Monday, 31 May 2010
In New York, another girl their age is having a tough time. Stacey's friends have turned their backs on her, and she's hoping that the move to Stoneybrook will be just the fresh start she needs.
This could be the summer that everything falls apart. Or it could be just the start of something awesome: The Babysitters Club.
Told in alternating points of view, The Summer Before introduces us to the four friends who will go on to form The Babysitters Club. We follow the events of the summer vacation between sixth and seventh grades, as the girls face new developments in their lives alone and together. There's Kristy, who comes from a large family but desperately misses the father who moved to California and has barely kept in touch with her since. Her best friend is Mary Anne, who lives alone with her overprotective dad and just wants to be allowed to grow up a little. Then there's their friend Claudia, who loves art and fashion and is starting to be interested in boys way before the other two. Finally, we meet New Yorker Stacey, who is having a lonely time in the city but will soon be on her way to Stoneybrook where new friendships await her.
The beauty of The Summer Before is that it's written to appeal equally to existing fans of The Babysitters Club and readers who are totally new to the series. Those who (like me) first read this series in the eighties will appreciate how loyal this prequel is to the originals: Claudia and Kristy's birthdays are both remembered, and events that occur in the first few books are foreshadowed here in clever little ways. It even opens with the exact same sentence as book one in the series, Kristy's Great Idea. There's plenty of nostalgia here to remind us exactly why we loved these books so much the first time around.
For new readers in the nine to twelve age group, this is a feel-good introduction to the main characters of the BSC, as each of the four faces a coming-of-age moment that makes them who they are at the point when the main series opens. In fact, The Summer Before would even make for a satisfying standalone read... although I'm pretty sure that it'll make new readers want to check out the rest of the series. It's a book about growing up, which the characters are doing at different rates and in different ways. It's about first love and being your own person and dealing with parents who aren't always perfect themselves. It's also a book about the importance of friendship during this tricky time.
The Summer Before is a fun and thoughtful prequel to the hugely successful BSC series. It's heartwarming and sweet, and it shows that there are some things about growing up that never change. I'd recommend it anyone who has already read and loved The Babysitters Club, and tweens looking for a must-read series to get hooked on.
Out: June 7th 2010, UK / May 1st 2010, US
Big thanks to Scholastic UK for sending me a review copy of this book.
Saturday, 29 May 2010
Another great week for me. My TBR pile is steadily growing, but I'm looking forward to reading literally every book in it. I also have some bits and pieces of bookish news to pass on this week.
All title links go to Goodreads.
Dreaming of Amelia - Jaclyn Moriarty
The very sweet Becky The Bookette offered me her copy of this one. I've heard wonderful things about Jaclyn Moriarty and this book, so I'm super excited to read it. Thanks Becky!
Impulse - Ellen Hopkins
I've read a few verse novels this year and really enjoyed them. I recently read a brilliant review of this one over at the fantastic Wondrous Reads, so I thought it would be a good introduction to Ellen Hopkins' work.
Forbidden - Tabitha Suzuma
I've heard a lot of good things about Tabitha Suzuma's books, but haven't read any of her work myself. This one sounds like exactly the kind of brave writing I love. Thank you Definitions / Random House UK for sending this book for review.
Tall Story - Candy Gourlay
This one was a surprise arrival from David Fickling Books / Random House UK, and it sounds really quirky and unusual.
Dark Goddess - Sarwat Chadda
I read the first book in this series, Devil's Kiss, soon after starting my blog last year. I thought it was awesome, so obviously the surprise arrival of this one had me jumping up and down with excitement. You can read my review of Devil's Kiss here. Thanks Penguin UK for this one.
My Name Is Memory - Ann Brashares
I recently read The Summer That Changed Everything and I thought it was really lovely (review here), so I'm looking forward to losing myself in her brand new novel. It's not YA but it sounds like it has great crossover potential. It arrived beautifully tied up in brown paper with with decorative string, which unfortunately I unwrapped with way too much excitement to wait and snap a photograph. Thanks to Hodder and Stoughton for this.
I also have a lot of book news this week. First up, the awesome Random House have put up the first chapter of Lauren Kate's Torment, the much-anticipated sequel to Fallen, for those who just can't wait for the publication later this year. You can check that out here.
For readers in the UK, Sugar magazine are giving away a free copy of Joanna Nadin's My So-Called Life with the current edition. Plus, they're also running a contest to win all six books in the series and a £100 shopping spree in Topshop. You can check out the details on their website here.
Finally, Hodder and Stoughton let me know about the gorgeous book trailer for My Name Is Memory.
I just know I'm going to fall in love with one!
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Elissa arrived at Dido's court at the age of twelve, having run away from home and the prospect of marriage to a man she did not love. Permitted to stay at court as a maidservant, Elissa has the Queen to thank for her happiness.
Several years later, when the handsome and heroic Aeneas arrives on Carthage's shores, both Elissa and the Queen are drawn to him. Before long, Dido announces that she and Aeneas are now man and wife. But Elissa can't help what she feels...
Dido is the first classical retelling that I've read, and it exceeded all of my expectations. I opened it as someone who had a mild interest in stories from ancient Greek and Roman times, but with a small amount of apprehension that I wouldn't bond with the characters. As it turned out, I connected with the story of Dido and its characters on every level, and it's no exaggeration to say that it took my breath away.
Adele Geras tells the story of Elissa, Aeneas and Queen Dido in flawless prose that is somehow elegant, beautiful and simple all at the same time. Although the characters' speech is flavoured with occasional unfamiliar phrases in keeping with the ancient era their story unfolds in - for instance, 'moons' mark the passage of time rather than days or months - Geras portrays them all with an emphasis on universal human qualities that will resonate with today's YA reader. Their needs, fears and desires are much the same as ours: these are passionate, empathetic characters and it's this that brings the story so powerfully to life.
This is also a retelling that focuses largely on its female players, rather than reducing them to a footnote in the story of a much-revered male leader as - Queen Dido herself notes towards the end of the novel - histories written at that time would have done. Geras gives us a version of Dido who is determined to make her own mark on the world, and her creation of the servant girl Elissa gives us someone more ordinary to relate to in the midst of this extraordinary tale. The relationship between the two female leads is complex and heartbreaking to read, and I found it impossible not to empathise with both of them.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the story is the way in which Geras portrays the influence of immortal forces on the lives of Elissa, Aeneas and Queen Dido. Greek gods and goddesses pay frequent visits to the mortal characters, shaping the way in which events unfold and allowing them intimate insights into each others' lives. There's a real sense of forces and motives at work that the human characters will never understand: the gods don't feel the need to explain themselves to mere mortals, and that includes the reader. Whether or not you already know the story of Dido and Aeneas (I didn't) you'll feel a sense of impending tragedy looming for these characters you've come to care about, and as the end of the story draws near it's impossible not to brace yourself for the terrible impact you know is inevitable.
Dido is a classical retelling that speaks to the heart and soul of the YA reader. It's piqued my interest in ancient history and mythology and I'll definitely be on the lookout for more from Adele Geras. Readers with an interest in historical fiction or retellings of classic tales should go out of their way to pick up a copy of this one.
Out: 29th April 2010, UK (paperback edition)
Thank you to David Fickling Books / Random House UK for providing a review copy of this wonderful book.
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Becca Fitzpatrick's debut novel Hush, Hush made a big impression on me last year. I'd been desperate to read it, and when I heard that Simon and Schuster UK were holding a special reading of the first few chapters at Trafalgar Square in London, I just had to be there. Despite being one of the rainiest nights of the year, it was an amazingly atmospheric occasion and I came away with my very own copy of the book. Which, as it turned out, was awesome. I loved it for its dark intensity, its mystery, and most of all for the massive chemistry between Nora and Patch.
But, it left me wanting more. And one area of Hush, Hush that I really wanted to know more about was the mystery of what happened to Nora's dad. So, the summary for Crescendo - the second book in the fallen angel series - is like music to my ears. Plus, take a look at that cover!
Happily for me, the UK paperback edition of Hush, Hush is out this week, and it contains the first chapter of this much-anticipated sequel. I've read it, and I'm now full of questions (and general crazed excitement) about what Crescendo has in store for us. As far as I'm concerned, October can't come around fast enough.
Crescendo is out in the UK and US in October 2010.
You can read my review of Hush, Hush here.
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Most of us have had one. You know, that girl you call your friend but who actually makes you feel bad about yourself on a regular basis. If she were anyone else, you'd write her off as a regular biatch and get over it. But she's your friend, so you tell yourself she can't be doing it on purpose. Maybe you're just oversensitive. Or maybe you actually are as dorky / unattractive / stupid as she says. Maybe.
I encountered my first toxic friend at primary school, way before the phrase was even invented. I was probably around seven years old, and had recently become friends with a girl who was fun and smart and cool. But gradually, I noticed that she made me feel... bad. Luckily, my mum was on hand with a book recommendation for just this occasion: Sheila Lavelle's My Best Fiend series.
The strange thing was, I hadn't mentioned the toxic friend issue to my mum. She would've told me to get new friends, which sounds simple (and is actually the very best advice) but I didn't want new friends. I wanted my cool friend to be nice to me. And yet somehow, the My Best Fiend books found their way onto my bookshelf. Call it mum superpowers, call it coincidence, but this author seemed to know exactly what I was going through.
The heroine of the My Best Fiend series is Charlie Ellis, who has her very own toxic friend in the form of BFF Angela. They're in the same class at school, they live in the same street, and Charlie once wrote a paper in which she accidentally described Angela as her very best 'fiend'. Turns out, she was right. Because somehow, Angela has this knack for getting Charlie into trouble, getting everything that Charlie wants, and making her feel... bad. She's also a lot of fun, so Charlie would never stop being friends with her. Even though she probably should.
The Fiend Next Door was always my favourite in the series, so that's the one I chose to reread this week. I'm way too old for it, but I wanted to remind myself just why these books appealed so strongly to my seven year old self. And having reread it, I think the secret is in the way that the books are structured. Each short, easy-to-read chapter describes a different totally annoying thing that Angela has done and got away with, one after the other. Like the time she locks a classmate up in a shed, and convinces Charlie to go back to let him out... only it turns out that Angela actually locked up one of their teachers, who now thinks Charlie is the culprit. Or the time Angela makes such a big deal about how out of style Charlie's hand-me-down designer bag is, and graciously swaps it with one of hers... because she really wanted it all along. It's infuriating, and by the final chapter any reader who has had a friend like Angela will be desperately hoping that Charlie will somehow get her own back. And when, in the last few pages, she finally does, it's like BAM! Take that, Angela. Revenge is sweet.
Verdict: For readers in the 5-8 age group, these books are absolute must-reads. They're funny, poignant, and all round awesome. I'll love them forever.
Monday, 24 May 2010
Finally, Tally Youngblood is Pretty. Reunited with her friends Peris and Shay and living in New Pretty Town, her life is everything she ever dreamed of. Between the glamorous parties and her swoonworthy new boyfriend Zane, life as a Pretty is just about perfect.
But then Tally and Zane make an alarming discovery. A letter from Tally to herself, written back when she was Ugly. A letter telling her of the sinister truth behind the Pretty operation and the promise she made to be the first human test subject of the antidote that might just be able to reverse its effects. A letter she doesn't remember writing.
And along with the letter, two tiny pills that have the power to change Tally's future...
Pretties is the second book in Scott Westerfeld's epic dystopian trilogy, and sees heroine Tally Youngblood transformed into a beautiful but docile version of the character we first met in series opener Uglies. Pretties themselves are content and easy-going, thanks to the brain lesions that come free with the extreme cosmetic surgery they undergo on their sixteenth birthdays. All they care about is partying, having fun and being 'bubbly', and they're certainly not going to challenge those who govern their society. It's a little bit disorientating at first, but before too long signs of the old Tally begin to resurface... and then the real fun begins.
In fact, this instalment is probably the most fun of any book in the Uglies series. Scott Westerfeld has packed the world of Pretties with futuristic technology for readers to marvel at, ranging from the super cool to the super sinister. Swirly flash tattoos, surgically implanted eye jewels and calorie purging pills all exist to make being a Pretty as easy and enjoyable as it can possibly be. This is a world that's all about pleasure, and this principle shapes every aspect of this chapter of Tally's journey. So whereas in the first book the characters had hoverboards to get them from A to B, in Pretties we're more likely to see Tally and co hijacking a hot air balloon or sabotaging a floating ice-rink. It's action packed, fast-paced, and as vividly drawn as a movie.
If all this is beginning to sound way more light-hearted than Uglies, rest assured that Pretties does have its darker moments. The terrifying Dr Cable is back, and this time round we get a sense that the relationship between her and Tally is far more complicated than we previously realised. And as Tally and Shay slowly remember who they were before the Pretty operation, Tally's former betrayal casts a shadow over their reunion that leaves the reader never quite sure whether the two can really trust each other. Then there's new character Zane, and the small matter of who Tally really loves: her new boyfriend, who is surgically enhanced to make him physically irresistible, or the Ugly David, who first inspired her to look beyond appearances to the person beneath.
Pretties is much more than the continuation of the Uglies story. It's a sequel that shakes up our expectations about how this series would unfold, and one that sees Tally Youngblood developing in an entirely new direction. Admittedly, the Pretties themselves are irritating at times, but overall this is a solid second instalment. Dystopia fans should give this one a look.
Out: now, UK and US
Thank you to Simon and Schuster for providing a review copy of this book.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
I received quite a few review books this week. Since I was expecting most of them, I put myself on a strict book-buying diet to try to stop my TBR pile getting totally out of control. (Which probably means that I'll be splurging next week, but what's a girl to do?) All links go to Goodreads.com.
Secrets at St. Jude's: Rebel Girl - Carmen Reid
Dark Secrets 2 - Elizabeth Chandler
Wicked: Resurrection - Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguie (not pictured)
Fortune - Megan Cole
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors - Francisco X. Stork
The Babysitters Club: The Summer Before - Ann M. Martin
So.... what did everyone else get in the mail this week?
Thursday, 20 May 2010
Eve Evergold has developed her very own electromagnetic field, and one of her friends is being driven crazy by demon-filled nightmares.
So it's lucky for Eve that two gorgeous new guys have arrived in town to take her mind off of all the weirdness. Or maybe it's not so lucky...
From its upmarket Hamptons setting to its label-adoring characters, Dark Touch is a glamorous addition to the YA Paranormal genre. Shadows, the first book in the series, introduces us to the privileged Eve Evergold and her exclusive hometown - where, under the surface, a dark history of demons and witchcraft threatens to repeat itself.
Initially more concerned about whether her lipgloss needs reapplying than whether she has a poltergeist, Eve Evergold isn't your regular paranormal protagonist. She's popular, rich and practically joined at the hip with her carbon-copy best friend Jess. She's used to being invited to all the best parties and having the hottest guys fall at her feet. In real life, she'd probably be pretty annoying. But as the heroine of the Dark Touch series, she's a blast. Sometimes literally. So as she's adjusting to the fact she can now shoot lightning bolts from her fingers, Eve is also worrying about the side effects... in the form of the major static hair problem she's developed. And if a trip to the mall to investigate demons comes with the added bonus of gorgeous new shoes, so be it. She's not the deepest heroine you'll ever meet, but she works the tongue-in-cheek humour angle like nobody's business.
As you might expect, Shadows also comes complete with not one but two potential love interests for our heroine Eve. Minister's son Luke and mysterious rich boy Mal are both new in town, and both drop dead gorgeous. As the story unfolds, it soon becomes clear that one of them is also a demon - but which one? In all honesty, I don't think readers will find it too hard to guess who the bad guy is in this little triangle. There are plenty of clues along the way, and a lot of fun to be had in watching the ever-so-slightly oblivious Eve stumble blindly towards the truth.
