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Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick - review

“If a life can be ruined in a single moment, a moment of betrayal, or violence, or ill luck, then why can a life not also be saved, be worth living, be made, by just a few pure moments of perfection?”

Title: Midwinterblood
Author: Marcus Sedgwick

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Source: Purchased via Kindle Store
Available: Now
Buy it: Here

Synopsis

Eric and Merle, two souls in love, destined to find each other through seven existences.
An island, a hare, a flower and a promise of eternal life. All of these things intertwine as the Island of Blessed divulges it's history.

Review

Ok, first off - for three sentences, that synopsis was very hard to write! It's hard to put into words what the true synopsis of Midwinterblood was, exactly, as it is such an intricately written and constructed story - but I sure as hell enjoyed the ride.

The narrative of Midwinterblood is very fragmented, non-linear and episodic. Each chapter presents "Merle" and "Eric" in new bodies, new lives and new time periods. However, though this may sound confusing, each episode in the existence of these souls is linked via recurring themes; flowers, hares and love. The narrative is also circular. In the final chapter the reader is brought back to the beginning, and the fragmented tales take whole new shape and meaning.

The construct of the book, though, pales in significance to the mystery of the story itself. Midwinterblood is a wonderful example of magical realism and has a sense of pagan folklore about it. Though a love story at it's heart, each episode divulged a different secret that increased the sense of mystery; a childless community, the promise of eternal life, an empty half of an island, a hidden painting, a crying hare. Each one was a mini-tale in it's own right, preparing the reader for the novel's end.

In honesty, I am finding it quite hard to review Midwinterblood as I feel I need to read it a couple more times to fully appreciate what it has done. It was beautifully written and unique, a wonderful surprise and surpassing my expectation. However, I can't help but feel I have not "got it" all yet. I feel there are things I haven't picked up on, or messages hidden within the text I haven't worked out.

I guess the greatest accolade I can give this book is that I most definitely do want to read it all again to work these things out :)

Overall

Midwinterblood is a beautifully written book with a haunting effect. I do not feel I have fully unlocked it's greatness (and I do believe it's there) but I look forward to re-reads in the future to try and do just that!

Score 
★★★
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GUEST POST: Sarah Pinborough on bringing Victorian London to life

To coincide with the release of Murder (the sequel to Mayhem) I had the opportunity to ask author Sarah Pinborough about creating the rich, gritty setting in her novels; Victorian London. Here is what she had to say! - thanks so much to Sarah and Jo Fletcher Books for arranging this post :)

Bringing Old London To Life, by Sarah Pinborough

The great thing about working in Victorian London, as it were, is that we all already have an image of it in our heads. The worst thing about working in Victorian London is also that we all already have an image of it in our heads. It's wonderful that readers can already almost picture the setting before starting, but Queen Victoria lived for a very long time and in a similar way to the late-Twentieth century, things changed quite quickly back then. We, however, tend to envisage it entirely as Dickensian London.


In both Mayhem and Murder I have very middle-class characters, but they do spend a lot of time in the rough and overcrowded East End – either hunting killers or visiting opium dens – and I wanted to get these elements of the city right. I have to say here – thank god for the Internet. There is a treasure trove of first person articles and contemporary accounts of the East End of the late 1880s, and I read many of these to get a flavour of what walking through the poorest parts of the city was like. The details of the people and streets that these writers provided was invaluable in bringing London to life for me. As was research into the opium dens, which weren't as widespread or heavily-used as we might believe from reading Sherlock Holmes.


Although Murder is a sequel to Mayhem, the action takes place several years later, and it is a much more claustrophobic and personal story than the first, although it still has the backdrop of real life murders and events (in both novels I have interspersed real newspaper reports between the chapters). For these, the Times Archives were my first port of call. For two pounds or so a month you can trawl through their database which goes back hundreds of years and, just by putting in the right search parameters, you can find all the insight into Vicitorian society you could want. In fact, interestingly, when Mayhem came out, one reviewer said that I'd got the tone of Victorian language right, apart from in the newspaper articles, which felt a bit 'modern', which once again shows the difference between how we see Victorian London and how it was. They weren't that far behind us in their expression of views and thoughts, despite living in a society that was insistent on politeness and morality.


