Tag Archives: BBC 2013

Review: All is Fair by Emma Newman (Split Worlds 3)

17190382This series just keeps getting better and better. It’s easily my current favourite series. Emma Newman’s world building is superb; it’s simultaneously simple to imagine yourself in the world she has created and excruciatingly difficult to explain it to someone who hasn’t yet had the pleasure.

If you are one of those yet to discover the Split Worlds, please get yourself a copy of Between Two Thorns, the first in the series (my review here), and prepare for full immersion.

I don’t want to talk about plot too much – spoilers are the cardinal sin of blogging, and it’s too hard to avoid spoiling earlier titles in a series when reviewing mid-series books. What I will say is that the plotting is tight and intricate. We retain the central story of Cathy and her struggle against the Victorian values of Society in this instalment, as well as various brilliant sub plots from the first two titles, along with some newly-added threads. The plot as a whole is like a spiral, getting tighter as we approach the core. I can’t wait to see where this will all end up!

The real strengths of this series, however, lie in the setting (think I may have mentioned amazing world building already…) and characters. Cathy is one of those protagonists I’d love to meet and would expect to get along with, and I am loving Will more as the series goes on. Max and the gargoyle are one of fantasy’s greatest comedy pairings, and yet have genuine depth as individuals. And now I feel bad for not mentioning the hapless Sam, whose chance involvement with the fae world is clearly heading for its own interesting (and please not too catastrophic) conclusion. This is not a fantasy world populated with cookie-cutter archetypes and tropes; rather, Emma Newman clearly enjoys playing with and twisting those familiar figures and ideas, giving them greater depth and believability.

This is a truly fabulous series and I find myself at once desperate for the next instalment and wishing the series never to end (although the weekly stories by email certainly helps!). If you like fantasy, especially combined with smart humour and urban modernity, you need this series.

Book Description (do not read if you haven’t read the first two books in the series!)

In love and war nothing is safe.

William Iris struggles to keep the throne of Londinium whilst hated by his own court and beset by outsiders, while Cathy discovers the legacy of her former governess. But those who dare to speak out about Society are always silenced. Sometimes for good.

While trying to avoid further torments from the mercurial fae, Sam finds himself getting tangled in the affairs of the Elemental Court. But an unexpected offer from the powerful and enigmatic Lord Iron turns out to be far more than Sam bargained for.

Max and the gargoyle are getting closer to uncovering who is behind the murder of the Bath Chapter and the corruption in London and Max finds the gargoyle’s controversial ideas harder to ignore. Can he stay true to his sworn duty without being destroyed by his own master, whose insanity threatens to unravel them all?

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Out now from Angry Robot books

My grateful thanks to the publisher for allowing me a review copy via NetGalley. Please note this provision does not influence my reviews – I only review a book if I’ve enjoyed it.

Review: Cruel Summer by James Dawson

16275049It’s not often I can use the adjectives ‘nail-biting’ and ‘spine-tingling’ together with ‘witty’ and ‘sharp’, but this novel definitely merits all of these descriptors. Although regularly recoiling in response to the ever-present doom hanging over the characters, I loved being immersed in the world James Dawson created here (as did my 15-year-old).

Cruel Summer is a contemporary UKYA thriller which follows a group of teens a year after finishing school. The previous year, on the night of the prom, one of their friendship group, Janey, died in a fall from a cliff that was ruled suicide – although at least one of her friends is certain it was murder. A year later, the friends all meet up for a holiday in a remote Spanish villa, but when one of their number turns up dead, they all have to accept that they are, in fact, confined in a remote location with a murderer. What a great premise, right? So you can see where the nail-biting and spine-tingling come in. As with his debut, Hollow Pike, James Dawson ramps up the tension with perfect judgement, while periodically allowing us respite, care of his witty observations on contemporary life.

The opening narrator, Ryan, is hilarious and easy to empathise with. He has a habit of imagining his life as a TV show, allowing for some brilliant commentary on the media and the annoying tendencies of real life to not fit neatly into media tropes. Ryan shares the narrative with Alisha, trying to recover from her ‘party girl’ past.  The rest of the gang are also well-crafted as characters and genuinely interesting as people, and it is a mark of Dawson’s genius plotting that I suspected pretty much each and every one of them of murder at some point…

The setting, as with all good thrillers, is crucial and contributes to the fear factor. Although luxurious and initially associated only with fun and relaxation, its remoteness rapidly becomes threatening. Might I suggest a new genre of ‘glamorous gothic’? The confinement, danger and many other critical gothic elements are present and correct, but there is no dusty old castle or broken down cottage – just a bright and shiny holiday villa.

If you enjoy thrillers and contemporaries, this is required reading.

From the Goodreads Description:

A year after Janey’s suicide, her friends reunite at a remote Spanish villa, desperate to put the past behind them. However, an unwelcome guest arrives claiming to have evidence that Jane was murdered. When she is found floating in the pool, it becomes clear one of them is a killer. Only one thing is for certain, surviving this holiday is going to be murder…

A compelling and psychological thriller – with a dash of romance.

*******

Out now from Indigo

My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for honest review

Review: Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Riotous fun for young readers! (not to mention everyone else)

fortunately the milkI’ve been a fan of Gaiman’s for many years and have enjoyed the various different ways he’s written – from the Sandman comics, through quirky and difficult-to-classify novels full of mythology like American Gods to the deliciously creepy Coraline for older children. Fortunately the Milk was another enjoyable read. This is pitched at a slightly younger age range, I’d say, and has none of the creepiness of the latter book. Adjectives like ‘zany’ and ‘madcap’ are more appropriate, as also shown through the chaotic colour of the cover and quirky illustration style. Note that this is the hardback cover, which also features lovely shiny foil!

The story is quite short and highly illustrated, making it accessible to a younger audience (although the vocabulary is quite demanding – this is no ‘easy read’). It would make a good shared read and I’m sure could appeal to reluctant readers due to its length, visual appeal and fast pace.

I loved the manic nature of Dad’s tale, and the neatness of the ending. I can’t help but wonder whether the story is the result of some kind of narrative experiment (“what if we add time travel AND dinosaurs AND supernatural beings AND…”). In this case, more is definitely more.

Goodreads description:

You know what it’s like when your mum goes away on a business trip and Dad’s in charge. She leaves a really, really long list of what he’s got to do. And the most important thing is DON’T FORGET TO GET THE MILK. Unfortunately, Dad forgets. So the next morning, before breakfast, he has to go to the corner shop, and this is the story of why it takes him a very, very long time to get back.

Featuring: Professor Steg (a time-travelling dinosaur), some green globby things, the Queen of the Pirates, the famed jewel that is the Eye of Splod, some wumpires, and a perfectly normal but very important carton of milk.

******

Out now from Bloomsbury (whom I thank for allowing me a review copy via Netgalley. Please note that the receipt of a review copy has not impacted the contents of my review).

Review: Witchfall by Victoria Lamb

More Tudor Witch romance, intrigue and danger 

If you enjoyed Witchstruck at all (as I definitely did), even the slightest bit, you must read Witchfall. Victoria Lamb has ramped things up for the second instalment of her YA Tudor Witch trilogy: more complexity to the romance, more shadowy danger to our beloved protagonist as well as more historical reference.

The settings in this novel are great and beautifully done. The politicised atmosphere at court and the more rustic country setting are both rendered clearly for the reader, as well as the dreadful vision which plagues poor Meg more and more through the novel. Dangers are definitely lurking everywhere, and this is a very tense read.

It’s difficult to say much for a sequel without giving away spoilers, but you should know that the plotting in this novel is first rate. The tension is managed exquisitely, and even when you are sure you know what’s going to happen next, there are surprises and twists in store. I am also enjoying the cast of characters created in this series and am very much looking forward to seeing how it is all tied together in the end.

I think the second book in a trilogy must be quite difficult to get right and I am always grumpy with a book which leaves too many loose ends. Witchfall skilfully draws together threads that were introduced in Witchstruck without them having felt like loose ends, and also weaves in (and ties off) new ones effectively. There is clearly mileage to explore and conclude in the next novel, but this is no irritating cliffhanger.

Overall, if you enjoy historical fiction and/or witchy books and/or YA romance, I would definitely recommend this series.

Goodreads Summary

London, 1554. At the court of Mary Tudor, life is safe for no one. The jealous, embittered queen sees enemies all around her, and the infamous Spanish Inquisition holds the court in its merciless grip. But Meg Lytton has more reason to be afraid than most – for Meg is a witch, and exposure would mean certain death. Even more perilous, Meg is secretly betrothed to the young priest Alejandro de Castillo; a relationship which they must hide at all costs.

In the service of the queen’s sister, Princess Elizabeth, Meg tries to use her powers to foretell her mistress’s future. But when a spell goes terribly wrong, and Meg begins to have horrifying dreams, she fears she has released a dark spirit into the world, intent on harming her and those around her.

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Out now from Corgi Children’s Books
Visit the author’s website for more info or check out this blog tour interview from last year
My grateful thanks to the publisher for allowing me a review copy via NetGalley

Review: Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

Weird water creatures and mad explorers combine in a dazzlingly original children’s fantasy adventure story 

I so enjoyed this madcap romp through the oceans, and so will the target audience of 7+. Really, I’m not convinced there’s an upper age limit on this kind of fun.

The book represents a brilliant combination of text and image, being beautifully illustrated throughout. Philip Reeve’s delightfully zany creations are brought to life through Sarah McIntyre’s energetic and witty drawings.

The characters are deliciously quirky, with the mythical and magical elements showing an inventiveness worthy of Eva Ibbotson. There is an anarchic feel to this book, which is perhaps some of the reason it put me in mind of her work. The plot is equally strange and wonderful, featuring the most bizarre competition I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about, islands that wander around the seas, mermaids, sea monkeys and a dastardly villain.

I’ve really emphasised the humour here, because it is one of the defining features of the book. Let me just say, though, that I tend not to enjoy the slightly-too-silly-for-me humour sometimes found in ‘boys’ books’. This is not in that category. Brilliantly bonkers yes, but not pants-and-bums silly.

In short, if you enjoy slightly mad humour, magic and/or adventure, this is a book you will love.

Book Description

Along with his friends, a grumpy old albatross, a short-sighted mermaid, and a friendly island called Cliff, Oliver sets out to rescue his missing parents. On their perilous journey the friends meet evil islands, a boy called Stacey (not a girl’s name) and more sea monkeys than you can wave some seaweed at.

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Publishing 5 September 2013 by Oxford University Press
For more info visit the publisher’s web page
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy

Review: Museum Mayhem by Sara Grant (Magic Trix 4)

More delightful witchery from the Magic Trix series for young readers 

This series is really just lovely. If it’s new to you, don’t despair, there’s time to catch up. Here are my reviews for the earlier titles: The Witching Hour, Flying High, Birthday Wishes.

In this instalment, Trix gets witching cough, which leads to all manner of mayhem on a trip to the Natural History Museum with her family and Holly. As ever, Sara Grant’s gentle storytelling emphasises the traits Trix will need to be a good Fairy Godmother one day, offering sound messages about friendship and kindness to her young readers.

I was happy to see Jinx – Trix’s magical kitten familiar – getting a good portion of the action in this story. I always enjoy the portions of the story told from his perspective, and it was great to see him more actively involved in the plot.

I really can’t recommend this series enough. It will definitely appeal to little girls, offering them funny stories, magic and the chance to see girl characters doing things and having an impact. Great stuff!

From the Back Cover

The three signs that you may be a witch . . .

  • You occasionally see witches flying across the midnight sky on their broomsticks.
  • Rhyming spells pop into your head at the drop of a (witch’s) hat!
  • You love planning magical surprises for your friends.
When you’re a witch, coughs and sneezes can have surprising special effects – as Trix finds out when a trip to the museum leads to spotty mammoths and lively dinosaurs! Can Jinx the magic kitten help Trix find a cure before her witchy secret is revealed?

**********
Published 4 July by Orion Children’s Books
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy (which seems to have migrated to my daughter’s shelves…)

Review: Soul Storm by Kate Harrison

Cracking conclusion to a YA suspense trilogy 

If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, I’d suggest you stop here (and perhaps instead visit my review for book one, Soul Beach). I will not have spoilers in this review for this book, but cannot guarantee to be spoiler-free for the earlier parts of the story.

OK, so the stakes are raised, the suspects narrowed (thanks mainly to the killer having struck again and turning other suspects into victims), and Alice’s determination to catch the guilty party heightened. Of course, at the same time, Alice’s behaviour is looking more and more bizarre (particularly with a little help from the killer) and her parents’ concern leads to tighter controls on her movements and her online time.

Where it all began…

I rate this book highly for its management of the suspense and the thriller angle of the plot. We know that Alice is in danger – reminded helpfully by the occasional creepy bit of narration from the killer’s perspective – and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have suspected practically everyone of killing Meggie before the final reveal. I’m pretty sure Alice is the only character I never suspected, and I was certainly wrong for most of this last book (not to mention certain of my choice – Kate Harrison certainly knows how to seed a red herring).

Book 2

I also enjoyed – through the whole series – the innovative concept of Soul Beach, where only the young and beautiful and ‘before their time’ dead hang out. I would have liked to see more exploration or explanation of exactly how that worked, but maybe it is best to leave some mystery and it is certainly true that this plot strand was moved on and developed in this instalment.

Overall, I would definitely recommend the series as a contemporary YA thriller with a hint of the paranormal. It kept me reading and I was rooting for Alice throughout. I envy those with the luxury of being able to read the whole series straight through, now that all three are available.

The publishers have been celebrating the publication of this book, along with James Dawson’s Cruel Summer, under the hashtag #murderonthebeach. It’s well worth checking out the blog tour posts and the twitter beach party if you want more info on this series and on Kate Harrison.

Cover blurb:

Someone is stalking Alice Forster. She’s sure it’s her sister’s murderer, but her parents think she’s cracking under the stress of Meggie’s death. Only in the virtual world of Soul Beach – an online paradise for the young, the beautiful and the dead – can Alice feel truly free. But there’s trouble in paradise . . .

Clouds are gathering.

A storm is brewing.

The killer is about to strike.

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Published 1 August 2013 by Indigo
More info at Goodreads
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending a copy for review

#murderonthebeach Blog Tour: Deleted Scene from James Dawson’s Cruel Summer

I hope you’re ready for the awesomeness that is here today. James Dawson’s Cruel Summer, out now from Indigo, is a fabulously tense tale of murder and friendship. I am so excited to be a part of this blog tour, celebrating both Cruel Summer and Kate Harrison’s Soul Storm, wrapping up her fantastic Soul Beach trilogy.

CRUEL SUMMER – DELETED SCENE

In early drafts of Cruel Summer, Katie also had a narrative. It was felt, however, that it was more interesting if all of the novel was told from the point of view of the ‘sidekicks’. In most YA novels, Katie would be the main character, but Cruel Summer plays with that format. This scene still exists from Alisha’s point of view, but in this deleted scene we actually get to hear what Katie and Ben are saying.

Katie stared at the fire for what felt like hours. The roaring flames lost their will to fight, tiring to feeble tongues before dying to embers. They still glowed scarlet though, and they still gave heat. When she poked them with her stick, they flared up angrily, trying to spark. If she weren’t so tired she’d have thought up some poetic analogy about them being like the dying fire, but she couldn’t be bothered.

Most of the others had drifted back to the villa, blaming coldness or tiredness. Maybe it was all too much: the flight, the wine, the sun. Janey. Alisha remained on the other side of the ashes, playing with her camera. The pair sat in companionable silence.

The mood had lightened a little after the talk about Janey, but the elephant, although acknowledged, didn’t go anywhere. Katie didn’t feel any better for getting things out in the open. OK, they’d talked about it, but there was still so much left to say.

‘Hey,’ Alisha finally said. ‘I’m gonna get ready for bed.’

Katie nodded. ‘I’ll be in in a minute.’

‘You OK out here by yourself?’

‘Yeah. I like the quiet.’

Alisha walked over and gave her a kiss on the head. It was a reminder of how close they’d been once upon a time, but Katie wasn’t sure anymore. The gesture felt awkward. It was like Janey had been the stitching holding them together, after she jumped, everyone fell apart, tumbling miles apart in different directions.

Alisha’s flip flops clattered up the stairs towards the villa and she was alone with the tide and the embers. Katie closed her eyes. Still noisy in her head, but quiet on the beach. Things would seem better in the morning. They always did.

Without needing to open her eyes, she became aware of someone approaching. She opened them to see Ben’s silhouette amble onto the sand. She’d recognise his walk anywhere. ‘Hey.’

‘Hey.’ She tried to think of something cute or funny to say. There was nothing. This was painful – she hated not being able to banter with him.

‘I just wanted to come and make sure you were OK. You went pretty quiet.’

She looked up at him. With nothing to say, she just shook her head. If she opened her mouth, she was pretty sure a sob would find its way out. Ben sat alongside her, their shoulders touching this time. Unsure of himself, his arm hovered for a moment, like he was scared something might bite it. But as soon as his hand made contact with her arm, it all made sense and he pulled her into an embrace.

She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He was so warm and so soft. He still used the same washing powder. Katie buried her head in his t-shirt. It was all the same – a familiar feeling blossomed inside her chest. It was the same as it had been, and it was unique to him. She loved other things and other people but no-one else made her feel exactly like this. It was Ben-love.

A flock of what ifs flew into her mind. What if they’d never split up? What if he’d never gone out with Janey?

His stubble grazed the top of her forehead. His skin on her skin was too much to stand. She opened her eyes to find Janey sat on the other side of the fire, watching them. Not as she had been, but as she was. A drowned girl. White, dead eyes. Bloated cheeks. Grey-blue skin. Katie recoiled, but the vision had gone.

‘What?’

‘We can’t do this, Ben.’

‘Can’t do what? We weren’t doing anything wrong.’

Katie stood and started back towards the villa. She held her arms close to her body like a shield. Turning to face him, she said, ‘Ben, we can fancy this shit up as much as we like. What happened to Jane was our fault. You and me.’

‘Katie, it wasn’t. We have to stop blaming ourselves. We have to let it go.’

Katie shook her head. ‘We don’t have that right. We don’t deserve it.’ She ran up the stairs to the villa and didn’t look back to see the hurt on his face.

**********
Wow! Thank you so much, James, for this peek into the earlier life of the novel. If you haven’t already read Cruel Summer and this has whetted your appetite, do not delay – the blogosphere is raving over this one with good reason. Check out all the other fun with the hashtag #murderonthebeach, including many more fascinating blog posts and a fab Twitter Q&A with both authors.

Review: Girls, Goddesses and Giants by Lari Don

Brilliant collection of folk tales, legends and myths with active heroines 

Firstly, I have to comment on this gorgeous cover! Bold and strong, showing a silhouetted girl in action with a sword and decorated with dragon and pretty flowers, it’s wonderfully attractive without playing to cloying stereotypes of femininity (for little girls). What a great job! And, as you might guess, this is absolutely the theme for the collection: bold, clever, resourceful and active girls taking charge and saving the day. It’s the perfect antidote to the many pink and princessy collections out there.

The book features twelve stories, each from a different culture and all focusing on the actions of a central girl character. The stories themselves are quite short, and nicely illustrated with occasional bold silhouettes. The print is quite large, too, so the stories are not daunting for young readers. The book is perfect for bedtime reading to or with a child, and its cover and style make it likely to appeal to boys as well as girls.

There are mythical monsters and creatures of folklore to be defeated or outwitted, challenges to be met and prejudice to be ignored. Lari Don has done a great job in sourcing and retelling these tales. The narrative style is warm and friendly, well suited to reading aloud, and with perfectly judged pace and tension for the target age group (younger readers and pre-readers).

Overall, I would absolutely recommend this. As a beautiful hardback with dustjacket, it would make a lovely gift.

The cover blurb says:

Greedy giants. Unjust emperors. Shape-shifting demons. And the heroines who deal with them.

From China and Japan, the Americas, Europe and Africa, this collection of traditional tales shows girls who win the day, whether by cleverness, courage, kindness or strength. Who needs a handsome prince?

*************
Published 18 July 2013 by A & C Black
Find more info at the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy

Review: The Night Itself by Zoe Marriott

Fabulous urban fantasy YA fusing Japanese folklore and contemporary UK setting

This novel is beautifully constructed and grabbed me right from the start. Zoe Marriott has really nailed everything about this book. It’s the perfect opener for a trilogy: sets up a truly epic battle whilst still having a complete and resolved story arc in this instalment. It’s also a skilful urban fantasy, bringing fantasy elements to life in a fully realistic contemporary UK setting.

That realistic setting is one of the novel’s core strengths. There is a quirkiness (but not too studied or false a quirkiness) to many aspects of this novel which made me smile many times while reading. And, as a language geek (forgive me, it’s my thing), I noticed the voice and tone of narration and the dialogue, all of which completely ring true for contemporary UK teens. The fantasy elements are pretty unusual and make a lot of demands on the reader (and characters!) in terms of suspension-of-disbelief, so the novel’s realism for the ‘urban’ side is essential.

Talking about the characters – they are all brilliant. I wanted to say I loved them all, but please don’t misunderstand me: I loved the solidity of them, their construction as characters. Trust me, the baddies are plenty bad enough to not be ‘loved’! Again, the author’s ear for dialogue helps a lot here, and Mio’s voice as narrator is an easy shortcut into her mind, enabling us to easily be fully on her side. I loved Jack! I bet Jack (Jacqueline is her ‘trouble name’) has the affection of many readers. I loved that once Mio starts revealing a little of the fantasy side of the story, Jack pulls her up on it, not doing the sappy sidekick thing of dumbly accepting anything her mate tells her. I also love that she’s a lesbian and that this isn’t ‘a thing’ (and agonised about mentioning it, since that undoes the coolness of her existence without fuss, but I do think it’s a plus point even while wishing it wasn’t rare enough to merit mention). I apologise for the clumsiness of that sentence, but it expresses a clumsy emotion.

Plot-wise, the book is strong again (I told you it did everything right!). Things move along at a good pace for an action-type fantasy, and there was tension and danger aplenty. The trilogy centres on Mio’s sword, so you can be sure there are plenty of fight scenes and risk to life and limb. At the same time, a romance subplot is bubbling up and clearly sowing seeds to be developed later in the trilogy. The key ingredients of a great urban fantasy are all here.

There is so much to rave about in this book. It’s definitely a contender for my top books of the year. Strongly recommended.

From the blurb:

When fifteen-year-old Mio steals the katana – her grandfather’s priceless sword – she just wants to liven up a fancy-dress costume. But the katana is more than some dusty heirloom, and her actions unleash an ancient evil onto the streets of modern-day London.

Mio is soon stalked by the terrors of mythical Japan and it is only the appearance of a mysterious warrior that saves her life. If Mio cannot learn to control the katana’s legendary powers, she will lose not only her life … but the love of a lifetime.

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Published July 2013 by Walker Books
Find more info and an extract at the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending a proof for review