Tuesday, 17 January 2017

YA Summer Reading Round-Up

I feel like the past year went by without me carving time out to read, apart from my awesome review books, but I miss going to the library for ME and grabbing a few books that I TOTALLY judge by their covers (let's be honest) and get lost in them. I tend towards Young Adult Fiction because it is usually a quick read that I can get through in a day or two. I hesitate to call them easy reads because a lot of the time the content is dark, scary or all-too-possible. There seems to be a big influx of dystopian/future-set novels appearing lately and I really like them!

I managed to fit in quite a few books over the past few weeks, which I hope has set me back on the regular reading bandwagon. I thought I would do a quick summary of each in case you get stuck.
All these are books I have borrowed from the library.

The Special Ones
By Em Bailey

This book is about four young people who are kept on a farm, brainwashed, to live out the lives of four characters that appear in a photograph from 100 years ago. They are controlled by Him and are also made to interact with their fans via controlled internet chat sessions. When one character has to 'leave', another is found and taught the ways of the Special Ones. 
This book was fantastic. Very tense, quite heart-wrenching at times and gives a view inside the head of a psychopath. Written from the perspective of Esther, one of the Special Ones, you are drawn into the life on the farm and almost forget about the outside world. There are plenty of twists and lots of suspense as Esther tries to maintain her previous memories from before. 
An edge-of-your-seat read, a little disturbing but well written and entertaining.

The Sound
By Sarah Alderson

Ren takes a summer nannying job in Nantucket, a long way from her home in England. Fresh from a break-up she wants to relax and blog about music but instead gets involved with a group of rich kids who love to party. Torn between one boy in particular and the local bad-boy who fixes bikes, Ren gets swept up in a not-so-quiet summer. Add to this some dark secrets and a potential serial-killer on the loose and you get one crazy story.
Now I must admit-this is pretty far past my teen-angst/lust threshold but for some reason it made it onto my nightstand. There were things I liked and disliked about this book. I disliked the flippant take on nannying/child minding. Maybe it's from a mothers perspective but her summer 'job' seemed to be way too easy and gave her way too much free time. The rich kids seemed very Mean Girls-y, even the guys bar one. The murder/mystery plot seemed secondary to the love triangle which was a bit tedious.
I liked the character development of the bad boy, Jesse. I also liked that although it was very predictable, the plot twist still managed to fool me until the last second.
Overall, not a bad book. Not a great book, but I didn't struggle through it and (mostly) enjoyed the read.

By Jessica Khoury

17 year old Sophie is living with her father in New York when she receives an urgent message from her mother telling her to go to Skin Island, where she is working on genetic research. Sophie makes her way there, having trouble flying to the island which has a reputation that preceeds it. She convinces a childhood friend to take her there but when they become stuck on the island, things begin to go astray. It turns out the research that Sophie's mother is doing is not the curing cancer kind, but the creating test-tube humans with no free will kind. The company behind it all has cruel intentions and Sophie and her friend Jim end up fighting for their lives, and the life of Sophie's newly discovered twin Lux, who is one of the Vitro's - the genetically modified humans who are designed to imprint (or serve, putting it crudely) the person they see first when they are woken up.
It is quite tricky to summarize this book, a lot happens but I don't want to ruin the plot. This book was quite slow to start but then once the pace quickened, it didn't stop until the end. Sophie is a believable character, the product of a divorced family who desperately wants to be like her mother, or the ideal of her mother. The scientists on the island are (mostly) portrayed as cold and heartless. The narrative is told by Lux some of the time which is very insightful and interesting. Jim, the childhood friend/love interest is also a strong character who proves to be fiercely loyal. There is a lot of action and multiple sinister characters which lead the book into some dark places. The genetic engineering side of the book is almost at the nearly-plausible stage so it doesn't take much imagination to turn this into a potential reality.
Overall a really good read. Well-rounded, definitely not chick-lit.

