Sunday, 28 February 2010

In My Mailbox #57 & #58: New Books This Week

In My Mailbox idea from Kristi @ The Story Siren, and all links take you to Amazon.

I was at the third UK Twilight convention last weekend, so didn't post last week's IMM. I'll get a con report posted soon (it was amazing as always, and I'm now completely in love with Jamie Campbell Bower!), and here are my last two weeks in books.



In My Mailbox #57


For review:


Bought:


Gifts/Prizes:




In My Mailbox #58


For review:


Gift:

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Kids Book to Movie Video Spotlights

A site I write for, ReelzChannel.com, has some cool book-to-movie video spotlights, focusing on Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon and Roald Dahl's creations to name just a few. I thought they were pretty cool, so here they are:








Friday, 26 February 2010

Review: A Million Shades of Grey by Cynthia Kadohata


Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Format: Paperback
Released: February 4th, 2010
Grade rating: B


Amazon summary:

Ever since Tin can remember he's wanted to be an elephant trainer. At twelve years old, he's the youngest - and in his eyes the best - elephant handler in his village. Tin can think of nothing he'd rather do that spend all day with his elephant, Lady, looking after her and playing together. But Tin's peaceful, idyllic life is changed dramatically when the Viet Cong attack his village and he finds himself held hostage by the terrifying soldiers who don't care if he lives or dies. Can Tin find the courage to escape from his captors and save not only his own life, but his precious elephants too?

Review:

Before reading A Million Shades of Grey, I didn't really know a lot about the Vietnam War. I didn't know the politics or reasoning behind it, or the extent of the horrors that people experienced. Kadohata ended up giving me a history lesson of sorts, and for that reason alone, I'm glad I read this book.

Y'Tin's tale is one of bravery and hope, and is as much a coming of age story as it is an adventure. Nothing makes a boy grow up like being in the middle of a war and, as horrific as it is, the whole experience undoubtedly makes Y'Tin become a man. His beloved elephant, Lady, is an important part of his life, and is a constant companion to him and his family. Their bond is strong and unwavering, and is the kind that you enviously read about or see depicted in films. I never knew elephants could be so close to humans, which again just shows how much I know about this way of life.

The pace of this book is quite slow and steady, with a lot of character building and scene setting. I wanted it to speed up and get going, and make me unable to put it down. It didn't do that, but it did hold my interest plot-wise. I was fascinated by the conflict between North and South Vietnam, and by the differences in the various tribes. I also now know a lot more about elephants, like the fact that their teeth grind down and they grow more!

If you like your books with historical elements, strong characters and an animal that you'll fall in love with, I'd recommend A Million Shades of Grey. As well as being good for educational purposes, it's also a lesson in humanity, and what it means to survive.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

US Vs. UK: I Am Not a Serial Killer Covers

US // UK

I really like both of these covers, but the UK is my favourite. The red really stands out, and the claw marks are very cool. I also prefer the UK text font, because it's exactly how I imagine main character John Cleaver would write.

I like the notebook effect of the US cover, the blood spatters and how Dan's name looks like part of the page. I'd happily buy either, but the UK one would be my preference.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

GIVEAWAY: Win a Signed Copy of Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick! - CLOSED


A sacred oath, a fallen angel, a forbidden love...

I have a spare signed US copy of Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (Becca sent me a brilliant signed copy, then her US publishers did too), so I thought I'd let someone else experience the coolness of Patch and Nora. For a book summary, click here.


Rules & info:
  • Open worldwide.
  • End date: March 10th, 2010.
  • One entry per person.
  • You don't have to follow my blog to enter.

Just fill in the form below, and you'll be entered! :)


Blog Tour: My So-Called Afterlife by Tamsyn Murray Review + Author Interview


Publisher: Piccadilly Press
Format: Paperback
Released: February 26th, 2010
Grade rating: B/B+


Amazon summary:

Meet Lucy Shaw. She's not your average fifteen year old - for a start, she's dead. And as if being a ghost wasn't bad enough, she's also trapped haunting the men's toilets on Carnaby Street. So when a lighting engineer called Jeremy walks in and she realises he can see and hear her, she isn't about to let him walk out of her afterlife. Not least until he's updated her on what's happening in her beloved soaps. With Jeremy's help, Lucy escapes the toilet and is soon meeting up with other ghosts, including the perpetually enraged Hep and the snogtastic Ryan. But when Jeremy suggests Lucy track down the man who murdered her, things go down hill. Can Lucy face up to the events of that terrible night? And what will it cost her if she does?

Review:

My So-Called Afterlife is a great debut novel, with lots of humour, gorgeous ghosts and a murder mystery to keep you guessing. It has one of the funniest opening lines I've encountered, and more than its fair share of quippy, fast-talking dead people.

Lucy's stint in the men's toilets where she was murdered is hilarious, and I don't want to think of the sights she must have seen there. Luckily she does manage to leave that hellish place, and embarks on a journey through the streets of London. I was pleasantly surprised that I'd heard of some of the streets and landmarks, as I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to London!

Lucy's friendship with Jeremy is a nice touch, and I like that she ends up helping him almost as much as he helps her. Ryan is also a welcome addition to Lucy's group of friends, and though their relationship does head in the romantic direction, I think it's difficult to relate to and slightly rushed. It all happens very quickly: one minute she is just meeting him, and the next they're having their first ghostly kiss. I would like to have seen more build-up and more tension, which is important when it comes to relationship development.

I enjoyed My So-Called Afterlife, and I'm really glad I got the chance to read it. I'm looking forward to Murray's next book, My So-Called Haunting, which follows new characters in their afterlife adventures. She's a writer to watch, and I'm sure she has great things planned for us.

-----

Quick Q&A with Tamsyn Murray

Do you think ghosts are the new vampires?

Oh, I thought angels were the next vampires :-) I love ghosts and thing they bring something new to YA fiction but I'm not sure they can have the same wow factor as 'flesh and blood' characters, unless the writer is skillful enough to make the reader forget they are reading about a ghost. I think Ryan, from My So-Called Afterlife, is a pretty hot ghost but no-one apart from other ghosts knows he's there. Vampires have traditionally had an air of glamour and fascination about them because they have to fool their victims long enough to bite them (unless they're Edward Cullen, of course). That said, I have plans for a gorgeous ghost to sweep Skye, the living heroine of my next book, off her feet in a future storyline!

You've mentioned on Twitter that the hilarious opening line ('I knew it was time to move on when a tramp peed on my Uggs...') shaped the whole book. Can you remember where you were when it first came to you?

I was trying to come up with a new short story idea and was toying with what would happen if the building a ghost haunted (like a grand old house) was knocked down and something rubbish built on the land, such as a grotty toilet - would the ghost haunt the loo? Then I thought about all the horrible things that might happen in a toilet and Lucy popped into my head, totally grossed out because someone had peed on her brand new Uggs. Once she'd made her presence felt there was no stopping me and I finished the book in six weeks.

If, like Lucy, you found yourself stuck in the men's toilets, would you cause comedic havoc, or would you quietly hide away?

I think I'd be exactly like Lucy - at first, she hid herself away but then boredom set in. I have a very mischievous nature so it wouldn't take long for me to cause trouble, although I dread to think about some of the things Lucy must have seen!

Will any of My So-Called Afterlife's characters return in future stories?

Although the next book has a new main character in Skye, a lot of the elements of My So-Called Afterlife remain. So there's a full cast of ghosts, the Church of the Dearly Departed crops up, and Jeremy is back with his girlfriend, Celestine. And it's funny, I think! Plus, in a few books time I think Lucy and Skye may even meet up, which will be utterly awesome and really fun to write. I have big plans for them both...

What can you tell us about your next book, My So-Called Haunting?

The next book is different because the main character is alive, although there are still plenty of ghosts. It follows the story of Skye, a fourteen year old psychic who has moved in temporarily with her aunt, Celestine, while her mum is studying abroad. Skye soon discovers that her new school is full of surprises - like a ghostly teacher no-one else knows is there and the delectable Nico, who makes the rest of the boys fade into insignificance. It isn't long before Skye is falling for Nico and struggling to keep her psychic ability from him but Nico has secrets of his own. Add to that the troubled ghost of Dontay, a teen killed in a gangland shoot-out and Skye has more than she's able to handle. Can she trust Nico? Or will Dontay's past catch up with her first? Out September 2010.


Thanks, Tamsyn! For more information, visit Tamsyn's blog here, and make sure to follow her on Twitter @TamsynTweetie.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Review: Need by Carrie Jones


Publisher: Bloomsbury
Format: Paperback
Released: February 1st, 2010
Grade rating: B/B+


Amazon summary:

Zara collects phobias the way other high school girls collect Facebook friends. It's little wonder, since she's had a fairly rough life. Her father left when she was a baby, her stepfather just died and her mother's almost given up - in fact, she's sent her to live with her grandmother in cold and sleepy Maine to 'keep Zara safe'. Zara doesn't think she's in danger; she thinks her mother just can't cope. Zara's wrong. The man she sees everywhere - the tall, creepy guy who points at her from the side of the road - is not a figment of her imagination. He's a pixie. But not the cute, sweet kind with little wings. Maine's got a whole assortment of unbelievable creatures. And they seem to need something - something from Zara...

Review:

I really enjoyed Need, which I'm glad about. Prior to reading it, I'd read many mixed reviews, so I wasn't sure what I'd make of it. My verdict: pixies are my new supernatural interest. Thanks for that, Ms. Jones!

The one thing that stood out for me was Zara's unusual knowledge of phobias. I hardly knew any of them, and came away from the book feeling very well educated. I also think I have a few of these phobias, but hey, I'm sure I'm not alone. (Big spiders? No thanks!) Starting each chapter with a different phobia explanation was inventive, and I hope Captivate does something equally cool.

I related to Zara quite quickly, along with her friends Devyn and Issie. Aside from the fact they figured the whole pixie thing out very quickly, they were realistic and likeable, and I can see their friendship developing more in the sequel. I could have done with less of Zara's Amnesty International talk, though I do like that she had a passion for something other than fashion and boys. Speaking of boys, Nick was a fantastic male character: hot, strong, brave... exactly what a girl needs. I'd like to see more of him, please!

Carrie Jones created a creepy setting in Maine, and made it a believable place for evil pixies and supernatural beings to live. Her writing was compelling, the twists were surprising, and I loved the pixie mythology she included in the story. I think Twilight fans will really like this one, and I for one can't wait to read Captivate.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Review: Tombstone Tea by Joanne Dahme


Publisher: Running Press
Format: Hardcover
Released: February 4th, 2010
Grade rating: B-


Amazon summary:

In order to be accepted by the “in crowd” at her new high school, Jessie accepts a dare to spend one night in a local cemetery collecting rubbings from ten gravestones. Once inside the gate of the dark and frightening burial ground, Jessie meets Paul, a handsome boy who works as a caretaker at the cemetery. Paul explains to Jessie about Tombstone Tea: a fund-raising performance in which actors impersonate the people buried in the cemetery. The actors are supposedly rehearsing on this particular evening, but Jessie quickly discovers that they aren’t actors at all but the ghosts of men and women buried in the cemetery. When one woman decides to adopt Jessie to replace her lost daughter, our heroine fears she may never escape the cemetery.

Review:

Although Tombstone Tea had a fantastic premise, I thought it could have been better, and it didn't quite live up to my expectations. I'm going to put that down to my slight dislike of main character Jessie, as the writing was good and the plot intriguing.

My favourite part of the book was the second section, which was narrated by Paul. He was more appealing than Jessie, and had a far more likeable voice. His story was interesting, and I could easily have read the whole book from his perspective. Jessie was too damsel-in-distress for my liking, and I still can't fathom out why she went to the graveyard in the first place. I wouldn't have thought a school prank would be more important than her safety, but she seems to easily overlook that when popularity gain is involved.

