Wednesday 31 October 2012

Halloween Giveaway - The Hex Factor

No tricks, just a treat!
Stripes Publishing is giving away 2 copies of The Hex Factor by Harriet Goodwin.

Xanthe is nearly 13 and everything is starting to go wrong. Then there are the glowing Xs that appear before her eyes. What the.....? And when she asks her grandma for answers, well......

The Hex Factor by Harriet Goodwin

To enter, simply leave a comment below
by 3pm on Friday 9th November 2012.

UK only

If you do not use your Blogger account or do not leave an e-mail address, please leave a comment AND e-mail us so we can contact you if you win.

If you are under 13, please get your parent's permission to enter.

Two winners will be chosen at random and contacted by e-mail for their postal address.

Good luck!

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Breathe - M's Review

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Breathe is the company who sells expensive oxygen to those who live inside the Pod. Outside the Pod, there is no longer any oxygen or life. Growing plants inside the Pod is not allowed. Residents in the Pod are either tattoo-lobed Premiums with enough money to afford lots of oxygen so that they can exercise and so on. On the otherhand, Auxiliaries have little money and aren’t allowed to exercise because they’ll consume too much oxygen. So while there’s life inside the Pod, it’s stratified and therefore a limited life for many. But there’s a Resistance movement in the Pod. Outside, well who really knows? In Breathe, the main characters are about to find out. 

Breathe by Sarah Crossan
The dystopian-eco concept for Breathe's plot intrigued me. The promising storyline also has similarities with Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

In Breathe, the story is told from three characters' points of view: Bea the clever Auxiliary; Quinn the Premium who is her best friend (but she'd love him to be more); and green-eyed Resistance beauty, Alina. I’m a sucker for multiple narratives so this pleased me. Bea and Quinn were very likeable characters but ,for me, there was something missing with Alina.  Overall, I was disappointed because I felt the romance side of things overshadowed real depth in the plot. A lot of the plot just fits together too easily and there’s quite a bit that isn’t believable enough for me.

This is a novel that might appeal to readers who are romance fans  as there is a lot of unrequited teen love in this story.  Although there is violence in the novel, it is not graphic and there is less of it than in many other teen dystopian novels. The eco, consumerism and equalities messages in the novel might also appeal to some readers.  Just imagine having to pay for your oxygen.

This is also a quick read and there’s enough in the plot to keep many readers interested enough to keep turning the pages right through to the end. It might appeal to confident tween readers too.

Breathe is the first novel in a planned trilogy.

Publication details:
Bloomsbury, October 2012, London, paperback

This copy: uncorrected proof received for review from the publishers

Thursday 25 October 2012

This Is not Forgiveness - M's review

This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees

This Is Not Forgiveness is one of those books that caught my eye a few months back just after it was published. The romance angle on the blurb and in the trailer made me dither. But then I was sent a copy for review. And I was surprised.

First off, This Is Not Forgiveness is not a romance in the usual sense. I was also expecting a lot of fast-paced political activism. But, This Is Not Forgiveness is actually not-nice-nor-sugary-sweet stirred with a lot of vodka and sex - and something unpleasant lurking beneath the surface too. It has all the ingredients for a very good psychological thriller.

The story opens with an urn full of ashes and the novel provides a testament to how this death happened. The novel is presented from the perspectives of the three main characters – Jamie, Rob and Caro - although the ending sheds further light on the eyes of the novel’s telling. Jamie develops a strong attraction for Caro but thinks she’ll never go for him. Rob, his brother, is back from the war in Afghanistan and he is struggling to cope with what some describe as post-traumatic-stress. Caro’s been expelled from school for having an affair with a teacher and her latest inspiration comes from the militant Red Faktion Army. This Is Not Forgiveness is an account of how their three lives became intermingled in a series of manipulations and deceits.

Amidst the grit, the plot is full of tensions and the suspense building is simply foreboding. All along I was thinking, ‘Please, don’t let it end like that. Or like that. Or like that.’ The character portrayals and development are also substantial and I’ve had a lengthy conversation with another adult about the characters in this novel and the kinds of judgements that we made about them. Certainly, my judgements of the characters changed as the story twisted and turned.