By Ally Condie

In the Society, officials decide. Who you love, where you work, when you die.
When Cassia turns 17 she attends a matching banquet where it is revealed who she will be matched with for the rest of her life. When a screen reveals that she is matched with Xander, her best friend since childhood, she is happy. But when an image mistakenly flashes up of another boy, Ky, Cassia is drawn to the thought of a different reality. One that challenges the very rules of the so-called perfect Society.
This book is a dystopian novel in a world where the best parts of the past have been preserved but everything else has been erased. Meals, matches, jobs are all decided for you so that you have the longest possible life and contribute to Society. It draws threads from Hunger Games with it's different districts, especially the outer ones serving the more affluent, and Divergent with the rising rebellion against a manufactured society. This is the first in a trilogy, I haven't read the last two books but I plan to.
This book was another quick read, easier than the rest. There was a lot of weight on the love triangle side of the plot which tended to overwhelm a bit but the underlying rebellion was enough to keep me interested. I wouldn't put it quite in the ranks of the aforementioned series, but I still enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the next two.

I hope you enjoyed my little reviews that became a lot more involved than I was intending. I plan to document the majority of my recreational reading so expect more of the same as I am a literary creature of habit. I would love some recommendations of books along similar lines or any others that you have loved. Rest assured that there will also be more crafty exploits to come too, especially as our house renovations have kicked up a gear in the last month!


Monday, 2 January 2017

Book Review: Runemarks by Joanne M. Harris

Runemarks has just been re-released with a new (amazing) cover, a new introduction and has been re-edited. Previously released in 2007, this book is by the author of 'Chocolat' and 'The Gospel of Loki'.

Runemarks is drenched in Norse mythology and follows the story of 14 year old Maddy who has a runemark on her hand, giving her access to magic and untold power. She is thought of as strange in her small village and befriends a traveler called One-Eye who helps her develop her magic. He sends her on a mission into the Underworld to retrieve an old relic called The Whisperer where it is under guard by the trickster Loki. This causes a shift in the worlds and things begin to unravel. Dark forces, sleeping gods, and Hel herself join the battle to restore the balance between Order and Chaos.

This book was a mixed bag for me. I enjoy reading fantasy and mythology but this book was a big learning curve for me. The language is as complicated as the worlds within and I thought it could have been explained a bit more. Or perhaps I need to turn my brain on and figure it out myself. It is assumed you already have knowledge of this genre of fantasy. However, I got past that and kept reading. It is a big book at 513 pages which doesn't lend to reading it in one go. Having to put it down made it harder to get back into but once again, perhaps it just isn't my sort of book.
I did enjoy the characters however. Loki especially. Called the 'Trickster' for a reason, he was given a great depth of character and I even found myself on his side a couple of times. Thor and Odin make an appearance although I had to do a bit of research as in this book (which is true to the myths) Odin and Loki are blood brothers. My more recent dealings with Norse mythology have been via the Marvel films where Loki and Thor are (adopted) siblings so this got me turned around a bit.

Once that issue was sorted this book did definitely get interesting. Maddy's journey into the lower worlds was compelling and full of imagery. The ending was left semi-open which is what you want in this type of book. There was also a decent twist that may or may not be obvious but it got me!

Overall, this book is well researched and written and highly recommended for those who are well practiced in the fantasy genre. For those wanting to branch out, perhaps work your way up to it. The new cover art is stunning and the included illustrations in the preface set the scene for the book.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Book Review: Oi Dog! By Kes & Claire Gray

Oi Dog!

Oi Dog! is the laugh-out-loud sequel to Oi Frog! It does stand nicely on its own merit though. The intro, which can be read in all manner of silly voices, is an immediate draw card.

"Oi Dog! Get off the frog!" said the frog. 

Frog has has enough of the rules set in Oi Frog! - that dogs sit on frogs - and decides to change the rules. He decides to change all the things that each animal sits on so that he can get a better deal, and the ending doesn't disappoint. I must note though that the final joke went a bit over my 2.5 year old's head but us parents found it hilarious. There is enough rhyming and silliness that can be enjoyed and repeated by younger readers. Just wait until you find out what elephants will sit on!

Jim Field illustrates Oi Dog! and the pictures are bold, bright and the expressions on each animal are on point.

This book is a great rhyming book that introduces a lot more abstract items to your children's vocabulary and has a great laugh factor. Definitely one to add to the collection. 

Available now in hardback and paperback.

