Archive for October, 2012

Conjure

Lea Nolan

Be careful what you search for…
Emma Guthrie expects this summer to be like any other in the South Carolina Low country- hot and steamy with plenty of beach time alongside her best friend and secret crush, Cooper Beaumont, and Emma’s ever-present twin brother, Jack. But then a mysterious eighteenth-century message in a bottle surfaces, revealing a hidden pirate bounty. Lured by the adventure, the trio discovers the treasure and unwittingly unleashes an ancient Gullah curse that attacks Jack with the wicked flesh-eating Creep and promises to steal Cooper’s soul on his approaching sixteenth birthday.
But when a strange girl bent on revenge appears, demon dogs become a threat, and Jack turns into a walking skeleton; Emma has no choice but to learn hoodoo magic to undo the hex, all before the last days of summer- and her friends-are lost forever.

Emma Guthrie lives for the summers her and her twin brother Jack, spend visiting their father on the island of St Helena. A quiet and self-contained loner, happy to live in the shadow of her more popular brother, Emma spends the school year counting down the weeks to her lazy summer of sunbathing, swimming, and sailing. The biggest pull however, is not the weeks of freedom from school or even the breathtaking scenery, begging to be captured by her oil pastels, but her yearning to be reunited with her best friend and heart’s desire, Cooper.

Like a sandcastle at high tide, Emma’s hopes of a repeat of the previous eight idyllic summers are quickly washed away. The discovery of a centuries old note in a bottle changes everything. One moment her biggest concern is not getting caught mooning over Cooper’s recently acquired masculine jaw line, the next she is buried up to the neck in centuries old curses, racing to save her brother from a gruesome, putrid smelling curse and her best friend from a fate he considers worse than death.

At just fourteen, Emma is younger than most young adult protagonists. Never the less I found her immediately likeable and I thoroughly enjoyed her development from a malleable young girl, tagging along with her dominant sibling, despite her own misgivings, in to a confident young woman, who trusts her own instincts and embraces her talents.

Emma is assisted in this transformation through her apprenticeship with Miss Delia. Like the elements she conjures to aid her work, Hoo-doo “granny”, Miss Delia, is a force to be reckoned with. This 97-year-old eccentric muscled in to my heart with her feisty spirit, youthful energy and no nonsense attitude and stole the show. Even if I wasn’t invested in Emma’s story I would check out further installments of The Hoo-Doo Apprentice series just to spend more time with this whirlwind nonagenarian

The exploration of root magic (hoo-doo) and Gullah culture was a fascinating addition to the paranormal genre. My ignorance of both only added unpredictability to the storyline and my compulsive page turning.

Jack was a thoroughly unpleasant character, sparking all of my long resolved sisterly irritation. I found him so unlikeable that despite being submitted to the most gruesome affliction you could imagine, I was unable to summons up any sympathy for him.

Emma’s relationship with Cooper is one that is based on years of friendship and shared summers. My fifteen-year-old remembered self could completely identify with the high emotion of a first crush, the self-conscious awkwardness of growing awareness to a friend and the fear of rejection.

The sweetness of Emma’s interactions with Cooper is in direct contrast with the public displays of affection, insta-love and secretive behavior we witness between Jack and the mysterious Maggie. Viewed from Emma’s perspective, Jack and Maggie’s relationship, not dissimilar from many I’ve read (and swooned over) in YA fiction, felt unnatural and uncomfortable.

The sweetness of the character interactions, the freshness of the paranormal elements and the age of the protagonists would make this the perfect book for someone transitioning away from the middle grade category in to young adult.

Verdict: I found myself sitting up late at night unwilling to put the book down, while Emma still struggled to master her new vocation and save the two boys’ closest to her heart.

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: October 2012
Format: eARC
Pages: 400
Genre: Fantasy, Magic, Paranormal
Age: YA
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: Debut Author
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Zog

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (illustrator)

Zog is the keenest dragon in school. He is also the most accident-prone.
luckily, a mysterious little girl always comes by and patches up his bumps and bruises. But will she be able to help him in his toughest test, capturing a princess? A wonderfully
Funny new story from the creators of Gruffalo and Stick Man.