For me, the most important thing, with writing Murder especially, was to get the motivations of the characters right. Society may have been different at the end of the nineteenth century, but people weren't. Their desires and hopes and dreams, both dark and otherwise, were the same as ours. People murdered and loved for the same reasons we do. It's only how those feelings were couched for the outside world that was different. The wonderful thing about Victorian London – and sadly perhaps our own society today – is that there were impoverished seedy areas rife with desperation and crime, contrasted sharply with the sophisticated elegance of middle-class living. How perfect to use the city as a metaphor for the dark and light of each of our souls.

Once again, thanks so much to Sarah for her post, and don't forget to pre-order Murder here!
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Riot by Sarah Mussi - review

"HANDS OFF!"

Title: Riot
Author: Sarah Mussi

Publisher: Hachette Children's Books
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Available: May 1st 2014
Buy it: Pre-order here

Synopsis

Tia is leading the rebellion against the Snip Bill, an act that her politician father is forcing upon the UK population in order to keep human numbers under control. The bill entails mandatory sterilization for all those in the "lower classes" with no plans for further education or work past college. The country is angry, and when a peaceful demonstration Tia helps organise turns into a full-blown riot, she finds herself in the unlikely company of yobs as she plans to expose her father and his secrets to the media.

Review

The premise of Riot got me very interested, as did the great cover art. A gritty YA set in London seemed just the thing for me after the dystopian fictions I have read lately, and Riot starts of very well. We are introduced to Tia - a politically active computer whizz and politicians daughter who is also known as EVE on the internet's "underground" - in the midst of a demonstration gone wrong. The pacing is quick and breathless as the situation escalates and mob mentality sweeps across the crowd. As the reader, I felt right in the midst of the action, not sure where the writing would turn next.This was true of the whole story, and I never once felt the pace dropping.

However, as much as I loved the fury with which Riot is written, I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Tia, despite being a very independent spirit, is constantly "being saved" by her "yob" crush. It got weary, knowing that any situation Tia found herself in would be quickly resolved by the appearance of Cobain, an ex-convict who has been waging war against the government in his own way for years.

I also wasn't so keen on the portrayal of Tia's father. He felt like a Bond villain - so much so I'm surprised he didn't have a cat - but there were no shades to him. In a book where pretty much everyone and everything has been misconstrued and misinterpreted, Tia's father was a cardboard cut-out villain, with no sense of love or humanity, and was ultimately a father who was ready to kill his daughter for his fabricated beliefs. It just didn't sit right with me...

Overall

Riot is a fast paced thrill ride that falls flat to a few plot devices. I think those looking for a quick UKYA read would like Riot, but those who want more from their characters in terms of development and integrity should probably look elsewhere.

Score 
★★
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HAPPY EASTER!


I just wanted to wish all of my readers a very happy Easter holiday weekend. I hope the weather is great, that you're surrounded by loved ones and happiness - and, of course, that you have been treated to some yummy chocolate :)

Enjoy the long weekend, all!


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Tease by Amanda Maciel - review

"We didn't mean to hurt anyone."

Title: Tease
Author: Amanda Maciel

Publisher: Hachette Children's Books
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Available: May 1st 2014
Buy it: Pre-order here

Synopsis

Emma Putnam is dead. She killed herself and now her parents are going to court to accuse the people who they believe are responsible for her death. One of those people is Sara Wharton. However, Sara feels the whole thing is unfair - she isn't a bully, she's actually, in her opinion, the victim in all of this. Or is she?

Review

I have never, in all my years of reading, had such a turn-around of opinion on one book as I did with Tease. I almost didn't finish it. At 10% I was ready to put it down and move on to the next book. I found the main character and protagonist, Sara, completely unlikeable to the point of irritation; she was obstinate, selfish, brash... and then something happened. Every time I told myself I would stop at the end of the paragraph, I would find myself reaching the end of a chapter... and so on, until at about 15/20% I was hooked.

The fact is, character development in Tease soars through the roof. Slowly, I was warming to Sara - and what got me through those first difficult sections was the unflinching storyline. I needed to know what happened. Whether I liked the people telling me or not, I wanted to know how this book ended.

Tease is not a comfortable read. Amanda Maciel places the reader in the mind of a very impressionable girl under some very serious circumstances. Accused of bullying Emma to the point of suicide alongside her high school friendship group, Sara recounts the moments that lead to the day she heard of the news of Emma's death. It is the uncensored, totally believable, decent into peer pressure of a young girl wanting to escape the weight of family life on her shoulders.

