Friday, 31 August 2012

Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Publisher: Usborne
Fortmat: Paperback
Released: September 1st, 2012
Rating: 8/10

Amazon summary:

Jill MacSweeney just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she's been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends - everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she's trying to replace a lost family member with a new one. Mandy Kalinowski understands what it's like to grow up unwanted - to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy falls pregnant, one thing she's sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It's harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her too? As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy - or as difficult - as it seems.


How to Save a Life Is the third of Sara Zarr's books I've read, and it's by far the best. I've found her books to be a bit hit and miss (didn't like Story of a Girl, loved Sweethearts), but for some reason I knew I'd like this one as soon as I heard about it. I had a hard time getting it from the US so was very glad to hear that Usborne had bought the UK rights. Well done to whoever is responsible for that - this book is BRILLIANT.

How to Save a Life is about many things: life, love, grief, acceptance, forgiveness. It's raw and realistic in a way that made me really feel like I knew the characters, almost like they were my real life friends. I felt sad for them when they cried, and happy for them when a spark of hope showed up in their lives. Not every book I read has that effect on me, which is testament to just how well written How to Save a Life is.

This book is primarily about an adoption. Robin, a fifty-something widow, meets eighteen-year-old Mandy on the Internet, and they arrange an open adoption for Mandy's child, without the input of lawyers or social workers. It's all done on Mandy's terms, which raises a red flag for Robin's daughter Jill. Mandy moves into Robin's house as her due date nears, and it's not long before Shea finally finding out what it's like to have a home and a family who actually care. What follows is a journey of trust and self-discovery, and it's beautifully written.

Every character in this book has captured my heart. I like Robin for her grim determination to carry on living. I like Mandy because of her devotion to giving her child the best life possible. I like Dylan and Ravi because they both do their best to help Jill any way they can. And that just leaves Jill. I feel for her and what she's going through after losing my dad. I thankfully haven't experienced that myself, but I know what it's like to fear the loss of a parent. It's a crippling fear that makes everything come to a standstill, and that alone was more than enough for me. So for Jill to carry on and get up every morning is something I can relate to. Her bravery is her best quality, and Zarr writes her as if she too knows what it's like to be in that headspace.

How to Save a Life is the best contemporary novel I've read this year. It's the kind of book that makes me glad to be a reader. I'm already thinking about reading it again, an I just might do it. There's layer upon layer of character development to peel back and explore, and I'm sure I must have missed something in my rush to get to the end and find out the conclusion to my new friends' stories.

There isn't much left for me to say except read it. Just read it and bask in the glow of pitch-perfect writing and look forward to an inspiring collection of people you can get to know. I really don't think you'll regret it.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Review: Confessions of an Angry Girl by Louise Rozett

Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Format: Paperback
Released: August 28th, 2012
Rating: 7/10

Amazon summary:

Freshman Rose Zarelli has rage issues. First of all, her father lost his job, took work as a contractor in Iraq...and never came home. Second, she likes the wrong guy and his super-intense, scary cheerleader girlfriend is now her nemesis. Third, her fashionista best friend, Tracy, is suddenly infinitely cooler than she is--and talking about losing her virginity. (What?!)Rose is ahead when it comes to studying for the PSAT, but she's so far behind socially that she might as well be moving backward. She needs Tracy's help choosing the right clothes, she likes all the wrong extracurricular activities, and she can't even make a decision about which photo of her father to put on the memorial website she's making (and hiding from her adolescent-shrink mother). With her brother away at college and her mother always locked in her office with her messed-up teen patients, Rose struggles to get through each day without inflicting bodily harm on anyone. 


Confessions of an Angry Girl is a contemporary debut novel that focuses on fourteen-year-old Rose Zarelli during the year after her father is killed on duty in Afghanistan. It chronicles her freshman year of high school and all the ups and downs that accompany it, from friendship woes to boy problems to anxiety about sex and contraception. Most things are covered here, including a rather unnecessary trip to the gynaecologist that left me feeling quite squeamish!

This book features characters that are slightly younger than I'm used to reading about. Sixteen plus seems to be the in thing these days, but Rose is a couple of years younger. It was a bit of a change for me, but a good one. It a long while since I've been inside the head of a fourteen-year-old, and I must admit I have forgotten what it's like. There's so much angst and worries. I'm so glad I never have to go back to high school!

I liked Rose and her anger issues; I can totally relate to tragedies and illnesses making anger the dominant emotion. I think she deals with her dad's sudden death as well as anyone could, actually, an definitely a lot better than me. She gets on with life, muddles her way through new experiences and opens up to new people like her brother's friend Jamie. Their relationship is sweet and develops slowly, realistically, and I hope parts of it are resolved in the next book.

There's a lot of bitchiness in this book, thanks to Jamie's girlfriend Regina and her cheerleading squad. I could definitely see traces of Mean Girls on the page, and I had to chuckle at the sheer meanness of some of the girls. I think we all knew people like that in high school and, like Rose, I think we all wish we could have punched them in the face!

Confessions of an Angry Girl is a good addition to the growing catalogue of YA contemps; it has a fast-moving plot and is true to life. The sequel, Confessions of an Almost Girlfriend, is due for publication in 2013 and I'll definitely be tuning in to see what fresh hell awaits Rose in her sophomore year!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Review: Jaws by Peter Benchley

Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Format: Paperback/Kindle
Released: July 5th, 2012 (republished)
Rating: 4/10

Amazon summary:

It was just another day in the life of a small Atlantic resort until the terror from the deep came to prey on unwary holiday makers. The first sign of trouble – a warning of what was to come – took the form of a young woman's body, or what was left of it, washed up on the long, white stretch of beach . . . A summer of terror has begun.


Peter Benchley's Jaws is one of those books I kind of forgot existed, thanks in part to the brilliant film overshadowing it. I saw the film at the cinema a few months ago and it reminded me what a great story it is. The book was £1.09 on Kindle a few weeks ago so I bought it straight away. I'm glad I read it but I think the screenplay was better and I'm sad to say it isn't a book that has stuck in my head.

I didn't like Brody and Hooper's characterisation in the novel, I thought Brody's wife was insufferable and that there wasn't enough shark action. The beginning started off well with the first shark fatality, but the middle section lagged and I was willing something to happen. Benchley had a tendency to ramble in this book, and to be honest I could have done without it. Saying that, the latter part of the book was tense and exciting and I could finally see where the film got its quality from.

Benchley's knowledge of the sea and great white sharks made for interesting reading, and I liked learning more about this species and it's feeding patterns etc. I'm personally quite terrified of the thought of meeting a great white (I never go near water so that won't happen!) as I'm sure many other people are. Jaws is basically a nightmare of a book and one that would put people off swimming for life!

While I enjoyed elements of this book, and the last quarter in particular, I'm not sure it's one I'd immediately recommend as a random read. I do prefer the film and it's genuinely clever script, though the original novel is an interesting read for fans of the big screen adaptation.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Review: Titanic in Photographs by Daniel Klistorner and Steve Hall

Publisher: The History Press
Format: Hardcover
Released: September 14th, 2011
Rating: 10/10

Goodreads summary:

The name Titanic has become synonymous with catastrophe, the story of this luxurious liner legendary. Wrecked after colliding with an iceberg on her maiden voyage, the loss of around 1,500 lives among her passengers and crew has gone down in history as one of the most emotive and tragic disasters in history. In this evocative collection of photographs the authors of Titanic The Ship Magnificent tell her full story, from the shipyards of Harland & Wolff and its early vessels, with the backdrop of the great race to build the biggest and best passenger liner, to the frenzy of excitement surrounding her launch. Looking at her officers and crew, her stops at Cherbourg and Queenstown, and including some special, rare photographs, the book follows the story to its inevitable conclusion, considering the lifeboats, the presence of the Carpathia, and the aftermath of the disaster.


I've read a lot of books on the Titanic since 1998, I own over sixty and have completed a good chunk of them. There are a lot of great books on the subject out there (many published by The History Press) and I have to say that Titanic in Photographs is one of the best ever published and is my favourite after The Story of the Wreck of the Titanic. Honestly, it's a beautifully presented book and is worth owning even if you only have a passing interest in this magnificent ship.

These days there are very few Titanic books published that will tell you anything new, but every now and then you find an absolute gem. Titanic in Photographs is one of these gems, and I'm so glad I bought it as soon as it was published in September 2011, mere months before the hundredth anniversary of the disaster itself. It contains many rare photos and has pride of place on my Titanic shelves!