This is another great read from the Donaldson/Scheffler team. The illustrations are in the same vein as those you would expect from Gruffalo and the like; clever, funny, brightly coloured and plenty to accompany the story for a little reader.

The story of the dragons made me smile alot. It’s great to see them learn how to be dragons and make plenty of mistakes along the way. Dragon school looks cool and is a great idea for children to relate to.

I also enjoyed the character of the leading lady, I can’t tell you her name without spoiling a plot twist! It was brilliant to have a strong minded girl at the centre of everything. She makes her own decisions, is very brave and gets her man. What more could you want? It is funny to see her sorting out the dragons and her knight. She makes very good life choices too, helping others and helping herself.

Verdict: if you’re a fan of this team then you should add this book to your collection

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Alison Green Books
Publication Date: September 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture book, Rhyming
Age: Picture book
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: British Author
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Self Published Sunday: Interview with Amy Bartol

Our good blogging friend Pruedence, hasn’t stopped gushing about Amy Bartol’s The Premonition series. So we couldn’t resist inviting Amy to have a chat with us here on Self Published Sunday.

“I live in Michigan with my husband and our two sons. My family is very supportive of my writing. When I’m writing, they often bring me the take-out menu so that I can call and order them dinner. They listen patiently when I talk about my characters like they’re real. They rarely roll their eyes when I tell them I’ll only be a second while I finish writing a chapter…and then they take off their coats. They ask me how the story is going when I surface after living for hours in a world of my own making. They have learned to accept my “writing uniform” consisting of a slightly unflattering pink fleece jacket, t-shirt, and black yoga pants. And they smile at my nerdy bookishness whenever I try to explain urban fantasy to them. In short, they get me, so they are perfect and I am blessed. Here are some of my sites: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest and Pintrest

What do you do when you are not writing?
I’m a social media freak! When I’m not writing, I’m hanging out on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, and I also write a blog and answer questions on my website.

What inspired you to become a writer? When and why did you begin to write?
In 2007, my best friend, Molly, sent me Markus Zusak’s book for my birthday entitled I Am The Messenger. This book is about Ed Kennedy, an underage cabdriver who has a coffee-drinking dog named The Doorman and a secret crush on his best friend Audrey. Ed has a peaceful routine until the day he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. After that day, Ed becomes the messenger.

This book, written in the first person present tense, was funny and heart pounding and sad and euphoric. It read like you could step into Ed’s shoes, breathe his air, see what he is seeing. In short, it was amazing. But, there was a message at the end of the story that struck me as if it was written just for me. It says, quote: “Maybe everyone can live beyond what they’re capable of…I’m not the messenger at all. I’m the message.”

I knew instantly that I had to try to write a book because maybe I was able to live beyond what I always thought I was capable of.

What was your inspiration for The Premonition Series?
I’m in love with the paranormal romance genre, so it was without question that I’d try to write in that genre when I started. I knew that I wanted to write a story that took place in the “real world” but one that had supernatural elements to it. The idea for angels came when I was reading “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. One of the stanzas had the word “Seraphim” in it. I love words, they’re my addiction, and when I find a word I don’t know, I look it up. I looked up the word Seraphim and found that they’re angels, but not only that, they’re said to be the highest rank of angels in Heaven according to a theologian name Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite who wrote about a hierarchy of angels in the 5th Century. I thought to myself, Angels have ranks? Really? From there, the idea for Inescapable grew.

Tell us about your book
Inescapable—Evie Claremont is a freshman newly arrived at Crestwood College. Having earned a scholarship to attend the elite school, Evie is reluctant to begin this new chapter in her life because it means leaving her beloved uncle, Jim. Plagued by a nightmarish dream that wakes her with a sick sense of dread, Evie unexpectedly stumbles upon Reed Wellington with whom she feels an instant, deeply unnerving attraction. The attraction is like none she has felt before because it’s as if a magnetic force is pulling her toward him. But Reed makes it clear from their first encounter that he has no intention of being her friend or allowing her to remain at Crestwood.
Reed’s carefully constructed facade as a wealthy, young, college sophomore begins to crumble after finding Evie. He recognizes that she’s a unique being, one in which the world has never seen before, and he’s torn between killing her and protecting her.
Russell Marx, a sweet-talking, southern freshman, isn’t going to allow Reed to intimidate Evie into leaving school. When Russell meets Evie, it’s as if he has known her all his life…or longer. A dark future begins to unravel for Evie when she discovers she’s not normal and tries to protect Russell from what she is, but only Reed can shelter her from her nightmare that is becoming…Inescapable.

