Monday, 29 November 2010

Review: Matched by Ally Condie


Publisher: Razorbill
Format: Trade paperback
Released: December 2nd, 2010
Grade rating: A


Amazon summary:

On her seventeenth birthday, Cassia meets her Match. Society dictates he is her perfect partner for life. Except he’s not. In Cassia’s society, Officials decide who people love. How many children they have. Where they work. When they die. But, as Cassia finds herself falling in love with another boy, she is determined to make some choices of her own. And that’s when her whole world begins to unravel...

Review:

Matched is without a doubt one of my favourite books of 2010. I loved every single page, and could have quite easily read the sequel straight away. Unfortunately there's a bit of a wait for that so, as always, I'll have to be patient. I started Matched at about 1am in the morning, and read right through to 7am. I didn't sleep at all that day, and spent my day trip to London (to meet John Green) looking like a zombie out of one of Carrie Ryan's books. It was so worth it though, because there's no way I could have slept without knowing how the first part of Cassia's story ended.

The first thing that struck me about Matched was Ally Condie's writing. I know some people will probably disagree with me, but I thought it was brilliant. Certain passages were so beautifully written that they almost read like poetry, and I couldn't tear my eyes away. It's such a strong start to the series, and you wouldn't guess it was Condie's first dystopian novel. It's SO GOOD.

Condie's world building was also fantastic. The society was mysterious and suffocating, and the idea that choice and free will no longer exists was a scary thought. I think I speak for everyone when I say that a world where you couldn't choose who to marry or how many children to have would be a nightmare. Not to mention the fact that, in Cassia's world, even your death is preordained. Nothing is left to chance, and to me that's the worst thing that could ever happen to individuals in a society. It would lead to mundane existences and a neverending routine filled with rules and regulations. No thanks. I have no idea how Cassia coped with it, though when it's all you've ever known, I guess it's easy to.

At first, I thought Cassia was quite a bland, nondescript character. She didn't seem to have any stand out qualities or memorable traits, though that was before she fell in love with a boy who wasn't her match. I was happy with Cassia's best friend Xander as her match -- they were compatible, they fit well and they knew each other inside out. It wasn't until Ky first appeared that I thought there could be any other person for Cassia. Wow, was I wrong! Matched uses a dangerous, epic love triangle to emphasise the society's role in Cassia's life, and it's beyond anything I was expecting. I couldn't have predicted some of the plot twists if I'd tried, and instead they hit me like a fork of lightning.

Cassia had some ridiculously hard choices to make in Matched; had I been in her shoes I would have crumbled under the pressure and emotional weight of it all. There's no way I could have lived like that and been afraid for my life at the same time. She deals with everything thrown at her, which shows incredible strength of character. By the end of the book I absolutely loved her, as well as the boys and her lovely family. I haven't read a book with such a well-rounded, diverse set of characters for a long time, but in Matched there was no-one I didn't like.

Well, I think that's just about enough gushing from me. Go and get yourself a copy of this as soon as possible if you haven't already. Hopefully you'll love it, and won't forfeit a night's sleep like I did. Until then, here's a tip for you: don't start Matched late at night. You'll thank me in the morning, I promise!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

In My Mailbox #97: New Books This Week

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

So, this week was ACE. I received some very exciting surprises in the post, and bought a few books that I can't wait to read. I'm particularly excited about The Iron Witch by my buddy Kaz, as well as the Ally Kennen books. I've never read anything by her, and they were a fab surprise! Also, it appears that this is the blog post where my Narnia obsession is showing itself... 11 days until Voyage of the Dawn Treader, people!

Here's what arrived in my snow-covered red postbox this week:




For review:
  • Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Quarry by Ally Kennen (UK proof/ARC)
  • Being Billy by Phil Earle (UK proof/ARC. I already have a lovely signed copy of this, so I've sent my new one on to someone else).

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Bought:

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Gift:
(This was going to be destroyed and thrown away at work because it's old stock, so they let me have it. It's out of print and I've never been able to get it! Yay!)

(Becca sent me this copy, and signed it with a lovely inscription. I haven't been able to afford to buy the US edition, but she knows how I like to collect different versions of my favourite books. Thanks so much, Becca!)



Hope you all had a great week! Happy reading!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Review: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver


Publisher: Orion
Format: Hardcover
Released: October 21st, 2010
Grade rating: B+


Amazon summary:

January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he's offered the chance to be the wireless operator on an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken. But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice. Stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return - when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible. And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark.

Review:

I read Dark Matter on Halloween, which, yes, was intentional. I'd previously heard it was pretty creepy, so I thought I'd wait and read it on the scariest day of the year. Michelle Paver certainly knows how to create a setting to put you on edge, which is exactly what she achieves with Gruhuken. I have absolutely no desire to ever visit that place, and I'm holding Paver wholly responsible. I'd be far too creeped out to ever go there, knowing what could be living in the shadows...

Dark Matter is all about atmosphere and tension. It's a ghost story in the truest sense of the word, and isn't far removed from classic movies like Psycho and Poltergeist. Tension builds with every page, as we know all isn't right in Gruhuken, and that something is waiting to make itself known. Jack and the other men on the Arctic expedition have no idea what they've gotten themselves into, and that soon becomes clear as they reach their destination.

