17 September 2012

Review 52: The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

"Barcelona, 1957. It is the week before Christmas in the Sempere  & Sons bookshop. Daniel Sempere has married the love of his life, Bea, and they have had a son whilst their partner in crime, Fermin, is busy preparing for his wedding to Bernarda in the New Year. Just when it seems as if luck is finally smiling on them, a mysterious figure with a pronounced limp enters the shop. He insists on buying the most expensive volume on display - a beautiful illustrated edition of The Count of Monte Cristo - and then proceeds to inscribe the book with the words 'For Fermin Romero de Torres, who came back from the dead and who holds the key to the future'. Who is this man and what does he want of Fermin? The answer lies in a terrible secret that has lain hidden for two decades, an epic tale of imprisonment, betrayal, murder and love that leads back into the very heart of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books."

The Prisoner of Heaven is definitely an enjoyable read with some great moments and plenty of intrigue but it really felt like a build up towards the fourth and final novel that is planned and is not satisfying enough as a standalone read. It suffers for being weaker than its predecessors. The Shadow of the Wind is absolutely exceptional, The Angel's Game is good although flawed and unfortunately The Prisoner of Heaven is just a little too mediocre to stand up to their reputation. It does work as part of the series and the love of books and the written word as well as the hugely appealing character of Fermin make it enjoyable without it having the depth to stay with you after you've finished it.

First Line: "That year at Christmas time, every morning dawned laced with frost under leaden skies."

Why I read it: I adored The Shadow of the Wind and really enjoyed The Angel's Game and was keen to see how Zafon would add to the story.

Who I would recommend it to: People who have already committed to Zafon's Barcelona and have read his previous two installments.

11 September 2012

Man Booker Shortlist 2012

The shortlist was announced this morning:

I'm excited, although not surprised, to see Mantel there. Please to see Moore there as well. Very disappointed not to have Beauman there - I'm sad more people won't read it. I would have never heard of it if it wasn't for the Booker longlist and I loved it so I'm disappointed it won't be read by a wider audience. I am unsurprised to see Self there despite my frustrations with Umbrella but in an interview today Sir Peter Stothard, the chair of the judges, assured us that if you stick with it, it gets better. I would be unsurprised to see it win so I really hope that I get into it as I persevere.

I haven't read Thayil, Twan Eng or Levy yet but of the three I am the most excited to read Thayil - Narcopolis would have been next on my list to read from the longlist if I hadn't run out of time and people with similar taste to me have been praising it. I know very little about The Garden of Evening Mists so am looking forward to trying it. Levy didn't seem to be getting very positive reviews so this is the biggest surprise for me. The people that loved it seemed to really love it but the majority of reviews weren't best impressed so I'm interested to see which camp I fall into.

I'm a little nervous about the seriousness of the shortlist - none of the more joyful books have made it - it would have been great to see Beauman, Barker or Joyce get here just to add a little bit of joy to the proceedings (or even Frayn even though he's not my cup of tea). I am concerned my sixth form shadowing group will find them all a little depressing but we shall see. I'm going to pick up our copies from Waterstones tomorrow morning and we start our shadowing group tomorrow with tea and cake, I can't wait to get going!

10 September 2012

Review 51: Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

"In 2008, the presidential election became blockbuster entertainment. Everyone was watching as the race for the White House unfolded like something from the realm of fiction. The meteoric rise and historic triumph of Barack Obama. The shocking fall of the House of Clinton - and the improbably resurrection of Hillary as Obama's partner and America's face to the world. The mercurial performance of John McCain and the mesmerizing emergence of Sarah Palin. But despite the wall-to-wall media coverage of this spellbinding drama, remarkably little of the real story behind the headlines has yet been told. In Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, two of the country's leading political reports, use their unrivaled access to pull back the curtain on the Obama, Clinton, McCain and Palin campaigns. Based on hundreds of interviews with the people who lived the story, Game Change is a reportorial tour de force that reads like a fast-paced novel. Character driven and dialogue rich, replete with extravagantly detailed scenes, this is the occasionally shocking, often hilarious, ultimately definitive account of the campaign of a lifetime." 

This took me months to get through but I found it fascinating. As someone who follows US politics, but not in a huge amount of detail, it gave me a huge insight into not only the 2008 presidential election but also how the whole US political system works. Despite being pretty dense, it's very readable and accessible to people with only a smattering of political knowledge. Heilemann and Halperin are clearly big fans of Obama as he is portayed extremely positively, but it felt as though the key figures were all represented relatively fairly, from my somewhat ignorant perspective. All in all, an interesting and enjoyable read that taught me a lot.

First Line: "Barack Obama jerked bolt upright in bed at three o'clock in the morning."

Why I read it: I was vaguely aware of the book and then came across it in a hostel I was staying at in Reykjavik where I read it.

Who I would recommend it to: Anyone with an interest in politics - it's a great introduction for people who don't know a great deal about the US system and an interesting new way of writing political history for those who already know the facts.

Man Booker 2012 Predictions

Tomorrow the shortlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize will be announced. The longlist was announced on 25th July and I was slow getting started as we were away on holiday. I have read four of them, will have finished another by tonight and waded through about a quarter of one that I struggled with.

The four I have read are The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman, Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, The Lighthouse by Alison Moore and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I will finish The Yips by Nicola Barker tonight and I started Umbrella by Will Self. So far my two favourites are Mantel and Beauman, although Moore is close behind. I just reviewed the Mantel on the blog but as I am behind on my reviews, the others haven't been tackled yet. My two favourites are very different; Bring up the Bodies is a complex, historical epic whereas The Teleportation Accident is funny and audacious. However I found both of them to be massively accomplished and very successful in what they set out to do. I was already a big fan of Mantel and Bring up the Bodies more than continues her legacy. Beauman was a new discovery, it was the book on the longlist that most appealed to me initially and I just loved it - it was so enjoyable to read whilst also having enough substance to satisfy. Definitely reminiscent of The Sisters Brothers in tone, which was my favourite from last year's shortlist. I am confident Mantel will be on the shortlist and I wouldn't be surprised to see her win again (she won in 2009 for Wolf Hall). On the other hand I would be pleasantly surprised if Beauman managed to get onto the shortlist, I worry it's too much fun for Booker. But you never know quite what their criteria are each year and they generally like the shortlist to be varied.