Tease won't be for everyone, but I think the unique POV given by Sara is an important look at the causes of bullying, and may help alert some young people to the dangers of how their actions can be interpreted differently by others outside of their "bubble".

Overall

A daring and gripping novel that presents some uncomfortable questions and bristly characters to the reader. I was initially luke-warm to this book but after the 15% mark I was hooked. Maciel may receive a lot of criticism for what she has done with Tease, but I feel this is a book that needs to be read.

Score 
★★★
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The Notebook Project - April update

Back in February, I launched a little personal project; The Notebook Project. You can read all about it in my launch post, if you're wondering what the heck I'm on about! I promised an update in April, to report back on how I'm getting on - and I'm pleased to say that although I worried I wouldn't have anything to show, it has been going quite well!

A large part of the start of the project has been purely organisational - assigning notebook uses, arranging where best to keep the notebooks in order to remember to use them, making sure there's always a pen nearby etc etc! Such little things I never thought about before, but which have really helped me keep on track.

In my last post I listed the uses I had in mind for the notebooks, and I have to admit some of those have changed since. Also, I am still not using all of my unused notebooks yet, but have made a solid start on at least 3!

First up, is the book that has developed the world's longest title, and a partner!

The Recipe Book that has warped into a Scrapbook For Recipes which later get upgraded to The Recipe Box if successful and yummy! 



I found I was collecting a lot of recipes from magazines and stowing them away, but never looking through them, copying them out or even cooking them! So, to sort this out, I have created a recipe scrapbook from my original designated Recipe Book, and aim to work steadily through the ones I haven't tried. Any emerging favourites will get upgraded to a recipe card, to live in a gorgeous new recipe box I found!

So far, I only have one "upgraded" recipe, but hopefully it will be much more full in time for the next update.

The Recipe Box!

Secondly, I'm making good progress on my Book Notes notebook. The tiny size of this notebook means I can slip it inside my kindle case or even use it as a bookmark, so it's always ready for scribbles as I'm page turning!

Last up for this update is my beautiful mint green notebook, which I shared in my Kikki.K Haul post. I have used it for every-day Lists and Scribbles so far, and a bit of a work journal. It's perfect for stashing away in my bag, and the cover provides a great space for keeping sticky notes and decorations!
Perfect for all my bits and pieces!Organised, day to day.

Ill be back with another update in July!
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The Three by Sarah Lotz - review

"They're here ... The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there's so many ... They're coming for me now. We're all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he's not to- ..."

Title: The Three
Author: Sarah Lotz

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Available: May 22nd 2014
Buy it: Pre-order Here

Synopsis

Three planes, totally unrelated, crash shortly after take off. As the world receives the news, reports emerge of three child survivors - the only survivors from any of the planes. How did they escape unharmed? And what did the recovered phone message left by Pamela May - deceased in the Japanese crash - mean? "The boy, watch the boy..."

Review

Wow, how do I even begin to review this book? There is a lot of hype around The Three already and I have to say it's entirely justified. The book is a mysterious thriller in a style reminiscent of classic King. The writing itself it taut and suspenseful - told in collected reports, interviews and news clippings - and these give enough detail, bit by bit, to keep the reader enticed, yet always fall short of a full answer! I was turning pages at rapid speed as the mystery and theories surrounding the three "survivors" mounted.

Creeping and explosive, the writing has moments of horror greatness as Sarah Lotz builds the characters of The Three in such a way as to lead the reader's assumptions, then counter them in shock - and sometimes blood.

The voices of the many characters giving reports and interviews are each individual and idiosyncratic. Lotz characterises the recurring characters in such a way as to make the reader feel as if they know them, then has the reader question what they thought they knew as a more objective voice sheds a new light upon a person or event. It's a rollercoaster ride of knowing which narrator to trust, and it's entirely enjoyable.

The only slight negative I have to say about The Three, is that the end conclusion is a bit slow compared to the rest of the book, which - after so much racing to reach this point - feels like a drop in momentum, almost as if the writer wasn't sure where to take it. As it is, the denoument is left ambiguous. Other readers may feel this is a suitable end, and I do too, but I would have been jumping out of my chair and through the roof with praise if I'd been given a solid answer to the mystery that had blown me away.

Overall

Brilliantly paced and unique, The Three deserves the hype currently amounting around it and more. The novel feels like a throwback to a time of horror masters, and belongs on the book shelf beside them. I want to be first in line to see what Sarah Lotz does next!

Score 
★★★★★
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How to choose your next book: Origami stars DIY

Never know how to choose your next book from your pile? Let me help! I have a series of fun ways to help you decide, from crafts to games!



First up is:  
The origami star jar!
This just looks so adorable sat on your bookshelf, it's one of my favourite ways to randomly select a title. Here's how to make one of your own!

You will need:

Sheets of A4 paper (patterened or coloured sheets work well!)
Scissors
A small jar
Washi Tape to decorate

How to make the stars!



1. Select the piece of paper you would like to use.

2. Cut a strip along the length, about 1.5cm thick.

3. Write the title of a book from your list on the "inside" (The non-patterned side if using patterned paper.)

4. Loop the strip, pattern-side up if using patterned paper...

5. Then proceed to tie a flat "knot", with about a 1cm overhang,

6. Fold and tuck the overhang inside the pocket you have just created.

7. Now, to wrap up your pentagon! Loop the long excess over the pocket to the opposite side of the shape. Then flip and repeat. you should end up working round each uncovered edge. Keep these loops quite loose. If it's too tight your star won't pop later!

8. Keep going until you can't loop any more, or until you have about 1.5cm left.

9. Tuck the excess into the topmost pocket. You have a pentagon! Now to make it a star...

10. Pinch gently at the corner to puff out the centre and create points.

11. Ta-da! You have your first star! Now... to make many, many more!

When you have a collection of stars, you will need to keep them together. I love using a small jar, as I think it looks really cute on the bookshelf :) I've decorated mine with some washi tape, but you could use anything!



And there you have it. Just pull out a star and unwrap to discover your next read!
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The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer - review

A good thing about talking to someone who is standing behind you is that you can pretend you don't know they're crying, and not trouble yourself too much with working out why. You can simply concentrate on helping them feel better.” 

Title: The Shock Of The Fall
Author: Nathan Filer

Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Purchased from Kindle Store
Buy it: Here

Synopsis

As a young boy, Matthew Homes experiences a family holiday that will haunt him for the rest of his life; it is a trip in which his beloved brother Simon loses his life. As Matthew grows up without ever coming to terms with his guilt about the events that unfolded that night, he finds himself suffering from a mental illness both comforting and worrying. Working with (and often against) the care centre, his family and his own will power, Matthew navigates his way through his own story, to an uncomfortable acceptance.

Review

The Shock of the Fall is the winner of the 2013 Costa First Novel Award, and I can see why. The book is written from the point of view of Matthew as he recounts to the reader the events before, and after, the death of his brother - up to his eventual breakdown, diagnosis and treatment for schizophrenia.

The emotion is highly wrought throughout the book, as we are aligned with Matthew's struggles and witness his mental suffering. Despite this, there are many moments of joy too. The moments Matthew shares with his "Nanny Noo" are simultaneously lovely and heartbreaking, and the same can be said of his friendship with Jacob.

The author has himself worked as a nurse in mental health wards, and his experience in the field comes across wonderfully in his portrayal of the world Matthew inhabits. There is a lot of unflinching honesty in the representation of care centres and their staff, but also a deeper understanding of the implications and reasons why things are as they are. This personal experience from the author really gave the book a depth beyond the usual "schizophrenic" story line, in which the reader is very often only presented the world inside the sufferers head, and not the support systems around them.

I am not ashamed to admit I sobbed like a baby towards the end of the book. Characters I never even expected to illicit such a reaction from me did so with surprising effect. The book leaves things perfectly, with a sense of hope and a sense of closure. I thought The Shock of the Fall was absolutely wonderful.

Overall

The Shock of the Fall is a highly emotional read, full of honesty and wonderful characters. Living in Bristol myself, I felt possibly more aligned to the sense of place than most, but really think the sense of life in the city was well portrayed. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in, or experience of, mental health - I found it to be an insightful and sensitive book and I cannot wait for Nathan Filers next novel!

Score 
★★★


Additional: I am attending an author event with Nathan Filer on April 10th. Shall post about it soon!
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