Stating the obvious, but different readers will take different things from this novel. For some, it just won’t be their thing and they won’t read it. For others, it might be something about teenage relationships, or grappling with ways to change the world. For some, they might see it is as a representation of the banality of contemporary teenagehood. For me it was these things but mostly I read it as a biting commentary on how we think about armies and more particularly the Afghan war.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers and Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, although speculative fictions, also have central teen girl characters who are seriously exploring the different forms of political action and the consequences of violent interventions. All three novels are violent and hardhitting but This Is Not Forgiveness is by far the grittier. I’d even say it was grittier than Noughts & Crosses – but not as harsh.

Who’d I recommend it for? Older teens or adults. The characters are mostly eighteen or older. Jamie might be seventeen – he’s under-age for the pubs – and Rob is in his early twenties. But they’re all well over the age for legitimate sex – and they’re not about to hold back. Like I said, the story mix includes lots of vodka and sex.


Publication details:
Bloomsbury, 2012, London, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publisher



Tuesday 23 October 2012

The Diviners - M's review

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Murders, touch of creepy horror, the supernatural, 1920s New York flappers and hype. Everything that isn’t really my thing all packed into one book. Yet, something drew me to it. Yes, the cover is gorgeous and Libba Bray had caught my eye (hee!) I’d not read any of her work before but somewhere along the way she’d made it onto my lists of authors and novels to look out for.

A huge 600 hundred pager hardback arrived. I wondered what I’d let myself in for…..
The Diviners - Libba Bray
Evie O’Neill has style, she flaunts it and is the bad girl in small-town Ohio. But she’s also a diviner who can read the history of an object by holding it. This gets her into too much tongue-wagging, finger-pointing trouble and her middle class American parents can’t bear it anymore. So she’s shipped (railed?) off to her uncle who runs a museum about ghosts and other unusual things in New York. New York!! Evie can’t believe her luck. But her lucks lands her in the middle of a ghastly murder hunt.

The Diviners has a whole cast of characters and Libba Bray takes her time with the plot to flesh some of them out. I think plenty of people will fall in love with Evie O’Neill. She’s beautiful, stylish, selfish and quick-tongued if not quite quick-witted. But it was Memphis Campbell’s story that grabbed me and I was disappointed that it didn’t develop as much as I thought it would. And it could have – there were 578 pages. But the plot wasn’t fast-paced and the ‘divining’ stories that were developing around the main plot (finding a cult murderer) made this novel feel a bit like a TV pilot episode. It might have something to do with this book being the first in a planned series..... But, the main storyline does come to a satisfactory close although there is plenty left planted but not yet sprouting.

For me, it was the other divining stories that point to a bigger story in the main plot which I wanted to see develop: “The storm is coming, the storm is coming”. Libba Bray packs a host of American history and democracy into the web that she spins and draws in religious cults, the KKK, hot and cold wars, and secret special projects too. I wanted to know more about this rather than the murder story.

The dialogue is littered with one-liner after one-liner to a point that should be exhausting. But somehow, it isn’t and there is plenty of other prose to carry you away. Libba Bray is a fine storyteller.

If you’re into a good story and can cope with the gruesome (I can’t, but that’s me), this could be a series worth following. Just like Evie, The Diviners has style – and it flaunts it.

Publication details:
Atom, September 2012, London, hardback

This copy: received for review from the publisher

Friday 19 October 2012

Little M sat down for a chat.....with blogger Georgia

This is an interview with a blogger like me, same age but she has been going a lot longer than me. We met when we went to the Hot Key Books publishing day. So now here is Georgia's answers to the questions I asked her. She has a blog called Books and Writers Jrn.

Little M: When did you start blogging?

Georgia: I started in about May 2011, a few years after my dad.

Little M: What made you want to start blogging?

Georgia: My dad starting blogging before me and gave me all of the teen books to do for him, but he ended up getting so many that i decided, I'll make my own blog!

Little M: What are your favourite books?

Georgia: My favourite books... there are too many to choose from! Definitely The Hunger Games (obviously!) and I also really like the 13 Treasures series by Michelle Harrison, the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, oh, and the Soul Beach trilogy by Kate Harrison too, and INSIGNIA by S.J Kincaid. Ahh! A lot there!

Little M: Which genres to do you like?

Georgia: I am really obsessed with dystopian and end-of-the-world themed books, but I also like funny ones, and real life situation books like 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I really enjoy books with unique formats... so yeah, quite a mix of things!

Little M: Who is your favourite author?

Georgia: Wow... what a hard choice! Oh no... not too sure how to answer this... I think I will go with S.J Kincaid because her book I just find amazing and I feel like I am in it when I read it... and probably Jay Asher too. Jay Asher is new just like S.J but I loved his story so much... I would recommend both of these books by the way, the authors are so talented!


Thursday 18 October 2012

Scarlet - Little M's review

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Scarlet - AC Gaughen

Scarlet is about a girl called Will Scarlet. Some people know her as Will and some people know her as Scarlet. She is a thief, an outlaw, and is part of Robin Hood’s band. She is determined to forget her past and remain unknown to the villagers as a girl. She is known as a boy to most people except the band. She must save Robin Hood from Lord Gisbourne and protect the villagers from the sheriff.

I thought Scarlet was very different to other books I’ve read. It was different because the dialogue was written in dialect that I have not read in books before. Also, I have never read a book where a girl pretends to be a boy or vice verse.

I really, really, really loved Scarlet. I hope A.C. Gaughen writes another one to do with this. I love books and TV programmes to do with Robin Hood and his band.

I would recommend this book to kids above the age of 11 or 12 because some of the events may disturb them because of the violence. The violence didn’t disturb me though.

Publication details:
Bloomsbury, June 2012, London, paperback

 This copy: received for review from the publisher

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Burning Sky: Codename Quicksilver #3 - Little M's review

Burning Sky: Codename Quicksilver #3 by Allan Jones

Burning sky: Codename Quicksilver #3 by Allan Jones
Codename Quicksilver is a series about young teen spies who are in a secret government organisation, Project 17. They track down criminals and help MI5. Burning Sky is the third book in the series. You can read my review of the first two books here.

In Burning Sky, the main character is Zak who has the codename Quicksilver. He is now part of a mission called Mozart. What he needs to do is impersonate a boy to help that boy get to safety.

I really enjoyed Burning Sky because it’s got a whole lot of adventure and action, which I absolutely adore. I have loved every single one of the three Codename Quicksilver books I have read so far.

Burning Sky is my favourite book out of the three I have read because the first one is about Zak getting into the secret agency; the second book didn’t have as much adventure in it.

Action, adventure, crime-fiction, and Codename Quicksilver fans should love this book.


Publication details:
Orion, 2012, London, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publisher


Friday 12 October 2012

We sat down for a chat....with Teri Terry

Teri Terry's debut novel, Slated, is a dystopian thriller set in a future London. Slated is one of the titles on our recent Top 20 books list. So we're delighted to have author, Teri Terry on the blog today.

Teri Terry's been Slated!

Little M: How did you start writing?

Teri: I've always made things up - including things like really creative excuses for not handing my homework in on time, why I was late, and how something got spilled/broken/forgotten (you get the idea). Writing stories down seemed less likely to get me into trouble.

Little M: What was the first book you wrote?

Teri: Morris: the Life Story of a Beautiful Grey Tabby. I was maybe 11, the story was about my cat, and I did my own, very bad, illustrations. It's about 50 pages long.

Little M: What types of book do you like read?

Teri: I read widely, but mostly YA books: it is rare that I read anything meant for adults. I'm immersed in the kind of writing I do, and part of the reason I write YA is because I love it. Also there just isn't enough time to read everything I'd like to! I particularly like science fiction and fantasy, some mysteries, occasional realism but that isn't usually my thing.

Little M: How did you get the ideas for Slated?

 Slated actually began with a dream. The prologue in Slated  - as published - is almost word for word what I wrote early one morning, waking up after dreaming about this girl, running, on a beach. You know that strange thing in dreams sometimes, how you don't know how you know stuff, you just kind of do? It was a bit like that. I honestly don't know where the idea of Slating came from; it appeared on the page in a mad rush.

Teri Terry - not Slated
M: Slated paints a picture of how a cruel future London views teenagers. Did events surrounding the London riots of August 2011 influence aspects of the story in Slated?

Teri: I finished writing Slated in January 2011, so not unless I have a secret time machine! But I must say that watching the riots unfold on TV was a very eerie experience. In fact much of the backstory to Slated seemed to be coming true that year, like the economic woes in Europe. The riots here were frightening to watch in any event - things seemed to spiral out of control so quickly - and it wasn't that much of a leap to see them continue to to do so.

Little M: When is the next book in the Slated series coming out?

 Teri: Fractured will be out in May 2013! I've just finished the final edits last weekend
(Ed. note: that would have been around 22-23 Sept).
You can read our review of Slated here.

Fractured will be out in May

Teri Terry's website



Thursday 11 October 2012

Party Disaster - Guest Review by Alice

Party Disater by Sue Limb is reviewed by our 12 year old guest reviewer, Alice.
Party Disaster by Sue Limb

Party Disaster is about a teenage girl called Jess and her friends - Flora, Jodie, Fred and Mackenzie. It is called party disaster because Jess invited a few friends over and word gets round which causes a major disaster. Can Jess sort it out?

Favourite character:
My favourite character was Jodie. Although she isn’t the main character she wasn’t selfish and she always thinks of others before herself!

Extra comments:
- this book is part of a series and the beginning doesn’t make sense at first if you haven’t read any of the others
- it takes a while to get into the story
- the first time you read it, it seems rather confusing

8/10  - maybe aimed at older people

12 and over; for people who want close to real life stories


Publication details:
Bloomsbury, June 2012, paperback

This copy: received by We Sat Down for review from the publishers

Tuesday 9 October 2012

The Night Sky In My Head - M's review

The Night Sky In My Head by Sarah Hammond

The Night Sky in My Head is a bit of a crime story mixed in with a bit of bildungsroman (coming-of-age story – which usually means when you become a teenager or an adult) and elements of fantasy.
The Night Sky In My Head - Sarah Hammond
Mikey is fourteen and has a big scar down the back of his head. Since the accident that caused this scar, shadows come alive for Mikey. Now, he can see into the Backwards (which is the past) but he also goes to a special school now. He gets on really well with animals and he has a wonderful best friend who you meet in the first few pages of the book.

The Night Sky In My Head is about Mikey piecing together bits of story from what he sees in the Backwards. It’s rather frightening for him because his dad’s in prison, there’s been a murder, another crime’s been committed and there might be more to come. Who’s done what and will they do it again?

Crimes are committed and there is danger in the story. It’s definitely a bit frightening in parts but overall it’s a gentle story that explores what a ‘good un’ is and what a ‘bad un’ is. Is Mikey good or bad? Is – or was - his dad? And his new mates?

Not everyone in the story believes Mikey about the Backwards. Some of them think he is a bit ‘backwards’ because he speaks and moves more slowly than he used to and he needs help understanding writing. I was a bit confused about how the Backwards happened and why and could it really happen in ‘real’ life. So, while this is a fictional story about things that do happen in real people’s lives, there might be an element of fantasy in it too. Either way, Sarah Hammond (the author) gives you more information about the Backwards at the end of the story. But don’t read it first because it will spoil the story.

This is also a bit of a bildungsroman (coming-of-age story). Mikey’s fourteen and is starting to notice the way that other people treat him, he’s starting to ask questions about his dad when he didn’t really before, he’s trying to make new friends and there’s a girl.

The Night Sky in My Head is a lovely story. It has parallels with Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time but The Night Sky In My Head is told more softly and will appeal to younger readers. Animal lovers will likely enjoy this novel. 

Publication details: Oxford University Press, July 2012, Oxford, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publishers

Monday 8 October 2012

The book love was spread

On Sunday 7 October, we hosted our Spreading the Book Love event at Ilkley Literature Festival's Wordsfest afternoon for young people aged 12-18.

We shared over 40 books in lots of different ways with a buildingful of teenagers: bookswapping, book battleship prizes, sticks of candy rock, posters, postcards, bookmarks, our Top 20 books  - and a fair bit of chat!

Apart from browsing through two tables of books, other highlights seemed to be the games of book battleships (thanks to Scholastic for the inspiration), sticks of The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones rock (thanks again, Scholastic!), and receiving interest from people for starting up a teen bookclub. All of the books that were swapped are registered on Bookcrossing, so you can look here to see which books are travelling.

And the book that both Little M and I thought was browsed most? Katya's World by Jonathan L Howard (Strange Chemistry).

Here are some pictures from the event:

Our bookswap

Chatting and sharing

Celia Rees and Walter Swan who were part of the Wordsfest afternoon

Some school teachers and librarians who brought teens from afar and chatted with us about books, blogs and the Carnegie.

Hot drinks

An Ilkley Literature Festival assistant

A label in one of our books

Thank you to Otley Courthouse for accommodating us. And thank you to the following publishers who offered books as prizes and swaps: Hot Key Books, Random House Children's Publishers, Strange Chemistry and Hodder Childrens.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Our Top 20 Books (Feb - Sept 2012)

Our Top 20 books for February to September 2012 were revealed this afternoon amidst a frency of teen bookswappers and bookbattlers at our Ilkley Literature Festival fringe event. In the spirit of Spreading the Book Love (the name of our event) our Top 20 supports the aims of Booktrust's Bookstart20 where we pledged to share 20 books in 2012.

The Top 20
(the list is in a roughishly descending order - but it's not set in stone. Titles that were on both M & Little M's lists have been given priority)

see end of post for covers of Maggot Moon and Code Name Verity

Jointly selected (i.e. appeared in both M & Little M's lists)
1. Wonder - RJ Palacio
2. Slated - Teri Terry
3. Flip - Martyn Bedford

Little M's choices
4. Girl, Missing series - Sophie McKenzie
5. Insignia - SJ Kincaid
6. Maximum Ride series - James Patterson
7. The One Dollar Horse - Lauren St John
8. The Medusa Project series - Sophie McKenzie
9. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (M gives this one a tick too)
10. The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones - Susie Day
11. Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys
12. Laura Marlin series - Lauren St John

M's choices:
13. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
14. Maggot Moon - Sally Gardner
15. The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket - John Boyne
16. After the Snow - SD Crockett
17. The Fault In Our Stars - John Green
18. All Fall Down - Sally Nicholls
19. Obsidian Mirror - Catherine Fisher
20. The Giver - Lois Lowry

The narrow misses:
  • For Little M - Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed
  • For M (because they're excellent but harrowing): The Seeing by Diana Hendry, Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick and Now Is the Time for Running by Michael Williams.

This is how we chose the books:
  • Little M chose her favourite books she'd read this year and whittled it down to about 12.
  • M chose her favourite books that she'd read for the We Sat Down blog this year.
  • Some of Little M's choices are an entire series - because there's almost nothing better than a series you enjoy.
  • Books had to be read this year but not all of them were published this year - so there are some oldies too.
  • Favourite books definition: books we enjoyed reading.

Cover for Code Name Verity
Cover for Maggot Moon

Friday 5 October 2012

Lydia Syson chat

We sat down for a chat...with Lydia Syson

Okay, we didn't really sit down for a chat - there was a bit of the world between us for this interview!
We're awfully pleased to have Lydia Syson on the blog today, author of the incredibly passionate A World Between Us which is published by Hot Key Books on 4 October 2012.

What inspired you to combine a love story with a tale about the Spanish Civil War?

Lydia Syson:
Of course there’s a long literary tradition of love and war, from Homer to Hemingway and beyond.  But ever since reading Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels as a teenager, I’ve associated the Spanish Civil War with romance and passion, so I suppose it was inevitable that A World Between Us would be a love story. 

The men and women who joined the International Brigades to help Spain’s democratically elected government were volunteers for a cause for which they were prepared to die: nobody made them fight.  That fact, and the intensity of emotion involved in this particular war, somehow makes the combination of the two themes unusually potent.  For both soldiers and medics, choosing to go to Spain seems to have been an absolute gut reaction to the situation.  As C Day Lewis put it in his poem:

“We came because our open eyes
Could see no other way.”

In the 1930s, I think a lot of people were first drawn into politics by an emotional response to a dramatically divided world, driven by quite a romantic and idealistic desire for change.  I wanted to reflect both kinds of desire in my story.

Lydia Syson
In your research, were there any particular stories or people who influenced the development of Felix as your main character?

Lydia Syson:
Felix’s character isn’t based on any particular person, but I drew on incidents and events in the lives of a great many real people for my plot, and she is certainly affected by all the different things that happen to her. I was hugely impressed by the down-to-earth, almost nonchalant, courage of all the nurses, relief workers and hospital administrators I read about, particularly Patience Darton, Penny Feiwel, Nan Green and Francesca Wilson, but I was also interested in the different ways in which they responded to the difficulties of their situations. 

The stories told by medics Len Crome and Reginald Saxton and the American ambulance driver/poet James Neugass were also unforgettable.  Some extremely striking images – like cooling off in the Royal Mausoleum at El Escorial, or men in a cave hospital dying with nobody who could understand their language, or the smell of dead horses, or children killed by bombs disguised as chocolates –just wouldn’t leave my head, and they found their way into the book in various ways.

I’ve written elsewhere about the influence of my beloved grandmother, who joined the Communist Party in the 1930s – through her and my grandfather I already had a certain understanding of the world which Felix enters at the beginning of my book - but I also had my other grandmother at the back of my mind when I was writing about the stultifying suburban life from which Felix is so desperate to escape: she never really did get away.

The novel makes comments about the selection and censorship of news by the media. Did your work as a radio producer influence this?

Lydia Syson:
I’m sure it did – not least because it drew me to Paul Preston’s riveting book about war correspondents in Spain, We Saw Spain Die, through which I discovered all kinds of fascinating people.  Several appear in my book, with their real names.  Preston’s book also opened my mind to the difficult moral issues involved in reporting war, and double-edged effects of propaganda and censorship. 

I had a wonderful early career working for the World Service, mostly making arts programmes, but when I was taken on as a trainee I think the expectation was that I would work in current affairs.  Although I hugely enjoyed the relatively short time I spent doing just that, I always felt a bit of a fraud – it’s hard to explain why.  Some of that anxiety probably went into the character of George in A World Between Us.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

Lydia Syson:
Such a difficult question!  My instinct is to say, yes, yes, yes, of course I do – but I realise that I believe in love at first sight in books.  I believe in strong emotions at first sight, and I think you can probably fall in love in a flash, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea necessarily to trust those emotions, or that they make for a love that lasts.

You’ve said you enjoy being barefoot. Did you write this novel with shoes on?

Lydia Syson:
Not if I could help it.  Although I do my research in libraries (where I often kick my shoes off under the desk), by choice I actually write in bed.  Very Barbara Cartland– except that I don’t have false eyelashes or a pink negligĂ©e or a secretary.  My bedroom is right at the top of our house, with views over London in two directions, and I like to be able to see the sky and parakeets flashing past, and treetops and chimneys, and spread out any books I’m using around me in my nest.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Lydia Syson:
Sadly, only a handful of International Brigade volunteers are now left alive. Penny Feiwel, the last of the British women who served on the side of the Spanish Republic, died in January 2011.   It feels presumptuous, but my hope is that A World Between Us will do something to help the memory and spirit of men and women like Penny live on, and encourage a new generation to find out more about their stories and their lives.
You can find out more about Lydia Syson and the research that went into A World Between Us on her website.

You can read M's review here.

Thursday 4 October 2012

The Fault In Our Stars - M's review

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

John Green has a lot of fans. I’ve never read any of his books. But so many people recommended this book to me. So I checked it out at our local library. They didn’t have it in yet. But then, lovely Zac the children’s librarian from Christchurch, New Zealand sent me a copy.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
As it turns out, The Fault In Our Stars is an example of the kind of contemporary YA that I love. Basically, it’s a cancer kid story and a love story all in one. Sounds really icky – but it’s not. It is neither sentimentally gushing nor patronising. It’s not overly despairing either and while terminal cancer stories don’t tend to have wholly happy endings, this is a certainly-not-depressing story. It’ll probably make you cry; it’ll also make you laugh and smile.

Green might say that it’s an alternative cancer kid story (because he picks holes in ‘cancer-kid’ as a genre) but I don’t know because I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel about children with cancer. This is probably more a love story than anything else – and it’s a beautiful one (in a good, non-soppy way).

The Fault In Our Stars is about Hazel whose lungs are shot through with terminal cancer. She lugs an oxygen cart around with her so that she can breathe. And then she meets Augustus Waters at the cancer support group. He is gorgeous, one-legged (well, he has two but one is fake) and he is clear of cancer. The story revolves around them, their everyday trials and tribulations that come with living with cancer, wishing and a novel called An Imperial Affliction (which is written by an author who lives in Amsterdam). Hazel, to put it mildly, is totally obsessed by this novel (which in turn holds the threads of her story).

The Fault In Our Stars would probably be enjoyed best by older teens partly because of some romantic situations in the story but mostly because they’re more likely to want to lap up the philosophical questions about love, life and death that this novel raises. Philosophically, it features both Soren Kierkegaard and Disney, and it blows Maslow’s pyramid of needs out of the universe. If you’ve never heard of these, don’t worry. You don’t need a map for this book and you won’t necessarily come out of it a philosophy geek either. This is also definitely a love story for the blokes too.

Green’s writing is very moreish and I’ll certainly be coming back for more.

Publication details:
Penguin, 2012, London, hardback

This copy: ours; received as a gift from Zac the children’s librarian in Christchurch, New Zealand

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Obsidian Mirror - M's Review & Book Giveaway

Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher
Jake is holed up in a Swiss boarding school paid for by his godfather, Oberon Venn. But Jake doesn’t plan to stay there for very long. His father is dead and he thinks Oberon killed him. Jake is on a mission to confront Oberon but little does he know what he’s getting himself into. Is that a tap, tapping on the window….?

A wonderful example of teen fiction, Obsidian Mirror is quite a feast in all sorts of ways.

Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher
There’s a black mirror, black holes, a great big house, a murder suspect a lot of people who’re not telling things exactly how they are, a few blasts from the past, and a wood that you really should not enter. It’s a mash-up of action, adventure, fantasy, magic, science fiction, perhaps a hint of steampunk, and a good story.

The cast of characters is plentiful. It includes a marmoset, wolves, starlings, black cats, servants, queens, Swiss boarding school teachers, missing parents, journeyers, reclusive and strange godfathers. And of course, teenagers: Jake Wilde, Sarah, Rebecca and Gideon. I didn’t become especially attached to the characters but I was riveted by the actual plot. Surprisingly, it’s not that fast-paced but the plot is packed full of surprises and disguises. It’s one of those stories where you just want to know what happens next.

While the ending for me is a bit unsatisfying (I'm hard to please) it’s not a real cliffhanger and that shouldn’t put you off reading it. If it is part of a trilogy, it is one that I will be following.

Obsidian Mirror is very entertaining and, set around Christmastime, it would be a very atmospheric winter or Christmas read for confident readers of any age (but there is a bit of Summer in it too!!). I think many 12 year olds would love it and I highly, highly recommend it. For me, it’s a shining example of what I hoped teen fiction would be: a little bit of all good sorts.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Catherine Fisher  but she’s definitely on my radar now for older tween and teen readers. Next on our reading list from her is her previous and highly acclaimed novel, Incarceron. Some of you might even have read it!

Publication details:
Hodder Children’s, October 2012, London

This copy: uncorrected proof received for review from the publishers.

Book Giveaway - UK only
Thanks to Hodder, you can win yourself a copy of Obsidian Mirror just in time for Christmas. Now that's a really good idea.....

To be in with a chance, simply leave a comment and a way for us to contact you if you win (you can e-mail your details to us if you prefer but please leave a comment to be included in the giveaway).

If you're under 13, please get your parent's or guardian's permission to enter. Or they can enter on your behalf.

The competition closes at 5pm on Friday 19 October 2012. The winner will be chosen at random. 

Best of luck!

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Katya's World - M's Review

Katya’s World by Jonathan L. Howard

Katya’s World is a futuristic sci-fi novel about artificial and synthetic intelligences. It’s also a real adventure.

It’s set in the future on Russalka, a space colony covered in water. There is no land and there is no warming sun or blue sky. The Russalkans, who came from Earth, live under the sea in pressurised environments. Fifteen year old Katya is on her first submarine trip as the new navigator when they’re forced to take on a couple of unwelcome passengers. From here on, the course of their trip changes dramatically, especially when they think they’ve struck gold. Little do they know that this ‘gold strike’ is about to completely change Katya’s world. And it seems that passenger Kane holds far more keys than he’s letting on.

Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard
Katya’s World is a page-turning action and adventure sci-fi story full of strategy and puzzles for the characters to solve, and twist and turns for the reader to predict. There’s plenty of action but no gratuitous violence or lashings of gruesome. Where it’s thin on bloody detail it’s heavy on technical and scientific detail. For those of you who like to pick holes in the physics, you’ll enjoy.  Not because there are any holes (I don’t know!) but because there’s plenty of the science in the novel to occupy you.  For those readers where the science doesn’t appeal all that much, there’s plenty of plot and character in the sci-fi too.

It’s not a patronising plot either. Fifteen-nearly-sixteen year old Katya is faced with a situation that frightens and puzzles her just as much as it does the much older cast of war-weary military men and women. Katya is a strong and independent main character.

Published by Strange Chemistry, a new YA imprint from Angry Robot, I think this is a novel that can wear it’s YA label proudly. It’s a pageturner that packs in plenty of sufficient conceptual and vocabulary challenge too.  It doesn’t fall into any of the YA-as-a-genre trappings that so many other Young Adult novels do. I would happily recommend it to any confident reader, young or old.

Katya’s World is written as Book 1 in The Russalka Chronicles. Whether this is to be a trilogy or similar, what is promising is that Katya’s World has an ending which makes it a good standalone novel. There are no cliffhangers. Whether you like the ending or not, for me it was certainly a satisfying end. And I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next instalment.

Publication details:
Strange Chemistry, 1 Nov 2012, Oxford, paperback

This copy: Advance proof received for review from the publisher

Monday 1 October 2012

A World Between Us - M's Review

A World Between Us by Lydia Syson

A World Between Us is a love story. But it is not just a love story and it’s much more complicated than a simple love triangle. The publishers describe it as a political romance and they’re spot on. This story is about romantic love between young people, but it is also very much about idealism, commitment and, for some readers, nostalgia. There’s also the small matter of the Spanish Civil War.

A World Between Us is a good one for those who like the swoon and it’s a good one for those who like the history and the politics in their books - and there's war action too. It’s quite different from anything I’ve read in recent years

A World Between Us by Lydia Syson
It is a love story about Felix, Nat and George. The story begins in 1936. Each section of the novel is framed by Felix speaking in the present and then the main story is flashbacks.  So you know from the start that something terrible has happened. But you’re not too sure what or why.

Felix (Felicity Rose) is a quietly feisty and surprisingly spontaneous seventeen year old who wants to become a surgeon. She is treated by the other characters as a bit of a damsel in distress, which is a bit surprising given what she ends up doing.  She makes a split second decision that puts her in the middle of a bloody war that's essentially about ideas and control. Nat is an exciting and passionate character. He is Jewish, a member of the Young Communist League and joins the International Brigades to help the Spanish Republic’s armed forces in the battle against fascist forces. He's also a bit of a charmer. George is a journalist and he thinks the world of Felix. I couldn’t help myself warming to him immediately.

Overall, this novel surprised me. It has a charming British feel to it: quite prim and proper in many ways but quite the opposite in other ways (for me, this muddled the flow of the text at times).  For an historical romance, the pace moves very swiftly. It’s a hot blooded story from the very first pages as it starts with a chance encounter during a political skirmish on the streets of London while the Spanish Civil War is battling on in Southern Europe. And there is action throughout the novel: proper war scenes with soldiers fighting and bullets tearing out parts of their bodies; and proper aching first love kissing scenes. There are also betrayals and trickery throughout the novel. Not so prim and proper.

There is also plenty of background information about the Spanish Civil War included in the dialogue. The novel also explores questions about media censorship, the confusing nature of civil and ideological wars, and the romanticising of revolution that gets dashed only when the bullets start flying and all hell breaks loose. Amidst all the romance, A World Between Us explores themes of guilt, loyalty, bravery and vision.

For all the blood and guts in A World Between Us, reading it made me happy. While it is a story about war and ideologies, first and foremost, it is a love story. And it is the people in this story who really count. While the story says a lot about humanity and war, it also reminds us that people are individuals with a huge capacity for passionate love.

I can see this story appealing to a broad readership for very different reasons. Teens may enjoy it as a passionate love story peppered with a war story.  Others may enjoy it as an impassioned and fictionalised political history. And then there are those other readers, some who will be much older, the former comrades and compatriots across the world, who may shed a wrenching tear while rousing a smile for the way that some things were – and the way that things still could be.

Publication details:
Hot Key Books, October 2012, London, paperback

This copy: uncorrected proof copy received from the publishers