Book Review

Book Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo.

RuinAndRisingThe capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

This is the third book in the Grisha trilogy, I reviewed the second book Siege and Storm here. This is not going to be the longest or most detailed review – being the final part of a triolgy a lot of the book is action filled or just needs to be discovered by the reader for themselves. I went into this book knowing barely anything about it and was pleased I did, I don’t want to stop anyone else having the same experience.

Ruin and Rising opens with a prologue that sets the scene really well, before jumping back to show us where our main characters now are. The book begins just a little after the end of Siege and Storm allowing the characters to gather themselves a little – I felt that this played out well, it was close enough that I didn’t feel like I’d missed seeing anything I’d have wanted to see but moved on enough that the plot could get going again quickly. It had been nearly a year since I’d last visited the world of the Grisha, I was pleased with how easy it was to fall back into it. There are some really big plot elements that need to be concluded, these are all dealt with over the course of the book with only minimal new significant plot elements introduced. I liked this, and was almost always pleased with how things played out.

One of the central elements of this book is the relationship between Alina, our heroine, and various other characters. Since getting to the end of this book I’ve discovered quite a lot of readers are unhappy with how some of these relationships worked out – I have to say that I personally don’t agree with these readers. I think it’s really interesting that lots of people can read the same series and all take something completely different from it, it’s impossible to say that any way of thinking is right or wrong – it’s such an individual thing. All I can say for sure is that I was very content with the way the various relationships were resolved, it worked absolutely right for me.

The world that Leigh Bardugo has created for this trilogy is an interesting, rich one. I loved getting to know more and more about it with each book. I’m really pleased that her next pair of books are going to be set in the same world (see the story here), I certainly want to spend more time there!

Ruin and Rising is published by Indigo in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

Book Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe.

FarFromYouNine months. Two weeks. Six days.

That’s how long recovering addict Sophie’s been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong – a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.

Forced into rehab for an addiction she’d already beaten, Sophie’s finally out and on the trail of the killer – but can she track them down before they come for her?

I was drawn to this book first by that gorgeous cover and then by the blurb. When it first came out the reviews were glowing, and in the months since I’ve seen it brought up in many conversations about publishing, diversity in publishing and just really good YA releases of 2014. I must admit that I was a little apprehensive when I started to read, I always am when I’m picking up a much loved book, what if I was the one person who didn’t like it? I think I got about 2 or 3 chapters in to the book and realised I was already hooked, I took a brief pause to sigh with relief and then carried on reading. I only stopped reading twice, both times to refill my coffee mug!

The book has two narrative threads told in alternating chapters. There is the current timeline, beginning with Sophie’s release from rehab, and there is a flashback timeline that dances forwards and backwards over the previous few years adding detail and necessary history to all of the current goings on. This structure worked really well, both aspects of the story were equally strong. The thriller aspect of Sophie trying to investigate Mina’s murder plays out well, I didn’t suspect the eventual culprit but it felt like a believable outcome to me.

I liked Sophie from the outset. I found that I had an unwavering belief in what she was saying, and a real frustration with her parents who didn’t seem able to see past what others had told them. The fact they had sent her to rehab when she had not relapsed made me really sad, both for Sophie getting the lack of support she wanted and needed, and for her parents who must be in some state to be incapable of hearing the truth their daughter is telling them. I really appreciated the presence of Aunt Macy in Sophie’s life – she deserved an awesome adult who was in her corner unconditionally.

Sophie’s a well developed character, like all of the characters in the book she’s complex and messy with jagged edges and personal demons. Whilst I want to see all sorts of characters represented in fiction I have a personal investment in seeing characters who are dealing with disabilities and/or ongoing health issues. Sophie was in a car crash that nearly killed her (the first of two near death experiences in her fairly short life, the other being the catalysing event that results in Mina’s death) – she escaped with injuries affecting her leg and back, along with huge amounts of scarring. Her injuries are going to be with her for the rest of the life, she is in pain and has weakness that compromises her walking. She’s angry and bitter, and her former drug addiction is directly linked to the pain she’s in. I really appreciated how honestly Sophie’s experiences are dealt with, and the way that whilst they make up a significant part of her they aren’t the only thing about her. I also liked the way she used gardening as a therapeutic tool – this again felt very true to the character and her situation.

Whilst the book begins with Mina’s death we get to see the hole her absence has left in the lives of those closest to her, particularly her brother Trev and Sophie. She also plays a really prominent role in the flashback chapters – she was Sophie’s closest, dearest friend and played a significant part in her life. Through the strength of her presence I felt like I really got to know her, whilst not as well as I got to know Sophie still significantly more than I had expected to.

Relationships play a significant role in all aspects of this book, both romantic and platonic ones. There is an LGBT plot thread that is well executed, I don’t want to say to much about it as its brilliance is at least partly in how it plays out throughout the book. It’s not something I’ve seen played out often in YA fiction and it’s done in a really well thought out manner. There are a couple of sexual encounters – these are handled deftly, they don’t quite fade to black but are written in a careful and sensitive manner.

I love it when a book like Far From You comes along and reminds me just how brilliant realistic fiction can be. This is the kind of book that leaves you both wanting more and not wanting to go near another book for a while, instead just letting everything you’ve read sink in. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough.

Far From You is published by Indigo in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black.

ColdestGirlTana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

This is the first of Holly Black’s books that I’ve read. I’ve known of her for a long time, I have a copy of The Spiderwick Chronicles on my shelf but keep saving it for “the right time”, whenever that may be. I loved the sound of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and the early reviews were great, so my anticipation levels were high when I got stuck in to reading it.

This book is not for the faint hearted. It’s harsh and tough, the world created for the book is ours but with stark, challenging tweaks that make for a brilliantly disturbing read. The opening to the book is really strong, you realise straight away that this book is dark and fully fanged. For me this was a case of instant love, the book grabbed my attention and refused to let go.

The book’s world is built so smoothly, there’s no obvious exposition – so much of it is conveyed subtly which for me made it feel all the more effective. I particularly liked reading about the organisational structures now at work in the world, and about how society had reacted to this new vampiric threat. I’m always fascinated by politics and society in other world structures and this book really does not disappoint on this front.

The characters are written with the same deft hand, every one is so real with no obvious good or bad characters. Instead, there is a continuum on which every character can be placed and every effort is made to understand why characters are the way they are.

It’s a tense read, with some twists and turns that left me gasping. I have a pretty high tolerance for gore so must mention that there were a couple of moments where even I was a little taken aback – I do like it when this happens as it’s an infrequent occurrence.

This is one of those books that makes me want to simply tell everyone to just get and read it. It’s definitely one of those books that needs to unfold at its own pace for the reader, to be too descriptive in this review would be very unfair to anyone wanting to read the book.

I absolutely loved this book and am already looking forward to revisiting it at some point. It’s original and thought provoking, a thoroughly worthwhile read.

The Coldest Girl is published by Indigo Books in paperback and eBook. Whilst my copy was provided by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Recent Reads: The Dance of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin and Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read. These books are both the second in series, there will be spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the first books.

imageThe Dance of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin. Indigo.
Bethany Griffin continues the journey of Araby Worth in Dance of the Red Death—the sequel to her teen novel Masque of the Red Death.

In Dance of the Red Death, Araby’s world is in shambles—betrayal, death, disease, and evil forces surround her. She has no one to trust. But she finds herself and discovers that she will fight for the people she loves, and for her city.

Her revenge will take place at the menacing masked ball, though it could destroy her and everyone she loves…or it could turn her into a hero.

With a nod to Edgar Allan Poe, Bethany Griffin concludes her tragic and mysterious Red Death series with a heroine that young adult readers will never forget.

This is the second half of the duology that began with The Masque of the Red Death, a book that I really enjoyed. I was really pleased to see that it picks up the story immediately from the end of the first book, this worked well both to grab my attention and to pull me back into Araby’s world.

I found that even though it was about a year since I had read the first book I very quickly remembered who everyone was and how the world worked. Griffin wove reminders neatly into the text so that I never felt like information was there purely to recap the first book. I know that this is always a challenge with sequels, I personally feel this could be held up as an example of it being done well.

There’s plenty of action in this book, but I particularly loved the quieter moments nestled in between the big scenes. Spending time with the characters, seeing their quiet interactions, made me really feel connected to them, and invested in their story. I was going to list a couple of examples, but even now as I start to think there are too many to include.

I was really satisfied with the conclusion to the story. It’s neat without feeling too neat, there’s no magic wand waving, no pretty ribbons and bows, just a believable ending with hope.

imageSiege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. Indigo.
Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.(less)

I have to start this by admitting to being a bit of an idiot. This is the second book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, I adored the first book Shadow and Bone and so put off reading this sequel for a while – scared it wouldn’t live up to my hopes. I was, naturally, entirely wrong and my hopes were entirely satisfied.

The book picks up the story a short while after the events at the end of Shadow and Bone, there’s a brief bit of breathing space to allow the reader to reconnect with Alina and Mal before the tension and action ramps up again. This then continued throughout the book, big bit of action followed by time to regroup before the next big action. I really liked this, it built a real sense that there was something big coming.

I liked the way Alina and Mal’s story and relationship develops throughout the book, it continues to be challenging for the two characters – something I don’t feel I get to read enough of in books. It was really nice to see characters from the first book revisited and developed alongside the introduction of new characters. There are three significant new characters, I loved them all and was really glad to get to know them – the intriguing Sturmhond most of all.

When the aforementioned something big does play out it’s brilliant, and thrilling, and entirely compulsive reading. I was so gripped by it that I read it far too quickly and then went back and read it again at a sensible pace so I could take every last detail in.

I’m so excited for the third and final Grisha book, this time I will be dropping everything to read it as soon as I have a copy in my hands.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

48HBC: An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons and Hidden Among Us by Katy Moran.

Books 5 and 6 of this weekend are well and truly read, bringing me to a total of 1,798 pages read in 8 hours 55 minutes.

An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons. Indigo.
AnActOfLoveSeven-year-old Chris and Imran are sworn blood brothers.

Ten years on they are treading seperate paths. The spectre of terrorism has wrecked their friendship. It has changed their lives and could even end them.

A story of two ordinary boys growing up in an extraordinary time – our time. A time of terror, when atrocities don’t happen in the TV reports about people in far away places.

Rioting, fighting, maiming, and killing are happening here, on our doorstep.

Wow. What a book! It tackles a pretty big and tricky topic, and it does it so well. I paused a few times to marvel at how well balanced it was, you get to see both Chris and Imran’s sides of the story. The book’s written in such a way that you feel like you have an understanding of why they, Imran in particular, make the decisions that they do but whilst it tries to explain things it never tries to justify them.

Structurally this book’s quite complex, there’s the storyline of what’s happening the day the book is set and then there’s the storyline of what happened to the two boys from the time they were boys right up until the day the book is set. These two storylines are skilfully woven together, and told from both perspectives so the reader really gets a sense of the characters and their relationships.

There’s a real sense of peril throughout the book. The opening chapter sets up an end point for both storylines and I found as I got further and further through it my heart started racing a little faster, wondering how it was all going to resolve.

All in all, an impressive read, and one that’s made me determined to read more by Alan Gibbons.

Hidden Among Us by Katy Moran. Walker Books.
HiddenAmongUsWhen Lissy meets a mysterious and strangely beautiful boy on her way to Hopesay Edge, she is deeply unsettled by their encounter.

She discovers that the boy, Larkspur, is a member of the Hidden, an ancient group of elven people, whose secrets lie buried at Hopesay Reach. Before long, Lissy and her brother Rafe find themselves caught by a powerful magic and fighting to escape a bargain that can never be broken.

I’d read enough reviews of this book to know that it wasn’t going to be what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t. This is a fantasy book, with fae creatures and lore, and a great thriller sense running through it.

I did find it a little slow going initially, but I think that was a lot to do with my not quite working out how the various characters were linked to one another – I flicked back and forwards a few times trying to work out who was related to who. Once I got my head round this I found the book absolutely whipped by.

I liked that this book felt original, I think the characters really worked in this respect – they were well developed and felt like individuals. So much of the focus of this book was on the characters, what they’d done in the past, how they were acting now and I loved this.

I loved the dark and twisty nature of this book, whilst I was very satisfied by the conclusion I would welcome a follow up book so I could see what happens next.

This is the end of my first day of the 48 Hour Book Challenge. I’m thrilled with what I’ve achieved so far and looking forward to another good day of reading tomorrow. I’m also thrilled with how the total on my sponsorship page is slowly rising – there’s still time to sponsor me if you would like to, the link is here.

Book Meme

Top Ten Tuesday: 2013 Debuts I’m Looking Forward To.

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature created by The Broke and the Bookish so that bloggers can share lists of bookish things.

TTT3W

Debuts is the topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. I love this idea for a top ten as it’s made me go and have a look to see what debuts different publishers have, I’ve stuck to books being published in the UK and aimed at children and teens. I’ve sorted my list by publication date, like always images and synopses come from Goodreads or the publisher’s website.

SplinteredSplintered by A.G. Howard. Published 1st January by A & C Kids.
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

SorrowlineSorrowline by Niel Bushnell. Published 3rd January by Andersen Press.
The past is not a frozen place. Graveyards are not dead ends. And if the Sorrowline lets you in there is a hidden world of adventure waiting behind every gravestone.

Just when 12-year-old Jack Morrow’s life is falling apart he discovers his natural ability to travel through Sorrowlines: channels that connect every gravestone with the date of the person’s death. Confused and alone Jack finds himself in 1940. He embarks on an adventure through London during the Blitz with Davy, his teenage grandfather, to find a mystical Rose that might just save his mother’s life, a mother who he has already seen die. But the terrible power of the Rose of Annwn, is sought by many, and the forces of a secret world are determined to find it first. With a league of Undead Knights of his trail, commanded by the immortal Rouland, can Jack decipher the dark secret hidden at the heart of his family? Can he change his own destiny and save his mother?

TragedyPaperThe Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan. Published 10th January by Random House Children’s.
Tim Macbeth is a 17-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is, “Enter here to be and find a friend.” Tim does not expect to find a friend; all he really wants to do is escape his senior year unnoticed. Despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential “it” girl, Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving’s most popular boy. To Tim’s surprise, Vanessa is into him, too, and she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone finds out. Tim and Vanessa enter into a clandestine relationship, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving’s version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school’s least forgiving teacher.

The story unfolds from two alternating viewpoints: Tim, the tragic, love-struck figure, and Duncan, a current senior, who uncovers the truth behind Tim and Vanessa’s story and will consequently produce the greatest Tragedy Paper in Irving’s history.

PantomimePantomime by Laura Lam. Published 7th February by Strange Chemistry.
R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimeras is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

InfiniteSkyInfinite Sky by C.J. Flood. Published 14 February by Simon & Schuster.
Iris Dancy’s free-spirited mum has left for Tunisia, her dad’s rarely sober and her brother’s determined to fight anyone with a pair of fists.

When a family of travellers move into the overgrown paddock overnight, her dad looks set to finally lose it. Gypsies are parasites he says, but Iris is intrigued. As her dad plans to evict the travelling family, Iris makes friends with their teenage son. Trick Deran is a bare knuckle boxer who says he’s done with fighting, but is he telling the truth?

When tools go missing from the shed, the travellers are the first suspects. Iris’s brother, Sam, warns her to stay away from Trick; he’s dangerous, but Iris can no longer blindly follow her brother’s advice. He’s got secrets of his own, and she’s not sure he can be trusted himself.

Infinite Sky is a family story about betrayal and loyalty, and love.

ZombieGoldfishMy Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O’Hara. Published 28th February by Macmillan Children’s Books.
‘Sami was still holding the goldfish. “Swishy little fishy,” she whispered, over and over. Frankie stared at her with his big, bulging, glowing eyes. Suddenly a little light bulb went on . . . Frankie was a Big Fat Zombie Goldfish and somehow he’d hypnotized my best friend’s sister!’ Tom’s big brother is an Evil Scientist who wants to experiment on Tom’s new goldfish, Frankie. Can Tom save his fish from being dunked in radioactive gunge? Er, no. In an act of desperation Tom zaps Frankie with a battery, bringing him back to life! But there’s something weird about the new Frankie – he’s now a zombie goldfish with hypnotic powers, and he wants revenge . . . Tom has a difficult choice to make – save his evil brother, or save his fishy friend?

AcidACID by Emma Pass. Published 25th April by Corgi Children’s / Random House Children’s.
ACID – the most brutal police force in history.
They rule with an iron fist.
They see everything. They know everything.
They locked me away for life.