Thanks to Hachette for providing me with a review copy of this book.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Book Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
JK Rowling
 This tale from the world of Harry Potter is set well before the events of the famous books and adds so much magic (figuratively and literally) to the wizarding world. I am constantly amazed and mind-boggled to think of how well J.K. Rowling has thought up not only the names and characteristics of these beasts, but has made them come to life by turning them into a movie! The premise is that Newt Scamander, a Magizoologist, has a brief stopover in New York but he misplaces his magical briefcase containing a variety of magical beasts. Some of these beasts escape and chaos ensues. 

As just mentioned, the book is written as a screenplay which reads differently to a normal novel. It is a script and includes camera angles, settings, and a few other directions such as the emotions that are being portrayed. It does take a bit of getting used to but don't let that put you off reading it! After a while your mind begins to create the events in your imagination. If you happened to see the movie first (I haven't yet) then you will already have images and characters in your mind ready to replay the adventure without the inevitable disappointment of 'The Book Was Better'. There is also a glossary at the back which gives you the meaning and context of each direction (eg CU - close up camera angle)

It is a relatively quick read, I got caught up in it while my daughter napped and read it start-to-finish in about 3 hours (luckily she had a long nap!). The book was gripping, well paced and has a great twist or two to keep it interesting. The main characters are well developed, likable and funny. There are quite a few words and slang that will be familiar to HP fans, if this is your first HP-related read then there is a glossary of a few terms provided but most are pretty easy to figure out.

My only gripe would be the use of No-Maj instead of Muggle (those who are born of non-magic parents and incapable of producing magic), although I can let it slide because it is set in a different time and of course we still have loads of British/American slang floating around.

If you can get your hands on this book in one way or another (I don't condone stealing however), then grab a cuppa, put your feet up and read it! It is a wonderful addition to the ever-growing world of Harry Potter.

Thank you to Hachette for my review copy of this book

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Dear Addison - Two and a Half Years Old

Dear Addison,

I'm not quite sure where half a year went since your birthday but here we are. You have grown in a lot a ways but especially upwards. Still tracking on the 50th percentile line as always and you will probably end up around the same height as me - around 170cm. You hair has also grown a LOT, especially when comparing photos from a year ago! It reaches more than halfway down your back now and is quite wavy, also like mine. Since it is so long we need to tie it back and this proves to be a daily battle, a sticker rewards chart is about to be implemented I think.

Speaking of sticker charts, toilet training is back on in full force. After a good run just before you hit two, you decided you wanted to be back in nappies and we followed your lead. You have now decided that undies are the way to go and quite often use the toilet at home, and you are pretty good at preschool and only have the occasional accident, here's hoping it continues!

You have sprouted all of your teeth now, the 2 year old molars arrived just after you turned two, the bottom ones first.

You are a pretty good eater right now, quite happy with routine. As with most toddlers you have a sweet tooth and would eat treats all day if you could so we make sure to offer plenty of fruit and veges. You most requested dinner is 'Chicken and Peas' which we can fulfill in various forms. You enjoy pasta, noodles and cous cous, and potatoes when they have the skin taken off. You love sauces and gravy and dipping your food in things. You eat the tops off broccoli and cauliflower and really enjoy cucumber. You also really like kidney beans which you call 'jelly beans'. Weetbix is your breakfast of choice although you rarely eat it all. You are good at telling us when you are full and know the rule is that once you are finished there is no more food. You still graze but are getting better at eating at set meal times.

You are thriving at preschool, you go for 3 full days a week while mum studies. You have been going since March and are now very comfortable with the teachers and other children there. You tell me all the other children's names and can identify their parents faces when they come to pick them up. You spend a lot of time outside in the sandpit and riding the bikes. You also love playdoh, stories and duplo and have made a couple of close friends there. Sometimes one of the amazing mums comes in and does some face painting which you have really taken a shine to!

This beautiful tiger was painted at her besties 3rd birthday and she spent the whole day roaring like a tiger!

Another favourite is dressing up. You are getting pretty pro at putting on and taking off clothing (including nappies) and I regularly find you after your (occasional) naps with very interesting clothing combinations and you are very adament in your days outfit. I have been stashing away a box of dress ups that I will continue to add to because I love that you are enjoying imaginative play.

You love being in the shed with Daddy and he is so patient with you and teaches you how to use the real tools. He is so excited of the many years to come and is already planning out projects that you can do together.

Other things you love include: being outside, being a doctor, climbing, fluffies, doing whatever mum or dad is doing (or eating, or wearing), playing with Dolly, playgrounds, water play, sandpits, playing with the hose, not wearing clothes, reading stories, going to the library every week, telling us what to do, pretending to go to sleep in the middle of the day, doing everything yourself and just generally being cute.

There is so much more I could say about the beautiful girl you are, we are loving being your parents, you push us everyday to be more patient and you show us what it is to love someone with all of your heart.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Book Review - Holding by Graham Norton

Duneen is a quiet, sleepy Irish village where everyone knows everyone and life just passes by. There is Sergeant PJ Collins, the overweight constable who has never had the chance to shine, Brid Riordan, who is an alcoholic and barely keeping her family together, and Evelyn Ross, the youngest of three sisters who never married after the tragic death of their parents. Along with the rest of the town, these three complex but clearly human characters are thrown into a murder-mystery as human remains are found at a new property being developed. The story is revealed piece by piece and although you may have your suspicions, there is plenty to keep you guessing until the end.

This book is written by Graham Norton. You know, Graham Norton of talk-show fame. You may or may not know that he also played a guest role in Father Ted for a few episodes and holds shares in a New Zealand wine company. This is his first attempt at fiction and a lot of people, myself included, were interested in the way that the book would pan out. I was pleasantly surprised by Holding and I would definitely recommend it to others. This is a read-in-one-sitting kind of book. It is not fast paced, but it switches between different narrators often so you want to piece each characters story together and this requires you to keep reading.

Although written by a comedian, it is not a specifically funny book. There are plenty of traces of wit but there is a heavy feel to the characters as they each battle their own secrets and regrets. I enjoy a good whodunnit and this did not disappoint. I found the characters to be understandably the way they are, due to past circumstance combined with small town living. The book is peppered with Irish slang which took a bit of getting my head around but it adds, not detracts, from the story. Overall a great piece of fiction that will leave you missing the town and the people after it ends. 

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Book Review: The Midas Legacy by Andy McDermott

Once again I enter a series 12 books in. I feel like 12 books in a series is a lot to write and I understand the dilemma of character development as the characters age and having them still getting up to the thrilling, action-packed, page-turning antics that drew us in in the first place. I think Mc Dermott still makes it work but I don't know how much longer the series could keep up the dynamic.

The premise is that Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase have calmed down for a few years after plenty of near-death experiences while unearthing pieces of history, including the lost city of Atlantis. They now have a 3-year old daughter Macy but they get drawn into a new adventure seeking the Midas Cave - the place that legends tell of producing gold in unimaginable quantities.

The book is LONG, a big chunker that in no way can you read in one sitting. I think this is why it is written the way it is, there are big, exciting action bits, then it calms down so you feel you can put the book down for a break but know that there will be more the next time you pick it up. There are probably 6-7 big events that happen during the book which is almost overkill for me. I could have happily stopped after the first two if they were drawn out a bit. It felt a bit like a few books in one.

What drew me to the book is the treasure hunt aspect of the story. I love mythology and Atlantis especially, so I will probably go back and read a couple of earlier titles in the series which all seem to follow similar lines. The treasure hunt didn't disappoint.

I found the introduction of the child, and the fact that Nina and Eddie were parents, to be quite hard to relate to. It wasn't that they didn't care about her, they did enormously, but the pull of 'saving the world' took them away from her multiple times during the story. I feel like after one close call I would take my family and hide away for a while!

What I did like was Eddie. He is a British ex-soldier with a witty sense of humour and a potty mouth. His one-liners pop up in the most inappropriate places which made me laugh out loud while reading.

Overall I did enjoy this book, I would have enjoyed it more if it were shorter but the content was definitely action filled and I will be revisiting some of the earlier books. A good holiday read if you need something to fill in a couple of hours at a time.

Available now from all good book retailers.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy