Saturday, 31 July 2010

Review: Notes from the Teenage Underground - Simmone Howell

Published: April 2007, Bloomsbury

Pages: 250 pages, hardback

Acquired: Sent for review by Curled Up (original post can be found here)

Summary (from Goodreads): Gem is initially thrilled when she convinces her two friends to take their antisocial edge one step further and make an underground film. After all, movies are her thing, and this may finally be her opportunity to shine.

But while Gem is mastering the art of the slow pan, and Mira contemplates the casting couch, no one knows what it is that Lo—the most subversive of the three—has planned. In the back of her mind, Gem’s worried. Instead of equalizing the friendship, the movie seems to bring Lo and Mira even closer together, leaving Gem in a very distant corner. Suddenly, three seems a very uneven number, and the hip underground they’ve chosen a dark and lonely place to be.

It will take great films, bad haiku, and a pantheon of inspirational guides—from Andy Warhol to Henry David Thoreau—to help Gem discover the true meaning of friendship, where family fits in, and that when it comes to underground, a little bit of light is all right.

My review: ‘Me, Lo and Mira were like the good things that come in threes: wishes, kings, backup singers.’

What an opening. The first line of this book’s blurb was enough to have me flying through the pages at lightning speed. From the outset I was optimistic about Notes from the Teenage Underground. The premise is great, the narrator instantly likeable, and I can never resist a novel that focuses on teenagers who don’t quite fit in with their peers.

I’m pleased to say that the book doesn’t disappoint. The entire story is well-rounded and developed, coming full circle with a truly satisfying ending that still left me with a few questions to ponder long after I’d finished reading. Lovely stuff.

Gem, Lo and Mira are outsiders, but they clearly wouldn’t have it any other way. The three friends pass their time each summer by dedicating themselves to a pre-decided theme that carves out how they live their lives in the break. The year before the novel is set, it was the gothic Summer of Satan, but it’s time to mature and find something different, edgier, underground.

And so the girls make grand plans for their summer. They’re going to make an underground film, hold hip gatherings at their version of Andy Warhol’s Factory, and be generally cool. At first it seems like a harmless enough idea: have a few parties, write a script, and wear a lot of pop art T-shirts, but things take a dark turn when Lo and Mira decide they’re not quite living the underground life as it should be lived.

According to Lo and Mira, underground isn’t about innocent teenage fun - it’s about drugs, alcohol, promiscuity and general hedonism. This spells trouble for awkward Gem, who feels more and more unsure of her place in the group as the novel progresses. Bad news for Gem, but good news for us readers, who are treated to some brilliantly descriptive passages from Howell detailing Lo and Mira’s boundary-pushing debauchery.

‘At 0200 hours, Cola arched his back and pissed a fountain of yellow into the spa. I zoomed in on Bliss standing by with a look of horror. Pony was comforting her, rubbing Bliss’s shaking shoulders, making noises about the police.

I imagined Allan Kaprow shaking his head. His Happenings were determined, rehearsed productions, we were just trashing the place.’

One of the things that makes Notes from the Teenage Underground such a pleasure to read is Howell’s obvious passion for the underground scene, a passion that obviously existed long before she started work on this novel, and it shows. There are the classic names everybody associates with the underground - Warhol, Thoreau and Sedgwick, to name a few - but lesser-known masters (and mistresses) of the movement are talked about just as frequently and with the same level of respect.

Howell’s prose is punchy and unapologetic. She’ll talk about drugs and sex, and she’s not going to apologize or censor it. Good - that’s just the way it should be in a novel like this. It brings a genuine feel to the story that I really appreciated. However, sometimes she pulls back and treats us to some lovely, delicate little lines that I wish I’d written myself:

‘And then she ambushed me with a hug. She smelled like sleep and sandalwood, and I held on longer than I thought I would.’


Plot: 3/5
Writing: 4.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 15.5/20 (B)

Friday, 30 July 2010

Review: According to Jane - Marilyn Brant

Published: October 1st 2009, Kensington

Pages: 352 pages, paperback

Acquired: Sent for review by Curled Up with a Good Book (original post can be found here)

Summary (from Goodreads): It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett's teacher is assigning Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". From nowhere...more It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett's teacher is assigning Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice".

From nowhere comes a quiet 'tsk' of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who's teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author's ghost has taken up residence in Ellie's mind, and seems determined to stay there.

Jane's wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go - sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane's counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.

Still, everyone has something to learn about love - perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie's head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending.

My review: Let me begin by saying I was really excited about reading According to Jane. It has a great premise and received some high praise - Susan Wiggs wrote that “Marilyn Brant’s debut novel is proof that Jane Austen never goes out of style.”

According to Jane is the story of unlucky-in-love Ellie, who has been unsuccessful in the dating game for far too long yet still dreams of finding her Mr. Darcy. When Ellie hears Jane Austen’s voice in her head the first time, she doubts her sanity, naturally. We discover that a couple of days later she’s quite ready to accept that a dead novelist is capable of speaking to her but, of course, only Ellie can hear her.

Jane guides Ellie through her teenage years and beyond, trying to give her advice on dating, love, men, and (awkwardly enough) sex. However, Ellie frequently ignores Jane’s warnings (‘Do whatever you must, Jane said, with hot fury in her voice, but get away from that despicable man.’), and that’s where the story really begins.

I did enjoy According to Jane, though I found the beginning chapters slow and a little tedious (there were only so many of Jane’s insults that I could stand before it all started to get a bit repetitive). It’s impossible not to warm to Ellie; she’s a great character - intelligent, gutsy and happy to risk everything in the pursuit of love. Her cousin, the perfect Angelique, is brilliant, and her ability to switch between French and English at the drop of a hat is one of the genuinely funny devices in the book.

Sam Blaine, the novel’s answer to Wickham, is deviously good-looking, charismatic, popular, and a total heartbreaker. After he torments Ellie (in both good and bad ways) throughout her years at high school, she resolves to forget everything about him. However, a few chance encounters ensure that, to whomever else her heart belongs to, a little bit of it will always belong to Sam.

My main issue with the novel is Jane’s presence, a gimmick that quickly grows tiring. According to Jane is a strong enough story that it could stand on its own without the need for Jane Austen’s character at all. Having her voice chime in every few lines with some ‘helpful’ advice seems unnecessary and adds nothing to the novel - if anything, it actually takes a bit of the charm away.

Maybe it’s because I’m English, but her voice just didn’t ring true to me. Brant is obviously a devoted Austen fan, I don’t doubt that, but I don’t think that Jane is particularly well written. Too many times she serves no purpose but to wail an antiquated insult that didn’t make me laugh in the way it was clearly meant to.

That said, According to Jane is an enjoyable light read with an ending that left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, which can’t be a bad thing.

Read if you liked...: Me and Mr Darcy by Alexandra Potter

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 3/5
Total: 13/20 (C)

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Review: Beautiful Dead: Jonas - Eden Maguire

Published: April 2nd 2009, Sourcebooks Fire

Pages: 271 pages, paperback

Series: Yes, book two (Arizona) was released in October 2009, book three (Summer) was released in May 2010 and the final book (Phoenix) will be released in October 2010.

Acquired: Sent for review by Sourcebooks Fire

Summary (from Goodreads): Something strange is happening in Ellerton High. Phoenix is the fourth teenager to die within a year. His street fight stabbing follows the deaths of ...more Something strange is happening in Ellerton High. Phoenix is the fourth teenager to die within a year. His street fight stabbing follows the deaths of Jonas, Summer and Arizona in equally strange and sudden circumstances.

Rumours of ghosts and strange happenings rip through the small community as it comes to terms with shock and loss. Darina, Phoenix's grief-stricken girlfriend, is on the verge. She can't escape her intense heartache, or the impossible apparitions of those that are meant to be dead. And all the while the sound of beating wings echo inside her head! And then one day Phoenix appears to Darina.

Ecstatic to be reunited, he tells her about the Beautiful Dead. Souls in limbo, they have been chosen to return to the world to set right a wrong linked to their deaths and bring about justice. Beautiful, superhuman and powerful, they are marked by a 'death mark' - a small tattoo of angel's wings.

Phoenix tells her that the sound of invisible wings beating are the millions of souls in limbo, desperate to return to earth. Darina's mission is clear: she must help Jonas, Summer, Arizona, and impossibly, her beloved Phoenix, right the wrong linked to their deaths to set them free from limbo so that they can finally rest in peace. Will love conquer death? And if it does, can Darina set it free?

My review: Beautiful Dead: Jonas has been sitting on my bookshelves for almost a month and, for some reason, I kept putting off reading it. I’m not sure why, as the beautiful cover art really intrigued me and the premise seemed interesting but I had to force myself to read it, which didn’t bode particularly well.

My feelings about the first book in the Beautiful Dead series are mixed but the main strength for me was the plot, as it drew me in from the outset and kept me turning the pages to try and find out what was going to happen to the members of the Beautiful Dead. They describe themselves as zombies but they were nothing like your stereotypical shuffling, brain dead horror movie zombies. They’re intelligent, beautiful and ethereal – more like angels.

There are moments of brilliance in this book, certain sentences that really struck a chord with me and it was pretty entertaining from beginning to end, though I did find myself skimming over the chapters that didn’t contain much action.

The whole novel was just a bit lacklustre. I wasn’t particularly inspired by any of it, nothing was challenging and I won’t remember any of the characters in a few weeks. The writing was a little choppy and jumped around, without giving away much information at all. For me, it felt like an early draft of a novel that hadn’t quite been edited enough. I think it could have been a great book with a little more attention, as the story is great.

That said, there’s something I find very interesting about the Beautiful Dead books and I’m keen to read the rest in the series, if only to find out the fates of the ‘zombies’.

First line: ‘The first thing I heard was a door banging in the wind.’

Final thoughts: Not for everybody, but paranormal romance fans may fall in love with this series

Read if you liked...: City of Glass – Cassandra Clare

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 14/20 (B)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

Published: October 18th 2007, Razorbill

Acquired: Purchased myself

Summary (from Goodreads): Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

What I liked: Well, there sure are a lot of reviews out there about Thirteen Reasons Why and most are positive, very positive in fact. Thirteen Reasons Why is a fascinating story about a young girl, Hannah, who commits suicide and leaves behind a box of cassette tapes that she recorded the week before, detailing each of the thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life.

Through the tapes we learn a great deal about Hannah’s life and classmates and each tape helps weave together the story and how each of the characters is connected. The thirteen people featured pop up in various other tapes and it’s so interesting how Asher manages to fit the story together seamlessly. It didn’t feel like any stories were forced and the writing is excellent, both Hannah’s point of view and Clay’s.

Clay is a likeable character and I genuinely felt for him as he waited for his tape to come up – wondering what on earth he could have done to cause his crush to want to end her life. The regret he feels for never acting on his emotions for Hannah really got to me and I did feel myself welling up on a few occasions (so this book does pass the Tear Test for making me cry – maybe I’ll add that into my reviews from now on).

Another thing I enjoyed was that we knew just as little as Clay did and learned everything at the same time as him, which kept the pace up throughout the novel. There’s a great sense of immediacy which made the book feel a lot shorter than it was – I finished it in under an hour.

What I didn’t like: Firstly, my main problem with Thirteen Reasons Why are the reasons themselves. When I first started reading the book I thought Hannah’s reasons for suicide would be dark, devastating and completely traumatic – because surely it has to be bad to consider suicide, right?

Well, apparently not. Apparently having your ass squeezed is reason enough! (Spoiler back there – sorry.) Personally I can’t sympathise with a character who thinks these little traumas that make up teenage life are worth ending your life over (because most of what happens within Thirteen Reasons Why your average teenager has had to deal with one time or another).

Plus, what she does through the tapes is extremely vindictive and it’s almost as though she’s using her death to get revenge on those she disliked while she was alive. It just didn’t sit very well with me.

Final thoughts: My grumbling aside, Thirteen Reasons Why is a beautifully written novel that you won’t forget in a hurry.

Plot: 5/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 3/5
Total: 15/20 (B)

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Review: Crawlers - Sam Enthoven

Acquired: Sent for review by Chicklish (Original post can be viewed here)

Published: April 1st 2010, Corgi Childrens

Pages: 272 pages, paperback

Summary: Crawlers is a survival horror story concerning four boys and four girls, trapped and fighting for their lives against a terrifying alien conspiracy.

My review: Last year I reviewed Blood Water by Dean Vincent Carter for Chicklish and commented on how much I loved the film feel it had. It’s always important for a horror novel to be visual and making me see the scene in my head is the most terrifying thing a writer can do. I’m really pleased to say that Sam Enthoven is a master at this and reading Crawlers was a brilliant experience from beginning to end.

Ben and Jasmine are our heroes in this fight against a parasitic plague of ‘crawlers’, horrific creatures that swarm the Barbican Theatre in London (the wonderful setting for this story) and take over the mind of their human host. Teamed with only their quick thinking and dysfunctional school friends, Ben and Jasmine have a matter of hours to escape the crawlers and their Queen, whose simple wish is to control the mind of every human on the planet.

One of the things that makes Crawlers so unique is the fact it is set (almost) in real time. The whole novel (bar the epilogue) takes place over a single evening and the fast pace Enthoven had to write at really keeps the tempo up the entire way through. It doesn’t slow down for a moment and by the time I turned the final page, I was exhausted.

The story really does play out like a classic horror film; just when you start to relax, another body slams into the wall/crawler bursts through the ceiling etc etc – you catch my drift. This is the novel’s strength but it’s also a weakness.

The short time frame means we don’t get a chance to bond with any of the characters. Enthoven tries to make us feel for Ben and Jasmine but there simply isn’t enough time to get to know them. In horror particularly, it’s important to care about the characters, otherwise there’s nothing to root for. But Ben spends far too much of the novel worrying that he isn’t popular enough, and not enough time crushing crawlers with a spade. And Jasmine is supposed to be the pretty girl who’s trying to build a better life for herself, and we're constantly reminded that she’s better than the other girls in her class.

Is she really, though? Sure, Lisa’s a weirdo (sorry to be blunt) and Lauren/Samantha (who are pretty interchangeable) are definitely portrayed a stereotypical chavs, but all Jasmine really seems to do is look down on them for not being quite as perfect as she is.

That said, the story of Crawlers is fantastic, the writing is great and the tension is brilliant.
I’d recommend this book to anybody who loves a bit of old-school horror, and fingers crossed we’ll be seeing a Sam Raimi style screen adaptation before too long.

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 14/20

Monday, 26 July 2010

Got Books? Contest Winners!

So - this weekend's Got Books? event was a huge success! I hope you all had a great time entering all the contests and I'm here now to tell you the winners of mine. Over 150 people entered my contest from all over the world and I just wanted to thank everybody who took the time to enter - it really means a lot to me.

Without further ado, the winners of my Got Books? contest are:

1st place: *** Sue Smith ***

2nd place: Joanna Papageorgiou

3rd place: Aleksandra and Jessica L.

I'll be sending you guys an email shortly with all the details so please do reply as soon as you can - if I don't hear back within 72 hours I'll have to choose another winner.

Thanks again everybody who entered, congraulations to the winners and I'll be hosting another competition soon so keep an eye out on the blog!

Review: Bang Bang, You're Dead - Narinder Dhami

Acquired: Sent for review by Chicklish (Original post can be viewed here)

Published: May 7th 2009, Corgi Childrens

Pages: 300 pages, paperback

Summary (from Amazon): It seems like just another day at school - then Mia's world turns upside down. School is being evacuated. Rumour has it there's a gunman in the building. And Mia has a horrible feeling she knows who it is.

Her brother has been acting strangely. He's been threatening to do something drastic, something frightening, something that cannot be ignored...but just how far will he go? Mia is determined to find out, but playing cat and mouse with a potential killer is a very dangerous game.

My review: I’m going to be honest, I started reading Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! feeling very unsure as to whether I would enjoy it or not. The blurb on the back made the story sound more suitable for young teens and I really didn’t think it was going to be my cup of tea.
However, as usual, I was wrong - this novel deals with intense adult issues and emotions and is excellently written. School shootings are a sensitive issue and are rarely written about, particularly in the UK, so it was nice to read about something I hadn’t before.

While the book might start off relatively simplistic, it is anything but and the twist at the end is something I never saw coming. In fact, it was so shocking that I reread the book as soon as I’d finished. That’s another good thing about Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! It’s complex enough that it can be reread again and again and you’ll discover new things each time. That’s something I love in a book.

Dhami presents us with extremely well-developed characters in this novel; Mia, Jamie and their mother. Mia is the shy and retiring sister who feels as though she lives in Jamie’s shadow and we get a great insight into her personality as the book is written from her point of view. This was a particularly clever move from Dhami, especially as the story draws to a close and the twist is revealed.

The rumour of a gunman in the school is a huge event in the novel and is obviously terrifying to read about but there is so much more to the story. In fact, I found the gunman story taking a backseat to Jamie and Mia’s flashbacks about their home life, which were much more intriguing.

Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! is a little shorter than a lot of Young Adult novels and, to be honest, it felt that way when I was reading it. I finished the book in one sitting and the ending did feel a bit rushed. The twist is such a shocking revelation that I think more than one chapter was needed to explore it.

On the back of the book it states that Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! fits into the general ‘teen’ category but I do think it’s more suited to younger teens. Yes, the subject matter is serious and quite adult but the length and language of the book lean more towards younger readers. But then again, I’m an adult and I enjoyed it so there you go.

Dhami is a smart writer. She knows her characters inside out and has obviously done her research for this novel. I hadn’t read anything else by her before Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for her other books now.

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 14/20 (C)

Sunday, 25 July 2010

In My Mailbox - 14

In My Mailbox is a weekly post hosted by Kristi who's over at The Story Siren.

This week I received:

Five Star Fiasco - Sue Limb (From Bloomsbury)
Troubadour - Mary Hoffman (From Bloomsbury)
The Other Girl - Sarah Miller (From Bloomsbury)
Emma and the Vampires - Wayne Josephson (From Sourcebooks)
Rich and Mad - William Nicholson (From Egmont)
The Alchemyst - Michael Scott (From Random House)
The Magician - Michael Scott (From Random House)
The Sorceress - Michael Scott (From Random House)
The Necromancer - Michael Scott (From Random House)

I know I featured a few of these last week but they arrived last Sunday so I think they count for this week's - thought I'd share the covers as well as I didn't do that last week :) - also, this isn't counting the massive haul from the Random House Blogger Brunch as it would literally take me all day to do. There's a list of those books in yesterday's post, though.

Review: Zelah Green (Book One) - Vanessa Curtis

Published: July 5th 2010, Egmont Children’s Books

Pages: 246 pages, paperback

Acquired: Sent for review by Egmont

Summary (from Goodreads): My Name is Zelah Green and I'm a cleanaholic. I spend most of my life running away from germs, dirt, and people. And I'm just about doing ok and then my stepmother packs me off to some kind of hospital to live with a load of strangers. It's stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Great. There's Alice who's anorexic. Caro who cuts herself. Silent Sol who has the cutest smile. And then there's me.

What I liked: Zelah Green is the story of Zelah, a fourteen year old girl who suffers from OCD. After her father disappeared a month before, she’s been living with her stepmother, who doesn’t understand or try to understand her OCD. Zelah is eventually shipped off to a rehabilitation centre for teenagers who suffer from behavioural problems. At first Zelah hates Forest Hill House as the thought of trying to beat her ‘rituals’ terrifies her. Eventually, though, the kind owners of Forest Hill help Zelah to realise that leaving behind her ‘rituals’ might not be so terrifying after all.

Zelah really reminds me of Georgia Nicholson of Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging (et al). She’s funny, friendly and immediately likeable. She’s a protagonist I’ll remember for a long time, mostly for the frank way she discusses her OCD. She has a softer side too that makes her more relatable, especially when she talks about her recently deceased mother.

The description of Zelah’s therapy at Forest Hill House is extremely vivid and I really felt the tension within the room while she was trying to overcome her OCD. Learning more about the disorder was fascinating and it’s clear Curtis did her research thoroughly before writing the book, which just helps to make it that little bit more realistic and memorable.

What I didn’t like: There are a lot of great support characters in Zelah Green, especially the other residents at Forest Hill House, but I felt like they weren’t explored to their full potential. Alice, in particular, I thought was very underused. Her story was extremely interesting to me and I really wish she’d been given more time within the novel so we could really learn more about her.

Lib, as well, was another one I wanted to know more about. The reason for her stay at Forest Hill House is only implied but I really wanted to hear more about her back story as I thought she was a very intriguing character but she wasn’t really developed to anything beyond a secondary character.

While some serious attention is paid to the problems of the residents at Forest Hill House within the novel, I felt some of the problems were made light of a little often. There were just too many times where Caro’s self harm or Zelah’s OCD were casually joked about – obviously I expected the girls to joke about it between themselves but it did make me feel slightly uncomfortable, which is not a good thing and does take away from the good that the book tries to do.

First line: ‘My name is Zelah Green and I’m a Cleanaholic.’

Read if you liked...: The Boyfriend List – E. Lockhart

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 3.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Cover: 3.5/5
Total: 15/20 (B)

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Random House Blogger Brunch

So I’m sure by now a few of you have read the brilliant posts that have been written about the UK Book Blogger Brunch at the Random House offices last Saturday. A group of us headed down to the offices in Ealing and met with the publicity team (Clare, Corinne, Lauren, Kelly and Rosi) who, as always, were lovely and extremely generous.

After we’d all arrived and introduced ourselves we heard from each of the publicists about upcoming books, including Torment by Lauren Kate, The Necromancer by Michael Scott (book four in the Nicholas Flamel series) and I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett. Then we spoke a bit about cover art and had a look at six options for the new Malorie Blackman novel, Boys Don’t Cry (which looks great, by the way) and luckily the cover we all preferred was the one that was chosen.

We had a little break at this point to grab some gorgeous ARCs (yay!) and all have a quick catch up – and some yummy cake, of course. Then we spoke about some Top Secret (yes, the capitals are necessary) book news which I won’t elaborate on and then headed up to the offices. Very, very exciting, I can assure you!

(Taken on my camera phone so it's fuzzy and rubbish but from L-R: Rosi, Clare, Kelly, Corinne and Lauren - lovely RHCB publicists, yay!)

Now, I thought I’d possibly come away with one or two books to have a look at and review but once we got upstairs into the offices we were told to take ANYTHING we wanted. Seriously. Anything. I nearly did a little wee with joy at this point. Seeing the bookshelves was, quite literally, awesome. Floor the ceiling, crammed with books, amazing.

I definitely came away with a ridiculous amount of books but I’m excited about each and every one so expect many, many Random House related reviews coming to the blog soon!

I had such a fantastic day, it was lovely to meet all of the publicists in person and I want to thank everybody involved for making it such a fun experience. As always it was lovely to see all the bloggers again and I hope it’s not too long before our next meet up!

The girls at Random House are always so friendly and helpful, it was an absolute pleasure to meet them all and I hope I can pay them back for the brilliant visit by reviewing this huge stack of books soon!

(This picture has been STOLEN from Sarah's Book Reviews as I forgot to bring my camera. Sarah - let me know if you want me to take this down! L-R: Me, Lauren, Kaz, Liz, Caroline, Sarah, Lynsey. Bottom row L-R: Becky, Sammee, Nayu).

The bloggers in attendance were:

Becky - The Bookette

Sammee - I Want To Read That

Lauren - I Was A Teenage Book Geek

Lynsey - Narratively Speaking

Sarah – Sarah’s Book Reviews

Nayu - Nayu's Reading Corner

Caroline - Portrait of a Woman

Liz & Kaz - My Favorite Books

The books I received copies of:

Torment – Lauren Kate
Bartimaeus (The Ring of Solomon) – Jonathan Stroud
The Necromancer - Michael Scott
Noah Barleywater Runs Away – John Boyne
The Hunt – Amy Meredith
BIEBER - So full of win it needs no author
The Runaway Troll – Matt Haig
Bloodlust and Initiation – Alex Duvall
Drop Zone – Andy McNab
Dead Gorgeous – Malorie Blackman
Creepers – Keith gray
Nation – Terry Pratchett
White Time – Margo Lanagan
The Toymaker – Jeremy de Quidt
Selina Penaluma – Jan page
Swapped by a Kiss – Luisa Plaja
Hear the Dead Cry – Charlie Price
Swoon – Nina Malkin (from Becky at The Bookette)
What I Saw and How I Lied – Judy Blundell (from Becky at The Bookette)

Review: Twenty Boy Summer - Sarah Ockler

Published: June 1st 2009, Little, Brown

Pages: 290 pages, paperback

Acquired: Sent for review from Little, Brown

Summary (from Goodreads): According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there's a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance.

Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there's something she hasn't told Frankie---she's already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie's older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.

My review: At first I thought Twenty Boy Summer was going to be your run of the mill beach romance story about two girls on a quest to find pretty boys and tan themselves silly on a hot beach in California. However, there’s a lot more to this novel, including a heartbreaking story of loss and a grieving process made even more painful by the fact our protagonist has to keep it all secret from her best friend Frankie.

A year after the car crash that killed Matt, the two best friends head off to California to spend the summer there with Frankie’s parents. The family are still trying to recover from the loss of their son and it’s not an easy process. Arguments are rife throughout this novel and Ockler writes them brilliantly – I believed every word that was put down on the pages and I felt Anna’s pain and longing for Matt radiating through the book.

Anna and Frankie’s relationship is another strong point within the book. It’s completely realistic and I think Ockler’s strength in writing is the relationships she crafts between her characters. The way Anna and Frankie speak and behave around each other is spot on and really helped me lose myself in their story.

Also, I have to mention the beautiful cover art of Twenty Boy Summer because it’s one of my favourites. It’s absolutely gorgeous, completely relates to the story and really smart, which makes more sense once you’ve finished reading the book.

First line: ‘Frankie Perino and I were lucky that day.’

Final thoughts: A story of love, loss and letting go, which is perfect to devour with the sand between your toes.

Read if you liked...: The Summer of Skinny Dipping – Amanda Howells

Plot: 3/5
Writing: 3.5/5
Characters: 3.5/5
Cover: 5/5
Total: 15/20 (B)

Friday, 23 July 2010

Got Books? - 7 Books Up For Grabs *International*

So Got Books? is finally here! Yay! After weeks of waiting over 100 blogs are participating today and tomorrow to bring you hundreds of giveaways - awesome, right? Head over to the main page here to check out the full list of blogs. They've helpfully split the blogs into international competitions, US only and US and Canada only so go and get entering!

For my giveaways I'm actually going to give you FOUR chances to win so the books I have up for grabs are:

The Star Shack - Lila Castle
Beautiful Dead: Jonas - Eden Maguire
Before I Die - Jenny Downham
Vampire Academy: Frostbite - Richelle Mead
The Liberators - Philip Womack
A Reluctant Cinderella - Alison Bond
Cycler - Lauren McLaughlin

(Please see below the rules for the summary of each book)

Please click here to fill out the form and please read the rules (below) before entering. Thanks and good luck!x


- 1st prize: 3 books of your choice
- 2nd prize: 2 books of the remaining choices
- 3rd prizes: 2 people win one book
- Only one entry per person (though you can have a maximum of 12 entries through the form)
- Please spread the word through Twitter and your blog if you can - I'd be really, really grateful and please link back to me (@carlybennett on Twitter) if you post so I can see who's posting what and send good karma your way
- This contest closes at midnight (London time) on July 24th (well, 25th I suppose, technically) and the winner will be announced shortly after and notified by email - if you do win and I don't receive an email response within 72 hours I'll choose another winner.
- This isn't a rule but please note the covers of Cycler and Before I Die are different to those I posted with their descriptions

Fill out the form here

Good luck :)

The Star Shack - Lila Castle

Pete and Annabelle live for their summers together on Gingerbread Beach. They've always believed they were a perfect pair… until junior year, when Annabelle becomes obsessed with astrology. Now they can hardly stand each other. Pete thinks that Annabelle (a Leo) has become a total flake; Annabelle thinks Pete (a Scorpio) has become an uptight jerk.

When Annabelle dares Pete to open a summer business on the Boardwalk generating personalized horoscopes, their fast-paced, hilarious bickering soon rises to a fever pitch. The he-said/she-said advice of the Star Shack is wildly popular and seems able to fix any relationship problem… except their own.

But when one of Annabelle's star charts helps catch a thief, Pete might have to admit that the stars could really hold the key to the future…and to his own heart.

Beautiful Dead: Jonas - Eden Maguire

Something strange is happening in Ellerton High. Phoenix is the fourth teenager to die within a year. His street fight stabbing follows the deaths of Jonas, Summer and Arizona in equally strange and sudden circumstances.

Rumours of ghosts and strange happenings rip through the small community as it comes to terms with shock and loss. Darina,Phoenix's grief-stricken girlfriend, is on the verge. She can't escape her intense heartache, or the impossible apparitions of those that are meant to be dead. And all the while the sound of beating wings echo inside her head! And then one day Phoenix appears to Darina.

Ecstatic to be reunited, he tells her about the Beautiful Dead. Souls in limbo, they have been chosen to return to the world to set right a wrong linked to their deaths and bring about justice. Beautiful, superhuman and powerful, they are marked by a 'death mark' - a small tattoo of angel's wings. Phoenix tells her that the sound of invisible wings beating are the millions of souls in limbo, desperate to return to earth.

Darina's mission is clear: she must help Jonas, Summer, Arizona, and impossibly, her beloved Phoenix, right the wrong linked to their deaths to set them free from limbo so that they can finally rest in peace. Will love conquer death? And if it does, can Darina set it free?

Before I Die - Jenny Downham

Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It’s her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is Sex. Released from the constraints of ‘normal’ life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up.

Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.

Vampire Academy: Frostbite - Richelle Mead

Rose Hathaway's got serious guy trouble. Her gorgeous tutor Dimitri has his eye on someone else, her friend Mason has a huge crush on her, she keeps getting stuck in her best friend Lissa's head while she's making out with her boyfriend, Christian.

Then a massive Strigoi attack puts St. Vladmir's on high alert, and the Academy crawls with Guardians-including the legendary Janine Hathaway...Rose's formidable, long-absent mother. The Strigoi are closing in, and the Academy's not taking any risks. This year, St. Vladmir's holiday ski trip is mandatory.

But the glittering winter landscape and the posh Idaho resort only provide the illusion of safety. When three students run away to strike back against the deadly Strigoi, Rose must join forces with Christian to rescue them. Only this time, Rose-and her heat-are in more danger than she ever could have imagined.

The Liberators - Philip Womack

On his first trip to London to stay with his glamorous aunt and uncle for Christmas, Ivo Moncrieff steps off the train and stumbles into a nightmare. As he is waiting on the tube platform, a stranger thrusts a mysterious object into his hand, desperately muttering some unfamiliar words to him.

On-board the tube moments later, the carriage next to Ivo's is overcome with panic and when they enter the next station the passengers disembark to find that the stranger's body has been brutally dismembered. Ivo guesses that perpetrators must want the object, and if they find out he has it, he will be their next target. But the attack on the tube is part of a larger scheme to bring chaos to the heart of London.

As the capital seems in danger of sliding into anarchy, Ivo faces a race against time to break the ancient power of the Liberators, a power that has lain dormant for centuries but now threatens to destroy society itself.

A Reluctant Cinderella - Alison Bond

Samantha Sharp turned seventeen, left her old life behind and moved to London, determined to make her fortune.Ten years later and she’s a super-agent to the stars, with her name in the papers, millions in the bank, and one success after another. Love has taken a back seat because her past has put her off relationships for good.

Everyone's got a history but Samantha’s is particularly murky. What’s more, she hasn’t got to the top of her game without collecting a few enemies along the way. So when she meets a man who might be a little bit dangerous, someone she’s finally close to loving, is there anyone to tell her what a terrible mistake she’s making?

Will Samantha find her happy ever after? And if her carefully hidden past comes into the light,will her fairytale coach turn back into a pumpkin? Samantha Sharp needs to find a way to cling onto her sparkle

Cycler - Lauren McLaughlin

As far as anyone at her high school knows, Jill McTeague is an average smart girl trying to get her dream date to ask her to the prom. But what no one knows, except for Jill’s mom and dad, is that for the four days Jill is out of school each month, she is not Jill at all. She is Jack, a genuine boy—complete with all the parts—who lives his four days of the cycle in the solitude of Jill’s room.

But Jack’s personality has been building over the years since the cycling began. He is growing less and less content with his confinement and his cycles are more frequent. Now Jill’s question about prom isn’t about who she will go with, but who will she be when the big night arrives?