Reviews

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

dead

I came across a cover reveal for this book some time ago, and immediately had to look it up. It sounded intriguing, so I started chatting on Dawn on twitter, and I knew this was a book I’d have to get hold of. I finally managed to get an early copy (thank you NIna!) and I managed to finish it just before YALC (YA Literature Convention). I took that proof copy with me for Dawn to sign, but as soon as I saw the finished version, I had to buy that as well – and apparently it sold out on the day!

So, what’s it about? Let’s have a look at the back cover…
deadback

I love the little bit at the top!

The book is written in a way which looks back at the Johnson Incident, and it explores it using diary entries, transcripts of videos, police interviews etc, along with little notes by the (unknown) author. This is a risky approach, but Dawn does it brilliantly, and there were many times that I believed I was reading about a real event, and I had to keep reminding myself that it was fiction!

As for the main character – well, Carly and Kaitlyn as two girls who share the same body, and it’s not clear whether this is a ‘multiple personality disorder’ as their psychiatrist believes, or two souls sharing the same body, as their friend Naida insists. Carly ‘exists’ during the day, and Kaitlyn at night.

The story is told from Kaitlyn’s point of view, with little glimpses into Carly’s world. As the information starts to come together, we start to discover more and more about Kaitlyn, the people who share her life, and the events leading up to the fire.

This book is beautifully written, and the layout brings out all of the nuances of each piece of information.It’s a study of mental illness, it’s a psychological thriller, it’s horror. It’s dark, it’s creepy, and extremely chilling.  Kaitlyn somehow gets into your head, and the story is so compelling. It’s published by Indigo on 6th August, and it’s going to be BIG.

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Darkmere by Helen Maslin

darkmere

A castle. A curse. One dangerous holiday … Kate and her friends are spending the summer at Darkmere Castle in Devon which she thinks will be a perfect opportunity for her to get together with Leo. But instead, she s drawn into the dark story of an nineteenth-century girl who haunts the tunnels and towers of the house … and whose curse now hangs over them all.

Darkmere is described by the publisher as ‘Heart-stopping, gothic and dangerous’ and I would certainly agree. I was sent a review copy prior to YALC (YA Literature Convention) and by about halfway I was searching through amazon to find out what else the author had written. I was certainly surprised to find out that this is her first book!

I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but there are two cleverly intertwined stories. The first is a very modern one, with a group of teens taking a holiday in an inherited castle. The castle has been inherited by Leo, and he is very much in charge of the group. Kate has always felt an outsider, but hopes that being invited along by Leo will help her to finally fit in.

The other story is an historical one, telling the tale of Elinor, who’s also an outsider trying to fit in. She marries St Cloud, and becomes Mistress of Darkmere, but life there is not what she expected.

The thing which I loved about Helen’s writing is that the two main characters had such distinctive voices.. moving between the two times was an easy transition, as each told their own story in their own way. And yet, despite the different times and storylines, and the distinct voices, there were lots of similarities. At no point did one strand pull you away from the other, they complimented each other so well.

The two stories become more and more entwined, as Kate starts to question whether Darkmere is haunted. Helen writes scenes which create just the right level of unease.. it’s not a scary book as such, but certain parts are rather creepy. It builds to a tense, heart-stopping conclusion.

Darkmere is a dark YA novel, with lots to appeal to both teens and older readers. I loved the characters, the storylines, and the writing, and this is a well crafted novel. It also has a gorgeous cover! It’s out at the beginning of August, and I highly recommend it.

Published by Chicken House Books

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Drawn by Chris Ledbetter

drawn by chris ledbetterTitle: Drawn
Author: Chris Ledbetter
ASIN: B00UGRG8SK
ISBN: 978-1772333763
Publisher: Evernight Teen
First Published: 5 June 2015 (Kindle) / 3 June 2015 (paperback)
No .of pages: 282

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Caught between the sweltering fall landscape of Wilmington, NC beaches and southern illusions and expectations, all sixteen year-old Cameron Shade thinks about is art. That, and for Farrah Spangled to view him as more than just a friend. Cameron hopes he can win her heart through art. After several warm interactions with Farrah, including painting together at the beach, Cameron discovers just how complex Farrah’s life is. Following a tense run-in with Farrah’s father, she forbids Cameron to speak to her again, but Cameron’s convinced there’s more behind the request. To impress Farrah, Cameron sketches her portrait into a mysterious sketchbook. He nearly jumps from his skin when the sketch moves and communicates with him. Farrah is now in grave danger because the sketch he drew of her sucked her real-life’s soul into the sketchbook. Cameron now has twenty days to extract Farrah. To save her, he must draw himself into the book. If he fails… they both die.