Shadows is a witty and engaging start to the Dark Touch series. It's pleasingly smart and filled with the kind of self-referential humour that's sure to appeal to the more jaded YA paranormal reader. It made me grin more times than I can count, and I'll definitely be looking out for The Hunt, the next book in the series, later in 2010. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a light-hearted, upbeat supernatural read that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Out: April 1st 2010, UK
Thank you to Random House / Red Fox books for sending me a review copy of this book.
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
I mean, sure, they're both by the same author. And yep, they're both set in the state of New York. And okaaay, they're both about a teenager named Victoria Martin who has a sister called Nina and a best friend called Steffi and... Honestly, I don't know what was wrong with me. But before you get all *cough* loser *cough* on me, in my defence I have to point out that Hangin' Out With Cici is a time travel story. And My First Love and Other Disasters... isn't. In fact, it's a regular realistic teen-interest story about Victoria Martin's summer spent working as a mother's helper on Fire Island, NY - and trying to catch the eye of her super-hot dream guy, Jimmy.
The other main difference between these two books? My mother bought me Hangin' Out With Cici. In her mind, time travel obviously equalled wholesome reading, especially when the result of said time travel was that Victoria Martin was able to find some common ground with her mother. And she was right: that book is a good'un. Whereas My First Love and Other Disasters was a library find that prompted the very same mother (mine, not Victoria's) to roll her eyes and complain about me reading 'rubbish' again.
And I hate to say it, but this is one occasion when my mother was categorically wrong. Okay, I love to say it, but my point holds nonetheless: My First Love and Other Disasters is a keeper. Rereading it this week, I was struck by the fact that despite being first published in 1979, this novel doesn't feel dated at all. There are a few references to 'Women's Lib' in the copy I have, which was printed in 1990, but that's the kind of seventies detail I like to see. Victoria is the kind of teenager that still exists today, and that readers will still relate to.
The 'love' part of the story is pretty standard fare. Basically, Victoria has long admired an older boy from her high school who just so happens to be dating a cheerleader and is way out of her league. She mainly likes him because he's totally good looking and charismatic and popular, but she's convinced that this is more than a crush. She loves him. And it just so happens that he'll be spending the summer on Fire Island, where - if she can just convince her parents she's mature enough - she'll also be working. Oh yeah, and there's also Jimmy's less good-looking and more ordinary best friend Barry, who has convinced himself that he's in love with Victoria. No prizes for guessing how this one turns out, but there's plenty of charm in the telling. Then there's the added pressure of Victoria's au pair job - her first real taste of responsibility, with some tough choices to make along the way. Yes, it's romantic fluff, but it's also a solid coming of age story.
In fact, Francine Pascal pretty much rocks it in this one, especially when it comes to the voice of main character Victoria Martin. She's exuberant and wry and honest and yep, a little disaster prone, and wholly believable as a fifteen year old girl in a hurry to grow up. She's the kind of girl who'd probably hate Jessica Wakefield for being such a biatch, and Elizabeth Wakefield for being such a self-righteous sap. In other words, I like her.
Verdict: Anyone who associates Francine Pascal with the production-line writing of the ghostwritten Sweet Valley series she 'created' should check this book out. It's witty and insightful and a lot of fun.
Sunday, 16 May 2010
Sisters Red - Jackson Pearce
I was super excited this week to be invited to take part in the UK blog tour for Sisters Red, Jackson Pearce's first novel to be published on these shores.Jackson's youtube channel has had her on my radar for a while as someone who genuinely has something to say (and says it in ways that often have me laughing out loud).
Plus, the summary for Sisters Red has this contemporary-fairytale-with-werewolves vibe that hooked me right in from the moment I heard about it. Thanks to Hodder for this one.
Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta
I recently read Marchetta's Saving Francesca a few weeks back, and loved it. And then I gave it to my mum and she loved it too. I haven't managed to review it yet but what I would say is that all the good things I heard about it were one hundred percent true. It's just brilliant.
Since I've been reading amazing reviews of Jellicoe Road all over the place, I figured we'd both probably love this one as well. And while I'm trying not to buy a heap of books until my TBR pile is at least a little smaller, I couldn't resist getting myself a copy.
A Breath In May - Robyn Hogan
This one was sent to me by one of my absolute favourite bloggers, Rhiannon Hart, because she knows how much I love timeslip novels (and Australian authors). It's the story of an Italian-Australian girl who visits Italy to visit family and, I'm guessing from the book cover summary, visits the past as well.
Big thanks to Rhiannon for this one. :D
Another Faust - Daniel and Dina Nayeri
I've wanted to read this one, a contemporary YA reimagining of the Faustian bargain, for absolutely ages. And I didn't have to sell my soul to the devil to score myself a copy. In fact, I won this from the GLBT challenge site by reviewing Lauren Myracle's Kissing Kate and just so happening to be the winner of their monthly draw.
Written by a brother and sister team, this sounds pretty dark and smart and perhaps a little odd. All of which are things I really like.
So... what did everyone get this week?
Saturday, 15 May 2010
But when the harvest does happen, the wardens aren't merely looking for soldiers. They want the Skilled - those who possess a mystical gift that allows them to see into the veil that separates the world of the living from that of the dead. The High Council's Silas Dane knows that one of the Skilled is hiding in Morvane; a girl directly descended from those with the greatest power of all. He's determined to take her with him back to the city of Fume, where legend has it that the ancient book of Wintercraft is concealed in an underground cavern deep below the surface.
