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!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

REVIEW: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Despite owning a copy of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black for a very long time, I didn't read this book until very recently.  I had my doubts about the vampires and the thought that this possibly wouldn't be the most original story, and if I'm honest, I was put off a little bit by the size of this book at over 400 pages.

Once I sat down with The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I found myself being sucked in almost effortlessly by this story.  That first chapter really surprised me.  It was dark and violent and it went places that shocked me.  And similarly, I quite liked the way the story ended as well, though I can see that it could make some people feel a little frustrated.

This story is set in America at a time when vampirism has spread like crazy.  In order to combat the spread of vampires and to protect humans, Coldtowns were created. These are walled cities in which vampires live and are meant to keep them in.  Once you enter a Coldtown, you're not to leave.  Coldtowns also have become reality TV sets as people are so fascinated and intrigued by vampires and are desperate to know what's going on in them.

The main character of this story, Tana, wakes up from a party only to find out that there has been a massacre and everyone at the party except for her and her ex-boyfriend have been slaughtered by vampires.  It's all a little bit tense getting out, but she manages to save herself, her ex, AND a vampire and goes on this journey towards the nearest Coldtown.

I thought Holly Black brought us some incredibly interesting characters in this story, characters that I really wanted to know more about. I liked the main character, Tana, even if I didn't always fully understand her decisions or motivations.  My favourite thing about her was her relationship with her little sister and how much Tana wanted to protect her. I also found it interesting to see some of Tana's flashbacks and memories of what happened with her mother.

Along the way to the Coldtown, Tana not only spends time with Aidan, her sweet but exasperating ex, and Gavriel, this mysterious vampire but also comes across other fab characters.  Midnight and Winter, brother and sister, are vampire-wannabes who are heading to Coldtown hoping to be infected and turned and to broadcast their experiences on their website. I liked that there was not only revulsion and fascination shown towards vampires but also this obsessive longing from some characters. In fact, the entire mythology of Holly Black's vampires was very interesting and it gave it a new twist.

My only criticism of this book is that there are all of these great characters populating the story and unfortunately, I didn't really felt the connection that they had with each other.  There's a lot of backstory told between Tana and Aidan's previous relationship and a lot of build-up of tension and feelings between Tana and Gavriel and I just didn't believe in it throughout. In fact, towards the end, several key players start dying and doing shocking things and I felt slightly distanced from these events.  I thought the action was exciting and the pace was fairly quick for a book of this length and, like I said, I loved the characters.  I just didn't quite feel the friendships or romance at all. Despite all of this, I shall definitely be picking up more stories by Holly Black...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bookish Events: The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell at the Barbican

Recently, I went to a lovely bookish event held at the Barbican being billed as a 'revolutionary new concept of multi-media storytelling.'  It was a really wonderfully and unique experience and I wanted to talk to you a bit about it today.

The multi-media aspect of the event included first off, Neil Gaiman reading aloud from his book, The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains.  At the same time, a string quartet from Australia, FourPlay, accompanied the story with music and really evocative vocals.  And together with the words and music, artwork by Eddie Campbell were shown on a massive screen and all three of these things blended incredibly well.  I left this event with a massive smile on my face.

While The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains was by no means a short book, the event was extended a bit by the fact that the first half included 3 or 4 of their own songs by FourPlay and also Neil Gaiman provided some anecdotes and read some short stories on different themes.  After the book was read, he also sang some songs and there was a bit of an interview with Hayley Campbell.

The music: I'm not a big fan of classical music at all. Mostly, I think because I have very little experience of listening or being exposed to it.  I left this event thinking, 'wow, I'm really impressed' as well as thinking that I'd really like to take E and The Littlest to some sort of classical music event soon, mostly to show them what can be done with different musical instruments and to hopefully inspire them to create their own at some point.  I really loved FourPlay's choices of music beforehand and I thought they had great chemistry together.  I especially liked the different ways of producing music from each of their individual instruments including using the bow, plucking, strumming, tapping.  I was really quite surprised by how much I enjoyed the music.  Plus, the vocals that accompanied the story were really haunting and it added so much to my experience!

The story:  I'd never heard of The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains before I came across this event at the Barbican.  According to the leaflet that I was given as we entered, it was published recently by Headline.  The book itself is a hardback picture book size and contains 74 pages.  I really liked going into the event not knowing a single thing about the book itself.  It was lovely to sit and listen to someone (Neil Gaiman!) read me a story.  And Neil Gaiman has such a lovely reading voice.

It's the story of a dwarf who goes on this journey to find the Black Mountains and it's also about revenge and is far darker than I expected it to be.  I really didn't see some of the twists that happen beforehand and I love that about any book. It's set in the Scottish islands and had a real Scottish feel to it.

The illustrations: I have to say, the illustrations were my favourite part of this whole experience.  I loved the different ways and techniques that Eddie Campbell (who previously worked on From Hell) used in order to illustrate this story - some of the artwork looked like comic book strips, others were more classically painted, some were roughly drawn, some more detailed. There were pencil sketches, silhouettes.  Before the story properly started, Neil Gaiman explained that Eddie Campbell had produced a great number of newer illustrations specifically for the event so that everything flowed better and he was backstage making sure that the images changed in time to the story being read.

As a whole, I thought this whole multi-media storytelling experience was incredible and I will definitely be looking out for other such events upcoming. I really hope you do as well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mini-reviews: Red At Night by Katie McGarry and The Snake Charm by Laura Lam

Today sees the return of my mini-reviews! Mini-reviews used to be a regular thing on Fluttering Butterflies but I haven't written any in awhile. As I recently read two short novellas/short stories by two of my favourite recent authors I thought that it would make sense to review both in the same post.  They are both very different but very interesting at the same time.

Red At Night by Katie McGarry

I really enjoy Katie McGarry stories.  I think she has a great skill for bringing her readers really interesting characters who have great relationships with each other.  Red At Night is no exception to this. It tells the story of Stella and Jonah, two teenagers who meet at the cemetery and forge this connection despite leading very different lives.

What I liked about this short story is that within a very short period of time I felt very emotional about both Stella's story and also about Jonah's.  Stella has dyed hair and has been bullied for years because she doesn't have much money and is just generally different to the other students at school. Whereas Jonah is popular at school and leads a privileged life where it's more possible to take things for granted. When Stella and Jonah meet at the beginning of this novella, it is in the cemetery after Jonah experiences this life-altering car accident and begins to question the direction he's taking in life.

While I would have liked to have explored more about these characters and their experiences and lives and friends and family before Red At Night, I do also appreciate that most things are resolved by the end. I thought this novella was hopeful and emotional and it re-confirmed my love of Katie McGarry's skill as a writer.

The Snake Charm by Laura Lam

When I first head about Laura Lam's decision to self-publish a collection of Vestigial Tales, I was incredibly excited. I love the world she created in Pantomime and Shadowplay. I loved the characters and Vestige and I couldn't wait to read more and find out every bit of new information about this world that I could...

And The Snake Charm did not disappoint. This story focuses on Drystan, the White Clown, before Micah Grey shows up at RH Ragona's Circus of Magic. It tells this story of unrest amongst the clowns and how Drystan finds himself in the middle of this fight between one of the other clowns and Bil, the ringmaster involving an incredibly powerful piece of Vestige.

I think what The Snake Charm does so well is that not only does it show us the dangers and consequences that come with owning this particular piece of Vestige but it also gives a bit fuller of a back story to a really well-loved character.  Drystan has always been one of my favourite characters from Pantomime and Shadowplay and I loved that he gets the full spotlight in this novella.  It was fun to see his role in the circus a little better and to see his perspective on some of the other key players in the circus before Micah Grey shows up.

I thought The Snake Charm was a wonderful addition to this world.  It was a fun adventure and I can't wait to read the other Vestigial Tales, The Fisherman's Net, The Tarot Reader and The Card Sharp.

Monday, August 11, 2014

REVIEW: Flora In Love by Natasha Farrant

I absolutely loved Flora In Love by Natasha Farrant! I adored the first book in the series, After Iris, and I thought while not containing as many emotional highs as the first book that Flora In Love is a wonderfully chaotic and fun sequel.   I desperately want to be in a large family like the Gadsby family and be part of all their weird and wonderful antics.

I will always eagerly pick up a book about this family and their fabulous madness that only comes from being in a large family.  I think Natasha Farrant does an incredible job with the family dynamics and especially in the dialogue that readers will be able to mentally picture incredibly well given that it is presented both in written diary entries as well as transcripts of video diary entries.  I really love this combination and it really made me feel like I was there alongside Blue and Flora and Twig and Jas and everyone.

Flora In Love takes place a year after the events of After Iris and Blue explains at the beginning of the book that she stops writing and filming diary entries when things are good in the Gadsby family ... and so right from the start we see that there are cracks that are now appearing in Blue's, her parents', and her brother's and sisters' lives.  Blue's parents are behaving strangely, Zoran has given up being their nanny and Jas in particular is feeling a bit left out now that everyone but her is having relationship problems.

I think it was really interesting to see the new relationships that everyone is forming.  The title of the book is that Flora is in love but Blue also has her first real relationship with her best friend with interesting consequences and we see Twig having a crush on a girl at school that makes his behaviour change.  I think all three of the older Gadsby children have things to learn about relationships and it was really fun to witness these experiences over the course of this book.

I think the thing I love the most about this book and series besides a great mixture of humour together with sadness and a whole heap of large family chaos is that all the characters presented are so wonderfully developed.  I got a really great sense of everybody from the youngest Gadsby, Jas, to their parents and Zoran and his new charge, Zach.  Everybody felt very real and everything that these characters go through in this book felt real and believable too.  I really want to read more books about the Gadsby family!

Friday, August 01, 2014

Book Blogger Problems #2

I had a much different blogger problem that I planned to talk about today but then on an absolute whim, I decided to count up all of my unread books on my shelves and after doing so, decided to talk about...

The TBR Pile

I don't know about you, though I'd be surprised if any book blogger anywhere didn't have this same problem, but I have a lot of unread books on my shelves that I need to read.  Some I've bought new, some I bought second-hand, some I've swapped, some I've won in giveaways, some I've been sent for review. And all are unread.

Two or three years ago, I decided to make a list of these books and post them on my blog and every few weeks or so I'd update the list crossing off the books I'd read and also add at the bottom any books that came into my possession in that time.  It took me a frighteningly long time to notice that the number of unread books I had always hovered at least over 100 with the lowest number at one time being around 130 books but usually around 150-180.

That's when I sat down and did some maths.  Roughly speaking, at the time of making these hard decisions, I had 180 books and I was getting 15-20 books a month from publishers for review which equals about 180 + 180-240 books a year.  In recent years I have only read about 200-220 books a year.  At the same time, I was also acquiring at least 10 books a month which added another 120 books to my shelves every year.

(180 + 180-240 + 120) - 200-220 = an out of control TBR pile

Continuing at this rate meant an approximately 0% chance that I would ever have a manageable TBR pile.  I figure between 30-50 books is 'manageable.'

I figured it was time to for some drastic action... and here are some of the steps I've taken lately.

Guest reviewers

My first action towards severely reducing my out-of-control TBR pile was to recruit some guest reviewers to the blog.  Currently, Kulsuma and Hayley are two of my lovely guest reviewers. Every once and awhile I will gather together some (mostly review) books I've had for awhile or that are low on my list of priorities and offer it up to these two and send off monthly packages.  What I love about Kulsuma and Hayley is that they are both incredibly lovely, wide reading and really thoughtful reviewers.  It's nice to both lighten my TBR shelf AND to be able to have access to some easy blog posts on a regular basis.  Thanks, you two!

Personal reading challenge

My next step towards a TBR pile wipe out was to challenge myself to read at least 10 of my own books every month.  I really wanted to tackle the books I'd acquired myself that by definition of buying these books myself meant that they were already of a low priority.  So far this year, however, I believe I've only read 10-15 of these such books (as opposed to 70 if I'd stuck to 10 a month) and I've failed pretty miserably since this personal challenge was issued.

Target specific books in my TBR pile

Everything needs to retain some amount of amount of fun, right? And for me, I love setting myself reading challenges.  So far this year, in order to lower the number of books on my TBR pile, I've set myself very specific reading challenges.  First there was FinishItFeb which meant I read only books in a series.  In April, I focused on books with LGBT characters and story lines. In June I tried reading as many books by authors attending YALC as I could.  What I love about these sort of challenges is that they're just short bursts of reading but at the same time if I put off reading books (in a series, for example) during that month at the end of it I can probably say that I'm more likely not that interested in reading it ultimately.  More on this farther down the post...

Being picky over review books 

So far my tactics weren't doing that well.  What I needed to do, besides sending out more books and putting priority on reading the books I already have is limit the number of books coming into my house. So I make a conscious effort when I get blogger bulletins and the option of requesting books for review that I make good choices.  No longer do I request every book I want and instead I hold out for books I'm excited about reading. Those books that mean I'd drop everything in order to read them.  Cutting out books that I'm only mildly interested in as has a low but important impact on the state of my unread shelves!

Giving up on books more easily

This and my next tip have easily been the most effective means of cutting down my TBR pile.  When I really looked at my pile of unread books, there were loads of books that I owned that I didn't feel that excited to read any more.  So instead of keeping these books on my shelves for no good reason, they go straight into boxes either ready to be offered to my guest reviewers or into the to-be-donated-to-local-secondary-schools boxes and are gone forever.  I also have chosen not to feel that pressure I sometimes feel to carry on with a book that's not grabbing me.  It's difficult sometimes but I don't want reading to feel like a chore.  If it doesn't hook me relatively quickly, I'll move on. Very simple.  Culling my shelves in this way has drastically decreased my numbers and I can feel the load coming off my shoulders as well as my book shelves.

Book buying ban

This was my hardest decision.  And every one I spoke about this to during the ban was pretty shocked and amazed. To be honest, so was I.  That is because I managed a full 6 month buying ban.  I did not buy one single physical books within that time period, however, I was still receiving books sent for review and also splurging a bit on Kindle books.  Every time I considered breaking my ban, I would remember the maths equation at the beginning of this post.  With all these books coming in, something needed to change.

I spoke to somebody else recently who had also been on a buying ban and she said something particularly important ... she said 'I want reading to be the exciting thing, not buying or receiving books.' and I think that's a wonderful thing to remember.

Since applying all of the above, I have reduced my TBR pile by around 100 books.  (the current number of physical books I have unread is 88 books) That's happened through reading many books, sending some books to my guest reviewers regularly, donating many unread books to charity shops and local secondary schools and by greatly reducing the numbers of books coming into the house both by buying fewer books and requesting fewer books from publicists.

This is how I deal with my TBR pile.  How do you deal with yours?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

REVIEW: Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

I'm really quickly beginning to love and look forward to anything by Sarah Crossan. This is the second really beautiful book by the same author that I've read this year and I'm really quite impressed.  Apple and Rain is a contemporary story about dysfunctional families, making wrong choices and the consequences of those actions and also the power and truth that can come from poetry.  This was a really wonderful and emotional read and I finished it with a lump in my throat and a desperate attempt not to cry while in a public place.

The two titular characters, Apple and Rain, are very different characters.  Apple, who is the sole narrator of the story, is a 13 year old girl who has been raised by her strict grandmother after her mother left her 11 years ago. In those 11 years despite having this wonderful and strong relationship with her Nan, Apple has pined away for her mother.  She's daydreamed about what it would be like to have her mother in her life, she'd love to have her questions answered about why her mum left and what she's been doing.  And it becomes a real shock when Apple's mother does return and wants to be more involved in Apple's life and have Apple come to live with her. And while Apple initially loves the freedom that being around her mother brings her, this excitement soon fizzles when Apple comes to meet Rain, her half-sister, and starts to see that freedom and chaos is not all that it's cracked up to be.

I thought Apple's story was really believable right from the start.  I could sense her heart-break over her mother's abandonment years ago and I can see and understand why Apple would want to live with her mother and give her this chance to prove that things can be different.  I also found Rain to be a wonderful character as well.  Clearly projecting some of her own issues with her relationship with her mother onto a fictional baby that she fusses over and uses in order to gain much-needed attention.

And while this story explores the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters and the ways in which decisions that have been made have affected each other, it also touches on some other really interesting things as well, such as Apple's crumbling friendship with her former-best friend, Pilar, and also her unrequited feelings for an older boy.  There's also a really cute friendship with the quirky boy next door and my favourite aspect of the book: Apple's growing interest in poetry and how she uses reading and writing her own poetry in order to organise her thoughts and feelings about her mother and about love and friendship and fear.

I thought Apple and Rain was a really beautiful and heart-warming book. It felt truthful and emotional and I really recommend that you read this book! It is published the 14th August by Bloomsbury.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

REVIEW: Twinmaker by Sean Williams

Guest review by Kulsuma

I couldn't wait to start reading Twinmaker by Sean Williams because not only was the blurb gripping, but Scott Westerfeld recommended it. I really enjoyed The Uglies series and it seemed to me that Twinmaker might have some things in common with it. Set in the future, Twinmaker is set in a world where the use of revolutionary technology has made life so much easier. A technology called D-MAT means that people can transport from one place to another in the world almost instantaneously making cars, planes and trains useless. Fabbers can make clothes and food for everyone on the planet; no more hunger, no more need to work. The implants which give you access to the Air ensures you can update the world on your status instantaneously.

When Clair’s friend Libby reveals she uses a meme called ‘Improvement’ which promised to remove any flaw she wishes, namely the birthmark on her face, Clair is worried because Improvement is illegal. However, before Clair can actually find out if Improvement worked on Libby, Libby leaves and only turns up for short periods throughout the book and Clair is unable to work out if Improvement has indeed worked on her friend. She recruits the help of an ‘Abstainer’ (a person who refuses to use any of these modern technologies because of possible effects). Through trying out to find out the truth about Libby, Clair puts herself in danger and before long, she is on the run, cutting ties with the world she has known her whole life.

Twinmaker was a long, highly complex book in terms of the amount of technology discussed as well as story threads. It took some time to get into the book. The beginning put me off as it featured Clair disrespecting her friendship with Libby by cheating with Libby’s boyfriend, Zeppelin. Furthermore, I didn’t feel as though Clair and Libby’s friendship was shown enough at the beginning for me to want to know if Libby would be okay. However, the story soon picked up and became packed full of fervent action; hardly stopping for pause. I really enjoyed all the action and guessing what would happen next. The story was full of twists and turns and had a high body count.

I really liked Jesse and Q; a mysterious character who contacts and helps Clair from a distance at the beginning of the story and who Clair, along with the reader, desperately tries to figure out. Improvement, Clair finds out, is bad but there are those who will stop at nothing to ensure Clair doesn’t find out the whole truth and publicise the matter. What really redeemed Twinmaker in my eyes was the ending, which was simply incredible. The last hundred pages were so well-written and full of so many revelations that I can’t wait to read the next book, Crashlanders to find out what happens next.

Intriguing! Thank you, Kulsuma