It wasn't as frightening as I was expecting it to be, though I think that's just me - I've yet to read a book or see a film that has really scared me. Dark Matter gets many points for chills and shivers, as is a very well written account of an expedition gone wrong. Although this is an adult novel, it could well be a book for older YA readers too, as there isn't much mature content to differentiate between the two age groups. The writing is fantastic too, and I can't fault any part of it. I now see why Paver is such a publishing hit!

I learnt a lot from Dark Matter, especially about the Arctic and its surrounding land and icecaps. I have zero knowledge when it comes to travelling, so reading so vividly about new places was an interesting experience. I could tell that Paver loves the locations she wrote about, as her passion and enthusiasm showed through in every paragraph. I'll definitely be looking out for Paver's next book, whether it be aimed at children or adults, and am proud to now call myself a fan.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

US Vs. UK: Demonglass/Raising Demons Covers

US // UK

Along with the cover designs, there's another interesting US/UK difference here: title changes! I quite like both so don't mind it, but I wonder why it was changed from Demonglass to Raising Demons in the UK? *ponders*

Anyway, back to the covers. I like both! The UK series is getting a makeover (I think), with Hex Hall due for a new cover too. I liked the original, but I can see what Simon & Schuster are doing here, and I think it works. I love all the shades of purple, and I'm more of a fan of this layout - Rachel's name is in a better place, and the model looks all mysterious and magic. I can totally imagine her walking through the doors of Hex Hall, can't you?

I also like the US cover, though as with the US Hex Hall, I find it a bit too busy with how it's been laid out. The mirror image effect is really cool though, and I'm sure it will do its job of attracting book buyers over the pond. I'm now quite intrigued as to what is going to happen in this book - I loved Hex Hall, and I remember the US cover of that was pretty story specific, so we'll see if Demonglass is the same!

What do you guys think? Has Lady Hawkins hit the cover jackpot?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Waiting On Wednesday: The Summer of Firsts and Lasts

Waiting on Wednesday idea from Jill at Breaking the Spine.

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The Summer of Firsts and Lasts by Terra Elan McVoy

* Published by: Simon Pulse (US)
* Format: Hardcover (US)
* Release Date: May 3rd, 2011 (US)
* On Amazon: here


Amazon.com summary:

Three sisters. One life-changing summer.

Calla loves summer because summer means Duncan. They’ve been best friends for years, but Calla has never worked up the nerve to tell him how she really feels. This summer, the summer before college, is Calla's last chance.

Violet isn't much of a rule breaker in real life. But this isn't real life, this is summer, and Violet is determined to make the most of it. Besides, a little sneaking out never hurt anyone. And sneaking out with James is 100% worth the risk...even though James is completely off-limits.

Daisy has never been the sister that boys notice, but when sparks fly with Joel at the first bonfire of summer, it seems so easy and right. So why is being his girlfriend so complicated?


I've heard good things about Terra Elan McVoy. I have both her previous books (Pure and After the Kiss), though I haven't read them yet - maybe I should do something about that soon. Everyone seems to like her writing, and her book due in 2011 sounds just as brilliant as her others. I love stories about sisters and summers (Summer romances! Yay!), so I reckon' I'll like this one. It's published the day before my birthday, and I know what I'll be getting :D

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Review: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo


Publisher: Egmont
Format: Paperback
Released: August 6th, 2007 (New ed.)
Grade rating: B+


Amazon summary:

In 1914, Joey, a young farm horse, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges towards the enemy, witnessing the horror of the frontline. But even in the desolation of the trenches, Joey's courage touches the soldiers around him.

Review:

Before War Horse, I'd only read one other Michael Morpurgo book, and that was Private Peaceful, another story set during the First World War. If I'm honest, I've always been a bit put off by his books, as they all seem to centre around animals. Not that I don't like animals, I just don't particularly like reading about them. I finally decided to read War Horse after several people recommended it in quick succession, and I'm really glad I did - it taught me a lot about the Great War, and introduced me to my first older fiction book narrated by an animal.

War Horse is about Joey, a red bay horse who did actually exist back in 1914, and who was painted by a Captain James Nicholls in Autumn of the same year. That's where the inspiration for this book came from, which I think is a lovely way to remember the horses and soldiers who gave their lives so that we could live ours. Nothing touches me more than stories like these (Helloooo The Book Thief!), because WWI and WWII were such important events in history, forever marked by death, sacrifice and hope.

The Joey in War Horse tells his story from the beginning of his life on a farm with his young owner Albert, right through to his involvement in the First World War. He's on the front line, he's stood in front of bullets and shrapnel, and he's the bravest horse on the field. Surrounded by violence and loss, Joey does all he can to survive and see Albert again, and helps hundreds of wounded soldiers in the process. Even though he doesn't shoot the enemy or dig trenches in the dark, he's a hero in every sense of the word. I would have liked more description of his surroundings and battles, but I can forget about that. It's a short book.

