Wednesday, 31 March 2010
But memories break through of that night - memories of a pale man, a demon, and a weapon his mother was working on at the Institute.
A weapon to stop the Demontide...
It's clear from reading Dawn of the Demontide that when it comes to dark fantasy, author William Hussey has done his homework. The first instalment of his Witchfinder trilogy is rich in lore and mythology, lending an impressive air of authenticity to proceedings from the very first page. This knowledge is mirrored in main character Jake Harker, a loner and avid reader of comics who possesses a 'dark catalogue' of horror in the recesses of his mind.
The beauty of Dawn of the Demontide is that although there's a certain familiarity to many of the ideas that Hussey employs, they're woven together in fresh and unexpected ways. So when the story takes Jake to Hobarron's Hollow, the insular coastal village where his father grew up, we get world-building to rival the Harry Potter novels but with all the sinister and foreboding atmosphere of The Wicker Man. This is also a story that has its roots in the darker side of UK history, as Jake uncovers secrets about the Hobarron Institute which stem back to the days of the Witchfinder General and ritual burnings at the stake.
Alongside this undercurrent of malice, William Hussey spins a story of demons and witchcraft that's just about as twisty as can be. Every time you think you know where the story is headed, Hussey throws a major curveball that sends the action off in an unforeseen and intriguing direction. Being a girly type I couldn't help hoping for more from the hint of romance between Jake and his schoolmate Rachel Saxby. However, this didn't impair my enjoyment of the story at all. The plot races along, culminating in a major revelation about Jake's destiny that will definitely have me coming back for more when the second instalment hits bookstore shelves in 2011.
Dawn of the Demontide is a compelling and atmospheric start to the Witchfinder trilogy. William Hussey has created a world where any type of monster, mythical creature or twisted technology could well be a reality, and where magic can be pure... or pure evil. This one's dangerous, a little bit gory, and a definite must for those who like their fantasy novels dark.
Out: March 4th 2010, UK
Check out the awesome Witchfinder website here, and the seriously chilling trailer below.
Thanks to Galactus for sending me a review copy of this book.
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
In the race to be coolest, the Sisters series by Marilyn Kaye was a double-edge sword for twelve-year-old me. See, I was the first in my group of friends to spot book one, Phoebe, on the shelves of our local bookstore. But I was also lousy at managing my finances, and since the great discovery occured right after I'd splashed out on jellybeans and extra-hold hair mousse, I could only watch mournfully as my infinitely more spoiled BFF snagged a copy there and then.
The first awesome thing I noticed about the Sisters series is that on the back of each title, you got a mini character bio for each of the 'lively Gray girls' who made up the quartet. That's Phoebe, aged 11 who isn't into the whole 'growing up' deal; twelve-year-old Daphne, shy and studious (well, duh! She's the only sister wearing glasses); Cassie, 13, beautiful and therefore a trainee airhead; and fourteen year old Lydia who is like, principled and stuff. What's so awesome about that? Well, since this kind of series about a group of very different friends or sisters inevitably leads to the 'which one are you?' conversation, the Sisters series lets you play that game without even opening the book. Since I was basically a poor judge of character at the time, I at once picked out Cassie as my potential role model. And when I finally read the books, the themes of Cassie's story - about peer pressure and the need to fit in - made it the one I identified with the most.
Except I haven't got a copy of Cassie. I've got a copy of Phoebe. Rereading it this week, I was surprised to find that the youngest Gray sister's story has not only stood the test of time, but I actually like it better now than I did the first time round. Phoebe is the youngest in her family, and on returning from a summer away at camp she's bewildered by her besties' sudden interest in 'dumb stuff' like clothes and boys. I remembered her as a bit boring compared to Cassie and Lydia, but looking back I think this might have been because at twelve I couldn't relate to her concerns about growing up at all. Newsflash: I can sure relate to them now.
Not only that, but Phoebe is also a story about book-banning. Feeling isolated from her friends, our Pheebs starts volunteering at the library. She enjoys reading to the little kids, and the only time her boycrazy buddies swing by is to pick up the latest Betsy Drake book.
Now, these aren't the type of books that Phoebe likes, because they're about girls 'talking about bras and getting their periods'. But when some of the local parents want the books removed from the library because they're trash and they don't want their daughters reading about such matters, Phoebe makes a stand. She organises a peaceful protest, because she is so not down with random parents thinking they can decide what other people's kids are allowed to read.
And neither am I, so I'm thinking that this basically rocks. Also, Phoebe goes one better than the would-be banners and actually reads the Betsy Drake books so that she can form an educated opinion, which ends up helping her to understand where her in-a-hurry-to-grow-up friends are coming from. All in all, Phoebe is the kind of book that values the kind of books I loved as a teen. And I love it for that.
Verdict: this reread way exceeded my expectations. It's cute and it's smart, and it has way more to say than most of the series books I read in high school. This one's a win.
Sunday, 28 March 2010
His friends Gurdial and Jeevan, two orphan boys, are both on the verge of finding their own place in the world. Gurdial hopes that his place will be with his beloved Sohni, despite his fears that her father won't think an orphan could ever be worthy of his daughter's hand. Jeevan has no sweetheart, and so he looks to his new friends for a sense of belonging - little realising that they may not be all that they seem...
City of Ghosts is set primarily in Amritsar, India, at a time of great unrest. The narrative consists of several different story threads woven together with the help of flashback scenes, characters' letters, and even a little magic realism. The main thread is that of Bissen Singh, a young Sikh who fought for the British army during World War I and is now living back in Amritsar. Bali Rai takes us back to Bissen's horrific experiences on the battlefields of France and also to the wartime hospital where his romance with English nurse Lillian first blossomed. In addition, we have the story of orphan boy Gurdial and his sweetheart Sohni, desperate to be together despite opposition from her self-serving father. Alongside these tales of star-crossed lovers, there's the story of lonely Jeevan, who falls under the influence of the revolutionaries who befriend him - with terrible consequences. The action comes to a head on the day of the Amritsar Massacre, which occured in April 1919 when a troop of British soldiers opened fire on unarmed Indian civilians.
I sometimes find that historical novels can be a little dry, especially when an author sacrifices storytelling or characterisation for the sake of historical accuracy. This is definitely not the case in City of Ghosts. So while Bali Rai makes use of certain historical details in his portrayal of the events leading to the Amritsar Massacre and Bissen Singh's experiences in World War I, the focus is generally personal, through the eyes of fictional characters. My favourite moments were definitely those when fact and fiction blurred, such as when Bisssen sneaks out from his hospital ward at the Royal Pavilion to join Lillian for his first ever taste of British fish and chips.
Although there is a certain amount of bloodshed in the story, this is always portrayed in a way that reminds the reader that these episodes in our history were lived through by those who felt the pain of them first hand. These are not dry old facts we're dealing with; they're the moving and tragic stories of real people. Alongside the harsher details of this era we're also treated to the beauty of Sohni and Gurdial's story, and the almost fairytale magic of the mysterious stranger who helps Gurdial with the seemingly impossible task that Sohni's evil father sets for him.
City of Ghosts is a little more grown up than most YA novels I've read. Despite the fact that it deals with a difficult period in British-Indian history, I found the novel's message to be a positive one. This is a book that gives us love and hate side by side, and reassures us that out of the two love is the more powerful of human emotions. I'd recommend this one to readers who would like to learn more about an often-overlooked aspect of world history, and to anybody who enjoys a beautiful love story. It's epic, moving and as haunting as the title suggests.
Out: paperback edition March 4th 2010, UK
Many thanks to Random House / Corgi for providing a review copy of this book.
Saturday, 27 March 2010
However, this was in the days before I was blogging, so I've never reviewed any of this fantastic dystopian series here on I Was A Teenage Book Geek.
Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK, I now have all four of the Uglies series with gorgeous new covers. Reviews to follow soon.
The Summer That Changed Everything - Ann Brashares
For no real reason their friendship faded, and now the girls face their long summer holiday without each other.
But this will be a summer filled with drama and memories, love and loss, tears and laughter. This will be a summer that changes everything.
Can the girls get through it without each other...?
This one's from the author of The Sisterhood of The Travelling Pants. I love this type of friendship story, and the beachy cover is just gorgeous.
Thanks to Random House UK for this one.
From book cover: What's not to love about Jane Eyre? Gothic and passionate, it features the ultimate hero - Mr Rochester. And that gives Charlotte a top idea: she'll look for a new Mr Rochester for her lovely mum. So when Charlotte finds the ideal man, she can't believe her luck. He's dark, brooding and mysterious. He's PEFECT.
But this real-life romantic hero also turns out to be sarcastic and rude. Does Charlotte really want her mum marrying him? Perhaps it would have been better if Mr Rochester had stayed between the covers of Charlotte's favourite novel...?
The Line - Teri Hall
She can see the Line from the greenhouse windows, but she is forbidden to go near it. Across the line is Away, and though Rachel has heard many whispers about the dangers there, she's never really believed the stories. Until the day she hears a recording that could only have come from across the Line.
It's a voice asking for help.
Who sent the message? What is her mother hiding? And to what lengths will Rachel go to do what she thinks is right?
Have I mentioned I love dystopia? Have I mentioned I've been waiting impatiently for this one ever since I first heard about it? I have? Oh. Well, here it is at last. Doesn't it sound amazing?
So, what did everyone else get?
But things change. Not the being psyched part, but my list. I still want to read all the books I originally included, but I've actually read some delicious debut novels this year that I hadn't even heard of way back when I signed up for the challenge.
So I'm going to use this post to keep track of the 2010 debut novels I've actually read and reviewed this year.
1. When I Was Joe - Keren David
Friday, 26 March 2010
Things start looking up for Lucy when she meets Ryan, the hottest ghost in town. But Jeremy doesn't think she can just ignore the circumstances of her death and move on that easily. She's got unfinished business, after all...
My So-Called Afterlife is a cute read. In fact, it's super cute. When the opening scene of a book has its fifteen year old main character - who just happens to be a ghost - lamenting the fact that a tramp has peed on her Ugg boots, you know you're in for a whole world of fun. It's the kind of novel that, if you're anything like me, will have you smiling to yourself as you read it.
However, cute isn't all this one has going for it. Take the world-building, for example. In My So-Called Afterlife ghosts are doomed to always look the way they did at the moment of their death. This works out great for Lucy, who was dressed up for a party on the night she died, but not so much for her new friend Hep (two inch roots). Those fortunate enough to have died with their mobile phone on them get to make use of a ghostly network that lets them text each other, and anyone who happened to cross over with a guitar is in high demand at spirit realm parties. The not so fun side of this is that all ghosts are tied to the place of their death, and can only spend a limited time away before being dragged back there in the harshest way possible.
In fact, My So-Called Afterlife is in places an extremely poignant read. The cast of teenage ghosts have, after all, each died in tragic circumstances - Lucy herself was murdered after opting to walk home from a party alone at night. There are plenty of sentimental, weepy books out there about that very subject, but Tamsyn Murray has instead chosen to tell this story through the eyes of a pretty feisty fifteen-year-old who doesn't tend to hang around feeling sorry for herself. The beauty of seeing the situation through Lucy's eyes is that when she is forced to confront the circumstances of her death, it's a real choker.
