Wednesday, 29 February 2012

TEEN: The Unofficial Hunger Games Companion - Lois H Gresh

Release Date: 21/10/11


THE HUNGER GAMES is a global publishing phenomenon and is soon to be a high-octane, big-budget Hollywood box-office hit. With a full author profile and interesting insights into the three-book series and its main themes - from the nature of evil, weaponry, rebellions and surviving the end of the world - this companion guide will give millions of readers the insider information that they've been waiting for since book one! The New York Times bestselling author of THE TWILIGHT COMPANION, Lois Gresh, once again gives fans the fascinating facts behind the fiction.


Whilst I’ve not had the pleasure of this series, friends of mine who have read them have let me know that I’ve been missing a treat. In addition to this, with the film coming to a cinema near you I felt that in order to get the full impact from the experience that I ought to read this companion, so settling down yesterday, I picked up this book and began reading.

What I read however soon had me wishing that I hadn’t bothered as rather than a companion this felt more like a book that was there to debate not only the philosophy of the authors world but also who was really in the wrong backing up the relevant points with essays. I didn’t want that in a book that is supposed to be a companion and I suspect that it will more than catch a few others out.

All in, I’d advise you to avoid purchasing this title as it won’t add anything to the series let alone encourage your young reader to enjoy the world of books. A great shame to be honest.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

3+: Dogs - Emily Gravett

Release Date: 05/01/12


Gorgeous canines of every shape, size and colour are bounding through this irresistible book. Can you choose one dog to love best of all? With playful pencil and watercolour illustrations to delight children and adults alike, everyone will long to bark along with the Chihuahua and tickle the Dalmatian's tummy. This is a wonderfully satisfying book with a twist in the tail.


I love Emily Gravett, her use of bright colours, wonderful illustrations and a clever choice of words makes her books an instant buy for me as an Uncle. I love her, my nephews love her and most of all she’s an author who always gives you something imaginative as well as creative no matter the subject within. Finally add to this a great sense of pace a story that will amuse as well as fire the imagination and I’ve had many a fun time spending time drawing and colouring different animals with my nephews alongside creating our own version. Great stuff.

Monday, 27 February 2012

12+: Inheritance Cycle Bk 4: Inheritance - Christopher Paolini

Release Date: 08/11/11


Not so very long ago, Eragon - Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider - was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now, the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders. Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chances. The Rider and his dragon have come farther than anyone dared to hope. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaesia? And if so, at what cost? Featuring spectacular artwork by cult artist John Jude Palencar, this stunning book brings the bestselling "Inheritance" cycle to a breathtaking conclusion.


If there’s one thing you have to say about Christopher it’s that he know how to write book that will enthral his audience, and whilst courting some controversy it is evident that a lot of people have fallen in love with this series. Yes the premise was a simple one but the delivery really took the reader on a rollercoaster of an adventure. So prior to starting this book I had a refresh and read the other stories so that I had the full effect.

What comes out with this book is that the scope is something that Christopher has learned to accommodate, choosing to extend the series by one more title to enable the reader to get the full effect of his plans. Whilst this was a clever and wise move, what did also occur was the author extended scenes further than they needed to be almost overloading with detail in sequences that would have been better had they been edited down. That said, I was surprised a few times by some of the choices and outcomes alongside being surprised at some of the solutions that the characters come up with to achieve objectives.

Overall an ending that will please fans and a title that rounds it all off pretty nicely. Although that said, with the complexities within, I definitely recommend a reread and starting with the first before going anywhere near this. If you haven’t read the other stories then don’t start here.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

TEEN: Fated - Sarah Alderson

Release Date: 05/01/12


What happens when you discover you aren't who you thought you were? When the person you love is the person who must betray you. If fate is already determined - can you fight it? Lucas Gray is half Shadow Warrior, half human, and a member of the Brotherhood - a group of assassins tasked with killing the last purebred Hunter on Earth before she can fulfil a dangerous prophecy. The Hunter's name is Evie Tremain. Evie Tremain is seventeen-years-old, a waitress and has just discovered she is the last in a long line of demon slayers - and an unwilling participant in a war between Hunters and unhumans that has raged for the last thousand years.


Does life follow a set course? Are we masters of our souls? The Captains of our ships or are we just a strand woven into a greater tapestry where our lives touch on others to create a greater whole than ourselves? These are some of the questions that you find yourself asking in this story by Sarah Alderson and whilst she’s added a supernatural element to the story (almost Buffyesque) it’s the complexities as well as fully fleshed characters that get you to stay.

Don’t get me wrong, the plotline is strong, the twists wonderful but when you get a character that you just love to be around such as Evie, you really can’t put the book down for fear of missing something huge in her life. This, for me, is the sign of a good author and as such I read this book in a very short time.

Add to this a good use of pace, a wonderful sense of humour alongside an author who knows how to twist the emotional worries of everyday within and it’s a story that I absolutely loved. I really can’t wait to read more by Sarah and hope that its not too long a wait for her next offering.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

TEEN: Fracture - Megan Miranda

Release Date: 05/01/12


By the time seventeen-year-old Delaney Maxwell is pulled out of the icy waters of a frozen lake, her heart has stopped beating. She is in a coma and officially dead. But Delaney pulls through. How? Doctors are mystified. Outwardly she has completely recovered. But Delaney knows something is very wrong. Pulled by sensations she can't control, she finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her brain predicting death or causing it? Then Delaney meets Troy Varga, who lost his whole family in a car accident and emerged from a coma with the same powers as Delaney. At last she's found a kindred spirit who'll understand what she's going through. But Delaney soon discovers that Troy's motives aren't quite what she thought. Is their gift a miracle, a freak of nature - or something much more frightening?


Debut authors are a treat for me and when one breaks through on the young adult market there are times when you know that they’re going to have a solid career from the book blurb. Such was the case from this title by Megan Miranda who from the first paragraph had me hooked.

Delaney is a pure joy to read about, she’s rounded, is surprised at how things evolve and of course is a miracle of the modern world in a news story that people just love to hear about. Add to this some solid fleshing out of her so that readers can associate mentally as well as emotionally and it really was a title that didn’t let up from the start.

Add to this solid prose, some wonderfully delicious twists and a romantic element within to bind you within its spell and all in, this young adult story I suspect will be one that many authors can learn from as much as readers. Great stuff.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

3+: Noisy Farm - Rod Campbell

Release Date: 05/01/12


Come for a tour of Noisy Farm with Sam the farm dog! Visit the animals, lift the flaps and join in with the noises. Rod Campbell is at his best in the board book edition of this popular title.


Rod is one of those author’s whose work not only grabs the imagination of the young reader but also the adult as they take their child on an adventure. He has a wonderful sense of humour, has a lot of fun within and when you add bright colours and hidden surprises within the title it’s something that will be enjoyed time and again. When I read this title to one of my nephew’s he loved joining in and making the sounds within which really enhanced the experience for both of us. Great fun.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

3+: Oh Dear - Rod Campbell

Release Date: 05/01/12


Buster's staying with Grandma on the farm. But where will he find the eggs for breakfast? Not in the stable - oh dear! Young children will love lifting the flaps as they turn the pages and follow Buster around the farm.


Flaps and wonderful storytelling abound within this title by Rod Campbell that will enthuse the young reader at bed time. Its wonderfully colourful, it gives the young reader what they want and when you add voices alongside actions to your telling, its something that will be requested time and again.

Add to this Rod’s ability to charm as well as amuse the younger reader and it’s a great way to help them get used to the world in which they live alongside having a story to enjoy time and again. Just make sure you buy some clear magic tape to keep the book in great condition after your multiple rereads.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

TEEN: Tempest - Julie Cross

Release Date: 05/01/12


Jackson Meyer is hiding a secret. He can time-travel. But he doesn't know how he does it, how to control it or what it means. When Jackson, and his girlfriend Holly, find themselves in fatal danger, Jackson panics and catapaults himself two years into his past, further than he's ever managed before, and this time he can't find a way back to the future. All the rules of time-travel he's experienced so far have been broken and Jackson has no choice but to pretend to be his younger self whilst he figures out a solution. Jackson is tearing himself apart with guilt and frustration, wondering if Holly survived. He's also become the target of an unknown enemy force and it seems even his dad is lying to him. Jackson is racing against time to save the girl he loves, but to do that he must first discover the truth about his family and himself. And stay alive.


I love a debut and when it’s something that plays to my tastes I can really get behind the book to enjoy it for all its worth. What this title does is play with the old concept of time travel and with the added twist that whilst its only minor time to begin with (in Jackson’s case a couple of days) it all goes to pot when the key plotline kicks in and he finds himself transported back two years with no way of getting back.

It’s clever, has a solid plot and with the solid concept and prose, makes this a title that really was a joy to read. Add to this a reasonable attempt at pace (it does get slow in places) and its overall a satisfying debut with a good solid premise for the overall arc. I’ll look forward to seeing what Julie comes up with next.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

GUEST BLOG: A Playlist for Talina in the Tower - Michelle Lovic

The characters in this novel have strong voices of their own. In some ways, I envisioned this book like a play or even an opera. So there are choruses of cats in a smelly sanctuary, of villainous Ravageurs in their bloodstained dining room, and of Witches and Righteous Wraiths in the courtroom that hovers above the Rialto Bridge.

The individual characters also have their thought-music, of course. Here are the notes and words I can imagine playing in their heads.

Talina Molin is the heroine of this story. Wild dark-gold hair springs from her head like a curtain of tangled corn husks. After many escapades, she has come to be known as the most impudent girl in Venice, though also as one of the cleverest. She longs to be a writer, and has a passion for cookbooks and magic. When her parents disappear, she is forced to go to live with her cold-hearted Guardian in his twittering tower on the edge of the city. After a mishap over a recipe and a spell, she finds her human shape can no longer be taken for granted. Unless fiery Talina keeps her temper, she’s in danger of becoming the very thing she most despises. So her song would be ‘The Girl Can't Help It’ by Bobby Troup.

Ambrogio Gasperin is the son of a prosperous bookseller. He’s an indefatigable arguer – all training as he wants to be a barrister. He’s always had something of a crush on Talina, his classmate, and he’s soon drawn into her adventures. Ambrogio will get his longed-for day in court, but not in front of an ordinary human judge and jury. His song would be ‘Hello, Goodbye’ by The Beatles. (‘You say yes, I say no; you say stop, and I say go, go, go / You say goodbye, and I say hello.’)

Signorina Tiozzo is the most hospitable cat-lady in Venice. She homes and feeds dozens of strays in a smelly refuge called the Ostello delle Gattemiagole. Her track is obvious: ‘Quarantaquattro Gatti’, an Italian song about forty-four cats without a home. (A cartoon video of the song can be seen on YouTube.)

Bestard-Belou is one of the bully-boy cats in Signorina Tiozzo’s refuge. He’s a big grey cat with orange eyes. His catchphrases include ‘Dog-bite-my-ear!’ and ‘Is you stoopid or something?’ So I can imagine Bestard-Belou singing along to Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap Your Face’. He’d also like Tom Lehrer’s ‘Poisoning Pigeons in the Park’, especially the bit about taking home a squirrel to experiment on. His fellow bully-boy, the ginger cat Albicocco, would like Cab Calloway’s ‘We the Cats Shall Hep Ya’.

The Contessa is an aristocratic pure-white cat who is the queen of the bully-boys. For all her elegance and superiority, she is slightly questionable in the morals department, but she’s also a very loving mother. So her song is ‘That's Why the Lady is a Tramp’ by Rodgers and Hart. Or ‘Killer Queen’ by Queen.

Brolo is a sympathetic black-and-white cat who also lives in the cat refuge. He’s an eternal optimist, and therefore the recipient of frequent bad surprises. His catchphrase is ‘What a down-in-the-dumper!’ I based his character on the eternal optimist played by Eric Idle in the crucifixion scene at the end of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. So obviously his song is ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.

The Ravageurs are mysterious hyena-like creatures – invisible to adults – who haunt Venice by night. They speak with exaggerated and incompetent French accents and devour rich, complicated French food. And they think that they have a right to everything and everyone in Venice. Their history, however, is murkier than they claim. And their ambitions seem to be too monstrous to be countenanced …I suppose the obvious song for them is ‘Hound Dog’. Or perhaps the Mafia anthem ‘Non Su Lupu’ (‘I am Not a Wolf’).

Altopone is an argumentative rat – a gruff individualist and one of the very few of his species who is not totally intimidated by the Ravageurs. His name is a pun on that of the famous American gangster Al Capone, whose family was Italian. I think Altopone would like Frank Sinatra singing ‘I Did It My Way’.

Professor Marìn is an old friend of my readers as he also appears in The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium as a wise expert in all things magical. Here, in Talina in the Tower, we meet the professor as a young, fresh-faced man, with some rather romantic tendencies. The white hair of earlier books is here red and curly – but the brain underneath it is just as wise. I think he’d enjoy ‘Love Potion No. 9’ by Leiber and Stoller.

Mademoiselle Emilie Chouette is the French mistress who teaches Talina and Ambrogio. To the pupils at her school, she has always seemed a ferocious martinet – ‘a fire-breathing dragon’, as Ambrogio calls her – but Professor Marìn has a magical way of bringing out a softer side of her nature. She’d obviously need a French chanson: 'Choux Pastry Heart' by Corrine Bailey Rae. Or even the classic ‘Chanson d’Amour’ by Manhattan Transfer.

