Monday, 30 August 2010

Review: Claire de Lune - Christine Johnson

Published: August 5th 2010, Simon and Schuster

Pages: 356 pages, paperback

Acquired: Sent for review by Simon and Schuster

Summary (from Goodreads): Torn between two destinies? Claire is having the perfect sixteenth birthday. Her pool party is a big success, and gorgeous Matthew keeps chatting and flirting with her as if she's the only girl there. But that night, she discovers something that takes away all sense of normalcy: she's a werewolf. As Claire is initiated into the pack of female werewolves, she must deal not only with her changing identity, but also with a rogue werewolf who is putting everyone she knows in danger. Claire's new life threatens her blossoming romance with Matthew, whose father is leading the werewolf hunt. Now burdened with a dark secret and pushing the boundaries of forbidden love, Claire is struggling to feel comfortable in either skin. With her lupine loyalty at odds with her human heart, she will make a choice that will change her forever?

My review: Claire de Lune is a modern paranormal romance with a difference – while we’re so used to a girl meeting a vampire/werewolf/sandman/zombie guy, in Claire de Lune it’s actually our heroine, Claire, who’s the werewolf and her crush, Matt, who’s the regular teenager. It was nice to read a paranormal story that’s slightly different to the rest and I do think this made Claire de Lune feel a little fresher than some of the other paranormal romances out there.

As Claire and Matt’s relationship becomes more intense, so does Claire’s bond with the pack of werewolves she has recently become inducted into. Matt’s father is a scientist in charge of the hunt for the town’s werewolves and, as more humans wind up dead, the search is on and Claire and the other wolves are in increasing danger.

By the end of the novel I did like Claire, though I wasn’t sure of her at the beginning. She seemed a little self pitying after first finding out she was a werewolf, understandable I suppose but I don’t want to read over and over again that she can’t be bothered to listen to her friend’s problems because hers are bigger. Get over it, seriously. However, she does redeem herself as the novel progresses and finds a little bit of sass that makes her much more likeable.

My main issue with the book, however, is Matt. He’s introduced to us as one of those ‘too perfect to be true’ guys, one of those guys who’s so idealistic he has to have a flaw. Matt’s flaw, I realised, is that he’s actually a little bit dull. Very nice, very pretty but a tad boring, which is a shame as I’d have liked to find out more about how he feels about dating a werewolf, especially as his father considers them the enemy. I think it could have been a nice touch to have a couple of chapters written from Matt’s point of view. Oh well. Perhaps in the sequel, which is coming in 2011.

First line: ‘She killed him in the darkest part of the night, before the dew had settled on the grass.’

Read if you liked...: Blood Feud – Alyxandra Harvey

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

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Review: 100% Gleek

Published: August 5th 2010, Bantam Dell

Pages: 96 pages, hardback

Acquired: Sent for review by Random House

Summary (from Goodreads): "High School Musical" with a difference, "Glee" is the hottest TV show of the year. This all-singing, all-dancing musical dramedy follows a bunch of aspiring misfits and underdogs as they attempt to make their school choir cool. The perfect guide to the cynical, sweet and downright funny hit show, this companion book is packed with behind the scenes facts, set gossip and full colour photos - it's a must-read for all you Gleeks!

My review: It’s strange to think than eighteen months ago the world had never heard of Glee. I remember watching the pilot episode the day after it was released in the US – I was hooked instantly.

Unfortunately, none of my housemates, friends or family had watched the show so I was doomed to Glee fandom alone until the show finally hit E4. Happily, it seems as though everybody else in the world became hooked as well so, at last, I had people to talk about the glorious Sue Sylvester with. Seriously, what a woman.

100% Gleek is the perfect companion to the show and gives fans insider information about the characters, the actors and the show itself. There are pages dedicated to each episode, features on each of the teachers we know and love and, my personal favourite, the Slushie Hall of Shame.

I adored every second I spent reading 100% Gleek and I’m sure the rest of you Glee fans will love it too – it’s eased the pain of waiting for the next series to start so go and check it out now – if only to learn a little bit more about Sue Sylvester. You know you want to.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney

Published: April 1st 2007, Abrams BFYR

Pages: 217 pages, paperback

Acquired: Sent for review by Puffin

Summary (from Goodreads): Greg records his sixth grade experiences in a middle school where he and his best friend, Rowley, undersized weaklings amid boys who need to shave twice daily, hope just to survive, but when Rowley grows more popular, Greg must take drastic measures to save their friendship.

My review: After reading Happyface and The Raven’s Gate I found myself looking forward to reading my next illustrated novel – Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I’d been hearing a lot about this series but hadn’t ever gotten around to reading them so I thought I’d give the first installment a whirl.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a fun, simple read that will leave you feeling happy and fulfilled, with no worry that the protagonist’s heart will be broken being repair/they will remain a vampire/werewolf/other paranormal being forever with no hope of ever falling in love. No, no – none of that here. Just the trials and tribulations of a young boy trying to get through school without too many dramas – but don’t even think about calling this book a diary, it’s a journal, okay?

Greg is a loveable character from the outset of the story, where he has a rant about the fact this is NOT a diary but a manly journal that he will give out to journalists when he’s rich and famous, instead of having to conduct interviews.

One of the great things about Greg is that he’s well aware he’s a bit of a loser and, although he’s not comfortable with this position, he accepts that he’s low down on the social hierarchy. However, this year he decides that he will be a loser no more and goes on a quest to get into the yearbook as ‘class clown’, so he will be forever immortalised as a cool kid.

Unfortunately for Greg and his best friend Rowley, nothing they do seems to go to plan, which makes for hilarious writing and illustrations for us to enjoy. I think maybe my favourite mishap was the Trick or Treating escapade – but let’s not forget the horror of the Cheese Touch, which I hope will be back in the next books!

First line: ‘First of all, let me get something straight: this is a journal, not a diary.’

Read if you liked...: Happyface by Stephen Emond

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

Friday, 27 August 2010

Review: I Am Number Four - Pittacus Lore

Published: August 3rd 2010, HarperCollins

Pages: 440 pages, hardback

Acquired: Sent for review by HarperCollins

Summary (from Goodreads): Nine of us came here. We look like you. We talk like you. We live among you. But we are not you. We can do things you dream of doing. We have powers you dream of having. We are stronger and faster than anything you have ever seen. We are the superheroes you worship in movies and comic books—but we are real.

Our plan was to grow, and train, and become strong, and become one, and fight them. But they found us and started hunting us first. Now all of us are running. Spending our lives in shadows, in places where no one would look, blending in. we have lived among you without you knowing.

But they know.

They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They killed them all.

I am Number Four.

I am next.

My review: I would definitely say that I Am Number Four is one of the most eagerly anticipated books of the year. There has been so much buzz surrounding this one, it recently won the ‘Amazon Best Books of the Month’ award for August and the movie adaptation already has a release date of 2011. Not bad for a book that was only released two weeks ago.

I Am Number Four is absolutely absorbing. It’s definitely not the sort of book I would ordinarily pick up but everything about this one drew me in – the title, the cover, the premise. Everything about this book screams modern classic in the making. It’s a big book, weighing in at over four hundred pages but I read it in a single sitting, barely able to put it down for even a moment.

The more I learned about Number Four (who has to change his name every time he and his guardian, Henri, skip town and move on to another destination) and his race, the Loriens, the more I was consumed by the story. It’s written in wonderfully simple prose that doesn’t cloud the complex storyline and each new character we’re introduced to is as brilliant as the last.

Bernie Kosar, the dog, is definitely my favourite character. He’s just brilliant – definitely a Resident Evil 4 style companion and I want to learn much more about him in the next installment of the story. I Am Number Four finishes in the perfect place. Enough loose ends are tied up that I wasn’t throwing the book across the room in frustration but I still had many questions that will keep me guessing until the next book comes out – which is soon, I hope.

I Am Number Four has a little bit of everything I need to keep me entertained throughout a book – we have plenty of action (the fight scenes are awesome), a bit of a love story (how great is Sarah, really?), humour all the way through (Henri’s ‘shit long wait’ made me laugh out loud) and a fantastic conclusion that is still imprinted on my mind, nearly a week after finishing the book.

I Am Number Four is such a diverse story as well. I imagine boys, girls, younger readers and adults will all love this one and I think it definitely has crossover appeal. It’s extremely visual as well so I’m sure the film adaptation will be brilliant.

I’m really excited this book and I can’t wait to hear what everybody else thought about it so if you’d read it already – do send me the link to your review. I hope you all enjoy/enjoyed it as much as I did.

First line: ‘The door starts shaking.’

Read if you liked...: The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

Plot: 5/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 5/5
Total: 17/20 (A)

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Review: Lost in Planet China - J. Maarten Troost

Published: July 8th 2008, Broadway

Pages: 304 pages, paperback

Acquired: Sent as part of the Book Read ‘Round the World

Summary (from Goodreads): Maarten Troost has charmed and entertained thousands of readers with his tales of wandering among the remote islands of the South Pacific. When the travel bug hit again, he decided to go big–time, taking on the world’s most populous and intriguing nation. In Lost on Planet China, Troost escorts readers on a rollicking journey through the new beating heart of the modern world, from the megalopolises of Beijing and Shanghai to the Gobi desert and the hinterlands of Tibet.

With his trademark edge and self-deprecating wit, Troost deciphers restaurant menus (offering delicacies such as garlic cattle penis); visits with Chairman Mao (still dead, very orange); and hikes (with 80,000 other people) up Tai Shan, China’s most revered mountain.

He learns to “fish for tigers” by dangling live chickens over Siberian tigers gathered in a pit below; studies Mandarin with a woman who may or may not be a “take-out girl;” and experiences the booming Chinese economy through its belching industrial towns—before North Korean border guards send him packing for home.
Lost on Planet China brings China to life as you've never seen it before, brilliantly confirming Troost’s status as the Bill Bryson of a new generation.

My review: For somebody who has never visited China, I imagine setting foot in the country for the first time is somewhat of a culture shock. I’ve never visited China myself (I’d love to, though) and I can only imagine how out of my depth I’d feel during my first few weeks in a country so different from my own.

Troost manages to sound absolutely terrified at being in a strange country, all alone, knowing nothing about the place but also charmed at the same time, which I think is a great strength. At the beginning of the book we get the feeling that he loves China but still isn’t quite sure of the place, like he doesn’t want to relax too much just in case something goes wrong.

What I love about Troost’s writing style is that he’s completely unpretentious and doesn’t make the reader feel at all inadequate. I do love travel writing but I often come away from a travel book feeling like a terrible person because I haven’t yet managed to visit enough exotic places, like the esteemed authors of so many classic travel books.

Troost’s style reminds me somewhat of Paul Theroux, who is hands down my favourite travel writing of all time. It’s relaxed, anecdotal and he includes so many tiny details that really helped me get a feel for the place. By the time I’d finished Lost in Planet China I felt as though I really knew a lot about the country and now I’m even more desperate to visit than I was before reading the book.

I’ve read a few reviews of Lost in Planet China that criticised Troost for being too cynical and disrespectful of the Chinese culture and the country as a whole – however, I must stand up for the author here and say that this is just Troost’s trademark style of humour that has made him one of this generation’s most popular travel writers. Sure, it’s not going to make everybody laugh but it certainly had me in stitches throughout the book and I’d definitely recommend this one to fellow cynics and travel lovers.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Review: Fabulous/Terrible - Sophie Talbot

Published: June 1st 2008, Chooseco

Pages: 192 pages, paperback

Series: Yes...terrifyingly, there is actually a sequel. I dare you to read it.

Acquired: Sent for review by Curled Up with a Good Book.

Summary (from Goodreads): In six short months, your entire life has gone into turnaround. You think. Out of the blue, you take a standardized test and are singled out for admission to the hyper-selective, and super prestigious Trumbull Woodhouse School for Girls. Even more strange, acceptance comes with an anonymous benefactor who is paying your entire tuition.

Will you have the stuff to cut it at the exclusive school? What goes on inside the halls and dorms that harbor daughters of the rich, the connected and the criminal? Trumbull Woodhouse grads are the stuff of legend - ambassadors, senators, CEOs and movie stars. Do they get there by hard work and savvy, or are the rumors of practical magic true?
You and your classmates are both friends and enemies as you compete with each other in academics, athletics, and a lot of things that no one is supposed to know about. Are you willing to do what it takes to get your own chance in the spotlight?

My review: So – I didn’t like this book. At all. I really, really didn’t. I’m going to try and be as constructive as possible but, really, there’s not much I can say.

The long and short of it is this: unfortunately for ‘Fabulous Terrible: The Adventures of You’ my opinion of the story is mirrored perfectly in the second word of the title. Terrible. Well, no, maybe terrible is a little harsh. Definitely not fabulous, though.

Hands down, the main problem with this one is the use of the second person. Of course, this isn’t something that could have been avoided as the whole gimmick of the book is that it’s written in second person.

However, I’m a firm believer that second person is incredibly hard to write, can so very easily go wrong and is only very rarely used well. The only real case I can think of where I’ve loved a book written in second person is Stolen by Lucy Christopher, which is in a class of its own.

Sadly for ‘Fabulous Terrible...’ it is nowhere near up to Stolen’s level and, while there was a lyrical beauty in Christopher’s prose, the writing here is clunky and stuttering, which really held up the plot development.

Another issue I had with this one is that I thought this was going to be one of those brilliant books that were so popular in the 90’s, where you made decisions at the end of the chapter and chose your own story (as a side note: if you loved those novels that definitely check out Wasted, which is an excellent current equivalent).

Unfortunately this is not the case with ‘Fabulous Terrible’. Instead, it’s just a regular novel about a girl (you) who’s headed to an exclusive boarding school. Oh, and you ‘see’ things. What annoyed me is that the publishers actually marketed this book as a ‘choose your own ending’ story. This is what they say:

‘Choose Your Own Adventure's first YA series for girls ages 12+ takes place in the remote all girls' preparatory school Trumbull Woodhouse.’

So, for me, based on that, this should be a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ story, right? Apparently not.

One of the things that grated on me about this one is that the ‘you’ is the reader, if that makes sense. I was constantly being told that my little brother was annoying me and I was being packed off to boarding school and had visions and a strained relationship with my step mother. Well, no, I actually have none of those things and I know I don’t.

If I was reading about somebody else who was going through all of this then fine, I’m happy to suspend my disbelief but in order for me to merrily pretend all of this action is actually happening to me – well, the writing is going to have to be seriously strong, which it wasn’t.

My case in point:

‘“Which flavour are you feelin’ today?” the college kid behind the counter shouts enthusiastically over the latest Avril Lavigne single blasting through the sound system.
You snap out of your own little ice cream dream and peel your numbed hands off the glass.
“Metaphorically speaking, I’m Rocky Road, but in reality, lactose intolerant, so nothing for me, thanks. Just give that kid over there his cone? So we can get back on the yellow brick road...”’

Oh my, aren’t you just so quirky it hurts? Note: If I’m going to be the starring role in your novel, then please, please don’t make me so ridiculously annoying that I put the book down after two chapters so I have both hands free to strangle myself.

This is a harsh review. I know. I’m sorry. I wish I could find something nice to say about this book but really, I can’t.

Well, your fellow school pals Willa and Anupa aren’t so bad. There, I did it.

First line: ‘You press your hands firmly against the frosty glass window, and stare in at the rows of big plastic buckets filled with vibrantly coloured ice cream.’

Plot: 3/5
Writing: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Cover: 2/5
Total: 9/20 (D)

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Review: The Market - J. M. Steele

Published: April 1st 2008, Hyperion

Pages: 336 pages, hardback

Acquired: Sent for review by Curled Up with a Good Book

Summary (from Goodreads): ‘High school senior Kate Winthrop is about to find out just how much she's worth.

After stumbling across the Millbank Social Stock Market, Kate is horrified to discover that out of the 140 girls in her class, she's ranked a bleak 71. Sure, she's not drop-dead gorgeous, and her "fashion" choices leave a bit to be desired...but 71?! Determined not to accept her fate as a "junk bond," she and her best friends quickly set out to make her the fastest rising stock on the Market.

Armed with a sexy new haircut and killer wardrobe, Kate puts her plan into effect -- and the analysts take note. In a matter of weeks, her stock value soars, and "Blue Chip" status is within reach. But what begins as a fun social experiment quickly turns into an obsession, one that threatens to ruin her reputation, friendships, and a chance at first love. Will Kate survive the highs and lows of the Market, or will her security crash and burn?’

My review: Well, I was sold instantly on the premise of The Market and had really high hopes for it. The plot is so unique and manages to make what would be a traditional high school novel about a girl trying to become popular something completely fresh and new.

Kate is a brilliant character. She’s hilarious, a little socially awkward but absolutely horrified to find out she’s ranked number 71 on her high school’s version of the stock market. 71 – seriously?! She’s so indignant at her ranking that I couldn’t help but root for her to make it to number one – and get one over on bitchy queen bee Gretchen.

While Callie, Kate’s effortlessly gorgeous friend is against the idea of Kate’s social makeover (easy for her to say she’s against it but at number 11 she has nothing to worry about), their other best friend Dev (who is crashing and burning at number 121 and pretending she doesn’t care) is all for Kate’s radical new look.

After a weekend of primping, preening and shopping Kate is ready to wow her high school classmates and the plan actually works. She finds herself rising up through the market but Kate suddenly realises her popularity is growing and won’t stop until she reaches number one – no matter what (or who) stands in her way. Kate has to make the decision how far she is willing to go and who she is willing to give up to make it to the coveted number one spot.

The writing in The Market is spot on and it’s clear the writers really know their target audience (side note: J. M. Steele is actually the pen name of two New York entertainment industry professionals – how mysterious). The section of the story where Kate first finds out about the market is my favourite bit of writing in the book:

‘Oh. My. God.
I didn’t know exactly what the change part was, but I definitely knew what it meant to be ranked seventy-first out of the 140 girls in my class. I was just on the wrong side of the great divide. Was I that much of a loser?! Tears formed in the corners of my eyes, and I took another big bite of ice cream; and just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I noticed that there was an icon of a bear flashing next to my name. Moving the cursor over, I clicked on it. A new window opened. And if the list part was horrifying, this new page was truly mortifying.’

The Market is such a fun book. I read it in a single sitting on a lovely sunny day and finished the story feeling happy and content with the world. It’s just a really enjoyable, light hearted novel that made me laugh out loud and ‘awww’ in all the right places. Really lovely stuff.

First line: ‘Somewhere in the distance I heard a cell phone ringing, and I slipped in unnoticed through the side door.’

Final thoughts: A fun high school novel that will definitely get you wondering where you would place in the Market.

Read if you liked...: Fat Cat - Robin Brande

Plot: 5/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 16/20 (B+)

Monday, 23 August 2010

Review: Party - Tom Leveen

Published: April 27th 2010, Random House BFYR

Pages: 240 pages, hardback

Acquired: Sent for review by Curled Up with a Good Book

Summary (from Goodreads): It's Saturday night in Santa Barbara and school is done for the year. Everyone is headed to the same party. Or at least it seems that way. The place is packed. The beer is flowing. Simple, right? But for 11 different people the motives are way more complicated. As each character takes a turn and tells his or her story, the eleven individuals intersect, and reconnect, collide, and combine in ways that none of them ever saw coming.

What I liked: The plot of Party is definitely what first drew me in. I love anything where different people intersect and have an impact on each other’s lives (think Lost, Crash, Love get the gist) so Party sounded like a great read for me.

Each of the eleven characters has their own chapters, where different scenes from the party are retold from their perspective. Each time a few details change, new events are revealed and we learn a little more about what actually happened at the party and the reason each character had to attend. Some of them are there for purely superficial reasons – to try and score with a hot girl or guy or to celebrate the end of the school year but others are there for deeper reasons – to see if anybody would even notice she was there, to get revenge on an ex girlfriend.

In a relatively short space of time Leveen manages to create a number of vivid characters that really rang true and, even though the novel only takes place over a couple of hours, so much is revealed about each person through tiny, subtle details that show how much the writer cared about this book. It’s a great read and I’d happily read it again – and probably notice a lot more things that I missed out on first time round.

One of the things I love about Party is that things are never quite as they seem. I’d read a scene, take an instant dislike to a character because of the way they acted but then find myself seeing things through their eyes a few chapters later and siding with them.

Party is full of ups and downs, arguments, crying, fights sex and alcohol - a typical teenage party and, while I’m personally glad Leveen didn’t gloss over these elements, this book may not be entirely suitable for younger readers because of the content. None of it’s explicit but it is there so be warned.

What I didn’t like: I said earlier on that Leveen creates a number of vivid characters in Party. The only problem I had with the book was with the rest of the characters. Sure, out of the eleven people we focus on there were probably five or six that were really well written and memorable but, unfortunately, the rest fade into obscurity as soon as the story is finished.

A lot of the characters are there just to bulk out the story, provide another point of view but have no depth, no real back story of their own and nothing to really contribute except a few one liners and some vague observations of the party.

First line: “I’m the girl nobody knows until she commits suicide.”

Read if you liked...: wtf by Peter Lerangis

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

Sunday, 22 August 2010

In My Mailbox - 17

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

This week I received:

The Ask and the Answer - Patrick Ness (from Walker)
Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness (from Walker)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (books 1-4) - Jeff Kinney (from Puffin)
Candor - Pam Bachorz (from Egmont)
Outside In (from Egmont)
Vegan, Virgin, Valentine - Carolyn Mackler (from Walker)
The Devouring - Simon Holt (from Little, Brown)
Lies - Michael Grant (from HarperCollins)
Beautiful Dead: Arizona - Eden Maguire (from Sourcebooks)
All We Know Of Love - Nora Baskin (from Walker)

So, what did you get in your mailbox this week?

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Review: Cycler - Lauren McLaughlin

Published: August 26th 2008, Random House

Pages: 256 pages, paperback

Series?: Yes, Recycler is the second and final title in the series

Acquired: Sent for review by Curled Up With a Good Book (additional copy received from Random House)

Publisher’s summary: 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?

What I liked: The story of Cycler immediately drew me in due to the fact it’s so unique. I’ve never read anything like it and haven’t come across any similar stories so I was desperate to read it. As soon as I saw it come up on Curled Up with a Good Book’s review list I knew I had to nab a copy.

Cycler is the story of Jill, a run of the mill high school girl who just wants a simple life, where her biggest concern is how to get her crush to ask her to the prom (though it is pretty high up on her list of concerns as it is). Unfortunately for Jill, she spends four days a month as Jack, a rebellious boy with sex on the brain who wants to escape from Jill’s bedroom prison and live it up as any teenage boy should be.

At first it was easy to keep Jack under control and confined in the house but now he’s gaining strength and Jill’s cycles are becoming more and more unpredictable, meaning Jack could appear at any time, in any place.

The writing alternates between Jill and Jack’s points of view and I think this is one of the book’s strengths. Jill is a likeable girl, who shares the same worries as the rest of us (aside from the monthly morphing into a boy) and Jack is a different voice completely. His chapters are short to reflect his limited cycles but it’s easy to feel the anger in his voice as he talks about being locked up by his mother in Jill’s room.

The pace of Cycler is fast, which is something I enjoyed as I didn’t find any elements of the story dragging and I didn’t skip over any unnecessary passages. I really enjoyed this one and I’m glad I have Recycler ready to read as it does end on a bit of a cliff hanger – a good one though!

What I didn’t like: Jack and Jill (the names were a nice touch, I thought) are strong characters, as I said before, but I think it’s the other characters that let the novel down and make it a good story instead of a great one. Ramie is just a little too ‘quirky’ and I felt like elements of her personality were forced to try and make readers see how different and unique she is. The whole ‘crazy fashion’ part of her personality just grated on me a little.

Jill’s mother was another character I couldn’t quite work out. There’s clear tension between her mother and father but it’s never really explored, though it’s mentioned throughout the book. It’s almost as if the writer was going to add a subplot about her parents but never quite got around to it so I think that easily could have been removed to make the story even more immediate.

Another thing – when Jill and Ramie concoct a plan to make her more attractive to the opposite sex (the lure her dream date into asking her to prom) it really did make a little unhappy inside. Okay, fair enough, girls are scheming and we do scheme to get boys to like us every once in a while but I really didn’t see how turning herself into a complete bitch was going to make Tommy like her. Maybe that’s the point McLaughlin was making but it was a little cringeworthy.

Oh, and one last thing – Jill’s reaction to Tommy revealing he’s bisexual wanted to make me bitch slap her. Hard.

Final thoughts: A truly unique read that made me realise a little PMS isn’t so bad.

Read if you liked...: Boy2Girl by Terence Blacker

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 2.5/5
Characters: 2.5/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 13/20 (C)

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Book Tour: The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom - Interview

Q & A with Silas Winterbottom

Hello everybody! Today is my second stop on the book tour for The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom - the hilarious new children's book by Stephen Giles. I posted up my review yesterday and today I'm here with a Q&A with the book's villain - Silas Winterbottom.

Welcome, Mr Winterbottom. Firstly, what is it like being the villain of your very own story?

It hurts me deeply. I am a kind hearted old man. A man who has tried to be a good Uncle to his young nephew Milo and his nieces, Isabella and Adele. Unfortunately my valiant attempts to do good have been grossly distorted. The story you refer to is nothing more than the fantastical ravings of a lunatic.

So you deny the horrible allegations detailed in “The Death (and further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom”?

Indeed. I fear that no one’s reputation is safe. My generous nature and soft heart are widely praised by those who know me well. Why just the other day one of my junior butlers made the following spontaneous remark. “Master,” he said, “you are the least violent employer I have ever had.” But if you were to read that awful book you would come away thinking I had taken to Bambi with a meataxe.

You invited your nieces and your nephew to your island home for the summer – are you saying you did not have a dastardly ulterior motive?

My only motive was to be a good and kind Uncle. Isabella, Adele and Milo Winterbottom are my own flesh and blood. I adore them. Utterly adore them.

So you are not a despicable bad guy?

I am as harmless as a feather.

Do you deny trying to feed Adele and Isabella to a pack of crocodiles?

That was a simple misunderstanding. The girls were merely sightseeing in the network of tunnels beneath my home and they got lost.

But you chained them to the wall.

Must you be so dramatic? Who amongst us hasn’t accidentally chained their nieces to a wall and then without thinking released a pack of ravenous crocodiles upon them? I am only human, after all.

I’m sorry Mr Winterbottom but the devious way you manipulate those poor children in your story is, well, devious.

Poor children? Milo, Isabella and Adele are not the innocent victims portrayed in that ghastly book. Far from it. Allow me to set the record straight with regards my nieces and nephew.

Let us begin with Isabella Winterbottom. Whilst Isabella may act like a princess, the truth is far less glamorous. She is a skilled thief who steals from her wealthy school friends in London so that she and her dim-witted father can maintain their fraudulent life amongst high society.

Then there is Adele Winterbottom. At first glance Adele appears to be a sweet, thoughtful, book-loving child whose only fault in life was to be born with horrific red hair and unsightly freckles. But look a little closer and you will discover a desperate girl who infiltrates my home under threats from her vile mother to win me over and inherit my fortune.

Finally, we have Milo Winterbottom. Little Milo is portrayed by Mr Giles as some kind of angelic orphan, condemned to a life of unhappiness all because his parents were blown across the south pacific on a volcanic eruption and ended up as shark food.

Yes, yes it’s all terribly sad, but did I mention that the boy accepted my generous invitation to visit for his own devious reasons - Milo hates me and he comes seeking revenge. So you see, the real villains of this book are the children, not their beloved Uncle.

You fiancée Lady Cornelia Bloom died in a mysterious accident many years ago and left her entire

fortune to you. There have been rumours that you had something to do with her death.

How dare you! It pains me to think of my dear, departed fiancée Lady Bloom. She was a woman of tremendous wealth with excellent taste in art and shoes, but the poor dear was rather accident prone. Her death was a great tragedy, but there is no point dwelling on it. She left me with a great many fond memories and an even greater fortune. Enough said.

Can we assume, given the book’s title, that you are in fact ... dead?

I make it a rule never to comment upon the state of my mortality.

You have a pet crocodile called Thorn. Is he a man-eater?

Indeed. But I must state for the record that Thorn has never eaten anyone who did not thoroughly deserve it.

Stephen M. Giles has several more books planned about you. Can you give us a sneak peak of what’s to come?

Stephen M. Giles is a nincompoop. I have heard that he plans to write the whole story concerning my adventures with Milo, Isabella and Adele. Well, I am glad. It will be a sweet story not unlike that delightful idiot, Mary Poppins; a story about a kindly Uncle who lavishes paternal affection upon his nephew and nieces, even though they are a pack of snivelling little brats who are out to steal his fortune.

Add to that my delightful crocodile Thorn and my dear friend Dr Mikal Mangrove, a dear man who thanks to that book comes across as an insane scientist trying to cheat death, and you have the sort of heart-warming tale that the whole family could enjoy. However, in the hands of Stephen M. Giles, I have no doubt it will be transformed into a gothic saga of life and death, as three young heroes battle the immortal soul of their demonic Uncle Silas. The author should be horsewhipped!

Thankyou for your time Mr Winterbottom.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Book Tour: The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom - Stephen Giles

Published: August 1st 2010, Sourcebooks

Pages: 231 pages, paperback

Acquired: Sent for review by Sourcebooks

Summary (from back cover):What secret is Uncle Silas hiding? Adele, Milo and Isabella Winterbottom haven’t heard from Uncle Silas in years – unless you count the occasional insult. So when the cousins receive a mysterious invitation from their disagreeable relative, curious eyebrows are raised. But Silas is dying, and a dying man with a vast fortune usually wishes to find an heir. Or so the children believe. But when they meet dear, old Uncle Silas and his hungry pet crocodile, the trio suspects that he may have a more sinister reason for inviting healthy, young relatives to a secluded island estate, where nothing is as it seems...’

My review: As soon as I discovered, in the opening pages of the book, that Washington, Adele’s bulldog was the victim of an experiment that left him believing he’s a cat, I knew I was in for a treat with The Death and Further Adventures of Silas Winterbottom.

I generally read and review young adult fiction and it’s been a long time since I’ve read a children’s book – I’d almost forgotten how much fun they are to read. Silas Winterbottom is filled with hilarious jokes, a whole host of twists and turns and a very grumpy crocodile called Thorn.

When the three Winterbottom cousins arrive at Silas’ estate they are three very different strangers but by the time the novel comes to a close, they’re lifelong friends, bound together by the increasingly strange events that take place over the course of the novel.

Adele is our heroine here, with snotty Isabella and orphaned Milo acting as supporting characters and each has their own reasons why they are visiting Uncle Silas. Adele has to become Silas’ heir to stop her mother sending her to Ratchet House – the infamous children’s home and Isabella is also after Silas’ fortune. Her and her father are completely out of money so, to supplement their income, Isabella has taken to stealing from her rich friends. Milo just wants to avenge his parents’ murder – the murder that Silas himself is accountable for.

One of the things I love about The Death and Further Adventures of Silas Winterbottom is that each of the three children is written so realistically; they’re not perfect, both Adele and Isabella are guilty of greed and Milo of anger. Instead of children three perfect children, Giles has made them human, which makes it so much easier to relate to them.

Silas is simply brilliant, wickedly funny and a true villain, right to the end. He’s what makes this book such a fun read and I’d definitely recommend this book that anybody in search of a light hearted adventure story.

There’s a great epilogue at the end of the book that hints that there’s much more in store for Adele, Isabella and Milo and I for one can’t wait for the next installment, which I’m hoping is out soon.

First line: ‘Washington, a stocky black bulldog, was licking at the saucer of milk and purring softly when Mr. Walter Fester entered the kitchen muttering to himself about the outrageous price of eggs.’

Read if you liked...: A Series of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket

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

Monday, 16 August 2010

Review: Unwind - Neal Shusterman

Published: November 6th 2007, Simon and Schuster

Pages: 335 pages, paperback

Acquired: Bought myself

Summary (from Goodreads): ‘In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them.

Connor's parents want to be rid of him because he's a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev's unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family's strict religion.

Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed -- but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away.’

My review: Unwind is one of those books that I gave in and bought a copy of, simply because I was sick of people constantly telling me I had to read it. Initially, I didn’t think the book sounded like my kind of thing but when I had a look online, I found numerous reviews talking about a certain scene that was so disturbing they couldn’t get it out of their heads. People were even saying the book was disgusting and too controversial for young readers, despite it being on the reading list in many schools. Ah, maybe I would enjoy it then.

In short, the process of unwinding is defined as follows, ‘unwinding occurs when a person between the ages of 13 and 18 is surgically separated and all body parts are used as transplant parts for others.’ Pretty horrible, huh? Well, Unwind is the story of three runaway unwinds who are trying to stay hidden until their eighteenth birthdays, to escape their hideous fate.

Our protagonists include tough on the outside, soft of the inside Connor – whose parents gave him up because of his constant fighting. He quickly becomes the leader of any situation he’s placed in and develops a soft spot for Risa, who grew up in a state home and was given up for unwinding as they believed she had ‘reached her full potential’.

Then we have Lev, who is a ‘tithe’, also known as a religious sacrifice. At first he is happy that he’s being unwound. As far as he’s concerned that’s his purpose in life and he’s accepted it. However, after he runs away with Connor and Risa, he begins to realise that there is more to life than he first thought and his growing contempt for his parents changes him from an innocent young boy into a rebellious youth, who will stop at nothing to survive.

Unwind is told from all three perspectives and this is a great device. The story stays personal enough that we get to develop a relationship with each protagonist but the great thing about the split narrative is that when the three become split up, we can follow each character on their journey and the story still maintains its personal feel – very nice.

So, I’d heard a lot about this certain scene in Unwind, that is so horrific and disturbing etc etc. Well, it’s really not that bad. The scene is brilliantly written and quite terrifying but I’m not sure it’s bad enough to deserve all the crazy hype. Watch out for it though – it’s near the end, you’ll know when you hit it and I can say first hand it’s definitely best to go in blind so don’t look it up on Wikipedia. Promise?

Unwind is a fantastic novel and it deserves its reputation as a modern classic. It’s thoroughly inventive, brilliantly written and genuinely scary. The scares are psychological here, though, so expect the story to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.

It definitely got me wondering how I would have survived in a world similar to that in Unwind – I like to think I’d have made it to my eighteen birthday but who knows. Would you?

First line: ‘“There are places you can go,” Ariana tells him, “and a guy as smart as you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen.”’

Read if you liked...: The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Plot: 5/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 17/20 (A)

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Review: Raven's Gate - Anthony Horowitz

Published: March 2nd 2008, Walker

Series?: Yes, there are four books in the series

Acquired: Sent for review by Walker

Summary (from Goodreads): This is an atmospheric graphic-novel adaptation of the number 1 bestseller "Raven's Gate", from the creator of "Alex Rider".

Sent to Yorkshire on a rehabilitation programme, Matt Freeman finds himself in the midst of a sinister conspiracy of witchcraft and murder. He uncovers a terrible secret: the Old Ones - monstrous godlike beings once banished from our world - are trying to return.

Matt is about to discover that he alone stands between the forces of evil and the annihilation of humanity...Featuring striking, high-contrast black-and-white art with vibrant splashes of colour, this distinctive graphic novel captures the brooding atmosphere of the bestselling book.

My review: I’ve never read a graphic novel before and, though I’ve always wanted to, there seemed so much choice I really had no idea where to start. Then I came across the graphic novel adaptation of Raven’s Gate, the first book in the Gatekeepers series by Anthony Horowitz. I’ve always been a fan of Horowitz’s short stories so I thought this may just be the perfect book to pop my graphic novel cherry.

I love graphic novels! Well, I loved this one at least. The story in Raven’s Gate is a strong one and the distraction of the fantastic illustrations didn’t distract me from the plot at all. This really isn’t the kind of book I’d read day to day but it was great to read something outside my comfort zone and reminded me of why I should keep broadening my horizons.

Matt is a really great protagonist. It made a nice change to read about a boyish lead – I’m so used to protagonists worrying about makeup, dates and whether or not to sleep with the new bad boy at school that Matt’s uncomplicated way of thinking was really refreshing. The secondary characters in Raven’s Gate weren’t at all disappointing either – especially the cranky old wench who Matt is sent to stay with, Mrs Deverill. Watch out for her – she’s a bad one!

The action is fast paced from the outset of the story and doesn’t slow down for a second. Hands down, my favourite scene was in the Natural History museum – I think this one definitely benefitted from the illustrations. My only small criticism is that the ending was a little rushed. I hadn’t quite realised the story was over so had to go back and reread the last few pages so make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

All in all, Raven’s Gate is a thoroughly enjoyable rollercoaster of a read and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the next installment. I’m still a bit lost as to which graphic novels to read next so if anybody has any recommendations please let me know!

First line: “I’m making a mistake.”

Final thoughts: Horowitz has said before that he thinks of this series as Stephen King for young readers and I have to agree with him here. I’m a huge Stephen King fan so I never say this lightly but there are elements of King within this book – always, always a good thing, I can assure you.

Read if you liked...: Alex Rider series – Anthony Horowitz

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