What research did you do for this book?
I spent some time researching Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite’s hierarchy of angels. I did take some poetic license with it, however. For example, there is no “reaper” angel rank.

Are any elements of your book based on real life experiences/people?
There are two characters in Inescapable that are based on my friends. Buns and Brownie were written into Inescapable because I began to love Evie, the main character, and I wanted to give her friends that would help her so I gave her my two best friends from college. Molly, in Indebted, is based on my best friend from childhood (of the same name).

The setting of Crestwood College is based on Hillsdale College, which is my Alma Mater. At Hillsdale, all of the freshmen take a walk to lake Baw Beese after freshman orientation for a barbeque. Sound familiar? I also may have engaged in a few wars with the “Delt” house during my time at Hillsdale.

What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on two projects: Iniquity (The Premonition Series Volume 5) and a new series entitled Kricket. Kricket is a working title for a novel I wrote in 2010. It’s a sci-fi, dystopian romance for the young adult market. I plan to write two additional novels for this series, making Kricket a trilogy.

What is your writing process?
This is embarrassing to admit, but I do almost all my writing in my bed at home. I used to prop my laptop on a pillow, but then I went hi-tech and got an e-pad (which is a glorified pillow with a hard top surface). I write exclusively on my laptop with a word document.

Do you use anything to sustain you during the writing process? Coffee? Chocolate? Music?
I love to listen to music when I write. There is nothing like music to get me to a visceral place for a particular scene that I want to explore.

What prompted you to self publish?
My decision to self-publish was based on a couple of things: word count and compromise. If I wanted to attract an agent, I would have needed to pare my word count down to around 100,000 words. I did that: I took my book from 135,000 words down to around 105,000 words, but I found that the compromise took the life out of the story. So, I decided not to compromise and to publish it myself at around 135,000 words.

Can you tell us about the challenges in writing and publishing your first novel?
I think the most challenging aspect for me in regard to publishing is marketing. There was definitely a learning curve. Everything from writing an enticing snippet for the description to working out the look of my first cover has been quite a process.

Do you ever experience writers block? How do you overcome it?
I haven’t had a problem with writers block. My main problem is brevity (and the problem I have with it is that it’s not long).

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Be present. That means be on every social networking site you can think of and several you can’t. Be accessible. Write a blog so you can showcase who you are as a person (readers want to see your brand, which is you).

Why did you choose to write YA fiction?
I wrote the story that I wanted to read and it happened to fit into the young adult fiction category. I think that that is the only way I can write a novel. I have to love the story and then see where it fits.

How did you choose the genre you write in? What inspired you to write it?
I’ve been a really avid reader of the paranormal fantasy genre for a while now. I was obsessed with Odd Thomas, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter to name a few. My inspiration to write about angels came from the poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. I previously had not read any contemporary fictional angel book that I can recall.

How did you get interested in paranormal fantasy?
Stories with supernatural characters have captivated my imagination ever since I was a child. Fairytales, folklore, and the works from such authors as: J. R. R. Tolkien, Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll, Ray Bradbury, and C.S. Lewis are among my favourites.

What books have inspired you?
The book that inspired me the most to write is Markus Zusak’s I Am The Messenger.

What was your favourite book as a child/teenager?
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton was my favourite book as a teenager. After I had finished it, I found myself still wanting to live in the world of Greasers and Socs that she created; I was still “hanging out” with Ponyboy in my mind. Maybe he’d head to the DX and he’d see Cherry Valance there and she’d fall in love with him, because he needed that—he needed someone to love him. And I really think I have always done that. I always continue to write the story in my mind where the author leaves off.

What are you currently reading?
I just finished Down To You by M. Leighton!! It’s a steamy, contemporary adult romance. I couldn’t put it down because it was so good. It has made the New York Time’s and USA Today’s bestseller lists.

What was the last book you recommended to a friend?
I just bought my sister, Aprille, a copy of On Dublin Street by Samantha Young. I wanted her to read it because it is truly an exceptional book, but I didn’t want to loan her my copy because I love this book so much that I can’t part with it. (I will probably re-read it a dozen times.)

What/Who inspired you as a reader?
The best part of becoming an indie author is that I began to read other indie books. A whole new world opened up for me when I did. Exciting, non-traditional works have captivated my imagination. Authors like: Shelly Crane, Georgia Cates, Samantha Young, M. Leighton, Rachel Higginson, Quinn Loftis, Angeline Kace, Abbi Glines, Fisher Amelie, Nancy Straight, Courtney Cole and a dozen other wonderful storytellers have brought new worlds to life for me that I would’ve missed otherwise.

If your novels were made in to a films which actor(s), past or present, do you envision in the lead role(s)
Okay, just for fun casting of Inescapable…These actors have to look really quite young, so I’m going to go with younger actors. Emily Browning or Gemma Arterton for Evie Claremont, Ian Somerhalder or Zac Efron for Reed Wellington, Kellan Lutz or Alex Pettyfer for Russell Marx, Chance Crawford or Tom Welling for Zephyr King, Blake Lively for Buns, AnnaLynne McCord for Brownie, and Josh Hutcherson for Freddie Standish (just because he’s a really good actor and could pull it off, not because he resembles the character in any way).

If your book had a soundtrack which artists would feature on it?
I have created entire playlists on Spotify for each of the characters. You can find a link to them on my website: http://www.amyabartol.com. Some of the artist include: Ellie Goulding, Jesca Hoop, Lauren O’Connell, Erin McCarley, Metric, Florence + The Machine, The xx, The Lumineers, Queens of The Stone Age, Civil Twilight, Conner Youngblood, Elbow, The Heavy, Kings of Leon, The Black Keys, The Neighbourhood, Bloc Party, Kasabian, Gavin DeGraw, Middle Class Rut, Atlas Genius, Mayday Parade, Arctic Monkeys, AWOLNATION, Imagine Dragons, Franz Ferdinand, The Big Pink, White Rabbit, and Deadmau5 (to name a few).

Just for fun
Paper, Audio or eBook?

Paper

Tea or Coffee?
Tea

Slippers or barefoot?
Barefoot

Shower or Bath?
Shower

Marmite: Love it? Hate it?
Never had it. Don’t know what it is!! (Feeling ignorant!!)

Email or postcard?
Email

My name is Evie Claremont and this was to be the making of me–my freshman year of college. I had been hoping that once I had arrived on Crestwood’s campus, the nightmare that I’ve been having would go away. It hasn’t.
I may be an inexperienced seventeen-year-old, but I’m grounded…sane. Since meeting sophomore Reed Wellington, however, nothing makes any sense. Whenever he is near, I feel an attraction to him–a magnetic kind of force pulling me towards him. I know what you’re thinking…that sounds fairly awesome. Yeah, it would–if he liked me, but Reed acts as if I’m the worst thing that’s ever happened to Crestwood…or him. But, get this, for some reason every time I turn around he’s there, barging into my life.
What is the secret he is keeping from me? I’m hoping that it is anything but what I expect: that he is not exactly normal…and neither am I. So maybe Crestwood won’t be the making of me, but it could be the breaking of me. I have been left to wonder if the dark future my dream is foretelling is…inescapable.

Inescapable is available to buy from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

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The Hydrogen Sonata

Iain M Banks

The Scavenger species are circling.
It is, truly, the End Days for the Gzilt civilisation.
An ancient people, organised on military principles and yet almost perversely peaceful, the Gzilt helped set up the Culture ten thousand years ago and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they’ve made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilisations: they are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex experience.
Amid preparations, though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossant appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted – dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossant must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command. She must find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over nine thousand years old, who might have some idea what happened all that time ago.
It seems that the final days of the Gzilt civilisation are likely to prove its most perilous.

The Hydrogen Sonata is the latest novel in Banks’ long running Culture series, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It centres on the preparations of the Gzilt civilisation to Sublime, leaving their physical experience behind them and attaining a new ethereal existence. However, there is a secret that could change the minds of the Gzilt people and the few that know it go to extreme lengths to keep it to themselves.

Most of the Culture novels are concerned with the Culture’s hyper-intelligent, benevolent Minds influencing the development of less advanced civilisations, nudging them onwards, mediating in conflicts and examining the moral and ethical dilemmas that arise from this philosophy (an earlier book notes that Earth was left alone as a “control group”!). The Hydrogen Sonata is unusual in that the Gzilt are just as advanced as the Culture – having been involved in the Culture’s formation, so rather than influencing their development, the Culture get involved simply to satisfy their own curiosity about the secret.

Most of the main characters are self-aware Culture ships, each one run by a Mind (with a capital “M” – mere biological beings such as humans only have minds). The novels which focus on the ships tend to be the funniest and this is no exception. This novel continues the tendency of the ships choosing humorous and whimsical names for themselves, including the Caconym (literally meaning “The wrong name”) and Refreshingly Unconcerned With The Vulgar Exigencies of Veracity. The passages where the ships are bickering and gossiping with each other had me chortling away.

The humorous tone continues as the early chapters explain that The Hydrogen Sonata is a piece of music written centuries earlier for an instrument that was yet to be invented. By the time the novel takes place, the instrument has finally been invented, but due to its immense complexity, the Gzilt woman Vyr Cossant has had two extra arms implanted in order to attempt to play it, much to the annoyance of her passive-aggressive and over-protective mother.

The novel’s title serves a dual purpose of course, as it is symbolic of the Subliming process itself. The more serious parts of the book feature some adept, and seemingly effortless writing by Banks as he explains the lofty concepts and processes within the book, using that same talent with some inventive and highly impressive action set pieces.

The only point where the book fails is in the ending – an unfortunately common complaint with Banks’ work. The final chapters feel quite emotionally flat and rather predictable. It’s certainly a shame after the huge bombshell dropped in the very final sentence of Surface Detail, the previous Culture novel.

Verdict: Effortlessly combining lofty SF concepts with humorous prose and adrenalin fuelled set pieces. It’s only a shame the ending is a bit of a non-event.

Reviewed by Keith

Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: October 2012
Format: Hardback
Pages: 517
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Speculative Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Keith
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: None
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Big Book Little Book Welcomes Keith

Keith is not a mother of any number of children, being instead a father of two. He is a self-confessed geek, spending his teenage years reading textbooks on computer programming rather than any kind of fiction – though it paid off in the form of a career as a programmer in the videogames industry.

In his adult years he has developed a healthy habit of reading huge weighty SF tomes interspersed with lighter comedy and occasional historical fiction. Some of his favourite authors are Neal Stephenson, Iain M Banks, Terry Pratchett, C J Samson and Peter F Hamilton. He also dabbles with interactive fiction, enjoying the works of Graham Nelson, Emily Short, Adam Cadre and Andrew Plotkin.

Visit us tomorrow to check out Keith’s first ever review for Big Book Little Book!

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League of Strays

L B Schulman

This suspenseful debut follows a group of teenage misfits in their delicious quest for revenge on those who have wronged them at their high school. When a mysterious note appears in Charlotte’s mailbox inviting her to join the League of Strays, she’s hopeful it will lead to making friends. What she discovers is a motley crew of loners and an alluring, manipulative ringleader named Kade. Kade convinces the group that they need one another both for friendship and to get back at the classmates and teachers who have betrayed them. But Kade has a bigger agenda. In addition to vandalizing their school and causing fights between other students, Kade’s real intention is a dangerous plot that will threaten lives and force Charlotte to choose between her loyalty to the League and her own conscience.

Set in an average all American high school this story definitely focuses on the darker and more difficult side of school life and adolescence. Many people experience troubles at this particular time of life but the teens in this story all have a little extra to contend with. Between them they have faced bullying, been neglected by their parents, been their parents carer, faced physical abuse and generally have been hurt maybe more than average.

Our protagonist, Charlotte is a good girl. She has moved to a new school in a new place and has no friends. She plays the viola and is headed to music school after graduation. She is very sheltered and incredibly naive. But when she receives a note asking her to a strange meeting she sneaks out to find out what it’s all about. Here she meets Kade Harlin, who she finds very attractive, and three others that Kade has invited to be a part of the league of strays.

Charlotte does want friends and her desire to spend time with Kade leads her to join the group despite some mis-givings. From here she goes on a journey she could never have imagined as Kade’s real agenda begins to surface. Charlotte’s conscience is always whispering in her ear but she begins by switching it off and trying to turn away from the good girl she has always been. Her eyes are opened to the suffering in the lives of others and she does find some kind of friendship with them. But her relationship with Kade develops and the excitement of being with him blinds her to his faults. This is typical of many a teenage girl but Kade’s faults are pretty bad! Eventually Charlotte is forced to confront her fears and the consequences of both her actions and those of the group.

The others in the group are an interesting group of characters. I didn’t like Nora who has a real mean streak, but Zoe’s handling of her mother’s alcoholism has a strong ring of truth about it. These needy young people are ripe to be taken for a ride and Kade pulls all the strings he can to achieve this. Kade gave signals of his true nature right from the beginning but no-one wanted to see them, their need for each other was too great. He chose well for his task, but under-estimated them in the long run. It felt like the pranks the Strays played could really happen as kids egg each other on, and do. But the fact that these pranks (some are worse than pranks!) were all planned out gave it an edge. As the ideas become more vicious it is easy to see how Charlotte feels trapped into the group and into doing things she feels are wrong. It is so difficult to walk away from a gang and to stand up for your own beliefs, it’s even worse if the punishment involved could ruin your life.

Verdict: This is an interesting read, the characters engaged me and I wanted to know if Kade would get his comeuppance! It succeeds in showing how difficult it can be when you get in over your head.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: October 2012
Format: ARC
Pages: 288
Genre:Thriller, Contemporary
Age: YA
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: Debut Author
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Willy and Hugh

Anthony Browne

It’s not easy being a chimp in a world of oversized gorillas, and in WILLY AND HUGH, our scrawny hero is lonely for a pal. Hulking Hugh seems an unlikely candidate, but as Willy discovers, the oddest couples can make the best of friends.

This is such a lovely story. Willy is a lonely chimp, picked on by others when he literally bumps into Hugh Jape (great name!) in the park one day and his whole life is changed. He has a friend.

Friendship is always a good theme for children’s books and this works on many levels. Willy is no longer lonely, and when Buster arrives on the scene Willy finds he has a friend who will stand up for him and look after him. They enjoy sharing time and experiences together and best of all Willy even gets to reciprocate and help Hugh when he finds a ‘terrifying creature’! As an adult reader you can spot a whole host of subtleties in the writing that you could talk about with your child if you so wished.

There are great touches of humour in the story and in the illustrations. The pictures are really well done, adding much to the text in the way only good illustrations can.

Verdict:This is a brilliant read and a fun book to share.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Candlewick
Publication Date:April 2003
Format: Paperback
Pages: 32
Genre: Preschool, Friendship
Age: Picture Book
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: None
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The Chocolate Money

Ashley Prentice Norton

Bettina Ballentyne is a chocolate heiress only by name; it is her glamorous and narcissistic mother, Babs, who lives up to the billing and plays by no ones sharp and sparkly humor will have you laughing during its darkest moments. A mesmerizing portrayal of the corrosive effects of an American fortune, The Chocolate Money is a shocking and intensely readable debut.

Well, this book was certainly an eye opener! The publisher had initially intrigued me by admitting that this book was the equivalent of Marmite and I can see why.

The protagonist Bettina Ballentyne is the daughter of a very rich heiress of a chocolate empire. It’s the lavish set up where ‘Babs’ the mother, is richer than you can imagine and doesn’t have to physically work for it so spends her days socialising, grooming, networking and being the biggest bitch 1980’s Chicago has encountered! Babs, funnily enough, will never be a contender for, ‘Mother of the year’ anytime soon. I’m no aspiring psychologist but even I can tell that this mother/daughter relationship was seriously screwed. From giving Bettina at the age of 10 very graphic pearls of wisdom in regards to her own sexual techniques and exploits to outright neglect and abuse, Babs is definitely one of those, beautiful on the outside, ugly on the inside characters. At the same time though, this isn’t one of those autobiographical books where the abuse is constant and there is hate spewing from a parental figure. Babs, in her own way does care for her daughter. It’s just in a very weird way. Babs cares for her daughter as she would a possession and as such would never supersede her own selfish desires.

All the while Bettina strives for her mothers affection and attention. As you wince through the car crash of this girl’s upbringing, she leaves her mother’s shadow to go to college. There she struggles to find her own identity and lacks the insight to maintain normal relationships and friendships. She then continues to make inappropriate decisions that will hurt her and others along the way.

This book was quite the sensationalist read and had me muttering ‘just…one….more…. page….’ until the late hours as I couldn’t put it down. I felt almost voyeuristic as I observed such a messed up family wondering what new low they would manage next.

Verdict: A challenging read and not for the easily offended but nevertheless had me gripped.

Reviewed by Karen

Publisher: Bantam Press
Publication Date: September 2012
Format: Hardback
Pages: 288
Genre: Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Karen
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: Debut Author
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Interview with author Karen Ann Hopkins

We are delighted to welcome Karen Ann Hopkins, author of Temptation (read Lesley’s review here) and the continuation of Rose and Noah’s story , Belonging

Your heart misleads you.
That’s what my friends and family say.
But I love Noah.
And he loves me.
We met and fell in love in the sleepy farming community of Meadowview, while we rode our horses together through the grassy fields and in those moments in each other’s arms.
It should be
ROSE & NOAH
forever, easy.
But it won’t be.
Because he’s Amish.
And I’m not.

What inspired you to write Temptation, a story of forbidden love between Rose, an ‘English’ girl and Noah who is Amish?
When I bought a farm in the middle of an Amish community in northern Kentucky five years ago a steady stream of Amish teenagers began arriving to hang out at my arena. They enjoyed watching the non-Amish (English) kids ride horses and practice drill team maneuvers. Soon enough, all the teens were riding together and the interactions I witnessed among the mixed group stirred my imagination with the ‘what if’. Soon after Rose and Noah’s story was born.

Reading temptation, I was certainly able to feel Noah and Rose’s pain so deeply!
Have you seen this situation happen in real life or heard of other’s experiences?

Although Rose and Noah’s affair is strictly fictional, there have been a couple of young people who left my community to be with outsiders. In both instances they were girls and were subsequently shunned by their families.

If Temptation was made in to a film which actor(s), past or present, do you envision in the lead role(s)?
So many people have told me that they’d love to see this story on the big screen! It’s unique, yet has all the passion and action that most young adults are looking for in a movie experience. I would hope if that came to pass, they’d cast unknowns, although I envision Rose being similar to Selena Gomez in personality and cuteness.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing Temptation?
Researching the Amish culture was the most difficult aspect of writing Temptation. I wanted to keep it as accurate as possible to my own neighbors. Amish groups differ in rules, traditions and lifestyle from region to region. I was careful to incorporate only information that I personally observed or asked about in my own community.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine? Where do you write?
Some of my best writing comes when I’m sitting in my car waiting for my Amish neighbors to finish shopping. I drive the Amish sometimes and these are the moments when they open up and talk about their own feelings and experiences. I also do a lot of writing while at soccer practices and late into the night when the kids are in bed. I usually begin in a frenzy of writing and continue to the end without doing much editing. Then I go back and begin the painstaking job of fine tuning.

Do you use anything to sustain you during the writing process? Coffee? Chocolate? Music?
If I’m in the house I’ll have a scented candle burning (usually an autumn scent, like pumpkin spice). A bowl of ice cream helps stimulate the creative juices too!

When you are not writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Horseback riding! I try to ride every day, but sometimes business gets in the way.

Do you have any secret ambitions?
I’d love to be in the position to open a riding stable that provided free riding instruction to kids who can’t afford the hobby and incorporate an equine rescue/adoption into the program. Horses have such a positive influence on young people’s lives and I really enjoy making a difference through the equine experience.

The Amish are known for plain living and shunning the use of mains electricity, cars and other forms of modern technology. What piece of modern technology would you find the most difficult to give up/ live without?
My SUV. Even though I LOVE to ride horses for fun and even enjoy riding in a buggy on occasion, the freedom that an automobile gives is one thing I’d truly miss. Otherwise, as far as basic comfort and entertainment goes, there are ways to get by without most modern technology.

In some Amish communities teens are allowed a period of time, prior to their baptism, when they are permitted to “run around”, taking part in activities and behaviors that would ordinary result in being shunned by their community.
You’re referring to rumspringa. My own community does not allow the practice and most others have a restricted version. I’ve seen how my young neighbors get around their lack of freedom though—they become very good sneaks. There have been many nights where Amish teens show up late in the night at my house to play video games or watch a movie with my sons.

What were you like as an adolescent? Did you give your parents sleepless nights or were you the model daughter?
I was a horse crazy girl, with a mild penchant for getting into trouble. Luckily, my parents provided me with a large amount of freedom at an early age, which gave me the ability to experience life fully and learn to make important decisions.

The Amish philosophy is centered on the rejection of pride and arrogance and the promotion of humility, calmness and composure.
What would you consider to be your best and worst personality traits?

My best and worst trait is the same—stubbornness. There are just certain things I don’t budge on and I’ve had both difficulty and success because of it.

The rejection of pride, including vanity and the high regard placed on modesty is manifested by the regulated clothing and hairstyles, recognized the world over the world as distinctively Amish.
In the UK the majority of schools impose a uniform policy, the purpose of which is to avoid distinctions among children and promote equality.
What are your thoughts on the importance of this verses a teen’s right to express their own individuality?

It’s beneficial to many families for an imposed uniform policy since it gives equal footing for all students, especially the ones who can’t afford to buy trendy clothes and shoes. But for my own children, I’d rather they have the freedom to express their individuality. When teens leave their school days behind, they are thrust into a world full of distinctions among people. Discovering themselves earlier on is the key to confidence, direction and success. I’m a homeschool mother of five children and my personal convictions about parent and student freedom is paramount in my world.

I can see the advantage of this regulation and eschewing of modern technology- No embarrassing photographs featuring disastrous haircuts and questionable fashion sense. Mine include an unfortunate perm from the 90’s!
What is disastrous for one child might be amazing to another. Teaching young people tolerance of everyone’s tastes is important in developing a kind and understanding populous.

Please describe (or better yet share the pictures!) your most cringe worthy fashion faux pas
In the early morning when I go out to the barn to feed the horses and other farm animals, I’m usually wearing sweatpants, muck boots and an oversized flannel jacket with too many holes to count. I wouldn’t allow anyone to photograph me in such a state, but I’m quite comfortable.

What are you currently working on? Can you tell us anything about it?
I’m writing the third book in the Rose and Noah series and also working on an adult Amish mystery. The mystery shows a much grittier, darker side of Amish society.

A native of New York State, Karen Ann Hopkins now lives with her family on a farm in northern Kentucky, where her neighbors in all directions are members of a strict Amish community. Her unique perspective became the inspiration for the story of star-crossed lovers Rose and Noah. When she’s not homeschooling her kids, giving riding lessons or tending to a menagerie of horses, goats, peacocks, chickens, ducks, rabbits, dogs and cats, she is dreaming up her next romantic novel.

Karen has kindly provided a copy of Temptation to give away to one lucky international reader.

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Dolly’s Diary

Clare Bromley and Holly Blackman (illustrator)

Picnics , kite flying and seaside adventures with Dolly and her new family
Are you exited dolly? beep,beep says Dolly. And so the fun begins…

I love Dolly’s Diary simply because: The illustrations are so beautiful and perfect for a early reader or to be read to a small person. I definitely thought this was for a younger child, though I still enjoyed it,.

By the first page I could tell this had a interesting story line but later on in the book I realised it’s a bit too young for me. Any how , Dolly manages to find her new family a nice place in a field for a lovely picnic. Later on we hear about Molly’s big ice cream and the ‘Dotto’ train. Then its bedtime, Night, Night Dolly.

On the inside cover is a Diary with the days of the week listed. This is interesting because it has spaces for you to write your own diary and it’s a great use of an inside cover with bunting and flowers on it.

Mummy read this to her toddler group they loved it!!!!! I would definitely recommend it for 2- 5 year olds particularly ones who like cars or camper vans.

Verdict: It’s a lovely book.

Reviewed by Izzy(8)

Publisher: Eastbourne Cottages
Publication Date: July 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 25
Genre: Picture book
Age: Early reader, Picture book
Reviewer: Izzy (8)
Source: Received from publisher
Challenge: Debut Author
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