That girl is Kate Winters, and Wintercraft is her destiny.
When it comes to YA fantasy, I like mine dark, spellbinding and mysterious. So it was with no small amount of anticipation that I picked up Jenna Burtenshaw's debut novel Wintercraft this week. A world where all that separates the living and the dead is a 'veil' that some may cross? Now that's the kind of place I want a book to take me.
The story of Kate Winters takes place in a country called Albion - which, the internet tells me, just so happens to be the earliest recorded name for Great Britain. And certainly this Albion has the feel of a medieval Britain in many ways... but with curious additions like steam trains, occult influences and secret underground libraries. From village life to the shady politics of the High Council, there's a extraordinary sense that Jenna Burtenshaw knows this world inside out, making it a fascinating place for any avid reader of fantasy to visit. Vividly drawn and richly imagined, it's a world full of dark secrets and even darker magic.
I'm picky with my YA fantasy heroines, but Wintercraft's unusually gifted Kate instantly got me on side by risking her own skin to save her friend Edgar within the first twenty pages. She's loyal, brave and perceptive, and more than a match for her captor, the mysterious (and somewhat frightening) Silas Dane. She's also a bookseller in a place and time when books are very low down on most people's list of priorities - which means patching old books up to sell on, since there aren't any new ones.Arguably the most interesting and complex character in Wintercraft, Silas keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.
Wintercraft is an intriguing start to what promises to be a highly enjoyable new series. In Kate Winters, Jenna Burtenshaw has given us a strong female teen character who clearly has far to go, and I'll definitely be joining her for the next instalment of her journey. I'd recommend this one to readers looking for a darker YA fantasy packed with atmosphere and adventure.
Out: May 13th 2010, UK
Many thanks to Headline for providing a review copy of this book.
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
This week I'm waiting on...
Annexed by Sharon Dogar
Summary from Waterstones.com: Everyone knows about Anne Frank, and her life hidden in the secret annexe - or do they? Peter van Pels and his family are locked away in there with the Franks, and Peter sees it all differently. He's a boy, and for a boy it's just not the same. What is it like to be forced into hiding with Anne Frank, to hate her and then find yourself falling in love with her? To know you're being written about in her diary, day after day? What's it like to sit and wait and watch whilst others die, and you wish you were fighting? How can Anne and Peter try to make sense of one of the most devastating episodes in recent history - the holocaust? Anne's diary ends on August 4 1944, but Peter's story takes us on, beyond their betrayal and into the Nazi death camps. He details with accuracy, clarity and compassion, the reality of day to day survival in Auschwitz - and the terrible conclusion. It's a story rooted firmly in history and it asks a question of us all: Are we listening? 'Is anybody there?' Peter cries from the depths of his despair in the camps. Read it, and you will be.
I first read Anne Frank's diary when I was in primary school, and it's never left me. When I was in Amsterdam a few years ago I visited the secret annexe of the house where Anne and her family lived in hiding, and I was surprised by how small the rooms were and how exposed it felt. I'm really intrigued to see how Sharon Dogar imagines this experience from the point of view of Peter van Pels. I think it'll be an emotionally difficult read, but an important one.
Annexed is due out on September 2nd 2010 in the UK and October 4th 2010 in the US.
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Perfect-sized, perfectly normal Jo - who also happens to be one half of their school's most perfect couple. Ouch.
In that instant, it's clear to Rachel that Jo has everything. Compared to Rachel's wash-out of a life, Jo's is... perfect. And now she has David too.
And then it happens.
Rachel wishes she was Jo.
And, suddenly, she is...
One of my all time favourite chicklit reads is Luisa Plaja's Split By A Kiss, in which Brit teen Jo moves to America... and finds herself literally split in two following a disastrous kiss with the school hottie. In Swapped By A Kiss, we revisit some of the same characters as they meet up at a music festival in muddy old England. But this time around, we're mostly hanging out with Jo's 'gothically inclined' American classmate, Rachel. Kind of. Because thanks to a badly-timed kiss and an even more badly-timed wish at the beginning of the story, Rachel spends most of the novel inhabiting Jo's body. Which means the real Jo is transported into Rachel's body, leading to a case of major confusion for the switchees... and mucho hilarity for the reader.
Having read both of Luisa Plaja's previous novels, I was prepared for Swapped By A Kiss. I started reading it at home, with absolutely no strangers present to witness the inevitable descent into giggles, snorts and giggle-snorts I knew would ensue. Unfortunately, I then had to go out, and managed to find myself reading the side-splittingly funny 'glow pants' episode on a train full of suited types who (bless them) did a marvellous job of pretending not to notice my unrestrained guffawing. As in Split By A Kiss, most of the big chuckles come courtesy of Jo's best American friend, the seriously clueless Tori. An airhead with a heart of gold, Tori's ditzy outlook on the world is the perfect contrast to main character Rachel's super-spiky snark.
