Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Book review - Seven Sorcerers by Caro King

Age - 9+
Release - 2nd April 09 in the UK
Nin hates Wednesdays, so when disaster comes calling, it’s kind of inevitable that it would happen on a Wednesday. Disaster’s name is Skerridge. Between going to bed on Tuesday night and waking on Wednesday morning, Nin’s little brother has ceased to exist. No-one remembers him. Except her. Why is she the only one who remembers Toby? Because whatever took him is going to come back for her. She runs away to rescue Toby from the magical land ‘The Drift.’ But Skerridge the Bogeyman is the best-of-the-best. He’s never let a child escape from his clutches before, and Nin’s not about to be the first.

(Yep, technially this is a kids book, not a teen book. But it's a GOOD kids book!)
The plot sounds formulaic, if funny, so that’s what I expected from this. I’m happy to say, I was really impressed with Seven Sorcerers. The writing is witty, refreshingly honest, and clever. The plot is complex – writing a summary was near impossible because there’s so much to this story that I had a hard time condensing it down. For example, the book’s title has a good reason for being what it is.
The characters are all interesting, but my hands down favourite was Skerridge the BM (bogeyman). His observations are genuinely funny and his attitude towards life is great.

Caro King has created a wonderful surprise in Seven Sorcerers. Not only has she created an interesting plot and great characters, but she also developed a history for the land itself. The ‘Drift’ is dying along with all of its creatures. The best way for the magical people to stay alive is through memory, and what do people remember more than fear? This gives an interesting angle on the bogeymen, whose actions are driven by necessity. This is a great book aimed at kids, but clever enough that older readers may enjoy some of the humour. Buy it for a child you know, then 'borrow' it for yourself!

This book is a wonderful mixture, it’s fast-paced, inventive, amusing and a little mysterious. It also happens to be the first in a series, which I’m happy about. I only know this from the spine, which tells me it is book one, not from the plot, which is tied up perfectly, no loose-ends or cliffhangers. Seven Sorcerers is just relying on its appeal as a story for readers to pick up the next book. And you know what? I think most will.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Book review - Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

Meg hates being closed in, confined, limited to her small town. She can’t wait to graduate and leave forever. John joined the police as soon as he could and plans to stick around forever, despite great grades and offers of scholarships from good universities. One night on patrol, he comes across Meg and a few friends up on a forbidden railway bridge. Their punishment – each will ride around for a week with one of the services who got called out because of their crime. Meg has to spend a week of night shifts with the model policeman. They push each other further and further, demanding answers from one another, why one is so determined to escape and the other so dedicated to staying. But they begin to go too far, questioning each other’s deepest secrets and fears.

After reading the sneak peak on Jennifer's website, I really wanted to read this. I started reading with high expectations for Going Too Far and it met them. The situation of a criminal driving around with a policeman is original, and creates an interesting relationship between them. As it turns out, they’re not so different. The chemistry between John and Meg was perfect – sweet but not too overdone. John’s ‘secret’ was fairly predictable, but I expected Meg’s to be something quite different. In retrospect, I preferred the actual plot – my prediction would have made the story too neat and unbelievable.

*SPOILER ALERT!!! - If you want to stay spoiler-free skip ahead to the black text again*

I kind of thought that Meg’s claustrophobia, fear of machinery noises, and knowing the medics so well was because she had been in a car crash. Which would have given John as much foot-in-mouth at the car crash as Meg felt at the bridge. But you can see that this would have been way too neat – both of them stumbling so exactly on each other’s problems. I’m glad it didn’t work out how I expected.


My only problem was halfway through when Meg acted how I felt was very out-of-character, practically yelling her secret at John. The yelling wasn’t out of character – there’s some very exciting tension between them! – I just felt that the situation didn’t really connect enough with her problem enough for her to want to share it. This is just a minor issue though, and one I can overlook because the rest of the book was so good.
There was far more depth to the plot than I expected, and ditto for all of the characters. In just a few words, Jennifer managed to turn secondary characters into believable people, especially Brian and Tiffany, two of Meg’s fellow partners-in-crime in the bridge escapade where they were caught. It is a sweet love story as the pretty cover suggests, but there’s so much more to it than that. (I seem to say that quite often for books like this, but only ever when I think it's true!) Overall, a fun, thoughtful and exciting read.

Thankyou to Jenn for sending me a copy!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Blog awards!

This has taken me a while to get posted, but life has been busy.

Firstly, The Sisterhood Award from Yan and Prophecygirl. Thankyou!

1. Put the logo on your blog or post.
2. Nominate up to 10 blogs which show great attitude and/or gratitude!
3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know that they have received this award.
5. Remember to link to the person from whom you received your award.

And then there's the incredibly creative Zombie Chicken Award from the lovely Priya.

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their words.

There are loads of blogs that deserve these awards, but special mentions go to...

Prophecygirl at Wondrous Reads
The Epic Rat at Epic Rat
Ink Mage at The Magic of Ink

Please consider yourself awarded with either or both of the above, whatever you would like! Honestly though, anyone who I follow or even comment on your blogs I would add your names if my hands wouldn't fall off from all the linking. And I didn't want to have a very, very long list!

I'm at home for my Easter holidays now (yay!!!) So all of the stressfull last-week work is out of the way and I should have some more reviews for you soon. Starting with Going Too Far which should be up by tomorrow.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Series spotlight - Crown and Court Duel series by Sherwood Smith

There are so many good books that have been out in the market for ages. Series Spotlight is to introduce readers to series they may not have heard of before and will be featured every Thursday. Today’s spotlight is the Crown and Court duel duet by Sherwood Smith.

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This is a bit of a golden oldie and most fantasy fans have encountered the series. The main character, Countess Meliara of Tlanth, and her brother are fighting to overthrow a bad King. Crown Duel takes place mostly on the rebel front, while Court Duel takes place (surprise, surprise!) at Court. These books are not without fault, but they are very well written and set in a comprehensive and elaborately constructed fantasy world. Both can be bought in a single book, The Crown and Court Duet. Anyone who hasn’t already read them should really check these out.

Crown Duel
Mel and Bran are leading a small group of rebels against the large force of the King’s army. He has broken an ancient pact, kills people without scruple and is generally an all-round tyrant. At first the rebellion goes well, but then the mysterious Marquis Shevraeth is sent to lead their enemies. In Crown Duel, Mel suffers injuries, is pursued across the country, becomes involved in complicated political factions, and comes face to face with the King himself.
Crown Duel is a fast-paced, exciting book. Fantasy, action, and war set in a deeply detailed world. In this world, wood is extremely precious and humans made a pact with the Tree Folk that they would never cut down any trees. (Tree Folk are suspiciously like Ents. But they dance.) The bad king of course ignores this and it’s up to the ragtag band of rebels to stop him. I really enjoyed this book, but it’s definitely not perfect. The main reason for this is the main character, Mel, who is ignorant, unpleasant, and stroppy. Which is a shame because the rest of this book is really good. The book is in first person, which is probably the redeeming factor for Mel, as we can understand her even if we don’t approve of her choices. It’s definitely worth reading, very cleverly written with an interesting plot.

Court Duel
Crown Duel saw Mel running around the country as a rebel, Court Duel sees her arriving at Court. It’s a whole new battle for her to learn to navigate the dangerous factions of court. Everything has hidden meaning and nothing is as it appears. As well as the socialising, Mel remembers her promise to her father even if her brother seems to have forgotten. She is there to find the best candidate for the crown, and offer them her support. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when several Lords are flirting with her, a certain Lady seems out to ruin her, and people with designs for the throne hope to use her.
A good conclusion to the duet, Court Duel is an interesting read. Full of political intrigue masked by politeness, double meanings, and an elaborate ‘language’ of fan positions. I prefer Court Duel of the two, I find that it’s more interesting to see people scheming secretly and trying to work out what they’re doing than it is to see an army marching around. Mel’s character is still sulky and unforgiving which is irritating because her prejudices blind her to what the reader can tell in about a page. However, once again I could overlook this because of its being in first person, and the plot itself is intriguing. I enjoyed this and I recommend the books.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Book review - Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen

Ruby Cooper is used to looking after herself. People, she has learned, just let you down. But when her mum abandons her completely, the authorities find out and, to her surprise, she is deposited in the lap of luxury – living with her estranged sister and brother-in-law. Ruby hasn’t seen her sister for ten years, she didn’t even know she was married. So while Cora and Jamie don’t seem to mind having her there, Ruby isn’t so sure. After all, this is the same sister who abandoned her with her unreliable mother all those years ago.
After a foiled escape attempt, Ruby slowly realises that she might just have to let people in. Her sister has a different side of the story and brother-in-law Jamie is wildly enthusiastic about whatever he does, including bringing Ruby into the family. Then there’s Nate, the boy next door. A cute, rich-boy type who seems determined to be nice to her, helping her out whether she wants him to or not. But as she slowly learns that it might be ok to let people in, she also realises that no-one’s life is perfect.

I seem to be reading a lot of Sarah Dessen recently, which is great because I love her books. Lock & Key was definitely worthy of the Dessen name. Something she seems especially good at is creating completely believable characters. Ruby has basically given up on people because of her past, she wants nothing more than to be legally an adult and completely independent, cutting all of her ties to people. Nate, the good-looking guy next door is kind, understanding, and seems to care for everyone else so much that he doesn’t really leave the time to take care of himself. I found the romance a little forced at times, but it was fun. However, it’s the people that Ruby meets along the way, the secondary characters, that made me enjoy the book so much. Down-to-earth Jamie, Cora struggling with her past, Gervais the twelve-year-old genius, Harriet the obsessive businesswoman, and especially Olivia, who takes no nonsense, but really supports her friends.

Lock & Key wasn’t my favourite by Sarah Dessen, but it was a great, entertaining read. Is that beautiful cover not enough to entice you? I’ll add that I was surprised by parts of the story, there’s more to Ruby’s journey than just coming to terms with her past and learning to accept help. The people she meets are not all as carefree as they seem at first glance, and she learns to helps them just as they help her.

* Random thing - why, when American books are translated into UK English, do they change everything but the word 'candy'? I just don't get why this seems to be the one word that always gets left in. Has anyone else noticed this, or is it just me?

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Book review - Extreme Kissing by Luisa Plaja

Extreme Kissing is out on April 2nd here in the UK.
Bets and Carlota have been best friends since Carlota moved to England. They tell each other everything (almost). But both have problems, so Carlota decides they need a relaxing day out. The solution – they will spend a day ‘Extreme Travelling’ – they will go wherever magazines tell them to go and complete challenges based on whatever page they open on. As they complete their challenges, they begin to surprise themselves – and each other. As the day progresses, they realise that they don’t know each other as well as they thought. Both have secrets. And on this crazy day, the secrets are going to spill.

Extreme Kissing has such a wonderful plot idea – it takes place on one crazy, challenging, action-filled day. But it’s not just the Extreme Travelling that makes this book so clever. Both the girls have secrets and the day serves to draw out confessions from each of them. It’s about friends and boys and family, all set in the unique backdrop of getting-lost-in-London. Bet is the quiet, studious one. Carlota is the wild guy-magnet. But there is more to them than this. Extreme Kissing explores just how well you can know your friends, how alike you can really be, despite the differences. As for the other characters, there’s some great guys involved and interesting parent dynamics.

I found Carlota at times quite annoying, but that’s just because as a person she would irritate me quite a lot. Her overuse of the ‘mwah-ha-ha’ is a perfect example. I personally had a few minor issues with the book – the issue of cheating on girlfriends/boyfriends is dealt with, but some instances of this seem to be more seen as more acceptable than others, which I don’t necessarily agree with. I’m also not really comfortable with the tarot card reading.

Overall though, Extreme Kissing was a great read. Once again, Luisa Plaja has taken a chicklit book, and made it so much more than that. Not that chicklit can’t be deep, but Extreme Kissing has so many facets. It’s a great book for any teen, addressing identity, friendship, family, and how deceptive appearances can be. The idea is cool, the pace is fast and the book is fun.

Oh, and can I just say I love the idea of Extreme Travelling so much!! Any takers? We can meet up somewhere, I’ll bring the magazines =) Of course, access to Carlota’s mum’s credit card was useful for the girls.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Series spotlight - Stravaganza series by Mary Hoffman

There are so many good books that have been out in the market for ages. Series Spotlight is to introduce readers to series they may not have heard of before and will be featured every week. This is a Thursday thing (you may have noticed that it’s Friday today – see yesterdays post!). Todays spotlight is the Stravanganza series by Mary Hoffman.

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Whenever I read one of these books, it feels vaguely familiar, as though I’ve read it before somewhere. And of course I have. Random kids finding paths to another world and having some sort of destiny to save it is not a unique plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something to be aware of. The series isn’t unique, but I would say that it’s done well.

As it progresses, the plots get more complicated and full of intrigue. The de Chimici family has been based on the historical de Medici family, so the books are full of intrigue. I read Book 4 recently, having read Book 1 a few months before, and the middle two a few years ago. Unconventional order, I know. Reading book 2 and then 3 first, I picked up the backstory fairly easily. However, coming to book 4, I got confused a lot because it was so long ago since I read the others. So many people are mentioned from the other books and it’s hard to keep track. For this reason, I’d say read the series in order. Start with book one, or even two, but start later than that and you will be seriously confused.

City of Masks
Lucien is seriously ill with cancer, able only to lie in bed all day, but he has discovered a secret. By using a mysterious notebook he can be transported to a different world whenever he sleeps. He soon realises that this is no dream, that the other world really exists. He is quickly caught up in the political intrigue and danger surrounding the city. With help from various new friends including the rebellious Arianna he must help to protect the city he has come to love.
I have a weakness for all things masks-involved. So the compulsory mask law interested me. Unfortunately, this isn’t really developed other than as a useful way for the women to not be recognised. Despite that, this is one of the better books. Read my full review here.

City of Stars

Georgia is miserable, bullied by her step-brother. That’s why the talisman chooses her. All stravagante are chosen because they are unhappy. And because they will soon be needed in Talia for some reason. Georgia loves to ride, so her talisman, a small winged horse, is just perfect. She befriends a young Talian, Cesare, who also rides. He’s actually the chosen candidate to ride in the Stellata, a hugely important hose race. With more competition, political intrigue and danger, City of Stars is a fun read.
Lucien and Arianna are back, the city is intriguing – split up into sectors, each sector containing stables where one horse will race against all the other sectors in the Stellata. This is possibly my favourite, or tying with City of Masks. Definitely the first two of the series are the best. The biggest problem is that the love interest goes the wrong way – she should have some sort of romance with Cesare! This isn’t even considered in the book.

City of Flowers

Sky is worn down from looking after his mother, but it’s just him and her, so there’s no one else to help. His dad is the famous singer Rainbow Warrior and Sky doesn’t want anything to do with him. His talisman – a blue perfume bottle, his city – Giglia (the Talian equivalent of Florence). The two warring families the de Chimis and the Nuccis are about to come to a head and Sky must help keep the peace.
Old characters are back, including the other Stravagantes, Arianna, and the de Chimici family. The parallel plots of what is happening in modern England and sixteenth century Talia make this a more believable story about time (and world) travel. However, the plots are so complicated that at times it’s hard to follow. The wonderful culture of eighteenth century Italy is just as good as in the previous books though.

City of Secrets
Matt is dyslexic, yet when he finds a book full of Latin, he buys it anyway. It transports him to the Scriptorium of Padavia (Padua). He becomes an apprentice as a book printer, which at first he finds strange, but soon realises that he can read perfectly in Talia. To his disappointment, he finds that matters haven’t changed in England. His dyslexia makes him incredibly insecure, he’s certain that his girlfriend will dump him soon. But in Talia, the de Chimici are close to working out how to stravagante, and Matt must help to conceal this knowledge from the power-hungry dynastic family.
Out of all the books, this one has least of its own plot in Talia. By this, I mean that most of the plot revolving Matt is set in England, and most of the Talian plot is more of a what-happens-next for all the Talian characters (Luciano, Arianna and Cesare to name a few). This made the book feel a little unnecessary. Parts of it were really amusing, the spies following spies following spies, and when the de Chimici decide that maybe you have to be knocked out to Stravagate... It’s a fun, interesting read, but you have to be in the mood to put up with a fair amount of confusion.

Where am I?

Sorry the Series Spotlight wasn't up today but I have a big essay deadline for tomorrow at the moment, and another one for Monday. I'll have the Spotlight up by tomorrow and I've recently had the chance to read Luisa Plaja's fabulous Extreme Kissing, so the review of that will probably be up on Saturday. I'm also in the middle of Sarah Dessen's Lock and Key, which is distracting to say the least, knowing that it's sitting there, waiting for me as I type away!

I'll leave you with random quotes from the pages of the books I currently have open, one of which I really want to read more of, and the other I have read entirely too much of writing this essay. But enjoy!

Lock and Key (page 338, UK edition)
'Well,' he said, 'I looked for one that said "If you expect the worst you'll never be disappointed", but they were all out.'

The Tempest (Act I, Scene I, lines 365-366)
You taught me language; and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Book review - Petals in the Ashes by Mary Hooper

The year is 1666 and Hannah is determined to get back to her little sweetmeat shop in London as soon as the plague is gone. She returns with her younger sister Anne because older sister Sarah wants to stay with their mother – to help her and also to stay closer to a certain young man she’s met. Hannah, on the other hand, is impatient to return to London and find out if any of their friends and neighbours survived the terrible plague, and to seek out her own sweetheart Tom. But omens and predictions are rife – the year is 1666 and 666 is the number of the Beast. Many are afraid that the plague is just the beginning, something even worse is about to fall on London.

This book is a sequel to At the Sign of the Sugared Plum, in which Hannah and her sister encounter the plague. I hadn’t read the first book when I picked up Petals in the Ashes and it didn’t impair my enjoyment one bit. The back-story was easy to understand so Petals in the Ashes stands alone just fine. Although short (192 pages) and relatively simple, Petals in the Ashes is a beautiful and believable story following two shop girls as they recover from the plague. The rebuilding of London is genuine, the bravado mixed with fear of the people is completely believable, and their confusion as disaster strikes is relatable.

I hadn’t really considered how close together these two disasters occurred, or how much they must have affected the citizens of London. Statistically, it was believed that the great fire killed relatively few people (although nowadays, historians believe that the death toll was much higher). However many people died, it’s important to remember that many of these people had lost almost everyone they knew to the plague, they probably returned to London to find their shops and homes looted, they were already attempting to rebuild their lives when the great fire struck. Most of these people lost everything they had twice.

Petals in the Ashes is a beautiful book that brought this to my attention, but it also illustrates human spirit, the seeming indestructibility of London. The aftermath of the plague didn’t exactly bring people together – London was still a dangerous place with cutthroats,
pickpockets and others like them. The people simply carried on as normal. They got the terrible plague, they dealt with it, they didn’t let it change who they were.

Hannah is a strong and likeable main character and her neighbour Mr Newbery is quite hilariously pessimistic. This book has been meticulously researched and it shows, not like a history lesson, but by producing a believable story. Extracts from Samuel Pepys’ dairy
begin each chapter and fit the tone of the story perfectly. Petals in the Ashes is a short but entertaining read, manageable for some pre-teens, but not too childish that older readers won’t enjoy it too.

Petals in the Ashes has been published along with At the Sign of the Sugared Plum in a single book, The Fever and the Flame. Isn’t the cover beautiful! I might have to buy it so that I can have that gorgeous cover on my shelf! (and so that I can read the first book of course)

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Book review - The Declaration by Gemma Malley

In a future where people can live forever by taking longevity drugs, they have strict laws. If no-one dies and more children are born, the world would quickly become overpopulated and resources would run out. The solution seems simple – having children is illegal. Any children who are found are ‘surpluses’ and are taken away.
Anna is a surplus and has lived at Grange Hall since she was two and a half, since the Catchers found her. She obeys and believes the rules, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping a secret diary. And when a boy is brought in from the outside, she is intrigued despite herself. He leads her to question the rules, the fairness of the world. But life is going to get difficult for both of them. Someone knows that Peter is causing trouble and their lives might be in danger.

The Declaration was an interesting book. To teach children from a young age that they don’t deserve to exist, that they have to work off their debt of being born and that they don’t have the right to appreciate beautiful nature (like snow) inevitably results in a group of children who struggle among each other to achieve some sort of power. But even Anna, the most loyal surplus, begins to slowly question her life once Peter arrives and tells her new things about outside. This brings hope to the story that no matter how indoctrinated, people are always capable of adapting and changing their beliefs, of deciding things for themselves.

I kept expecting this book to be more complicated than it was. I thought that Peter had probably run away to rescue Anna without anyone knowing, which made more sense to me than this adoptive parents ever letting him go. After a while, I learned to sit back and enjoy the simplicity. The plot is simple because the ideas and issues are anything but.

The main characters were likable and even those doing terrible things could be understood and empathised with. The other characters seemed underdeveloped; all of the surpluses were the same. This made for a small cast of characters I was interested in and made the story seem a bit slow. The ending by no means solves all of the problems with the world although it resolves Anna and Peter’s storyline, which is both annoying and realistic. I was glad to discover that there will be a sequel as I think that Anna and Peter have more to say and do. The Declaration was a thought-provoking, interesting read.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Series spotlight - Gallagher girls

There are so many good books that have been out in the market for ages. Series Spotlight is to introduce readers to series they may not have heard of before and will be featured every week. This will be featured every Thursday. Usually, these series will be ongoing, like today’s spotlight – Ally Carter’s Gallagher girls series.

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This series is very popular in America. I haven’t seen them in any UK bookstores, I don’t think they’re published here, but you can buy them from Amazon or any similar websites.

The Gallagher Academy for exceptional young women is home to girls more exceptional than the outside world could dream at. The students are studying espionage, their future – spies for the US government. This series follows main character Cammie and her roommates; smart Liz, athletic Bex and gorgeous Macey through their adventures at spy school. While there has been a sudden increase in teenage-spy books in recent years, the Gallagher girls books stand out because the girls are not spies, but in training. Their adventures are relatable because they are balancing everyday life – boys, parties and school, with their training.

I’d Tell You I Love You but Then I’d Have to Kill You
Cammie is the chameleon. She can tail anyone, anywhere, blend in and not be seen. So when she is on a training exercise and is noticed by a boy, she is more than surprised. So are her friends. They decide that either he is a rogue spy investigating the academy, or he might be her soul mate. Either option requires further investigation. Unknown to the teachers, the girls begin to secretly investigate Josh while also studying for their exams and starting their hands-on ‘covert operations’ classes.
This book is fun and fast. I love the depiction of the academy and Cammie (whose mother is the headmistress) knowing all of the secret passages that enable the girls’ illicit wanderings. The girls are all well-portrayed and have a good mixture of experience and innocence – they may have helped parents on missions, but they still enjoy a good movie marathon.

Cross My
Heart and Hope to Spy
The girls are shocked when they accidentally discover a training school for boy spies. They are determined to find out more about these boys, but are still unprepared when they come face-to-face. With more classes, new boys to worry about, and the suspicion that Cammie’s mother is hiding something important, this term promises even more excitement than the last. On top of this, they suspect that someone at the academy is leaking information to an enemy – the girls have to investigate further.
The second book takes the world introduced in the first book and develops it much further. The old and new characters are well portrayed (I admit to a soft spot for unstoppable Bex) and there is more of a plot. It’s just as much fun, and perfect for young teenage girls.

What’s next?
Don’t Judge a Girl by her Cover (don’t you love the name!) out on June 9th, 2009
Taken directly from Miss Ally Carter’s own website:

When Cammie "the Chameleon" Morgan visits her roommate Macey in Boston, she thinks she's in for an exciting end to her summer break. After all, she's there to watch Macey's father accept a nomination for vice president of the United States. But when you go to the world's best school (for spies), "exciting" and "deadly" are never far apart. Cammie and Macey soon find themselves trapped in a kidnapper's dangerous plot, with only their espionage skills to save them.As her junior year begins, Cammie can't shake the memory of what happened in Boston, and even the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women doesn't feel like the safe haven it once did. Shocking secrets and old flames seem to lurk around every one of the mansion's corners as Cammie and her friends struggle to answer the questions, Who is after Macey? And how can they keep her safe?Soon Cammie is joining Bex and Liz as Macey's private security team on the campaign trail. The girls must use their spy training at every turn as the stakes are raise, and Cammie gets closer and closer to the shocking truth...

This seems to feature the girls outside of the academy more, which I was hoping for. It will be interesting to see them outside of their usual environment and away from the teacher-student relationships.

To find out more you can visit the authors website here, or you could visit her blog, where she is currently posting a small snippet from book three every few days.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

What NOT to do

Most books aren’t perfect. Everyone understands this, usually we will notice a mistake and then ignore it. I’ve read a lot of books recently that have really annoying problems that pull my attention away from the story. What’s even worse is that most of these are good books! Yep there are worse faults in books – poor editing and an unbelievable plot spring to mind. But when a book is so nearly there it's almost worse. These things are so basic, so easy to avoid! I've written a list of the most recent that I've read, leaving out more general problems, like having characters who don’t act their age. I don’t want to mention any names or point fingers, but I do want to share these with the world.

Things that authors shouldn’t do but seem to far too often:

Have an ‘expert’ spy make loads of mistakes. Like every now and then pausing and instinctively feeling that someone is following her, but not being able to see someone and shrugging. No matter, I have more important matters to deal with. – I get that this is to show the audience something the character doesn’t know – uh-oh, someone must be following her! But a master spy just wouldn’t repeatedly ignore their instincts. Especially when they have just been set up for murder by another expert spy and are running for their life. Such a spy would think, maybe it’s the person who set me up! They are following me. It is because they are an expert spy who can manage to set me, another expert spy, up, that I can’t see them, not because there is no-one and I’m just feeling a little jumpy.

Having a ‘positive’ ending being that ah well, the guy she loved has died, but they’ve defeated the bad guy and for the last page we suddenly move to the point of view of a completely different man whose point of view we’ve never seen before. He is thinking ‘I’m glad we’ve survived because I’ve been in love with her since first I saw her.’ – There was NO CLUE to this through the entire book. And this is supposed to make me feel better. Yay, the main character has a chance at love after all! That guy was interested in her the whole time!

Having aforesaid guy feeling happy in the last page of the book that he has a chance with her. – Erm, he has a chance because HIS FRIEND WHO SHE WAS IN LOVE WITH HAS JUST BEEN MURDERED!!! This is maybe one or two days after the death. And it’s supposed to make the reader feel that the ending was positive. Also, Aforesaid guy, you should concentrate on more immediate problems, like getting down off that roof.

Having main character children realising that adults have a secret that somehow involves them. They then get into (life threatening) trouble trying to discover the secret. The finale is that the adults come and rescue them – The children have essentially accomplished nothing. Granted, the adults admit the truth in the end, but I’d like the kids to play an actual role.

Main characters arriving in a new and (inevitably) very dangerous world where everyone they meet is suspicious and not to be trusted. By coincidence, the first person they meet is a nice person who helps them and warns them about not trusting anyone else – Usually this person goes far out of their way to help these random strangers, like going on a whole quest with them. Quite often by more sheer coincidence, the person’s past is somehow linked with the quest that the main characters now face. They may not remember this past but then a chance clue will show them that everything is somehow linked.

A sweet lovely family of kids with the oldest looking out for the youngest since the mother died – The dying mother usually extracts a promise from her eldest child to take care of the baby. Often if you work the ages backwards, this oldest child was about eight at the time. There is a perfectly acceptable father, yet the mother feels compelled not to ask him to take care of the kids, but to make an eight-year-old promise to do it.

Character’s who are ‘klutzy’ and therefore knock over everything in their path (and sometimes out of it too) and can’t control anything that comes out of their mouth – this is more of a personal pet peeve. There’s just too many of these characters in teen fiction.

Characters who are geniuses and therefore are inevitably socially incompetent. They will get nervous whenever they experience human interaction, quite often actually forgetting how to speak, putting words in the wrong order or something – I understand not being able to think of anything to say. But forgetting how to speak entirely? Every time anyone speaks to you? This isn't someone just not knowing what to say, this is people going 'there I'll over put it. I mean I'll put it over there.' These characters almost always get the cute, popular guy/girl, who finds their lack-of-speech-ability amusing and endearing rather than strange.

Historical fiction books where the character will ask a question that they would know the answer to just so the author can explain it to the audience – example being a person in Henry VIII’s reign asking what attainting is. Anyone in that time would know because it happened on a regular basis, there’s no way a teenager of the time would have no clue. It’s simply done for the audience today, who can’t be expected to know what attainting is because it doesn’t happen now. But for anyone who already has good knowledge of whatever time period the story is set in, this stands out badly.

Having books start with letters along the lines of; ‘dearest mother, I can’t believe I haven’t seen you for three months, ever since you went to London with my elder sister Primrose in the hopes of finding her a husband. We have visitors. As you know, our modest country house has enough room to hold ten visitors quite comfortably so the group of thirty staying with us presently is causing problems. My childhood friend James and I have been visiting my Uncle...’ – Information overkill! Can’t the author find a better way of setting the scene? Straight away I know it’s out of character before I even know the character. (I completely made that particular opening up as I’m sure you can tell. I’ve read too many books that start similarly though).

I'm sure there are lots more, but I can't think of any right now and I don't want to carry on finding fault. Without exception, all of these were taken from books that I've enjoyed, (even with the more general problems, I've liked books that are guilty of them) some directly from books that I've loved. Please authors, you've written a wonderful book, don't let me get distracted by little things like those! I want to carry on loving your work, not feeling critical.

Rant over =)
Any specific problems you've run into recently? (please don't turn this into a shooting match though. I don't want to know the name of every book you hate, just any problems that have stopped a good book being a great book for you)

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Books into film?

I've just read over than the Longstockings that the Hunger Games is being considered for a film. While it could potentially become one of the best-films-ever, I'm apprehensive. The story just seems to me like it's better suited for a book than a movie.

I know there are a lot of Hunger Games fans out there, what do you people think? Will the Hunger Games make a good movie?
*Edited to add*
And a random question - I often get posts up on my Blog follower feed on my homepage where the post that hasn't actually been posted on the blog yet. Usually, the post goes up some time later that day or the next day. Does this happen to other people too? Is it because the blogger has written the post as a draft and does this mean that when I write a draft but don't post it, it's still coming up on peoples feeds? I hope this makes sense to people.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Book review - City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Clary’s mother is still in a coma and father is presumably up to no good somewhere. Jace is under suspicion from the clave, who suspect that he’s loyal to Valentine. In the city of New York, underworld children are going missing and Valentine seems to be the culprit. On top of this, Clary still needs to sort out her feelings towards Simon, now her boyfriend, and Jace, now off-limits.

City of Ashes starts off a bit slow but quickly speeds up. Valentine wants the second mortal instrument and of course Clary and Jace get in the way once again. One of my favourite parts of this book was the werewolf group. I loved Luke in the first book and Maia, a werewolf teenager, is an interesting addition to the cast. I had a major plot point spoiled for me before I read City of Ashes, but the spoiler was wrong! The essence of it was right, but the details wrong, so all the way through I was expecting something to change and it didn’t, which was amusing.

Truthfully, I enjoyed City of Ashes, especially the scenes between Clary and Jace, which were every tense. I liked it, but it wasn’t wonderful. It felt like City of Ashes was written so that Cassandra Clare can get to City of Glass, which I fully expect to be great. There was nothing wrong with City of Ashes, it just didn’t completely wow me. I get the necessity of it – Valentine goes after one of the three mortal instruments in each book, he’s confronted at the end of each, but he can’t really lose everything until the third book.

City of Ashes wasn’t bad, it was better than average, I just felt that it missed the spark that City of Bones had. On the other hand, there were lots of interesting developments and it could be argued that the plot was better structure in Ashes than it was in Bones. I just felt the limitations of the book in being the second part of a (somewhat formulaic) trilogy – there are a lot of things that can’t happen until book three, which took some tension out of the writing. However, I felt exactly the same about the second Lord of the Rings film and anyone who likes them will appreciate just how good The Two Towers is and understand that I’m probably just being picky. I’d recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed City of Bones and I’m sure the plot is vital to understand City of Glass, which releases on the 24th March (US hardback).

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Series spotlight - Edgerton Hall trilogy by Adele Geras

There are so many good books that have been out in the market for ages. Series Spotlight is to introduce readers to series they may not have heard of before and will be featured every week. This seems to have become a Thursday thing, so I’m going to make it official and say that Series Spotlight will be featured every Thursday.

Today’s spotlight is a series of connected short stories – The Edgerton trilogy by Adele Geras. The three stories each focus on one of three best friends who share the Tower Room at Edgerton Hall, where they are completing their last year of school before leaving for University. They are modern(ish) retellings of the stories Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, set in the 1960s at a strict boarding school. For the people who have just winced and gone ‘not more fairy stories!’ I’d like to add that they’re not fairytales and there’s no magic. They are just clever retellings of the original stories. Each of them includes the main themes of friendship, growing up and falling in love.
The Edgerton trilogy has been published together in one book, Happy Ever After, and if you want to buy this series, I recommend you get this. It’s easier to follow if you read the books together and has a lovely cover as well.
(The books say they are unsuitable for younger readers and I would agree)

The Tower Room:
The first story seems to be more of an introduction to the friends. It’s main character Megan is a ward of one of the teachers at the school, who has just hired a science assistant – young and male. At a girls school this is bound to cause trouble, but Megan is surprised to find that he seems interested in her. The Tower Room is told from alternating perspectives of at Edgerton Hall and some mysterious place afterwards, where she reminisces on the events that led to her being there.
The Tower Room is my least favourite of the stories and Megan is my least favourite character. Still, it’s a good introduction to the characters and their world and it gives more context for the other stories.

Watching the Roses:
Alice is the shy, quiet one of the group. The story begins after the Tower Room and something has happened to Alice. As the story progresses, it’s clear that she is traumatised by something, although what is kept hidden for much longer. As she says in the beginning;
‘I decided not to speak a week ago, and since then not one word has passed my lips.’
Watching the Roses is written as a diary in a notebook of her father’s that Alice found. He was an expert on growing roses, and throughout the tale are names of roses with descriptions of them that he has supposedly written. Underneath, Alice has added her own comments about the roses that she can see from her window.
Watching the Roses is my favourite of these stories. I like that Adele Geras didn’t go for the obvious option of putting sleeping beauty in a coma, she just puts her in a state of withdrawal.

Pictures of the Night:
Finally, Bella’s story! While Alice’s is my favourite story, Bella is still my favourite character. She is the outgoing, confident, knowledgeable one, the type of friend you might want to hate but can’t. Bella is staying (secretly) with a band that she sings with. They have been offered the chance to perform in Paris and Bella goes with them.
Once again, Adele Geras defies the stereotype of a wicked stepmother. Marjorie is simply jealous and foolish. The elements of the traditional story – a poisoned apple, a tight corset, are cleverly worked in throughout all of the Edgerton short stories. I love how the author hasn’t ignored the aspects of the traditional stories that would prove difficult, but cleverly twisted them in anyway. Bella is so full of life and energy that it’s impossible not to like her.

The Edgerton Hall trilogy aren't the best books ever written, but they are an interesting concept, the stories weave together neatly, and they have great characters. I would recommend them to someone looking for something different, or anyone who is getting tired with all the fairytale retellings around.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Book review - Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine

When a boy stops Rowan and hands her a photo negative that he insists is hers, she knows he’s wrong, but accepts it anyway out of embarrassment. When she develops the photo she gets a shock – for all that she didn’t drop it, it’s definitely hers. She begins new friendships with Harper, the boy who handed her the negative, and Bee, a girl from school. But they are linked with her past, the past that she is trying to recover from.

Rowan’s family are recovering from the unexpected death of her older brother and it is Rowan who bears the biggest burden. Like a worrying number of teenagers today, it is she who must hold the family together, caring for her younger sister. Rowan’s character is a result of this responsibility – she is mature beyond her age yet extremely cautious with new people. But when she meets Harper she is drawn to him. The characters in this book were incredibly realistically portrayed. I especially loved the younger sister Stroma, who is just so understanding and yet innocent.

Broken Soup is full of friendship, romance, the importance of families and general life. The plot develops beautifully with an interesting twist at the end, but I had a minor quibble. I don’t see the necessity for Jack to have kept his secret when he was alive, except that it is an interesting shock for Rowan. It was so cleverly written though, that this doesn’t matter so much. Parts of the book are so realistic that it could easily be depressing without the unlikely subplots. If I was in Rowan’s position, all I know is that I would love to meet a Harper, I would love to have that negative handed to me.

I wanted to read Broken Soup after Jenny’s review of it and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Great characters, an interesting plot, and clever writing combine to produce a book worthy of high recommendation.

And good news for all Americans – Broken Soup will be released in the US this month. Put it on your wishlists!

Monday, 2 March 2009

It's a happy monday to yoooouuuuu

I'm in a kind of fantasy shlump at the moment. Everything I've been reading is contemporary and while I love that, I need some magic to balance it out! I don't know what to read next though, any suggestions? I have City of Ashes, which I can't wait to read. Or I could try A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer, Black Powder War by Naomi Novik or Seven Sorcerers by Caro King. Does anyone know if any of them are good? Or have any different books to recommend?

On a random note, there have been lots of helicopters flying over here all day. It makes me wonder what's going on, especially as the building I'm in shakes every time!

Also, to celebrate the release of Something, Maybe, Elizabeth Scott is having a countdown celebration. I'm definitely going to be celebrating because I'm looking forward to reading it!

Book review - Damage by Sue Mayfield

Wow. This book is amazing. I can’t really summarise it and the blurb on the back doesn’t do it justice. Really, all I need to summarise the book is a picture of the cover. Some covers don’t really fit a book that well, but with damage what you see is what you get. Damage is about four young people who get into a car on the night of a party. That car crashes.

The chapters alternate from the points-of-view of just about everyone affected by the car crash one year later, but throughout the book the story of the night of the crash is slowly told. Damage is about picking up the pieces when disaster hits you, it’s about coming to terms with guilt and a sense of responsibility. In such an accident, many people will feel guilty – parents who feel they should have collected the four teenagers themselves, friends who should have been with them and so on. This book is fairly short, but gritty and full of raw reality. The people involved all behave in a huge variety of different ways. The parents of the other children will always feel the need to blame the driver, so how can you come to terms with that?

What Damage is not – a story about how lots of partying and drinking brings on a car crash for four thoughtless teens in the car. It’s not that. All four of the people in the crash are smart, they’re not being excessively stupid, they’re behaving in a way that anyone might. The point, the scary point, is that it could happen to anyone.
What Damage is – incredibly realistic and incredibly honest. It’s a story about loss and acceptance. It also made me cry (very rare!) not at the saddest part, but when one of the parents who has crumpled under the shock begins to recover. I think this would be a valuable book for anyone who’s been involved in a similar accident, or even if you haven’t. I guess what’s so special about Damage is that the people feel real, the situation feels real, the story feels real. And it makes you think.

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I wrote this review yesterday and it seems saddly appropriate to post it today given the recent car crash story. I don't know any of the details of the real-life accident so I'm not saying they were at all like the book. But it is a terrible thing to happen and my condolences go to the families involved.