Saturday, 31 March 2012

Review: Dead to You by Lisa McMann

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Format: Hardcover
Released: February 7th, 2012
Rating: 7.5/10

Amazon summary:

Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just seven years old. Now, at sixteen, he has returned to his family. It’s a miracle…at first. Then the tensions start to build. His reintroduction to his old life isn’t going smoothly, and his family is tearing apart all over again. If only Ethan could remember something, anything, about his life before, he’d be able to put the pieces back together. But there’s something that’s keeping his memory blocked. Something unspeakable...


Dead to You is a bit of a departure for Lisa McMann in terms of both plot and writing style. It's not paranormal, instead it's realistic fiction, and realistic fiction at its best. The plot is fairly simple: abducted boy finds his way home nine years later, causes many problems for seemingly-together family and tries to piece together his life. Although there's nothing new there, McMann's strengths lie in the deep character layers that are slowly peeled back as the novel progresses.

I've loved every YA book Lisa McMann has published (apart from Gone, but that's another story), and I continue to be surprised and in awe of what she can do with words and themes. Dead to You made me feel uncomfortable in parts, especially when main protagonist Ethan has regular meltdowns that just can't be helped. Watching his family slowly unravel was both interesting and heartbreaking, though I completely understood their motivations for everything they did. McMann devotes equal time to each member of the De Wilde family, thus ensuring that they're all as real as can be.

Although Dead to You is a very strong novel, it does have its faults. A few things didn't quite add up for me, like why Ethan's parents didn't insist on a DNA test. In their relieved state it may not have made much difference to them either way, but I still think that after nine years it would have been the first thing on the minds of the police. Also, Ethan's relationship with Cami happens pretty fast, and while I can overlook that, I think a longer process would have suited the story better.

Overall, Dead to You is another brilliant novel from Lisa McMann. Not only can she write kick-ass creepy paranormal books like the Wake series and Cryer's Cross, she can also write genuinely realistic contemporary fiction that surely must have started out as an idea far out of her comfort zone. I can't wait to see what she writes next - she's on a roll!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Publisher: Bodley Head
Format: Hardcover
Released: March 1st, 2012
Rating: 9/10

Amazon summary:

WONDER is the funny, sweet and incredibly moving story of Auggie Pullman. Born with a terrible facial abnormality, this shy, bright ten-year-old has been home-schooled by his parents for his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the stares and cruelty of the outside world. Now, for the first time, Auggie is being sent to a real school - and he's dreading it. The thing is, Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, underneath it all?


Wonder is a book that immediately lived up to its hype, and is one that I just couldn't put down. I'd been having a break from reading when I picked this one up; I was after something short but good that would get me back into things. Wonder was exactly the right choice: it's a brilliant read that left me feeling excited about books again. Needless to say I will be passing it on to everyone I know!

August Pullman, or Auggie to his friends and family, was born with a rare facial abnormality I can neither say nor spell. It required him to have numerous surgeries and reconstructions, and he had never been to school. Now he's ten years old and starting Beecher Prep middle school where he'll make friends, excel at his studies and come to the realisation that people are worth getting to know. His whole journey is one of bravery and courage, and the outcome is utterly heartwarming. I challenge you to read this book and not shed a tear... I don't think it can be done!

Wonder is told from several different points of view but mostly focuses on Auggie. In addition to his narration we also hear from his sister Via and her new friend Justin, as well as Auggie's new Beecher friends Summer and Jack Will. Palacio really gets into their heads and allows them to explain more about Auggie and his condition, and how it affects and changes them. This story would have been heartbreaking if Auggie along had told it, but by including others close to him it shows just how much his life has changed theirs, whether it be for good or bad.

Auggie is an extraordinary boy thrown into an ordinary situation: school. Everyone has problems when they're a teenager, but school is rarely as much of a struggle as it is for Auggie. Everything he goes through defines him and makes him stronger, and he is truly inspirational. So are his family, especially his parents, and his friends. I love them all for different reasons, whether it be their strength, compassion or unwavering love for this small boy with an unusual face.

Wonder really did surprise me. It was as good as its pre-publication hype and then some, and it introduced me to a medical condition I've rarely thought or known anything about until now. I hope this one is a huge hit in 2012 - it deserves to be. It's life-affirming stuff.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Arcadia Awakens Blog Tour: Kai Meyer Guest Post!

Arcadia Awakens was released in the UK on March 1st and features a pretty cool cover. Here's a summary from Amazon to tell you more about the book, published by Templar:

When troubled teenager Rosa escapes her life in New York to stay with family in Sicily, she stumbles into a sinister Mafia underworld of murder, corruption and bitter, generations-old rivalries. How is handsome, mysterious stranger Alessandro involved? And why is Rosa so powerfully drawn to him, even though she knows he spells danger for her and her family? Simmering at the heart of the conflict is an ancient myth surrounding the vanished empire of Arcadia and its people, who - in the tales of legend - could shapeshift into animal form. Can Rosa unravel the dark secrets of the past before untamed savagery is unleashed on the present?


Here's a guest post from Kai to celebrate the publication!

There are three important Mafia organisations in Italy: the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra around Naples and the `Ndrangheta in Calabria. For the background of ARCADIA AWAKENS I choose Sicily and the Cosa Nostra for several reasons. One was the ability to use a lot of very different landscapes and cities – there is everything there, from desolate hillsides with deserted villages to urban sprawls like Palermo and Catania. But the main reason was the island´s historical connection to Ancient Greece. A few thousand years ago Sicily was the biggest Greek colony in the Mediterranean region, there are hundreds of ancient ruins between Trapani in the west and Catania in the east. And because I wanted my clans of shapeshifters, the Arcadian Dynasties, to be of Greek heritage, it became quite obvious that Sicily was the ideal setting for the three ARCADIA novels.

I went over there for a week and drove all over the island. What impressed me most – apart from the great food, probably the best in all of Italy – was the geographical diversity. There are huge mountain ranges, large woods, but also those yellow-brownish hills where nobody had lived for many years.

As a foreigner you think you are discovering mafia business all the time, but of course that´s nonsense. Obviously not every Italian in a dark suit is a mafioso and there are no bodies disposed of under every unfinished concrete structure! But I had read so many books during my research about the Cosa Nostra, that I became very sensible to the smallest hint of mafia activity. And, true or not, it made research on location quite exciting.


Friday, 16 March 2012

The Things We Did for Love Blog Tour: Extract + UK Giveaway!

The Things We Did for Love was published in the UK on March 1st, and I have an extract to share with you as part of Natasha's blog tour. Here's what it's all about:

France: February, 1944. Arianne knew Luc as a child, of course she did. Everyone in Samaroux knows each other. But he's been away, and five years really makes a difference to a boy. A young man. As they fall headily into love - first love - their world starts to crumble around them. German forces are closing in, and the village is torn between cooperating to save themselves or putting up resistance and entering unknown danger. Arianne will do anything to make Luc stay. Luc wants to prove he is a man. And Romy, who has loved Arianne all the time that Luc has been away, can see a way of removing his rival, at any cost. How far will they go to protect what they believe in? And what will they do for love?


Here's an extract, courtesy of the nice people at Faber & Faber.


If the embedded file takes a while to load, you can also click HERE to read it.



Thanks again to Faber & Faber, I have five (5) copies to give away to UK readers. Just fill in the form below!

Rules & info:
  • Open to UK only.
  • End date: 26th March, 2012.
  • One entry per person.
  • You do NOT have to follow my blog to enter.
  • Books will be sent out by the publisher.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Falling Fast by Sophie McKenzie Blog Tour: International Giveaway!

Falling Fast by Sophie McKenzie was officially published in the UK on March 1st, and thanks to my ace friends at Simon & Schuster UK I have six (6) copies to give away as part of the blog tour! Sophie's books are always brilliant, and even though I haven't managed to read Falling Fast yet, I'm sure it's a great addition to her ever-growing library.

Here's a summary from Amazon:

This is life, not a rehearsal...When River auditions for a part in an inter-school performance of Romeo and Juliet, she finds herself smitten by Flynn, the boy playing Romeo. River believes in romantic love, and she can't wait to experience it. But Flynn comes from a damaged family - is he even capable of giving River what she wants? The path of true love never did run smooth...

Rules & info:
  • Open internationally - everyone can enter this one!
  • End date: March 20th, 2012.
  • One entry per person.
  • You do NOT have to follow my blog to enter.
  • Books will be sent out by the publisher.

Fill in the form below to enter, and good luck!


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Look Blog Tour: Sophia Bennett's Cover Story!

Sophie Bennett is the lovely author of the Threads series and her new book The Look, which was published on March 1st in the UK. Here's what it's all about:

When Ted is spotted by a model agency, she can't believe it. At the same time her gorgeous sister, Ava, is diagnosed with cancer. With her world turned upside down, Ted has a lot of growing up to do, some of it in five-inch platforms. Can she be a supermodel and a super sister? Or will she have to choose between fame and family?

Sophia has written a really brilliant piece about The Look cover for me, as we all know I love book covers and their conception stories/US and UK differences. Thanks to Sophia for such a fantastic post, and don't forget to see the end of this page for details of the other blog tour stops!


Sophia Bennett's Cover Story
I'm thrilled to be writing this post on the evolution of the cover for The Look for Wondrous Reads. It was on this blog that I first really noticed how important covers are, as Jenny made one of her famous comparisons between UK and US versions of the same book. In fact, I often end up preferring the US version. I'll be fascinated to see what they do with the cover of this one. I love the UK version, but they say the US one next year will be edgier. Watch this space ...

When it came to marketing The Look it was clear early on that the cover was going to be as much part of the package as the story. I handed the first draft in in February of last year, and already Chicken House were starting to think about how it would look. The fact is, people do judge a book by its cover - very much, all the time. And people in the book trade do it more than anyone. An author friend of mine once had her book completely rejacketed because bookbuyers didn't like the original version (I loved it!). It matters.

Normally, I have a very minor say in the cover. For foreign editions, I usually only see it once the book is published. For Threads, I was allowed to suggest minor tweaks about which dresses were used, but that's about it. When I tell you I originally wanted a tailor's dummy, a spotlight, a laptop and a machine gun for that book ...

Anyway, this time Chicken House very kindly asked for my thoughts at the beginning, and I told them I had this vision of it looking like the cover of a magazine, with a close-up of a girl's face, staring strongly into the camera, and text that looked reminiscent of Elle or Vogue, maybe. Based on experience, I didn't expect my suggestions to go very far. I don't know whether it was luck, or coincidence, or whether my cover illustrator, Steve Wells (who also did the last of the Threads books and rejacketed the series for me), actually liked my idea, but to my surprise, while I was still in the early rewrites of the second draft, he came up with this:

Result! Note the book already had its fabulous pink page edges. I love those edges. They're quite expensive to produce, apparently, so I felt very honoured to have them. I still get a bit of a thrill every time I turn them. Anyway - back to the cover. There it was: the closeup on the face of a girl. She was staring directly into the camera. It was a strong image ...

I liked it. But.

To me, it looked like a great cover for a paranormal romance. There was something a bit creepy about the girl's eye-makeup, and the black and white photo looked dark and sinister. The person picking up this book would not, I thought, expect the opening scene to be about two crazy sisters busking for sweet wrappers in Carnaby Street.

I wanted a bit more colour - not too much. A bit of a lighter tone - but nothing too smiley, because Ted and Ava, my main characters, go through a lot of stress and heartache. I suggested all of this to Steve - again not expecting him to take any notice of me, because he is a design professional and I last drew a decent picture in about 1974. However, to illustrate my point I sent him two Vogue covers, just to show him what I meant. (Also, to be honest, researching Vogue covers online is occasionally more fun than doing rewrites.)

Straight away, Steve hunted around a bit and suggested using this picture:

Instantly, we all loved it. The girl was pretty, but still strong. A bit mysterious but not positively paranormal. Steve mocked up a cover that looked like this:

It was great! Really close to what I'd imagined. More cropped than I'd pictured, but that was a minor detail. I didn't really get the font, but apparently it's supposed to look a bit like the Louis Vuitton graffiti print, which I guess it does. Also, some people think it looks like it's handwritten in lipstick, which is good too.