As well as Lucy herself, this book has a vivid and beguiling cast of secondary characters whose stories are just as engaging as Lucy's own. My favourite was definitely Emo girl Hep (formerly Rosemary), who committed suicide and now haunts her parents' house, frustrated by the fact that they still don't get why she did it. Her story is also told in a matter-of-fact way that speaks volumes to the reader without ever being preachy or melodramatic. There's a really sweet love story here too between Lucy and hottie Ryan, full of laugh-out-loud banter and understated romance. Ever wondered if ghosts can kiss? This book has the answer.
My So-Called Afterlife is a witty, quirky and moving take on teenage life after death. It's YA chick lit with a supernatural twist, and yes, it's a seriously cute one. Go read it!
Out: February 1st 2010, UK
Thursday, 25 March 2010
Then a friend bets that Alex can't get Brittany in the sack. At first Alex just can't resist rising to the challenge, but before long he and Brittany are connecting in ways neither of them ever imagined...
I'd heard a lot about Perfect Chemistry before I started reading it. I'd seen the glowing reviews, the five out of five star ratings, and to be honest I was slightly mystified. A romance between a gang member and a cheerleader? I liked the idea, but I still couldn't work out what the magic ingredient was that had so many reviewers enamoured with this book.
Having read Perfect Chemistry, I think the clue is most definitely in the name. Just as a potential love interest might look pretty good on paper but rock your world in person, Perfect Chemistry has a unique blend of charm, passion and sincerity that combine to make it one irresistible read. So while I'm not really a devotee of contemporary romance, this book well and truly swept me up from the first page to the last. Put it this way: when you find yourself crying a few tears whilst reading on the bus and you don't even care who's looking, you know a story has gotten under your skin.
Perfect Chemistry is romance, but it's definitely not all hearts-and-flowers. This is a story about two troubled characters from very different backgrounds, and the attraction that Alex and Brittany feel feel for each other is problematic for both of them. It's also overwhelming and undeniable. Stories of star-crossed lovers have been around for hundreds of years, but Simone Elkeles has imbued Perfect Chemistry with the kind of pressures that contemporary teens face in their day-to-day lives, and the result is a Romeo and Juliet story that's firmly rooted in reality. So beneath the surface good girl / bad boy stereotypes, All-American princess Brittany is secretly struggling with her parents' decision to send her older sister to a care home, and Alex originally joined a gang to protect his family, but wishes deep down that he could go to college someday.
The dual-narrative technique seems to be a popular choice for YA authors these days, and Perfect Chemistry absolutely works it. Together, Brittany and Alex's two voices form a seamless narrative that is complete, compelling and sublime. In one of my favourite moments, Alex asks Brittany, who is narrating, a particularly intimate question - and we switch to his point of view to hear her answer. It's the kind of moment that makes you realise as a reader how connected you feel to both of the characters, and how much you've invested emotionally in both sides of their story. Brittany and Alex are complex and believeable characters, each with that special brand of flawed multi-layeredness that makes them truly live for the reader. Separately, they're fascinating - but put them together and they become a magentic force that makes it impossible to put this novel down.
Perfect Chemistry is a genuinely moving love story. It's also a novel that reminds us to look beyond appearances and surface assumptions. It's fiery, powerful and ultimately beautiful. Fans of YA romance should most definitely consider this one a must-read.
Out: April 1st 2010, UK / December 23rd 2008, US
Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for providing a review copy.
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
This week I'm waiting on...
Gimme A Call by Sarah Mlynowski
Summary from author's website: Devi's life isn't turning out at all like she wanted. She wasted three years going out with Bryan - cute, adorable, break-your-heart Bryan. Devi let her friendships fade, blew off studying, didn't join any clubs...and since Bryan broke up with her right before senior prom, she has nothing left. Not even a working cell phone - she dropped hers in the mail fountain.
Now it only calls one number...her number. At age fourteen, three years ago!
Once Devi gets over the shock and convinces her younger self that she isn't some wacko she realizes that she's been given an awesome gift. She can tell herself all the right things to do because she's already done the wrong ones! If freshman Devi takes her advice, she can hold on to her friends, get into a good no, incredible college, be an extracurricular superstar, and most importantly, spare herself the heartbreak of Bryan.
Fourteen-year-old Devi isn't so sure, though. She likes Bryan. She's happy. But who better to listen to than your future self. . . right?
I confess, the main reason I want to read this book is because it sounds so incredibly cute. Although I generally gravitate towards darker novels, I always like to have a fun book on hand to break up the doom and gloom a little. Plus, Gimme A Call has that kind of 'if only' wish-fulfilment appeal that I just can't resist. Sounds awesome, doesn't it?
Out: June 3rd 2010, UK / April 27th 2010, US
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Talking of Dorky and Deluded (and by that I mean Elizabeth and Jessica, respectively) it wasn't long before my Sweet Valley addiction got too much. I caved. I'd read every SVH book out there and when my little sister borrowed Best Friends from the library, I figured I'd just take a little peek. Y'know, just to prove how beneath me it was. Ooops. Before I knew it, an hour had elapsed and I was halfway through the book. Because the Wakefield twins? Just as cool at twelve as they were at sixteen. In fact, cooler, because as the cover art shows they actually look their age in this series instead of thirty-five with Mom hairstyles, like on the covers of my Sweet Valley High books.