Review:
I don’t read an awful lot of teen fiction, but when I do, I only enjoy it if the premise is original and daring and grabs me from the get-go.

Let’s just say, I enjoyed this book!

Chris Ledbetter has done something few have done, and that is to write a teenaged boy with whom I, as a woman (and once, a teenaged girl) can relate. I felt for Cameron, I felt for him deeply, and was able to sink into his emotions and passion for art quite effortlessly. Farrah wasn’t quite so well, ahem, drawn as Cameron, but as she was not the main character, only the focus for Cameron’s growing affections, this was understandable – she was attractive, but as a reader I knew little about her, which was pitched very well, as Cameron didn’t really know all that much about her beyond the basics and his attraction for her.

The premise for the story was cleverly thought out and written with a light touch that lifted it above the ordinary – a heavier hand would have thrown everything out of balance and crushed the plot entirely. Its an unusual take on a Pygmalian-type of fantasy, where an artist brings his work of art to life, and falls in love with her, only Cameron is already falling for Farrah before he creates her Echo.

There was a tinge of sadness about the tale too – Ledbetter doesn’t shy away from the darker and more upsetting trials of teen and family life, and the complications inherent in relationships, whether familial, platonic, or romantic – and that’s refreshing. Yet, it never becomes maudlin – that lightness of touch and tone keeps things buoyant and ensures the reader doesn’t sink into depression while turning the pages. It’s a fine line, but Ledbetter walks it well.

Even if you don’t read young adult/teen fiction, don’t discount this book – it’s worth the effort and may just change your mind!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

See my interview with the author HERE

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Wow. Honestly, wow. I’d been told this book was good, so I hoped for good. I got ‘wow’.  Uprooted is a fantasy story imbued with a feeling of fairytales – set in the surrounding areas of an evil wood and starting with a Dragon taking a girl away to his tower. This is essentially as much information as the reader is given on the back of the book, and I am grateful for having no clue where the story was going to go, because I loved just immersing myself in the world and going with the flow. My review might be a tad short simply because I want to retain that mystery for any potential readers – do not read anything about the plot before reading it!

Novik’s world is captivating and her story compelling. Just the right amount of world-building is employed to create an enchanting setting for a story that takes its time but is never dull. Although quite a chunky read, I tore through it in a couple of days, dying to find out what would happen.The prose is lyrical and light – Novik uses words like rich, vibrant colours in a painting. The descriptions of how Nieshka and the Dragon weave their magic are more metaphorical than literal, and are not just original and clever but also significantly contribute to the feeling of artistry surrounding this book. Everything about Uprooted has the feeling of an old fireside folktale being recollected for modern readers. Not just a simple tale of good and evil, there’s a real heart to this one.

I actually feel that this would be a great starting point for people wanting to get into the fantasy genre – I’m not an avid reader of fantasy myself but this book had just the right mix of all the best elements of fantasy to make it a wholly satisfying read. Highly recommended.

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The Glass Demon by Helen Grant

glass-demon-uk-200

The first death

Seventeen-year-old Lin Fox finds a body in an orchard. As she backs away in horror, she steps on broken glass.

The second death

Then blood appears on her doorstep – blood, and broken glass.

The third death

Something terrible is found in the cemetery. Shards of broken glass lie by a grave.

Who will be next?

As the attacks become more sinister, Lin doesn’t know who to trust. She’s getting closer to the truth behind these chilling discoveries, but with each move the danger deepens.

Because someone wants Lin gone – and won’t give up until he’s got rid of her and her family. Forever.

After a discussion about YA thrillers and horror, Helen kindly arranged for her publisher to send me out a copy of The Glass Demon to try. Helen seems to be classed as a YA writer, but this particular book would definitely appeal to all age groups (as do many YA books, of course).

It’s actually a difficult book to classify, as it’s unclear for most of the story whether this is a straightforward thriller, or if there’s a supernatural element. I felt this added just the right level of uneasiness, and I won’t spoil the story for anyone by revealing which it is.

The story revolves around a mysterious set of stained glass windows – most people deem them to no longer exist, and yet there are some who believe they are hidden away. Lin’s father is a historian, and the Allerheiligen Glass is his latest obsession. The Glass is also meant to be haunted by a demon, who can kill anyone who looks at him.

As people start to die around Lin, and strange things occur, she realises that her and her family are in danger, but she doesn’t know who from.

Add to this that she’s been taken by her father to Germany, and she’s trying to fit into a new school, and cope with the attention of their nearest neighbour, Michael!

As I said, there’s a really good level of threat and unease about this book – there’s lots of tension, which keeps you reading, there is danger, and yet it’s not too disturbing. I think this is the key to the wide range of audience.. I would recommend this to both teen readers, and older (like myself!). Oh, and I’ve added all of Helen’s books to my wishlist! :)

Recommended!

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The Territory by Sarah Govett

territoryanne1_0

At this time of the year, there are many young people revising for, and taking exams, and we all know there’s a lot of pressure on them. However, imagine if a failure could mean being sent to your death…

Noa lives in a near-future where climate change and flooding have drastically reduced the amount of liveable land, now known as The Territory. To be allowed to stay, children at 15 must achieve a high pass on their exams. The rest are sent to the Wetlands, where conditions mean a life of misery, and often death.

If that isn’t difficult enough, the richest children have been equipped with a ‘node’, which allows them to download the information needed for their exams – exams which are based more on fact recall than application…

Sarah has managed to achieve a lot with this book. On one level it’s a compelling dystopian story, and her world building is so well done that this future world feels very real, and scarily close! The flooding which led to the Territory formation is explained, as is the technology available for the rich.

Running through the story however, are also thought-provoking issues, which will make you think a little more about our education system, rich and poor, politics, the climate etc.

Then added to this, is a very real day to day story of a teenager, as she deals with issues of friendship and relationships, school and study.

Despite all this going on, it’s a fast paced story, which kept me turning those pages to find out what would happen next. It has a satisfying conclusion, but is all set up for the rest of the trilogy, which I’m waiting impatiently for.

Firefly Press kindly sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and is my first experience of this new publisher. I will certainly checking out more of their books, and have already bought Lost On Mars.

Published by Firefly Press April 2015

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Phoenix Yard Books – Colouring for Adults

And now for something a little different… you may have heard that ‘colouring for adults’ has become popular, and indeed it’s something I have started to do myself. The lovely people at Phoenix Yard Books spotted my new hobby on twitter, and offered to send me their new range to take a look at.

mandalaThe largest is the Mandala Colouring book. Mandalas are repetitive, circular designs, and they are traditionally used as sources of wisdom and meditation.

There are a variety of designs, some with intricate patterns, and others with thicker lines. Due to the size, this probably best done on a table rather than whilst sitting in a comfy chair, but it does boast thick paper – there was certainly no showing through when I used pen, but I haven’t yet tried paint.

books

The next set of three books are of a smaller size, and these are the ones I’d personally use more often. They’re the size of a large paperback book, and each offer a variety of pages to colour. The first is for ‘grown-up children’, which is designed to make colouring acceptable for older children. Some pages have animals, buildings or scenes, but are nothing like traditional colouring books, plus there are lots of patterns.

The next two are for adults – again there are some pages with animals, buildings etc, but these have a definite ‘grown-up’ feel to them, plus there are lots of patterns.

One problem with these is that the paper is a little thinner. For me, this isn’t a problem, because I much prefer pencils, but when I did try with some fineliners, I could see some of the colour on the reverse side. The publishers do state however that they are suitable for pencils, crayons, and some paints.

travelThe final offering is a travel version. This has less pages, which makes it lighter, it comes in a slipcase, and the spiral binding makes it much easier to work on one page at a time. Again, it offers a combination of patterns, animals and buildings.