Prior to reading this book, I actually had no idea that horses were used in the First World War. I'm going to blame that on school curriculum's not bothering to teach us about important parts of our British history, and instead making us learn about it ourselves later in life. I'm glad I get the opportunity to, though, as there's so much I still need to know, both about the men and the animals who had a hand in WWI and WWII. If my Grandad hadn't survived being a Prisoner of War in Japan, I know for sure I wouldn't be here writing this review, and it's things like this that need to be continually taught to children and recorded in history books. Thanks to authors like Michael Morpurgo, stories like Joey's will reach a wider audience, and will always be in black and white on well-read pages.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Review: Elixir by Hilary Duff


Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Format: Hardcover
Released: October 16th, 2010
Grade rating: B+/A-


Amazon summary:

Clea Raymond has felt the glare of the spotlight her entire life. The daughter of a renowned surgeon and a prominent Washington DC politician, Clea has grown to be a talented photojournalist who takes refuge in a career that allows her to travel to the most exotic parts of the world. But following Clea's father's disappearance while on a humanitarian mission, Clea's photos begin to feature eerie, shadowy images of a strange and beautiful man - a man she has never seen before. When fate brings Clea and this man together, she is stunned by the immediate and powerful connection she feels with him...

Review:

Hilary Duff has written a book. Are you horrified? Worried about the state of publishing? Well don't be, 'cause it's actually pretty good. In fact, it's so good that I sat in bed for 4 hours and read it in one sitting, and if I had the next book, I would be reading it right now!

When I first heard about Elixir, I honestly had little to zero interest in it. I saw Hilary Duff's name on the (very pretty) cover, and I immediately dismissed it as a ghostwritten celebrity money-maker designed to do nothing but further her career. I have since been proved so wrong, and my initial thoughts on the book completely flipped around as soon as I started reading. I was hooked from the start, and soon all traces of Hilary Duff's name were removed from my train of thought. I don't care who wrote Elixir, all I care about is that it kept me interested for its entire 300+ page count, and has left me excited for book 2. That's what a book should do, right?

I recently read The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller, which I would now put into the same category as Elixir. Without giving anything away, both centre on past lives and reincarnation, which to me at least is a new direction for paranormal YA. I haven't seen a lot of it around, but I know I want more. It's fascinating stuff, and makes me think about all sorts of philosophical life questions and theories. So, if you're a fan of The Eternal Ones, give Elixir a go. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by what you find on the pages.

Talking of being surprised, I really was. Right from the start, Clea's story drew me in, with all the talk of mysterious men, missing fathers and old memories intriguing me to no end. The addition of Clea's realistic friends, Rayna and Ben, made things more believable, and provided a more mundane background before Sage arrived to stir things up. He and Clea came alive on the page, and I felt every second of their drawn-out tension. I was definitely Team Clage for the rest of the novel, with even the cliffhanger ending failing to sway my allegiance.

As good as Elixir is, of course it isn't perfect. It suffers from easy conflict resolutions and convenient escapes, but its contemporary teen talk and intricate plot more than make up for that. I overlooked what fleetingly bothered me, instead focusing on the mystery unfolding, along with the brilliant characters and unexpected above-average writing. I'm not sure how much of Elixir Hilary Duff actually wrote, as it says 'with Elise Allen' on the title page, though I'd guess it was a fair amount. However much she penned herself, it really doesn't matter - what matters is that she smashed all my preconceptions into tiny little pieces, and showed me that you just can't judge a name, no matter how well known or revered it is.

I may be in the minority here, but I honestly did love Elixir. As a reader, reviewer and blogger, I look for a good story with engaging protagonists and memorable dialogue, and that's exactly what I got. That's really all I can ask for, regardless of which celebrity name is attached to the cover. So, all I would say is: give this book a chance. You might love it, you might not, but at least you'll have given it a well-deserved chance.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

In My Mailbox #96: New Books This Week

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

This week was another ace week for books! I've already read a couple of them, and they have got me straight out of my slight reading slump. Yay! There's so much good stuff coming out next year, I'm really excited - it's looking like it might even be better than 2010. And no, that's not *just* because Markus Zusak finally has a new book scheduled to be published... *whistles*

Here's what landed in my mailbox this week:




For review:
  • Rosebush by Michele Jaffe (UK proof/ARC)
  • Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann (US ARC. Read it and loved it! Thanks K!)

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Bought:
  • War Horse: Special Edition by Michael Morpurgo
(I really liked this book, so I bought the new hardcover illustrated edition).


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Borrowed:
(Borrowed from the lovely Mr. Phil Earle, January debut author of Being Billy. I've been meaning to read this for years but wasn't sure about it. Cheers Phil!)


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Won:
(Signed. I won this in Firelight author Sophie Jordan's 'Jacinda in the Wild' contest. Thanks so much, Sophie - it looks great! My picture is the second from the bottom, by the way, titled 'Firelight & Friends'.)



Hope you all had a good week, and happy reading!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

2011 Debut Author Challenge!

2011 Debut Author Challenge
Hosted by The Story Siren


I can't believe it's this time of year already - time to sign up for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge! Kristi is hosting once again, and you can find out all the info and how to sign up by clicking here.

Here's a list of at least 12 debut novels I'm hoping to read next year, both US and UK titles:

1. Across the Universe by Beth Revis
2. Angelfire by Courtney Allison-Moulton
3. Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton
4. The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney
5. Entangled by Cat Clarke
6. The Demon Trappers: Forsaken by Jana Oliver
7. Between Shades of Gray by Rita Sepetys
8. Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton
9. Divergent by Veronica Roth
10. Soul Beach by Kate Harrison
11. A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master
12. The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Friday, 19 November 2010

Review: Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler


Publisher: Graphia
Format: Paperback
Released: October 18th, 2010
Grade rating: B+/A-


Amazon summary:

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home—her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power—and the courage to fight her own inner demons?

Review:

When I first heard about Hunger, I thought it would be either really good or too strange to even contemplate. Luckily it was the former, and Jackie Morse Kessler sucked me straight into her dark, inventive story of a girl suffering from anorexia and how she becomes one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I know it sounds a bit out there, but trust me, it's brilliant.

Hunger reminded me of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, in the way it dealt with anorexia and how nothing was glossed over or forgotten about. The cold hard truth is that anorexia is an eating disorder that thousands of people suffer from, and if not treated, it can kill you. It's not something to glorify or encourage, and Morse Kessler does a fantastic job of conveying this through her writing and Lisabeth's story.

Lisabeth's somewhat mixed-up thought processes made sense to me the more I read, and I really started to understand her mindset, along with the reasons behind her anorexia. After becoming Famine, she learns about just what it means to be hungry, and how it can dessimate whole towns. With the help of Pestilance, War and Death, she rides out to experience life from a different side, and learns more about herself than she ever thought she would.

I know Hunger is Lisabeth's story, but I would have loved to see even more of the other Horsemen. Pestilance was strangely calm and cruel, War was just a fan of violence, and Death was the best of all - his way of looking at life had me cracking up, and he had the best dialogue by far. I hope he gets his own book in this series, as I think Jackie Morse Kessler has a real hit on her hands with this one.

As soon as I finished Hunger, I pre-ordered the next book in the series, Rage, straight away. There's something special about these stories, and I think it's the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that make them stand out from the crowd. It gives them a fantastical element, and at the same time keeps the characters grounded and their real-life struggles believable.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Author Interview: John Boyne

I don't think John Boyne need an introduction, but in case he does, he's the fantastic author of children's novels The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Noah Barleywater Runs Away. If you haven't read them, I highly recommend you do! Thanks for answering my questions, John :)

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Noah Barleywater Runs Away is a huge change from your last children's book, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Was it a deliberate decision to go for something completely different, or did Noah's story just take on a life of its own?

I knew I didn’t want to take on a historical event of such global proportions as I did in THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, but I also knew that I didn’t want to write about something trivial either. So the idea of a personal tragedy presented itself to me and I felt that to write the story through the medium of the fairytale would be both an original way to present the novel and also draw a line between this children’s book and the previous one.

Unlike Noah, had you achieved anything significant by the time you were 8 years old?

Not very much! Although I had probably read more than fourteen books cover to cover. And I had started writing stories of my own.

The story explores, amongst other things, the relationship between a father and his son. Was any part of the story influenced by your own personal experiences?

The story doesn’t come from my own personal experience, but when I was around the same age as Noah, one of the boys in my class went through something similar and so I witnessed his pain and unhappiness. Also the fact that he had to grow up rather more quickly than the rest of us did.

Noah Barleywater Runs Away is a lovely story with a fairytale element to it. Why did you choose to tell the tale that way?

A common theme of the fairytale is the idea of a child being abandoned in a forest – think Hansel and Gretel, Snow White – and I knew the novel was going to begin with a child, Noah, not being abandoned as such but running into a forest of his own free will. This allowed me to present twin worlds in the story: the real world outside the forest, from which Noah is running away, and the magical world of the forest itself. Knowing that I was going to allow my imagination to run wild in the part of the story made me think about creating a modern fairytale.

Do you have any hidden toy-making skills we should know about?

Sadly, no!

How has your life changed since The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas hit bestseller lists everywhere?

Every writer wants as many readers as possible and THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS introduced my books to an international audience for the first time and allowed my previous and subsequent novels to be published in dozens of languages, so that alone was a great thing for me. Other than that, the fact of writing a novel which has moved so many people is something that makes me proud.

Were you happy with the movie adaptation?

Yes, very happy. I was very involved with the process all the way through and I think Mark Herman, who directed the movie, did a brilliant job at conveying both Bruno’s innocence and the darkness of the story.

Would you ever revisit that period of history and write about WWII again?

No.

Random question: have you read my favourite book, The Book Thief? (I have to ask, because The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas affected me in much the same way as that one did!)

Yes, I read The Book Thief shortly before I toured Australia during 2007 as I was doing several readings with Markus. I think it’s an incredibly powerful novel, approaching its subject in an original and inventive way. Its global success has been well deserved.

Do you already have plans for your next children's novel? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

Yes to the first part. No the second!


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Related links:

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Waiting On Wednesday: Slice of Cherry

Waiting on Wednesday idea from Jill at Breaking the Spine.

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Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

* Published by: Simon Pulse (US)
* Format: Hardcover (US)
* Release Date: January 4th, 2011 (US)
* On Amazon: here


Amazon.com summary:

Kit and Fancy Cordelle are sisters of the best kind: best friends, best confidantes, and best accomplices. The daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer, Kit and Fancy are used to feeling like outsiders, and that’s just the way they like it. But in Portero, where the weird and wild run rampant, the Cordelle sisters are hardly the oddest or most dangerous creatures around.

It’s no surprise when Kit and Fancy start to give in to their deepest desire—the desire to kill. What starts as a fascination with slicing open and stitching up quickly spirals into a gratifying murder spree. Of course, the sisters aren’t killing just anyone, only the people who truly deserve it. But the girls have learned from the mistakes of their father, and know that a shred of evidence could get them caught. So when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to another world, she opens a door to endless possibilities…


It's a good job this is published soon, as I don't think I could wait much longer than January.I haven't read Dia's first book, Bleeding Violet, though I do have a copy (And it comes very highly recommended by Becca Fitzpatrick!). Anyway, Slice of Cherry sounds right up my street: as a big fan of Dexter, I like things of a dark and twisted nature, and this sounds like it could be just that.

If anyone's already read this, what did you think?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Review: Frightfully Friendly Ghosties - Ghostly Holler-Day by Daren King


Publisher: Quercus
Format: Paperback
Released: September 2nd, 2010
Grade rating: B+


Amazon summary:

It's winter and what better than a ghostly holler-day by the sea? But how are Tabitha Tumbly, Charlie Vapour, Humphrey Bump and the other ghosties to decide between Frighten-on-Sea and Scare-borough? A postcard from their friend Headless Leslie decides for them: Headless is in Frighten and cannot remember how to get home. He wrote the address on the postcard, then he forgot what the address was. I'd lose my head if it wasn't screwed on which it isn't.' So the friends descend on Frighten and set off on an exciting ghostie caper, involving a haunted Frighten pier, a mysterious phantom magician, a fun fair and an extremely infuriating Headless Leslie.

Review:

Ghostly Holler-Day is the second in the Frightfully Friendly Ghosties series, written by Daren King and illustrated by David Roberts. It tells the story of a group of friendly ghosts who go on a holiday to Frighten (hehe) to find their missing ghosty Headless Leslie. As you can imagine, nothing goes to plan, and locating their headless friend isn't as easy as it sounds.

When I was little, this is exactly the kind of thing I'd have read. It's a funny, cleverly written story for younger readers, and is the perfect lead-in to slightly older, scarier titles like Goosebumps and The Saga of Darren Shan. My personal favourite part of it are the quirky ghost names, including our chivalrous narrator Charlie Vapour, Humphrey Bump, Agatha Draft and Wither. Each name (including those of places, for example Frighten-on-Sea and Scare-borough) relate to ghosts in some way, which I think is pretty genius. Kids will love it!

Roberts' illustrations compliment the text brilliantly, adding that extra charm to the overall package. When human, the ghosts were alive in many different time periods, and it's great to see their differences through the pictures. One particular illustration in Chapter 10 made me feel really sorry for poor Wither: he's sat on a ghost train all by himself, hoping it'll take him home. All together now: awww!

I'm going to go back and read the first Frightfully Friendly Ghosties book as soon as I get chance. They're quick reads for me, but well worth it nonetheless. If all ghosts were this friendly and kind, I'd quite like to be friends with them myself. I think they'd be quite useful in a crisis, and I'd be more than happy to take them on a ghostly holler-day!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Review: Withering Tights by Louise Rennison


Publisher: HarperCollins
Format: Hardcover
Released: July 8th, 2010
Grade rating: B+


Amazon summary:

Picture the scene: Dother Hall performing arts college somewhere Up North, surrounded by rolling dales, bearded cheesemaking villagers (male and female) and wildlife of the squirrely-type. On the whole, it’s not quite the showbiz experience Tallulah was expecting… but once her mates turn up and they start their ‘FAME! I’m gonna liiiiive foreeeeeever, I’m gonna fill my tiiiiights’ summer course things are bound to perk up. Especially when the boys arrive. (When DO the boys arrive?) Six weeks of parent-free freedom. BOY freedom. Freedom of expression… cos it’s the THEATRE dahling, theatre!!

Review:

Georgia Nicolson is, without a doubt, my most missed literary character. It's just not the same without a new Georgia book every July, but luckily the hilarious Louise Rennison is back with a new series that's equally as wacky and *almost* as funny.

Tallulah is suitably nutty, just like her cousin Georgia (Yes! Cousin! Georgia is mentioned!). She's 14, never been kissed and on her way to a performing arts school full of loony teachers and students. Hilarity ensues, of course, and there's lots of talk of the Yorkshire moors, sheep, northern accents and scary owls called Connie. Oh, and many boys. After all, what's a Louise Rennison book without a handful of boys to choose from? My new personal favourite is crazy Cain, who just happens to be a bit of a dark-eyed stalker not far removed from Mark Big Gob. How these girls find boys like this, I'll never know!

It was always going to be hard for Rennison to live up to the Georgia books, but she's given it a good go. There are similarities to her previous series, mostly in the writing style and language used, though I was expecting that. After writing 10 books in the same series, I'm guessing it's quite hard to change your mindset and write something completely different.

Rennison has a certain formula, and that's what I love about her books: they're fun, mental and laugh-out-loud funny. They can be read again and again and, in my case, always are. I can't wait for the next volume, and Withering Tights is a great start to what I think could be a much loved series. Here's hoping Tallulah's knees look normal soon!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

In My Mailbox #95: New Books This Week

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

I had a great week this week! I received some cool books (including some fab surprises!), and reached 1000 followers. That was kind of my number blogging goal, so it's all very exciting. :) I'll be posting a giveaway to celebrate soon!

Now on to the books...



For review:

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Bought:

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Gift:

I couldn't meet Maggie Stiefvater last month, so the lovely people at Scholastic UK sent me signed copies of Shiver and Linger, along with a signed Lament sampler. They were a complete surprise, but let's just say I was pretty excited when I opened the parcel. Thanks, Scholastic!


Happy reading all!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Giveaway Winners

Here are the winners of some of my recent giveaways! Everyone has been emailed, and thanks to all who entered :)


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Winners:
Nicole C. / Gary M. / Sasha / Kathleen / Carol. P



Winner:
Carolina F.



Winner:
Hayley



Winners:
Signed: Natalie H.
Regular: Rachel C. / Symone / Nicola. R

Friday, 12 November 2010

Review: Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard


Publisher: Atom
Format: Paperback
Released: November 4th, 2010 (TV tie-in)
Grade rating: B+/A-


Amazon summary:

Aria, Emily, Spencer, Hanna and Alison have been best friends since the third grade. They go everywhere together, thinking no-one can come between them. If anyone is the ringleader of the group it is Alison, and the other girls cannot help but confide all their secrets to her. One night, during a sleepover, Alison goes missing. Her body is never found. The girls mourn her death but move apart after time, assuming their secrets have disappeared with Alison too. Three years later and Aria is having an affair with her teacher; Emily is questioning her sexuality; Hanna is a thief; and Spencer is flirting with her sister's fiance. They all think their secrets are safe, until they starting receiving messages from the mysterious A - who knows exactly what they are all up to, and is threatening to spill the beans...

Review:

Finally, I think I've found the answer to my It Girl series withdrawal - Pretty Little Liars! This was exactly my kind of book, thanks to its scheming, scandal and abundance of spoilt little rich girls. Plus, it's has a creepy element to it, in the form of the mysterious 'A' sending cryptic, all-knowing messages. What more could I ask for?!

I'll own up now: I read Pretty Little Liars after I'd seen the first 3 episodes of the show. I think this definitely helped me get straight into the book, though it's not the way I usually do things - usually I like to imagine the characters for myself, rather than see them as the chosen actors and actresses. It didn't make any difference here though, and I was actually more than happy to picture Ian Harding as Mr. Ezra Fitz. (If you've seen the show, you know what I'm talking about, right?! Sa-woon!)

So, here's the gist: Emily, Aria, Spencer, Alison and Hanna were all BFFs up until seventh grade, when Alison mysteriously disappeared. Fast forward 3 years, the girls are no longer friends and Alison is still missing. The girls are taking part in numerous scandalous affairs, and someone called 'A' knows all about all of them, as well as their deepest darkest secrets. Are you hooked yet? If no, you should be! Each girl has her own quirks and personality traits, and each is as different as you can get. From studious to slutty, everything is presented here. I do have a favourite, and that's Aria - I'm *totally* jealous of her fling with hot teacher Mr. Fitz!

To read and enjoy Pretty Little Liars, you have to suspend disbelief. There's no way these girls are 15/16 years old and getting up to the things they're getting up to; it's like Gossip Girl all over again, minus the glitz and glam of New York. The characters are way ahead of themselves, but that's what makes it so deliciously scandalous. The gossip and backstabbing bitch behaviour will have you turning pages quicker than Superman on a good day which, as we all know, is very, very fast!

Pretty Little Liars is addictive like you wouldn't believe, with so many plot twists and turns I'm surprised Sara Shepard manages to keep track of it all. The mysteries of Rosewood Day High School will no doubt keep me guessing for months to come, and I can't wait to read the next book. I have a feeling this series will get better with each instalment!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

US Vs. UK: Awakened (House of Night) Covers

US // UK

This week I really like both covers, and I think they're the best US and UK House of Night images used so far. BUT. The US one wins by a mile! I'm a big fan of book covers featuring boys with wings (Hush, Hush, for example) and when I first saw Awakened I was glad I get the HoN US editions.

The UK cover is eye-catching too though, and as always it has the better title font. I'm not up to date with this series so can't be sure who the girl is, but I like her pose - she looks like she's waiting for something dramatic/bad to happen which, given that it's HoN, probably isn't far from the truth.

Which cover do you prefer?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

2010 Green Books Campaign: Review - Angel Cake by Cathy Cassidy


On Wednesday November 10th, at 1pm EST, 200 bloggers will simultaneously publish reviews of 200 books printed on environmentally-friendly paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using greener methods, Eco-Libris aims to raise consumer awareness about considering the environment when making book purchases. This year’s participation of both bloggers and books has doubled from the event’s inception last year.

The 200 books to be reviewed are in a variety of subjects including cooking, poetry, travel, green living, and history, and come from 56 publishers from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. that are participating in the Green Books Campaign. This diversified group of publishers includes both small and large presses who all print books on recycled and/or FSC-certified paper.

Find out more here.


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Publisher: Puffin
Format: Paperback
Released: April 1st, 2010
Grade rating: B+


Amazon summary:

Anya used to dream of moving to Britain to start a brand-new life. But as she sits in a school where nobody understands her, she dreams of Polish summer skies and the place where she once belonged. Then Anya meets bad boy Dan. He’s no angel, but she’s sure there’s a sweeter side to him. And when things begin to fall apart, Anya realizes she’s not alone – how can Dan be such bad news when being with him feels like heaven?

Review:

Cathy Cassidy is such a brilliant writer for teenage girls, and I'm actually a little horrified at myself for not reading her books much, much sooner. Although her books are aimed at girls in their early teens, I still really enjoy them, and am always left with a strong desire to read more. (I've got my eye on a 3-book boxset at work, which I'm sure has my name on it!)

Angel Cake's story centres on Anya, a girl who moves from her home in Poland to be with her dad and his new job in Liverpool. As you can imagine, a huge life upheaval like this is hard and emotional, and Cassidy does a fantastic job of communicating Anya's fears of moving to a whole new country. She leaves her friends and school behind, and basically treads unknown ground in England, not knowing who she'll meet or what will happen to her along the way. I've never been in Anya's situation, but I felt for her - I don't think I could ever do what she did, as I'm far too attached to my home and my life.

Anya, with the help of her hard-working parents and quick-to-adjust sister, soon makes new friends of her own, and attracts the attentions of school bad boy Dan. Now, Dan might be perceived as a fire-lighting hooligan, but really he's the complete opposite. His journey is almost as gripping as Anya's, and his budding friendship with her is sweet, if a little predictable.

Even the secondary characters, Kurt and Frankie, are well-rounded and realistic, and are both just as interesting as Anya and Dan. I found myself completely invested in each of their lives, as well as the lives of Anya and Dan's parents and Dan's mum's cake shop. I was on tenterhooks throughout the latter half of the book, as things get very tense for our characters. Still, what good book doesn't include a bit of drama?!

Angel Cake is a fab read, and will probably leave you daydreaming about swoonworthy boys and yummy cakes. It's about change, friendship and taking chances and, aside from its occasional predictability and convenient plot, I have no other complaints. I'm a Cathy Cassidy fan!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Review: Tumtum and Nutmeg - A Circus Adventure by Emily Bearn


Publisher: Egmont
Format: Paperback
Released: October 4th, 2010
Grade rating: A


Amazon summary:

Tumtum and Nutmeg once again find themselves in a fantastic adventure... A circus adventure. Along with their old friend General Marchmouse and the two children, Arthur and Lucy, the Nutmouses will find themselves at the circus.

Review:

Thanks to A Circus Adventure, I can now proudly call myself a Tumtum and Nutmeg fan. I'd previously read one other book in this series, which I enjoyed, but not as much as this one. A Circus Adventure is the fifth book in Emily Bearn's series about adventurous mice, and is reminiscent of such classics as Beatrix Potter and the Percy the Park Keeper picture books. Bearn writes her stories with such charm and warmth that I often forgot I was reading a book aimed at tiny children - grown-ups can enjoy it, too!

In A Circus Adventure, a mouse circus comes to town and General Marchmouse ends up stealing a toy bus and joining them. Tumtum and Nutmeg obviously spot something's wrong right away, and go after their friend with the help of his mouse wife and the two human children, Arthur and Lucy, who they share a house with. What follows is a lovely, fun adventure with naughty mice and stolen transport, not to mention a spot of peril for my new favourite tailed people.

As always, illustrations accompany the text, making the reading experience even better - I love seeing Tumtum and Nutmeg depicted as little mice in huge surroundings, and I can see why this series is such a hit with children. I'm planning to go back and read the first three books in the Tumtum and Nutmeg series, because I enjoyed this and A Seaside Adventure so much. If you have kids that like reading, you really should get this series - I love it, and I hope Emily Bearn writes many more mouse tales!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Event Report: Becca Fitzpatrick in Manchester!



Last Tuesday, November 2nd, I attended Becca Fitzpatrick's signing event at Waterstone's in Deansgate, Manchester. I'd previously (finally) met Becca a couple of weeks ago at the Eternal Twilight 4 convention (which I'll write up soon), so I already knew just how cool she was. Also in attendance at the event were Aly from Fantasy4eva and Iffath from Love Reading X, as well as my blog header designer Sherry - great to meet/see you all!

I got there an hour before the event to help my friend who works at Waterstone's set up chairs and books, and had a good chat with Becca and the awesome Kat from Simon & Schuster beforehand. We mostly talked about books (surprise, surprise!) and UK/US differences. I *think* both myself and Becca are now clear on our differing school systems, which can be a tad confusing at times!



Becca kicked off the event by talking about how Hush, Hush came to be published and how she got the Best Cover Ever (my words, not hers), before opening the floor to audience questions. She answered all sorts, from NaNoWriMo enquiries to how she came up with Patch's names. I also learnt something I didn't know: the cover image of Patch was originally supposed to be the other way around, with his feet near the top of the cover. I'm so glad it was changed!




After the event, Becca signed books for ages, as there were over 60 people there I think, and most with multiple copies! I got a few things signed - a Crescendo postcard, my UK hardback copy of Hush, Hush, her short story in the Kiss Me Deadly anthology and my treasured Hush, Hush poster.





Then Becca signed all the left over Waterstone's stock while I interviewed her - that will hopefully be posted soon, as soon as I have time to transcribe it all. Let's just say I now know a few exciting things about what's to come for Becca in the future, and I can't wait! From there I shared a taxi/cab with Becca and Kat back to Manchester train station, and had another good chat about UK/US driving differences, weather, where we live and, of course, books.







I'm so glad I got to spend some time with Becca, as I think of her as a friend as well as an author I admire. We've been talking over email for about a year and a half, and meeting her is definitely one of my 2010 highlights. Many hugs and book recommendations were exchanged, and I now have some new books to hunt out and read. I hope Becca comes back to the UK soon -- we all love her!

Thanks, as always, to S&S UK for letting me hang out with them and interview Becca. I know I say this all the time, but you guys really are the best!


Sunday, 7 November 2010

In My Mailbox #94: New Books This Week

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

Another great week this week - I'm so excited about all the books I got, especially Wood Angel (Plain Kate in the US) and Rockoholic! Also, I bought a few vampire-themed books I can't wait to read, and after seeing Let Me In on Friday night (which was brilliant!) it's been a bit of a fang-filled weekend!


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For review:
  • New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (New white Xmas edition. I already have this, so will save it for a future 1000 followers giveaway!)

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Bought:
  • Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler


Happy reading!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Review: Violence 101 by Denis Wright


Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Format: Hardcover
Released: October 14th, 2010
Grade rating: B+


Amazon summary:

Fourteen year-old Hamish doesn't simply do terrible things, he is committed to the belief that violence is the solution to the obstacles in life. But Hamish is also extremely smart, and extremely self-aware. And he considers everyone around him, the other institutionalized boys, his teachers and wardens, the whole world, as sheep, blindly following society's rules, unaware of what really dictates our existence. Hamish's heroes, like Alexander the Great, understood that violence drives us all.

Review:

Violence 101 is definitely not for the faint of heart. As you might have guessed from the title, it is violent, though not gratuitously so; there's a reason for everything Hamish does, and most of the time it's intelligent and makes perfect sense. That's not to say I agree with all of his thought processes and actions, because I don't. I think his intelligence is both a blessing and a curse, and his ability to over-analyse everything doesn't always do him any favours.

Written in diary entries and including accounts from adults in Hamish's life, Violence 101 is the story of a misguided teenager trying to navigate his way through a violent world. His previous crimes have led him to the Manukau New Horizons Boys' Home in New Zealand, where all kinds of troubled teens are sent to reform. Hamish is seemingly far too clever for this, though as his story progresses, it becomes clear that certain people get through to him and appeal to his rational side. It's a long process, but eventually progress is made and Hamish is understood by someone other than himself.

Violence 101, and Hamish Graham himself, reminded me of the TV show Dexter. It's not as graphic or murder-heavy as Dexter, but Hamish's mindset and inner fight with himself reminded me so much of a younger Dexter Morgan. He has all these feelings and impulses which he knows are wrong, but yet he has to experiment for his own piece of mind. I've heard numerous reporters and experts say that violent people, including serial killers, are often overly intelligent and not the mindless criminals we perceive them to be, and I think that could actually be right.

Violence 101 is a clever book, which leaves you with lots of things to think about. My only complaint would be the slightly odd ending, which I didn't think fitted in with the rest of the story as well as it should have. I've been mulling Hamish and his actions over in my head since finishing the book, and I think I see where he's coming from. I don't necessarily understand or condone it all, but Denis Wright writes Hamish in such a way that I can't help but like him, and everything he does. This is one of those books where I really shouldn't identify with the main character at all, but I do. If you read it, you'll see what I mean, and hopefully you'll be just as torn as I am.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

US Vs. UK: Ghost Town Covers

US // UK

So here we have the 9th book in the Morganville Vampires series, complete with two very different covers. I can say right now that even though the US one might not look as interesting, it is much better than the UK one - I personally don't like our cover at all.

The design of the UK books is cool, with the patterns and red blood spatter-type blotches, but I don't like the image used this time. The girl looks like a dead porcelain doll! The US cover is better: it has some attitude and a nice colour scheme. I also prefer the title font used, though the UK is an improvement on the original editions we had.

Overall, I think Ghost Town is the worst UK cover we've had so far. But that's just me. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Waiting On Wednesday: Between Shades of Gray

Waiting on Wednesday idea from Jill at Breaking the Spine.

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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

* Published by: Puffin (UK), Philomel (US)
* Format: Paperback (UK), Hardcover (US)
* Release Date: April 7th, 2011 (UK)
, March 22nd, 2011 (US)
* On Amazon: here


Amazon.co.uk summary:

One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle cars and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia. An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope. Lina hopes for her family. For her country. For her future. For love - first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to lose... Will hope keep Lina alive? Set in 1941, Between Shades of Gray is an extraordinary and haunting story based on first-hand family accounts and memories from survivors.

As you can probably tell from my blog header, I love books - adult or YA - set in or around WWII. It's a fascination I've always had, so I'm forever on the lookout for new books that can teach me more about the events that took place between 1939 - 1945. I've never read anything about what went on in Siberia (the closest I've come is Leningrad in The Bronze Horseman), but Between Shades of Gray sounds like it's definitely one to look out for.