Sunday, 28 February 2010
On the night of February 12th, Sam dies in a car crash on her way home from a party. In one terrible second, an accident takes it all.
The next morning, she wakes up in her own bed. It's February 12th again, and Sam is destined to relive the last day of her life over and over seven times. Before I Fall is the story of those seven days.
Before I Fall is the kind of book that will cause whole afternoons to inexplicably vanish. Once you open it and read those first few pages, that's it. You're inside the story. There's no putting it down, no concentrating on anything else and quite possibly no chance of sleeping until you've reached the end. In fact, it should probably come with a warning. Caution: this book is all-consuming.
If the notion of one character living through the same day over and over has you anticipating boredom and repetition, you can put that fear aside right now. Although certain aspects and events occur more than once, the experience is never the same. Every day is February 12th, but each version of the day is different. We follow Sam as she lives one day to the fullest, does everything she always thought she shouldn't on another, and says heartbreaking goodbyes to the loved ones she's leaving behind. It's like you're looking into a kaleidoscope, witnessing how the tiniest twist transforms everything into sudden beauty or total and terrible collapse. You get the feeling that every single secondary character is alive, with their own backstory and their own agenda and the possibility that something Sam does or doesn't do will change the course of their February 12th too. It's real. And somehow, Lauren Oliver makes it look effortless.
Many of the reviews I've read for this book mention an initial dislike of the MC, fun-loving member of the in-crowd Sam Kingston. It was something I'd been warned about before I read it, and I was therefore fully expecting to hate her at first. As it turned out, I didn't. Sure, she's a little shallow, and seems to be having so much fun being popular that she barely notices if someone else isn't haven't such a great time - but I didn't think she could be blamed for that. After all, there's a difference between accidentally slighting someone and going out of your way to hurt them, right?
A few turns of the kaleidoscope later, and this is just one of the questions that Before I Fall made me reconsider. I've always thought of high school as survivial of the fittest, but when your own social acceptance is this tenuous, is it really okay to turn your back on those who don't fit in? What matters more, the intention behind an action or the effect it has on someone else? Amazingly, Before I Fall manages to prompt the reader to look at their own behaviour and the choices they make without ever straying into that didactic, preachy kind of mode that let's face it, most of us are completely turned off by. Instead, it works by letting the reader come to their own conclusions about what Sam has been a part of and what she can do to fix it.
I can't end this review without talking about the heart-melting love story that you'll find within Before I Fall. Since I don't want to give too much away, all I'll say is that it's a welcome contrast to some of the more melodramatic romances so popular in YA right now. It's a reminder that when it comes to true love, honest and sincere are the qualities we should all be searching for. If you're anything like me, it's also a romance that will break your heart.
Not only is Before I Fall the kind of novel that will fill your waking thoughts while you're reading it, it's one of those that will linger in your mind for weeks to come. It's a journey for the reader as well as Sam herself, and it doesn't stop when you reach the end of that breathtaking last page. It's beautiful, moving and might just change the way you see the world. This one's with you for life.
Out: March 4th 2010, UK / March 2nd 2010, US
Huge thanks to Lauren Oliver for letting me be a part of her international book tour and for loaning me an ARC of her debut novel.
Saturday, 27 February 2010
This week, I've got some super awesome books in my mailbox and a bit of newsy stuff too.
City of Ghosts - Bali Rai
Innocent citizens, trying to escape ghosts from the past, are swept up in violence and tension. They are unaware that, as the fight for Amritsar reaches a terrifying climax, their lives will be changed forever...
I haven't read that much historical fiction, but I love a story with a wartime romance. This sounds like a powerful and moving read.
Solace of the Road - Siobhan Dowd
Summary from book cover: Holly is sick of being told what to do. She's ditching her old life and she's heading off. She puts on her blonde wig, blows herself a kiss and flutters her eyelashes. and now she's ready. She's Solace, Solace of the road.
Somehow, I've never read anything by Siobhan Dowd. I'm a little ashamed of myself for that. But this one sounds just beautiful and I can't wait to read it.
Thank you to Random House UK for sending both review copies this week.
Locomotion - Jacqueline Woodson
Recently, I read my first ever YA verse novel: Lisa Schroeder's I Heart You, You Haunt Me, reviewed right here. I loved it, and I've now got a special wishlist of novels in verse going on. This is my first purchase from that list. I think it falls more into the middle-grade category, but I just love the sound of it.
Growing Yams In London - Sophia Acheampong
Summary from book cover: Makeeda loves her life and her friends in London. Her parents wish she'd spend less time texting her mates and more time finding out about her Ghanaian roots. So when she meets the very fit DJ Nelson, Makeeda starts to break her family's rules. Life gets even more complicated when she falls out with her best friend, Bharti.
Can Makeeda find a way to be true to herself as well as respect her culture?
I picked this one up on Luisa Plaja's recommendation. And yep, if Luisa Plaja said the Yellow Pages was a brilliant read, I'd probably get myself a copy of that too. I'm easily influenced and proud of it.
Jo over at Once Upon A Bookcase posted this week about an idea she'd had for a YA book blogger meet-up in London. Sounds fun, right? So if you're a YA book blogger and you live within schlepping distance of London, why not head over to Once Upon A Bookcase to check out Jo's post here and (I hope) express your interest in attending.
My I Heart You, You Haunt Me contest ends tomorrow, February 28th 2010. If you haven't entered yet and would like the chance to win a copy of this wonderful book, scoot your eyes to my left sidebar where you'll find the contest link.
Friday, 26 February 2010
But this is Woodsville, where nothing is that simple. The locals don't call the place Weirdsville for nothing. And the five soon find themselves caught up in something else altogether. Something that lurks in the shadows on the streets of Woodsville. Something that starts the moment outcast Emily Night says she might just believe in ghosts...
I'm not easily scared by books. I'm not sure why, because when it comes to movies even the lamest ghost story can have me sleeping with the light on for days to come. Since I love being scared, I'm always on the lookout for a YA title that might just manage to creep me out the way a film can. So when I caught sight of some reviews of Rook Hastings' Nearly Departed that claimed this book had genuine scare-power, I couldn't wait to read it.
And actually, Nearly Departed is one of the spookiest YA novels I've read in a long time. Set in and around a rough estate in a UK town known locally as 'Weirdsville', it's packed with the kind of urban-creepy atmosphere that will have readers looking over their shoulders for different reasons the next time they're walking alone down a quiet street. From the moment that five classmates decide to embark on a somewhat sceptical ghost-hunt of one of their homes, this book weaves an insidious shivery spell that will have readers hooked.
As someone who generally prefers books written in the first person, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself taking almost instantly to this particular third person narrative. (I say 'almost', because as usual I could have done without the prologue). The ensemble cast are introduced so extraordinarily well that it's easy to distinguish between them straight away, and most importantly to eventually relate to each and every one of them. Their reactions to Emily's claim that she's experienced supernatural contact are initially just as you'd expect from a bunch of your average streetwise British teenagers, meaning that they're just as sceptical as your average reader. But as the story develops, it soon becomes clear that there's something rotten in the town of Weirdsville and no amount of bravado is going to make it go away.
I have to confess, I did guess this novel's big twist about halfway through - but this didn't make Nearly Departed any less gripping. If anything, it made me want to go back and reread the beginning of the book so I could see just how Rook Hastings managed to pull it off. Although it's not the kind of scary that will give you nightmares, I definitely found myself getting jumpy about sudden noises while I was reading. It's got great pacing, fantastic atmosphere and a slowly building sense of dread that absolutely succeeded in giving me the shivers.
As this is the first in a series, Nearly Departed does set the stage for further tales from Weirdsville - it's clear the group have been brought together for a reason, and it looks like future instalments will see them functioning as a kind of reluctant Scooby Gang - but there's enough closure to this episode to make it a satisfying standalone read. No cliffhanger, but there's a little taster at the end of the book for the next title - and having read it, I can't wait to see what the rest of the series has to offer. It's contemporary, spine-tingling, and a definite win.
Out: 4th February 2010, UK
Big thanks to HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book for review.
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Summary from Amazon.com: Even though he is half dead, Callum is lucky. It is Bo's roboraptor who finds him--not the rogue Outstationers from whom the boy has escaped. But even as Bo nurses Callum back to health, the Outstationers are homing in. The two barely escape capture when Callum discovers something incredible: Bo is a girl, maybe the last girl in a world in which females are thought to be extinct. And now, by helping Callum, she has put her own life at risk. With the Outstationers in hot pursuit, the two set off across a dangerous continent in hopes of finding haven in the city of Vulture's Gate. But nothing can prepare them for what they encounter at the end of their journey.
In this page-turning futuristic novel, a young woman finds out what it means to be living in a world destroyed by war, and a young man discovers that his only chance of survival is to question everything his parents taught him.
Dystopia, adventure and the possible extinction of our species? Why, along with raindrops on roses those are three of my very favourite things. So, how exactly have I not heard of this one before?
I first stumbled upon news of the US publication of Vulture's Gate yesterday, but my trusty friend the internet tells me that it's been out in Australia since last year. America gets an official release on March 15th 2010. Sadly, I haven't managed to unearth any sign of a UK publication yet but I am not giving up hope.
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
In other words, things are going pretty well for the Little Women. Which can mean only one thing: tragedy is lurking around the next corner.
The family receive a telegram informing them that Mr March, who is away serving with the army, has been taken seriously ill. The sisters are distraught, and Marmee decides at once that she'll go to her husband's bedside. Not so easy, when you don't own a carriage and health insurance hasn't been invented yet.
Determined to help, Jo slips out while the preparations are being made for Marmee's journey, and returns some time later with twenty five dollars to help make sure her father is comfortable. Twenty five dollars she got by selling all her hair to the barber.
You know what? Jo March is made of awesome. She couldn't care less that she's walking around with a bristly head, as long as she does the best for her family. And despite the fact that Jo revels in being a tomboy, I'm still impressed and so are the Marches. Because as someone points out in all the commotion, that hair was her one beauty. Note: LMA doesn't tell us exactly which sister drops that gem, but I know who my money's on.
So off goes Marmee to the frontline, and the sisters are left alone. And that's when tragedy strikes. Because Mr March's illness and possibly impending death? That's not the half of it.
In Marmee's absence, saintly Beth is the only March sister who can spare the time to visit the Hummels (the poor German family the girls gave their breakfasts to last Christmas). Whilst tending to their sick baby, Beth contracts the dreaded scarlet fever. Pretty soon, it's beginning to look as though the saintliest March might not make it.
Still, it's not bad for everyone. In all the turmoil, Meg and Jo decide to send Amy to stay with Aunt March so she doesn't get sick. She refuses to budge at first, but is eventually talked round by Laurie, who eventually promises that he'll come and take her out every single day. Is it just me, or does anyone else smell foreshadowing?
Monday, 22 February 2010
She's also just decided to wear the hijab full-time. That means on the bus, out shopping, and basically whenever she's around men outside of her family. And yes, to her posh private school.
Amal knows it's going to take guts, and she's prepared for that. It's 100% her choice, but that doesn't mean it's going to be 100% easy...
Does My Head Look Big In This? is chicklit to make you think. It's the story of an ordinary sixteen year old girl finding the courage to live according to her beliefs, despite the prejudice she encounters on the way. It's about friendship, faith and being true to yourself.
Amal's story is a very personal one, and in my opinion that's one of the novel's main strengths. Amal is just one character, and the book makes it very clear that she can't possibly represent every Muslim girl in the Western world. In Amal, Randa Abdel-Fattah has created a protagonist it's impossible not to like - determined, witty and occasionally given to those attacks of self-doubt that we all go through. She's the kind of character who'll make you boil with shared frustration one minute and choke yourself laughing the next. There's also the potential for the occasional tear, particularly during the scenes where Amal attempts to befriend her elderly next-door neighbour. Don't let the upbeat opening fool you - this book is certainly laugh-out-loud funny at times, but it also has real emotional and intellectual depth.
One of my favourite aspects of this novel is its treatment of Amal's relationship with her crush Adam. There's a great spark between them and the way that their friendship develops is natural and believable. Before I knew it, I was rooting for the two of them to get together and very nearly forgetting the conflict that this would cause with Amal's religious beliefs about relationships before marriage. I don't want to give too much away about how this storyline unfolds, but I will say that it's as bittersweet as it is thoughtful.
Ultimately, it's the message within this novel that will ensure it has a lasting impression on those who read it. It's never preachy, and Randa Abdel-Fattah addresses the issues at hand with a light and engaging touch. There's a scene in the story where Amal is turned down for a part-time job - despite having relevant experience - because her hijab means that as far as the guy hiring is concerned, her face doesn't fit. Although she feels the injustice of this, she still has faith that somewhere out there will be a person who won't judge her like that. A person who will look at her skills and qualifications first, and without prejudice. I think Does My Head Look Big In This? might just encourage readers to try to be that kind of person, no matter what race or religion they are. Above all else, it's hopeful, and that's got to be a good thing. I'd recommend it to anybody.
Sunday, 21 February 2010
Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide - William Hussey
From book cover: An Ancient Evil Walks Again. Witches exist. The Demontide is coming. Jake Harker is the only one who can stop it.
The cover of this one warns of 'Extremely Scary Content' inside. It's the first in a new trilogy by a UK author and it sounds dark. Have I mentioned I love dark?
Plus, there's a book trailer on the official website that, as Buffy would say, totally gives me the wig. You can go here to watch it.
Thanks to Galactus for sending the review copy of this one.
Perfect Chemistry - Simone Elkeles
From book cover: Brittany Ellis seems to have it all; wealthy parents, the perfect boyfriend and the "right" group of friends. But when Brittany is forced to become lab partner with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the wrong side of town, her perfect life starts to unravel. Alex is a bad boy, and he knows it, so when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it.
But as Alex and Brittany grow closer, sparks begin to fly and they both realise that sometimes appearances can be deceptive. Will their emerging feelings be enough to keep them together when the world is determined to tear them apart?
I've heard great things about Simone Elkeles, so I'm pretty thrilled with this one!
Big thanks to Simon and Schuster UK here.
Uglies, Pretties and Specials - Scott Westerfeld
From my Westerfeld-worshipping mind: New covers alert! Set in a dystopian future where all sixteen year olds undergo an operation to make them pretty, the Uglies series ticks every box for me. I've already read the original trilogy and the later companion book, Extras, many times over. However, that was before I started blogging, so I've never reviewed any of them. I just love these new covers. Bubbly, aren't they?
Simon and Schuster UK, you made my week with these.
So, what did everyone else get in their mailbox this week?
Saturday, 20 February 2010
Allie the Outcast is one Afterlight who doesn't want to forget. She's determined to skinjack her way back to her family - or sink to the centre of the Earth trying.
Nick the Chocolate Ogre doesn't think the Afterlights should be in Everlost at all. He's found a way to get them into the light - a bucketful of the coins all new Afterlights awake with.
Mary Hightower, the most powerful of all Afterlights, is determined to stop Nick in his tracks. She's content in Everlost, worshipped by her followers and extending her empire further every day. She won't surrender that to anyone, no matter what they mean to her...
Everwild is a triumphant return to the world we were first introduced to in Everlost. It follows the journeys of old favourites as they encounter new allies and enemies, pursue their destinies and prepare for war. Secrets are revealed, hearts are broken and afterlives are lost. In other words, it's epic.
Calling to mind J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, the Everlost series is a major achievement in world-building. Shusterman has created a new Neverland for the YA market - it's dangerous, twisted, and every bit as captivating. It's a world where the rules makes sense even though they're different to ours, and where there are plenty of jaw-dropping mysteries just waiting to be uncovered. As in Everlost, the afterlights who inhabit this world are shaped by what they best remember of their living selves: so Nick, who died with a smudge of chocolate on his face and subsequently became the Chocolate Ogre, is gradually being physically consumed by the stuff. New character Zin, who disguised herself as a boy to take part in the Civil War, can't take her cap off - because it's how she remembers herself. It's fascinating to see how Shusterman takes this device to its logical conclusion, and it makes for a truly unique cast of characters quite unlike those I've met in any other series.
In Everwild, Shusterman raises the stakes and lets us in on some of Everlost's darkest secrets. We learn more about skinjacking (the practice of an afterlight possessing the body of a living fleshie) and ecto-ripping (taking items from the living world) as well as the relationship between Everlost and our world. Our focus alternates between the lead characters, following their separate journeys. My personal favourite was Allie's journey to locate the family she left behind, but the other characters' journeys were almost as compelling, often dark, and frequently brightened by the new players they meet along the way.
Perhaps unusually for YA fiction, Shusterman has chosen to use an all-seeing third person narrative for this series. And when I say all-seeing, I mean it - the narrative warns us when a character doesn't have all the facts, tells us things they will never know, and lets us in on thoughts and feelings they haven't admitted to themselves yet. The voice is distinctive, engaging and dryly humorous.
Despite these minor gripes, Everwild is a satisfying read. Those who enjoyed Everlost can be confident that this instalment is more of the same. Newcomers to the series should read Everlost first, but will want to consider having Everwild on hand to read straight after. This trilogy is shaping up to be Neal Shusterman's finest work so far.
Out: February 4th 2010, UK / November 10th 2009, US
Many thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for sending me a copy of this book to review.
Thursday, 18 February 2010
Congratulations to both, and a great big thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for giving me the opportunity to host this exciting giveaway.
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
This week, I'm waiting on...
Alice In Time by Penelope Bush.
From publishers' website: If you could revist your past, what would you see?
Things are at crisis point for fourteen-year-old Alice. Her mum is ruining her life, her dad's getting remarried, and Sasha, the most popular girl in school, hates her guts . . .
Then a bizarre accident happens, and Alice finds herself re-living her life as a seven-year-old through teenage eyes – and discovering some awkward truths. But can she use her new knowledge to change her own future?
I am one hundred percent loving this premise. But that's hardly surprising, since I'm a huge fan of those movies where a character gets to fast-forward or rewind their life and be going on thirty, seventeen once more, or just plain big. Sounds super fun, right?
Since I'm better known as Princess Impatience, I was thrilled to discover that this one won't be too long in the waiting. UK readers can expect Alice In Time in April 2010, and I'm one UK reader who is counting the days.
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
But then news reaches Molly's family that her grandmother may have died. Molly's mother is worried that her estranged father is down in Oregon all alone, so she asks Molly to embark on a dangerous journey into post-Collapse America to bring him home to them. A difficult mission for any sixteen year old, but in 2041 it might just be impossible...
In Restoring Harmony Joëlle Anthony has created a world that reminds us just how fragile our high tech, high maintenance lives really are. All it takes is the oil to run out, and our society is on the verge of the same kind of collapse that main character Molly's went through in 2031. Without our cars and delivery trucks and plane travel, where are we? The answer, according to Restoring Harmony, is that we're exactly where we were before we had these things, and at first glance it's not pretty. Worst (or perhaps best) of all, it's an incredibly plausible situation, with that 'this could really happen' quality that makes post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels as terrifying as they are addictive.
Calling to mind the America of the Great Depression, Molly's world is an unusual one for this type of story. It's rife with organised crime, black market trading, and corrupt authorities. It's a strange hyrid of the old and the new, this world where the country's bridges fall from disrepair but gangsters have the option to password protect their souped up weapons. It's a surprisngly Al Capone take on a dystopian society, but somehow it just works.
As a protagonist, Molly is as likeable as she is plucky. It's especially intriguing to accompany such an unworldly character into a landscape like post-Collapse America - her mistakes are ones her street-wise readers probably wouldn't make, but her triumphs are totally the product of her island upbringing. Her love of the violin is an integral part of her character, and makes for some of the story's most moving moments as Molly establishes a bond with her piano-playing grandfather and tries to convince him to come back to Canada with her. She's also got her own brand of smarts, making her the kind of heroine you can't help crossing your fingers for.
At the heart of Restoring Harmony, there's also love. Against the backdrop of desperate times, the chemistry between Molly and the mysterious Spill is fragile but sweet. It's the kind of romance that creeps up on the reader as much as the characters. It feels honest and inevitable, as though the author has created two living, breathing characters who then fall in love of their own accord. As dystopian fiction goes, I don't often have call to describe a novel as uplifting - but ultimately that's exactly what this one is.
Restoring Harmony is a dystopia with heart. This means that while there's plenty to enthrall hardcore fans of the genre, newcomers to dystopia will find also it accessible and reader-friendly. It's an epic story of family, courage and a classic Studebaker. If you're looking for a page-turner with bags of charm, look no further. This one's the real deal.
Out: May 13th, 2010, US.
Many thanks to Joëlle Anthony for lending me an ARC of her fantastic debut novel.
Sunday, 14 February 2010
Dark Life - Kat Falls
Many, many thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for the proof copy!
Vampirates: Empire of Night - Justin Somper
From book cover: Sidorio, fuelled by grief and revenge, is intent on becoming King of the Vampirates and building a new empire to bring terror to the oceans. But he faces growing opposition from both the Pirate Federation and from the more benign vampirate realm, led by Mosh Zu and Lorcan Furey.
Twins Grace and Connor Tempest, still reeling from the recent discovery of their true parentage and its explosive implications, are thrust deep into the heart of the conflict. As old friends and foes are thrown together unexpectedly, the twins find their allegiances shifting in ways no-one could ever have imagined...
I haven't read a Vampirates novel before, but vampire pirates? Hell yeah.
Thanks again to Simon and Schuster UK.
Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
From book cover: From her first moment at Merryweather High, Melinda Sordino knows she's an outcast. Her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't know glare at her. If only she could explain... but she just can't find the words.
I bought a lovely second-hand copy of this one after writer Cat Clarke recommended it on her blog. She has great taste in biscuits, so I figure she probably chooses great books too.
The Returners - Gemma Malley
From book cover: Will may be many things - friendless, unhappy, a loner - but he isn't paranoid. People are following him and they claim to know him. He can't remember them, at least not at first. And when he does, he doesn't like what he remembers.
Will discovers that he has a past far deeper than most, and the struggle to break free of the powerful hold that history has on him may well become a struggle for death over life.
Gemma Malley rocks. Fact. The Returners was my first ever Waiting On Wednesday pick, and even though my TBR pile is out of control right now I just couldn't wait any longer to buy this. Even if I can't read it right now, I can still hoard it.
Saturday, 13 February 2010
Surrounded by well-meaning family and friends, but alone all the same. Because it's not them she wants, it's Jackson. She wants him back more than anything.
And then, somehow, she has him back. His presence in her house, the whisper of his voice in the air.
She loves him. He haunts her.
I wasn't sure what to expect from a YA novel written in verse, so I picked up I Heart You, You Haunt Me with a certain degree of trepidation. On one hand, I hoped that the writing would be beautiful and that it would open my eyes to a whole new way of experiencing YA literature. On the other, I feared mushy greeting-card tweeness or the possibility of just not getting it. Having read the novel twice through in a couple of days, I'm happy to say that it was everything I hoped it would be and more.
In I Heart You, You Haunt Me Lisa Schroeder gives us a wonderfully crafted, touching story told in a series of poems. It's evocative, bittersweet and as haunting as the title would lead you to hope. This slim volume is a quick read but still manages to achieve a sense that the reader has been on a journey with the narrator. Like poetry? You'll love this. Don't think you like poetry? Don't be so sure. This isn't the flowery, overblown variety you might be thinking of. It's accessible, it's real and it speaks to your heart.
Our narrator is fifteen year old Ava, lost and consumed by grief. She's also suffering from guilt - about the circumstances of Jackson's death, which are gradually revealed to us throughout the novel, and about living her life when the boy she loves has lost his. As she shares her innermost thoughts with us, we learn about the dreams that haunt her and even the favourite songs that resonate with her. Schroeder tells Ava's story with a voice that is absolutely believable as that of a fifteen year old, and that makes I Heart You, You Haunt Me an incredibly uplifting and enjoyable read.
I would recommend I Heart You, You Haunt Me to any reader. It fills my heart with gladness that this kind of book exists: it's unique and brave writing that swims against the tide. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more YA novels written in verse, and I'll be picking up Lisa Schroeder's Far From You and Chasing Brooklyn in the very near future. I'd urge everyone to give this one a go. It's just beautiful.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
So... what do we all think of the US cover? I'm loving it, and of course I'm bubbling over with excitement about what the UK cover will look like. Any predictions? Feel free to share.
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
This week I'm waiting on...
Little Women and Werewolves by Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand
Summary from publisher's website: A literary landmark—the original, suppressed draft of the classic novel!
Little Women is a timeless classic. But Louisa May Alcott’s first draft—before her editor sunk his teeth into it—was even better. Now the original text has at last been exhumed. In this uncensored version, the March girls learn some biting lessons, transforming from wild girls into little women—just as their friends and neighbors transform into vicious, bloodthirsty werewolves!
Here are tomboy Jo, quiet Beth, ladylike Amy, and good-hearted Meg, plus lovable neighbor Laurie Laurence, now doomed to prowl the night on all fours, maiming and devouring the locals. As the Civil War rages, the girls learn the value of being kind, the merits of patience and grace, and the benefits of knowing a werewolf who can disembowel your teacher.
By turns heartwarming and blood-curdling, this rejuvenated classic will be cherished and treasured by those who love a lesson in virtue almost as much as they enjoy a good old-fashioned dismemberment.
Includes the original letter from Alcott’s editor, telling her not to even think about it!
I've been rereading Louisa May Alcott's classic novel recently, and it has struck me that although the story is plenty heartwarming there's just not enough supernatural. Actually, there is no supernatural. I know, right? Missed opportunity.
I know there have been a lot of these classic/supernatural mash-ups released in the last year or so, but I'm finding this one way more intriguing than any other so far. I mean, it's Little Women! With werewolves! Does any part of that not sound awesome?
This one's set to hit bookstore shelves on the 4th May 2010 in the US. No news yet on a UK release, but I think this book needs one.
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Later in the year finally arrives, and Meg is packed off to the Moffats' house with an unfashionable umbrella and only one ball dress. Rolling with a rich crowd suits her, and she soon finds herself putting on airs and graces, such as talking about fashion and using the occasional French phrase. Ooh la la!
Unlike the March girls, the Moffat sisters are not saintly. They're gossipy, they're vain, and they use French phrases a whole lot. If this were a teen movie, they'd be giving Meg a hot girl makeover and making her look like a tramp. But this is Little Women, and... no, my mistake... that is what they do. Except minus the movie makeover montage and the Hillary Duff backing track.
So on the night of the Moffats' big party, Meg is all tarted up in a low cut dress with crimped hair. Not only that, but the dress? French. (I'm sensing some xenophobia here, Louisa May, and I can't say I like it.) The Moffats have also invited Laurie to the party, because they know that Meg's family have fallen on hard times and they think Marmee is out to snag richboy next door for her eldest daughter. For the record, they don't think this is a bad thing: after all, poor girls don't stand a chance unless they 'put themselves forward'.
I've always liked Laurie, but at this party he annoys the hell out me. He's all judgemental at Meg because she's showing her shoulders and like, is wearing her hair crimped. So he acts like he's just busted her working as an exotic dancer, and does Meg tell him to shove it? No, she practically hangs her head in shame and begs him not to tell her mother. Personally, I think he might be right about the hair, but the moral lecture? Not cool.
So a few days later, Meg returns to the March homestead feeling like a piece of trash, and fesses all to Marmee. Tearfully she admits that the Moffats made her up like a fashion plate and gossiped about Mrs March having 'plans' for her and Laurie. Marmee instantly forgives Meg - of course she does, she's Marmee and she's the perfect mother - and points out that the gossip was total BS. All she wants is for her daughters to be happy, and she'd rather they were happy old maids than miserable queens.
You know what? Mrs March may be a little too good to be true at times, but she's got the right idea. Little Women was first published just 50 years after Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and here's Marmee putting Mrs Bennett to shame with her progressive attitudes to her daughters' futures. Why, it's almost like she thinks her daughters are people in their own right. Go, Marmee!
Monday, 8 February 2010
And someone really wants Reed dead. If she doesn't find out who pretty quick, they might just get their wish...
Out: February 4th 2010, UK / September 9th 2009, US
Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book.
Sunday, 7 February 2010
The Time Travel books that inspired me to write ‘The Puzzle Ring’I used to love reading time travel adventures when I was a child. They were one of my favourite genres of fiction, and I’ve always wanted to write one.
When I first began daydreaming about the story that would become ‘The Puzzle Ring’, it seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to finally write that time travel story. As part of my research into writing the book, I went back and revisited some of my favourite time travel books, interested by how they managed the slippage back in time, and articulating some of the difficulties a contemporary child would have in what is essentially a foreign world.
Here is a list of my favourite time travel books for those of you who want to go on and read more ...
1906 - Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill
I loved this book when I was about 11, reading it over and over while I was on holiday at my great-aunt’s one year. My nickname was Puck for a long time afterwards. It is about a brother and sister who met the mischievous Puck of Pook’s Hill, and he magically transports them into different periods of English history. At one point I thought of structuring ‘The Puzzle Ring’ in the same way, but in the end I decided to choose just one favourite period of history – the last winter in the tragic reign of Mary, Queen of Scots ...
And Rudyard Kipling’s advice to people who want to write: “Gardens are not made by singing "Oh, how beautiful," and sitting in the shade.”
1906 - Edith Nesbit, The Story of the Amulet
This is the last book in the series that begins with Five Children and It (which was made into a movie a few years ago). ‘The Story of the Amulet’ tells of the adventures of the five children as they go back in time to various places like Ancient Egypt, and Atlantis just before it floods. They even go forward in time to a wonderful utopian future. I loved these books, and particularly liked the way each of the characters seemed like real people.
1908 - Edith Nesbit, The House of Arden‘The House of Arden’ has always been my favourite Nesbit novel. It’s about a boy who inherits a crumbling old castle when he is close to his tenth birthday but to his consternation he will only be able to keep it if he can find the lost Arden fortune before his birthday. He and his twin sister and a magical talking creature travel through time searching for the treasure. Like the previous books, they visit many different periods, and it’s tremendously exciting, with lots of encounters with highwaymen and the like. This book was definitely a very strong influence on me, particularly when I first began to conceive the story of ‘The Puzzle Ring’.
1939 - Alison Uttley, A Traveller In Time
Another favourite book from my childhood, this book tells the story of Penelope, who slips back and forth between her own time (1930s England) and Elizabethan times. This novel was one of the things which first began my fascination with Mary, Queen of Scots, because in this novel the house, Thackers, is owned by the Babington family, who famously tried and failed to rescue the Scottish queen while she was imprisoned by her cousin, Elizabeth I.
1954 - Lucy Boston, The Children of Green KnoweNot many people have read Lucy Boston anymore which I think is such a shame. I loved this book as a child, and loved it just as much when I read it again while writing ‘The Puzzle Ring’. It’s very different from the other books, being quieter and more reflective, and young hero Tolly never actually goes back in time. Instead, his great- grandmother Mrs Oldknowe tells him vivid, exciting stories about the past which seem to imbue the house with the spirits of the past. There is a sense of the past being always with us, and the house and garden itself worked itself deep into my imagination. It was based on Lucy Boston’s own house, The Manor, in Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire, which was built in the 1130s and lays claim to the oldest continually inhabited house in the UK. Part of me still longs to live in a house filled with ghosts of the past. The BBC made a TV series based on the book.
This is what I try and do too.
1958 - Philippa Pearce, Tom's Midnight Garden
‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ won the Carnegie Medal in 1958, and is considered one of the great classics of English children’s literature. I think it is utterly enchanting, and perfect in every way. It’s one of those books that stay with you forever after.
Tom is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in a boarding house when his brother gets measles. Bored to tears, he has nothing to do and wishes the old house had a garden in which he could play. That night he hears the old grandfather clock in the hallway downstairs strike thirteen, and runs downstairs to investigate. He finds the hallway opening on to the most wonderful garden, and explores it in absolute delight. Soon he meets a girl called Hattie, who he discovers lived there in the 19th century. She thinks Tom is a ghost, while he thinks she is – they argue about it and it makes Tom uneasy. As the days pass, Hattie grows up while Tom stays the same. The time comes for Tom to go home, but he doesn’t want to go – the midnight garden as become more real, more important to him than his real life. The ending is one of the most perfectly executed and moving moments in children’s literature – I feel the catch of breath, the sting of tears, every time I read it.
An amusing anecdote: when Philippa Pierce went to Buckingham Palace to collect her OBE, the Queen asked her, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ To which, Phillipa Pierce replied ‘Harrods.’ I just love that.
1966 - William Mayne, Earthfasts
I did not read this book as a child, but bought it over the internet while I was writing ‘The Puzzle Ring’ as it has been called a classic time travel adventure. Its quite different from any of the books above. It is set in contemporary times (well, in the late 1960s anyway), and tells the story of two boys who hear drumming under the hill and set out to investigate. Then a boy from the 18th century unexpectedly marches out of the from under the hill and out of his own time. The boys try and help him to go back, but this has all sorts of strange and spooky consequences. One of the boys discovers the candle the drummer boy was carrying gives off cold rather than heat, and does not burn down. Strange things begin to happen – all the pigs disappear and instead wild boar rampage through the town. Standing stones walk. Slowly we come to realise that a king and his knights sleep under the hill and the drummer boy has woken them too soon – and trying to reverse this mistake may well cost the boys their lives. Many of what happens is never explained, so the book retains a sense of mystery and creeping suspense which is very effective. It’s been turned into a BBC series too.
1976 - Penelope Lively, A Stitch in Time
1978 - Jill Paton Walsh, A Chance Child
This is another classic that I read as an adult. It is much darker and more confronting than most of the books I loved as a child. At times it is quite harrowing. It tells the story of Creep, a boy who flees abuse at home, and somehow finds himself back in the time of the Industrial Revolution. It examines child labour, which was essentially child slavery, and brought me to tears. Although it has none of the magic and wonder and adventure that I love so much about children’s literature, its depiction of the past was real and true, and showed me not to be afraid of trying to make my past as authentic as possible.
1988 - Jane Yolen ‘The Devil’s Arithmetic’A beautiful and moving novel about the Holocaust, The Devil’s Arithmetic tells the story of Hannah who, embarrassed by her grandparents’ enduring grief over their past, finds herself transported back to a village in Poland in the 1940s. Captured by the Nazis, she is taken to a death camp where she fights to stay alive and retain her dignity. At the end, she chooses to go to the gas chamber to save a friend in a scene that had me sobbing out loud with horror and disbelief. At that moment she returns to herself in contemporary times, but with a much deeper understanding of her grandparents’ inability to shake off the past. This is truly a brilliant book, one that should be read by everyone. It has been made into a movie which I haven’t yet seen (though I would like to!)
1999 - Susan Cooper, King of Shadows
Nat Field is an American boy who uses acting as a way to escape his unhappy life. He flies to London to take part in a production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream at a rebuilt Globe Theatre. Somehow he finds himself waking up in 1599 in the body of another Nat, one who is to play Puck in the first ever production of Shakespeare’s play. Shakespeare himself appears and takes Nat under his wing, but Nat has to wonder how he will ever get back to his own time again.
I’m a big fan of Susan Cooper’s work and read everything she writes, so I really enjoyed this book.
I loved writing ‘The Puzzle Ring’ and I am now daydreaming about writing more time travel stories. One of their strengths is that you have a contemporary child, with modern manners and sensibilities, thrown into the past and so having to deal with how very different things were back then.
For example, children were better seen but not heard; people had their tongues nailed to the pillory for speaking their minds; women were burnt to death for killing their abusive husbands; snails were boiled to make a tea to cure a fever; left-handed people were accused of being devil-worshippers.
Sometimes, when writing an historical novel, it is difficult to bridge the gap between the beliefs and customs of children four hundred years ago and now. Having a child of today go back in the past helps ease the imaginative leap the child has to make.
You can find my review of The Puzzle Ring here.
If you would like to follow the rest of Kate's book tour, the next stop is the 8th February 2010 at The Bookette, for Authors: Home and Away.
Saturday, 6 February 2010
From book cover: Woodsville is not like other towns. Night falls a little earlier there, the shadows are darker and denser, and everyone knows it's a place where strange things happen. Even if they won't admit it.
Little Hands Clapping brings the Old Man together with the respectable Doctor Ernst Frohlicher, his dog Hans and a cast of grotesque and hilarous townsfolk who find themselves involved in a crime so outrageous it will shock the world.
What's in your mailbox, on your doormat or in your shopping bag this week?
Four friends born within days of each other in a remote Scottish village.
Four missing pieces of a puzzle ring to break a curse.
Red-haired Hannah has been brought up in Australia with her widowed mother Roz, going to a school where she hates everyone (they deserve it). Then one day a mysterious letter arrives from the Countess of Wintersloe, and Roz is forced to confess the truth: Hannah is really Lady Hannah Rose, heir to Wintersloe Castle in Loch Lomond - and the countess is her grandmother.
Roz agrees to Hannah's plea that they visit Scotland so that she can meet her grandmother, but what she finds there is a family plagued by a fairy curse. A curse which took her father, and which can only be broken by a Red Rose. The way to break that curse is to find four missing pieces of a puzzle ring. Simple, right? Except those pieces are hidden in another time...
Wicked tight plotting, heaps of Scottish charm and a major helping of whimsy combine to make The Puzzle Ring a truly irresistible fantasy. It's a tale of faery, friendship and family with a plucky young heroine, a dark curse and a magic all of its own. In other words, this one's a winner.
As the title suggests, finding the four parts of the cursed ring is no mean feat for Hannah. It's not just a matter of going back in time: the exact location of each piece is a puzzle in itself. Although she has some scribbled rhymes of her father's to guide her, they're riddles rather than directions - and it's up to her to solve them. Luckily for Hannah, she has an amazing supporting cast to help her out. There's Linnet, extremely long-serving housekeeper for the Rose family; Angus, their guide from the sixteenth century (with manners to match); and Hannah's bandmates and new best friends Scarlett, Donovan and Max, who journey with her back in time to help her on her quest.
I adore time travel stories, and The Puzzle Ring gives us a beguiling blend of fantasy and historical elements. Kate Forsyth doesn't skimp on the finer details of life in Scotland in the 1560s, and the experiences of Hannah and her three friends will make any reader extremely grateful for warm beds, antibacterial gel and modern plumbing. Their journey brings the story of Mary, Queen of Scots to life in a way that no history textbook could ever do. It's a dangerous, superstitious time where ruthless Queens would murder their own cousin to keep their crown, and a left-handed teenager just might be burned as a witch. It's also the perfect time for a faery curse to be laid upon Hannah's ancestors... and for her to break it.
The Puzzle Ring is a beauty of a book. It intrigues from the first page, grips and entertains the whole way through, and finishes on a total high. You know that welling-up-of-happiness feeling you get when a book's ending fulfils all your hopes and expectations for characters you have come to know and love? The Puzzle Ring has that. It's epic. I wholeheartedly recommend it for younger YA readers and the young at heart.
Thank you to Scholastic for the review copy and to Kate Forsyth for inviting me to be a part of her book tour.
Want to know more?
You can buy The Puzzle Ring from Amazon UK, The Book Depository and other online bookstores.
Kate Forsyth's website can be found here.
Want to follow the tour?
Yesterday's stop was at Chicklish, where they had an exclusive interview with Kate with some fantastic insights into the writing of The Puzzle Ring. Check it out here.
Since this is Kate Forsyth weekend at I Was A Teenage Book Geek, she'll be here tomorrow talking about some of her favourite time travel novels so please stop by for that.
Friday, 5 February 2010
Summary: Ty has lived under the ocean for his entire life. Following global warming and the rise of the seas, his family joined an underwater community in hopes of living in the new frontier of the ocean floor. But When Ty meets Gemma, a girl from "topside", who is searching the seas for her brother, she quickly makes his life very complicated. Together Ty and Gemma face dangerous sea creatures and venture into the frontier town's rough underworld as they search for her missing brother. But the deeper they dig, the more attention they attract, and soon Ty and Gemma find themselves being hunted by a gang of outlaws who roam the underwater territories causing havoc, and who seem to have eerie abilities. But Ty has a secret of his own, living underwater for his entire life has meant he has also developed a "special" power. Can he keep it a secret from Gemma and his family or is it time for him to finally tell everyone the truth?
- Open to UK residents only.
- Entrants aged under 16 must have their parent or guardian's permission and must provide the parent or guardian's email address rather than their own.
- One entry per person.
- Contest closes on 17th February 2010 and winners will be contacted by email.
- Winners will be announced on the 18th February 2010.
- There will be two winners, chosen at random using an online randomizer.
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Edit: This contest is now closed.
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Wednesday, 3 February 2010
When junior Jess Gillmansen gets called out of class by Guidance, she can only presume it’s for one of two reasons. Either they’ve finally figured out who wrote the scathing anti-jock editorial in the school newspaper or they’re hosting yet another intervention for her about her mom. Although far from expecting it, she’s relieved to discover Guidance just wants her to show a new student around—but he comes with issues of his own including a police escort.
This one sounds dangerous, mysterious and potentially addictive. All of which has me counting the days till the publication date - which is currently scheduled for June 22nd 2010.
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Remember Chapter One, when the saintly March sisters decided to spend their one Christmas dollar on their mother instead of themselves? Twelve-year-old Amy was the one buying Marmee a half-dollar bottle of cologne so that she could spend the rest on booze.
Okay, not really. She wanted to buy herself some drawing pencils. She's twelve: it's not exactly a crime. But that wasn't good enough for the Marches, ohhh no. Their saintliness doesn't extend to cutting their unsaintly kid sister any slack. So Amy took her pencils back to the shop and bought a dollar bottle of cologne, and all was well with the world again. But for me, on my first ever read of Little Women, this tiny act of non-saintliness was the clincher: Amy was my favourite March sister. Why? Because she was normal.
Fast-forward a few months: the older March girls are now BFFs with Laurie Lawrence, and Amy's in trouble at school. The in-crowd are all bringing pickled limes to eat at recess, and because Amy's family are so poor they can only afford one servant, she never has any to take. (Yep, pickled limes: apparently people didn't have taste buds in the 1860s.) So Amy begs some money from Jo and gets a paper bag full of limes to take with her one day, without telling her sister that these things are not allowed on school premises. Sneaky! Unfortunately, Amy obviously doesn't get enough practice at being bad, because one random desk search later, and she's getting the cane from her mean old teacher. Marmee's having none of that, so she agrees that Amy can be home-schooled with Beth for the foreseeable future.
So, bored at home with nothing to do and nowhere to go, Amy decides she wants in on Jo, Meg and Laurie's trip to see The Seven Castles of The Diamond Lake. But Jo doesn't want her there, and she isn't budging on that, so the three head off out leaving Amy to fume at home. And for Amy, revenge is not a dish best served cold...
You see, Jo's prized possession is a book of stories she's been working on for years. It's the 1860s, so her book is written out in pen and ink. She hasn't bothered to keep her previous drafts, but she treasures her little book like nothing else. Not so smart, Josephine. For those of you who might not be familiar with the technique of writing with a pen and paper, this is the equivalent of Jo not backing up her files. Ouch, right? And a bad move, when crazy little Amy has a bee in her actual bonnet. While Jo's out, Amy throws the book onto the fire and burns the thing to ashes.
On discovering this, Jo basically freaks. As far as she's concerned, Amy's dead to her now, and she can never forgive her. Ooops. The next day, realising she went way too far, Amy follows eldest sister Meg's advice to follow Jo and Laurie out ice-skating in the hopes of making up. (Pretty dumb advice, considering that Jo doesn't want her kid sister tagging along when she's out with Laurie and that's what started all this.) Nobody's surprised when Jo blanks Amy and skates off leaving her all alone.
But what Jo doesn't count on is Amy crashing through the ice and nearly drowning in the lake beneath. Dramas! Luckily, Laurie is on hand to save little miss Amy from a freezing cold death. Jo is at once consumed by remorse, and forgives her little sister wholeheartedly. Amy is thrilled to be forgiven, and the two sisters are reunited, closer than ever before.
See, that's the thing with sisters. You squabble, you occasionally might pull each other's hair or break each other's toys, but as long as you don't break the one golden rule of sisterhood, you always make it up again. You know, the golden rule: don't go after your sister's boyfriend. And it's not like any of the March sisters is unsaintly enough to do that, right?