Monday, 29 April 2013

If You Find Me - M's review

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

If You Find Me is a chilling but beautifully written story about two sisters, Carey and Jenessa, who have been brought up in a camper van in some rural Tennessee woods. They don’t know much about life anywhere else and they have hardly met any people in that time. They are backwoods. Now, they are being moved and must negotiate a potentially dangerous situation as well as learn to adapt and deal with their past and their futures. But from the first few pages, you know there is something else, something much bigger going on. If You Find Me is a dark story with a tone to match as it tells of child abuse and more. A compelling and challenging read.

UK cover If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
The novel is told by Carey who is fifteen. She interweaves her current voice, her memories and woods voice, and her before-the-woods voice (yeah, can you find her in all of that and can she find herself?). This gives the reader clues about what happened in the woods, and before that time.  A bigger picture (as well as reader suspense) builds up slowly but, this novel is not a thriller. It doesn’t have that fast adrenalin pumping feel that thrillers tend to have. It’s much more dramatic and slower.  This doesn’t mean it’s a slow read. Quite the opposite. It’s a quick and compelling read. Wonderfully, it doesn’t leave you hanging until the end. Even though you might be able to fill in most of the details of Carey’s story before the end (some readers might not), you’re still hungering to find out all the nitty gritty bits. And the end, well it’s definitely thought-provoking. It ties the story up well but leaves just enough for you to wonder – and debate with other readers - about the reality (and ethics) of what happens next (or should or could).

There are two clear parts to the plot. The main plot is about Carey and Jenessa fitting into a new ‘civilised’ life. This new life has its own problems and a dangerous undercurrent runs through it. However, this plot also introduces the sorts of storyline and issues that appear in many teen novels – being put into new environments but feeling like you don’t fit. This part of the novel is warm and almost sugary, which is quite a contrast to the sub-plot which explores the terrible past. The story of the past (and possible future) is very sinister and full of trauma. Emily Murdoch deals with it sensitively but she doesn’t hold back much on detail either. Really, it’s all one plot but the novel’s structure shifts backwards and forwards in time so that it seems like two plots.

What surprised me is how much it reminded me of Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley, which is most definitely an adult novel. Both novels are dealing with controversial issues and explore a similar situation: two sisters have been deliberately secluded from the rest of the world. For me, this is the most interesting aspect in both novels. The problems and delights that people who have been abused deal with while experiencing social reintegration and self acceptance is a familiar theme. However, combining it with characters who are almost foreigners in the country that they have been living in is fascinating. It’s almost like a refugee story.

Overall, this felt like an adult novel. The themes, the details of implied and actual sexual abuse, the writing style and plot structure (multiple flipping from past to present within scenes), create that sense. The middle section of the book, however, introduces plot elements of school, making friends and dealing with being an outsider. My least favourite parts of the novel are introduced here (maybe I'm too old!). I’m not sure if I believe the whole story that surrounds Ryan. I also never really warmed to Delaney but that might have been the whole point about what her character has gone through too (Carey and Jenessa aren’t the only ones who’ve been affected by their past).

I really enjoyed If You Find Me and would recommend it to older teens. If You Find Me is dark and explicit but it is also hopeful and explores justice as a concept. Other novels suitable for young adult readers that explore questions of justice in a similar vein are Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield (forthcoming July 2013).

Publication details: 2 May 2013, Indigo, London, paperback
This copy: uncorrected proof received for review from the publisher

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Wuthering Heights - M's review

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Reviewed by M

Heathcliff and Cathy. I’ve known them forever – at least I thought I did! Honestly, I’m not sure if I’d ever read all of Wuthering Heights before. I know I’d started it – at least once and given up on it. Now, I’ve done it and can add it to my Classics Club reading list. I am pleased that I read it.

Quite simply, Wuthering Heights is about a relationship, begun in childhood, between Heathcliff and Catherine. When this relationship becomes forbidden, Heathcliff, who has been poorly treated, develops an obsessive plan of revenge.

However, the novel is not quite that simple. For example, I didn’t previously realise that the novel has two parts and that there is more than one Heathcliff and more than one Cathy! The novel is also about the relationship between two neighbouring families, the Earnshaws and the Lintons (depending on how you view him that will include Heathcliff; otherwise Heathcliff is a third).

Wuthering Heights was a bit of an uphill read for me partly because of the language, partly because of the characters, and partly because of the plot.