Uberto Flangini, Talina’s Guardian, lives in a crumbling bell-tower that twitters with thousands of sparrows who have nested in its crevices. He is a famous author of so-called ‘cautionary tales’ – books in which naughty children meet terrible ends. Talina’s Guardian seems remote and forbidding, even cruel – he’s also a confirmed cat-hater. But in fact he nurses a tragic secret that will be revealed at the end of the book. I think he would like Respighi’s The Birds, as it would make him feel at home. But he would also enjoy the soundtrack for Shock-headed Peter, by the Tiger Lillies, a haunting, horrifying, hilarious take Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter. As he lives up so high, he’d probably choose ‘Flying Robert’, about a boy who drifts up into the air and is never seen again.

Giuseppe Tassini, the famous Venetian historian, is a real character from history. His book Curiosità Veneziane explains all the streets and palaces in Venice. The real Tassini was very fond of fine dining as well as history, so he’d enjoy a song that combines strong flavours with the past: his song is ‘Pastime With Good Company’, thought to have been written by Henry VIII. It’s soothing and melodic, and would make an excellent accompaniment to a good meal. (I do, however, find it quite impossible to visualize Tassini wearing ipod ear-buds at the Marciana Library or in the Archives.)

(With thanks to Jane Stemp. Moira Butterfield and John Doherty for their suggestions.)

For more information please visit Michelle's Website or her blogs:
History Girls Website
An Awfully Big Blog Adventure

10+: Talina in the Tower - Michelle Lovic

Release Date: 02/02/12


Savage hyena-like creatures threaten Venice - the Ravageurs are on the prowl and seizing men, women and children. On the night of 30 June 1846 Talina's parents disappear and she and her cat, Drusilla, are forced to go and live with her Guardian and his three savage dogs in his lonely tower in the northernmost edge of the city. Here she discovers that she has the ability to change herself into a cat, but changing herself back into a girl isn't quite so easy. As a cat she learns about the Ravageurs and how over the centuries they have become semi magical creatures, visible only to children in the human world, and that they are intent on destroying Venice. She is determined to save the city - it's time for desperate measures - and her adventures are about to begin.


I love a great story that takes you on a whirlwind adventure and to be honest Michelle’s writing always does that for me. Here in the latest release is a story that gives you magic, high adventure and of course an overall arc that will enchant you from the first page to the last. Add to this Michelle’s solid use of prose, cracking dialogue and a lead character that the readers will want to embark on their adventure with and it’s a story that was a pure joy to read.

Finally add to this a sense of whimsy, an enchanting story overall and a whole host of supporting cast members that will make this a hard tale to forget. Great stuff.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

NEWS: Remembering Lestat - A True Ambassador for the Feline World.

Hail Mighty Readers,
Whilst its a day of love we wanted to remember the Kitty that gave his name to this blog who passed away on this date. Tatty was a big bundle of love who loved nothing more than being a teddy bear for hugs and kisses (often deciding to spend entire films on your lap flat on his back getting his belly rubbed) who would also wipe away your tears with headbutts of love.

In addition to this, when he became ill with diabetes he still remained the loving loyal cat and would remind you when it was time for his two daily jabs. He's greatly missed and he truly was a cat in a million, an Emperor and true ambassador for the feline world.

We love you and still miss you Tatt.

Monday, 13 February 2012

TEEN: Hollow Pike - James Dawson

Release Date: 02/02/12


Lis London is hoping for a fresh start when she arrives in the sleepy village of Hollow Pike - but nothing here is as it seems...Lis has a recurring nightmare where someone is trying to kill her. A ritual murder in the woods - just like her dream - makes Lis think she might be next to die. A killer stalks the night.And the birds...see...everything...Hollow Pike - where witchcraft never sleeps.


Young Adult stories are a joy to behold as they deal with all manner of issues from real life such as dealing with bullies to the fantastical tales of magic within our own world. Whilst this title from James works on a number of levels, the main problem that I had with it was that, for me, the magic within this title wasn’t needed. It really detracted from the tale whereas if they’d left it out it would have generated a greater story overall as a tale of friendship alongside real life struggles for modern teens.

That said, the characters were believable, the dialogue had a teen flavour and the prose alongside pace worked extremely well. All in its my first James Dawson title and I’ll definitely be back for more, but I hope the author remembers that at times less is more and slightly more realistic slant can generate a greater story overall.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

3+: Goat Goes to Playgroup - Julia Donaldson and NIck Sharratt

Release Date: 02/02/12


There's a commotion in the classroom as Goat and the other animals spend the day at playgroup. The musical instruments and the dressing up box are lots of fun, but oh dear! Goat gets into a muddle or two. Luckily, it's not long before everything is all better.


Children are a lot of fun and with a nephew who is like Goat in the story (independent and likes to do his own thing) I fell in love with the whole tale as it gave me a laugh as I recalled what his Mum told me about his antics. Its colourful, has a great concept and when you add into the mix that its by Julia Donaldson, it’s a story that will appeal to the young reader as well as the adult for its wonderful sense of whimsy.

Add to this bright colourful art by Nick Sharratt who brings it beautifully to life and overall it was a successful book for me. I really look forward to sharing it with my nephews, in particular the one who reminds me of Goat so much.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

TEEN: After the Snow - SD Crockett

Release Date: 02/02/12


Set in the haunting and barren landscape of a new ice age, After The Snow is the story of fifteen-year-old Willo, a "straggler" kid who loses his family in the opening pages. Completely alone, he is immediately flung into an icy journey of survival, adventure, friendship and self-discovery - with only the dog spirit inside his head to guide him. Meanwhile, across Britain, outlawed followers of survivalist John Blovyn are planning an escape to the fabled Islands talked of in a revolutionary book...


Stories have to sell themselves with the book jacket to the reader, whether it’s the pretty cover or the cleverly worded jacket text that makes the reader hunger for more it has to deliver on the promise of the premise without leaving the reader feeling cheated.

Sadly this title by SD Crocket is like the old Video’s that talks a good game but has difficulty delivering. The prose didn’t feel apt for the age, the authors use of pace was sadly lacking and whilst the concept was good, it felt that a lot of the content could have been edited to help pick up the arc to keep not only the reader interested but to forego a lot of the unnecessary detail within.

Finally add to this a character that doesn’t stand on their own two feet and unfortunately I felt that this was a tale that fell far short of what it could have been.

Friday, 10 February 2012

TEEN: The Brides of Rollrock Island - Margo Lanagan

Release Date: 02/02/12


Rollrock island is a lonely rock of gulls and waves, blunt fishermen and their homely wives. Life is hard for the families who must wring a poor living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of magic - the scary, salty-real sort of magic that changes lives forever. Down on the windswept beach, where the seals lie in herds, the outcast sea witch Misskaella casts her spells - and brings forth girls from the sea - girls with long, pale limbs and faces of haunting innocence and loveliness - the most enchantingly lovely girls the fishermen of Rollrock have ever seen. But magic always has its price. A fisherman may have and hold a sea bride, and tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she is. He will be equally ensnared. And in the end the witch will always have her payment. Margo Lanagan has written an extraordinary tale of desire, despair and transformation. In devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals unforgettable characters capable of unspeakable cruelty - and deep unspoken love. After reading about the Rollrock fishermen and their sea brides, the world will not seem the same.


I love a book that takes me on a journey and that’s something that Margo Lanagan always does in her own special way. Here we get all the attributes that have made her a known author wrapped up with the ancient myths about the selkie bride. It is clever, it has some magical sleight of hand alongside twisting the readers expectations. Add to this great prose, top notch characters and an overall arc that makes you believe in the concept that Margo is selling, makes this a cracking start to a new series.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

TEEN: Dearly Departed - Lia Habel

Release Date: 29/09/11


This is a pacy, bloodthirsty, hugely entertaining teen zombie novel with an unconventional but tender love story at its heart. From the ruins of a cataclysmic ice-age a new society has emerged, based on Victorian customs. Nora Dearly, a feisty teenage girl and apparent orphan, leaves her exclusive boarding school for the holidays to return home - only to be dragged into the night by the living dead. Luckily for her, this particular crack unit of zombies are good guys - sent to protect her from the real nasties roaming the countryside and zeroing in on major cities to swell their ranks. Nora must find a way to defeat the evil undead with help from Bram, a noble, sweet and surprisingly hot zombie boy for whom she starts to fall...


As they say Steampunk is the new fantasy genre, so when an author blends the embellishments of the Victorian period alongside a futuristic look and adds zombies to the mix, it’s enough to get me running to the shelves to grab a copy. What this tale does well is the characters, they’re fresh (depending if they’re living or dead. LOL) they have great depth and the way in which the tale develops has a very organic feel to it.

It’s cleverly done and if you forgive the many errors within and concentrate on the overall arc it’s a tale that is immensely satisfying. Add to this a decent understanding of pace, some clever twists and a clear idea where it’s going and it was crackingly done. However if you have problems with world-building or convoluted points then this really won’t be a book for you. Overall a great piece of fun provided you don’t take it too seriously.