Friday, October 10, 2014

REVIEW: Echoes of Scotland Street by Samantha Young

I think I'll always be quite excited to read another book by Samantha Young, especially in this series.  I was particularly excited by Echoes of Scotland Street because it features one of my favourite ever characters from the On Dublin Street series of books: Cole.  I really fell in love with Cole as an awkward teenager in Down London Road. But now he's all grown-up and it's his turn to find love in this new book. And man, did I love taking this journey with him.

Echoes of Scotland Street tells us this story of Shannon MacLeod, a girl carrying around a bit of baggage from her previous relationship.  She's decided to move to Edinburgh for a new start and finds a job at a tattoo parlour where she meets sexy Cole Walker.  Immediately Shannon thinks she knows exactly the sort of man Cole is based on his appearance and how strongly Cole comes onto Shannon and she's determined to avoid him at all costs.  Unfortunately (or not!) Cole doesn't share her opinion.

While I do love the sex appeal of Cole Walker and the chemistry between him and Shannon, I did think it was a little bit hard to really get behind Shannon and her perspective of Cole from the beginning. And this is because fans of this series will already be familiar with Cole and know that he's as far from the 'tattooed, bad boy' that Shannon thinks he is - with an attitude and lack of respect for women.  Readers will know this about him but it takes Shannon a lot longer to come to this realisation and in the time it takes her to realise this she's already said and done mean, unfair things to poor Cole which didn't endear her to me initially.

Still loved it though.  Samantha Young writes such wonderful stories that are yes, filled with amazing  and intense romance, but also amazing friendships and this sense of family that goes beyond biological relationships.  A previous criticism of books in the series was that a lot of back story was hashed out unnecessarily but I didn't find that in Echoes of Scotland Street at all.  I thought the story progressed at a great pace and that all of the secondary characters played their parts very well.  I loved seeing Cole's friendship with Hannah from a different perspective and also seeing how Cole fits into this whole On Dublin Street family from an outsider perspective.

A lot of the story line does revolve around Shannon gaining confidence in herself and her abilities again after an abusive relationship and I thought that the author handled this aspect of the story really well.  I love that not only do we see Shannon falling in love with a great guy who for the most part is really understanding and supportive, but also that she manages to find friends, a life, and she's able to explore her own creative side in this book.  I like that in my romance novels. But it isn't just that Shannon is broken and Cole fixes her, they both are coming from dark places and able to explore moving forward together.

Echoes of Scotland Street was captivating and addictive and sexy as hell! I was gripped right from the very first page and Cole Walker is now my absolute favourite Samantha Young love interest. He's so passionate and straight-forward that I couldn't help but fall for him wholly and completely! I highly recommend this book and this series!

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Killing Sound Blog Tour: Writing For (Young) Adults by Paul Southern

I'm really happy to be taking part in the blog tour for Killing Sound by Paul Southern, a terrifying story about the London underground and sound waves.  I started reading this book late at night, on my own, in a creaky house and I just couldn't do it. If scary books are your thing, I'd recommend this one!

Find out more about Killing Sound or Paul Southern at his website and his twitter

Writing For (Young) Adults
by Paul Southern 

It is fair to say that my previous novels contained more than their fair share of violence and sexual content. Indeed, there was a surfeit of it. I was dramatizing the lives of young people in Manchester the way it is really lived on the streets. Having taught all ages from 5 to 21, I  also have a good idea of age appropriateness when it comes to writing for and about children. For example, I think most people would agree that giving 11-year-olds a dose of expletives and violence is probably not a good thing (although 11-year-olds play computer games with just that content). Most people would also agree that 13-year-olds should be protected from these things. By the age of 16, however, with the odd exceptions, and despite our best attempts to protect them, most children swear, are aware of what sex is, and have seen 18-rated horror films. The rites of passage have already begun. All of which leaves that difficult 13-16 age range in limbo.

 Teen fiction purportedly covers the ages 10 to 15, while Young Adult covers 12 to 18, or maybe even older. The lines between children’s fiction and YA and adult fiction are policed by adults, of course, who have often forgotten what it was like to be young, and like to read on their behalf. Meanwhile, children just want to be adults. Increasingly, the age they do so gets younger and younger. It’s difficult enough to set boundaries as a parent, never mind as a guardian of the nation’s youth.

 From its inception, Killing Sound was a book written for YA and adults. It was never written for 11-year-olds. Or for 13-year-olds, for that matter. The lowest age I thought would read it was say 14/15. In other words, well on the way to adulthood, coming to grips with growing up, and being aware of the world around them. I was consciously aware of this as I wrote it, edited it, and re-edited it. As a writer, you set your own bounds.

 Frankly, I think there is no difference in writing for YA and adults, except that, in the former, you’re writing largely for teen protagonists. You should never patronise your reader. You are still telling them a story. If a story for a 13-year-old has the word ‘fuck’ in it, society isn't going to collapse. My 12-year-old daughter has used the word talking to friends. I didn't want her to use the word. I’d rather she used a different one, but I guess my parents would have said the same thing about me. Kids want to use the word; it makes them feel grown up. Part of its appeal is the stupid taboo about it.

 Swear words should not be taboo. If they are used in context (or even out of it), they are appropriate. The author is best placed to judge this. No one knows their work like they do. The same goes for sex and violence. It isn’t just profanity and graphic content, either. Difficult or obscure words are sometimes deemed unsuitable for young adults. If a child or young adult comes across a word they don’t know, they should be reaching for a dictionary, not the remote control. How else do they learn?

 Killing Sound has its fair share of violence. It also has a lot of horror in it, both psychological and physical. I think it is important for kids to confront these things, just as the characters have to. Children know what’s at stake. It is only when you measure life against the alternative that it carries any meaning. Death is a constant in the book – not just coping with it, but the experience of it, and understanding what it means to die. Philip Larkin once starkly said, ‘Life is first boredom, then fear. Whether or not we use it, it goes.’ The quote is pinned to the wall above my desk. A good horror novel (or movie) helps us confront that fear and makes us feel more alive. That’s something children, young adults and adults can benefit from.

Killing Sound by Paul Southern out now in paperback (£7.99, Chicken House)

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Castle by Sophia Bennett Extract

I am currently reading a really wonderful book.  It's the latest offering from Sophia Bennett, one of my favourite UKYA authors.  It's a little bit different to her previous books, in that it's an adventure story about a girl trying to find and rescue her dad, but I think it's pretty special.  Today, I bring you an extract from the book for my stop in the blog tour.  I hope you enjoy!

If you'd like to know more about The Castle or Sophia Bennett, please do visit the following websites:

Extract 1 – The Van

Peta Jones has evaded an attempt to kidnap her by a dark-haired woman she calls the Wicked Queen, and has bunked off school to find the London home of the family she thinks might be holding her father prisoner. The house is partly obscured by a big removal van parked outside ...

I stared up at the gleaming windows, willing someone to look out – some face to give me a clue as to who was inside. But the house was dark behind the shining glass.

After another five minutes, a man came up the basement stairs, struggling with an old-fashioned, upright trunk. He put it on a trolley and wheeled it up the ramp into the van. He was straining under the weight of it. Were the Wahools moving out? Or just going on holiday? Either way, these were clearly not people who stuffed their clothes into the nearest rucksack and hoped for the best.

However, one other thing seemed certain: for the moment, at least, the family was here. Of all the places they could have been, I was right – this was this one.

Was there a cell in the basement, I wondered, near the underground swimming pool? After one simple coach ride, could I really be so close? Dad? Are you a prisoner behind those walls?

I shivered. The air seemed to shimmer. The house, so close, seemed impossibly distant and impregnable. It was eerily quiet. Apart from removal guys, there didn’t seem to be anyone about. The only sounds were birdsong and passing traffic, and a pneumatic drill going off somewhere in the distance.

A black cat jumped on to a nearby wall, curled its tail neatly around its paws and watched me.

I couldn’t stop thinking that Max Wahool could be inside right now, which meant Dad was there too. I couldn’t imagine how, or why. Or rather, I could imagine a million scenarios, but none of them made sense.

My muscles were cramping from all that crouching by the jeep. There’s only so long a girl can pretend to tie her non-existent shoelaces. Even the removal guys seemed to have given up for a while. I straightened up and checked my watch: 12.15. Perhaps they’d gone for lunch. It seemed amazing that they should leave the van open like that, shutter up, with the ramp leading into it, but they had.

Rather like an invitation.

I got a prickle down the back of my neck.

The house looked impregnable, but the van was wide open. I could hear Luke in my head, screaming at me not to, but the thing was ... maths.

The statistical probability of me making it into the van, finding out something useful about the Wahools and getting out safely was, oh, about ten per cent. Or maybe five. Or – the more I thought about it – one. But the family was moving, it seemed, and the chance of me ever seeing Dad again if I didn’t do something, now, was zero. Absolute zero. That’s how it felt to me. And I was the only one who cared enough to try.

This was my chance. The only one I’d get. So I ran.

I was panting by the time I got inside, and I instantly knew I’d made a mistake. The van was half empty. There was a clothes rail to one side, next to the steamer trunk, and some antique chairs and tables held in place with ropes and blankets near the back. What could I possibly learn from trunks and clothes rails? But beyond them all I could just make out one other thing: an ornate writing desk with lots of drawers. Drawers could be full of papers. I ran over to it as fast as I could.

Only one drawer opened and it was empty. I tried the others. Maybe I’d find a letter mentioning Dad, or a photo, or something connecting them, or ... But even as I desperately tried each new drawer, the possibilities seemed increasingly unlikely. You have the power to be way over-optimistic, Peta Jones. Anyway, the other drawers didn’t even budge. Of course they didn’t budge. Why had I ever thought this was a good plan? Oh, wait – I never had.

That’s when I heard voices coming up the basement steps. The removal men, both of them, this time. Perfect. It was as if they’d been waiting specially for this moment.

My eye fell on a clothes rail, packed with garment bags. It felt as though the beating of my heart was powerful enough to catapult me through it. I ducked behind the bags and rearranged them in a solid mass in front of me. Thank God the Wahool family had loads and loads of clothes.

‘You seen what’s in this one?’ the first voice said, in an Australian accent, tramping up the ramp into the back of the van.


‘Basketballs. Dozens of ‘em, all blown up.’

‘What does he need them there for? Don’t they sell basketballs in Italy?’

‘No idea. Guy inside said they were signed or something. How much more’ve we got to go?’

‘Three more boxes? Then the cases and the shopping bags. That’s about it.’

‘Won’t take long.’

The men arranged their boxes in the middle of the van and disappeared again. Somehow, they hadn’t heard my heart pounding.

I could have gone at that moment. Should have done. But I was busy trying to think of excuses. What would I say if they caught me? I’d tell them I lived nearby. I’d say I was curious. I’d say my cat had jumped inside and I’d come in looking for him.

But before I could move, I heard more steps on the ramp. This was someone new, and big. The van shook as he entered. I could smell his aftershave – it was strong, like lemons.

I made a tiny gap between the clothes bags to peep through. Despite the thud of the new man’s walk, he wasn’t bulky like a rugby player; he was like the men in Dad’s old regiment who were experts in judo and karate. His body was lean under his business suit, but solid, and his head was shaved. You could just tell he could beat you in a fight (not only me – obviously he’d beat me – but even someone tall, and mean, and trained). He radiated calm efficiency. This was not a man you made excuses to.

Holding a shallow black box in one hand, he approached the desk. He opened the one drawer that would open, felt around for a minute and took out a key. The key opened the central drawer. He put the box inside, locked the drawer and replaced the key in its hiding place. Then he left. Outside, I heard him call sharply to the removal men.

‘One of you’s always looking after the van, right?’ He sounded brisk, authoritative.

‘Yup,’ an Australian voice assured him.

Really? They so weren’t.

‘Good. Keep it that way.’

‘Sure thing. No problem, mate.’

Oh great. So now they were turning all conscientious. I waited for a few more minutes, then peeped through the clothes to see if they were still outside. Even if they were, I’d use the cat excuse on them and run. It was better than staying here.

At that moment, a car pulled up behind the van. A Range Rover. Dark, with blacked-out windows. I peered into the light and adjusted my vision. The driver’s door opened and a woman got out.

Ingrid – the Wicked Queen. Right here. Right now. Right in front of me.

My heart beat so fast I thought it might blow itself up.

Stupid idiot, Peta Jones. You went straight to them.

As she locked the Range Rover with a quiet ‘beep’, I heard somebody call across to her: Muscle Man. ‘So you’re back. Where’s Marco?’

‘I left him there,’ she said. Her accent was clipped and sounded German now she wasn’t trying to hide it. I watched her through the garment bags.

‘Does he have the kid yet?’ Muscle Man asked, coming into view.

‘No. He’s staying down there to get her. I’m bringing the car back because he said it was too con ... con ... It stood out too much.’

‘Conspicuous,’ Muscle Man said. ‘Yes, I can see that.’ He sounded unimpressed by her grasp of English, and also her grasp of kidnapping.

‘Anyway, Marco will finish the job tonight,’ she said crossly. ‘He has the equipment.'

‘Good,’ Muscle Man said. ‘The boss is waiting. He’ll join us later with Miss Yasmin. Madam is still in Paris, shopping.’ He almost spat out the word ‘shopping’. Obviously that wasn’t something he was very impressed by, either. ‘So – Southampton docks, nine-thirty tomorrow. Marco must have the kid by then.’

‘Oh, he’ll have her. Alive and kicking.’

He laughed at that. A short, sharp, satisfied laugh.

‘How’s the princess?’ Ingrid asked.’ Is she ready?’

‘Magnificent,’ he said. ‘The best in her class. She’s everything he wanted and more, they tell me. And yes, she’s ready.’

They walked out of sight, but as they did so, the removal men came back with more bags and boxes. They made a couple more trips while I hid as far into the shadows as I could.

I waited for everything to go quiet again. I was ready to run as soon as the coast was clear.

What I wasn’t ready for was for one of the removal guys to come back, pull down the shutter and lock me in the dark. I wasn’t ready for the engine to start up and the van to move off, with me inside it.

I wasn’t ready for that at all.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Top Ten Underrated UKYA Authors

I know that it's been awhile since I took part in a TTT, but I couldn't pass up this week's topic. I was going to film a video about underrated authors but it's always more fun to do things with a group of people, so I'm doing this instead!  Top Ten Tuesday, as ever, is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Do visit her site to visit other people taking part in this week's topic!

In no particular order, here are my top ten underrated authors.  They are all British authors who write YA. I came about this list by checking my Goodreads page and ranking my 'read' books by the books with fewest ratings. It's a very scientific approach, really. Sometimes I impress myself.

Liz Bankes

Liz Bankes is the author of three wonderful, funny, romantic books: Irresistible, Undeniable and, most recently, Unstoppable.  All three books are companion novels of each other and focus on a similar group of characters as they navigate their friendships, identities, jobs, and relationships.  I love all three books for their humour, their friendships and for all the lovely boys we meet. There's plenty of tension and awkwardness and I wish more people were reading and talking about her books!

Vanessa Curtis 

I really love Vanessa Curtis' books.  She is the author the Zelah Green books - Zelah Green and One More Little Problem - about a girl who is dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder and also the Lilah May books - The Taming of Lilah May and Lilah May's Manic Days - about a girl with rage.  She's also written a ghost story calling The Haunting of Tabitha Grey and most recently a middle grade story, The Baking Life of Amelie Day, about a teen baker who also has cystic fibrosis. Each of her books have been quite emotional and felt very different to other books I've read. I love the range of topics covered and how easily it was for me to really care about the characters.

Helen Grant

Now, I haven't yet read many books by Helen Grant but based solely on the strength of her two books in the Forbidden Spaces trilogy that have been published so far - Silent Saturday and Demons of Ghent - I really want to hunt down her other books.  I absolutely love Silent Saturday and Demons of Ghent. They're both set in Belgium and cover urban exploration and the ways in which the main character, Veerle, finds herself involved in difficult (and illegal) situations with some dangerous people.  I love the way these books unfold, how emotional they are and how absolutely tense and suspenseful they are!

Lydia Syson

I think that historical fiction writers are kind of overlooked? Especially in YA? And I think that's an absolute shame.  I've read and loved both of Lydia Syson's YA novels - A World Between Us and That Burning Summer - and I think she has a wonderful skill of really drawing me into her stories and letting the historical detail wash over me really seamlessly.  I'm not usually a big of historical fiction, but I am when Lydia Syson writes it.  A World Between Us tells the emotional story of three people during the Spanish Civil War and That Burning Summer is about a Polish pilot who crash lands in England and cannot face returning to war.  Both books are fascinating and gripping reading and count amongst my favourite UKYA.

Phil Earle

Love Phil Earle. His debut book, Being Billy, will always be one of my favourite books and it's one that made me feel a whole range of things. And everything else he's written - Saving Daisy, Heroic, The Bubble Wrap Boy - has been written with such warmth and heart as well.  It's been a very emotional experience reading Phil Earle's books but I look forward to it always.  He's published the first in a series of middle grade fiction next year and I cannot wait.

Candy Harper

Now I've only read one book by Candy Harper so far (but have read her dystopian book written under the name CJ Harper called The Disappeared and really enjoyed that!) but I found it hugely funny and entertaining and I can't think why more people haven't been picking it up and raving about it.  It's called Have A Little Faith and there's already a sequel, Keep the Faith, which I'm looking out for to read next.  I love the main character's attitude and self-centredness SO MUCH. I did the full range of smile to snort to full-on belly laugh reading some of Faith's adventures!

Sharon Jones

I've said it a million times, but I love Sharon Jones' books. Her Poppy Sinclair novels - Dead Jealous and Dead Silent - are really incredible and I'm constantly recommending them to people. Not only do I love the thriller aspect of the books, I also love the main character, her love interest, the setting and the fact that religion plays a part in both books. I love everything about these books and I can't wait to read more by Sharon Jones!

Julia Green

Julia Green is perhaps the author that I've read the least from on this list, but I'm very sure that that will change in the very near future. I just love how gentle Julia Green's stories are. Especially This Northern Sky which I absolutely adored. I love how much family and friendship and the setting felt like the main focus of the story.  It was also beautifully written in a way that made me quite desperate to visit the Scottish islands.
Theresa Breslin

Theresa Breslin is another historical author who I absolutely adore. I've only read a handful of her novels but everything by her that I've read, I've loved. And it does make me want to read her entire backlist too. My favourites of hers being Divided City about the religious divide between Catholics and Protestants in Scotland, Prisoner of the Inquisition and also Spy for the Queen of Scots.  Wonderful characters and settings!

Sita Brahmachari

I haven't read all of Sita Brahmachari's books (yet) but those books I have read make me want to read her others.  She's the author of five books for teens: Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies which I believe are in a series together. There's also Kite Spirit, about a girl who goes to the country to recharge after the suicide of her best friend, and also Brace Mouth, False Teeth a Barrington Stoke book about a girl's work experience at a care home.  All of her books are filled with wonderful characters and settings! Her new book, Red Leaves, is being published this month, I believe.

Which authors would you consider as being underrated?

Monday, September 08, 2014

REVIEW: Say Her Name by James Dawson

I was quite pleasantly surprised by Say Her Name by James Dawson. I'll admit, I did go into this book hoping that it would scare the pants off me and while it didn't quite reach that level for me, I did find Say Her Name consistently and, at times, uncomfortably creepy.  I loved that there was this thread of unease that really built up throughout the story and that there felt like quite a bit of tension.  Plus? I absolutely love the cover.

Say Her Name is the story of Bloody Mary and how the legend of this ghost manifests itself in the lives of a group of teenagers at a boarding school.  It all starts off as a bit of a joke at a Halloween party, when our main character, Bobbie, her room mate, Naya, and a local boy, Caine, end up in front of a mirror invoking Bloody Mary's name. Nothing happens immediately however, unfortunately for the three characters in Say Her Name, that isn't where the story ends.  Things start happening.  Nightmares, scary reflections in mirrors ...and then more.  There's a race against time for these three characters to find out what they can about Mary and this curse in order to save themselves.

I think my favourite aspect of this story is how much I came to care about the characters. Bobbie is a wonderful main character. I think she's funny and witty and has the best dialogue throughout the story.  I liked her relationship with her room mate, Naya, and how they interacted with each other.  And I also really liked Caine as a love interest, especially with how lacking in confidence Bobbie is to believe anything could happen.  But I think the thing I loved the most is what these three characters come to find out, in their search for answers, about Mary's past and how this curse came about. I think it could have been quite easy to not give Mary a back story but I found myself feeling a little bit sorry for Mary's character and I think that made this story a lot more interesting for me.

It also had lots of elements of scariness and horror.  I did read parts of this book late at night, in bed, alone and I found myself succumbing to some of the creepiness, especially with the elements of water and reflections.  My only complaint with the book is that I would have liked the ending to have gone in a different direction. I felt like the conclusion of the book took something away from what the author did with the Mary's back story and motivation.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

New series I've started in 2014 (and am excited to continue!)

At the start of 2014, I was really bemoaning the amount of series I was in the middle of and I was thinking that during 2014, I would be really conscious of the amount of series I was going to begin.  I wanted to read more standalone books. I wanted to complete the series I was already in the middle of.  I didn't want to get sucked back into waiting for the next book in the series ...and not really remembering in great detail what had happened when I did pick up the next book.

I thought today I would share with you the first books in a series that I've started in 2014.  These are only the books that I loved and am excited to read more soon.  The number of books listed here tells me that I did not do a very good job of limiting new series this year!


Flirty Dancing by Jenny McLachlan

How To Fall by Jane Casey

Blue by Lisa Glass

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

Have A Little Faith by Candy Harper

Biggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols

I think I decided to list the contemporary books in a series first because I find them the easiest to remember when it comes to reading the sequels and because I enjoy reading contemporary books more than other genres they tend to be the books I'm most excited to read more from. From this list, particularly the sequels to Blue, To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Have A Little Faith.


The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

The Jewel by Amy Ewing

Winterkill by Kate A. Boorman

I have not read many dystopian books this year and I think this has been a distinct plummet from the number of dystopian books I've read in previous years.  I really, really enjoyed Winterkill and The Jewel and only sort of liked The Darkest Minds but as I have the sequel already, I thought I should add it here. I also think Winterkill and The Jewel have such lovely covers.

Fantasy/Paranormal/Science Fiction

Storm by Brigid Kemmerer

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

Adaptation by Malinda Lo

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

Trial By Fire by Josephine Angelini

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

I'm surprised that there aren't more new series started in this category, honestly. I've been reading a lot of fantasy books lately and I've been really enjoying them. I definitely want to read more fantasy and to also possibly spread into reading adult fantasy as well.  Out of these books, I'm most excited about reading more of the Merrick brothers, the sequel to Adaptation, The Falconer series and the new series by Josephine Angelini!

Middle Grade

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black

I ask myself this question all the time and I never get a good response back but - why don't I read more middle grade fiction?! I really need to hunt out more MG with strong friendships like these two books.  Anyone care to give me some good recommendations?


Poppy by Mary Hooper

I don't often read very many historical books though I do particularly love them when I do make the attempt to read more.  I'm really very much looking forward to reading Poppy In Love.

What series have you started this year that you're very excited about?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

REVIEW: The Baking Life of Amelie Day by Vanessa Curtis

I found The Baking Life of Amelie Day by Vanessa Curtis to be an utterly charming middle grade book and I was in such a dilemma when reading it. On the one hand, I wanted to devour this book whole and not stop reading for anything. And on the other hand, I was quite desperate to stop reading and rush immediately to my kitchen and whip up a storm baking something, anything (though preferably using Amelie's own recipes that are included within the book!)  The reading won out and all the way through I found this book to be so sweet and just that little bit heart-breaking.

Amelie Day is no ordinary teen girl.  She is a baking wiz and spends her entire waking life thinking up new recipes and combinations of flavours to make her baking creations the absolute best that she can make them. Her passion and enthusiasm for baking made me really smile and I love how generous she is with her baking.  Giving someone homemade treats is the best and Amelie seems to know it.  She really brightens up everyone around her with her baking.  And she's good at it.

She's made it into the finals of the Teen Baker of the Year award and is hard at work coming up with her three dishes to put forward. Unfortunately, her mother isn't keen to let Amelie travel to London for the award.  Because the other thing about Amelie is that she has cystic fibrosis that means quite a few medical complications.  I can't say that I knew very much about cystic fibrosis before I started reading this book but I liked that Vanessa Curtis wrote quite a bit about what it would be like for a teenage girl to have CF in a very honest but compassionate way. We see Amelie at her best and at her worst but at no point do we pity or feel sorry for Amelie because of it. Nor is having CF her most redeeming feature.

This book is quite short but I feel like that it really packed in an emotional punch. I found myself really sympathising with Amelie's situation and could understand how she felt about wanting to take part in something so important to her as the Teen Baker award. But at the same time, I felt really bad for Amelie's mother for being protective of her daughter's health and taking a stand for what she believes will be really harmful.  Also, total bonus points for including blogging into Amelie's narrative.

I loved The Baking Life of Amelie Day.  I thought it was sweet and fun and made my mouth water at the same time as shining a bit of light on cystic fibrosis in a way that I might not have otherwise come across.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

REVIEW: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

When I first heard about this new series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, I was both really intrigued and excited. I was really curious to see what a combination of ideas from these two impressive authors would be like and also how different it would be to their previous stories and to the other well-known middle grade fantasy series it has been compared to (Harry Potter).

Despite my excitement and as with any book I have high expectations for, I was also a little bit nervous to start this book. And while I did find the beginning to be a little bit slow-going as the characters and this new world is being introduced, I also quickly came to enjoy it.  I very much enjoyed the friendship between the three central characters, I loved the introduction of some magical creatures and also discovering some twists and surprises at the end.

The main character of this story is Callum Hunt who has just celebrated his 12th birthday.  Because his is a magical family, he has been invited to take a test at the Magisterium that will determine if he has the magical ability to attend their magic school and apprentice with a powerful mage at the school.  But Callum is not like other prospective students with the school. He has been raised by his single father who hates magic and is determined for Callum to fail his magic tests and to avoid magic at all costs.

But that is not to be for Callum Hunt who has been picked as one of three apprentices by the most powerful mage at the Magisterium.  Together with new friends, Aaron and Tamara, they explore the school, manage deathly-dull tasks set by their mage and get into a fair bit of trouble.  I love that Call is so reluctant at first to join in and has such misgivings about everyone around him but slowly he grows to love magic and makes some solid connections with the other students.

I think that a lot of people have already spotted that there are similarities here to the Harry Potter series: a trio of magical students who enter magic school who are training towards defeating an evil wizard.  There's even a 'chosen one' and a Malfoy-esque arch-nemesis.  But if you get past all of that, and not let that distract you, this story is one that is worth reading.  It is fun and exciting and has a diverse set of characters and some twists that you probably won't see coming. I do recommend it!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Mini-reviews: Brace Mouth, False Teeth by Sita Brahmachari and Ring of Roses by Mary Hooper

I have recently been sent the most lovely packages from Barrington Stoke and they just make me so happy. Honestly, I do love Barrington Stoke and all they do. They have such an exciting list of authors as well. I'm always impressed by the quality of writing and how much emotion and action gets packed into these smaller stories. These two books arrived recently and I loved them both so much that I thought I'd squeeze in some mini-reviews for you today.

Brace Mouth, False Teeth by Sita Brahmachari

Isn't that a great cover? I love this cover. It's fun and colourful and really stands out to me.  And what a fantastic little story too.  Zeni is 14 and she doesn't have a clue what she wants to do for her week-long work experience.

She ends up at Magnolia Gardens Care Home and she didn't know what to expect that first day.  What she finds are a bunch of wonderful older people including a jazz musician, a retired barrister and an old woman called Alice who takes a shine to Zeni straight away.  The lady who runs the care home tells Zeni and Joe, another work experience student, that their project for the week is to to talk to the care home patients and find some way to improve their quality of life.

I think the thing that I loved so much about this book is that at times it's really very funny.  Zeni provides a lot of comic relief, most of the time without realising it and there were several points in the book that I did just laugh out loud at the things she says or does.  But it's also quite emotional as well.  Joe is there looking after his grandfather and worrying about how his grandfather is reluctant to settle in and get out of his room.  But I think Zeni's relationship with Alice is at the heart of the story.  They definitely have their ups and downs but it's quite sweet to see them together and to see how hard Zeni tries to make this old woman smile.

Brace Mouth, False Teeth was funny and sweet and well worth a read!

Ring of Roses by Mary Hooper

I say this all the time but I wish that I read more historical fiction. Initially I always feel a little bit wary of historical books and then once I start reading I usually fall effortlessly into a new time period and find myself really enjoying myself. Such was the case with Ring of Roses. I quite like the way Mary Hooper writes and have enjoyed books by her before.

Ring of Roses is about London during the Plague in the 1600s.  It specifically follows one particular teenage girl Abby just as she is starting a new job as a nursemaid for a wealthy family. Meanwhile, the Plague is just kicking off and we hear from Abby's perspective weekly death tolls and what normal people during the time thought was causing the spread of disease and about cures and how difficult things are at this time.  I found all of it to be incredibly fascinating and I realised how little I did know about this period of time at all.

Despite the historical detail, this story is about Abby and I really loved witnessing both her friendship with her friend Hannah as well as how much Abby cares for the little girl under her protection.  But the thing about the Plague was that nobody was immune to it from the rich to the poor and it was really interesting and at times difficult to see how Abby and her employers fare during this difficult time.

At the end of the book, with a note from the author, I found out that Ring of Roses is a companion book to two other books written about a similar set of characters (At the Sign of the Sugared Plum and Petals in the Ashes).  I shall be picking up those two books to read in the very near future and I'm quite excited about it too!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

REVIEW: Trial By Fire by Josephine Angelini

I absolutely adored Trial By Fire by Josephine Angelini! I thought it was exciting and addictive and a wonderful start to a new series and I cannot wait to read more. I love the idea of alternative worlds, the witches, the romance. Give me more!

In this first book, called the Worldwalker trilogy, our main character, Lily Proctor, lives in a world that is trying to kill her. She's allergic to everything and so isn't able to do all the things she'd like.  Which is why when she's invited to a high school party by her best friend, Tristan, she jumps at the chance to be normal for once in her life because she knows that there really might not be that many opportunities for her left.  The party scene is one that really broke my heart and kind of set me up for how emotional the rest of this book was. Because Lily faces something really humiliating and it's kind of the last straw for her. She runs off, hoping that everything she's just run from would disappear... and it happens.

Lily wakes up in an alternative world in which magic abounds and there are powerful witches called Crucibles.  In this new world, Lily is no longer a weak girl dying from allergies, but someone who holds great power and has the ability to make great changes and be either a force for good or evil. I absolutely adored finding out about New Salem and about Crucibles and how changing what Lily eats and drinks changes her body's chemistry and how the whole magic system works.

I just loved New Salem in general.  Lily meets some familiar faces here including her own alternate-self, Lillian, who is cruel and does horrific things but also Rowan, this beautiful boy who Lillian has had this destructive relationship with already and has left Rowan bitter and broken-hearted.  Lily and Rowan must team together, however, to find answers to how Lily jumped universes and to stop Lillian.

I loved the slow-burn romance between Lily and Rowan and also a lot of the new friendships.  It was interesting to see Lily interact with alternate-Tristan in New Salem and get his perspective on Tristan's behaviour previously.  I loved how action-packed the second half of this book became and I was on the edge of my seat to know what would happen next.  I really cared for all of these characters, including, probably strangely, Lillian, and I wanted the best for all of them. The direction the ending took makes me very excited to see some of Lily's home life being explored more (and also more sizzling scenes between Lily and Rowan!)

Everything about this book excited me and I'm gasping for the next book in the series. I thought this first book in the series really brought us some fantastic, complicated characters, really interesting relationships and an exciting new world.  And I want more.

Monday, August 25, 2014

REVIEW: Take Me On by Katie McGarry

I am a huge fan of Katie McGarry's stories. I love her characters and their relationships together and I've always fallen hard her main characters and the love interests. I love how complicated and emotional everything feels and while I love some characters and relationships more than others, I've still also really enjoyed the character journeys and could feel strong things about where these stories were going.  ...And then I read Take Me On, her latest companion novel, this time focusing on the lives and loves of West and Hayley.  And for the first time, I've felt disappointed in the story and where it went.  And for that, I feel very sad.

Take Me On is told from both Hayley and West's perspective.  I believe the events of the story are told in tandem to other events in the same series.  Hayley and West are both going through some difficult times. West has been kicked out of his house by his parents and Hayley is also experiencing really difficult issues with her family.  She's living with a strict uncle who seems to bear some sort of grudge against her and her family and to be honest, none of Hayley's felt 'real' to me.  I just didn't connect to this aspect of the story and this emotional distance made it very hard to relate to Hayley and her story.

Hayley and West first meet as Hayley is on her way home and gets jumped by some neighbourhood kids and West jumps in to help not knowing that Hayley is in fact a kickboxing champion ranked nationally.  Soon after this, West feels slightly responsible for certain things and he ends up accepting a fight on Hayley's behalf. This fight is one West cannot win without help from Hayley and the two of them decide to join together, pretend to be boyfriend and girlfriend and train together for this upcoming fight.

I think part of my issue with this book is that there was too much macho posturing for my liking and a lot of attitude and some mysterious code of conduct involving honour felt slightly outdated for me.  And West and Hayley both get wrapped up in this and also sort of wrapped up in what other people think they should be.  West feels the need to fight in order to prove how manly he is and Hayley seems intent on keeping everything hurting her to herself ... and I didn't especially enjoy reading about either scenario. I think a lot of the drama could have been avoided by both Hayley and West opening up to those closest to them and having an honest conversation in which questions are asked and confessions are made.  And for whatever reason, I just didn't have quite the patience or compassion for how difficult that is to do for these two characters. During the middle and the ending of this book I just wanted to shout 'get there quicker!' and be done with it.

I don't think that this is a bad story at all, it's just a story that didn't appeal to me specifically.  I do still adore Katie McGarry and will always eagerly look out for any new books by her, but unfortunately this time I just didn't fall in love like I was expecting.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Settings I'd Like to See More of In YA

I'm always writing lists of things I'd like to see more or less of in the books I read. And lately, I've been thinking of some cool settings I'd like to see more of (specifically thinking of contemporary YA).  Here is that list. Do you agree? What sort of settings would you like to see more in YA?

Books set ...

in theme parks

Did you guys see that film with Jesse Eisenberg and Kirsten Stewart, Adventureland? I think N put it on to watch one lazy Sunday and I remember quite liking it.  I remember being this weird divide between ride operators and those in charge of the stalls?  And it was a cute film if not particularly memorable to me. But what I did love is the fact that it was set in a theme park. I don't know if you guys know this about me (ha!) but my family spends a considerable amount of time at Legoland.  \Like, a lot of time.  There's always a very particular atmosphere about Legoland and there a bunch of crazy, awesome people who work there and who go there regularly same as us.  I think not only would a theme park (possibly with a higher average age than Legoland, sure) be a great place for a YA novel it would also be a great place for a documentary. (I still want to film one about Legoland!)

in water parks

I don't know about you, but The Way, Way Back was one of my favourite recent films.  I only went to watch it at the cinema because I ended up with free tickets, but I really, really loved it. It has some great characterisations and family dynamics and I just thought the whole thing was utterly sweet. I'm not a big fan of Steve Carell in anything but I adore Sam Rockwell.  And his character was amazing in helping the main character grow in confidence over the course of the summer.  And it's set in a water park! I don't know, I haven't really seen many (any?) water parks in the UK around, is this mostly a US thing?  Even so, just like the theme park suggestion ahead, I'd really love to see a YA book at least partially set in a water park. Or even, while we're on the subject, a zoo or aquarium!

at festivals

Julianne's latest video about summer books touches on this topic and she mentions that festivals would be a great addition to YA novels, and I have to agree.  One of my favourite books is Split By A Kiss by Luisa Plaja in which a bunch of characters are attending a music festival and all sorts of drama happen. But I don't necessarily think it has to be exclusively music festivals. I think Sharon Jones's Dead Jealous was amazing set at a pagan festival and I loved it all the more for doing so!

in European cities

I think Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins made everyone fall in love with Paris just that tiny bit more and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green really highlighted Amsterdam and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor made me, at the very least, really sit up and take note of Prague. And I'd like to see other authors set their stories in other awesome European cities.  Like Venice or Lisbon or Barcelona or ... some place a little more off-beat. I don't know. I'm no expert. But I'd love to read more about different places that also feel a little more accessible. That's not London. Or in the US.

What settings would you like to see more of in YA?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

REVIEW: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

I didn't know anything about The Jewel by Amy Ewing before I picked the book up to read it other than that it is a dystopian YA book being compared to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I love The Handmaid's Tale and I was incredibly intrigued to see where this story would go and how it would compare to such a well-loved book.

I have to say, I thought The Jewel was incredibly exciting and, at times, a shocking story.  It wasn't as filled with action as I was perhaps expecting but it built the world nicely and did political intrigue incredibly well and I was always on the edge of my seat worrying about who I thought Violet, our main character, should be trusting and who she should be avoiding.

The Jewel centres around this world in which royalty are unable to carry their own children and instead the royals buy surrogates in a yearly auction.  Surrogates for sale in this auction are from the poorest communities in this world and they are ranked by their abilities with Auguries.  The auguries were something that I found really fascinating and this element of fantasy was one of my favourite aspects of the story.  Violet Lasting is one of these surrogates and she goes into the auction as one of the highest ranking surrogates there.

I think what really gripped me into the story right from the start is the emotion that Violet feels - at the loss of her name and being separated from her family that she loves so much.  I was close to tears in the first few chapters getting to know Violet.  I really came to care for her and wanted what is best for her.  As she was being prepared for the auction, I did feel some similarities to other dystopian stories, but for the most part, I felt like this book is strong enough to stand on its own.  But I did very much love Violet's small acts of rebellion throughout the book that shows she's struggling against the restraints of her life.

I haven't talked too much about the events after the auction because I don't want to spoil too much of the story, but as I said at the beginning, I loved the political intrigue included in this novel. Violet is in a position of great importance where she ends up and is privy to really dangerous information and meets with the highest members of this world's ruling power.

Right from the very first page, I was hooked on this book. It's a bit of a shocker of an ending which means I'm now dying to read more in this series! Bring it on.

Monday, August 18, 2014

REVIEW: Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie by Jeff Norton

I first heard about Memoirs of A Neurotic Zombie by Jeff Norton at a blogger event earlier this year and Jeff Norton was there to read some of the beginning of this book aloud ... and it was hilarious. I found myself laughing a lot listening to this funny, awkward, neurotic pre-teen turned zombie and his adventures and I knew that I was going to love it.  And I did.

Adam Meltzer has the shock of his life when a few months after he dies from a bee sting at his 12th birthday, he wakes up as a zombie.  This is his story of how he both adjusts to zombie-hood but also how he solves the mystery of his own death/why he turned into a zombie.  It was a whole lot of fun and is populated with some great supporting characters. I especially loved the idea that everyone is different and that those differences should be celebrated.

The thing with Adam Meltzer is that he's many things.  He's obviously a pre-teen and now a zombie, but he's also a germaphobe and an absolute worrier and those things can offer their own sorts of humour.  But I think the thing that I love most about Adam Meltzer is how literal he is. I know an almost 9 year old who is just as literal as Adam and I could really understand and relate to some things Adam seems to question throughout this book.

Together with Adam in this detective mission for answers are two friends Ernesto and Corina who are in the unique position to understand Adam's predicament in that they are a chupacabra and a vampire respectively.  What I really loved about this trio is the level of support and friendship they give to each other.

Altogether, Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie was a really fun, funny book about a group of outsiders who find a place to belong and who go on this dangerous adventure seeking truth in this really entertaining way and I was gripped throughout by what they get up to.  I loved reading a book that was so humorous as well as being full of heart. Highly recommended!