Oxford Children's Classic edition of Wuthering Heights by Emily BrontePublished in 1847, it is set between around 1770 and 1801 in the Yorkshire moors. As with so many of the older classics, it takes me a while to slip into the language probably because I don’t read them enough for the language usage to become familiar (so my brain has to work a little bit harder to read them). Some of the characters also speak in old Yorkshire dialect (not too frequently!) and some of that I just had to skip because it was like another language and I was too lazy to try and figure it out (although be warned, some of it contains important details and you may occasionally find the need to backtrack).

I was also very busy trying to follow who was narrating the story. It starts off being narrated by Lockwood who is the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange. But then Nelly takes over and tells Lockwood the story of Catherine and Heathcliff who lived in a nearby house called Wuthering Heights. At times, it switches back to Lockwood and then a couple of times it is someone else. It also didn’t help that a few characters shared the same names, used intermittently as forenames and surnames; or that Nelly changes her ways of addressing people! I got mixed up quite a few times about which Catherine, Linton, Earnshaw or Heathcliff was being talked about! A very incestuously intermingled story and narration.

For me, Wuthering Heights is a very dark novel with very little plot. It’s an example of a gothic novel: despairingly gloomy in every way and yes, with a hint of ghosts too. The novel has two main settings: the properties of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Occasionally, it moves onto the moors but hardly ever and usually only to go between the two houses. The pace is also very slow. Plotwise, it improved towards the end although it constantly exasperated me and the actual ending seemed rushed and out of place. 

I didn’t like any of the characters really. I definitely wasn’t drawn to Heathcliff. Although he is treated appallingly, his behaviour in turn is shocking. I found Cathy annoying (more so the first than the second; perhaps Nelly’s narration may have had something to do with that – the first Cathy was not her favourite). Lockwood as a character is alright but his main role seems to be as a framing device for telling the story. Nelly as a character might be quite pleasant although I have questions over how reliable she is – there were clues that she was deliberately painting a dark picture of Cathy; of course, we could say that Lockwood may have been less reliable and upstanding than he suggests).

It's hotly debated but many people refer to Wuthering Heights as a passionate romance.
I’m in the camp asserting that it is not a romance.  I’m not even sure I’d say it was passionate – obsessive, yes. Is that gothic style romance?!

This copy was gladly received for review from Oxford University Press - thank you. It’s a hardback edition in their Children’s Classics range. It has a pretty cover (although on seeing it, Little M thought that Heathcliff might actually be a horse!) and the novel’s text is in a big, clear, easy-to-read font. It’s definitely an accessible edition for a children's classic and there’s a little bit of extra information at the back (but only a little).

Is Wuthering Heights a children’s classic? Well, there’s nothing to mark it as one but there's also no reason children should not read it and including it in a children's classic list certainly opens up literature for them. They might well enjoy the ghastliness of the characters! For many, I suspect, the language will be a challenge.

Some small but SPOILERY thoughts and questions:
Why are dogs so badly treated in this novel?

Is Heathcliff a murderer? I’ve seen this question somewhere and it’s a good one. I think the answer is no but that yes is a distinct possibility (of the first Mr Earnshaw, not Catherine).

Was Earnshaw Heathcliff’s father? I suspect yes or that he was the son of a very close friend.

Was Heathcliff haunted before Edgar Linton died?

Was Heathcliff deranged, a product of his mistreatment, or just a really horrible person? I’d ask similar questions of Linton Heathcliff.
Was the first Catherine a bit silly?

Weren’t they all just suffering from a very long case of cabin fever?

Plotwise, there were a couple of surprises. For example, when Cathy has a baby. I didn’t even realise she was pregnant! Perhaps I’d skipped something along the way?

I did think there was a small chance that someone may have topped Heathcliff.

Publication details: Oxford University Press, 2013, Oxford, Hardback
This copy: received for review from the publisher


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Judging a Carnegie book by its cover - we're not so keen

Last time we did a bit on covers, we showed off the Carnegie 2013 longlist covers that we liked. This time it's the covers that didn't quite do it for us. In all cases here, the cover has put at least one of us off from reading it. For us then, the judging a book by its cover seems to work in a negative rather than a positive way. Good job we tend to look inside the covers too - although bright green.....

Black Arts - Prentice and Weil
Cover for Black Arts by Prentice & weil
Too animated (as in graphics not behaviour), unrealistic, too young, uninteresting
A Waste of Good Paper - Sean Taylor
Cover for A Waste of Good Paper by Sean Taylor
Doesn't look like crumpled paper; dull; not keen on the font
15 Days Without a Head - Dave Cousins
Cover for 15 Days Without A Head by Dave Cousins
Looks like a joke or toddlers book. We have seen an American edition which we prefer.
Goblins - Philip Reeve
Cover for Goblins by Philip Reeve
Really don't like the bright green; cartoony; monstery; goofy
Maggot Moon - Sally Gardner
Although M liked the overall starkness and the coloured eyes on this cover none of us liked the thing coming out of the head. And the maggots....It makes more sense after reading the book, but still.....There is an adult version of this cover too and we have a wonderful post that shows all the different ideas and steps that went into designing these covers.