It goes without saying that the authors of this book - Daniel Klistorner, Steve Hall, Bruce Beveridge, Art Braunschweiger and Scott Andrews - know what they're talking about and have earned their reputation as Titanic experts. The amount of detail in the text, from describing her fitting out and sea trials to her near-collision with the New York as she set sail from Southampton, is a fantastic addition to the images and provides a lot of worthwhile and fascinating information.

Titanic in Photographs is packed with breathtaking images of the Titanic from every stage of her short life. Perhaps the most interesting for me are the interior shots of state rooms such as B57 and B59 because so few photos of the furnishings are known to exist. The Cafe Parisien can also be seen in all its glory along with the Verandah Cafe and the A Deck promenade. Looking at the promenade conveys the sheer scope of the ship - I've been reading and studying it for years and I still don't think I've fully grasped its size and grandeur. It's almost impossible to imagine a ship this size, but this book does a great job of bringing it all to life.

I can't recommend this book enough and I urge every Titanic enthusiast to get a copy immediately if you haven't done so already. Every image tells a story in fascinating, poignant detail, and every image shows what a truly amazing ship she really was. Most days I still can't believe this is a true story; it's a disaster that I wasn't even alive for but it's the one moment in history that has hit me the hardest. I don't think anything will ever make me as sad as the story of the Titanic does, and I'm glad there are so many brilliant books like this keeping her legacy alive for new generations to come.

See a preview of the book on The History Press site here.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Debutantes Blog Tour: Cora Harrison Guest Post!

Debutantes was published in the UK on August 2nd by Macmillan Children's Books and sounds like a great historical novel for YA readers. I'm looking forward to getting to this one! Here's a summary from

It’s 1923 and London is a whirl of jazz, dancing and parties. Violet, Daisy, Poppy and Rose Derrington are desperate to be part of it, but stuck in an enormous crumbling house in the country, with no money and no fashionable dresses, the excitement seems a lifetime away. Luckily the girls each have a plan for escaping their humdrum country life: Rose wants to be a novelist, Poppy a jazz musician and Daisy a famous film director. Violet, however, has only one ambition: to become the perfect Debutante, so that she can go to London and catch the eye of Prince George, the most eligible bachelor in the country. But a house as big and old as Beech Grove Manor hides many secrets, and Daisy is about to uncover one so huge it could ruin all their plans - ruin everything - forever.

As part of this blog tour, I have a guest post from Cora Harrison herself, about writing historical fiction and the research involved. Thanks to Cora for this, and I hope you enjoy reading it!


'I come, as Hansel came on the moonlit stones,
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons.'

The two lines above were written by the wonderful poet Seamus Heaney and I think they sum up for me my fascination with historical fiction. I remember a fellow author saying once to me that he couldn’t understand why I bothered with historical fiction as, to him, I was doubling the amount of work that I had to do because, instead of writing about what I knew and had experienced, I had to create this new and unknown world.
But that to me is the fascination about historical fiction. The research is a labour of love as I pour over books and find out what my heroines and heroes would be wearing, what they would eat, what were their houses like, how did they travel?
One of my favourite books when I was young – and it is still a favourite – is called ‘A Traveller in Time’ (by Alison Uttley) and when I research for my historical novels I feel that I, too, like Penelope in that wonderful book, become a traveller in time. The past surrounds me and becomes real to me and the present often seems dull and garish by comparison.
One of the most difficult issues for me is to decide how my heroes and heroines talk. My earliest historical novels, The Drumshee Timeline Series, were written about Ireland and most of them were set in a time when the Irish spoke Gaelic. Therefore it made sense to write them in straightforward English, as though I was translating. The same applies to my series for adults, ‘Mysteries of 16th Century Ireland’ about the Brehon lawyer Mara in the kingdom of the Burren. When it came to my series, ‘The London Murder Mysteries’, these were set in the London of Oliver Twist and as a great fan of Charles Dickens, I think I had the slang and speech of Victorian London lodged deeply within my subconscious. As for the ‘Debutantes’ that is near enough to our times to allow for modern speech, although I did read and reread the Mitford books so that I had a feel for that period also.
What I would do if I wrote a novel about my favourite period in English history, the time of Queen Elizabeth I? – well, that’s something that I am not sure about and will have to cross that bridge when I come to it.
So how do I work?
Well, I usually start off with a collection of books about the period and I soak myself in those before I start the first word of my story. Sometimes, as in the case of the 1920s I also look at films, and read novels that were written in that period – even Agatha Christie’s early novels do give a flavour of what it was to be a modern girl at that time. And, of course, as I am writing, it is wonderful to have the internet there at my fingertips just to check on a fact. The bit of ‘Debutantes’ which I found most difficult was how early cameras worked. I bought a big, old book – over fifty years old, in a second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye and tried to make sense of all the instructions about developing films – dipping the film into chemicals and having a dark room etc. Digital is so much easier!
The twenties were such a wonderful and fun time to be young, that the research was sheer pleasure. Of all music I love jazz and I think the clothes were so smart and above all, for the first time in history, the young were glad to be young and not trying desperately to be too adult before their time.