My crime?
They say I murdered my parents.
I was fifteen years old.

My name is Jenna Strong.

IfYouFindMeIf You Find Me by Emily Murdoch. Published 2nd May by Indigo.
A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen-year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and the girls are found by their father, a stranger, and taken to re-enter the “normal” life of school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must come to terms with the truth of why their mother spirited them away ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go … a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon. Published 7th May by Strange Chemistry.
Zenn Scarlett is a bright, determined, occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. That means she’s specializing in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous. Her novice year of training at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars will find her working with alien patients from whalehounds the size of a hay barn to a baby Kiran Sunkiller, a colossal floating creature that will grow up to carry a whole sky-city on its back.

But after a series of inexplicable animal escapes from the school and other near-disasters, the Cloister is in real danger of being shut down by a group of alien-hating officials. If that happens, Zenn knows only too well the grim fate awaiting the creatures she loves.

Now, she must unravel the baffling events plaguing her school, before someone is hurt or killed, before everything she cares about is ripped away from her and her family forever. To solve this mystery – and live to tell about it – Zenn will have to put her new exovet skills to work in ways she never imagined, and in the process learn just how powerful compassion and empathy can be.

Taste Test by Kelly Fiore. Published 20th August by Bloomsbury USA.
If you can grill it, smoke it, or fry it, Nora Henderson knows all about it. Her father owns one of North Carolina’s most successful barbeque joints and she’s been shredding pork and basting baby back ribs since she could reach the counter. When Taste Test, a reality cooking show for teens, accepts her for their fifth season, it’s a chance for Nora to get out of her humble hometown and break into the big leagues of the culinary world. When she shows up on set at the North American Culinary Academy, however, it’s not just the New England weather that’s ice cold. Fights with her high-society roommate and run-ins with the son of a famous chef force Nora to work even harder to prove she’s a force to be reckoned with. But, despite winning challenges and falling for a fellow contestant, Nora can’t ignore the mysterious accidents that are plaguing the kitchen arena. It seems like someone is conducting eliminations of their own and Nora’s determined to get to the bottom of the mystery before she, or anyone else, is “86ed” for good.

Book Review

Book Review : Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher.

Book Cover for Ketchup Clouds by Annabel PitcherFifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret – a dark and terrible secret that she can’t confess to anyone she knows. But then one day she hears of a criminal, Stuart Harris, locked up on death row in Texas. Like Zoe, Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder.

Full of heartache yet humour, Zoe tells her story in the only way she can – in letters to the man in prison in America. Armed with a pen, Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich, and begins her tale of love and betrayal.

Annabel Pitcher’s debut novel My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece was one of the real success stories of 2011, it was shortlisted for a number of significant book awards and won a number of them including the Branford Boase Award. When I received my copy of her new book Ketchup Clouds I was really looking forward to reading it, could she do it again? Well in my opinion she absolutely has, and if anything she’s stepped up to a whole new level.

Ketchup Clouds is told solely through letters, Zoe has a huge secret and decides to unburden herself by writing letters to Stuart, a prisoner on death row. Her letters span 9 months, to begin with she is very reluctant to actually start writing about the secret she is keeping but as the letters progress she opens up and tells the story. Considering the serious nature of the letters there is a real warmth to the book and lots of humour.

The structure of the book works well for the plot and Zoe’s writing style brings in an element of suspense, there are a number of stories all unfolding through her letters – in addition to her story the reader also gets to discover Stuart’s story and her family’s story. These three plotlines are all woven together skilfully.

All of the characters are seen through Zoe’s eyes, the reader gets to see everyone as she sees them – I found the portrayal of her parents particularly interesting, as at 14/15 Zoe has reached that stage of seeing her parents as flawed but not the stage of trying to understand them. I liked Zoe herself a lot, though I think my favourite character has to be her youngest sister Dot. She steals the story whenever she appears.

I was absolutely gripped by this book, I was hooked by the opening lines and quickly realised I wasn’t going to get much else done until I finished reading! Throughout my proof copy there are points marked for illustrations to be placed in the finished copy of the book, I’m really looking forward to getting a copy so I can see these too.

Ketchup Clouds is published by Indigo in the UK from 27th December 2012. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.