I have to admit that I personally prefer animals, scenes etc, and I tend to avoid the patterns. For me, it’s a way to be a little artistic, and I like to see something come to life as I colour it. However, others use these books for meditation, mindfulness etc, and may prefer the patterns.

I have to be honest, if you prefer scenes, I would have to recommend the Johanna Barsford books – but if you’re unsure, these books do provide a wide range of pages to choose from, with lots of variety, so you can find out what it is you prefer.

Published by Phoenix Yard Books – thank you again for letting me try them.

 

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The Imagination Box by Martyn Ford

boxThere is a box. Anything you imagine will appear inside. You have one go, one chance to create anything you want. What would you pick?”

Tim is an adventurous 10 year old who lives in the hotel his adoptive parents run. When a professor stays in the hotel, Tim discovers his invention, and is able to make it work. When the professor goes missing, Tim joins up with the professor’s granddaughter to work out what’s going on.

There’s quite a mix within this book – firstly is the main adventure, complete with crazy scientists, people who aren’t who they seem, and the technology. Within are also other issues, such as Tim’s relationship with his adoptive parents, and overcoming his fears.

Central to the story is of course the Imagination Box, asking the reader to consider for themselves.. just what would they wish for for themselves? One of the first things Tim makes is a finger monkey – of course – who’s probably the star of the story. The monkey is called Phil, he talks, and he loves chocolate and bananas!

The Imagination Box is the first in a trilogy, aimed at age 9+, with a mix of adventure and humour.

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Early Review: Way Down Dark by James Smythe

wddThere’s one truth on Australia.

You fight or you die.

Usually both.

Way Down Dark is published in July, but I’d been begging the publishers for an early copy for a long time. I’d read The Machine by the same author, and I was interested to see what James would do with a YA book.

Chan lives on a large spaceship, which was sent away from a dying Earth hundreds of years ago. The ship is now not fairing much better, not only is it physically falling apart, but the society within has become dangerous and violent, with various gangs.

Chan has learnt to take care of herself, she knows her way around most of the ship, and knows which parts to avoid. As a particularity violent gang attempts to take over more of the ship, things start to change.

Just as I thought I had a grasp on the book, something unexpected happens, and everything changes drastically. I’m not going to go into that, and I hope other reviewers stay clear too.. it’s s turning point in the book which I want everyone to discover for themselves!

Personally, I found the final part of the book to be a little rushed, and I struggled with some of the information being given. This is part of a trilogy, and I wonder if this part could have finished at a slightly different, earlier part. It is rather a cliffhanger ending, but that can’t really be avoided.

Despite these slight negatives, the strength of this book is in it’s fast paced storyline, and the darkness of life on the ship. It’s a cliché, but it’s a book which you literally won’t want to put down, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where James is going to take the story in part two.

Highly recommended!

Published by Hodderscape July 2nd 2015

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True Face by Siobhan Curham

trueface

Don’t show me your tweet-face

Or ur txt spk

Show me your True Face 

And let your heart speak.

Siobhan Curham has an important message for young people in her book – to work out who they are, and to be themselves. It’s backed up by a website http://www.truefacerevolution.co.uk and it’s obviously something she’s very passionate about.

The first part of the book encourages the reader to keep a journal, and Siobhan guides them through exercises to work out what they were like as children, and what they want to be right now, whilst turning the inner negative voice into a positive one.

After this, she looks at being yourself in various circumstances, such as dating, friendship, finding your style etc.

Whilst it’s aimed at young people, there are aspects within which any age group can make use of – although I would really like to see a version aimed at older readers, who may have very different types of negative aspects and experiences to overcome and turn around.

I’m not sure that many teenagers would fully engage in the journal aspect of the book, but it’s done in such as way that it’s not essential.. it’s quite possible to consider the aspects in your mind, although taking more time with it may help. Overall though, the messages within this book are so important, and I hope it makes its way into every school library – and I hope young people start to take notice!

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