I run a Man Booker shadowing group at my school which starts on Wednesday with staff and sixth formers so my opinions are always some mid-point between my own personal tastes and wanting the shadowing to be successful. Which is one of the main reasons I would also like to see Joyce make it onto the shortlist. I really did like this although personally I'm not sure it is unique enough to be really wonderful. However, I think my sixth formers would really respond well to it and as many of them this year don't read much modern fiction at all, if any, I want there to be at least some that are accessible as I'm worried some of them might be a bit much for unconfident readers.

Speaking of being a bit much, I really struggled with Umbrella. It is really hard work. I read roughly a quarter of it before moving on and I very rarely don't finish books, in fact I can't remember the last time I didn't finish a novel. If this is on the shortlist I will end up persevering and in fact even if it isn't I may well continue at some point as I don't really like leaving unfinished books and some of the reviews I read said that it comes together well at the end. I really did feel that it was just trying too hard, whilst there were some wonderful phrases, on the whole it is just so pretentious. I was reading some of the sentences out loud to my husband and we found it entertaining how tortuous and ridiculous they were. I'm all for challenging reads and in fact I love reading things that require some effort but I didn't feel like I was getting anything back for all my effort on this one. Sometimes things can be said far more powerfully if they are simple, something being clever doesn't make it good. It does have a lovely cover though.

Then there's The Lighthouse which I felt was in many ways the opposite of my feelings about Umbrella. The writing is simple but so powerful and effective. It was atmospheric and haunting (atmosphere was something severely lacking in Umbrella, I was concentrating so much on understanding it that it was a very clinical reading experience), The Lighthouse gets under your skin and is clever without bashing you over the head with it. Moore doesn't feel the need to try and impress with really long sentences full of words no-one uses, but instead impresses with carefully chosen words that suggest and probe and unnerve. It's very readable but there's plenty to discuss so it is perfect for our shadowing group, so for a multitude of reasons I really hope to see it on the shortlist.

Finally, The Yips, which I am about two thirds of the way through and hope to finish before the shortlist is announced. So far I am enjoying it, although not loving it, but I feel as though it's hit it's stride a bit more now as I have enjoyed the last 100 pages a great deal more than the beginning so hopefully it will continue on that trajectory and have a triumphant end.

There is a part of me that hopes the shortlist is the six books I have bought and read, just for my own personal satisfaction. I genuinely want to see Mantel, Beauman and Moore on the shortlist and would like Joyce there for my sixth formers. I think Barker will probably be there and I am happy with that. I worry about Beauman though, I will be disappointed if it doesn't get to the next stage and to a wider readership. Of course there are six novels I haven't read and I know next to nothing about them. I think that we will see at least Brink or Twan Eng to cover the foreign, racism is bad angle, probably Brink. Levy and Thompson haven't been getting great reviews so I doubt we will see them. I hope that Beauman pushes ahead of Frayn to get the comedy spot (although I haven't read Skios, but Frayn's interviews on the Man Booker website are intensely irritating so I don't think I share his sense of humour and the cover is awful). That just leaves Thayil's Narcopolis as a bit of a wild card, I haven't seen many reviews, I don't really know what the tone of it is and I don't know much about Thayil as an author so who knows with that one.

I'll post the shortlist tomorrow when it is announced and reviews of the books over the next five weeks before the winner is announced on 16th October as well as some updates about our shadowing group.

6 September 2012

Review 50: Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

"By 1535 Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith's son, is far from his humble origins. Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes have risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife, for whose sake Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church. But Henry's actions have forced England into dangerous isolation, and Anne has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. When Henry visits Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches as he falls in love with the silent, plain Jane Seymour. The minister sees what is at stake: not just the king's pleasure, but the safety of the nation. As he eases a way through the sexual politics of the court, its miasma of gossip, he must negotiate a 'truth' that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne's final days." 

In short, this novel is superb. It perhaps doesn't quite reach the heady heights of Wolf Hall, which is one of my all-time favourites, but it is certainly significantly better than nearly everything else I have read recently and is a wonderful, lyrical look at the next section of Thomas Cromwell's life, which follows Anne Boleyn's reign and downfall and Jane Seymour's rise. Mantel creates an enigmatic Cromwell, so different from what the history books tell us, who is aggressive and single minded and yet intelligent and sympathetic. The real draw though, is Mantel's phenomenal writing, the book is a joy to read and to wallow in the wonderful way that she writes.

First Line: "His children are falling from the sky."

Why I read it: I adored Wolf Hall and so this is one of the books I was the most excited to read this year. I read this when it first came out, but it has since been announced as being on the Man Booker longlist.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of literary historical fiction, people who enjoy beautifully crafted novels.

4 September 2012

Readers: Blood Donation Centre, Acocks Green

Review 49: The Kissing Game by Aidan Chambers

"From the master storyteller, Aidan Chambers, comes a collection of Stories of Defiance - moments in life, realisations, insights and sudden revelations. Mixed with longer stories are some 'Flash Fictions' - very short but complete stories that reveal, as in a flash of light, a moment of awkward truth in the life of their characters. Prepare to be amazed, enchanted and to gasp with shock. In 'Kangaroo', a girl loses her humanity when she takes an unusual summer job. In 'The Tower', a boy rescues a girl from a fiery death, only to have her disappear. And in the unforgettable title story, a seemingly innocent game between a boy and a girl takes a horrific turn. Once again Chambers treats his readers to his intelligent prose, playfulness of form and incisive understanding of the wonderings of young people on the verge of adulthood."

It's difficult to review a book of short stories as they are obviously varied and different, these particularly so. Chambers tries a variety of different style, ideas and tones throughout the book so it is pretty much impossible to characterise the whole book in a few words. I found many of these very effective, especially the modern retellings of fairy tales and the titular The Kissing Game is particularly powerful. Some of them fell a bit short for me though and elements didn't quite feel authentic. Nonetheless, I enjoy it when authors play with language and form and I also like it when teenage authors don't patronise their readers so all in all, this is definitely a success in my book. Also, I love Aidan Chambers - I've heard him speak at several library conferences and the man is inspiring!

First Line: "Enough! She said to herself."

Why I read it/Full Disclosure: The author bought a copy of this book for me.

Who I would recommend it to: If you enjoy authors playing with what fiction is, trying new versions of old stories or just trying new things.

1 September 2012

Review 48: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

"A John Cleese Twitter question ('What is your pet peeve?'), first sparked the Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops blog, which grew over three years into one bookseller's collection of ridiculous conversations on the shop floor. From 'Did Beatrix Potter ever write a book about dinosaurs?' to the hunt for a paperback which could forecast the next year's weather, and from 'I've forgotten my glasses, please read me the first chapter' to 'Excuse me... is this book edible?': here is a book for heroic booksellers and booklovers alike."

A short but impressed review for this book of the funny and/or horrifyingly ignorant things customers say in bookshops. This will only take you twenty minutes or so to read through but it is well worth the time for some laughs and giggles as well as some horrified gasps at peoples ineptitude and rudeness. Both a celebration of the wonders of bookshops and a (generally) affectionate look at the huge variety of people that frequent them.

First Line: "Customer: I read a book in the sixties. I don't remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?"

Why I read it: I saw it on the wonderful Literary Gift Company website (www.theliterarygiftcompany.com/) You should definitely check it out - full of amazing and creative presents for book lovers (or for yourself as is more often the case for me.)

Who I would recommend it to: Book lovers.

19 August 2012

My Favourite Characters

I am so very behind in my book reviews, or indeed posting anything, so to kick everything off again I'm writing a non-review post about my favourite book characters, which was suggested by one of my students and I think is an excellent idea. I really struggled to get it into a Top 5 for YA and adult,so there is a list of honourable mentions at the bottom, and I'm pretty sure I've missed some obvious ones too. I would love to see who your favourites are as well...

17 July 2012

Review 47: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

"Cassandra Mortmain lives with her bohemian and impoverished family in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. Her journal records her life with her beautiful, bored sister, Rose, her fadingly glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her little brother Thomas and her eccentric novelist father who suffers from a financially crippling writer's block. However, all their lives are turned upside down when the American heirs to the castle arrive and Cassandra finds herself falling in love for the first time."

I don't quite know how I've managed to miss this book for so long. I'd heard of it and knew a little about the basic plot. I started reading it when I was eighteen but my bag was stolen with it in when I was only a few pages in so never finished it. I'm so amazed because I loved it so much, and I'm surprised it hasn't been foisted on me by people who know my taste, maybe people assume I have already read it. Anyway, this is the funny, charming and wonderful story of Cassandra Mortmain and her eccentric family as Cassandra grows up and learns a bit about the world and herself. It is told as Cassandra's journals and she has such a lovely voice which repeatedly made me giggle as well as really love her as she attempts to navigate life and love.

First Line: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

Why I read this: I recently bought the lovely new Random House Vintage Classics cover (designed by Celia Birtwell) for the library and remembered that it is one I had always meant to read.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of classic coming of age stories such as Anne of Green Gables or My Name is Mina, for something more modern.

20 June 2012

Ben Okri's 10 1/2 Inclinations

This isn't new, but I only just discovered it and wanted to share it. Author Ben Okri was asked for his book recommendations for children, he instead offered these 10 1/2 inclinations:

1. There is a secret trail of books meant to inspire and enlighten you. Find that trail.
2. Read outside your own nations, colour, class and gender.
3. Read the books your parents hate.
4. Read the books your parents love.
5. Have one or two authors that are important, that speak to you; and make their works your secret passion.
6. Read widely, for fun, stimulation and escape.
7. Don't read what everyone else is reading. Check them out later, cautiously.
8. Read what you're not supposed to read.
9. Read for your own liberation and mental freedom.
10. Books are like mirrors. Don't just read the words. Go into the mirror. That is where the real secrets are. Inside. Behind. That's where the gods dream, where are realities are born.
10 1/2. Read the world. It is the most mysterious book of all.

13 June 2012

Carnegie 2012 Summary

This year there were eight books on the Carnegie shortlist, the UK children's book prize that celebrates outstanding writing for children. Overall, I thought this was an exceptionally strong shortlist, there was only one book that I didn't really see the appeal of and I thought the other seven were all incredibly strong. For me, there was a clear top three, with one just edging above it but I would be content to see most of these win. Whilst they are all fairly varied, all of them except for Small Change for Stuart featured a close relative who had died or dies during the novel so it is quite a heavy shortlist and five out of eight had me in tears. Nonetheless, if you are looking for exceptional modern writing for children, this shortlist would be a good place to start.

Here is my countdown, I found it difficult to sort the top seven out into an order but this is what I've come up with. These are my personal preferences, not based on which I think will win or the reaction from children. I am hoping to do another summary tomorrow, based on the ratings that my student shadowing group gave, to give a teenage perspective. Click on the title of the book to go to the full review (opens in a new window).

8. Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis

The story of Danny and his family in Australia as they face family problems and the annual cattle muster. I felt that this doesn't really stand up to the extremely high quality of the other seven shortlisted novels. Well written and thought provoking, it is just too slow paced and lacks heart. Too many descriptions of animals and food and not enough focus on any characters other than the protagonist.

7. Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

This is the story of Stuart, who is forced to move town by his eccentric parents and ends up unearthing a family mystery. I really liked this a lot but I don't think it has been shortlisted for the right award, I could see this doing very well in the middle readers section of the Red House Book award, which was won by Liz Pichon for Tom Gates this year. This is charming, magical and fun but for much younger readers than any of the other shortlisted novels so it is difficult to compare and perhaps not quite in the same league as the heavy-hitters.

6. Trash by Andy Mulligan

A story of three dumpsite boys who find something that was supposed to stay lost and end in the middle od a dangerous mystery. Superbly paced with appealing characters and a great, very tense, mystery at its centre. Easy to read but with real depth and lots to discuss. For me it could have been a bit longer with a bit more time devoted to exploring some more of the issues and giving the boys more time to explore some of the clues they discover.

5. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

This is the upsetting and harrowing story of Lina and her family who are deported from Lithuania by the Soviets and ensure horrendous circumstances in Siberian labour camps. It brings a little known mass deportation to light. The family relationships are beautifull created and extremely moving and the horrors of the farms and prison camps are evocatively rendered. But, if I dare say it, I'm not sure this is really outstanding writing and the story itself carries the majority of the weight, rather than Sepetys' writing.

4. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

The moving story of Jamie, whose family has fallen apart after his sister was killed in a terrorist bomb blast in London. Pitcher has created a wonderful character and voice in Jamie, as well as two superb secondary characters in his other sister and the Muslim girl he befriends at school. Pitcher has a way with story and characters and I couldn't put this down. It made me laugh and it made me cry, it made me angry and it made me hopeful.

3. The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

This top three was a clear top three for me and I struggled to put them in order but this beautiful story just slipped down because it took me a few chapters to get into it. But once I did I was blown away by the beauty of Hartnett's writing and the wonderful story of two brothers and the abandoned zoo they found. A section near the end in particular absolutely broke my heart with its soaring words and bittersweet story. 

2. My Name is Mina by David Almond

A very close second, I found this uplifting and marvellous. I absolutely adored Mina as a character and narrator and could have read pages and pages more of his diary. I loved the creativity of the words but also of the book itself with its 'extraordinary activity' boxes and pages packed with words or with just one in the centre. Working in a school myself, it inspired me to make sure my library is a creative and inspiring place, the cage that Mina sees school to be. This book is wonderful in every way. 

1. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

So my pick for the win would be Patrick Ness, for the second year in a row after he won last year for Monsters of Men. As with My Name is Mina and The Midnight Zoo, Ness manages to fuse beautiful language with an entrancing story and characters. The story of Conor as he deals with his mother's cancer, through the yew tree monster that visits him at night is incredibly moving and filled with beauty, tragedy, love and things which are not as they seem. The wonderful illustrations by Jim Kay elevate this even more with gasp-inducing black and white illustrations that really up the atmospheric darkness of the books.

In terms of which book I think will win, I think Between Shades of Gray is in with a very strong chance as it ticks a lot of the boxes I think Carnegie goes for with its very heavy theme, with Ness, Almond and Harnett in serious contention. I must admit I would be surprised to see any of the others take it although I have a soft spot for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece because Annabel Pitcher is so lovely and it's an exciting debut.

I am incredibly excited to say that I have managed to get hold of some tickets for this awards ceremony and will be attending on Thursday with four of my students who have been reading the shortlist. I will be tweeting at @acaseforbooks on the day and will post some photos and thoughts at the weekend. So exciting!

12 June 2012

Review 46: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

"One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother, are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle carts and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia. An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn't know if she'll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope. Lina hopes for her family. For her country. For her future. For love - first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to lose... Will hope keep Lina alive? Set in 1941, Between Shades of Gray is an extraordinary and haunting story based on first-hand family accounts and memories from survivors."

Whilst I was very impressed  by this, I did feel that its strength lay in the importance of the story being told rather than Sepetys' skill as a writer. Whilst she is obviously a very capable writer, her words themselves didn't uplift and inspire me with the way she captured her story. The story itself though is a traumatic one with moments of hope and happiness few and far between and plenty of moments of heartbreak and tragedy. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see this win, and apparently its been very popular at lots of school but for me, and for many of my students, Sepetys isn't at the top of the pile

First Line: "They took me in my nightgown."

Why I read it: It is the last of the eight books on the current Carnegie shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: If you appreciated The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and are prepared for harrowing and upsetting details of horrendous things that really happened.

11 June 2012

Review 45: The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

"The wolf turned an ear a little, and Andrej wondered what the animal was hearing. Tanks churning through burning cities perhaps, or whales talking to one another in the sea. "There's no limit to what a wolf can hear," Uncle Marin had said. "A wolf can hear your heart beating even before you're born." Can you? Andrej longed to ask it. Can you hear my heart? Under cover of darkness, two brothers cross a war-ravaged countryside carrying a secret bundle. One night they stumble across a deserted town reduced to smouldering ruins. But at the end of a blackened street they find a small green miracle; a zoo filled with animals in need of hope. A moving and ageless fable about war and freedom."

Well, this has been another pleasant surprise on the Carnegie shortlist. As I'm not generally a fan of animal stories, I was not expecting to particularly enjoy this but I wasn't expecting a moving and haunting story of family and loss. Hartnett's writing is truly beautiful, I am in awe of her talent and would definitely like to read more of her work. This is familiar territory, being set in World War II, but Harnett offers a totally unique take on it which balances fantasy and magic with the cruel truths of the war.

First Line: "If the old bell had been hanging in the steeple it would have rung to announce midnight, twelve solemn iron klongs which would have woken the villagers from their sleep and startled any small creature new to the village and unaccustomed to the noise."

Why I read it: It is on the current Carnegie prize shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: If you like the Once series by Morris Gleitzman or The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Fans of lyrical, haunting writing.

8 June 2012

Review 44: Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis

"Danny Dawson lives in the middle of the Australian outback. His older brother Jonny was killed in an accident last year but no-one ever talks about it. And now it's time for the annual muster; the biggest event of the year on the cattle station, and a time to sort the men from the boys. But this year things will be different: because Jonny's gone and Danny's determined to prove he can fill his brother's shoes; because their fourteen-year-old sister is pregnant; because it's getting hotter and hotter and the rains won't come; because cracks are beginning to show..."

So far, this is comfortably my least favourite book on the Carnegie shortlist. Whilst it was okay and covered some interesting and important themes, it was just a bit dull. Nothing really happened until half way through and if I hadn't been reading it for Carnegie, I probably wouldn't have finished it. It has some appealing elements but the endless descriptions of cattle just got a bit boring for me.

First Line: "I'd known for ages how a baby was made."

Why I read it: It is currently on the Carnegie shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: People who like gently paced family dramas, animal stories or are interested in the Australian outback.

Review 43: Skellig by David Almond

"Michael was looking forward to moving house. It was all going to be wonderful. But now his baby sister's ill, his parents are frantic and Doctor Death has come to call. Michael feels helpless. Then he steps into the crumbling garage... What is this thing beneath the spiders' webs and dead flies? A human being, or a strange kind of beast never seen before? The only person Michael can confide in is Mina. Together, they carry the creature out into the light, and Michael's world changes forever..."

Whilst I much preferred Skellig second time round, I can't say it is up there as a classic for me, which it is often described as. Indeed, it won the Carnegie award when it was first published which is high praise indeed. So I didn't like this the first time I read it, which would have been when I was around 12 or 13 but I can't really remember any specifics about why I didn't like it but I have grown up knowing I didn't like it, criticising it to English teachers and not recommending it to students. I now feel bad about that. Although to me it is a good read, it didn't transcend any boundaries for me and whilst it had some lovely moments, it is nowhere near my list of favourites. My Name is Mina is a far superior book in my opinion, although it obviously does build on themes and ideas that were first created here.

First Line: "I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon."

Why I read it: After reading My Name is Mina, the recently released prequel, I wanted to reread this.  I read it when I was much younger and didn't really like it but I loved My Name is Mina and wanted to see if my opinion had changed, reading it as an adult.

Who I would recommend it to: If you're after a quick read with depth and you don't mind unsolved problems and unanswered questions.

1 June 2012

Review 42: My Name is Mina by David Almond

"Mina's a rebel. She can't be controlled and she won't fit in. People say she's weird. Some says she's just crazy. But all she wants is to be free, to be happy, and to be herself. One night, as she sits in the moonlight, she picks up an empty notebook, and begins to write. And here is her journal, Mina's life in Mina's own words; her stories and dreams, experiences and thoughts, her scribblings and nonsense, poems and songs. Her vivid account of her vivid life."

I read Skellig when I was much younger and didn't really like it so when My Name as Mina was announced as being on the Carnegie shortlist this year, I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about reading the prequel to Skelling. However, I was totally unprepared for how much I loved this. Almond's writing is beautiful and Mina is a truly remarkable creation. The word I would use to sum this up is uplifting, I felt really inspired and moved reading this and I would highly recommend this. I think it is going to be a battle between this and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness for my pick for the Carnegie win.

First Line: "My name is Mina and I love the night."

Why I read it: It is on the current Carnegie Prize shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of quirky yet lyrical writing and you don't mind a story not driven by plot. If you don't mind precocious child narrators.

Review 41: A Midsummer Tights Dream by Louise Rennison

"'In my squirrel room, looking out over the moors to Grimbottom, thinking about Alex. When he next sees me, I will be up there on the wild moors, lost to the world, unaware that I am being observed. It's only when I glance up, that I notice Alex in his breeches and fancy shirt. He runs to me and takes me in his arms. I close my eyes and hear... "We is here, wiv our bumbums out." And open them to see the toddler twins at my bedroom door, naked from the waist down.' You know when something feels really bad, worse than a bat trapped in your mouth? Or kissing the boy who just wants to be your friend? Tallulah Casey does. She's your kind of mate."

This is the gloriously silly sequel to Withering Tights, the romantic mishaps of Tallulah Casey, aspiring actress, hampered by her out of control knees and distinct lack of acting ability. Rennison's charm is her ability to manage to get inside teeenage girls heads whilst also introducing enough ridiculously bizarre situations and characters to make her books stand out from the hundreds of imitators out there. If you are a girl who grew up in the 90s or 2000s in the UK, you will struggle not to be charmed and endlessly entertained by Rennison. This series is not  as funny as Georgia but still has many laugh out loud moments and is a quick, fun read despite not being as tightly written as the Georgia series.

First Line: "Performing Arts College, here I come again, hold on to your tights!"

Why I read it: I grew up reading Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicholson series and have a huge affection for her as a writer so whilst I am no longer the target audience for these, and they don't make me cry with laughter any more, I still enjoy reading them and having a giggle at the complete silliness.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of Chris Higgins or Jaclyn Moriarty. If you fancy a quick and silly read that manages to blend the absurd with some real truisms about growing up as a girl.

31 May 2012

Review 40: Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

"Stuart Horten - ten years old but small for his age - moves to the dreary town of Beeton, far away from all his friends. But in Beeton begins the strangest adventure of Stuart's life... He is swept up in a quest to find his great-uncle's lost workshop - a workshop stuffed with trickery and magic. There are clues to follow and puzzles to solve, but what starts as fun ends up as danger, and Stuart begins to realise that he can't finish the task by himself."

This is a lovely and fun book that is written with charm and wit and heart. The story of the below-averagely height Stuart as he begrudgingly moves to a new town and ends up solving a family mystery full of puzzles and tricks, magic and mystery. I feel like this would make a great children's TV show as Stuart races around Beeton, managing nosy triplet neighbours, quirky parents and a scheming enemy with a hapless magician sidekick.

First Line: "Stuart Horten was small for his age - the smallest boy in his year at school - and both his parents were very tall, which meant that when he stood next to them he looked about the size of an ant."

Why I read it: It is on the current Carnegie Prize shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of Rebecca Stead or Frank Cottrell Boyce. If you like quirky stories full of heart.

Review 39: Trash by Andy Mulligan

"Three friends. Raphael, Gardo and Rat. Living on a heap of trash, a lifetime of sifting rubbish. One day they find something extraordinary - a deadly secret. From that moment they are hunted without mercy. With danger snatching at their heels, the boys are chased from the city's dirty gutters to its wealthy avenues. But they can't run forever. They need a miracle."

I was far more impressed with this than I was expecting and it has gone down very well with my teenage readers as well. Whilst easy to read and relatively simple, it is filled with excellent storytelling, exciting twist and turns, wonderful characters and much to think about. A really worthy contender for the Carnegie prize this year and a novel that will be read and loved for years to come, I imagine.

First Line: "My name is Raphael Fernandez and I am a dumpsite boy."

Why I read it: It is on the Carnegie shortlist which I am currently reading and shadowing with my Book Club students at school.

Who I would recommend it to: I can hardly think of anyone who wouldn't fall for this book. An easy read with real depth, it's perfect for its intended audience.

25 May 2012

Review 38: Q by Evan Mandery

"Would you give up the love of your life on the advice of a stranger? A picturesque love story begins at the cinema when our hero - an unacclaimed writer, unorthodox professor and unmistakeable New Yorker - first meets Q, his one everlasting love. Over the following weeks, in the rowboats of Central Park, on the miniature golf courses of Lower Manhattan, under a pear tree in Q's own inner-city Eden, their miraculous romance accelerates and blossoms. Nothing, it seems - not even the hostilities of Q's father or the impending destruction of Q's garden - can disturb the lovers, or obstruct their advancing wedding. They are destined to be together. Until one day a man claiming to be our hero's future self tells him he must leave Q."

Q was almost exactly as I had hoped it would be. I wanted a quirky romance without cheesiness and that is largely what I got. Whilst there is plenty of whimsy from the characters, Q in particular, we also get a level of quirk from the time travel element. Our hero is visited at points by himself from the future which tries to answer the oft-asked question of whether we would go back and tell our younger selves to avoid mistakes we made. I say it was almost what I hoped it would be though, as I did feel a little let down by the fact that the quote on the front cover from The New York Times, which warns the tear-prone not to read it in public. I was hoping for an epic, heartfelt ending where as in fact it was gentle and sweet, which has its charms but I was hoping for something a little more emotionally charged.

First Line: "Q, Quentina Elizabeth Deveril, is the love of my life."

Why I read it: The beautiful cover caught my eye in Waterstones and I bought it for a train journey to London.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of gentle philosophical meanderings, whimsical romance and The Time Traveler's Wife.

23 May 2012

Review 37: The Blue Book by A. L. Kennedy

"Elizabeth Barber is crossing the Atlantic by liner with her perfectly adequate boyfriend, Derek, who might be planning to propose. In fleeing the UK - temporarily - Elizabeth may also be in flight from her past and the charismatic Arthur, once her partner in what she came to see as a series of crimes. Together they acted as fake mediums, perfecting the arcane skills practised by effective frauds. Elizabeth finally rejected what once seemed an intoxicating game, Arthur continued his search for the right way to do wrong. He now subsidises free closure for the traumatised and dispossessed by preying on the super-rich. The pair still meet occasionally, for weekends of sexual oblivion, but their affection lacerates as much as it consoles. She hadn't, though, expecting the other man on the boat. As her voyage progresses, Elizabeth's past is revealed, codes slowly form and break as communication deepens. It's time for her to discover who are the true deceivers and who are the truly deceived. What's more, is the book itself - a fiction which may not always be lying - deceiving the reader? Offering illusions and false trails, magical numbers and redemptive humour, this is a novel about what happens when we are misled and when we are true: an extraordinarily intricate and intimate journey into our minds and hearts undertaken by a writer of great gifts - a maker of wonders."

This is a difficult book to review. On the one hand it is clever and bold and intricately written, but on the other it is unpleasant to read; it doesn't uplift or inspire you but drags you down into the cruelty and intimacies of everyday human existence. I was fascinated by it, in the way you are with the somewhat repulsive creature you see in the aquarium, you can't stop looking at it even though it horrifies you. It is also difficult to review as things are revealed throughout the book that change the way you perceive the situation or characters and to spoil them would fundamentally spoil the book but it is difficult to consider your feelings about the book without revealing them.

First Line: "But here this is, the book you're reading."

Why I read it: It was one of the titles on the Orange Prize longlist that appealed, but not quite enough to buy it in hardback so I borrowed it from Solihull Library.

Who I would recommend it to: If you like to read heavy, post-modern literature that is challenging rather than enjoyable.

22 May 2012

Review 36: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

"Every year, the Scorpio Races are run on the beaches of Skarmouth. Every year, the sea washes blood from the sand. To race the savage water horses can mean death, but the danger is irresistible. When Puck enters the races to save her family, she is drawn to the mysterious Sean, the only person on the island capable of taming the horses. Even if they stay together, can they stay alive?"

First Line: 'It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.'

I'm a little torn about this in a very similar way to how I felt about Delirium by Lauren Oliver recently. The writing is carefully crafted and atmospheric but the pacing is off and the book takes too long to get going. The characters are largely appealing and the concept is refreshingly unique for the young adult market but I think the horsey focus put me off a little, as I'm not a big animal lover. I imagine that this will go down a treat with some teenager readers.

Why I read it: I bought it for my husband after seeing it on the Cannonball group blog, who took it on holiday with us to Iceland where I read it after I finished the books I brought with me.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of earthy, gritty books rather than high tech, futuristic worlds who like a strong heroine and difficult decisions.

21 May 2012

Review 35: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

"Great art is difficult - that's the motto of the family Fang. The family consists of Caleb and Camille (the parents), Annie (Child A) and Buster (Child B). The family Fang create art: performance art, provocations, interventions - call it what you like. And many people certainly don't call it art. But as Annie and Buster grow up, like all children, they find their parents' behaviour an embarrassment. They refuse to take up their roles in these outrageous acts. They escape; Annie becomes an actor, a star in the world of indie filmmaking, and Buster pursues gonzo journalism, constantly on the trail of a good story. But when their lives start to fall apart, there is nowhere left to go but home. Meanwhile Caleb and Camille have been planning their most ambitious project yet and the children have no choice; like it or not, they will participate in one final performance. The family Fang's magnum opus will determine what is ultimately more important: their family or their art."

This was so close to being a favourite, I really loved so much of it and if it wasn't for the anticlimatic and depressing ending I would have adored it. This is a wonderful mix of quirky and brutally realistic with charming characters and a totally unique concept, which makes a nice change from paranormal romances and dystopias. Whimsical and beautiful and heartbreaking, it's a Wes Anderson film in book form.

First Line: 'Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art, their children called it mischief.'

Why I read it: I saw it reviewed on the Cannonball group blog and though it sounded right up my street so I ordered it from Amazon.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of quirky, unpredictable fiction with an solid emotional backbone.

17 May 2012

Review 34: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

"They say that the cure for love will make me happy and safe forever. And I've always believed them. Until now. Now everything has changed. Now, I'd rather be infected with love for the tiniest sliver of a second than live a hundred years suffocated by a lie. There was a time when love was the most important thing in the world. People would go to the end of the earth to find it. They would tell lies for it. Even kill for it. Then, at last, they found the cure."

In the future world of Delirium, love has been defined as a disease. When children turn 18, they are required to undergo a procedure that renders them immune to the 'delirium' before being matched with a member of the opposite sex in order to have children and contribute to society. Lena is 17 and eagerly counting down the days to her procedure, frightened of the disease that caused her mother to commit suicide when Lena was still a child. Oliver is adept at creating her world, she begins each chapter with a piece of documentation, an extract from the Safety, Health and Happiness Handbook or a poem from a banned collection. Oliver manages to write what is essentially a love story without making it sentimental and also managing to cover other bases and exploring family, friendship, loyalty, honesty and science amongst other themes. I didn't fall for it, maybe I've just read too many dystopian YA novels, maybe because I did find Lena a little uninspiring or maybe because I found it rather dragged in the first half, but Oliver's writing is undeniably beautiful. I will definitely be reading both the sequel to Delirium and her other novel, Before I Fall, as I think I would really enjoy her writing in a less saturated genre.

First Line: 'It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.'

Why I read it: I saw it in Oxfam Books and had heard it was a good entry into the post-apocalyptic YA canon.

Who I would recommend it to: Post-apocalyptic fans who enjoy solid world building. Fans of Divergent by Veronica Roth or Matched by Ally Condie

10 May 2012

Review 33: Planetary Vol. 2 - The Fourth Man by Warren Ellis

"This is Planetary. Three people who walk the world in search of strangeness and wonder, uncovering things others wise were left covered. They are the mystery archaeologists, explorers of the planet's secret history, charting the unseen borders of a fantastic world."

Whilst I don't love Planetary in the way I love Fables, it is a high quality story with plenty of complexity (if anything maybe too much, I struggled to work out what was going at times). I preferred this volume to the first and will definitely read the third and fourth volumes which complete the series as I am intrigued as to how it will all be wrapped up. The 'hero' is a bit too much like Warren Ellis' other unappealing and egotistical alpha males but the secondary characters, particularly Jakita and the Drummer, are excellent and we do get a bit more intriguing backstory to Snow.

First Line: "Jack Carter's dead."

Why I read it: I was lent Planetary Vol. 1 by a colleague and enjoyed it enough to want to find out what happened in Vol. 2.

Who I would recommend it to: Readers who would like to explore the world of graphic novels or fans of science fiction that tend towards mysteries and character rather than spandex and explosions (although there is some of that very much present).

9 May 2012

Review 32: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

"Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women forever. Dr Annick Swenson's work is shrouded in mystery; she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher, is sent to investigate. A curt letter reporting his untimely death is all that returns. Now Marina Singh, Anders's colleague and once a student of the mighty Dr Swenson, is their last hope. Compelled by the pleas of Anders's wife, who refuses to accept that her husband is not coming home, Marina leaves the snowy plains of Minnesota and retraces her friend's steps into the heart of the South American darkness, determined to track down Dr Swenson and uncover the secrets being jealously guarded among the remotest tribes of the rainforest. What Marina does not yet know is that, in this ancient corner of the jungle, where the muddy waters and susurrating grasses hide countless unknown perils and temptations, she will face challenges beyond her wildest imagination. Marina is no longer a student, but only time will tell if she has learnt enough."

A careful and intelligent novel about science and human nature, I enjoyed reading a novel with such interesting, unpredictable characters and subtle themes. There are some heavy themes here but Patchett is rarely heavy-handed and manages to avoid it being an 'issues' book with a beautiful story and well written, realistic heroine. The settings are the other star here, Patchett's descriptions of both Minnesota and in particular Brazil are incredibly evocative, she creates worlds that spring up around you in beautiful detail. Also, I adore the title and the paperback cover (I wish I had hung on for it.)

First Line: "The news of Anders Eckman's death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope."

Why I read it: I had it on my Amazon wishlist and when it was announced as being on the Orange Prize longlist I bought it. (It has since been announced as being on the shortlist).

Who I would recommend it for: Keen readers who look for careful writing and situations that escape the moral black and white. Fans of Kazuo Ishiguro, A. S. Byatt or Jeffrey Eugenides.

8 May 2012

Review 31: The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

"My brother believes he is being chased by a demon... a demon that makes things vanish. Carnegie Medallist Frank Cottrell Boyce transports readers from the steppe of Mongolia to the street of Liverpool in a story that is compelling, miraculous and laugh out loud funny."

This is a lovely, charming and quirky story of family and friendship. Cottrell Boyce also weaves in serious themes of refugees and self which lend the book a melancholy touch at times. The beautiful printing on exercise book notepaper with photographs means the entire book is a entirely enjoyable experience. The story was inspired by a true story, when the author visited a school that had a Mongolian little girl who was taken by Immigration Services with her family and never seen again.

First Line: 'I hadn't seen this photograph since the day it was taken, until now.'

Why I read it: I bought it for my library stock and couldn't resist the cover and the wonderful photos inside.

29 April 2012

The Orange Prize

I always have a look at the Orange Prize longlist, shortlist and winner as an indication of excellent new writers and novels. I really enjoyed last year's winner, The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht and was glad to have an exciting new author pointed out to me. I also really liked The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna and thought that the rest of the shortlist looked varied and interesting, although I didn't read any of the others.

This year I thought there were some really interesting choices on the longlist. I absolutely adored The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and was pleased to see it there. I had had my eye on State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and it's appearance on the longlist prompted me to buy it (my review will be up this week). I also have borrowed The Blue Book by A. L. Kennedy from the library, bought The Submission by Amy Waldman and am on the reservation list for There But For The by Ali Lewis. There seemed to be a great variety of genres and styles. I was really excited to see who had made the shortlist and was massively underwhelmed when I saw it. Patchett has made it on there but Morgenstern hasn't. To make matters worse, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is there. Edugyan was on the Man Booker shortlist and I really didn't like the two thirds of it that I read. I didn't even finish it, which is hugely unusual for me, I so infrequently don't finish books but I just couldn't get through it. So the fact that that was there and Morgenstern wasn't immediately made me feel as though the judging criteria weren't in line with my own personal preferences.

The books that have made it onto the shortlist, as well as Patchett and Edugyan are:
The Forgotten by Anne Enright
Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick

Of those four, The Song of Achilles had caught my eyes as I enjoy historical fiction, but I had passed it over as the focus seemed to be on the romance and the other three didn't appeal either because of the focus on scandalous or illicit relationships. I'm sure that they are well written or have some literary strengths of some description but I think it is a shame that there seems to be such a narrow scope for the shortlist. Maybe I am judging them prematurely but they all appear to be traditional in structure and to focus on romance and said illicit affairs. For a prize that celebrates the best of female writers, I think it is a shame for the shortlist to be so narrowly romantic as it feels as though it is reinforcing the stereotype of what female writers can write about. Considering the variety and creativity of ideas on the longlist it is a disappointing shortlist in terms of scope.

I may try The Song of Achilles and Painter of Silence and I will almost definitely read the winner if I haven't already, and I hope to be proved wrong once I read more of the shortlist, but I hope that future Orange shortlists celebrate the variety and creativity in female writers rather than reinforcing stereotypes about women only writing about illicit romance, however high quality it is. To be honest, they lost me this year when they shortlisted Edugyan and failed to include the magnificent The Night Circus.

Reviews to books I've mentioned and read:
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht: http://acaseforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/review-34-tigers-wife-by-tea-obreht.html
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna: http://acaseforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/review-36-memory-of-love-by-aminatta.html
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: http://acaseforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/review-49-night-circus-by-erin.html
Man Booker Summary 2011: http://acaseforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/man-booker-prize-summary.html

26 April 2012

Review 30: VIII by H. M. Castor

"VIII is the story of Hal: a young, handsome, gifted warrior, who believes he has been chosen to lead his people. But he is plagued by the ghosts of his family's violent past and, once he rises to power, he turns to murder and rapacious cruelty. He is Henry VIII."

This is clearly a very well researched novel with a solid grounding in historical fact. The first half which focuses on Henry's childhood and adolescence is evocative and exciting but unfortunately Castor speeds through the rest of his life (and wives) too fast for readers who don't already know what happened to keep up. It also is in the unusual position of being a young adult novel where the protagonist is an adult for a large portion of the book, and is in his 50s at the end, which doesn't quite work for me. There are some dramatic devices that are overused and it casts Henry in a rather too favourable light but it is very readable and hopefully will encourage some younger readers to delve further into historical fiction and Tudor history.

First Line: 'I'm still half asleep when I feel strong hands grabbing me.'

Why I read it: My husband bought it for me from my Amazon wishlist. I studied Tudor history at university so am always interested to read perspectives on Henry VIII.

23 April 2012

Review 29: Floodland by Marcus Sedgwick

"Imagine that England is covered by water, and Norwich is an island... Zoe, left behind in the  confusion, survives there are best she can. Alone and desperate among marauding gangs, she manages to dig a derelict boat out of the mud and escapes to Eels Island. But Eels Island, whose raggle-taggle inhabitants are dominated by the strange boy Dooby, is full of danger too."

Why I read it: The author is visiting my school and I wanted to read a bit more of his back catalogue and this is his first novel.

The first three quarters of this book are strong but unfortunately it tails off somewhat and I found the end very underwhelming. Sedgwick wrote this, his first novel, of a disintegrating apocalyptic society long before it was in vogue, he of course did not invent the genre but was definitely ahead of the young adult trend for it. Zoe is a gutsy and strong heroine but I would have liked more detail about her family and the people she meets along the way who felt a bit more hurriedly sketched in. I would have actually liked this short novel to be longer and find out a bit more. It is rather unrelentingly miserable and I did find it rather depressing but if you're after a short, sobering read with plenty of action and a unnerving atmosphere then give this a go.

First Line: 'Zoe ran harder than she had ever run in her life.'

6 April 2012

Review 28: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

"In our brave new future, DNA engineering has resulted in a terrible genetic flaw. Women die at the age of 20, men at 25. Young girls are being abducted and forced to breed in a desperate attempt to keep humanity ahead of the disease that threatens to eradicate it. 16-year-old Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride to Linden, a rich young man with a dying wife. Even though he is kind to her, Rhine is desperate to escape her gilded cage - and Linden's cruel father. With the help of Gabriel, a servant she is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in what little time she has left."

A fast paced dystopian novel with a familiar story that has just enough variation from the plethora of apocalyptic fiction out there to recommend itself, although is clearly very derivative. There are a fair few plot and logic issues and some rather unsubtle characterisations but it is somehow very readable regardless. The real strength for me was DeStefano's descriptions of the world as it is as she ably conjures up a world where abductions and poverty sit side by side with extravagant wealth all wrapped in a frightened and desperate (although ill defined and created) world.

First Line: 'I wait, they keep us in the dark for so long that we lose sense of our eyelids.'

5 April 2012

Review 27: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

"Charlie is a freshman, and while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Sky, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can't stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective, but there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dancefloor."

I really liked this charming and witty book. Charlie is a wonderful character who is carefully drawn to strike that balance between realistic and entertaining enough to base a book around his feelings. Chbosky manages to really capture what it is like to grow up for nearly everyone as well as creating a unique story for Charlie as an individual. Some of the moments are so true and Chbosky captures some beautiful moments, it's a very quotable novel and a really great read.

First Line: 'Dear friend, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.'

4 April 2012

Review 26: The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein

"At an exclusive girls' boarding school, a sixteen-year-old girl records her most intimate thoughts in a diary. The object of her obsession is her roommate, Lucy Blake, and Lucy's friendship with their new and disturbing classmate. Ernessa is a mysterious presence with pale skin and hypnotic eyes. Around her swirl dark secrets and a series of ominous and violent disasters. As fear spreads through the school, fantasy and reality mingle into a waking nightmare of gothic menace, fuelled by the lusts and fears of adolescence. And at the centre of the diary is the question that haunts all those who read it: Is Ernessa really a vampire? Or is the narrator trapped in her own fevered imagination?" 

I bought this for the school library thinking that it would go down really well with my students. I skimmed through the first pages just to see whether it seemed well-written and was hooked and ended up reading the whole thing myself before it even made it onto my library shelves. Klein really has a way with language, the book is super creepy and involving and you never quite know what is going on. The question at the end of the blurb about whether Ernessa is really a vampire seems flippant and silly when mentioned in passing it is in fact compelling and unnerving. This was a much better read than I expected and is very readable,  despite its flaws, and not your typical teenage vampire novel, in fact not really a vampire novel at all.

First Line: 'When Dr. Karl Wolff first suggesting publishing the journal that I kept during my junior year in boarding school, I though I hadn't heard him correctly.'

3 April 2012

Review 25: The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

"Citizens of our beloved Democratic Republic of North Korea! Imagine the life of an orphan boy who is plucked from nowhere to be trained as a tunnel assassin, a kidnapper, a spy. He has no father but the State, no sweetheart but Sun Moon, the greatest opera star who ever lived, whose face is tattooed on his chest. Imagine he lives in our very own country, a model of exemplary Communism. A nation that is the envy of the world, especially the Americans. Where the only stories people need to hear are those blasting from loudspeakers to the glory of our Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il. Dry your eyes now, comrades! Prepare to hear the Greatest North Korean Love Story Ever Told. Warning: Any resemblance to real people and events may not be entirely coincidental."

Not due to any particular plan, I've read a lot of YA in 2012. I read a lot of YA generally what with being a school librarian and there being a lot of awesome YA around but normally I intersperse it with adult fiction more frequently than I have this year. The Orphan Master's Son is the first adult fiction I've read in a good few weeks and I really enjoyed getting involved something with a bit more depth and complexity with wonderful language as well as a superb plot.

First Line: 'Citizens, gather 'round your loudspeakers, for we bring important updates!'