • Is it just the communication barrier that prevents the Pegasi and the humans from being friends?
  • What is the difference between an ally and a friend?
  • When Sylvii asks her father if she may train to use a sword he agrees but says she must also get her older brother’s permission. She thinks Danacor will refuse.
The king sighed. “He may. In which case refer him to me, and you will be a lesson for him in allowing his people to make their own decision, for they will work harder doing what they feel they themselves have chosen to do."

  • Do you agree? Can you think of an example which applies to your experience at school?
  • Magic exists in both the human and the Pegasi world – one has magicians, the other shamans. But              what is special about that magic? Did you have a clear understanding of the rules of that magic and the power it gives to the wielder?
  • What expectations did you have of the novel from the cover and the blurb? In what ways did the novel meet or challenge those expectations?

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Review: Easy

Author: Tammara Webber

Release date: UK Paperback 3rd Jan 2013 (first published as an ebook)
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Target audience: New Adult, 16+
UK Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0141347448


Easy is a contemporary romance but it’s also part thriller. It’s the story of Jacqueline – a college girl who has recently been dumped and after leaving a party is sexually assaulted. Easy is one of those New Adult titles that are getting a lot of attention at the moment. You could say it’s a new genre all of its own written for those teens who grew up with YA novels and are looking for something as equally as gripping but with a bit more “mature” content. I downloaded this on my e-reader after I read that it had been bought by Penguin. And I’m not the only one – Jenny at Wondrous Reads did too. But I’d fallen out of love with my e-reader. It kept crashing and paperbacks are so much more reliable. Anyway after I read Jenny’s review, I decided I would give my e-reader another chance because she made it sound so compelling. And of course, she was right. I read this book so quickly.

Jacqueline is in emotional turmoil after being dumped by her ex-boyfriend Kennedy. She is no longer his “Jackie” and she’s trying to figure out why. Instead of enrolling at a music school and following her talent, she followed him to university and now she’s wondering why. Why did he dump her? Why didn’t she see he was cooling things with her? There are lots of whys.

At the beginning of the story, Jacqueline leaves a party alone. She went with her best friend Erin but not feeling in the party mood she decides to duck out. Just as she’s getting in her truck, she’s attacked by a guy she knows. He’s drunk and refuses to take no for an answer. Powerless to stop him, Jacqueline is saved by a mysterious stranger. As the story progresses, Jacqueline must come to terms with the attack and also open her heart to her saviour – an economics student – Lucas.

There were so many things that made this a great fast paced read: the tension of the attack and the fear that the perpetrator may strike again. Jacqueline’s attacker begins to stalk her and the author did an outstanding job of characterising him as the villain – not a pervert but as someone who uses his physical strength as a way to gain power. He wanted to control Jacqueline. It was very convincing. The blossoming relationship between Jacqueline and Lucas was sweet, romantic and enthralling. The barriers that are in their way were surprising and I liked how the author avoided cliché. I also really enjoyed the self-defence lessons. Having been to self-defence classes in my 20s, I could really picture it and I can promise that much of what Jacqueline learnt is what they teach you. For example, never carry a weapon that can be turned against you.

My only criticism is that some of the dialogue between Jacqueline and Erin was a bit stilted. I could see that the author was taking a great effort to say exactly the right things about sexual assaults and it read a bit too unnaturally. It didn’t quite flow as real speech does. But of course, it had to be there.

Nothing can detract from the fact that this is a page-turner. It’s both brutal and tender. I found Easy to be a really empowering, emotional read. Thanks to Jenny for the recommendation.

Recommended for fans of:
(But remember the content in Easy is sexually explicit)

Source: Bought and read on my Kobo

Monday, 18 February 2013

Canadian YA: Suggestions please

This summer I am going on a road trip in Canada. I'm flying into Calgary and then travelling over 600 miles - all the way to Vancouver. I can't wait! And I want to read some Canadian YA fiction (or adult fiction). But I need some ideas of where to start. 

I've already read Cat's Eye and The Blind Assassin by Maragaret Atwood. And I bought Canada by Robert Ford but I haven't started it yet. 

Have you read a book by a Canadian author lately? Or a novel set in Canada, preferably on the west side - the rocky mountains, Banff, Jasper, Vancouver, Vancouver Island. Maybe you're an author and you want to recommend you own book. Go for it. 

I need your help!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Review: Scent of Magic

Author: Maria V. Snyder
Series: Avry of Zazan Book 2

Release date: 18th December 2012
Genre: High Fantasy
Target audience: YA / Adult Crossover
UK Publisher: Harlequin Mira
ISBN: 978 - 7848452046


Scent of Magic is the second novel in the Avry of Kazan series – books about magic, war, survival and freedom. If you haven’t read the first novel, A Touch of Power, you can read my review of that book HERE. I absolutely loved it.

This novel begins just days after the ending of the first novel. Avry is still trying to understand just how she survived the plague. Kerrick is just happy to have her alive. Unfortunately, Avry is not content to return to their friends and begin training Zila and Danny in the ways of healing magic. She is honour bound to keep her word to Estrid and is determined to return to her and heal the wounded from the battle. Kerrick agrees to hide her survival from even their closest friends and so she is sets out alone.

Avry is now on the offensive. She is ready to infiltrate Estrid’s army in order to protect herself from Tohon, but also to help prepare them for the coming war with the “dead” soldiers. She changes her appearance and takes the role of a lieutenant. But it takes more than just a title to earn the respect of her comrades, she must prove her worth.
The pace of this story is excellent. I found it easy to get into and compelling. I wish there had been a bit more magic and I missed the connection between Avry and Kerrick. Their paths are separate for much of the novel and so it lacks that spark which totally hooked me in the first book.

Once I’d finished Scent of Magic, I was still confused about the lilies and what actually brought Avry back to life. The other aspect of the story which disappointed me was the moment of climax between Avry and Tohon at the end of the novel. I felt like the most significant drama was relayed to the reader, rather than seen up close. I wanted this moment to be centre-stage as it was so significant to Avry, in relation to the events of the previous book, and it didn’t come across that way.

I address these points because this is such a fantastic series and Maria V. Snyder is a sublime writer of fantasy. You should certainly not be put off by these comments. Scent of Magic is an immensely enjoyable read and I cannot wait to for the final instalment in the series.

Recommended for fans of:
·                     The Opal Cowan series by Maria V. Snyder
·                     The Black Magician series by Trudi Canavan

Source: Bought from Amazon.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Reading Group Questions: At Yellow Lake

I put these questions together for my student book group at school. I thought they might be useful for other school/ public librarians. If you're thinking about using At Yellow Lake for a reading group, I would suggest it would be most suited to Year 9 and above. There are some more mature themes explored in the novel - sexual abuse, murder, vulnerability, innocence. There was also considerable swearing and I did find the book unsettling.

Discussion Questions: At Yellow Lake by Jane McLoughlin 
  1. Which character’s viewpoint was the most convincing: Etta, Jonah, Peter? Did the “British” voice of Peter feel authentic? Did the author succeed in creating different tone of male and female teen narratives?
  2. How do you feel about the swearing? Was it too much? Was it necessary for a book that explores being in a violence community?
  3. What themes did you identify running through the novel?
  4. Peter, Etta and Jonah all focus on their relationships with their mother’s. Why might this be significant?
  5. Did the Lake hold a beauty for you at any point in the story? Did your feelings towards the lake change?
  6. Is it a part of the human condition to want to know where we came from? Are we shaped by our heritage if we are not raised in the culture? Is there a part of your heritage you would like to explore?
  7. What did you think of the ending? Is there anything you would change?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Review: Pegasus

Author: Robin McKinley

Release date: Paperback 7th July 2011
Genre: High Fantasy
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0141338095


Pegasus is a richly detailed fantasy novel.

Sylvi is a princess and on her twelfth birthday she is bound to a pegasus – his name is Ebon. The binding of humans and pegasi was written into a treaty after the humans entered the realm of the Pegasus. The alliance between the two races saw an exchange of land for protection – the humans battling the violent enemies of the pegasi and then settling in this new fertile land. Yet despite the human-pegasi alliance, there has always been a difficulty in their communication. Humans and pegasi cannot truly understand one another. The humans use magical speakers to translate the language of the pegasi but can their interpretations be trusted?

At Sylvi’s binding ceremony, something unexpected and wonderful happens. She can hear Ebon speak inside her mind and he can hear her in return. Their communication should spell a new prosperous era for the alliance. But there are many who oppose their friendship and are determined to find a way to wrench them apart. The reason for this opposition and hostility will take Sylvi and Ebon on an extraordinary and terrifying path.  

I found the first three chapters of Pegasus confusing and overwhelming. They are weighed down with the history of the alliance as Sylvi revisits this prior to her binding ceremony. However, as soon as Sylvi and Ebon are bound, the novel begins to fly. The story is enchanting, heart-wrenching and richly detailed. McKinley brings to life the pegasi and their unique culture in a way that you’ve never seen before. They are not winged horses; they are a peaceful people, with humour, intellect and a sinuous magic. She creates her own mythology and it is breathtaking.

I really loved the characterisation too. Sylvi feels blighted by her smallness. She hates to be the little one. Ebon is endlessly determined and not held back by convention. The King is both fatherly and an admirable leader. Sylvi’s mother is a great warrior. I also loved Hirishy. It seemed to me, she was much misunderstood by all but Sylvi. And the villain was so well drawn and dislikeable that Sylvi’s fear of him leapt of the page.

At times I felt the pace of the novel slowed too much as the author reminded us of how Sylvi viewed herself or the pegasi or the humans. Perhaps if you were reading the book over a few weeks, these reminders would be useful. But I was reading it over a few days and I felt that there were some things that didn’t need repeating.

This novel is only half the story. It ends on a cliff-hanger and left me stunned. McKinley’s writing is beautiful and poetic and the plot of the story as intricately woven as the pegasi-made drai. Pegasus is a wonderful fantasy read which will leave you wanting more.

Source: Bought from Red House.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Guest Post: Five reasons to love Time Travel stories

Today I have a guest post from enchanting author Liz Kessler as part of the North of Nowhere blog tour.

Without further ado, here is Liz:

Five reasons why I love time travel stories

1. I love the idea of time being circular, rather than linear. In other words, I love playing with the idea that we can not only affect the future by what we do in the present, but that we can go back into the past and change our future. Or even change the past with something we do in the present. I like to think that time might not be as straightforward a concept as we think, and that it really could be another dimension that is far more flexible and unpredictable than we realise.

2. I love the possibilities that open up if time travel is a factor. Like the romances that become possible in The Lake House, or The Time Traveller’s Wife. Or the way that repeated or alternate lives can give you another chance, like in Sliding Doors, or Groundhog Day or It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s all about stepping out of the strict black and white ideas of what is possible and wondering if there are other versions of our lives that we could pursue. And, whether we can time travel or not, this idea is something that we could all consider at times anyway.

3. Yes, I admit it. I like the feeling of forcing my brain to work that little bit harder to grasp a concept that is almost – but not quite – out of reach. Like in the Back to the Future films, where various characters have to jump through all sorts of hoops to avoid messing with the space-time continuum. Or in Terminator, where a character from the future has to go back in time to kill a child so that he doesn’t grow up to become a rebel leader who will himself come back in time at some point in the future. Arrrggghh! See what I mean? Melts the brain. But I like it!

4. Just like with mermaids, fairies and pirate dogs (the subjects of my other books) time travel is a concept that no one can 100% tell you you’ve got wrong. As far as we know, time travel isn’t actually a real possibility. So it’s all about the imagination – and this appeals to me. I love to let my imagination run free without fear of correction and admonishment. If I was writing about Victorian Britain, I’m sure I’d get some of my facts wrong, and I bet it wouldn’t take long for someone to write and tell me so. But with time travel – well, as far as we know, no one has yet successfully done it, so it’s up to me to decide for myself how it works. Unless, of course, you know otherwise…

5. It’s basically more fun than boring old reality. The thing is, we live in a real, normal world every day. And that’s fine, for a place to live – but when it comes to writing (or reading – or watching) stories, I do love a bit of something extra thrown into the mix. And time travel is the perfect way to do that. It’s so nearly something that we could believe is possible, and yet something so impossible at the same time. It’s enticing and magical, and yet gives us another way to look at reality. It’s the perfect escapism and I love it.

All of which is why I’m very excited that Orion have let me write three books all dealing with time travel in different ways. North of Nowhere is the second. I hope you love time travel too. And I hope that if you read North of Nowhere, you’ll enjoy that too! Thanks for having me on the blog, and happy (time) travels!


Thanks for your Time Travel enthusiasm Liz! The space-time continuum is mind-blowing stuff to get your head around.

NORTH OF NOWHERE by Liz Kessler is published by Orion Children’s Books on 24 January in hardback at £9.99

My readers may also be interested to hear about a  a North of Nowhere creative writing competition that we are running to celebrate young talent. The competition is open to all writers aged 8-13 who need to finish the story (which is the opening paragraph of NORTH OF NOWHERE) in 500 words or less. Entries are open from 17 January 2013 – 28 March 2013. The winner will have their story published on the Guardian Children’s Books website, will win a digital camera as well as £100 worth of Orion Children’s Books for their school library.

Do check it out!