Maggot Moon is the only book on today's list that any of us have read: and it's absolutely fantastic. If you don't like the head-thing, get a copy with the adult cover. A similar case in point for us was A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Neither of us liked the children's illustrated edition....but we quite liked the adult cover and bought that (and thoroughly enjoyed the novel).

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Girl In the Mask - Kate's review

The Girl in the Mask by Marie-Louise Jensen
Guest reviewed by Kate (Year 9)
The Girl in the Mask was longlisted for the Carnegie 2013 medal.

Cover for The Girl in the Mask by Marie-Louise Jensen
The Girl in the Mask - Marie-Louise Jensen
It’s the summer of 1715 and Sophia’s odious father has returned from his four-year trip, much to her horror. He is determined to shape Sophia into a sophisticated lady suitable of her heritage and marry her off but Sophia isn’t so excited. She is not your typical Georgian lady; not a fan of dresses or make up, shoes or sewing, she prefers to spend time with her cousin Jack reading or shooting. However her father is determined to knock this streak out of her. When taken to Bath to ‘summer’, highwaymen rob her, giving Sophia a cunning idea to throw off her father’s tyrannous rule.

From the beginning I loved this book. The plot is well written and engaging, the characters have substance and are relatable and the description and setting are vivid. Sophia, the main character, is a headstrong and independent girl, both traits which can be quite hard to find in novels set in this period. However her tenacity and courage are very refreshing to read!

The slight difference between this book and others by Jensen is that while romance is a key factor in the plot, Sophia isn’t a girl that wants it. She is quite happy to be independent and does not want to get married, again a hard thing to find in historical novels. There are romantic interests for Sophia but they are not the key concept of the plot. In fact, quite the opposite. A lot of the plot is based around her independence and her determination to not be ruled by any men, a husband or her father.

The relationships that Sophia develops through the novel are believable, relatable and well told. They develop slowly but not at a pace that feels like they are dragging so you get the story and the relationship coming together.

Overall, I really liked The Girl in the Mask and couldn’t put it down. The pacing is excellent and I certainly didn’t feel like you got any irrelevant information. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or even just strong female characters.

Publication details: Oxford University Press, 2012, Oxford, paperback
This copy: received from the publishers for shadowing the Carnegie 2013 longlist

Sunday, 21 April 2013

We sat down for a chat...with Christian Schoon

Author Christian Schoon lets us in on the fodder behind his exoveterinarian sci-fi, Zenn Scarlett! There's a great story about bears. Over to you, Christian....

Christian Schoon author of Zenn ScarlettM asked me if I'd do a We Sat Down-ish post about my work with animals and how that factored into writing my science fiction novel, Zenn Scarlett. I'm more than happy to oblige! (like all authors, I'm probably a little too fond of rambling on about my characters and plots....)

Anyway, the good news is that the story behind my writing a story about a young, novice exoveterinarian specializing in healing alien creatures has just two chapters:

Chapter One: a boy growing up in small-town Minnesota discovers at an early age that he not only loves virtually any kind of animal, but he is also fond of telling himself he is some kind of animal, any animal; because to him, any other creature is bound to be more interesting than a young, human boy growing up in small-town Minnesota.

Chapter Two: Minnesota-burg boy discovers science fiction in the form of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ wonderful, swashbuckling Barsoom books and other classics of the genre. He then becomes fond of telling himself he’ll get off the Earth and travel to Mars someday, because (see above section on interest-level of human boy.)

So: animals around me, sci fi blood coursing through me. These elements would be constants long after I left Minnesota. When I moved to Los Angeles, for instance, and started writing and, fortunately, selling TV scripts, they were generally all in the SF or fantasy category: Saban’s Power Rangers series, Warner Bros. animated Batman, Gravedale High and Hallmark’s Timeless Tales. After my wife and I moved to Iowa and bought a farm, we promptly started using our barns and pastures as a foster site for abused or neglected horses, and we both started volunteering with animal rescue groups that bring us up close and personal with animals like bears and mountain lions and large snakes and alligators, as well as smaller fauna like cats, dogs, ferrets, possums, raccoons and even more cats. This work also introduced me to several remarkable veterinarians with the sort of specialized skill-sets needed to treat exotic animals. I asked them lots of questions and peered over their shoulders during lots of procedures.