In fact, I enjoyed my first Sweet Valley Twins book so much that I actually lowered my great literary standards for long enough to follow the series for the next few years. Okay, it was probably closer to four years, but only because my sister was buying. Imagine our shared glee when we'd go on holiday to Florida in the summer and be able to stock up on all the Sweet Valley books that hadn't been released in the UK yet. Imagine our smugness arriving back to the UK with suitcases full of the latest Sweet Valley novels alongside Fear Street, Point Horror and, uh, Minnie Mouse ears. I know: losers!
So here's the shocker: I reread Best Friends this week and I didn't hate it.
Yes, you heard me right. Best Friends is actually an entertaining little read about the Wakefield twins realising for the first time that they need to have their own identities. In the story, Elizabeth and Jessica have recently started Sweet Valley Junior High. Elizabeth has permission to start a school newspaper, and Jessica has attracted the attention of SVJH's answer to Mean Girls, a.k.a. The Unicorns. Being shallow and elitist, Jessica is desperate to join. So desperate, in fact, that she goes along with their lame-o version of hazing, which involves stealing a teacher's lesson plan book and then... well, merely putting it back. Which is pointless, and tells me that The Unicorns wouldn't have lasted five minutes at my high school.
Meanwhile, Dorky Elizabeth is feeling left out by Jessica's attempt to hang with the in-crowd. And nothing makes Liz feel worse than when Jessica changes her image and doesn't want to dress alike anymore. Nothing, that is, until the Unicorns offer Elizabeth a chance to join... on the condition that she tricks Lois, an unpopular classmate, into eating shaving foam. Our Liz is obviously reluctant to go there, being the nice twin, so Jessica decides that she will pretend to be her twin and do the deed herself. Because they're like, identical. Duh.
Naturally, Jessica's little plan backfires. Because this is the world of Sweet Valley, where Jessica Wakefield basically just exists to screw up and make Elizabeth look good. After realising what Jessica did, Elizabeth manages to blackmail her into apologising to Lois, because whilst lying is a bad thing, the world of Sweet Valley has no problem with blackmail (as long as it's Elizabeth doing it). And some good even comes out of the situation, as Elizabeth is finally able to come to terms with the fact that she and Jessica are different people with different hobbies and interests.
See? This book even has a poignant and worthwhile message. But only if you count 'hypocrisy' and 'being a biatch' as hobbies.
Verdict: The truth is, Sweet Valley books were never the finest example of fiction for tweens and teens. However, they sure did something right. With literally hundreds of titles across several series, these books were hugely popular once upon a time. They were formulaic, but the formula worked. This was fun, lighthearted fluff in the eighties, and that's what it is now.
Monday, 22 March 2010
Now sixteen, the twins have spent most of their lives being kept apart by the gold-digging grandmother from hell. Wild child Paisley was packed off to boarding school, and Beau was kept at home where his grandmother could control him. But when the twins discover that their father is out of jail and has tried to contact them, Paisley is determined to track him down. So the Wonder Twins head off to Las Vegas, armed with their grandmother's gun and a crazy plan. If they can get the media spotlight on them for a second time, their dad will know where to find them... right?
Every now and then, I get this overwhelming urge to read a particular book without exactly knowing why. It’s not a genre I usually favour, I don’t know much about the author, and I haven’t even heard that much about it. But for some reason, something about it just calls to me from the bookstore shelf: pick this one. So I do. And sometimes, I discover a total gem of a book this way. Like Pretty Bad Things. Total gem.
Where do I start? Pretty Bad Things is a novel that bucks the general YA trend. It’s not paranormal, it’s not an 'issues' book, and it doesn’t fit neatly into any popular category I can think of. It’s a rollercoaster ride. It’s Hansel and Gretel hit Vegas, Bonnie and Clyde style. It’s fresh, fierce and has a self-referential humour that gives the reader a conspiratorial nudge to let them know they’re sharing the joke. Take the scene where Paisley visits a bookstore to kill some time. She doesn’t find anything that takes her fancy, and ends up leaving because she’s just not that into vampires. Or take one of my favourite moments in the book, when Paisley responds to Beau shouting at her by telling him to take his caps lock off – because yes, Beau’s shouting is represented by the use of capital letters. Or take the one hundred other times this book made me smile, giggle or smirk. This is smart humour alright, and C. J. Skuse rocks it.
As this is a story about twins, Skuse has opted to split the narrative between unruly Paisley Jane Argent and her more cautious brother Beau. Fans of this technique may be interested to hear that Pretty Bad Things executes its two handed approach with style and finesse: both narrators have distinctive and engaging voices, and although I slightly favoured Paisley’s chapters I felt I got to know both of them equally well. As characters, they’re unsurprisingly complex and surprisingly loveable. They’ve had a screwed up childhood, being thrust into the media spotlight at a young age by their fame-greedy, botoxed grandmother and thinking their father abandoned them. To Paisley it makes perfect sense that if they get on the news again, they’ll be able to get their father’s attention. And since these twins have a major sugar addiction, what better way to start than holding up a doughnut store at gunpoint?
I can definitely see some more conservative parents or librarians getting a little edgy about Pretty Bad Things. Well, let 'em. Yes, a pair of teenagers wield a gun to rob fast food joints and candy stores. Yes, there’s a couple of scenes with content 'of an adult nature'. But this is young adult fiction, after all, and I think the readership can handle it. Plus, as the cover tells us: ‘get over it, nobody dies’. What I would say to readers is, if you like the sound of this one even a little bit, give it a try. It's a blast, and it's one of a kind. Pick this one.
Out: March 1st 2010, UK
Sunday, 21 March 2010
I've just had a really great blogging week. I hit 300 followers, got my celebratory contest up yesterday, and also received some awesome-looking books for review. I also read some seriously amazing books, and signed up for The Bookette's Song Quest book tour.
Pretty Bad Things - C.J. Skuse
I've wanted to read this one for a while, but I've found it hard to pin down exactly why. I've now read it and I'm not sure how my review is ever going to do it justice. It's like no other book I've ever read.
My So-Called Afterlife - Tamsyn Murray
After reading the first chapter of this one over at Tamsyn Murray's website, I just had to read the rest. I'm hoping to get a review up for this one in the next two weeks, but in the meantime it's one of the possible prizes in my current contest.
From my head: Kiss and Break Up is part of the Young, Loaded and Fabulous series. Set in a British boarding school, the press release likens the series to a UK version of Gossip Girl.
Thank you to Headline for this one.
The Chosen One - Carol Lynch Williams
This one sounds amazing. Thank you Simon and Schuster UK.
Friday, 19 March 2010
As a child, one of my favourite books was Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time, in which Meg Murry travels through space and time to bring her missing father home to his family. It's one of the novels that first opened my eyes to the magic of science-fiction and fantasy. It's also the favourite book of twelve year old Miranda, the heroine of Rebecca Stead's glorious fusion of time-travel, mystery and coming-of-age set in Seventies' New York City.
Although it's by no means necessary to read A Wrinkle In Time first, readers familiar with L'Engle's classic novel will no doubt appreciate the way that Stead invokes Meg Murry's story throughout When You Reach Me. I'm a firm believer that books have the power to bring people together, and I'm sure that anyone who loved A Wrinkle In Time as a child will connect with Miranda for that very reason. She's someone who herself bonds deeply with the characters in her favourite book, and who genuinely wants to believe in the events of the story no matter how great a suspension of disbelief it takes. Which is, as it happens, exactly what the readers of When You Reach Me will find themselves doing.
Except that When You Reach Me is a story that makes the idea of time-travel seem incredibly plausible. As events unfold in the exact chronological order that Miranda experiences them, what we get as readers is a puzzle: a story sprinkled with seemingly random events that don't initially seem significant but may later prove to be. Or not. It's a wonderfully intriguing arrangement, and one that will keep readers guessing until the very end - when everything finally clicks beautifully into place. In the days after reading the book, I found myself making belated connections and marvelling at the level of genius in Rebecca Stead's plotting. Where time-travel is usually a subject that I have to push my disbelief to its limits to believe in, in When You Reach Me it all makes a curious kind of sense.
Not so keen on science fiction or fantasy? No problem. At the heart of When You Reach Me is the story of a twelve-year-old latch-key kid dealing with the fact that her lifelong best friend Sal is suddenly avoiding her. They've been inseparable since they were small children, but recently he's become distant - and Miranda's heart has been left fragile. In addition to the time-travel mystery Rebecca Stead gives us a bittersweet story about moving on, becoming your own person, and learning what a mistake it is to rely on surface impressions. As this one is set in the Seventies there's also a healthy dose of nostalgia that will charm even the most sci-fi phobic reader.
When You Reach Me is the kind of novel that transcends age categorisation. I'd recommend it to anyone who can handle a middle-grade vocabulary, whether you're nine years old or ninety. It's a novel that will touch your soul and get you thinking about mind-blowing concepts like the space-time continuum all at the same time. It's a brain-bending, heartwarming beauty of a book. Definitely not to be missed.
Out: since July 14th 2009, US
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
This week I'm waiting on...
Torment by Lauren Kate
Last year, Lauren Kate's Fallen made a big impression on me. I was just about ready to read the sequel, Torment, about thirty seconds after I finished it.
Okay, that's an understatement. I was dying to read it. Fallen had this slow-build charm that got me intrigued beyond belief, and then hit me with one of those endings that raises as many questions as it answers.
In other words, total book-anticipation torment. (See what I did there?)
I'm sure you've all seen this gorgeous cover by now, but isn't it beautiful? I think I like it even more than the cover for Fallen.
I can't find a summary for Torment anywhere yet, but if you've read Fallen you'll know exactly why I can't wait to read this one. If you haven't, you can check out my review here.
US readers can expect this one on September 28th 2010. Looks like readers in the UK will have to wait till October 28th 2010, but I'm sure it'll be worth the wait.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
I think that's why my discovery of the Ramona books was such a revelation. Perhaps 'discovery' is a rather grand way of putting it - I'm pretty sure that my mother bought me my first Ramona book at a car boot sale. But in any case, Ramona was a character that I instantly bonded with. Smart, temperamental and a little bit of a show off, she dreamed about starring in commercials one minute and stressed out about whether her teacher liked her the next. She didn't wear long dresses or go to boarding school or get her pocket money in shillings. She was a modern kid with modern problems. She was, dare I say it, a lot like me. And probably a lot like all of us.
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 is without a doubt my absolute favourite Ramona book. In it, Ramona has had to start a new school. She's thrilled to be catching the school bus every day, but not so thrilled that her new teacher seems to think she's a bit of a nuisance. Meanwhile, Ramona's family are struggling financially because her dad is studying to become a teacher, and has to work part-time in a frozen foods warehouse to make ends meet. Ramona has to go to a neighbour's house after school until her parents get in, and this means having to play nice with the neighbour's bratty little granddaughter, Willa Jean.
Rereading this book, it's really fascinating to see how Beverly Cleary has portrayed a family that's financially struggling a little and the way that the stresses related to that situation impact on their eight-year-old daughter. Don't get me wrong, the story is fun all the way, but it's just as interesting to read as an adult because Cleary has everyone's motivation so absolutely spot on. In one of my favourite chapters, Ramona and her sister Beezus have been whining when their mother serves tongue for dinner. They ate it fine before they knew it was tongue, but all of a sudden they're squeamish and complaining that they want regular meat. The Quimby parents respond by assigning the girls cooking duty the next evening - using whatever ingredients have been on special that week at the grocery store. Cue Ramona and Beezus preparing chicken cooked in yoghurt with chilli powder and cornbread made with half cream-of-wheat because they're short on cornmeal. And then discovering that cooking itself isn't easy, let alone cooking on a budget.
Another favourite chapter is where Ramona suffers the ultimate lunchroom horror. The kids at her school like to bring hardboiled eggs for lunch, and to crack them open on their own foreheads. In Mrs Quimby's haste to leave for work one morning, she accidentally gives Ramona a raw egg to take to school... which Ramona then proceeds to crack onto her head in front of her whole class. Her humiliation and indignation are truly authentic, and remind me of a time when we'd shun our peers' sympathy instead of being grateful for it. Ramona is believable and real, and Beverly Cleary's books demonstrate on every page that she knows what it's like and how it really feels to be an eight-year-old.
Verdict: If you haven't read a Ramona book, you really should. If you have, isn't a time for a reread? Whether you read it to yourself or to your own child, Ramona is wicked fun and great for lifting anyone's mood.
Monday, 15 March 2010
What really impresses about The Returners is the way that Malley addresses the subject of genocide and racism with such complete frankness. She's imagined a near-future that seems to spring directly from the real-world present, and I honestly felt that I could trace some of the extremist behaviour of characters in her year-2016 Britain right back to our political climate today. It's fascinating, and more than a little worrying.
Gemma Malley approaches key issues in our society in a way that speaks directly to her YA audience without ever being patronising, and I'm full of admiration for that. This one's quite different from The Declaration or The Resistance, but it will definitely tide fans over until the third novel in that trilogy is published - as well as earning Malley some new ones.
Out: February 1st 2010, UK / March 2nd 2010, US
Sunday, 14 March 2010
I have to confess, at first I suspected that I might find Solace of the Road a little slow moving for my tastes. While it is the case that there isn't a huge sense of urgency to Holly's journey, the story is nonetheless compelling. As Holly gets herself in and out of trouble, each crisis brings her closer to facing up to a truth she's buried so deeply she doesn't even know it's there. Although there's a whimsical feel to the way that the discovery of a blonde wig leads Holly to adopt the persona of Solace, for the most part Dowd's telling of the story is gritty, realistic and unflinching.
Solace of the Road is a novel that is ultimately full of hope. It's about home and belonging and making peace with the past. It's also the kind of book that, from now on, I'll be pointing anyone who doubts the quality of YA fiction towards. If you're looking for a story with emotional depth and irresistible charm, this one has all that and more. It's just beautiful.
Out: March 4th 2010 in this edition, UK
Thank you to David Fickling Books / Random House UK for providing a copy for review.
Saturday, 13 March 2010
From book cover: Fifteen-year-old Eve Evergold is cute, sassy and enjoying a busy social life. What she doesn't know yet is that someone close to her is an evil demon that only she has the supernatural power to defeat.
Friday, 12 March 2010
DeShawn doesn't want to join a gang. He wants to stay in school and get a job someday. Maybe build a life with his girlfriend Tanisha. But when his grandmother can't afford to put food on the table, what else can he do?
Told over the course of several years, If I Grow Up tells the story of a boy named DeShawn who lives in the projects. DeShawn is a clever, good-hearted boy who basically doesn't have many choices. We first meet him aged twelve, when he's already seen enough of gang violence to be sure that he never wants to join the Frederick Douglass Project's resident gang, the Disciples. Around the same time, one of the few good teachers at his school is trying to encourage him to spend the next two years preparing for the entrance exam at an academy a bus ride away, where he can get a better education. So far, so familiar. However, the thing about If I Grow Up is that this isn't your average story of one determined boy triumphing over adversity. It's a book that shows you that while it might be comforting to believe it's that simple, it isn't. It's also a book that shows you how it really is.
At twelve years old, DeShawn is the kind of character I could instantly relate to, despite the fact that his life is a million miles away from my own. He's loyal, perceptive, and above all he has integrity. From the first few pages, I wanted things to work out for him - be it with his education, staying out of trouble, or with the girl he likes. Especially with the girl he likes, who just happens to live on another gang's turf and gives the story a Romeo and Juliet vibe as well as a girl's perspective. But as the years go by, we learn more and more about what drives the boys on the Frederick Douglass project to join the Disciples. At the start of the book I didn't think I'd ever fully comprehend why so many young boys feel they have no other choice, but as I got into DeShawn's head I began to understand.
DeShawn's story doesn't go the way you might hope, or the way you might expect, but it is a powerful story that will touch readers' hearts and get them angry at the way the world works. Although the focus is firmly on DeShawn, Todd Strasser has excelled in creating a convincing community of secondary characters you'll come to care about and root for - from misunderstood boy genius Lightbulb to the Disciples' leader Marcus himself. For a book of just over two hundred pages, this one packs a punch.
Before I read this book, I didn't think I'd enjoy it. Why? Well, mainly, the cover. I'm a fairly girly type and I was initially put off by the stark image of the gun. What I would say now is that I think that this cover has the potential to get If I Grow Up into the hands of the people who need to read it most - and that's those who are faced with the same kind of choices DeShawn is every day. As the cover would lead you to expect, this book doesn't shy away from the tough realities that some people - some teens - have to deal with all the time. However, it's also a book that has a lot to say to those of us who live relatively safe, privileged lives and only encounter gang violence on the news. Filled with action from the first page, it's a story that will grip readers and also get them thinking. It's one for everyone.
Out: March 4th 2010, UK / February 24th 2009, US
Thank you to Simon and Schuster UK for providing a copy for review.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
This week I'm waiting on...
The Unidentified by Rae Mariz
Summary from Goodreads.com: Kid knows her school’s corporate sponsors not-so-secretly monitor her friendships and activities for market research. It’s all a part of the Game; the alternative education system designed to use the addictive kick from video games to encourage academic learning. Everyday, a captive audience of students ages 13-17 enter the nationwide chain store-like Game locations to play.
When a group calling themselves the Unidentified simulates a suicide to protest the power structure of their school, Kid’s investigation into their pranks attracts unwanted attention from the sponsors. As Kid finds out she doesn't have rights to her ideas, her privacy, or identity, she and her friends look for a way to revolt in a place where all acts of rebellion are just spun into the next new ad campaign.
Anyone who visits this blog regularly will know that I adore dystopian YA. I also love playing videgames. So, it's probably no surprise that The Unidentified has got me totally intrigued. Technology taken way too far? I love that in a book. Plus, is 'Kid' the MC's name? Or just what we know her as? So many questions!
The Unidentified is due to hit the US on October 6th, 2010. No news of UK publication yet. Boo! Let's hope that gets fixed pretty soon, because I need to read this one.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
I say all my friends, but in actual fact I knew people whose mothers expressly forbade them from reading this book. Even now, I’m not sure why exactly - none of my friends were from especially religious families, and it’s not like you can keep the small matter of puberty a secret forever. Needless to say, a fair amount of lending went on. Lucky for me my mother limited her disapproval to the eye-rolling that accompanied any sighting of any Judy Blume book. Lucky, because this book is a rite of passage.
Since my original copy of Are You There God? was discarded many years ago, I recently purchased a brand new copy to reread. And by new, I mean all-new, updated, replacing-certain-references-that-tweens-today-wouldn’t-understand new. And you know what? The all-new me isn’t quite sure she likes the subtle changes in the updated version. I mean, I first read this book around two decades after it was originally published. To be honest, certain aspects were outdated then. Take the issue of sanitary belts. I had no clue was Blume was talking about on that one, and had to ask my mum for an explanation. Which I then refused to believe. Because ewww. In the updated version Margaret just buys regular pads like everyone else, which means that entire generations will miss out on ever knowing that sanitary belts once existed. (As well as the trip to the chemist with friends to investigate whether such things are still on sale. Which they are.)
It’s not all all-new though. The lady giving the ‘what every girl should know’ speech at Margaret’s school still acts like tampons are something the devil himself invented for women of ill-repute. And Margaret’s little gang of friends still wear loafers without socks as if that somehow elevates them above the status of the girls wearing their loafers with knee socks.
But what I really noticed this time around is that this isn’t just a book about getting your period. There’s much more to the storyline that I’d completely forgotten. Margaret is the daughter of a Christian mother and Jewish father. Since her mother’s parents didn’t approve of the marriage, Margaret’s parents had to elope, and decided that their family would be religion-free. Margaret will be able to choose her own religion when she grows up, but right now she’s facing pressure from the outside world to belong to one or the other. Aside from all the stress about puberty, Margaret is a girl who finds religion getting in the way of her relationship with God. Which is, actually, pretty tight. After all, she talks to him on a daily basis. It’s a story about growing up on every level – making choices and taking responsibility for your own actions.
Verdict: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is of those books that every girl should read. Preferably at the right time, which is probably that point when they’re stressing out about all the exact same stuff that Margaret is. I’d also recommend it to older readers looking for a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It’s pure gold.
Monday, 8 March 2010
As you would expect, Lonnie's story is at times a heartbreaking one. There were definitely moments when my eyes misted up, especially in Lonnie's brave and tender interactions with his little sister Lili, who has been fostered into a different family. However, it's also an uplifting journey. Through self-expression Lonnie realises he has a place in this world and takes his first steps forward.
I'm not sure why verse novels lend themselves so well to the exploration of loss, but in the case of Locomotion it works perfectly. There's no melodrama, no unneccesary detail, and not a single wasted word. Every poem counts. For readers who aren't usually big on poetry, Locomotion provides a perfect opportunity to discover - or rediscover - an appreciation for the form. This is accessible verse, full of meaning and emotion and urgency. In the space of a hundred or so pages Jacqueline Woodson gives us Lonnie's complete journey from grief and isolation to a newfound sense of hope and belonging. It's a beautiful book, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Sunday, 7 March 2010
Saturday, 6 March 2010
Magic Under Glass - Jaclyn Dolamore
From book cover: Nimira's life takes an unexpected turn when she's hired by the mysterious Mr Hollin Parry to accompany an exquisite piano-playing automaton. But Nimira's happiness with her new lifestyle is short-lived. She soon discovers the the spirit of a handsome young fairy gentleman is trapped inside the machine's stiff limbs. As they gradually fall in love, they become enmeshed in a plot to save the fairy realm from a ruthless gang of sorcerers - a battle that risks their very lives.
I'm really interested to read this. It sounds unusual and a little bit whimsical, and I like both those things. A lot.
When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead
From book jacket: By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it's safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.
But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda's mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own. I ask two favours. First, you must write me a letter.
The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she's too late.
I think this was originally recommended to me by Steph from Steph Su Reads, around the time I reread Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time. Apparently there's a link between the books. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm really intrigued. Plus, I read the first chapter of this one online and it sealed the deal for me.
Drawing With Light - Julia Green
From my head: I won this proof copy in a contest held by the awesome Sasha at The Sweet Bonjour. You can read a summary of the book and Sasha's own review right here. I was thrilled to win, and I actually think the plain old proof cover is pretty gorgeous.
Friday, 5 March 2010
Legacy of Lies and Don't Tell are the first two books in Elizabeth Chandler's Dark Secrets sequence, originally published nearly a decade ago. Although they're quite separate stories, they are linked by their setting - the mysterious coastal town of Wisteria, Maryland. They're also both twisty, modern gothic tales about plucky MCs faced with skeletons in the family cupboard... and irresistibly good looking love interests.
When I began to read the first story, something strange happened. I fell under a spell. I needed to uncover the story's secret. One thirty minute journey later, and I couldn't bear to put the book away. These novels are page-turners, pure and simple - they draw you in with their tantalizing mysteries, they hook you, and they don't let you go until you've devoured every page.
Individually, Legacy of Lies and Don't Tell are both quick, easy reads. Although they're short compared to many YA titles - weighing in at around 200 pages each - they're every bit as satisfying as lengthier novels in the same genre. They're a seamless blend of romance, mystery and the supernatural - and Elizabeth Chandler makes every page count.
As they're around a decade old, the two stories in this volume do feel a little dated in places. However, if anything this seems to add to their allure. There's an almost nostalgic feel to them, especially in the characterisation: the female protagonists are both of the beautiful-but-don't-know-it variety, and they go for those handsome and aloof boys in a big way. Don't get me wrong, both Megan and Lauren are skilled in sparring and give as good as they get... but they're not above noticing their sparring partner's chiselled good looks. And who can blame them, right?
If you like intoxicatingly romantic fiction with huge helpings of intrigue, Dark Secrets is the series for you. These books are gripping, impossible to put down, and seriously entertaining. I loved this volume, and I know I'll be coming right back for more when Dark Secrets 2 hits the shelves later this year. Great stuff.
Out: 4th March 2010, UK / 4th August 2009, US
Thank you to Simon and Schuster UK for sending me a review copy of this book.
Thursday, 4 March 2010
But over the summer, something happened. She was the reason the cops busted the party. She was the one who called them. And she's the one carrying a secret that's suffocating the girl she used to be.
Every now and then, I meet a character who becomes absolutely real to me. Melinda Sordino is one of those characters. To the outside world, she's a freak; the girl who called the cops at a party where there was underage drinking and has been ostracized ever since. The girl who chews on her own lips until scabs form. Somewhere deep down, she's an intelligent and compassionate girl with a sharp sense of humour. But there's a layer of trauma and guilt and confusion that is suffocating and silencing that girl. You know she's in there, but between her inability to confide in anyone and the inability of those around her to listen, she's silent. It's heartbreaking. It makes me want to scream for her.
If all this is beginning to sound a little dark, don't worry. There's a ray of hope in this novel, and it begins with art. While Melinda is finding it impossible to put her thoughts and emotions into words, her art teacher seems to sense that she has something she needs to express. Art helps Melinda to gradually come to terms with the burden she's carrying, and it also helps her to tell the reader things that she's not ready to give voice to as a narrator. Gradually, we learn Melinda's secret, and she finds the strength to face it herself. She finds a way to form the words.
Having read Speak I know that I'll be checking out more of Laurie Halse Anderson's work in the near future. Speak isn't the kind of book you escape into, and at times it's downright difficult to read, but it is compelling and ultimately positive. If you haven't read it, I really hope that you will. It's YA fiction that has something to say.
Wednesday, 3 March 2010
This week I'm waiting on...
The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen
Summary from Amazon.com: Mason has never known his father, but longs to. All he has of him is a DVD of a man whose face is never seen, reading a children’s book. One day, on a whim, he plays the DVD for a group of comatose teens at the nursing home where his mother works. One of them, a beautiful girl, responds. Mason learns she is part of a horrible experiment intended to render teenagers into autotrophs—genetically engineered, self-sustaining life-forms who don’t need food or water to survive. And before he knows it, Mason is on the run with the girl, and wanted, dead or alive, by the mysterious mastermind of this gruesome plan, who is simply called the Gardener.
Will Mason be forced to destroy the thing he’s longed for most?
I absolutely loved S.A. Bodeen's The Compound when I read it last year, so you'd be safe to assume that I'd pretty much be looking forward to any new book from her. However, I think this premise kicks it up a notch. Replace 'looking forward to' with 'crazy excited for' and you're halfway there.
Horrible experiment? Genetic engineering? Yes please.
Waiting till May 25th 2010 for the US publication? Well, I'd rather not, but if this one's anywhere near as good as The Compound it'll be well worth waiting for.
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
Monday, 1 March 2010
He thinks David should like girls too, because people are starting to talk. They're starting to think that David might be different.
As a main character, David is easy to relate to. He's well drawn and believable, and I really felt for him as he and his best friend Robert began to grow apart. He goes to the kind of school where his education is believed to be a preparation for his life working at a local factory, and where the only choices are to fit in - play football, start making moves on girls - or to be viewed as 'different'. David is a boy stuck between a childhood where he could be himself and an adolescence that expects him to be someone else.
I'd recommend this book to teens who are questioning their own identity, and to anyone who has a nostalgic love for classic episodes of Dr Who. It's also one of the few YA titles I've encountered recently that would probably appeal more to boys. The Diary of a Dr Who Addict is a story with a great message, and ideal for anyone looking for a thoughtful read.
Out: March 4th 2010, UK
Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for providing me with a copy of this book for review.