Book Review

July and August 2015 Reads – Part 3.

The third and final part of my July and August reading catch up.

The Last Summer of Us by Maggie Harcourt. Usborne Books
There is not enough YA fiction set in Wales. Or fiction as a whole for that matter. This is a lovely, contemporary YA story set in Wales that includes some main characters who speak fluent Welsh – it was already onto a good thing with me before I got reading. This is a road trip story, the three main characters are close friends but all struggling with something at the moment. They escape the realities of their lives for a few days and get back to basics, road tripping and camping.

One of the central themes of this is the realisation that the adults in your life are flawed, fallible beings. All three of the main characters have difficulties in the relationships with their parents and this is dealt with really well within the book.

There is a romantic element to this book, I wasn’t sure about it to begin with but ended up really enjoying it. This is an excellent debut, another author to add to my watch out for list.

Counting Stars by Keris Stainton. Hot Key Books.
When I first heard Keris mention this book I knew it was something I wanted to read – I’ve long bemoaned the lack of decent stories set post sixth form and the wave of New Adult that promised to fill that gap certainly did not deliver. This is a great story filled with warmth about Anna as she moves to Liverpool to take up a role in a theatre. She’d been on the university path like her friends but a work placement made her realise that maybe this wasn’t the right path for her at this time. This in itself was something I loved, I think it’s really good to see narratives that involve alternatives to university for young adults.

Anna’s story has a secondary thread to it, she is a vlogger and we see her tell her story to her subscribers, and their comments to each video. This storytelling technique is really interesting, seeing telling her viewers what’s been going on rather than experiencing it alongside her works really well. There’s also a nice reflection on privacy and social media that clearly illustrates a point without coming off as prescriptive.

I enjoyed this book immensely and hope it brings along more books set in this time of life – there’s so much potential for stories about this life transition so let’s see more of them!

Elspeth Hart and the Perilous Voyage by Sarah Forbes. Stripes Publishing.
I read and reviewed the first Elspeth Hart book earlier this year over at Middle Grade Strikes Back. I loved it, and particularly liked that the ending was setting up the next story. I’m very glad to say that this, that next story, picks up the action straight away and continues it brilliantly. The characters have left the school that provided the setting for book 1 and spend much of this book on board a luxury liner. These close quarters again make for plenty of near misses and tense moments, I couldn’t read fast enough. This is an excellent second instalment to Elspeth’s story – I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football by Dave Cousins. Oxford University Press.
I always enjoy Dave Cousins’ books, they never fail to entertain and make me laugh. Charlie Merrick’s Misfits is no exception to this. Pitched at a slightly younger audience than Cousins’ previous books this is an illustrated tale of a football team made up less than stellar players. It has a lot to say about friendship, about teamwork and about learning what the important things in life are. I enjoyed it hugely, it made me laugh, it made me wince as I could see characters make bad decisions, and it made me really root for this team of misfits. There’s already a second book in this series, I expect to be reading it sooner rather than later!

The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell. Random House Children’s Publishing.
When this book was published I remember reading lots of reviews and thinking it was a book I really wanted to read. Then, at NineWorlds I had the fortune of meeting Sarah and immediately bought my copy of the book. It took me a few days to read, something which is quite unusual with how fast I read, but I found myself wanting to savour every word (plus I got too emotionally invested to continue reading it in public on my commute!)

This book tells the story of Sora, a Japanese teenager who has been diagnosed with the progressive neurological disease Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Sora is dying, his condition is progressing faster than he or anyone wants and this book is him telling his story. We get to know his family, see him trying to make sense of his ever changing new normal, and see him make new friends. This book is a challenging read, but I know I feel like I’m a better person for having read it. I’m going to be recommending this book far and wide.

Demon Road by Derek Landy. HarperCollins Children’s Books
I haven’t read anything by Derek Landy before (yes I do intend to catch up with Skullduggery Pleasant, even more so since I enjoyed this book so much) so I went into this book knowing nothing more than the synopsis. The idea of a teen girl suddenly discovering her demon heritage and having to go on the run sounded good to me and the book really didn’t disappoint.

This is a fast witty book with a good share of action and gore. It’s tone and style is evocative of many of the tv shows I love, both those showing now (things like Supernatural) and those no longer on our screens (Buffy seems like the obvious link to make). I think this book would be an easy sell to many teen readers and probably many grown up ones too. The characters are brilliant, I fell in love with main character Amber pretty much straight away and am thrilled that this is only the first part of her adventures.

Book Review

July and August 2015 Reads – Part 1.

The first part of this week’s catch up on the books I read in July and August.

Reasonable Force by C.T. Sullivan. Pegasus Publishing.
This book is a debut novel published by an independent publisher and therefore something that would generally pass beneath my radar. I was approached for a review however and the book sounded interesting to me, so I duly received a copy and got reading.

There are a number of plotlines within this book, they’re well balanced and directly affect one another so that as something changes for one character you find yourself wondering what impact that’s going to have on the other characters. The initial event, where Nick kills an intruder and Nathan advises him on how to cover it up, throws up some interesting discussion about how much force is reasonable in a burglary (hence the book title), but the ever evolving situation means that the plot moves further away from this as time goes on.

There was a lot to enjoy about this book, as I say there were some interesting thinking points, and I found I liked some of the characters. One thing that didn’t work well for me was the character of Mel, Nick’s wife. She doesn’t get the same attention or development as the other characters, instead existing as a convenient (and unfortunate) plot device on a couple of occasions – there was a point where she suddenly made a statement about religious beliefs that had a significant impact on the plot, this came out of nowhere and also didn’t appear to then be applied consistently for the remainder of the book.

The overall flow of the book worked well. There is a real tension in Nick’s plotline in particular, I found myself getting quite anxious on his behalf – I was definitely invested in his story and was satisfied with the overall ending of the book.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Tor.
Before reading Uprooted all I had seen about it was glowing praise. It almost started to become a little intimidating as a prospective reader, what if I was The One who didn’t like it. Eventually I decided I needed to just dive in and hope for the best.

This book is every bit as good as everyone had said! I was immediately drawn into the world created by the author, a world of magic and wonder, and of an evil wood determined to wreak havoc and misery. It begins with the choosing, an event that happens every ten years when the Dragon – an aging wizard who acts as guardian to the people living in the villages surrounding his tower home – chooses another young girl and whisks her away to said tower for ten years. When Agnieszka is unexpectedly chosen her life is instantly turned upside down.

There is something very sympathetic about Agnieszka, the reader is straight away drawn to her cause – I think because of the downright unfairness of what is happening to her. This is good because as the plot develops Agnieszka becomes, rightly, obstinate and focused and this feels right rather than petulant as it may have done if the reader didn’t care about her story this way. I loved her as a character and I loved reading her story.

For Holly by Tanya Byrne. Headline.
This book is wonderful. It’s a slow burner that draws you deeper and deeper into the characters’ lives, pulling you into their world and making you entirely invested in what happens to them. I read it over a couple of days and whenever I wasn’t reading I was thinking about the book and wanting to get back to reading it. Typical of a book from this author this book is twisty and tugs you emotionally – I loved the way I kept thinking I had worked out what was behind the story and then quickly realised I still wasn’t right.

One thing I really liked about this book was its structure. The story is told in a non-linear manner, the jumps in time are seamless and work brilliantly. On top of this the story is a continual stream and whilst initially I found this a bit unusual (I’m very much a read to the end of the chapter type of reader) the more I read the more I loved it and the more I felt it served the story well. This is a stunning book, definitely one of my best of 2015.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. Random House Children’s Publishing.
This is a fantastic debut novel with a truly brilliant concept – Cara and her family suffer dreadful accidents for a month each year, serious accidents that involve hospital visits and necessitate the removal of anything potentially dangerous from the home. The story follows the characters as they enter this year’s accident season and explore both what is happening to them and why it might be happening.

This is a really difficult book to review as the twists and turns and reveals are so deftly handled and I desperately don’t want to give even the tiniest hint away. I really recommend this book, I’m looking forward to re-reading it with the knowledge I picked up while I read it for the first time.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten. Electric Monkey.
Some books start great and then lose something along the way, sadly for me this was one of those books. The book begins by introducing us to the main characters in what appears to be a fairly standard contemporary novel. Part way through big twists and reveals change the course of the book and this for me was where I found myself disconnecting from what I was reading. I don’t mind big reveals or twists if they feel like they’ve been coming all along but in this book they just don’t work that way unfortunately and I found the more I read the less I was actually invested in what was happening.

Sister, Sister by Jess Bright. Oxford University Press.
This book grabbed my attention with its title – there was an American tv show with the same title back in the 1990s. When I read the synopsis, that the book was about a girl who suddenly discovers a whole family she doesn’t know that includes a half-sister who is seriously ill I was really intrigued to see how the story would work, particularly for the tween audience it appeared to be aimed at. Very quickly after I started reading I became impressed – this continued for the entirety of the book.

Willow, the main character, was easy to identify with – particularly with her love of writing. I clearly remember how much I loved reading about characters who liked to write too, this book would have been a very easy sell to younger me. I thought she was a very real character, she reacts to the situations she’s experiencing in what feels like a very genuine manner – her life is turned upside down and at times she doesn’t handle it brilliantly, I like it when authors allow characters to be real. There are strong themes in this book of friendship and of family, and of the overlap between the two. This is a debut novel and an accomplished one at that, Jess has revealed the cover of her new book this week – based on the synopsis I’m already looking forward to it!

Homecoming Ranch by Julia London. Montlake Romance.
I’m a long time fan of contemporary romance, if I see one that has some reference to a ranch in the title or blurb chances are I’ll be clicking buy before I’ve stopped to think about it. This was one such purchase.

The book is not narrated by one of the main characters but instead one of the supporting cast. This seemed like an interesting choice, it didn’t necessarily always make that much sense as a choice but I found that I quickly forgot about this most of the time while I was reading.

The main plot focuses on Madeleine and Luke, she is one of three half sisters who’ve recently inherited the ranch in question and he is one of the family whose home it used to be. They naturally butt heads immediately, and continue to do so for much of the book. They both have other things going on in their lives – this makes their story work even better and makes them more rounded characters. I enjoyed this book and am glad that there are follow up books featuring the other sisters – I think they’ll be automatic purchases too!

Book Review · Vlogs

My January 2015 Reads.

I’ve mentioned before that I wanted to do something different with how I approached reviewing and the cat’s finally out of the bag, I’ve decided to switch primarily to vlog reviews. It’s an idea I’ve been toying with for ages but I know YouTube can be a pretty toxic place (I’ve had friends receive some really unpleasant comments on their videos) so I wanted to take the time to be sure I definitely wanted to do it.

The plan at the moment is that I’ll do a monthly vlog where I review all of the books I’ve read. In the future I may well increase the frequency of my vlogs but I want to keep things manageable whilst I get to grips with recording and editing etc.

I recorded January’s wrap up on Monday, after a couple of false starts it was pretty smooth sailing though I must warn you I do talk quite a lot. When I rewatched it with a view to making it shorter I found that I didn’t feel like cutting anything out so I’ve decided to own my wordiness.

The books I review are (with the approximate times I start talking about them):

  • Heat Wave by Richard Castle. Titan Books. (2:35)
  • Love Hurts edited by Malorie Blackman. Random House Children’s Books. (4:20)
  • A Hero at the End of the World by Erin Claiborne. Big Bang Press. (12:00)

I had a lot of fun recording this video, I’m already looking forward to February’s!

My copies of Love Hurts and A Hero at the End of the World were provided by the publisher for review consideration. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

PoP: Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard by Steve Cole & Bruce Ingman and Too Hot to Hug! By Steve Smallman & Cee Biscoe.

PoP Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard by Steve Cole & Bruce Ingman (illustrator). Random House Children’s.
GoToSleepIt is Joe and Ellie’s bedtime. But Joe and Ellie are not in bed.

The New Babysiteer has one last trick up her sleeve: “Go to sleep – or I let loose the LEOPARD!”

But she couldn’t, she wouldn’t… would she?

A hilarious going-to-bed book with a twist in the tail!

I’d heard good things about this book so when I saw it in the library I grabbed it. I must admit that to begin with I was wondering what I was missing, and then it got better and better and the last few pages were just downright brilliant. I don’t want to say too much about the plot – the blurb refers to there being a twist and it’s definitely one worth leaving unspoilt. It was definitely one I thoroughly appreciated and one I could imagine sharing with a young audience for the first time. I think lots of parents will enjoy sharing this book with their children who are reluctant to go to bed – its message works really nicely.

The illustrations in the book are really interesting, within the same picture some elements are fully coloured, some are line drawings with white middles and others are line drawings against whatever the background colour is. Whilst I found it interesting I wouldn’t say it was really to my personal tastes. I did however very much like the use of typography within the book, there are lots of different font sizes and formats to add to the reading experience, these all work really well.

Too Hot to Hug! by Steve Smallman & Cee Biscoe (illustrator). Little Tiger Press.
TooHotToHugWhen Rupert finds a golden egg, he takes it home to show to Mum and Dad. Then suddenly: Tap! Tap! Crack! out hatches a baby fire dragon!

From then on, Crumpet the dragon is Rupert’s best friend. But soon Crumpet starts to grow. And as he grows, he gets … HOTTER!

I was drawn to this book by its beautiful cover, when I looked closer and saw that the cute dragon was crying I knew I had to take it home with me. I have to say it’s an even cuter story than I’d expected, definitely the sort of book I want to hug after reading. The story follows Rupert, whilst trying to find firewood to keep his family warm he instead finds a glowing, warm egg that soon becomes Crumpet the baby fire dragon. Seeing how Crumpet settles in to family life is just lovely, and when things go wrong you find yourself willing them to find a good solution.

Cee Biscoe’s illustrations add a lot to the reading experience. They have a softness to them that makes them very appealing, and the use of colour throughout is excellent. I particularly loved the way Crumpet seemed to glow right off the page and the way his expressions are drawn. I think I’d quite like my own Crumpet, particularly now I know what to do when a fire dragon gets too hot!

Both books featured in this post were borrowed from my local library.

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.