Note the strapline/blurb thing on the cover has disappeared. We never could find one we were really happy with, and in the end we all agreed it looked stronger without one at all. I'll be interested to know if you agree.

Again assuming that Steve wouldn't be interested in my further opinion - what do I know? - I nevertheless mentioned that I particularly loved the Aggy Deyn Vogue cover, (second one above,) because of the way they'd washed out the skin and brought out the blue of her eyes. And the way they'd matched the text with her lipstick. Steve, bless him, very quickly produced an image with bluer eyes, paler skin, matching text/lipstick and basically everything I'd suggested. Again, it could have been coincidence but whatever it was, I was very happy.

This time, the cover was a quick and remarkably painless process. It was ready before the final draft. The result looks a bit chick-lity, but I'm happy with that. I try and write accessible fiction for girls that highlights deeper issues in an enjoyable way, and that pretty much defines good chick-lit for me.

So this is my main character. Or the girl she could have been, if she hadn't ... But now you'll have to read the book to find out.


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Publisher: Atom
Format: Paperback
Released: February 7th, 2012
Rating: 3/10

Amazon summary:

Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its protected space, she's never thought to dream of what lay beyond its doors. Perry and his tribe have always struggled to survive on the outside. Though their lives are simple they are increasingly under threat from an unknown - and unhuman - enemy. But when Perry saves Aria after one of these attacks she realizes that she might just be able to survive in the outside after all. And that this one sheltered girl might be the only one that can save - or destroy - his people.


I wanted to like Under the Never Sky. I really, really did. That's why I read it as soon as it arrived - also because I'd heard lots of good things about it from other bloggers and was fairly intrigued by the cover. I knew by about sixty pages in that this book wasn't one for me, but I carried on anyway as I rarely leave books unfinished. Unfortunately I just never got into this one, and there are a myriad of reasons why. But firstly I will talk about the positive aspects, as I firmly believe that every book has something good about it.

The dual narrative. Under the Never Sky is told from the alternating POVs of Aria and Peregrine (Perry). I like this in a book. It enables the reader to see from multiple angles and, when written in first person (which Under the Never Sky is not) it allows us to really get to know the characters. I think the tense of this book hindered my liking of it, but still I appreciated the alternating chapters and intention to draw the reader into both Aria and Perry's lives. I also liked the overall idea of the dystopian future, it was new and something different. Kudos to Veronica Rossi for thinking outside what has become a very large YA dystopian box.

While I liked the overall idea, I don't feel it was executed as well as it could have been. I was left with a lot of questions, about the aether and dweller/outsider divide especially, and after finishing the novel I still don't really feel like I know enough. What exactly is the aether and how/why was it created? How did there end up being two factions? Why do some outsiders have special abilities? How did dwellers come to be genetically created and enhanced? These are but a few of the questions I was left with, and I don't tend to like having so many unanswered threads at the end of a book. It seems to be the norm in some YA at the moment and, while I'm all for cliffhangers, I do like a bit I resolution.

Under the Never Sky read very much like a first novel for me. There were the loose ends, endless information and far too many characters for me to keep up with. In fact, there was so much information thrown at me in the first forty pages that I honestly had no idea what was going on. It wasn't until a lot later in the book that everything finally slotted into place and I didn't have to keep flicking back to try and make sense of it. The smarteye - the device Aria and the other dwellers use to access other realms - was just there, and was never explained enough for me. I wanted more background on its, and the realms' creation, which I'm sure will be touched upon in future books. I just don't think I'll be reading them to find out.

I haven't talked about the characters yet, and I've been kind of avoiding the subject for fear of sounding too negative. But, truthfully, the characters did nothing for me. I didn't care about them one way or the other and, as a reader, that is never a good sign. Also, several of their names didn't sit well with me, especially Roar and Talon. I get that the outsiders needed edgy names, but they didn't work in this instance.

I know this is a negative review, and I don't like writing these, but I hope my personal opinion won't put anyone off reading Under the Never Sky and giving it a chance. It's a shame that I can't like every book I read, and I really did give this one a good shot. I finished it, but sadly it just wasn't for me. Plenty of other bloggers have enjoyed this one, though, so hopefully you will too.