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Waiting On Wednesday: Lovely, Dark and Deep

Waiting on Wednesday idea from Jill at Breaking the Spine.


Lovely, Dark and Deep
 by Amy McNamara

* Published by: Simon and Schuster (UK and US)
* Format: Paperback (UK), Hardcover (US)
* Release Date: November 8th, 2012 (UK), November 13th, 2012 (US)
* On Amazon: here

Summary from

Since the night of the crash, Wren Wells has been running away. Though she lived through the accident that killed her boyfriend Patrick, the girl she used to be didn’t survive. Instead of heading off to college as planned, Wren retreats to her father’s studio in the far-north woods of Maine. Somewhere she can be alone.

Then she meets Cal Owen. Dealing with his own troubles, Cal’s hiding out too. When the chemistry between them threatens to pull Wren from her hard-won isolation, Wren has to choose: risk opening her broken heart to the world again, or join the ghosts who haunt her. 

I basically love everything that Simon and Schuster publish (both UK and US) and this one sounds like a brilliant addition to their ever-growing YA list. Also, it's a contemp and the cover is lovely. SOLD!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises by Greg Cox

Publisher: Titan Books
Format: Paperback
Released: July 24th, 2012
Rating: 9/10

Amazon summary:

Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman return in the thrilling and hotly anticipated conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. From the team that brought you Inception, The Dark Knight Rises is guaranteed to be the blockbuster hit of 2012. This enthralling official novelization will transport fans into a Gotham City once again under threat.


I've always read a lot of film and TV tie-in books, though sadly fewer seem to be published these days. I jumped up and down when I saw The Dark Knight Rises was getting a novelisation as I love Christopher Nolan's epic vision of Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight. I read it all in a day and completely loved every page - it's one of the best I've read!

I'm not going to ramble on about the plot because I really don't want to spoil anything for any fans yet to see the film (it's excellent, by the way), but I will say that there are the odd few scenes that weren't included in the finished film and which do add something to the story. Reading this book is also a great opportunity to catch any of Bane's dialogue you might have missed on the big screen - I've seen it twice and, until I read this, there were still some bits I was unsure of!

Greg Cox is an understated legend when it comes to tie-in novels. His style and thorough approach always make them easy to read (check out his Underworld titles if you want further reading) and you can just tell he's passionate about his chosen subjects. He gets the characterisation 100% right in The Dark Knight Rises and it's great to have that extra insight and private thoughts that you never get with a film.

I highly recommend this official novelisation to fans of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, or anyone just looking for a fantastic superhero read. Short chapters means you'll fly through it and at the end you'll wish there was more. I certainly did and I'm quite sad this trilogy has come to a close. It's the best of the three, in my opinion, and because of that I have no doubt I'll be reading this book again somewhere down the line. Brilliant!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Gods and Warriors Blog Tour: Audio Extract!

Gods and Warriors kicks off Michelle Paver's new series and is published on August 28th in the UK. Here's what it's about:

From a time of myths and ancient magic will come the legend of the lost city of Atlantis, tales of gods and warriors - and the rise of a hero.

His sister is missing. His dog has been killed. High in the Greek mountains, Hylas is running for his life.

The mysterious black warriors want Hylas dead. So begins his quest across land and sea with only a girl and a dolphin by his side. But the warriors are relentless. Why are they hunting Hylas - and how will he survive?

 As part of the book's promotion, publisher Puffin have created a fantastic trailer which you can see below.


Here's my audio clip of Gods and Warriors for you to listen to. Hope you enjoy! :)

For more information on Gods and Warriors, visit Michelle's site here.


Click HERE to pre-order!

