Book Review

Book Review: Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton.

StarringKittySometimes the greatest love stories happen behind the scenes…

Kitty’s keeping secrets. Like how she’s struggling to cope with her mum’s illness. And how she’s falling for the girl with the purpley-red hair… A fun film competition with her friends Sunny and Hannah seems like the perfect distraction. But then Dylan wants to be more than Kitty’s secret. Is Kitty ready to let her two worlds meet or will she risk losing Dylan forever?

Starring Kitty is the first in a new series about first love and friendship by much-loved teen author Keris Stainton.

I have known Keris for a long time now, quite a while before her debut novel Della Says OMG! was published. I’ve read and enjoyed each book that she has written, you can see my review of Jessie Hearts NYC. When I heard about her new series for Catnip Publishing, focusing on three friends who enter a film making competition, I thought it sounded wonderful. Starring Kitty is the first book in this series, and it completely lived up to my expectations.

Kitty, the star of this book, is 14. It’s hard enough being a teenager but she has other things to worry about. Firstly there’s her mum, she has Multiple Sclerosis and Kitty is trying to cope with how this has changed her family life. I thought the way this subject was covered was excellent, having a close family member with a chronic, disabling illness has such an impact and this was explored thoroughly and thoughtfully. I particularly liked that Kitty’s feelings are negative at times, I think this is really important.

The other major thing in Kitty’s life is her first, fledgling romance. We learn at the very beginning of the book that she has feelings for someone, but that someone is a girl not a boy. This aspect of the story is just lovely, it’s tentative and cute and everything first love should be. Kitty is still becoming confident in her own self and her own identity, this leads her to make some decisions about her relationship that we the reader can see are not for the best, but they feel entirely understandable.

Kitty is an excellent main character, I really loved her friendship with Sunny and Hannah. I’m very glad that this is a beginning of a series and that the subsequent books will be from their perspectives – I really want to get to know them even better. One of my favourite relationships in the book only features a couple of times, it’s between Kitty and her brother Tom who is away at university in London. I loved well written sibling relationships and theirs is wonderful.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is growing stronger and stronger at the moment. This is a great example of a diverse book, some of the characters happen to fall in to minority groups but they are never defined by these characteristics, instead being fully rounded and allowed to just be.

The next book in the series Spotlight on Sunny comes out next Spring, I can’t wait to read it!

Starring Kitty is published by Catnip Publishing in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

Book Review: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith.

TGoYaMOwen and Lucy are stuck in a life. As they await help, they start talking…

Though brief, the time they spend together leaves a mark. And as their lives take them to Edinburgh and San Francisco, to Prague and to Portland they can’t shake the memory of the time they shared. Postcards cross the globe when they themselves can’t, as Owen and Lucy experience the joy – and pain – of first love.

As each makes their separate journey in search of home, they will discover that sometimes it is a person rather than a place that anchors you most in the world.

I absolutely love Jennifer E Smith’s books. I’ve previously reviewed The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and This Is What Happy Looks Like – both were the sort of books that made my heart feel like it was singing. The synopsis for this new book made me think I was in for another treat, what could be better than a romance blossoming out of being trapped in a lift?

This book is slightly different to the ones I’ve mentioned, with the romance element having more of a slow burn quality. It’s gorgeous and wonderful and I found myself entirely wrapped up in the characters and their lives very quickly. The first part of the book introduces us to our main characters, Lucy and Owen, first with them stuck in the lift and then with them working out how to spend the time whilst the power cut causing the blackout is resolved. Their lives then pull them apart physically, and to an extent emotionally – though never once did I believe that these distances wouldn’t be bridged (yes, I’m a hopeless romantic).

I love the way the author creates characters we can really care about, Lucy and Owen are no different. Both of them are quite isolated in their own way, Lucy because her parents spend much of their time travelling abroad, and Owen because his father is trying to work out how to make a life for them since the death of Owen’s mother. I found it interesting to see how both of these family circumstances were explored, they’re not just convenient plot devices to remove the adults from the book – whilst they may not be all that present the parents are definitely felt in this book and their far from uncommon situations are handled deftly and thoughtfully.

Travel in books is a sure fire winner for me, both Lucy and Owen spend part of the book travelling. I particularly enjoyed Owen’s travel in the USA – he visits a few places I haven’t seen in books before and I love getting to experience new places through the eyes of characters.

This is a highly satisfying read. I would say though that unless you’re the sort of reader who reads a few pages at a time and then puts a book down you’ll probably want to start this book at a time when you can read and read and read. This is not an easy book to walk away from, you’re so quickly drawn into it and don’t want to leave the characters for any longer than you must.

The Geography of You and Me is published by Headline in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: TimeBomb by Scott K. Andrews.

TimebombNew York City, 2141: Yojana Patel throws herself off a skyscraper, but never hits the ground.

Cornwall, 1640: gentle young Dora Predennick, newly come to Sweetclover Hall to work, discovers a badly-burnt woman at the bottom of a flight of stairs. When she reaches out to comfort the dying woman, she’s knocked unconscious, only to wake, centuries later, in empty laboratory room.

On a rainy night in present-day Cornwall, seventeen-year-old Kaz Cecka sneaks into the long-abandoned Sweetclover Hall, determined to secure a dry place to sleep. Instead he finds a frightened housemaid who believes Charles I is king and an angry girl who claims to come from the future.

Thrust into the centre of an adventure that spans millennia, Dora, Kaz and Jana must learn to harness powers they barely understand to escape not only villainous Lord Sweetclover but the forces of a fanatical army… all the while staying one step ahead of a mysterious woman known only as Quil.

I am always on the look out for more time travel in books so the synopsis for this one definitely grabbed my attention. That the three main characters all came from distinctly different time periods added to the interest for me – this was surely going to add another layer to the story.

The story begins by introducing each of the main characters whilst they’re still in their own time, before they’ve made their first journey in time. Very quickly the time travel element is brought in, and the three are brought together. I was really pleased that when it comes to the time travel they’re all as clueless as each other, obviously their life experiences are hugely different so being in each other’s times is difficult for each in turn but the actual time travel concept is new to them all.

After the early part of the book has them in a future setting much of the action takes place in Dora’s time. This works really well, she still has the challenges of being around people whose frames of reference are so different to her own but doesn’t have to deal that much with the world itself looking and working so differently to her own. The historical setting also throws up plenty of challenges for the trio to contend with including the ongoing English Civil War.

The book is told from each of the main characters’ perspectives and occasionally from other characters’. I really liked this, getting to spend time with each of the characters gives the reader time to start to get to know them though their level of development does vary in this first book. Jana in particular remains a little of a mystery – maybe as much because it is she who comes from the future so there’s no easy frame of reference for the reader. I look forward to learning more about her in the next book.

No time travel story would work without a good villain, Quil in this book is no exception. She’s intriguing, she gets the narrative focus at various points during the story which gives us a little insight into her. I have a feeling that the more we get to know her the less traditional villain she’s going to become, hopefully the follow up to this will allow me to understand this feeling!

This is, as I’ve mentioned, the first book in a trilogy. It works well as an opener, there’s a clear story that belongs solely to this book as well as all of the threads that are going to flow into the rest of the series. Well worth a look.

TimeBomb is published by Hodder Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle.

FamousInLoveShe fell in love with him in the books – now she has the chance to star opposite him in the film…

Paige doesn’t think she’s particularly special, but after getting the starring role in a massive film adaptation of the bestselling Locked trilogy, the rest of the world would disagree. Now she’s thrown into the spotlight, and into a world of gossip, rumour and deceit. The only people who know what she’s going through are her two male co-stars, and they can’t stand the sight of each other. Paige knows it’s a mistake to fall in love on the set of a movie, but days of on-screen romance and intensity start to change her mind. The question is, can she keep what happens behind the scenes a secret when the world is watching her every move?

This book feels really current and very relevant, it focuses on Paige a young actress who gets the lead role in the latest YA movie adaptation. She’s done lots of acting locally, but never dreams that she’s going to be successful at the open audition looking for an unknown actress.

The book opens with a prologue that’s set at some point in Paige’s future. She’s already a famous actress at this point but she suggests that all is not as it seems. The story then leaps back to just before she gets the role, and then follows her through the filming of the first movie in the trilogy (like most existing YA movie adaptations the fictional story is a trilogy with fantasy elements and two boys vying for the girl’s attention).

Paige narrates the book, this along with the use of the present tense makes the book feel fresh and draws the reader into Paige’s life. Paige struggles with the transition from regular teenager to lead actress in a film that matters so much to so many fans, whilst this is generally well done she does from time to time come across as unnecessarily angsty.

The author works hard to explain to the reader that Paige isn’t your typical teen, she doesn’t read gossip mags and is happiest hiding in her local bookshop reading screenplays. This is necessary so that when she meets Rainer and Jordan, the two male actors she’ll be filming with, that she doesn’t know anything about them, their pasts or the trouble there has been between them.

There is a section in the book where Paige reflects on her favourite film, one with a makeover reveal scene – she talks at length about how much she loved the way the character becomes beautiful. She experienced a similar sort of makeover and is entirely buoyed by how everyone reacts to her – it made me sad that she bought so firmly into the clothes and make up and image thing. I really wished that she could see how false this was – I didn’t feel like it fitted in with what we knew about Paige either.

Like the fictional YA book that is the focus of the movie being filmed, this book has a love triangle. This lacked some subtlety, the tensions between Rainer and Jordan left me thinking they were both lying and manipulating Paige at points in the book. The ending felt very abrupt, lots of things slotting into place in a very short space of time. I think this was meant to reflect the whirlwind nature of the press commitments for promoting a film, but it didn’t translate so well.

I had lots of quibbles with this book but I did enjoy reading it. It’s certainly not one I’d be rushing to return to, and I won’t be racing to read the subsequent books in the series or the novella of the fictional book being made into a film (yes, the author of this has written and released the book that features in this book under the pseudonym of the fictional author – there’s no easy way to write that). I will more than likely read the later books at some point, if only to find out where the prologue of this book fits. This could have been a great book, but sadly it’s execution just falls a little short of its concept.

Famous in Love is published by Macmillan Children’s Books in the UK from 23rd October 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Shadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan.

ShadowboxerThai martial arts, international crime, celebrity and mythical creatures combine in this masterful new tale of two people facing incredible dangers, from award-winning author Tricia Sullivan.

Nothing she’s faced in the cage will prepare her…

Jade is a young mixed martial arts fighter. When she’s in the cage she dominates her opponents—but in real life she’s out of control.

After she has a confrontation with a Hollywood martial arts star that threatens her gym’s reputation, Jade’s coach sends her to a training camp in Thailand for an attitude adjustment. Hoping to discover herself, she instead uncovers a shocking conspiracy. In a world just beyond our own, a man is stealing the souls of children to try and live forever.

Every now and then I see a book talked about that hooks me instantly, I proceed to read it and love it, and then wonder how on earth I’m going to even attempt to review it. Shadowboxer is one of those books. I never realised I wanted a book about a female fighter as much as I did until I read this book and then it went and exceeded every expectation I didn’t even know I had.

Jade, our main character, is truly awesome. She’s tough talking, tough acting and this has the potential to get her into lots of trouble both inside the cage where she fights and outside it. She has huge potential as a fighter, but she’s angry. So angry, and this is putting that potential at risk – you can’t have a fighter with poor self control. She gets sent to Thailand to focus on training and that’s where the secondary plotline of the book really starts to twist around Jade’s story.

We have another great girl character you see, Mya. The first couple of times we meet her I must admit I was a little lost as to what was going on, there’s a strong mythology feel to her story and it didn’t relate to anything I knew. I had the gut feeling that I just needed to go with it though and this was absolutely right, the more I saw of Mya’s world the more I understood what was going on. Since reading the book I’ve discovered that the story around Mya in particular draws from Thai mythology – I definitely want to read more now and learn about these fascinating stories.

The plot is really exciting, I was warned that once I started reading I wasn’t going to want to stop – this was very accurate. There are plenty of twists and turns and unexpected reveals – there were a couple of things that became apparent about key characters that I really hadn’t expected, though they felt very true to the characters and what we knew about them. It’s really hard to talk about them because you really do need to discover them as you read, I’m looking forward to re-reading the book knowing what I now know.

This book has a really fresh feel to it. It is exciting, energetic and just down right brilliant. I find I can sometimes get a bit lost when reading written fight scenes but in this book there was absolutely no chance of that happening. They’re written really clearly and are very engaging – the author has martial arts experience and this shines through in the writing. The characters leap off the page, they’re well imagined and feel very real. There’s plenty of diversity represented within this book, many of the characters are from different ethnic backgrounds.

I absolutely loved this book, my only sadness was that it had to end. I think I could have read about Jade for a lot longer!

Shadowboxer is published by Ravenstone in the UK from 9th October 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Iron Sky: Dread Eagle by Alex Woolf.

IronSkyThe year is 1845. Since Napoleon’s famous victory at Waterloo, France and Britain have been locked in a long and bloody war for global supremacy. This breathtaking steampunk adventure introduces an alternative 19th century of giant airships soaring through the skies above the English Channel, fantastical, steam-powered automata, aerial steam carriages, floating cities, giant mechanical birds and a new kind of secret agent. Enter the world of Iron Sky…

In this version of reality, an ageing Napoleon is threatening a full-scale invasion of Britain. Opposing him is Sir George Jarrett, head of the Imperial British Secret Service, helped by an all-female team of aerial spies known as the Sky Sisters. The youngest of them is Lady Arabella West. As war clouds loom, airships start to disappear, and rumours spread of a mysterious terror in the skies. Arabella, with the help of her automaton sidekick, Miles, sets out to investigate.

I haven’t read many steampunk books, but those that I have read have been brilliant. When I heard about this new book coming from Alex Woolf I had high hopes, I’d enjoyed everything else of his I’d read and had a feeling that this book was going to be pretty great.

The story takes place over only a short period of time with the bulk of the book occuring in just 3 days. This works really well, keeping the action going and adding a sense of immediacy to the book. After a brief prologue that roots the book firmly into its historical context the plot gets going very quickly. We meet Arabella, our leading lady, as she undertakes a mission in her role as one of the aerial spies Britain is using in its efforts to defeat Napoleon’s efforts to invade once and for all. From the very first pages Arabella’s story is filled with action, this continues throughout much of the book. Whether she is trying to break in to somewhere to acquire information, or lead a reconnaissance mission she has a knack both for getting into and back out of trouble.

Like many reviewers I’m always on the lookout for really great female lead characters. Arabella is most certainly this, and the fact she is one of the Sky Sisters – 5 female aerial spies each with their very own highly specialised skill set was a most welcome discovery. It made me think of two other books I’ve loved in recent years, Code Name Verity and The Beauty Chorus. Whilst all three books feature teams of young women flying planes as part of military efforts they’re all then incredibly different, but I was pleased with the realisation.

In addition to loving Arabella I completely fell for automaton Miles (a Mobile Independent Logical Englishman Simulacrum). I think I’d like my only Miles, his ability to analyse situations instantly and tell you just how bad your plan is would certainly be useful! The other character that really stands out in the book is Commodus Bane. He’s just so completely and utterly awful, I found him really disturbing and found myself trying to hold the book a little further away when he appeared on the pages!

This is a very attractive book. It’s a hardback book with beautiful end pages, a map (I do love a book with a map) and four double-sided glossy gatefold pages covered in design illustrations (for more about how Alex came up with the various airships and other devices make sure you read his brilliant guest post here). It’s clear that a lot of care and attention has been put into this book’s creation and it’s certainly paid off.

My only sadness about this book is that ends just as another really exciting mission is being launched. I’m assuming that this means this isn’t the last we’re seeing of the Sky Sisters, I can’t wait to be able to read more about their adventures!

Iron Sky: Dread Eagle is published by Scribo Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Blog Tour

Blog Tour: Guest Post by Alex Woolf on the steampunk technology in Iron Sky: Dread Eagle.

IronSky

I’m so excited to be welcoming Alex Woolf to my blog today as part of the tour for his new book Iron Sky: Dread Eagle. The rich steampunk world he has created is wonderful, I was really pleased when he agreed to write about how he went about this process. Over to you Alex!

As a child I was fascinated by technology – not exactly by how it worked, or else I might have become an engineer rather than a writer, but more by the way it looked, sounded and smelled. To this day, I still find few sights or sounds more entrancing than the interior of a traditional watch, with all its tiny cogs, gears and springs working together in perfect coordination. And for excitement, nothing can beat a working steam engine with its spinning shafts and terrifying pistons pumping away amid all that heat and steam.

I especially loved the extravagantly inefficient machines of Heath Robinson cartoons, with their many complex moving parts producing something very simple. One of my favourite scenes in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the one featuring Professor Caractacus Potts’ absurdly over-complicated breakfast-making machine.

I must have been a steampunk fan before I even realised it, because these machines are the essence of the genre. What a steampunk machine looks like is ultimately much more important than what it does. It should be extravagant, ingenious and gloriously impractical.

This was my starting point when developing the technology for my steampunk fantasy, Iron Sky: Dread Eagle. Take the eponymous ‘dread eagle’ itself. It’s a steam-powered, steel-feathered flying machine that looks like a giant bird of prey. There is nothing remotely practical or airworthy about it, but in the steampunk world it inhabits, it glides, it soars, it captures airships in its talons, shoots fire from its beak and terrifies all who behold it.

One of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)
One of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)

A machine like the dread eagle is pure fantasy. Because I know that nothing like that could ever exist on Earth, I could play fast and loose with the physics. Other pieces of tech featured in the book are more rooted in reality, while retaining the baroque steampunk look. For example, I had to develop a line of military airships and planes used to fight the war that forms the backdrop to the Iron Sky series. For these ‘aerial steam carriages’ and dirigibles, I’ve stuck pretty close to the actual technology of the 1910s and 1920s, except that the machines are steam- or wind-powered. And of course they look beautiful, with an ornate and slightly gothic Victorian appearance rather than the more streamlined, art deco style of the early 20th century.

The series is set in an alternative 1845. Thirty years earlier, Napoleon unexpectedly won the Battle of Waterloo, and since then Britain and France have been slugging it out for global supremacy. As a result of all this war, technology has boomed and they’ve reached about 1920 or so in terms of technological development – with a few differences. For example, instead of radio waves they’ve discovered this mysterious, invisible fluid called the aether, which allows them long-distance communication.

The aether was a popular theory in Victorian times, and has become a bit of a staple among steampunk writers. The Victorians believed that all the energies and forces we observe, including light, gravity and magnetism, operate within this subtle and universal medium, which they called the luminiferous aether. In my world the aether is much more than a theory: it’s a practical workaday reality. They’ve developed aethercells, which are like radio transmitter-receivers, and ANODE (AetherNet Object Detection Echo) systems instead of radar.

But the aether is useful for much more than communication and detection, as they’re beginning to discover. The French have developed the Aetheric Shield, a device that operates like an invisible forcefield, rendering any airship wearing it invincible, and this is threatening to tip the balance in the long-running war.

Another of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)
Another of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)

No steampunk fantasy would be complete without an automaton, and in Iron Sky we have Miles, the Mobile Independent Logical Englishman Simulacrum. Miles is a three-foot-high metal gentleman, steam-powered of course, and dressed immaculately in frock coat and top hat. A tiny chimney in his hat releases steam (and is useful for me as a writer as a means of expressing his emotions – ‘puffing anxiously’ for example). Miles is the sidekick of our aviator-heroine Lady Arabella West, and he tends to be pessimistic (he would
say ‘logical’) about their chances of survival at any given moment. Apart from his superb analytical engine brain, he has a few hidden accessories, which are gradually revealed as the story progresses. I won’t say what they are, but they do prove useful in getting Arabella out of a number of scrapes.

Whether any of the machines I’ve created for Iron Sky could ever work in practical terms is beside the point. In fact it’s probably better if they couldn’t, because steampunk is not about efficiency or practicality – it’s the very opposite of all that. Steampunk is about the enjoyment of technology for its own sake – the crazier and more spectacular the better. The sense of wonder I experienced as a child at the sight and sound of intricate clocks and infernal engines. That’s steampunk – and that’s what I’ve tried to recreate in this book.

Thank you Alex for such a wonderfully interesting post! I’ll be posting my review of Iron Sky: Dread Eagle later today so do make sure you pop back and read it.