Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Blog Tour: Review - The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks


Publisher: Sphere
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: July 5th, 2012
Rating: 6.5/10


Amazon summary:

They were teenage sweethearts from opposite sides of the tracks - with a passion that would change their lives for ever. But life would force them apart. Years later, the lines they had drawn between past and present are about to slip... Called back to their hometown for the funeral of the mentor who once gave them shelter when they needed it most, they are faced with each other once again, and forced to confront the paths they chose. Can true love ever rewrite the past?

Review:

The Best of Me is only the second Nicholas Sparks book I've ever read, preceded by The Notebook which I wasn't overly impressed with. I've wanted to try more of his books for a while, mostly due to his huge popularity and sheer amount of movie adaptations of his work. The Best of Me is the latest Sparks novel to hit the big screen, which is how I came to read it in the first place. It's a good read, though I think he may have written better.

The Best of Me starts off quite slow, with lots of scene setting and character introductions. The writing seemed a little too in-depth and thorough, which honestly made the first eighty or so pages quite a slog for me. Luckily it got a lot better after that, and I raced to the end even though I'd already guessed the conclusion. I get the feeling all Sparks books start off fairly slowly, building to a heartbreaking finale that elicits tears and an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Am I right?

In The Best of Me, Dawson and Amanda are two people who fell in love when they were teenagers. They were forced apart by various events and are now in their early forties, meeting again for the first time at the behest of an old friend. Amanda has a fairly successful family life with a husband and children, while Dawson is haunted by his past and is very much alone. When they meet again, old feelings are revisited and they take a look at their lives and the mistakes they've made.

Dawson and Amanda took me a while to warm to, especially because of all the information and backstory I was immediately faced with. I did end up liking both of them, probably Dawson slightly more than Amanda, and appreciate their flawed personalities and the fact that neither one of them is perfect. They lie, keep secrets, make mistakes - everything real people do. Kudos to Sparks for keeping his characters real, rather than making them be an idealistic concept that just doesn't exist.

At times I found this book and its writing to be too cheesy and dramatic. I know that's the Sparks way, so I'll just take it for what it is - a romance designed to break hearts and put them back together again. The ending is hard to believe, but I guess it could happen someday, somewhere, so again perhaps I should let the realism slide and just focus on Dawson and Amanda's story.

In the end I liked The Best of Me, though I'm sure there are better Nicholas Sparks books awaiting me. A slow start somewhat hampered my reading, but as the story progressed so did my enjoyment of the novel. I'll read more by this author and I'll see the film adaptation of The Best of Me, safe in the knowledge that I know what's coming so it won't make me cry. I think Nicholas Sparks is good at what he does and he definitely evokes a lot of feelings from readers - his popularity shows he must be doing something right!


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 [Click to enlarge.]

Monday, 1 September 2014

Quick Q&A With Dana Fredsti! (Ashley Parker Series)

I'm currently reading my way through the Ashley Parker trilogy, which includes Plague Town, Plague Nation and the newly-published Plague World. They're perfect books for zombie/horror fans and are a really enjoyable (adult) read.

I had a few questions after reading Plague Town, and Dana was kind enough to answer them for me. Here's what she divulged...


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Q+A with Dana Fredsti


WR: Have you always been a fan of the horror genre and, if so, have any particular films or TV shows inspired the Ashley Parker series?

DF: I have been into the horror genre since I was old enough to enjoy the thrill of being scared. I think my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family had something to do with this because his idea of a cracking good bedtime story was The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe. He was also great at reading aloud so my sister and I got the full on theatrical experience. I watched the Saturday and Sunday afternoon horror movies, was addicted to the original Dark Shadows series (hey, it was scary to a little kid back in the day!), checked out endless books on supernatural topics from non-fiction and whatever I could find in the fiction section. So yea, big old yes to the first part of your question.

As far as particular films/TV shows, I’ve been very open about the original pitch that was brought to me by Lori Perkins, who was then editing for Ravenous Romance (who originally contracted me for the series before selling it to Titan). Lori asked me write ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with zombies. And different.’ So obviously Buffy was a huge influence from the get-go, although I tried to find what similarities worked while creating something original. I’m definitely influenced by Joss Whedon’s willingness to put his characters through emotional, physical (and sometimes literal) hell, and to kill one off when necessary. I used to be big on everyone making it out alive. Not so much anymore. And the original Dawn of the Dead inspired my love of zombies (sweet sweet fleshing eating zombies!) so it definitely gets a shout out as well.

WR: In Ashley's classes in Plague Town there's mention of many pandemics and viruses. Were you already knowledgeable on the subject or did you have to do a lot of research?

DF: Well, another topic that always fascinated me from a young age was pandemics (the nastier, the better) so I did a lot of reading on the Black Death when I was a kid and then Ebola and all the other lovely bugs out there in the last decade or so. So I had some knowledge of the subject, but I did a lot of research at the time as well and tried to keep the facts general enough to lend veracity without trying to go into too much detail and get something wrong.

WR: Just who is Gabriel based on? (I think of him as Spike crossed with a snarky, moody Dean Winchester).

DF: When I wrote my first outline notes for Lori back in the day, Gabriel was definitely the Angel character. I do have my Spike character in there as well, but nope, not Gabriel. A lot of readers saw Gabriel as Riley from the Initiative Buffy season because of the military connection, but I was never a huge Riley fan (and why do all Buffy menfolk except for Spike have a self-deprecating stutter? It’s like Hugh Grant’s Disease or something) so nope to that as well. Dean Winchester is not a bad casting choice, btw… The only actor who I’ve seen recently who reminded me of Gabriel was Garrett Hedlund (without his current facial hair and with a slightly less perfect nose) in Tron: Legacy.


WR: If you were casting a movie of the Ashley Parker series, which actors would you pick to play your characters?

DF: Erp! I’m so bad at this. Aside from Garrett Hedlund for Gabriel, the only character I actually have “cast” in my head is Nathan and I would be happy with either Ray Stevens (watch Outpost, a low-budget and very creepy zombie movie) or Nathan Fillion, who’d also be excellent. I joke in the book about the fact that Professor Fraser had a life story filmed about her, she’d be played by Kate Blanchett or Helen Mirren… JT, Lil and Tony are all inspired by people I know… so …er… I don’t know. Ideas? Who would YOU like to see as Ashley? My only caveat is that it has to be someone who can handle the physical part of the role and really looks like she could kick ass and chop off heads with ease. Nothing makes me more annoyed than an actor or actress cast in a role that is obviously stunt doubled because they can’t move well enough to fake it.

WR: Was it fun to write all the gory scenes in this trilogy? Does any one scene stand out for you as a disgusting favourite?

DF: Yes, okay, writing gory scenes can be fun. I’ll just admit that off the bat. I try not to be repetitive (and that can be a challenge because there really are only so many ways to kill zombies) and to have enough to give the reader a sense of how nasty things get, but without desensitizing them to it. What’s the point of writing gory scenes if people just start skimming over them because they’re either all the same or there’s just too much of it?

My favorite scenes in the first two books both involve Jake, the half-deader who Ashley finds in the cabin hotel in Plague Town. The scene where he’s nibbling on pieces of his wife while saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” was… well, it made me giggle and shudder at the same time ‘cause I knew it was gross and I knew it would be effective. Plague World has my favorite gory scene of all times because of both what happens and the eventual payoff, but I can’t say which one it is at this time as it would be a mega huge spoiler. I will say Ashley goes through a lot more pain (emotional and physical) in Plague World than the previous two books. And that’s the only hint I’ll give.


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Review: Plague Town by Dana Fredsti


Publisher: Titan Books
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: April 27th, 2012
Rating: 7.5/10


Amazon summary:

Ashley was just trying to get through a tough day when the world turned upside down. A terrifying virus appears, quickly becoming a pandemic that leaves its victims, not dead, but far worse. Attacked by zombies, Ashley discovers that she is a 'Wild-Card' -- immune to the virus -- and she is recruited to fight back and try to control the outbreak. 

Review: 

Plague Town is the first book in the Ashley Parker series, followed by Plague Nation and Plague World. It's full of zombies, disgusting (but brilliant) gore-filled scenes, acerbic wit and a heroine who can kick ass when she needs to. I thoroughly enjoyed delving into Ashley Parker's life as a Wild Card and I can't wait to read more!

The gist of this series is that there's a zombie outbreak linked to a new strain of flu, and everyone is slowly turning into the walking dead. Ashley Parker finds herself immune to zombie bites and, joined by a small group of people in a similar position, finds out she's a Wild Card - someone not affected by zombie bites or blood. These Wild Cards form a group like the Scooby Gang, led by handsome man Gabriel, and begin taking down the zombies and saving the world. It's all very Buffy, though there isn't a single stake in sight.

I immediately liked Ashley and her sharp tongue, mainly because she's flippant and quick with the comebacks. She takes everything in her stride - even zombies - and just goes with the flow. She's independent, outspoken and intelligent, making her a likeable character right from the first page. I can definitely see how she's based on Buffy, though of course they're worlds away from each other, with Ashley being more of an homage to the vampire slayer.

My favourite part of Plague Town was the disgusting detailed descriptions of zombies and their stages of decomposition. It won't be for everyone, I'll warn you now, but if you don't mind that kind of stuff then this is right up your gory alley. Author Dana Fredsti doesn't hold back - there are poles through eyeballs, a husband chewing off his wife's face, rotting entrails and so many missing body parts that it's hard to keep track. Just imagine The Walking Dead and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about!

Plague Town is a great start to what I'm hoping will be a fantastic trilogy. I'm lucky enough to have the next two books ready and waiting, and I can't wait to see what happens with this zombie outbreak. Hopefully there will be more zombies, more fighting and more missing body parts waiting for me!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

News: Lisa Glass Signs Film Option for Blue!


I have some exciting news for you guys - Blue by Lisa Glass has been optioned for film! How cool is that?! I love Blue (you can read my review here) so I'm very happy for Lisa, and I hope it all goes ahead and gets made one day. *thinks up dream cast*

Lisa signed the contracts yesterday, and here's a snippet from the press release, courtesy of The Bookseller:

US producer Leighton Lloyd will this Saturday (30th August) officially sign the film rights to YA surfing title Blue by Lisa Glass at a ceremony in Cornwall.
Lloyd and Glass will publically finalise the acquisition at the Roxy Girl Surf Event in Newquay, one of Cornwall’s main surfing towns.
Blue, published by Quercus in June, is about the relationship between 16-year-old Newquay girl Iris Fox and a famous young pro-surfer called Zeke Francis.

Yay!

In My Mailbox #222: New Books This Week



In My Mailbox idea from Kristi @ The Story Siren, and any links take you to Amazon. Click images for a bigger picture!

Thanks so much to all publishers/authors who sent me lovely books to review. Some ace unexpected surprises arrived this week!





For review: 
 
  • The New Small Person (+ jelly beans!) by Lauren Child

  • The Safari Set by Madeline Rogers


 
  • Firelight by Kristen Callihan
  • Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts
  • The Snarling of Wolves by Vivian French
  • Spies in Disguise: Boy in a Tutu by Kate Scott
  • I Knead My Mummy by Francesco Marciuliano
  • The Wicked Tricks of Till Owlyglass by Michael Rosen


  • Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird: Dragon Gold by Eleanor Hawken
  • Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang (duplicate copy, giving away on Twitter!)
  • Waffle Hearts by Maria Park
  • Dreams by Daniela Sacerdoti
  • Tide by Daniela Sacerdoti
  • Squishy McFluff: Supermarket Sweep by Pip Jones


  •  The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
  • The Gift by Susan Cowell
  • The Graveyard Book Volume 2 adapted by P. Craig Russel 
  • Book by John Agard 
  • Hooey Higgins and the Christmas Crash by Steve Voake


  •  The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (arrived as part of the Ava Advocate promotional campaign, complete with a box of macaroons and bookmarks!)


 ~


Bought:


  •  Messenger of Fear by Michael Grant
  • The Secret Place by Tana French
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
  • Dreamwalker by J.D. Oswald
  • Witchworld by Emma Fischel
  • Dead Ends by Erin Lange


Happy reading!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Review: Specs for Rex by Yasmeen Ismail


Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Format: Large paperback / eBook
Released: August 14th, 2014
Rating: 7/10


Amazon summary:

Rex has new glasses and he HATES them! He does NOT want to wear them to school, and he tries to hide them - in the strangest places! But it's pretty tricky hiding specs that are so big, and round and RED... It's funny how things turn out, though, because Rex's specs end up winning him a gold star, and a new friend. Even better, he can SEE properly. 

Review: 

Rex has brand new red specs and he really doesn't like them. He tries hiding them everywhere, but to no avail. Instead he has to wear them at school and soon finds out that perhaps glasses aren't so bad after all!

I've never been one to dislike my spectacles, but I know of lots of kids and friends who aren't big fans of theirs. School especially can be a difficult time to make visual changes like this, and Specs for Rex shows children that it's ok to stand out and be a little bit different. At the end of the day, glasses are there to help us see better, so why all the fuss?!

Yasmeen Ismail's illustrations are an unusual style, but I like them. They're very bright with soft lines which really makes them stand out on the page. There's a good amount of text in this picture book, all of it straight to the point and befitting the accompanying illustrations.

I enjoyed reading about Rex and his specs, and I know exactly where he's coming from. Suddenly needing to wear glasses can be a scary time in anyone's school life, and I'm glad books like this exist. I hope younger readers see that it's okay to look a little different, and that it's even more okay to be able to see properly. Yay for Rex!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Review: Dreamwalker by J.D. Oswald


Publisher: Penguin
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: August 14th, 2014
Rating: 9.5/10


Amazon summary:

In a small village, miles from the great cities of the Twin Kingdoms, a young boy called Errol tries to find his way in the world. He's an outsider - he looks different from other children and has never known his father. No one, not even himself, has any knowledge of his true lineage. Deep in the forest, Benfro, the young male dragon begins his training in the subtle arts. Like his mother, Morgwm the Green, he is destined to be a great Mage. No one could imagine that the future of all life in the Twin Kingdoms rests in the hands of these two unlikely heroes. But it is a destiny that will change the lives of boy and dragon forever...

And so begins The Ballad of Sir Benfro - the unputdownable tale of the great dragons returning to the kingdom of men.

Review:

It's been quite a while since I read the first book in a series and immediately wanted to start the second. I love it when that happens, but it seems to be occurring less and less these days. Enter Dreamwalker by J.D. Oswald, a book that I knew basically nothing about until an unexpected review copy arrived at my house. As soon as I saw that it was about dragons, I knew it was my kind of thing - I've always been a big fan of dragons and am forever looking for them in fiction. I'm very glad to say that Dreamwalker has exceeded all expectations and completely blown my mind. I'm so excited about it!

Dreamwalker is about the Twin Kingdoms and all that inhabit it. There's young Benfro, a fourteen-year-old dragon kitling living with a settlement of dragons; a young boy called Errol, with a lineage more important than anyone knows, and a royal family with a history steeped in dragon slayings. Everything is changing in the Twin Kingdoms: no-one is safe, the dragons know danger is on the horizon and the men are all too happy to be the cause of it. Benfro and Errol each have a part to play in the coming days, but neither of them know the true extent of their purpose.

There's much, much more to this story, but to talk about it would be to spoil it. It's fantasy fiction at its best, with beautiful writing and some of the most compelling characters I've encountered in all my twenty-seven years of reading. Oswald has brought every single one of them to life within these pages, whether they be dragon or man, good or evil. They have personalities and traits befitting those of reality, with treachery, trust and power all being at the forefront.

Benfro is the best fictional dragon I've met so far, with his inquisitiveness and bravery being his greatest attributes. He's learning how to be a real dragon through magic and pure knowledge, and has some truly wise dragons on his side, teaching him whatever they can. His mother, Morgwm the Green, is another character that stands out high above everyone else, and is another of my favourites. I love the relationship she has with Benfro, which is very much one of a parent and child but with added respect and understanding. Morgwm knows Benfro has an important part to play in the future of their race, and it's her job to ready him for what's to come.

On the other side of the coin, there's Errol, a normal boy who finds himself thrust into a world he doesn't want to belong to. His parentage comes into question, loyalties are tested and yet he still thinks for himself and knows what's right and wrong. He has an affinity with dragons for reasons unbeknownst to him and, like Benfro, he too has an important role in the conflicts between dragons and men.

Oswald has perfectly created a world of magic and fantasy, a world where dragons are hated and live in fear of being found. These noble creatures have so much knowledge and power, which of course men just can't handle. It's fascinating to read about the history and lore of the Twin Kingdoms, especially with extracts at the beginning of each chapter. There's so much backstory to include, and these historical extracts are a brilliant way of supplying all the necessary information without overloading the reader or slowing the narrative. I can't wait to delve deeper and find out more!

It's interesting to note that the first three books in this series were originally self-published a few years ago. Now traditionally published by Penguin, this first book is in shops and on shelves, ready to meet new readers like me. It's YA-friendly even though it's shelved with adult fantasy, and fans of The Inheritance Cycle and Game of Thrones are sure to love it. I'm really glad they're all being published in paperback (The Rose Cord and The Golden Cage follow in November and January), because without that I honestly don't think I would have heard of this series, never mind read it. As it stands, Dreamwalker is one of the best books I've read this year and I'll be buying a finished copy to keep. It looks like the age of dragons has finally arrived, and if anyone wants me in the next few days I'll be reading the second book in the series, The Rose Cord. No disturbances, please.