Book Review

Recent Reads: See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles and Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll.

See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles. Walker Books.
SeeYouAtHarrysTwelve-year-old Fern feels invisible.

Her dad is preoccupied with the family restaurant. Her mom is constantly going off to meditate. And then there’s Charlie: the “surprise” baby, and the centre of everything.

But when their lives are suddenly turned upside down, Fern feels responsible for the devastating even that wrenches the family apart.

Things will never be the same, but can Fern do anything to make them better?

This book broke my heart into little, tiny pieces. The blurb suggested it was going to be an emotional read and I’m known for crying easily, but I still did not expect to spend quite so much of the book ugly crying!

There’s not a huge amount I can say about the plot for fear of spoiling the read. It’s believable and realistic, probably at times all too much. I found I was quickly drawn into the lives of the characters, this only meant that the emotional aspect of the book resonated all the more strongly.

There was a lot to love about this book, it tells its story beautifully and nothing feels shoe-horned in for impact. I loved the fact the children in Fern’s family were all named after characters in books – that’s parenting done properly! There are some really well done sub-plots, every character gets their rightful share of the attention.

I can’t say that this is a book I will revisit often, I’m not made of strong enough stuff for that. But it is one I will most definitely be re-reading, it’s got so much I want to appreciate again.

Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll. Faber & Faber.
FrostHollowHallThe gates to Frost Hollow Hall loomed before us. And they were very definitely shut.

In the middle of a frozen lake, a girl is skating. She’s not supposed to be here. No one is. Not since Kit Barrington drowned at Frost Hollow Hall ten years ago. But the dead don’t scare Tilly Higgins.

The ice is thin. It cracks. Suddenly she’s under the water, drowning. Near death, a strange spirit appears to her, a boy so beautiful Tilly’s sure he’s an angel. But he’s a ghost. A very troubled ghost. And he desperately needs her help…

I love a good ghost story, and this is a really good one. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric, wintery read – it completely lives up to its gorgeous cover.

The book is set in the winter of 1881, it’s described in such a way that you feel like you’re really there. Much of the book takes place in and around Frost Hollow Hall, the recent successes of TV shows such as Downton Abbey and the Upstairs Downstairs revival make this a setting that is easy to imagine and understand.

The plot has two key aspects; Tilly’s personal progress and growth, and the story of the ghostly being desperate for her help. These are seamlessly blended together resulting in one enthralling and entirely satisfying read.

I loved Tilly as a main character, she’s a completely charming mixture of plucky and vulnerable – I know that she’d have really appealed to me when I was a younger reader too. I liked that the characters in the book aren’t all straightforward, but they’re given the time to reveal the secrets that make them the way they are.

This is a really beautiful read, perfect for the winter. It’s going to go straight onto my winter re-reads shelf ready for next year.

Whilst I received review copies of both books from their publishers 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.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read.

TwelveMinutesTwelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge. Nosy Crow.
Penelope Tredwell is the feisty thirteen-year-old heiress of the best selling magazine, The Penny Dreadful. Her masterly tales of the macabre are gripping Victorian Britain, even if no one knows she’s the real author. One day a letter she receives from the governor of the notorious Bedlam madhouse plunges her into an adventure more terrifying than anything she ever imagined…

This is a really good, atmospheric thriller aimed at the 10+ market. I found that I was drawn into the story really quickly, it’s written in such a way that you find yourself completely swept up by it. The Victorian setting, complete with gaslights and a public taste for ghost stories, works so well and really adds to the reading experience.

I really loved Penny, the lead character. She’s brilliant and plucky, and really smart. I found myself really rooting for her. The villains are well thought out, they could easily have felt like tired, pantomime characters but they’re written carefully to avoid this.

The book whips along really well, there’s no filler – everything contributes to the plot. I was a little unsure when it looked like everything was getting resolved partway through the book but delighted in the way the plot continued to develop. A really enjoyable read.

BeautifulLieA Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master. Bloomsbury UK.
An extraordinarily rich debut novel, set in India in 1947 at the time of Partition.

The main character is Bilal, a boy determined to protect his dying father from the news of Partition – news that he knows will break his father’s heart. With great spirit and determination, and with the help of his good friends, Bilal persuades others to collude with him in this deception. All that Bilal wants is for his father to die in peace. But that means Bilal has a very complicated relationship with the truth…

Whilst on the surface this is a historical novel about the time of Partition, it’s really about friendship and family, and about love. The historical aspect of the book is done well, the descriptions used really bring this unfamiliar place and time to life for the reader, but it is the characters and their relationships that are the truly wonderful aspect of this book.

