Archive for April, 2012

Love Books Will Travel: Steampunk Soiree with Gail Carriger

What: A Steampunk Soiree, Book Talk and Signing

Who: Gail Carriger and Lauren O’Farrell

Where: Foyles
Charing Cross Rd

When: Monday the 9th of April

Why: To Promote Timeless (The Parasol Protectorate #5): Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire’s second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell’s acting troupe’s latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a damper on Alexia’s enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.
Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?

Now I have to begin this report by confessing that I haven’t read any of Gail’s work prior to attending this event. Her book Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate #1) has been sat on my Amazon wish list for quite a while but, like a lot of books undeserving of my maltreatment, has been buried as other books have been added on top of it. However I absolutely adore Cassandra Clare’s:The Infernal Devices series and I’ve enjoying dipping in to Trisha Telep’s anthology, Corsets and Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances so I thought I’d take the opportunity to learn a bit more about this genre and one of its authors.

The first thing I discovered (while queuing) is that I was underdressed. Jeans and trainers just don’t cut it at a Steampunk soiree! Steampunk fans take their fashions very seriously. The majority of gathered fans were liberally sprinkled with goggles, top hats, visible corsets and clockwork mechanisms with about a third of those gathered, including Gail Carriger herself, kitted out from head to toe in Victorian inspired regalia.

The second thing that steampunk enthusiasts, or at least Gail Carriger fans, take very seriously is Tea, a sentiment I embrace whole heartily. On entering The Gallery at Charring Cross Foyles, the room had been set up as a tea parlour, complete with towering cake stands of fondant fancies, fairy cakes and jam tarts with bucketloads of hot, strong tea, poured from colourful, assorted sized tea pots. I partook of three cups of perfectly made tea, but decided to shun the confection following the chocolate excess of the Easter weekend.

Once the accompanied guests were all suitably fed and watered we were introduction to Craft book writer extraordinaire Lauren O’Farrell, author of Stitch London. I loved her knitted book covers and her knitted octopus (knitted from used plastic carrier bags). Alas I have not a single crafting bone in by body so I’ll just have to admire such creations from afar!

Gail Carriger began her segment of the evening reading from Soulless. Despite her very American accent 😉 Gail beautifully brought to life her very English characters and read a passage that highlighted an eye for detail and a delightfully British tongue in cheek humour. I really can’t wait to start this series.

A question and answer session revealed that Gail’s writing process begins with a single scene, which she visualises like a scene from a movie, and the rest of the novel takes shape around it. Soulless, originally intended as a standalone novel, began with Gail visualising a couple of proper Victorian ladies discussion how one of them had accidently killed a vampire the previous evening.

Initially attracted to the aesthetic of the steampunk movement, Gail felt that it was the perfect genre to combine her love of Victoriana  and her interest in science (particularly medical science) with her desire to write about immortals and their influence over history. A lot of the kookier parts of the history of the British Empire, it can be explained, by werewolves soldiers in the British army and vampires as members of the aristocracy!

Tea is absolutely vital to Gail’s writing process! Growing up with a British ex pat mother, Gail was weaned on tea, starting with milk and a dash of tea and graduating to a strong builders brew. Each afternoon after school her family would take tea, a tradition she keeps to this day. If she’s had a good writing day she will treat herself to a little chocolate with her tea. In fact Gail’s writing is dependent a personal reward system; one good days writing equals Chocolate, when she finishes a draft she treats herself to sushi and a finished book brings new shoes!

When asked how she would imagine her vampires would fair in an encounter with a certain modern incarnation of *cough* vegetarian vampires Gail replied that she likes to say that her vampires sparkle… because they are fabulous!

I came away with a signed copy of Soulless in traditional paperback form and the Soulless graphic novel, a first for me.

Verdict: A thoroughly enjoyable event enhanced with lashings of tea and a very humorous hostess. Now please excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, while I go and Google corsets!

Post by Caroline

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Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Tale of the Terrible Secret

Kristina Stephenson

Listen…. have you heard? There’s a terrible secret hidden in a well – a well in the keep of a creepy castle that teeters on top of a hill. Follow Sir Charlie Stinky Socks, his faithful cat Envelope and his good grey mare, as they dare to enter that fearful place and let the secret out! Oh my!

This book was recommended to us by preschool. They have been using it in a display recently and commented on how much my son loved it. They weren’t wrong.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks, his cat Envelope and his good grey mare go in search of adventure and in this book they find it in a crumbling castle at the top of a very large hill. In the past couple of weeks the sound of sobbing has made it down to the bottom of the hill, but the people in the village there have been too scared to investigate. That is until Sir Charlie Stinky Socks comes along! What follows is an adventure in which Sir Charlie is a fearless knight and one that discusses the importance of always telling the truth.

