Friday, 31 January 2014

January Review

wow January has gone past fast. These are the books I read this month

Books Read
1) Past Perfect by Leila Sales
2) Banished by Liz De Jager (British Books Challenge)
3) The Bed I Made by Lucie Whitehouse (British Books Challenge)
4) The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
5) A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon (British Books Challenge)
6) A Family Secret by Eric Heuvel
7) The Search by Eric Heuvel
8) Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon (British Books Challenge)
9) The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E Smith
10) The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
11) The Accidental Life of Jessie Jefferson by Paige Toon (British Books Challenge)
12) We were Liars by E Lockhart
13) The Here and Now by Ann Brashares
14) Wake by Anna Hope (British Books Challenge)
15) Never Ending by Martyn Bedford (British Books Challenge)
16) Heartbreak by Jonathan Riveria
17) The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
18) Yossel by Joe Kubert
19) Bird by Crystal Chan

Book Events attended
 I had a lovely day out in London for the RHCP bloggers brunch and the Faber Bloggers afternoon tea. I thoroughly enjoyed both and cannot wait to get my hands on all the books mentioned at both events.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Dead Ends Blog Tour: Researching Down's Syndrome by Erin Lange

Thanks for letting me visit today to talk about researching Down’s syndrome for my book, DEAD ENDS.
In addition to being an author, I am also a journalist, and one of the jokes we journalists like to crack behind the scenes is, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Of course, when it comes to the end result, we always stick to the facts, but first, we let ourselves imagine – let ourselves get creative.
I take the same approach to researching my books. I never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Not in the first draft anyway.

When I was writing Dead Ends, one thing I knew from the very beginning was that writing a character with Down’s syndrome was no different from writing any other character. I already knew that people with Down’s syndrome are as diverse as people without it. That gave me the freedom to think of Billy D. as confident, outspoken, clever, trusting and manipulative. His character was built on those qualities, and his condition was secondary.

Of course, I had to research common medical problems associated with Down’s syndrome, and certain things came into play right away, like how Billy D. looks and speaks. I know the common facial features, but I spent a lot of time on the websites of Down’s syndrome organizations to better understand some characteristics, such as the tongue thrust and how it might impact speech pattern and vocal quality. From there, I watched countless videos featuring children and teens with Down’s syndrome, mostly to listen to them, to hear the variety in their voices, but also the similarities, so that I had a strong sense of where Billy D.’s voice fit in.

Once I had a first draft, I consulted my father, who happens to be a speech and language pathologist. He works with many children with Down’s syndrome, so he offered suggestions not only on Billy’s dialog but also any behavior that seemed out of place.

In the final stage of editing, I asked a coworker, who grew up with a brother with Down’s syndrome and is now an advocate for the Down’s syndrome community, to read the manuscript with fresh eyes. Her insight at that point was invaluable. In a sense, she gave me permission to give Billy D. intellectual struggles. I had pulled back on his trouble reading and writing and spelling, but thanks to her, I was able to write some of that back in. I was so afraid of writing a “typical” character with Down’s syndrome, that I had taken him beyond atypical into the realm of potentially unbelievable. This final reader showed me that giving Billy D. struggles because of his Down’s syndrome didn’t take away from his wonderful traits like confidence. It only made those aspects of his character shine brighter.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Review: The Black Crown Conspiracy by Chris Edge

When Penny receives a story for the magazine about a strange and supernaturally-tinged crime, she’s instantly gripped. However, when the story is published, she’s shocked to discover that it describes a recent crime. More stories follow from the anonymous author containing further sinister crimes and hinting at more to come. With the police perplexed, and all of London living in fear, Penny faces a race against time to track the elusive author down. Can she find him and put a stop to his terrible crimes before his story reaches its chilling conclusion?

My thoughts

I am a huge fan of the Penelope Tredwell series. I love her as character and I love the stories with her involved as they are always action packed and exciting. This book was no exception.

The black crow conspiracy was Penny's most exciting adventure yet. I must admit for the outset the pace of the adventure is exciting. I loved the Victorian setting and getting back into Penny's wold. I loved the cameos from a variety of historical figures and for the most part the historical geek inside of me was terribly excited as I read this book. I've said before when reading this series that I love Penny and her feistiness to bits. She is a brilliant female role model and I want more characters like her to be written about.

The only reason I'm not giving this five stars is the fact that there was certain parts of the story and certain characters used in a way that annoyed the historian in me a little bit. Not enough to put in into a full refusal to read it rage (I've been there with other books) but enough to just niggle at me and I think that is mostly because I teach this stuff and am stupidly picky.

All in all however a series I love and would happily recommend for those who love historical adventures. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Running Girl by Simon Mason

Meet Garvie Smith. Highest IQ ever recorded at Marsh Academy. Lowest ever grades. What's the point, anyway? Life sucks. Nothing ever happens.

Until Chloe Dow's body is pulled from a pond.

DI Singh is already on the case. Ambitious, uptight, methodical - he's determined to solve the mystery and get promoted. He doesn't need any 'assistance' from notorious slacker, Smith.

Or does he?

My thoughts
I have really mixed feelings on this book.

As a Crime novel it was brilliant. So cleverly written with lots of twists and turns which kept you guessing right until the end. I liked how everything was turned on its head several times and being made to rethink things over and over again as the story went on. The story with the girl who died was almost a bit twin peaks esque (without the weirdness) as you got to find out a darker side of a girl who on the surface looked perfect.

However I really really struggled to connect with the main character. I found him really irritating and hard to warm to and it was really until the last two chapters that I got to see something about him. That meant every scene with him in up until that point annoyed me quite a bit especially when he was being all cocky and smart with the police.

All in all still a book I would say is worth a look even though it wasn't fully for me.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Review: Salvage by Keren David

Aidan Jones was my brother. But I couldn't really remember his face. I couldn't remember talking to him or playing with him. He was just a gap, an absence, a missing person.

Before she was adopted by a loving family and raised in a leafy Home Counties town, Cass Montgomery was Cass Jones. Her memories of her birth family disappeared with her name. But when her adopted family starts to break down, a way out comes in the form of a message from her lost brother, Aidan. Having Aidan back in her life is both everything she needs and nothing she expected. Who is this boy who calls himself her brother? And why is he so haunted?

I glance at the paper. There's a big picture on the front page. A girl with dark red hair. A girl with eyes that might have been green or they might have been grey. I sit down and stare at Cass, and it is her, it is. My stolen sister.

Aidan's a survivor. He's survived an abusive step-father and an uncaring mother. He's survived crowded foster homes and empty bedsits. His survived to find Cass. If only he can make her understand what it means to be part of his family. . .

My thoughts

A quick review for a brilliant book

Salvage is typical Keren David gritty and raw with fabulous characters who you can't help but root for. I loved every page and struggled to put it down as I was desperate to know what was going to happen next.

Salvage is the sorry of Cass and Aiden, siblings separated as young children when Cass was adopted and Aidan entered Foster Care. Years later they find one another on Facebook and get to know each other again.

What I loved about this book was seeing Cass and Aiden discover one another again and come to terms with the very different upbringings the pair experienced. While Cass fell on her feet with wealthy parents, Aiden found himself moving from place to place never settling in one place for that long. Aiden's story particularly is utterly heartbreaking when you seeing the impact his early experiences has on him long term in his own confidence and in his interactions with those around him. I was utterly hooked to find out more about his story and background.

All in all a fantastic and heartfelt story which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Review: Boys Don't Knit by Tom Easton

Ben Fletcher must get to grips with his more 'feminine' side following an unfortunate incident with a lollipop lady and a stolen bottle of Martini Rosso from Waitrose. All a big misunderstanding of course. To avoid the Young Offenders unit, Ben is ordered to give something back to the community and develop his sense of social alignment. Take up a hobby and keep on the straight and narrow. The hot teacher he likes runs a knitting group so Ben, reluctantly at first, gets 'stuck in'. Not easy when your dad is a sports fan and thinks Jeremy Clarkson is God. To his surprise, Ben finds that he likes knitting and that he has a mean competitive streak. If he can just keep it all a secret from his mates...and notice that the girl of his dreams, girl-next-door Megan Hooper has a bit of a thing for him...Laugh-out-loud, often ridiculous, sometimes quite touching, and revelatory about the knitting world, Boys Don't Knit is a must for boys and girls..

My thoughts

Just a few lines for this book. Not because I didn't enjoy it but because I read it over 3 months ago and forgot to review at the time and have read the best part of 50 books since then.

I loved Boys don't Knit particularly because it was so so so funny and I loved the main character Ben. It was nice to see a teen boy character who was nice but not a good two shoes or complete nerd. I loved seeing how the situations he found himself got blown up out of his control without him even trying to make things are bonkers as they became. I'd thoroughly recommend it for both female and male teen readers. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Review: Leopold Blue by Rosie Rowell

Meg Bergman is fifteen and fed up. She lives in a tiny town in rural 1990s South Africa - a hot-bed of traditionalism, racial tension and (in Meg's eyes) ordinariness. Meg has no friends either, due largely to what the community sees as her mother's interfering attempts to educate farm workers about AIDS. But one day Xanthe arrives - cool, urban, feisty Xanthe, who for some unknown reason seems to want to hang out with Meg.

Xanthe arrives into Meg's life like a hurricane, offering her a look at a teenage life she never knew existed. But cracks quickly begin to show in their friendship when Meg's childhood friend Simon returns from his gap year travels. 

My thoughts
A really enjoyable read which appealed to me quite nicely.

I really loved the historical setting and the backdrop to the story more than anything else. The book is set in South Africa in the 90s and I enjoyed learning about life during the period for ordinary people particularly looking at the divisions that existed even though they should have passed. I was very much fascinated by it throughout the book.

However I wasn't a huge fan of the main characters so I found myself not all that fussed about what happened to them as such. Also the storyline is very slow so not for everyone but despite both those things I certainly liked it enough.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Bookcase Showcase: Author Romily Bernard

I love book bloggers—not just because y’all will fangirl (or boy) with me over some author’s new release, but because you have the best insights and questions. Bookcase Showcase? My favorite blog topic yet. And it couldn’t be more topical too because I just. Got. Bookcases.
Oh, yes, it’s been almost seven years since Boy Genius and I moved into The House That’s Trying To Kill Us and I’ve been asking for bookshelves since…oh, probably the day before we moved in. In BG’s defense, we’ve had a bit going on. There was the electrical work that had to be done, the floors that had to be replaced, the rain that poured in through the side door…sigh. My point? He had a good excuse, but you’re not properly moved in until your books are arranged on their shelves.
Which brings me to book arrangement. Am I the only person who arranges books by Feels? For example, I put Dennis LeHane and Lisa Gardner together because they both scare the pants off me. Similarly, John Green and Jay Asher are grouped next to each other under Amazing and/or Writers Who Give Me Shamespirals. BG says this is nuts. I disagree. I can always find the books I’m looking for.
And if my filing system happens to thwart thieves that want to make off with my beloved Maggie Stiefvaters (because she’s not filed under S, she’s filed under Wow!) all the better, right?
As always, a huge thank you to Kirsty for hosting me at The Overflowing Library. I hope you enjoyed the post and I hope you enjoy FIND ME!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Books I can't wait to read

Here are the latest books to hit my wishlist. I cannot wait to read them

Isla and the Happily Eve After by Stephanie Perkins

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and √Čtienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

I feel like I have waited my entire life for this book. I CANNOT WAIT FOR IT!!

Heart Break Girl by Malorie Blackman

Dante's life was changed for ever the day his ex-girlfriend, Mel, showed up on his doorstep with a baby. His baby. Being a single parent is the hardest thing he's ever had to do - but Dante held it together, somehow. Now, he can't imagine being without his two-year-old daughter, Emma. So when Mel turns up out of the blue and announces she's come to take their daughter back, he'll do anything to stand in her way.

Loved the first book in this series. I cannot wait for more. I loved Dante and loved his younger brother even more.

Out of Control by Sarah Alderson

When 17 year old Liva witnesses a brutal murder she’s taken into police custody for her own protection. But when the police station is attacked and bullets start flying it becomes clear that Liva is not just a witness, she’s a target.

Together with a car thief called Jay, Liva manages to escape the massacre but now the two of them are alone in New York, trying to outrun and outwit two killers who will stop at nothing to find them.

When you live on the edge, there’s a long way to fall.

I always enjoy a Sarah Alderson and am reliably informed this is also fab

Biggest Flirt by Jennifer Echols

Tia and Will’s lives get flipped upside down when they’re voted Yearbook’s Biggest Flirts in this sassy novel from the author of Endless Summer and The One That I Want.

Tia just wants to have fun. She’s worked hard to earn her reputation as the life of the party, and she’s ready for a carefree senior year of hanging out with friends and hooking up with cute boys. And her first order of business? New guy Will. She can’t get enough of his Midwestern accent and laidback swagger.

As the sparks start to fly, Will wants to get serious. Tia’s seen how caring too much has left her sisters heartbroken, and she isn’t interested in commitment. But pushing Will away drives him into the arms of another girl. Tia tells herself it’s no big deal…until the yearbook elections are announced. Getting voted Biggest Flirts with Will is, well, awkward. They may just be friends, but their chemistry is beginning to jeopardize Will’s new relationship—and causing Tia to reconsider her true feelings. What started as a lighthearted fling is about to get very complicated…

I always love a Jennifer Echols. Looking forward to this one a lot

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Blog Tour: Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn Guest Post

On Truth and Darkness in Young Adult Literature
Stephanie Kuehn

This month, my debut young adult novel, Charm and Strange, is being released in paperback in the UK. As the back copy of the book reads, it is “A deftly woven, elegant, unnerving psychological thriller about a boy at war with himself….a masterful exploration of one of the greatest taboos.”  In short, it’s about a boy who believes himself to be a monster. It’s also about understanding why.  
I began writing Charm and Strange in the spring of 2011. As the story moved along on its two-year path to publication, there were many kind people who read the manuscript and corresponded with me about it: friends, fellow authors, literary agents, editors, etc. Yet when I reflect back on that time, there’s one thing stands out to me about all of these interactions. With the exception of a single person, no one ever directly addressed the events of the book—what it’s really about.
This is an observation, not a judgment, and it holds true for me, too. When I engage with someone about the story, we often talk around what happens to the narrator and his family. We cloak the core events in the book with soft language and euphemisms. Gestures, even, if we’re speaking face to face. 
To be fair, the characters in the book don’t use direct language to describe their experiences, either. That’s one of the book’s main themes: how the unspeakable is transformed and expressed in nonverbal ways. However, the fact that some people’s realities truly are unspeakable is the reason I wrote the book in the first place. It’s also the reason why I think books that tackle difficult and discomforting topics, are necessary. Imperative, really.

Reading someone else’s words or someone else’s story is a unique form of human communication—a uniquely safe one. This is the magic of books. They’re stories we can connect with emotionally, but they are also a form of communication that can be controlled by the reader. For kids or teens or anyone who doesn’t have the luxury of safety in their lives, a book holds confidence. A book is a confidante.
Young people know this, intuitively and explicitly. It’s why books such as Hold Still (Nina LaCour), Wintergirls (Laurie Halse Anderson), Crank (Ellen Hopkins), Hate List (Jennifer Brown), Living Dead Girl (Elizabeth Scott), Smack (Melvin Burgess), Stolen (Lucy Christopher), A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness) and many, many more, have resonated with teen readers. That resonance isn’t always about personal identification, either. Reading is a safe, non-judgmental place to explore emotions and thoughts that are scary or shameful or not well-understood, and we live in a world that doesn’t have a lot of safe, non-judgmental places. 

Adults know this, too, I think. We really do. Just like we know it’s hard to speak up when we don’t feel safe, it’s also hard to talk about the things that scare us the most. This knowledge is why I hope that challenging and difficult teen books can be recognized for the difference these stories can make in the hearts and lives of young people who are vulnerable or voiceless. Despite our collective discomfort, there’s true grace in a medium that has the power to help someone who’s endured the unspeakable feel like less of an outsider. Or, as the case may be, like less of a monster.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Tape by Steven Camden

Record a voice and it lasts forever…

In 1993, Ryan records a diary on an old tape. He talks about his mother’s death, about his dreams, about his love for a new girl at school who doesn’t even know he exists.

In 2013, Ameliah moves in with her grandmother after her parents die. There, she finds a tape in the spare room. A tape with a boy’s voice on it – a voice she can’t quite hear, but which seems to be speaking to her.

Ryan and Ameliah are connected by more than just a tape.

This is their story

My thoughts

I have been keenly waiting to get my hands on this book for a good while now and was delighted when I was offered a copy for review. I am glad to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Of me this book was all about the 90s nostalgia. I loved Ryan's story in particular and seeing all those things I grew up with written about! the lack of mobile phones and the Internet, the fashion and the music that was big at the time. It made me pine for those times when you weren't contactable at every waking minute of every day.

The story telling in this book is unusual as it flits backwards and towards from Ryan to Ameliah and tells Ameliah's story in present tense which doesn't always work for me but in this case I think it did because if the nature of the story and differentiates between Ameliah's story in the present and Ryan'ss Tory in the past using the different tenses. I did find it meant that I found myself warming to Ryan's story more and found it harder to relate to Ameliah.

For me the most fascinating bit of this book was working out how the two stories joined together. Maybe it is the historian in me who gets fascinated with family trees and ancestors but I loved trying to work out how the characters features were linked and I must admit for a change I actually guessed parts of the story before they were revealed which is something I rarely manage to do accurately.

All in all a fab read which I thoroughly enjoyed

Friday, 10 January 2014

History Books I rate: 1920s

Some of you might know I teach History at High School. I love finding good YA historical fiction which I can use in the classroom if only to recommend to my students as wider reading.

I do however find that I can be very critical of historical fiction and I do find myself having to give up on books others have raved about because I can't get over historical inaccuracies or stories where events are treated lightly.

This month I have a selection of books set in and around the 1920s (ish). Perfect for Downton Abbey Fans.

Secrets and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

I loved this book completely when I read it. It's very much got that Downton feel to it with the upstairs / downstairs divide and seeing how the different classes of people lived.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

This huge book is set in the 1920s and has a supernatural theme to it. I read this when I was in hospital overnight for 2 days so can't really remember much except for the fact I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Debutantes by Cora Harrison

Another one with a very Downton feel to it. It follows the stories of a group of sisters and I was pleasantly entertained by it.

Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame

This one I remember having lots of twists to it which kept me really hooked. Super glam and generally fabulous.

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Another story set in America in the 1920s. You have all the speakeasies and I loved the glamour of it all.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Review: Witch Finder by Ruth Warburton

London. 1880. In the slums of Spitalfields apprentice blacksmith Luke is facing initiation into the Malleus Maleficorum, the fearsome brotherhood dedicated to hunting and killing witches.

Luke’s final test is to pick a name at random from the Book of Witches, a name he must track down and kill within a month, or face death himself. Luke knows that tonight will change his life forever. But when he picks out sixteen-year-old Rosa Greenwood, Luke has no idea that his task will be harder than he could ever imagine

My thoughts
A quick review today for a book I quite literally flew through as I was hooked from the very start.

Witch finder is Ruth Warburton's newest offering set in Victorian London. I was hooked from the start. Witches in the east end of Victorian London! What more could you possibly want I ask you. The story revolves about Rosa a young witch who is being forced to marry an unpleasant man for money and Luke the stable hand employed to work at Rosa's house who is secretly there to kill Rosa in revenge for the deaths of his mother and father.

For me this book really hooked me because of the setting. I have read Ruth's previous series (starting with a witch in winter) and love her writing and story telling as I find it effortless to read but I actually think I like this book more. I loved how you get a real feel for the time period the characters are living in and a feel for the different lifestyles and way in which people lived.

I loved meeting both Rosa and Luke and finding out more about their story and why they acted the way they did. This book did a brilliant job of introducing them and I cannot wait to see where their story goes next as the rest of the trilogy unfolds.

I also loved the occasional nod to Ruth's other series with organisations and family names being referred to that pop up in later books. It fascinated my little historical brain thinking that the characters I was reading about could in some way be related to those I loved in the other trilogy (it's not to say you have to have read the witch in winter series first as this book stands alone, I would recommend it though) and I was itching to delve more into that side of it and find out how everyone links up.

If you love books about witches or you love historical fiction like Mary Hoopers's Fallen Grace you will love this book.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Review: When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan

Dylan Mint has Tourette's. His life is a constant battle to keep the bad stuff in - the swearing, the tics, the howling dog that seems to escape whenever he gets stressed ... But a routine visit to the hospital changes everything. Overhearing a hushed conversation between the doctor and his mother, Dylan discovers that he's going to die next March.

So he decides to grant himself three parting wishes, or 'Cool Things To Do Before I Cack It'. Number one on the list is to have 'real' intercourse with his stunning and aloof classmate Michelle Malloy. Secondly, Dylan pledges to 'fight heaven and earth, tooth and nail, dungeons and dragons' so that his best friend Amir can find a new 'best bud'. And finally he has to get his dad back from the war so that mum can stop crying so much.

It's not a long list, but it's ambitious, and he doesn't have much time. But as Dylan sets out to make his wishes come true, he discovers that nothing - and no-one - is quite as he had previously supposed

My thoughts
I must admit I had been looking forward to this book for a while particularly because author Phil Earle raved about it on twitter a while back and I am so pleased to say it didn't disappoint. For me it is 2014's answer to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

When Mr Dog bites is the story of Dylan a teenager with Tourettes. What I loved about it is how it got me into his head and enabled me to understand a bit more what it must be like for anyone living with the condition. Be warned it doesn't hold back in its language and so I probably wouldn't recommend it for younger teens but it is absolutely perfect for older teens.

I loved Dylan and the way he saw the world. I loved that underneath that shouty exterior once you got to know him a bit better you could see he had brilliant morals and a real heart of gold and I think for me it made me think about the way people like Dylan with invisible disabilities are labelled within society wrongly by people's assumptions.

I loved the messages it had about racism and about family and was utterly hooked to find out where the story was going and what was going to happen next.

An utterly fascinating and engrossing read. I can't recommend it highly enough

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2014 reading goals

Hello 2014

Today is the day when I set out my reading goals for this year. I'm not one for resolutions but I do like to be organised when it comes to my reading.

My goals for 2014 reading are
  • Read more adult books. I did a lot of this in 2013 and loved it.
  • Discover new authors who write fiction for adults. When it comes to YA I tend try debut authors quite happily but when it comes to adult books I am terrible at sticking with authors I know and love.
  • Read more books by British Authors for the British Books Challenge
  • Read books which I don't have to review. Another thing I started in 2013 and loved because that pressure wasn't there.
  • Give up on series which I rate 3 stars or less. This is mostly because I'll never be inclined to reread the earlier books and therefore will never have a clue what is going on when I come to sequels.
  • Don't force a review if I have nothing to say about a book (even if I enjoyed it on the whole). This is what goodreads star ratings are for.
  • Clear down my kindle
What goals do you have for reading in 2014?