However, Swapped By A Kiss isn't just played for laughs. As body swap stories go, this one is a little more subtle than the familiar parent / teenager or male / female switcheroos. After all, Rachel and Jo are friends. They're the same age, they go to the same school, and they've even hung out a little. They think they know all there is to know about each others' lives. But, of course, they don't. Thanks to the switch, Rachel gets the chance to really test her hypothesis that her life would be easier if she were Jo - and Jo is given the opportunity to get to know who her friend Rachel really is, beneath the hair dye and the tough grrrl exterior. It's an eye-opener for both of them, but especially for Rachel, who also gets a taste of what it's like to be free of the persona she's created. As Jo, Rachel can finally let herself go and make new friends and even
Swapped By A Kiss is smart, funny and utterly adorable. It's the kind of book that'll pick you up when you're feeling down, and it also delivers one of those killer plot twists that Luisa Plaja does so very well. In fact, I think it just might be her best novel yet. Readers looking for an upbeat, girly read with a lovably snarky main character should definitely reach for this one.
Out: April 29th, UK
Many thanks to Corgi / Random House UK for sending me a review copy of this one.
Calling all Luisa Plaja fans! Random House are hosting a live webchat with Luisa on May 12th 2010 on their Fiercebook page. The webchat starts at 5pm UK time and will last for around one hour. You can get all the details right here.
Sunday, 9 May 2010
Luna - Julie Ann Peters
Since it ties in perfectly with this month's GLBT mini-challenge, I figured there's no time like the present. And besides, it's not like I could let an entire week go by without buying a single book.
I haven't read Need yet, the first title in this pixie series, but I do have it on loan from a friend who really loved it.
So when I won a contest over at Once Upon A Bookcase, I selected the next book, Captivate, as my prize. You know, in anticipation of loving the first one. (And yep, also because the cover is so striking.)
Special thanks to Jo for holding such a fab contest!
I loved Split By A Kiss, where we first met Jo, Albie, David, Tori and Rachel. I also love body swap stories.
I'm part way through reading it already, and loving it.
I don't have an e-reader, so at first I was a little hesitant to sign up for netgalley. But when I saw that I'd be able to request an electronic version of The Mermaid's Mirror, I decided to give it a go.
I really like the sound of this novel about a girl who is determined to take up surfing - and encounters a real-life mermaid into the bargain.
Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and netgalley.com for this one.
So... what did everyone else get?
Saturday, 8 May 2010
But having woken her, he can't just leave her there. She's afraid; scared that someone called The Gardener will find her. And besides, something feels really wrong about the place. Something that seems to be linked to TroDyn Industries, a local scientific research centre.
So they take off. But The Gardener won't be willing to let them go that easily...
The Gardener is the kind of story that takes off running almost as soon as the scene is set, plunging the reader headlong into a page-turning frenzy as Mason and the mysterious Laila make their desperate bid for escape. An exciting fusion of the sci-fi and thriller genres, The Gardener explores the question of just how far we should go to ensure the survival of our species in the face of a deteriorating environment. Posing the all-too-feasible dilemma of what will happen to the human race once we're no longer able to feed our rising population, Bodeen imagines that the shady TroDyn Industries are in the process of developing the technology to overcome this threat to humanity - but at what cost?
In Mason, Bodeen has created a believable and likeable male protagonist that both male and female readers will relate to. Facially scarred by a dog attack at a young age, he’s adjusted to others’ initial reactions towards him and has a tendency to play the hero. In his words, being responsible for someone else's happy ending makes him happy. As in debut novel The Compound, Bodeen really gives the reader food for thought about the way a boy's sense of identity is influenced by his relationship with his father. It's something that doesn't get a lot of attention in young adult fiction, and once more Bodeen explores the theme with insight and sensitivity in The Gardener.
The Gardener is a fast, thrilling read that leaves the reader with plenty to think about without ever compromising its breathtaking pace or filmic approach to storytelling. It's a book that raises intriguing questions about what makes us human, and the role that science and evolution have to play in the future of our planet. Although it seems for part of the story that we're heading for a predictable conclusion, Bodeen impresses with a few class twists that leave things on a pleasingly ambigious note. S. A. Bodeen is fast becoming my author of choice for action-based stories that push the boundaries of YA subject matter. A plot-driven firecracker of a story that’s perfect for reluctant readers and those looking for a fast-paced thriller with a sci-fi slant.
Out: May 25th 2010, US
Many thanks to Macmillan for providing a review copy of this book.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
But what Prentisstown does have a lot of is Noise. All the Noise of all the men who live there - all of their thoughts, all of the time. There's no escaping it. Or so it seems, until the day when Todd finds something he previously thought was impossible. A single point of silence. And suddenly, everything Todd thought he knew is pulled out from under him.
Reading the first few pages of The Knife of Never Letting Go is like waking up inside a dream. There are things you recognise from your own life and things you don't, and every paragraph raises another question about where we are and what it all means. Why is that dog talking? Why are there thirteen months in a year? What are Spackle, and why are we scared of them? So many questions, and no immediate answers. The overall effect is disorientating and alien and genius all at the same time. And though you might not be sure right away that you love it, it's instantly clear that this book is something special.
The Knife of Never Letting Go takes place in New World, which isn't our world but is inhabited by humans much like us. The defining feature of this world is Noise, which is basically all those thoughts and feelings and memories that fill a man's head getting loose and spilling out so everybody can hear them. All the time, everywhere, whether he wants them to or not. On the page, this is represented by snippets of individuals' stream of consciousness overlapping in different fonts and different sizes. There's sadness and anger and all released at once it's chaos. Since too much of this would make for a confusing narrative, Ness helpfully keeps it to a minimum unless it's relevant to the story. However, Noise influences every aspect of the New World, from the dynamics of society to the path that Todd Hewitt's journey takes within it. Those who have Noise can't sneak up on a person, they risk betraying their own secrets every time someone else is near, and emotions like suspicion and fear spread through entire communities in a heartbeat. Anything that happens or has ever happened in this world is shaped by Noise, and the completeness of this vision is truly breathtaking.
At just short of thirteen New World years old, Todd Hewitt tells his story in a voice that is raw, distinctive and utterly convincing. He's a little surly at first, but I soon found myself warming to his gruff manner and oddly old-fashioned turn of phrase. Although I didn't feel that I'd gotten to know his human companion, Viola, as well as I would have hoped, I was hugely surprised by the way my feelings about his canine friend, Manchee, changed throughout the novel. I'm not generally keen on talking animals in books, and though Manchee initially seems like a one-dimensional annoyance he actually has an important role to play. The bond between boy and dog is a poignant one, and I challenge any reader not to get just a little bit choked up at Manchee's loyalty to Todd.
Much of The Knife of Never Letting Go is spent with Todd, Viola and Manchee on the road, as they undertake a frantic trek across unfamiliar terrain with the evil Aaron - among others - in hot pursuit. It's a tense journey filled with strange sights, inexplicable wonder and the occasional bloody conflict. Although we learn the terrifying truth about Prentisstown along the way, this is definitely not a standalone read: much is left unanswered, and the closing cliffhanger makes it literally impossible for a reader not to want to pick up the next book in the trilogy.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is a book like no other. Part fantasy, part sci-fi, it's fiercely imaginative and absolutely not to be missed. Boy or girl, young adult or not-so-young adult, this is one book that everyone should read. Extraordinary.
I'm a little behind the times on this one. The Knife of Never Letting Go was published in 2008 and frankly, I don't know what took me so long.
The final book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, Monsters of Men, is published this week in the UK. You can watch the awesome series trailer here, courtesy of Walker Books.
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
But despite my undying devotion to the genre, I'd never so much as contemplated reading a Nancy Drew book until pretty late in my series-reader career. In fact, I'd never even seen one. Oh, I knew of their existence, sure, but mainly because I'd heard really old people (read: over 25s) reminiscing about them. As far as my teenage self was concerned, Nancy Drew books belonged to a time when people ate bread and dripping for supper and penny sweets actually cost a penny. In other words, bor-ing.
So when my sister borrowed Secrets Can Kill - book one of the Nancy Drew Files - from her BFF, I was in two minds. I mean, it looked like a series book. It was American. It had the number 1 on it, and on the front there was a picture of Nancy herself sporting an eighties blow dry, frosted lipstick and purple slouch leather jacket. This was a new, revamped and updated Nancy Drew. On the other hand, it was Nancy Drew. Could I really be that desperate for a series book fix?
As it turns out, yes, I could. And actually Nancy was, surprisingly, pretty cool. Of course, it helped that Secrets Can Kill is set in a high school and that eighteen year old Nancy, posing as a student, spends half the book going weak at the knees over a handsome senior with eyes like blueberries. Okay, the blueberry thing is a little weird. But the point is, it was just like a regular high school series book. Except that Nancy Drew also solved mysteries. Yay!
Rereading this book, I wasn't sure what to expect. My memory of Nancy herself wasn't especially strong, but I vaguely remembered her as a girl power hero with brains and attitude. If only. See, in addition to being a super sleuth, Nancy is kind of... vacuous. A few chapters in, all I really know about her is that she wears designer jeans that cost 50 whole dollars, and that when she looks in the mirror she's given to admiring the way those jeans hug her long, slim legs. Oh, and she's also a totally famous girl detective in her hometown of River Heights. So of course it makes perfect sense that she's picked to go undercover without so much as an alias at a high school fifteen miles away. Perfect sense. Ahem.
The mystery aspect itself is rather fun. It's action, action, action for Nancy. There's high school blackmail, a murder, an attempt on Nancy's life, and Russian spies. There's also a sparky rivalry with ace reporter Brenda Carlton, who is as eager to make the front page as Nancy is to
In what I can only assume to be an attempt to make Nancy seem like an independent woman, the weirdest aspect of Secrets Can Kill has to be Ms Drew's relationship with her on-off boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. He's away at college, but we're barely out of the first chapter before she's looking at his picture and 'shivering' at the mere thought of his arms around her. Strangely, we're only up to chapter three before she's wondering what it would be like to be in hunky senior Daryl Gray's arms instead. But that's okay! Because we're told right away that though Nancy and Ned love each other, neither one is ready for 'forever'. So they drift apart sometimes and see other people, but always get back together again. And... I don't get it. I mean, if it were left to the reader to discern that Nancy really loves Ned while she's off flirting with all these other boys, that would be fine. But the way we're literally told from page one that this is an open relationship because neither party wants to be tied down? It's calculated and it's weird, and I don't get it.
Verdict: I can't make up my mind on this one. Is it so bad it's good, or is it just... bad? If anything, it makes me want to read one of the original Nancy Drew titles to find out what the iconic character was like before her eighties makeover. Still, the tacky awesomeness of the cover alone is enough to earn this one a place on my bookshelf.
Monday, 3 May 2010
Swapped By A Kiss was published in the UK on April 29th 2010, and I have a copy winging its way to me at this very moment that I can't wait to read and review. In the meantime, I wanted to share a few SBAK releated things with you.
First up, if you swivel your eyes to my right sidebar, Random House have put together this widget that'll let you read the first couple of chapters of Swapped By A Kiss. Awesome, right?
Also, for any facebook users out there, Luisa will be doing a live webchat on RH's Fiercebook page on the evening of the 12th May. I'll be posting more details of that when I have 'em.
Sunday, 2 May 2010
As a dedicated reader of Young Adult fiction and former Sex and The City viewer, I picked up The Carrie Diaries with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Call me cynical, but YA is huge right now, and despite the fact I couldn't wait to read Carrie's story I was the tiniest bit wary of Bushnell's decision to resurrect her most famous adult chicklit character for a teen audience. As I opened that shiny gold cover and peered inside, I found myself wondering... Could a Sex And The City prequel really work as a YA title?
Well, actually, yes. This is undoubtedly a book with real crossover appeal, but the focus here is definitely YA in essence. There's much in Carrie's journey that will speak to teenage readers who have never even seen an episode of SATC or read the original novel of the same name. It's a coming of age story, and though this Carrie is recognisable as the name-necklace wearing, shoe-loving writer and romantic we know and love from the TV show, she's also a believable teenage protagonist with an honest and winsome voice. At the same time, adult readers who don't usually venture into YA territory are sure to be charmed by the eighties nostalgia and the universal highs and lows of first love.
We join Carrie Bradshaw in her senior year of high school, as she manages to attract the attentions of two very different boys: Sebastian, who makes her weak at the knees but isn't what you'd call reliable, and Brown scholar George, who is as supportive as can be but just a little on the dull side. Although I found certain aspects of the romance a bit predictable, and most readers will spot the core betrayal coming a mile off, it absolutely works as backstory for a girl who will one day consider her most trusted friends to be her family. There's heartbreak, there's self-doubt, and ultimately there's an empowering ending. Don't expect anything deep or ground-breaking, but do expect a solid chicklit offering with a truly likeable lead.
I read a lot of YA, but as I read The Carrie Diaries I realised just how few books in this category explore the mixed emotions that, for many of us, accompany the knowledge that our school days are about to come to an end. Carrie's longing to move to New York and become a writer - and her anxieties about whether she really can achieve her aims - are as integral to this story as the romance, and it's refreshing to read. There's also a real sense that Carrie is growing up during the second wave of feminism, and coming to her own conclusions about the lessons she should take from that. In keeping with the tone of the novel, the exploration of these themes is pretty light-hearted, but readers will appreciate the authenticity that they add to the romantic plot.
The Carrie Diaries is an engaging and wryly humorous story of a small-town girl dreaming of a future in the big city. It's a book about the importance of staying true to yourself, and following your dreams. I couldn't put it down. It's everything a reader could ask for in a YA chicklit title, and fans of the genre will adore it.
Out: now, UK and US
Many thanks to HarperCollins for sending me a review copy of this one.
Saturday, 1 May 2010
This was a wonderful book week for me.
Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver
Last year, I was lucky enough to take part in a travelling-ARC book tour for Lauren Oliver's wonderful debut novel, organised by Lauren herself. As the ARC made its way from blogger to blogger, we wrote little notes inside for Lauren to read once she had the copy back. I paraphrased my note to her here, and then posted a more formal review in March this year when the book was finally published. This ARC tour is one of my absolute blogging highlights so far.
This week, I was thrilled to receive a signed copy of the US hardback from Lauren in the mail with a beautiful inscription inside. It's getting pride of my place on my bookshelf. Thanks Lauren!
Hush, Hush - Becca Fitzpatrick
I guess it's a week for blog memories, because I actually already have a copy of this one that I picked up at an event at Trafalgar Square in London last year. S&S had booked a spot on the fourth plinth for a special reading of the first chapter of Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush. Anyone who turned up wearing angel wings would receive a free copy. Since this was before publication date and I just couldn't wait to read this one, there I was, in angel wings, soaked to the skin on one of the heaviest rainfall days of the year. It's another one of my favourite memories of my time blogging so far.
You can read my review of this one here. I'm not sure of the etiquette for review copies of books you've already reviewed, but apparently the paperback edition has bonus material so I can't wait to read that. Thanks S&S!
Girl Overboard - Justina Chen Headley
This week, I read a fantastic review of this one over at Reading in Color. It's about a snowboarder who is forced to stay off the slopes after an accident. Although I'm not a snowboarder (except on the Wii), I'm fascinated by extreme sports, and I've done a little boogieboarding in the past so I can kind of understand the rush.
I've barely read any books with athletic MCs (only Dairy Queen and How To Ditch Your Fairy spring to mind), and I have no idea why that is, but I'm looking forward to reading about an MC with that kind of passion for a sport.
The Skin I'm In - Sharon G. Flake
I picked this one up at the bookstore earlier this week, when I dropped by to see what they had of interest that I didn't already know a lot about.
(Between us, I go into the bookstores near where I work so often that the staff probably think I'm casing the joint.)
This one is about a teenage girl who is bullied at school for being different. I've now read and reviewed this here. *Loved* it.
So, what did y'all get this week?