I can see why my son loves this book so much. It appeals to his love of knights and his silly sense of humour. This humour is emphasised by the language used. Some parts rhyme but others don’t which really adds to the atmosphere of the book. It’s the kind of book that invites you to use silly voices when reading aloud. There are also 4 giant flaps in the book that have to be lifted to read the story which is always going to be popular with preschoolers. I’m so glad that we did buy this book and I don’t think it will be long before the other books in the series will be added to our shelves.

Verdict: Exciting, fun and perfect for little (and not so little) ones.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Egmont
Publication Date: November 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture book
Age: Early Readers
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: British Book
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: Between Shades Of Gray

Ruta Sepetys

One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle cars and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia.
An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope.
Lina hopes for her family. For her country. For her future. For love – first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to lose…Will hope keep Lina alive?

Lina lives a happy life in Lithuania, the daughter of a university professor she enjoys life as any teenager her age would at that time. But now Stalin has annexed Lithuania and all people who pose any kind of threat to his regime must be dealt with. Lina, her brother and Mother are woken one night by Soviet Guards, put into cattle cars on a train as their lives as they knew them will never be the same again.

This is a beautifully written story and I defy anyone not too need tissues at the ready by the end. The subject matter is bleak, undeniably, but there is such strength and hope held within the book too. Although the conditions within the work camps in Siberia are horrific and described as such, the focus within the book is on how people will band together and help each other, even when they have very little themselves. A book such as this could have quite easily focused on the darker side of human nature, yet here you are even left feeling some level of sympathy for one of the guards in the camp. The quality of the writing really brings the story alive and it is very obvious that a huge amount of research was done in writing the book, as it feels very real.

Lina is a really strong central character. She is very real and hasn’t been romanticised in any way. She is far from perfect and doesn’t always do the right thing. This only serves to make her more believable.

The only aspect that I found slightly disappointing was the ending. The theme of hope is carried through right to the end and the ending does give the reader hope that there is life at the end of the tunnel for these characters. I don’t feel that the epilogue was needed though. Those two pages on their own raised questions that I wanted answering, questions I wouldn’t have had had it not been included. I don’t know if there are plans for a second book, if there are it could explain the epilogues inclusion.

Verdict: Haunting and beautifully written. A bleak book that at the same time highlights the better side of human nature.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Puffin
Publication Date: April 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Genre: Historical fiction
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: Solomon Crocodile

Catherine Raynor

Poor Solomon is looking for some fun but no one wants to play. The dragonflies tell him to buzz off, the storks get in a flap, and the hippo? Well, the less said about the hippo, the better! But then somebody else starts causing trouble . . . and for once it is NOT Solomon. Could it be the perfect pal for a lonely crocodile?

Solomon wants to play, but instead he ends up annoying the other animals. Solomon is sad. But then he starts to hear the other animals shouting, and this time it isn’t at him. Has Solomon found the perfect friend? And what will the other animals think of that?

This is a truly lovely picture book; the pictures are very simple but tell the story so well. The story is also very simple, told in very short sentences. This makes it perfect for very young children, yet I had a class full of 12 year olds entranced when this was read to them. The fact that Solomon causes trouble and doesn’t make any apologies for it is very appealing to children of all ages. This doesn’t have a moral message in the same way that some books aimed at children do, but it doesn’t suffer for that and in some ways this approach is quite refreshing.

Verdict: Simple and attractive kids of all ages will love it.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: MacMillan children’s Books
Publication Date: March 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture book
Age: Early Readers
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: none
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Novel Nibbles: The Hunger Games Lamb Stew with Dried Plums

“What’s impressed you most since you arrived here?” I rack my brain for something that made me happy here. Be honest, I think. Be honest.”The lamb stew,” I get out. Caesar laughs, and vaguely I realize some of the audience has joined in.
“The one with the dried plums?” asks Caesar. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

For this Hunger Games inspired stew I simply adapted a classic Lamb Tagine recipe from  Classic Recipe Collection by Sainsbury’s swapping the traditional dried apricots for prunes.

Serves 4

100g Dried Plums i.e, Prunes soaked in 50mls Orange Juice and 30mls of boiling water for at least 1 hour
1 TBS Olive Oil
450-500g Diced Lamb
1 Onion, Peeled and Chopped
2 medium sized Sweet Potatoes
1 Clove of Garlic (I used 1 tsp of the lazy stuff!)
2cm piece of fresh Ginger (1TBS of Lazy Ginger)
1tsp Ground Cinnamon
1tsp Ground Coriander
1tsp Ground Cumin
1x 400g Tin of Tomatoes
1/2 Glass of Red Wine
300mls of Stock ( I used chicken)
1TBS Honey (yuck! I exchanged this for maple syrup!)

Using the oil, brown the lamb in batches and keep warm
In the same pan add the onions and cook until soft.
Add garlic, ginger and spices and cook for a couple of min’s
Add sweet potatoes, tomatoes and wine. Cook until reduced
by half and then add lamb, stock, honey and prune mixture.
You can either cover the pan and simmer for approx 45mins,
until the lamb and potatoes are tender
or, like me place in a slow cooker and leave it to
bubble away for most of the day.
The finished stew, served with couscous

Verdict: I have to say that I thought that the stew was absolutely delicious and even better than the original tagine. My taste testers Ava 4.5 and  Seth 2.5 gobbled it up without complaint. I will definitely be making this again!

Post by Caroline

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Marissa Meyer

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

I didn’t know what to expect from Cinder. It’s certainly very unique – the idea of a futuristic Cinderella as a cyborg! I enjoyed it for the most part but felt at times that there was something lacking.

Cinder is set in New Beijing, after the 4th World War. For me there wasn’t enough background or world building for me to grasp what New Beijing was like. There was hardly any mention of anything remotely Far Eastern which is the part of the world I assumed the book was set given the city name. From the lack of description, cultural information, customs etc it could have been set anywhere. I guess I expected a bit more of an oriental feel to things.

This book has all the elements of the fairy story we know so well; the evil stepmother, the two sisters – although one of them is lovely and a real friend to Cinder, and of course, the handsome prince. Although in this story there is a hefty dose of a dangerous life threatening plague – Letumosis, which Cinder’s sister falls ill with and which, unbeknownst to her, Cinder will be central to the cure for.

Cinder is a skilled mechanic working in the Market place. As a cyborg she is pretty much a second class citizen and more or less lives to serve her step mother and sisters. However as the story progresses we see that in fact she may have a far greater purpose than she could ever have imagined.

As it’s based on a well known fairy tale it does mean the story is fairly predictable, however I think there is a great potential for Cinder’s story – as ‘Cinder’ is the first in a series of The Lunar Chronicles. I liked Prince Kai and I’m intruiged by the dangerous Lunar people and their deadly but interesting skill of being able to ‘glamour’ the people and hide their true selves. The book improved as I read it and I much preferred the last third or so, when I felt it started to get going a bit.

While it’s certainly not in the category of, say, The Hunger Games, it has good potential and I will buy the next book in the series to find out what happens to Cinder as there are a lot of loose ends left to tie up.

Verdict: A largely enjoyable read, a bit slow to get going but good potential as a series. I look forward to the second instalment

Reviewed by Lesley

Publisher: Puffin Books
Publication Date: January 2012
Format: eBook
Pages: 455KB
Genre: Dystopian, Fairytale retelling, Sci-Fi
Age: YA
Reviewer: Lesley
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: Debut Author
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Book Excerpt: Invisible

Today marks the publication of Freaks,  a co-written collection of short stories by Caroline Smailes and Nik Perring, illustrated by Darren Craske.
We are delighted to showcase a short story from the collection, Invisible.

Darkly humorous these stories explore the more disturbing consequences of ordinary, flawed human beings obtaining superpowers.
A bizarre collection of short stories, each featuring a character with an unusual superpower.
FREAKS taps into the current growth in popularity of short stories and fascination with imperfect super heroes, as seen in recent film Chronicles and Channels 4’s cult series Misfits.
Meet The Photocopier, a woman who can reproduce herself at will and attempts to teach her daughter to do the same. The man who can break his way into his lovers dream and the woman in My Little Pony pants who likes to be ridden like a Pony.
FREAKS will appeal to contemporary fiction, short story and graphic novel fans alike.

[Super Power: The ability to make oneself unseen to the naked eye]

If I stay totally still,
if I stand right tall,
with me back against the school wall,
close to the science room’s window,
with me feet together,
pointing straight,
aiming forward,
if I make me hands into tight fists,
make me arms dead straight,
 if I push me arms into me sides,
if I squeeze me thighs,
stop me wee,
if me belly doesn’t shake,
if me boobs don’t wobble,
if I close me eyes tight,
so tight that it makes me whole face scrunch,
if I push me lips into me mouth,
if I make me teeth bite me lips together,
if I hardly breathe,
if I don’t say a word.
I’ll magic meself invisible,
and them lasses will leave me alone.

Freaks is available to buy in paperback (here) and ebook (here) formats.

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Mutt Dog

Stephen Michael King

Mutt Dog is brave and fast and gentle and loyal and smart, but he’s also hungry, and he doesn’t have a home. Then one day his luck changes, and he at last finds a family-and a cozy, loving place to belong. With its humorous text and irresistible watercolor illustrations, this endearing story by Australian picture-book creator Stephen Michael King is certain to strike a chord with animal enthusiasts everywhere

What a lovely story. Can I even admit that it almost made me tear up… almost! This is a story about a stray dog, who had to be brave and fast and smart just to survive. We see him scrounging for food and trying to find places to sleep until he eventually finds a halfway house where someone takes pity on him and finds him somewhere warm and dry to sleep and gives him some food.

This story has a very happy ending and just generally has a ‘feel good’ factor to it. It provided a nice chatty conversation with my pre-schooler about animals and caring for animals and how animals might feel if they were all alone. I am very glad there was a happy ending for this little dog!

Verdict: A delightful read for your pre-schooler. Might even be a tear jerker for some!!

Reviewed by Lesley

Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: September 2005
Format: Paperback
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture book
Age: Picture books
Reviewer: Lesley
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: Trash

Andy Mulligan
Raphael is a dumpsite boy. He spends his days wading through mountains of steaming trash, sifting it, sorting it, breathing it, sleeping next to it.
Then one unlucky-lucky day, Raphael’s world turns upside down. A small leather bag falls into his hands. It’s a bag of clues. It’s a bag of hope. It’s a bag that will change everything.
Soon Raphael and his friends Gardo and Rat are running for their lives. Wanted by the police, it takes all their quick-thinking and fast-talking to stay ahead. As the net tightens, they uncover a dead man’s mission to put right a terrible wrong.
And now it’s three street boys against the world…

One day, whilst he is out sorting through the dumpsite just like he does on any other day, Raphael discovers a bag. The bag contains a wallet with 1100 pesos and some pictures in and a key. It is a discovery that will change the life of Raphael, and that of his friends Gardo and Rat forever.

This book was removed from the Blue Peter Book Award shortlist last year for being too violent and containing a swear word. This hasn’t put the judges on the Carnegie panel off as it finds itself on the shortlist for that award this year. I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy this book. I had heard very good things about it but it just didn’t seem like the kind of book that I normally would want to pick up, but then that’s part of the beauty of the Carnegie Award, the chance to discover books you normally wouldn’t read. But I did enjoy this book. It tells of a world so totally different to the one we inhabit that I couldn’t resist finding out more. I was drawn into the world of these three dumpsite boys who had so little in a material sense, but were happy none the less. Although the general premise of the story is betrayal and corruption I actually found the story quite heart warming. The ending however is quite simplistic and not all that believable, but this is a story designed for children not adults so that shouldn’t matter as much.

The story is told from a multitude of first person point of views, people recounting their part of the story afterwards in order to form a book. This is actually very effective as you don’t just get the story of the three dumpsite boys, but that of the people who helped them. It also contributes to the fast paced feeling of the book. It’s one of those books where you suddenly find that you are halfway through but don’t really feel as though you have read that much yet. There is almost continuous action with very little downtime, but this is handled well and you, as a reader don’t feel over faced. I don’t think this will be my winner, though as this is the first that I’ve read that may change, whilst it is very enjoyable it didn’t have the wow feeling for me.

Verdict: Fast paced and filled with tension yet at the same time has that feel good factor. A very enjoyable way to while away a couple of hours.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: David Fickling Books
Publication Date: March 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 224
Genre: Mystery
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: British Book
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Novel Nibbles

I love food in books.

I LOVE indulging in food porn! I can happily spend hours browsing through cook books, salivating over the gorgeous photography and compiling fantasy menus for non-existent dinner parties. Cookery books make up the bulk of my non-fiction collection. At my last count I owned 33 cook books in addition to recipe cards and foodie magazines!

I LOVE food within fiction. Whether it’s the absence of food and the struggle to obtain it, heavily recycled water and desiccated rations in a Sci-Fi novel, a fresh kill roasting over an open fire in a survival novel or the perfect breakfast in a contemporary story, the addition of food within a fictional piece really helps to add to the realism, evoking the senses and grounding it within the book’s setting.

My Daughters 2nd Birthday Cake

Before Christmas Lesley and I had great fun making (and not to mention testing!)The Scorpio Races: Film Rights Brownies (found here). Subsequently the Big Book Little Book team have decided to create a fun new feature: Novel Nibbles. Putting our cook books to good use and our children to work, we hope to create, adapt and test food featured in or inspired by Big Book Little Book’s favourite fiction.

A friendly warning to your waistline: We anticipate that  desserts and baking will feature quite heavily!
Post by Caroline

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