Cover for Zenn Scarlett by Christian SchoonMy interactions with animal rescue groups have provided plenty of fodder for stories, or at the very least, with inspiration for fictional tales. One day might find me racing through suburban backyards in pursuit of an escaped emu and finally cornering the six-foot-bird in a woodlot. Then, prudently allowing my much larger friend to take the lead, leap in to jointly tackle the bird, rope my belt around its large-talon-equipped feet to keep it from shredding both of us and lug him out of the woods and back to his enclosure.

Then there was the bear in the trailer incident. B-Bear was a full-grown American black bear, about 450 pounds. He was being housed for a few days at our farm before being moved over to the nearby animal shelter where we had a converted garage waiting for him. Anyway, he’d busted one of the small glass windows in the horse trailer we’d used to transport him from the roadside zoo that had gone out of business and had no idea what to do with their “left over” bear. Some of the glass from the window was on the floor of the trailer very close to his food, and I wanted to get it out of the trailer before he ingested any shards. I placed food in the far end of the trailer and, feeling sure that if I moved fast enough, I could open the rear door, push the glass out, and shut the door before he noticed. Turns out a 450-pound bear can move faster than you’d think. I got the glass fragments out, but then had only enough time to slam, but not LATCH, the door before he was leaning against it, pushing it outward and me with it, his hot bear breath huffing audibly in my ear. Now, bottom line: if that bear had for a second wanted to, he could’ve flattened me to the ground and lit out for the territories. Pure luck that he decided to go back to the food at the other end of the trailer and leave me to latch the door.

So, both the emu and the bear were animals that people bought when the critter was young and cute, but which then got old and big and hard to handle. The job of the rescue group then became finding these animals a place to live. But the other part of what these groups do is to help educate people about not adopting animals unless they mean to make a commitment for the lifespan of that animal. OK, lecture over…

In conclusion then: the explanation for where Zenn Scarlett came from is simple: when you shove Christian the animal-crazy-guy into the same Star Trek transporter beam with Christian the sci-fi-obsessed guy but forget to calibrate the transporter's object/surface algorithms, the resulting combo-guy who materializes at the other end will be the kind of writer who naturally imagines a character like Zenn Scarlett.
The book will be released in the UK on May 2; it comes out in the US and Canada on May 7.
Thanks for letting me share a little of the story behind the story with you all!
Thank you, Christian!
You can find out more about Christian Schoon on his website.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Moral Disorder - M's review

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
Reviewed by M
I don't read short stories very often. Sometimes they're too intense and often smack me in the face or punch me in the gut. I can't take much of that. But sometimes, they deliver a slow burn. Whether they burn bright all the way through or fizzle slowly out at the end is something else. A bit like life.

Moral Disorder by Margaret AtwoodMoral Disorder  reads as a slightly jumbled life story and confused me. I couldn’t decide if it was a collection of short stories or a life story about Nell written as a collection of chapters that could work independently as short stories. As a life story, I’m sure there were some small anomalies – like number of siblings, ages, and naming Nell (person and a horse). Of course, many of the chapters had been previously published in separate periodicals as short stories, so.... But the arrangement in Moral Disorder suggests something more interlinked.
Perhaps if I'd read Moral Disorder as short stories and mixed the reading order up rather than progressing from front to back, I wouldn’t feel this way. Currently, I feel like I’m forcing something onto the collection, willing it into being a cohesive novel, which is something that it doesn't really attempt so can't deliver (unlike Snapper which was intended as a novel and clearly is because it’s relatively linear). But, if I hadn’t read Moral Disorder from front to back, that would have messed up the chronology that does seem to follow in the chapters on Nell and Tig at the farmhouse. As short stories, many of them are a delight: The Boys at the Lab is perhaps my favourite.
But, did I enjoy it? On the whole, yes. Like Snapper by Brian Kimberling, I dipped in and out, happily picking it up to read over a period of months. As a life story, Moral Disorder runs through birth, death and everything inbetween often reflecting on themes of family, belonging, identity, growing up, being a woman, and being ‘other’. Set in Canada, the stories also convey a strong/atmospheric sense of place.

The voice in Moral Disorder bears many similarities with The Edible Woman – quietly humorous and possibly hallmark Atwood (note: this is the probing but not the speculative fiction Atwood). The narrator for each story, whether it was Nell or someone else, always sounds slightly detached from events and gives the strong impression that, unlike those around her, she’s on an even keel – even when her stories suggest that balance is not always possible and is often teetering. Of course, they’re retrospectively narrated so I suppose that enables an emotional and rational distance for the narrator.

This wasn't my favourite Atwood but I think I'm developing a taste for short stories. If you like the slow burn and a keen sense of humour, either Moral Disorder or Snapper could be a good place to start.

A small spoilery aside:
Was Gladys’s death necessary? Does it add anything to the White Horse story? I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something going on here. There’s a photo of a fat white horse at the beginning of this edition, and a usually dependable horse call Nell appears in the final story.

Publication details: 2007, Virago, London, paperback
Originally published: 2006
This copy: my own; bought for me as a birthday gift from Daddy Cool as part of my mission to collect Margaret Atwood's entire works of fiction (so far, I have 11 ).

Snapper - M's review

Snapper by Brian Kimberling
Reviewed by M

Snapper was a slow, easy and entertaining read.

I read Snapper very slowly, a couple of chapters at a time and then big breaks in between the next sitting. Coincidentally, it got stuck in an almost-alternating pattern with Margaret Atwood’s Moral Disorder. The similarities between the two books are striking: both have a highly autobiographical feel, both read more like interlinked short stories (which Atwood's is), both have a delicious wry humour, and both are fairly short.

Cover of Snapper by Brian Kimberling
Snapper by Brian Kimberling
Snapper is narrated by Nathan, a likeable philosophy graduate employed as a birdwatcher who takes the best fieldnotes. He tells his story about Indiana, where he has spent most of his life. Each chapter recounts a different episode in his life and often focuses on a single character (who usually does not significantly reappear) or place in Indiana. These recollections wind themselves through Nathan’s post-college years/twenties, exploring his relationships with the people, wildlife and places of Indiana, and adults who're growing up.  

While most of the characters fade in and out (as he reflects that many human relationships often do), Indiana, birds, a romantic obsession with Lola, the Gypsy Moth (his van) and his friend Shane feature prominently throughout the story. Lola was my least favourite bit of the novel, I liked Dana but I didn’t particularly warm to Annie (I have a funny feeling that Nathan didn’t warm to her that much either. If you've read Snapper, you'll know that notion is ironic.).

There were many times where I chuckled and even laughed out loud – so I suspect some readers may laugh a lot more (and some maybe a lot less). I have some favourite chapters, which serves to strengthen my notion that it reads like a collection of short stories. One example is the chapter titled Nationwide which tells about a town called Santa Claus, the hub of Santa letter writing. Some of the first chapters were very entertaining too.  There were also a good few chapters that sent little shivers down my spine – some of the characters or observations were quite chilling (often involving men with guns – even if they didn’t fire them).

This is one of those novels that is not very strong on moving plot. I’m usually quite happy with that but for some reason, I was expecting more of a crescendo. I’m not unhappy that it was missing but it did confuse me at first. The last few chapters pick up the pace and felt a bit out of place – again, that’s  mereflecting Nathan feelings! Does that suggest strong empathising with the main character on my part.....?

Snapper is an understated novel, and true to the narrator's character, the observations are as precise and considered as I'd expect from a young man who does birdwatching for a living. My response to the novel overall is mixed - a bit like the way Nathan feels about Indiana. Unlike Nathan’s relationship with Indiana, the ending left me just a tiny bit flat....yet I'm still smiling fondly.

Snapper is published as adult fiction but its content is suitable for readers of most ages.

Publication details: Tinder Press, 9 May 2013, London, hardback
This copy: uncorrected proof received for review from the publisher

Monday, 15 April 2013

Peggy Riley talks mothers & daughters (plus giveaway)

Talking about her debut novel, Amity & Sorrow, author Peggy Riley  said: "Perhaps that is what I am exploring here, questioning and challenging all the assumptions we make about mothers and daughters, of how families are made and lost." I loved Amity & Sorrow and couldn't resist asking her to explore this further for me as part of her blog tour. Very kindly, she agreed....... 
(Psst...there's an international giveaway at the end of the post too: signed hardback! Highly recommend it.)

UK hardback cover of Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley published by TinderpressPeggy Riley:

"Amity & Sorrow tells the story of two sisters and their mother.  But it also tells the story of their larger family, made in faith - a fundamentalist church with one man and his fifty wives.  In the novel, I’m interested in the idea of family, how they are created and how they come to fall apart. 

The very nature of family has changed.  Today, people see themselves as having two families:  those they are born to and those that they choose.  The families we choose – friends, colleagues, communities, causes – come to us passionately, ecstatically.  They are all the more special for being chosen.  But when the going gets rough, as it invariably does, they are easier to walk away from.  We can change and outgrow them.  We can change our minds about them.  We don’t have the burden of genes and history, of shared blood, to make us stay. 