The central friendship between Bilal and his three friends is warm and lovely, you get a real sense of the love between them. The reader sees the act of Partition through their eyes, and you can feel the growing helplessness they feel – their lives are irrevocably changed by this fight between grown ups, however much they wish they weren’t.

Similarly you really feel for Bilal and his mission to keep the news of Partition from his father. It is so thought provoking, I found myself wondering whether his actions were right and whether I would have done the same in his situation – I think this book would be an excellent choice for a reading group, there is so much to think about and discuss.

LilysShimmeringSpellLily’s Shimmering Spell (Stargirl Academy #1) by Vivian French. Walker Books.
Welcome to Stargirl Academy, the magical school in the clouds! Previously a rather old-fashioned establishment, it has been reopened by its head teacher to train children to be modern day fairy godmothers. The girls learn lots of spells – shimmering, starry, shining, sparkling, glittering and twinkling ones – which they use to fix problems and help people in trouble. For every successful mission they gain a star, and once they have six stars they will be fully qualified Stargirls!

I must begin by saying I have never read a book like this before. I usually avoid books that appear to be overtly pink and princessy, but lovely Hannah at Walker made such a great pitch for this book that I knew I had to give it a chance rather than pre-judging it. And I’m really glad I did.

This is a lovely book, I adored Lily, the character this first book focuses on, from the very beginning and really cared about what happened to her. She lives with her great aunt, a dreadful woman who treats her so badly, I spent the whole book wishing for her to get her comeuppance!

The Stargirl Academy itself seems like a really lovely place, I really liked the staff members that we meet in the first book – especially Fairy Mary McBee. The ethos I love too – the focus is on using the spells they learn to help other people, I think this adds a lot to the overall warmth of the book.

I think this series of books will be really popular, I know I’m a complete convert and will most definitely be reading the other five in the series – I need to know how the girls earn the rest of their stars!

My copy of Lily’s Shimmering Spell was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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 Review

My Week In Books. [6]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in mini reviews.

Shooting Stars by Allison Rushby. Bloomsbury Childrens.
I liked the way this book throws you right into the action from the very beginning, the reader is introduced to the main character – teen paparazzo Jo – as she tries to get photographs of teen heartthrob Ned. I found that I liked Jo straight away, and then as the book progressed there was more and more to like. When she’s sent undercover to try and get highly private pictures of Ned at a rehab retreat her dilemma over whether she can bring herself to invade his privacy for the amount of money being offered feels genuine and draws the reader in.

I often find books where one character is hiding a pretty big secret from the other really stressful to read. There was a small part of this book that had me feeling a bit stressed but the way the plot is handled and evolves meant that I found myself really enjoying it. There’s a lovely blend of humorous moments and more thoughtful moments, the latter in particular may well leave readers thinking about our current celebrity culture and its cost.

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally. Sourcebooks Fire.
I absolutely loved this book. I expected it would be one that I would really enjoy, I’m a huge sports fan so the idea of a book about a female quarterback trying to lead her high school team to the championship final sounded like something I’d really enjoy. I was hooked within the first chapter and I didn’t put it down until I’d read the final page. The plot is wonderful, yes it’s a story about high school football but it’s also a story about friendship, about love, and about family.

I loved Jordan and found that I could really identify with her, despite the fact I’d never been remotely sporty let alone so entirely sport driven. The various team mates who played significant parts in the book all made me smile, they really came across well as a group of friends who all cared for and supported each other. I found myself wishing I was part of their social circle! I have a feeling that when I’m deciding on my top ten reads of the year this book may well make the cut.

Love at Second Sight by Cathy Hopkins. Simon & Schuster UK.
I hadn’t read anything by Cathy Hopkins before but I knew lovely Liz from My Favourite Books is a big fan so when she offered me a copy of this to read I snapped it up. I have to admit that before I started reading I wasn’t 100% sure about it, the plot surrounds a teen girl being told by a clairvoyant that her true love from a former life is someone she knows in this life so she has a second chance of love with him. I needn’t have been concerned though, the plot is well constructed and really works.

Jo, the main character, is a lovely character. She’s a little bit different to a lot of the girls who get to take centre stage in YA fiction and I found this refreshing. Her friendship with Effy and Tash is lovely, I particularly liked the way that they complemented one another without having to agree on everything. I also liked the focus on genealogy within the plot, it was good to see it described well.

I enjoyed this read so much that I already have my next Cathy Hopkins on reserve at my local library.

Sammy Feral’s Diaries of Weird by Eleanor Hawken. Quercus.
This book is a lovely, quick, funny read that I’m sure middle grade readers will love. Written in diary form this is a really entertaining read about a boy whose family are all turned into werewolves at the zoo they run. After discovering his family’s misfortune Sammy is desperate to find a cure and to get them all back to normal. He’s helped along in his quest by the mysterious Donny and Red, a team of cryptozoologists who arrive at just the right time.

There are plenty of laughs in this book along with some moments that I’m sure the target audience will be appropriately scared by. I think this book has a lot of potential as a read aloud book, I can imagine a group listening very attentively to it. There are plans for a second book in this series, I’m looking forward to it already.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [1]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in drabble form – exactly 100 words excluding title and publishing details.

Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts. Orion Children’s Books.
Emily Vole makes headline news in the first weeks of her life, when she is found in an abandoned hatbox in Stansted Airport. Then, only a few years later, her neighbour Mrs String dies leaving Emily a mysterious inheritance: an old shop, a small bunch of golden keys and a cat called Fidget. It’s the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime as the old Fairy Detective Agency comes back to life.

This is the first book in a new series, Wings & Co, aimed at young readers. I thought it was a great read, it introduces the characters and the magical version of the world that the book’s set in really well. There’s enough adventure and excitement to balance out the scene setting, I think it’ll capture the imagination of most young readers. I love the illustrations included in the book, they really add to the experience. Emily is a wonderful lead character, I’ll be looking forward to reading about her adventures in the next book. A definite thumbs up from me.

Undone by Cat Clarke. Quercus.
A video appears online. And a boy jumps off a bridge. Jem is determined to avenge the death of Kai – her beloved best friend who was driven to desperation after being ‘outed’ by the popular crew at school. Transforming herself from introverted emo to in-crowd acceptable, Jem becomes part of the clique. She’s going to take down those responsible, one by one. But what if Kai was keeping secrets from Jem? Could her quest for revenge be directed at the wrong people? And can Jem find out what really happened before someone else gets hurt?

I was the lucky winner of Cat Clarke’s ARC giveaway, as soon as it arrived I knew I had to read it next. I read it cover to cover in an afternoon, it’s absolutely gripping and I had to know how it ended. Undone is a story of grief and loss, and of trying to find a way through it – in Jem’s case that’s exacting vengeance. The characters are so real, they’re insecure and self-focused and flawed making them seem to leap off the page. It’s a bold, wonderful book that packs a real emotional punch, a fantastic read.

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond. Strange Chemistry.
And finally a little bit of a cheat for the first week, I won’t make a habit of it – I reviewed this book for Book Angel Booktopia. You can read it here.

Book Review

Book Review : Hollow Pike by James Dawson.

Something wicked this way comes…

She thought she’d be safe in the country, but you can’t escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her.

Lis thinks she’s being paranoid – after all who would want to murder her? She doesn’t believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn’t believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you?

Not until you’re alone in the woods, after dark – and a twig snaps…

Hollow Pike – where witchcraft never sleeps

I was very excited when a copy of this dropped through my letter box, I’ve been aware of it for a while from reading other book blogs and it sounded like my kind of book. Witchcraft and legends and countryside woods are all things that together suggest a good, scary read. It’s been a while since I was properly scared by a book, I wondered if Hollow Pike would be the one to manage it.

I was gripped by this book within the first few pages, I started reading it at work and it was so hard to stop reading when it was time for me to go home. Lis has moved from Bangor to Hollow Pike to live with her sister after bullies at school made her life hell. I found that I straight away felt a connection to Lis, my own high school experience was absolutely horrendous and so I felt like I completely understood where she was coming from. The book follows Lis as she starts a new life at a new school, and the difficulties that come from joining a new well established social structure complete with its own awful bullies. At the same time that she’s working out where she fits into her new school there are strange things going on too, and she keeps having the same scary dream that feels so real.

I really liked Lis, as I’ve already mentioned I found I could identify strongly with her, and I loved her strength and determination. Whilst Laura, the ringleader of the bullies, was an entirely dislikeable character I think she was really well created and at times worryingly believable. Danny was one of my favourite characters in the book, as soon as he appeared as a potential romantic interest for Lis I started to fall for him, I was really pleased with the way we got to know him throughout the book.

This book most definitely managed to scare me. I read the majority of it through the day and was really glad I did, I think if I’d read it at bedtime I wouldn’t have got much sleep – as it was I found myself thinking about it as I went to bed and could hear the wind whipping through the trees that surround my house. I found that the last few chapters in particular made for tense reading.

I’m pretty sure that over the next couple of weeks book blogs across the UK are going to be featuring lots of glowing reviews for this book, and it absolutely deserves them. It’s a gripping read that scares and thrills in equal measures. The fact that this is a debut novel makes the book an even more exciting prospect, James Dawson is definitely going to be an author to watch in the years to come.

Hollow Pike is published in trade paperback and hardback by Orion in the UK from 2nd February 2012. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.