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Wonder of Books #1: Between the Lines

Every now and then I see a book that looks so beautiful I want to keep it on my shelf forever, regardless of how good it is or if I'll ever actually read it. I think this is a symptom of Book Collecting Obsession, otherwise known as the life of a book lover. To honour these books and their extremely talented publishers to make them what they are, I'm going to highlight them here on my blog and include lots of lovely pictures so you can see what I'm talking about.

This feature won't be weekly, but I'll do it whenever I come across one of these books that makes me say "Wow!" to no-one in particular. All images can be enlarged if you click 'em, and don't read the text too carefully in case there's a sneaky spoiler in there.

Up first is...


Between the Lines
by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

Published by: Hodder Books
Released: July 2012

What Amazon says it's about:
Delilah knows it's weird, but she can't stop reading her favourite fairy tale. Other girls her age are dating and cheerleading. But then, other girls are popular. She loves the comfort of the happy ending, and knowing there will be no surprises. Until she gets the biggest surprise of all, when Prince Oliver looks out from the page and speaks to her. Now Delilah must decide: will she do as Oliver asks, and help him to break out of the book? Or is this her chance to escape into happily ever after? Read between the lines for total enchantment...

This is the dust jacket that is all bright yellow and shiny gold. Very, very eye-catching!

The book itself is a lovely shade of purple, with gold text for the title and authors.

It has been fully illustrated throughout and includes artwork like this. It just looks amazing!

Different coloured fonts, page illustrations and pretty first lettering!

An illustration of a dragon. I'd frame this and put it on my wall if I could!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Losing Lila Blog Tour: UK Giveaway!

 To celebrate today's publication of Sarah Alderson's Losing Lila and to mark the start of the UK blog tour, I have five (5) copies to give away courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Losing Lila is the sequel to Hunting Lila, and you can read a bit of a spoilery synopsis on the S&S website here.

Rules & info:
  • Open to UK only.
  • End date: August 12th, 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!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Love at Second Sight Blog Tour: Cathy Hopkins Guest Post!

Love at Second Sight, Cathy Hopkins' new book for teens, is published in the UK tomorrow by Simon and Schuster. I'm excited about this blog tour as I love Cathy's Million Dollar Mates series - they're so fun! Here's what Love at Second Sight is all about:

Unlucky in love Jo is dragged along to see a clairvoyant by her two coupled-up best friends, and is told that there's only one boy for her. The trouble is, the last time she saw him was in a past life, when she worked as a governess to his younger brother. The clairvoyant tells her that as she is back in this life, so is he, and she must find him if she is ever to know true happiness and love. Jo doesn't believe a word of it - but then a series of events begin to change her mind. Could her one true love really be out there? In her quest to find the One, she visits psychics and cemeteries - but will she even be able to recognize her soul-mate when she finds him? Or is she destined to continue looking for love for all of time? 

Thanks to Cathy for writing the following guest post for me and I hope you enjoy it!


 Cathy's Favourite Teen Reads!

Oo, that’s a difficult one – there were so many.
If I was pressed for my favourites though, I’d say the books with the wildly romantic heroes in them. Books like Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy. Being a teenager meant discovering boys were more than the annoying spotty oiks that used to pull my hair when I was younger and me and my friend’s heads were full of romantic notions that somewhere out there was a boy who would be different. A boy who’d ride into town (in my case, that town was Manchester, so he’d probably be on a moped!) and sweep me off my feet. A boy who’d make us feel passionate and alive. It certainly wasn’t happening down at St Bernadette’s Youth club where we all used to hang out on a Friday night. Sadly most of the boys there didn’t have a clue plus the fact that I grew tall, 5ft 9, quite early on, and the boys were much shorter than I was.
Where’s my romantic hero? I’d think. In books, that’s where he was. Heathcliff, Mr Rochester, both were classic broody, bad boys. The books were full of longing, souls entwined, hearts bound together through time. I loved all that part of it.
Curiously, Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice left me cold though I enjoyed the book. He always seemed a bit of drip compared the Bronte sister’s male characters who had a edge to them. What is the attraction of the bad boy? They do your head in but always seemed more appealing to me than nice, safe boys who I found a bit dull. Maybe it was all that fresh air up on the moors that prompted the Bronte’s to write such great stories and I grew up quite near so the air so it must have got to me too!
In later teens, I moved on to my ‘looking for the meaning of life phase” (that phase still continues…) and I discovered and loved the books by Herman Hesse, particularly Siddhartha and Narziss and Goldmund. I recently bought them to reread so it will be interesting to see if they stand the test of time.