I wanted to write about a family that was chosen, drawn together in faith by women who had little in common beside their shared husband.  In their communal faith, everything is shared.  Possessions and property.Husband, wives, children.  The women in the church at the centre of the novel are expected to share their children with one another, to raise another’s as their own.  But when the church catches on fire, Amaranth only runs her own daughters away.  She only takes her own ones.  She doesn’t stop for the other children, made by her husband with other mothers.  She only pays attention to her blood.  Out in a world they have never seen and don’t understand, Amity and Sorrow miss their family – the whole noisy clamour of it, all its skin and noise.  They haven’t been raised to value this one mother above all others.  They don’t know where their own bodies end and their siblings begin.  Can they learn how to be a family without the faith that made it?

I’m interested in the push and pull between our hearts and heads, our ideals and our bodies.  I’m interested in communal societies who try to make their love communal, their bodies communal.  I’m interested in how sister wives view one another in polygamous marriages.  Can you love a woman who loves your husband?  Is it really love, or is it a kind of a contract, a system of checks and balances to keep wives equal?  In households with multiple children and multiple wives, I would think it would be very hard not to feel closer to your own, the blood of the family that you are born to, and that it would be a struggle to love other mothers or children as much as your own.  But that is what their faith asks them to do.

And what of the children and their own expectations?  What of the babies born who are boys, who will be surplus to this polygamous faith, as the boys are in the fundamentalist Mormon communities of the West?  What of the daughters born?  Will they, too, want to be sister wives?  How much choice will these children have, raised in a world with so few options?  How much is any child’s life determined by her mother’s choices?  And what happens when a mother changes her mind and wants to go back to the world she left, a world her daughters have never seen?  And that is what the book is about, I suppose.  How influenced are we by our parents and their world?  How do we become – or stop becoming – our mothers?"
Amity & Sorrow explores these themes and issues beautifully. You can read M's review here and you can read Daddy Cool's review here.
Amity & Sorrow is Peggy Riley's debut novel.
International Giveaway - Signed Hardback!
Yep, that's right. A gorgeous hardcopy (I know, I have one) of Amity & Sorrow signed by the author, Peggy Riley. Plus, you'll get a #godsexfarming badge too (apart from the family themes, Amity & Sorrow really is about #godsexfarming!).
 Enter by leaving a comment (and if you win, I'll need to be able to contact you).

This is an international giveaway.

Please note, because we review a lot of children's books on this blog, due to parental responsibilities, safe internet usage and all that jazz, this giveaway is open to over 16s (if you're under 16, please get parental consent to enter).

The giveaway closes on Tuesday 23 April 2013. A winner will be chosen at random.


Amity & Sorrow blog tour

Friday, 12 April 2013

The Night She Disappeared - M's review

The Night She Disappeared by April Henry

Cover for The Night She Disappeared by April Henry
The Night She Disappeared by April Henry
The Night She Disappeared is a teen crime thriller. It is about the disappearance of Kayla Cutler (17) who disappears while making a pizza delivery. The story is told from a variety of perspectives and the novel feels a bit like you’re being presented with different bits of evidence so you can be the detective. Different chapters are told through people who knew Kayla, police reports, transcripts, notes and so on. I liked this.

While the main story is about Kayla’s case, a strong sub-plot is about how Drew and Gabie cope with the immediate aftermath, especially as they’re responsible for Kayla delivering pizza that particular night. Another sub-plot (and theme) is about how police – and others – deal with a missing persons enquiry.  I quite liked aspects of the novel although like many teen novels, there is a romantic undercurrent that I thought distracted from the main plot, and given the circumstances, it almost seemed out of place. On the whole, much of the novel portrays girls (rather than boys) as likely and potential victims (there is only one paragraph that questions aspects of this), and I think this could be alarming for some readers.

This is a very quick easy read.

I’m not familiar with crime fiction, neither adult nor teen (and tend to shy away from violent crime narratives). Little M reads (and loves) some thrillers – like Sophie McKenzie’s Girl, Missing series. We’ve both read and enjoyed Martyn Bedford’s Flip and Annabel Pitcher’s Ketchup Clouds which are thrillers with some crime elements in both novels.

Publication details: 2013, Walker, London, paperback
This copy: received from the publisher for review purposes


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Judging a Carnegie book by its cover - we like

We promised we'd try to give as many of the books on this year's Carnegie longlist a bit of 'coverage' (haha!). We reviewed quite a few of them but today we're looking at the covers that we liked the most. Just because we liked the covers doesn't always mean we liked the book or have even read it yet! Also, we never actually read any of them because of their covers!

A Face Like Glass - Frances Hardinge
Cover for A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
M: It looks....magical (but not in a wandy sort of way). There's a lot of detail and mood creation which reflect the novel. There's something about this cover that I find mesmerising.

Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater
Cover for The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Little M: It's cool; there's the shadow of a horse with squiggles and swirls in a heart shape.

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat - Dave Shelton
Cover for A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton
Little M: This one's cool. It looks like it has a real tea stain and that something's drawn on it. It reflects the book: tea stain and the map.

M: It's clever and makes all of us laugh when it fools people. I also keep looking at little bits of it; I even hold it up and turn it around.

Illustrated by the author, A Boy And A Bear In A Boat recently won a Kitschies 2012 Inky Tentacle (an award for cover art among the year's most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic).

Far Rockaway - Charlie Fletcher
Cover for Far Rockaway by Charlie Fletcher
M: I like the colours in the text and the swirls. It's an interesting cover.

Wonder - RJ Palacio
Cover for Wonder by RJ Palacio
Little M: The deformed face reflects the story.
M: I like the bold, contrasting colours and simple lines on a face that is clearly different. It stands out.

Unrest - Michelle Harrison
Cover for Unrest by Michelle Harrison
Little M: I like the burning words.
Jasmine Skies - Sita Brahmachari
Cover for Jasmine Skies by Sita Brahmachari
M: I liked the colours in this cover. They're warm. I like the swirls, they're inviting. And there are lots of little bits of detail that suggest an interesting story.
Little M: I like the colours; it looks like the sun's setting. The border has got so much going on but it's fun to look at.

Soldier Dog - Sam Angus
Cover for Soldier Dog by Sam Angus
Little M: I like the shadow; it's mysterious and reflects the novel.
M: It's a sentimental cover. Similar to a Michael Morpurgo book: you just know you're going to sob.

The Seeing - Diana Hendry
Cover for The Seeing by Diana Hendry
Little M: It's creepy and ghostly; it looks interesting.
M: The boy's face reminds me of Harry Potter (although the book is nothing like that really).

The Brides of Rollrock Island - Margo Lanagan
Cover for The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
M: I like the pastel colours; atmosheric (although the draped woman is a bit unsettling).
The Broken Road - BR Collins
M: Like The Brides of Rollrock Island, I like the pastel colours; looks interesting and appealing and makes me think of something hidden and faraway.

After the Snow - SD Crockett
Cover for After the Snow by SD Crockett
M: It's bold and I like how the illustration looks like it's printed on canvas (but isn't).

Call Down Thunder - Daniel Finn
Cover for Call Down Thunder by Daniel Finn
M: The colours are inviting: oranges, yellows, reds. It also looks like it's on textured canvas (but it's not). and I like the little shadows of running characters.

The Weight of Water - Sarah Crossan
Cover for The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Little M: I like the texture of it.
M: I like the small size, the matt texture and the blue text inside (okay, that last bit's not the cover!).
Sektion 20 - Paul Dowswell
Cover for Sektion 20 by Paul Dowswell
All three of us (M, Little M and Daddy Cool) thought this was a good cover that looked interesting.

PS. We liked some more covers on the longlist but we're saving those for a slightly different post :)
Next time, covers we weren't so keen on.

Monday, 8 April 2013

6 mini reviews - Little M

Six mini reviews about books Little M read in 2012 that she hasn't reviewed on the blog. Memories for the future.

The Giver - Lois Lowry
A wonderful dystopian. (M's read it too: we had a good discussion about we thought actually happens at the end - and we're still in two minds!)

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
A very, very funny book about a girl who is growing up. A brilliant novel.
(M: lots of Little M's friends borrow this book from us more than any other!)

The One Dollar Horse - Lauren St John
A sad story about a girl who finds a horse that will be sent to the slaughter house, but they save him for one dollar. An excellent, amazing book.

One Dog and His Boy - Eva Ibbotson
A sad book about a boy who wanted a dog so badly that when he got one he didn’t know it had to be returned at the end of the weekend. An excellent book.

Pig Heart Boy - Malorie Blackman
A very sad but hopeful book, it made me want to help the boy and punish the press that made the family unable to go anywhere. An excellent novel.

Follyfoot - Monica Dickens
Already can’t remember it! About a horse.

Friday, 5 April 2013

We sat down for a chat.....with Edyth Bulbring

Edyth Bulbring is a South African author who wrote the funny A Month With April-May (published in South Africa as Melly, Mrs Ho and Me). One of the things I loved in that novel was April-May's Cold Facts that ended each chapter. In true Cold Fact style, here's Edyth....


Seven Cold Facts About Me That Only My Best Friends Know
My dog Zwiggy. She’s actually not my dog; she belongs to my daughter Sophie. We got her from an animal shelter the day before the opening of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. I fell in love with her even though she has chewed her way through my leather chairs, my books, my garden, the seatbelts in my car and my twenty year old Doc Martens. (And that was just breakfast). We love Zwiggy so much that we take her on holiday with us. We can’t bear to leave her behind. On one occasion, flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg, she got free from the hold, leapt from the plane and was chased down the runway by a fire engine. She was found in the airport parking lot ten hours later.

Parts of Zwiggy and her friend, the dog who used to live next door (Alistair) appear in 100 Days of April-May, the sequel to A Month with April-May. In fact, this book is dedicated to Alistair, who was as awesome as Zwiggy.
Zwiggy, author Edyth Bulbring's dog
Zwiggy, Edyth Bulbring's dog
Umbrella. Not ever. I like the rain. I like getting wet. I live in a house on a hill in Johannesburg and during the summer months we get the most fantastic thunderstorms. They are so fierce they crack the sky in half and make your heart stop beating. When it rains, I like to go outside and walk around in my gumboots. But use an umbrella?  Never.

Author Edyth Bulbring's wellies/ gumboots
Edyth Bulbring's gumboots (pretty wellies!)
Names. Some people collect books, others hoard rude teacher notes and lunch box lids. I love names.  I suppose it’s because I have a weird one myself. When I was young I was called Weedy Eedy (in my skinny years) and Greedy Eedy (in my fat ones). And then there was Needy Eedy during those grim days when I ate school lunch in the cloakroom in case no one wanted to sit with me. And having a surname like Bulbring, has also lent itself to some creative abuse over the years. My name has given me a taste for names. I collect them and use them in my books. In A Month with April-May I chose April-May February’s name to illustrate how much at odds her parents were from the day she was born. They wanted to call her by their favourite month of the year – but couldn’t agree on what it was. In the sequel to this book, I call the large boy Fatty on the advice of a group of teenagers that Fatty was the cruellest of all names to call a fat person.  There is hardly a name in any one of my books that does not have a hidden meaning or a personal association for me.

Shopping Malls. I hate shopping malls as much as I hate standing in queues, filling in forms and cooking. Malls are big in South Africa. And because Johannesburg is the biggest city, we go even bigger on malls. When I go into a mall I start sweating and my chest closes up. So I buy most of my stuff from the Hospice Shop down the road, auctions and second hand shops. I buy clothes, furniture, books and crockery at these shops.  I have even bought a church pulpit.  It lives in my study and keeps my newspapers. Give me a second hand shop any day. I can’t bear new stuff that lives in malls.

Author Edyth Bulbring's pulpit whcih she bought secondhand
The pulpit!
Parallel parking. I just can’t do it. I would rather walk a mile than parallel park. I am also a very nervous passenger.  I have to sit in the back of the car when I am taking a lift because I get so agitated and irritate the diver so much. I think it’s because I know so many people who have been involved in car accidents. Killing off people on the roads is a South African sport.  We drink and drive too fast and cause accidents. When I was writing A Month with April-May, I had to give April-May’s father a job. And because he is such a lovely man, I decided to give him the job that is one of the most despised in this country -  the tow-truck driver - the vulture who is always at the scene of the accident to make a killing off someone else’s misery.

Well yes and no. Most of what I write about is based on things that I have experienced with my three children. I got the idea of A Month with April-May from my daughter, Sophie who was having a bad time with one of her teachers. And knowing my daughter, the teacher was probably having a rotten time of it too. It got me thinking about the effect that one teacher can have on the life of a child. And how teachers have the ability to make or break pupils – and vice versa. It also got me wondering about the miscommunication that happens between people and how sometimes it sets us off on a course of action we can’t stop, even when things are heading for a train smash. So I decided to write about a teacher and a student who butted heads and things got out of hand. In my daughter’s case, things didn’t end happily. Writing this book was a way of turning things around and giving the story a different ending.

Nothing. I lived across the road from school and after signing the register I used to walk home and spend the day reading. My mother didn’t seem to mind. But there was one teacher who made school bearable for me. Her name was Dr Ida Bell and she was my English Literature teacher. The thing I liked about her was that she didn’t sweat the small stuff. She didn’t care if we wore the regulation underwear or ate in class or chewed gum. She just wanted us to read and talk about books. Years after I left school I used to visit her and we would drink whiskey together and cry about the romantic poets. I dedicated A Month with April-May to her, and teachers like her.

The people behind Edyth's stories: Jack, Sophie and Emily


Thank you, Edyth, for sharing these cold facts with us! Love Zwiggy and those pretty wellies. And what a gorgeous photo of Jack, Sophie and Emily.

You can read our reviews of A Month with April May here.

PS. We're quoted in it (not the story, the pages that are before it)!