The Tombstone Tea itself was a great idea, and I enjoyed meeting all the ghosts and hearing their many tales of lives long past. I also enjoyed Dahme's writing style, and am tempted to read her other work. It did take me a while to get into this book, but once I reached part two, I was hooked for the most part.

Tombstone Tea might not be up there with my favourite books, but it's a good read if you want a graveyard of ghosts and a different supernaural spin on things. It's not all about vampires and werewolves anymore!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Blog Tour: The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth Review + Author Guest Blog

Previous stop: The Story Siren / Next stop: Chicklit Reviews



Publisher: Scholastic
Format: Paperback
Released: June 1st, 2009 (new ed.)
Grade rating: A-


Amazon summary:

Hannah Rose Brown is twelve years old when she finds out that her family is cursed. Desperate to find the truth about her father's disappearance, she travels to her ancestral home in Scotland, and discover a chain of dark secrets that plunge her into different worlds, timeframes and dangers...

Review:

The best thing about blogging is having the opportunity to find and read new books I otherwise wouldn't have known about. That's exactly what happened with The Puzzle Ring, and I'm so glad Kate asked me to be part of her blog tour. I can't believe this book has been out there for so long, and I'd never even heard of it! It's a magical fantasy that travels through time, and is exactly the kind of story I love to lose myself in.

I loved all the mythology and history included in Hannah's adventure, especially when it concerned Mary, Queen of Scots. To mix the Queen's life with Scottish faerie lore was just brilliant, and it made for an edge-of-your-seat read. I'm a fan of time travel anyway, though I had no idea it was part of The Puzzle Ring. I also didn't realise it was a book about fairies and magic, so I had a great surprise when I finally cottoned on.

Kate Forsyth's characters are well-rounded and easy to like, and each has little quirks that set them apart from one other. Linnet is my favourite, but to say why would give more away than I should, so I'll just say that she's a charming old lady with a lot of useful knowledge. Hannah herself is also a fantastic character, with more intelligence and quick-thinking than I'm sure I had when I was thirteen. Of course, I was never pitted against the fair folk, so I've never needed to speak in rhyme or decode cryptic clues. It's just as well really, as I don't think I would have been half as good as Hannah!

The Puzzle Ring takes you on a journey from Australia to modern day Scotland, and all the way back to 1567. It's an exciting story of magic and danger, and I loved every minute of it. Fans of Michelle Harrison's 13 Treasures will find this a must-read, as it's full of mystical creatures, family curses and lavish landscapes. What more could you want?


Buy The Puzzle Ring at: Amazon UK / The Book Depository


-----


Guest blog: Kate Forsyth on her Family History

My latest novel is a children's fantasy novel about a 13-year old Australian girl, Hannah, who finds herself heir to a mysterious old house on the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland. She and her mother Roz travel to Scotland to meet her great-grandmother, who tells her about an ancient curse that was cast against Hannah's family many hundreds of years ago. Being an enterprising girl, Hannah decides she must break the curse. But to do so, she first must unravel the puzzle of her lost father's cryptic notebooks, learn to use a magical hag-stone spat at her feet by a toad, and find some way to travel back four hundred and forty years to the time of Mary, Queen of Scots .

Now, I'm an Australian myself. I was born in Sydney and have lived here all of my life. Not only was I born in Australia, but so were my parents and my grandparents and my great-grandparents as well. So what inspired me to set my novel in Scotland?

The truth is I was brought up on stories about Scotland. My grandmother Nonnie used to tell me and my sister all the stories that had been told to her by her grandmother, who had been born in Scotland. We learnt more about Robert the Bruce, and Mary, Queen of Scots, and Bonnie Prince Charlie than we ever did about our own Australian history. Nonnie and her two elder sisters, my great-aunts, were wonderful storytellers and they had houses filled with books and photographs and mementoes of Scotland. The Puzzle Ring is actually dedicated to my grandmother and great-aunts because they were the ones who first told me the story about Mary, Queen of Scots and the bloodstain on the floor of her bedchamber that no amount of scrubbing can remove .

To hear about the bloodstain you'll have to read The Puzzle Ring, because the story I want to tell today is the romantic and tragic tale of my great-great-grandmother, Ellen Mackenzie, who was born in Scotland but died in Australia (but not before bequeathing her treasure trove of stories to her children, who then passed them down through the generations to me).

This is the story Nonnie always used to tell us:

Ellen Mackenzie and her younger sister Jane lived on the Black Isle in the Highlands of Scotland with their parents, and a bonny life they had of it too. They lived in a beautiful castle and had everything two little girls could ever want until, one day, their father was drowned in a shipwreck. Their mother was so heartbroken that she quickly died too, and those poor little girls were left all alone. Their father's brother came and took over the castle and all the lands and all the money, and instead of looking after those two little orphans, he packed them up and sent them all by themselves, far away across the seas, to Australia. In those days it was a wild and dangerous land, and it took months and months in a big ship to get there, and surely those two girls would have been scared of the sea, since it took their father away from them? Many people died on the ship, and Ellen's little sister Jane was almost one of them, but at last they arrived here in Sydney. The governor took pity on them and took them under his wing, and eventually they grew up and got married and had children of their own, one of which was my mother and your great-grandmother. But neither Ellen or Jane was ever able to go back to Scotland again, and no-one knows what happened to the castle...

We were so fascinated by this story that both my sister and I begged to hear it every time we stayed with Nonnie or our great-aunts. My favourite daydream, when I was 10 or 11, was that one day we would receive a letter telling us that the wicked uncle had been found out and that the castle was to return to Ellen's descendants (us) and we would go and live in a castle on the shores of a loch in the wild Scottish Highlands .

In fact, one of my very first books, written when I was 11, tells the story of Fiona MacGregor who finds herself heir to a Scottish castle but must find the lost Killarney treasure if she is to save her home. It was called 'Far, Far Away', and The Puzzle Ring opens with the arrival of a mysterious letter, just like I used to imagine could happen to me.

Of course, we realise now as adults that our great-great-grandmother probably could not have inherited anyway, given Scottish inheritance laws, and that in all probability it was a rather nice house, not a castle. But it was one of the enduring myths of our childhood and it instilled in me a deep and abiding love for Scottish history, fairy tales and landscapes. When I travelled to Scotland to research the book, it was a dream come true for me - I had always longed to go and had never had the chance. What is interesting is that I felt at once as though I was coming home. Everything seemed familiar to me, and I was able to tell my children all the stories I had been told as a child, and heard my own voice slipping into the slight Scottish brogue that my grandmother used whenever she told a story.

My grandmother, Nonnie, looked after my sister and me a lot when we were growing up as my mother had to work. And we spent many of our school holidays with her two elder sisters, my great-aunts.

Then, of course, there was the story of my grandmother's grandmother, Ellen Mackenzie, just as romantic and tragic as any my grandmother told me. Orphaned when only a girl, she and her sister Jane were sent to Australia in 1858 by her uncle, who took control of the family estate.
My sister and I always thought this was most unfair, and used to dream about going back to Scotland and winning back Ellen's home as our own. In our imagination Ellen and Jane were wronged, the uncle was cruel, and her home was a beautiful old castle, on the shores of a loch, with all sorts of romantic secrets waiting to be discovered. We hoped that one day a mysterious letter would arrive, summoning us back to Scotland and our lost inheritance...

For more info, visit: Kate Forsyth.com.au

Thursday, 18 February 2010

US Vs. UK: Blue Bloods Covers

US // UK

This is an easy choice for me this week: I much prefer the UK cover. It's lovely in person, and the raised bite marks seem to work better on that one that they do on the US cover.

I know both covers are along the same lines, showing the vampire/rich teenage side of the story, but the UK just has something extra. Maybe it's the lovely title font or the vibrant image. I love it!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Review: Savannah Grey by Cliff McNish


Publisher: Orion
Format: Trade paperback
Released: February 4th, 2010
Grade rating: A-


Amazon summary:

It's a difficult time for fifteen-year-old Savannah Grey - she's settled into her latest foster placement, but her body is acting strangely. Then other strange things begin to happen: nature, it seems, is exerting an overpowering force on the world. Birds behave erratically; gusts of wind blow leaves so fiercely they seem to lure people away. And Savannah discovers she has supernatural powers. Meanwhile, she feels drawn to the new boy Reece whose life is even stranger than hers. Quickly Savannah and Reece realise that nature has a purpose for them both. For they are on course to meet the vile and evil Ocrassa, who wants to destroy the world by corrupting nature. And it wants Savannah Grey to help realise its savage intent.

Review:

Savannah Grey isn't at all what I was expecting, but I loved it anyway. It's a perfect blend of mystery, horror and suspense, and even has a bit of romance thrown in too. It's wonderfully written, with a well-executed story that twists and turns like a winding road.

It's clear that McNish has a particular interest in the horror genre, and I like how he mixes things up and adds new elements, in turn making Savannah Grey a horror/sci-fi/romance that even the most reluctant reader will be hard pressed to ignore. Evolution plays a part in the proceedings, with a huge period of time revisited and woven into the story. It's fascinating stuff, with something new to discover on every page.

I'd really like to say that Savannah was my favourite character, but she wasn't. That particular accolade goes to the monsters of the book: Ocrassa, Nyktomorph and Horror. These monsters aren't your average creatures of the night; they're deformed, creepy, and downright weird. They have a fantastic story to tell, which makes their chapters enthralling, intriguing and the most enjoyable of the whole novel. Savannah and new friend Reece are brilliant too, and are harbouring a secret like no other I've encountered. To say this book is unusual is an understatement, but that's part of its charm and appeal.

At times lyrical and haunting, Savannah Grey is by far my favourite offering from Cliff McNish. The horror lover in me is happy, and I'm glad I've found a book that is both gruesome and romantic. It's a rare mash-up, but it works incredibly well. I hope more authors have the confidence to try something a little bit different, as it's like opening the door to a breath of fresh air.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Review: The Returners by Gemma Malley


Publisher: Bloomsbury
Format: Paperback
Released: February 1st, 2010
Grade rating: B+/A-


Amazon summary:

Will Hodges' life is a mess. His mother is dead, he has no friends and he thinks he is being followed by a strange group of people who tell him they know him. But Will can't remember them ...at first. And when he does, he doesn't like what he can remember. While Will is struggling with unsettling memories, he learns that his past is a lot deeper than many people's, and he has to find out if he is strong enough to break links with the powerful hold that history has on him.

Review:

The Returners has now put Gemma Malley in my list of favourite UK authors. The premise is original, unusual and utterly fantastic, and her writing is compelling to say the least. She's a force to be reckoned with, and her previous books The Declaration and The Resistance are proof enough of that.

The Returners confronts issues relevant to today's society, even though the story is set in an alternate future, in the year 2016. Everything from race to politics is tackled head-on, with no apologies or sugarcoating. 2016 is a hard time to be a foreigner; they're seen as outcasts and aren't welcomed or wanted. Political parties are doing their best to turn Britain back into a purist country, and are facing more opposition as people start to stand up for what's right. It's a topic that is hotly debated these days, and it's good that Malley has picked such a contemporary subject to address.

This book is in no way predictable, and kept me guessing until the last chapter. We figure things out as Will figures them out, and experience shock and confusion at the same time he does. Little hints are given, and it's almost like piecing a giant puzzle together, using excerpts from historical events and a crime committed in the present. I won't give anything away here, as the beauty of the story is what's waiting to be revealed around the corner.

Malley stands out on the shelves of UK teen fiction, with a believable voice and a strong grasp on the teenage mind. Her books continue to surprise me, and her standard of writing seems to improve with every new offering. As a stand-alone novel, The Returners is worthy of a place in everyone's collection, and I for one can't wait to see where her imagination takes her next.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Guest Blog: Sarra Manning on Toxic Boys

Sarra Manning, UK author of many books for teens, including: the Diary of a Crush series, Guitar Girl, the Fashionistas series, Let's Get Lost, and Nobody's Girl.


Toxic boys – a field study and user's guide
by Sarra Manning


I write books for girls about girls. It's what I do and I've been doing it for, ooh, aeons. I like to think that all of my heroines are different, from everygirls like Brie in Pretty Things, Laura in Fashionistas and the star of my latest book, Bea from Nobody's Girl. Then there's gobby Fashionista Candy, misguided Molly, star of stage, screen and Guitar Girl and Isabel of Let's Get Lost, probably one of the meanest girls to ever appear in print (though it wasn't entirely her fault – she was going through stuff.)

Sure, my heroines all go on an emotional journey and learn important life lessons but they remain true to their own individual quirky characters. I hope that that the way I fall in love with each and every one of my heroines is apparent to my readers and that I'm creating believable, relate-able but aspirational female characters. Because after fifteen or so novels, it's hard for me to admit that when it comes to writing the XY chromosomally challenged I'm a one trick pony. Be they geeky boys, smirky boys, footie boys, art boys or snake-hipped boys with dreamy eyes and soft smiles; if they're locking lips with one of my heroines, they're toxic. I'm addicted to writing about toxic boys in the same that way that I can never have enough shoes or fancy stationery.

The toxic boy isn't all bad. He isn't exactly evil either. He's not immune to the charms of puppies and kittens and he's very likely to stand aside to let oldsters on the bus first. He'd never, ever physically hurt a girl but he doesn't mind causing them maximum heartache with the mind games and machinations that are the weapons in his arsenal.

Whether he's fictional or real, when you're in the company of a toxic boy, you always get a sick feeling of excitement in the pit of your stomach. Like, when you know you're doing something that could get you grounded but the thrill of doing it outweighs any punishment you're going to get. Even though you know that the toxic boy will break your heart into pieces just for the sheer hell of it, while he's at your side and giving you sultry looks and soul-deep kisses you stop listening to the voice of reason inside your head. And when you’re not with toxic boy, you feel just plain sick ‘cause he hasn't rung or the last time you saw him he was acting all weird with you. In the end, you become addicted to the toxic boy thrill. To the will he/won't he call angst. To the never knowing what stunt he's going to pull next. And you could go into romance rehab but you just don't want to. It's so much more fun than going out with a well-meaning good intentioned boy that your mother would approve of.

From James Dean and Jordan Catalano in My So Called Life to Mr Darcy and Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, I have worshipped at the shrine of the toxic boy for so long, it's little wonder that my books are littered with their ilk. How do I know my leading men are toxic? After much scientific survey and examining of raw data, I have come up with a handy list.

By these signs you shall know him
  • They smirk. They occasionally sneer, even allow a cruel smile to play along their lips, but mostly they smirk.
  • They can all arch one eyebrow because a toxic boy without an arched eyebrow is like a day without sunshine, Marc without Jacobs, Baileys without ice.
  • They all have a radar which enables them to appear just as one of my heroines is doing something embarrassing like having a hissy fit at her mother (Edie from Diary Of A Crush,) being drunk and standing on top of a table in a club (Hadley in Fashionistas) while in my grown-up book, Unsticky, Vaughn caught Grace doing something so embarrassing, I blush as I try to recall the details.
  • They prey on my heroines' weaknesses and sneakily use them to their own advantage. I'm thinking about the way Dean muscled his way into The Hormones in Guitar Girl because he played on the girls' insecurities about their lack of musicianship.
  • They make my poor girls wait. Like, they know they're a crush object, and they're crushing on my girls equally hard, but instead of doing something about it, they blow hot and cold. One minute, they're kissing my heroines into the middle of next week (toxic boys always seem to be really good kissers - it's all part of their diabolical masterplan), the next they're blanking them when they see them in HMV. Dylan in Diary Of A Crush, I'm talking about you.
To tell you the absolute truth, I barely remembered this list of crimes against girlkind. After I've sent off the final page-proofs, I can never bring myself to read my finished books so I put a call out on twitter asking my lovely Tweeters to give me examples of toxic boydom in my books and the replies came flooding back. Vaughn from Unsticky and Dylan easily won the accolade of Most Toxic Boys Ever, while I was furnished with example after example of horrible things my heroes (though at this stage, I think anti-hero would be more appropriate) had done in the name of love.

I felt deeply ashamed of my literary output. I am a card-carrying feminist. I read Speculum Of The Other Woman at University (and understood about half of it) I pride myself on writing books with strong female characters who aren't perfect, but they're not pushovers either. Even the seemingly dippiest of my heroines like Brie in Pretty Things or Hadley from Fashionistas possess a steely inner core.

But then I realised, with the help of my Tweeters, that my heroines weren't transformed by their toxic boy love into sappy, giggling girls. As Ali, Flo, Kay and countless others reminded me bending a toxic boy to their will, was a challenge my heroines were happy to take on. "They had to figure the toxic boys out, it made loving them interesting," was one comment. "Underneath their toxicity was a vulnerability that made them worth it. They were all gorgeous walking bags of issues."

Of course, as is the way of these things, by the end of each of my books, my hero and heroine have resolved their issues, learnt some important lessons about love and life and get a sort-of happy ending. And that was the part that my readers really objected to because in fiction, the toxic boy just needs the love of a good woman or needs to be slapped down by a toxic girl who can beat him at his own game. In real life, it doesn't quite work like that.

My friend, Abby McDonald, author of The Popularity Rules and Life Swap, took me to task because, 'You gave us with the promise that bad boys were actually deep and brooding underneath + that we would "die from their kisses!"' As if that was a bad thing. While Miss Believer claimed, "You're the reason I am now living with a scruffy haired musician arty type who never tidies up & leaves guitar strings everywhere. It was so romantic in the books!"

I think Rowan summed it up when she said, "This is where all my men misconceptions arise from; those happily ever afters."

But if I've perpetrated the myth of the toxic boy who can be redeemed by love it's because I too overdosed on the happily ever afters as I devoured my mother's Georgette Heyer novels in my formative years.

Ultimately the toxic boy is a beautiful illusion when he's safely contained in the pages of a book. It's when he's a real live boy who doesn't call, doesn't write, doesn't Tweet, then saunters back into your arms when you've finally given up all hope, that he's really dangerous.


Box off: TOXIC BOYS I HAVE LOVED

Sebastian from Lorna Hill's Sadlers Wells' books

I loved these books when I was a kid because they contained the three things I loved the most; horses, ballet and great descriptions of food. But they also introduced me to another enduring love; that of the toxic boy in the slim, tall form of Sebastian Scott with his shock of black hair, blue eyes and, this is very important, long, expressive fingers because he played the piano and grew up to be a composer and a conductor. (An orchestra conductor not a bus conductor.) He was also frequently described as sardonic, and I'm pretty sure he's been the template for every boy I've ever loved or written about since.

Jordan Catalano from My So-Called Life

The slacker king of the toxic boys. Jordan was quite happy to snog Angela's face off in the boiler room but holding her hand while they walked through the school? Quite another thing. Plus he was really good at acting like he couldn't care less and was always talking about his car, his crappy band and how going out with Angela would do his head in. Hmmm, smells like toxic boy to me.

Mr Darcy from Pride And Prejudice

The archetypal toxic boy or, to be more accurate, toxic man in possession of a good fortune. "He expressed no regret for what he had done which satisfied her; his style was not penitent, but haughty. It was all pride and insolence."

Mr Big from Sex And The City

Proof that toxic boys don't necessarily grow up and grow out of it. Rarely seen without a smirk on his face, Mr Big took the art of evasion to scary places where it was never meant to go but he did it so charmingly that we much preferred him to nice guy Aidan.

Maxim de Winter from Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

For starters, he's called Maxim. Toxic boys should always have exotic names and not names like Kevin, Wayne or Barry. And secondly, he proposes to the second Mrs de Winter by saying harshly, "I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool."

Review: Vampirates - Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper


Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Format: Paperback
Released: June 6th, 2005
Grade rating: B/B+


Amazon summary:

Connor and Grace are twins, recently orphaned after their widowed father's death. Rather than being adopted by the town's busy-bodies, they decide to set sail for new pastures in their father's last single possession, his sailing boat. But a vicious storm sees their boat capsize and the twins separated. Two mysterious ships sail to their rescue - each picking up one twin before disappearing into the mist. Connor wakes to find himself on a pirate ship and is soon being trained up with a cutlass. Meanwhile Grace finds herself locked in a darkened room, as the vampirates await nightfall... Determined to find each other, yet intrigued by their new shipmates, the twins are about to embark on the biggest adventure of their life...

Review:

"I'll tell you a tale of Vampirates,
A tale as old as true.
Yea, i'll sing you a song of an ancient ship,
And its mighty fearsome crew."

Yep, you've guessed it. The above shanty excerpt is what I've had swimming around in my head for the last week or so, ever since I finished Demons of the Ocean. Try explaining that one to parents and friends... I've had a lot of funny looks, let me tell you. It got worse when I said it was from a book about Vampirates: vampire pirates out at sea, sailing around as if they're not bloodsucking fiends with scary sharp teeth and an ancient song written about them... cool, eh?

I'm a vampire freak, as people like to tell me, and even I've never encountered vampire pirates before. It's a brilliant story, and I couldn't get enough of my favourite fanged fighter Lorcan who, let's face it, is like the Edward Cullen of the sea. With his chiselled features, long dark hair, chivalrous nature and deep glowing eyes... *sigh*... sorry, I'm back now.

As I was saying, this is a fun, inventive story, and will appeal to both boys and girls. There's a heroine for each gender in the form of twins Grace and Connor, two kick-ass teenagers who get separated and hauled onto two very different ships. Will they be reunited? Will Grace be eaten by evil vamp Sidorio? Or will Connor be cut to shreds by hardcore Jack Sparrow types? All will be revealed...

My only quibble with this book is that the majority of the story is supposed to be set in the year 2512. I expected things to be drastically different to how they are now, but I didn't get that impression. There are no hoverboards, no machines taking over the world and not a single little AI boy in sight, so I can't help but wonder why it's set so far in the future. Maybe it'll all become clear in later installments which, by the way, I can't wait to read. I can see this series getting better and better, and with book five due for release in a few weeks, I'm anticipating great things.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

News: Mockingjay Cover & The Fool's Girl Sample Chapter

I'm sure everyone has seen and heard about the Mockingjay cover (Hunger Games book 3) by now, but I just had to post it. It's amazing! I'm so excited about this book, and I can't wait to read it. Here's some information from a Scholastic UK press release:

THE EAGERLY-AWAITED THIRD BOOK WILL BE PUBLISHED ON 24TH AUGUST 2010

Since the September 2009 release of Catching Fire, the second book in Suzanne Collins' best-selling Hunger Games trilogy, there has been a great deal of internet speculation about the title for the forthcoming third book. The wait is over. Today we can reveal that the third book will be called THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY.

In the series, mockingjays are government-bred mutant birds, the offspring of mockingbirds and jabberjays, created in order to spy on rebels. Mockingjays became the symbol of resistance in book two of the series, and many fans of the books, both in the UK and the US, have been wearing mockingjay badges to show their allegiance with Katniss Everdeen the heroine of the series.

-----

In other news, Bloomsbury UK are publishing a new novel by Celia Rees in April, titled The Fool's Girl. It sounds fantastic (info below), and you can read a sample chapter at the Bloomsbury site here. There's also a Celia Rees Facebook fan page you can join here.

The Fool’s Girl opens in London 1601 with two characters just about to make the acquaintance of one William Shakespeare. Whilst watching an open air performance of Twelfth Night (her favourite Shakespearean comedy), Celia found herself asking what happens next? What if the couples weren’t entirely satisfied with each other? What if the troublesome characters came back? The idea was born and so began the plan to tell the tale of Illyria after Twelfth Night ends.

Celia tells the story of Violetta, daughter of Viola. Violetta’s uncle has all but destroyed Illyria and taken control of what little is left of her beloved country. Meanwhile, the evil Malvolio has stolen Illyria’s sacred relic and sailed to England. Violetta and her aunt’s fool, Feste, have followed Malvolio in order to return the relic to its rightful place and to restore Violetta to her role as Duchess of Illyria. But to do so they need the help of a certain playwright.

Celia’s Shakespeare is yet to become the famous Bard we know him as today. In Celia’s words: ‘He would be a jobbing writer with inky fingers, trying to make a living, juggling his life in London with his life at home in Stratford, trying to survive, to keep his nose clean, in the dangerous, violent, difficult and volatile world at the end of Elizabeth’s reign. Hard at work, trying to keep his Company going, writing and re-writing, always on the lookout for stories to keep up with the need for plays and more plays. When he happens upon two street performers, a Fool and his beautiful young girl assistant, he finds one.’

The Fool’s Girl is full of danger, adventure and romance. With enemies at every turn, every friend possibly a traitor, it makes for a thrilling and suspenseful read.

In My Mailbox #56: New Books This Week

In My Mailbox idea from Kristi @ The Story Siren, and all links take you to Amazon.


Another great week this week, with some very cool books I can't wait to read! The finished UK version of Blue Bloods is lovely, and the bite marks are so, so cool. I'm still excited about that one, as well as the fact that Perfect Chemistry is finally being published here! I also received a few duplicates I haven't put in the picture, all of which will be going to good homes.


For review:


Bought:

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead


Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Format: Hardcover
Released: July 14th, 2009
Grade rating: B+


Amazon summary:

Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever. By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

Review:

When You Reach Me is an intricate, well-written mystery, with elements of sci-fi, time travel and nostalgia present throughout. It didn't grab me right from the beginning, but if I could find a way to bottle the last twenty pages and make everyone I know read them, I would. It has one of those perfect endings that feels like a light has been switched on in your head, and makes you immediately go back over all the little details that didn't register the first time.

Miranda, along with her family and friends, are exactly the kind of people I love reading about. They're by no means flawless, but they recognise those flaws and try to better themselves. They're nothing out of the ordinary, nothing special, yet they're all witness to an extraordinary series of events taking place right in front of their eyes.

As previously mentioned, the start of the story didn't grab me, and I was a good sixty or seventy pages in before I reached the point where I couldn't bear to put it down. It's a short book as it is, so I expected to be completely gripped quite quickly. Luckily, things got a lot better from then on, and I found myself enthralled by the Laughing Man, the crypic notes and all the talk of time travel.

As per usual, I had my own personal theories about what was going on, and none of them were right. I think I'm going to give up guessing, as it never works, and the authors are always cleverer than me when it comes to their imaginations. Rebecca Stead is no exception, and the end of When You Reach Me was absolutely brilliant. I can't wait to read the whole thing again, and pay more attention as I go along. Everything is relevant, and everything fits. I just have to piece it all together.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Review: Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace


Publisher: Andersen Press
Format: Paperback
Released: January 28th, 2010
Grade rating: A


Amazon summary:

Zimbabwe, 1980s. The war is over, independence has been won and Robert Mugabe has come to power offering hope, land and freedom to black Africans. It is the end of the Old Way and the start of a promising new era. For Robert Jacklin, it's all new: new continent, new country, new school. And very quickly he learns that for some of his classmates, the sound of guns is still loud, and their battles rage on ...white boys who want their old country back, not this new black African government. Boys like Ivan. Clever, cunning Ivan. For him, there is still one last battle to fight, and he's taking it right to the very top.

Review:

Out of Shadows is one of the best debut novels I've ever read. It's fantastically written, and has left me close to how I felt when I read The Book Thief for the first time. It's powerful and important, and at times horribly shocking. I sat there in stunned silence after reading one particular page, and had to take a minute to fully comprehend what had happened. That's strong writing, if ever I saw it.

Out of Shadows begins in 1983, a few years after the end of the Rhodesian Bush War (or the Zimbabwe War of Liberation). Robert Mugabe is now Prime Minister, and Zimbabwe is no longer ruled by white people. I hardly knew anything about this historical event before reading this book, and so once again I was given a history lesson. It's very interesting, and is the first time I've come across this setting in a YA book.

Robert Jacklin is a very likeable character for most of the book, and I'm so glad it's written in the first person. He started off as an unassuming 13-year-old, and grew into a strong, decent man right before my eyes. He has more tough decisions to make and bad choices to live with than anyone that age should, but each shapes his life and who he becomes. His friends are a less desirable bunch, and though I see why Robert was so eager to be part of their group, things would have been vastly different if he'd stayed well away.

At times chilling and dark, yet strangely hopeful, Out of Shadows is one of those books that I know I'll revisit in the future. I've been thinking about it ever since I finished it, and am finding it hard to get it out of my head. I can't recommend it highly enough, and I hope it eventually gets the recognition and praise it deserves.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

US Vs. UK: Viola in Reel Life Covers

US // UK


Once again, I'm undecided. I love both these covers for different reasons: the US one is sophisticated but sadly missing the model's head, and the UK one is just summery and pretty. I'd say the US edition looks like it's aimed at an older audience, which is probably down to the design and title plate.

Both covers are story specific, with the yellow shoes and camera playing a big part in Viola's life. The artwork on the UK cover is exactly as I imagined her, and I hope it appeals to teenagers when they see it perched on a shelf.

Hmm, I think I've just convinced myself that I like the UK one more (and I don't even like pink!). I have no staying power.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Waiting On Wednesday: White Cat

Waiting on Wednesday idea from Jill at Breaking the Spine.

-----

White Cat by Holly Black

* Published by: Margaret K. McElderry (US), Gollancz (UK)
* Format: Hardcover (US), Hardcover & trade PB (UK)
* Release Date:
May 4th, 2010 (US), June 17th, 2010 (UK)
* On Amazon: here

Amazon summary:

Cassel is cursed. Cursed by the memory of the fourteen year old girl he murdered. Life at school is a constant trial. Life at home even worse. No-one at home is ever going to forget that Cassel is a killer. No-one at home is ever going to forget that he isn't a magic worker. Cassel's family are one of the big five crime families in America. Ever since magic was prohibited in 1929 magic workers have been driven underground and into crime. And while people still need their touch, their curses, their magical killings, their transformations, times have been hard. His granddad has been driven to drink, his mother is in prison and his brothers detest him as the only one of their family who can't do magic. But there is a secret at the centre of Cassel's family and he's about to inherit it. It's terrfying and that's the truth.

How good does this sound?! And that cover is amazing! I can't wait for this one, and it's released in the US on my birthday. Birthday present? Yep, I think so. :)

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Review: Secrets at St Jude's - Drama Girl by Carmen Reid


Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Format: Paperback
Released: January 28th, 2010
Grade rating: B


Amazon summary:

You'd think that being stuck in a stuffy girls boarding school would mean life was dull and dreary, but this term the St Jude's girls are in for some serious drama! Gina can't wait for her mum and friends to make the trip over to visit her from sunny California, but things don't exactly go to plan and she finds herself stuck in the middle of them and her new friends and hunky boyfriend. And things don't get better as the rest of her dorm-mates have their own dramas to deal with... Niffy is not happy about her best friend and her brother becoming a couple - yuck! Min wishes she had the confidence to finally kiss her new boyfriend, and poor Amy is starting to do anything to look thin for the school play. Will all the drama be resolved...?

Review:

The St Jude's series is one of my favourite to come out of the UK, and it gets better with each book. There's character growth, positive messages, and a whole load of innocent teenage fun to be had with the girls from St Jude's boarding school.

Drama Girl is the most serious installment yet, dealing with important themes and issues such as eating disorders and self-esteem. I think it's so important to include these storylines in teen books, as it speaks to teenagers in a subtle yet informative way. Although most things wrap up happily at the end of the book, Carmen Reid never skirts around the importance of realising you have a problem, and being able to ask for help.

Friendship is what the St Jude's series is about, and that still has a strong presence in Drama Girl. Boys and brothers might get in the way, but the four girls -- Gina, Niffy, Amy and Min -- always support and come back to each other, and remember what's important. It's like Sex and the City for the younger generation, if it was set in Scotland and was actually funny.

Reid clearly knows her characters inside out, and knows what it's like to grow up in that environment. Her writing is humorous and easy to read, and makes the time fly by. I'd like to see more romance in the next book, and a little less emphasis on the girls and their bond. Three books in, I know they're best friends forever, and now I want to see how they cope when they're not the most important people in each other's lives. Can they survive that? Yes, I think they can.

Author Interview: Keren David

Thanks to debut author Keren David, the fantastic author of When I Was Joe, for stopping by and answering these questions!

----------


When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?


I remember huge satisfaction writing my first 'book' - a re-telling of Jack and the Beanstalk when I was six. And I remember being very impressed when I met a 'proper writer' when I was about 9 and he had to assess me for my Brownie's writer's badge. But for years and years I was a journalist and I thought that was how I was going to be a writer. I've surprised myself by actually writing a book.

How did you go about getting published? Was it an easy process?

It wasn't exactly easy, but it was quite fast. I started querying agents as soon as I had a first draft - just what everyone tells you not to do. I queried multiple agents at a time - again, not necessarily the best thing to do. I got quite a few rejections, and then three agents in one week said they wanted to represent me. I signed with the wonderful Jenny Savill at Andrew Nurnberg Associates, and then felt smugly complacent that I'd get an instant publishing deal - well, it wasn't quite that easy as the recession had kicked in and besides some publishers were wary of a book about crime. Then Frances Lincoln made a two book offer. It took around ten months from starting to write the book to getting the offer.

When I Was Joe deals with the terrible subject of knife crime. Has this ever affected you personally?

Thankfully not. There was a boy who was a former pupil at my son's school who was stabbed to death in 2007, and another boy who was the friend of someone I know from the school was stabbed to death last year. So it feels close to home.

Witness protection is heavily featured in the book. How did you research this?

I knew quite a bit from my background in news journalism and I read about every case I could get information on, as well as the work of Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes who campaigns on behalf of intimidated witnesses and was himself threatened with death when he stood up to organised criminals. I talked to a barrister friend who has worked with protected witnesses as well, and he read the book to check all the legal aspects.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading When I Was Joe?

I'd like people to think about the issues raised - about truth and justice and the nature of being a witness. I don't want to write books with obvious messages, but I want to explore interesting questions and leave it to readers to think about the answers.

Did you have any input into your lovely cover design/image?

Yes! I knew that some readers, girls especially might be wary of reading a book about crime. If it had a cover with a gory knife or skulking hoodies then they might not realise that there's a romance and humour in the book. So when I met people at the publishers and they asked me if I'd had any thoughts about the cover I said: 'I'd just stick a good-looking boy in a hoodie on the front.' And they did just that!

Can you tell us anything about your next book, Almost True?

Almost True carries on Ty's story from just after the end of When I Was Joe. Things go from bad to worse for Ty,and he's so traumatised that he can't even rely on his own experiences or memories. He's on the run almost completely throughout the book and he meets a lot of people from his past. It's a book about truth, friendship and betrayal.


----------

Related links: