Saturday, 28 September 2013

UKYA review: Popping the Cherry by Aurelia B Rowl

Published by: Carina
Release date: 19th September 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

You only get one first time . . .

From driving tests to relationships, Valentina Bell thinks she’s a failure, with a big fat capital F. At this rate, she’s certain she’ll be a virgin for ever. So Lena’s friends plan Operation: Popping the Cherry to help her find the perfect man first time.

Yet somehow disastrous dates with bad-boy musicians and fabulous evenings with secretly in-the-closet guys aren’t quite working out how Lena planned.

Soon Lena’s avoiding Operation: Popping the Cherry to spend time with comforting, aloof Jake, her best friend’s older brother, who doesn’t make her feel self-conscious about still clinging to her V card. But could Jake show Lena that sometimes what you’re looking for most is right by your side?

A FOREVER for the twenty-first century

My review:
Ahh, this book was exactly what I needed. After trawling through a bunch of difficult fantasy novels, I was more than ready for this easy-to-read, light-hearted bit of contemporary romance. It was so nice reading a Brit book too - the voice is so different to a US one, but I often forget just how much difference it makes, what with the market being flooded with US fiction. As I'm taking part in the British Books Challenge this year though, I'm doing my best to read and plug as many good UKYA books as I can. Thankfully, books like Popping the Cherry make my job easy - as soon as I read it, I wanted to tell you all about it.

Lena is a great MC for starters. She's so blessedly normal. She's at college studying for her A-levels, but she doesn't really know what she wants to do. She has friends, but she's not uber-popular. She's not geeky, she's not beautiful, she doesn't have that much self-confidence but she's not a complete wall-flower. She's a virgin, which is kind of the point of the book, but she's not a prude. She has a great voice, and I loved reading her story.

Lucky Lena is also surrounded by a bevy of brilliant characters. Her group of friends are spot-on - I can just imagine those girls at college together, Rowl brings them all to life so well. Even the peripheral characters - the parents and other students - are excellently done. Some authors don't seem to realise the importance of secondary characters, but Rowl clearly does, and she does her job with aplomb. And then there's Jake. Ah, Jake. He's a builder by trade, he's 21, he's Lena's best friend Gemma's brother. There are so many reasons why he shouldn't work for Lena, somehow he does. He's not just a builder, he's a director of his father's company, and he's got vision. At that age, a few years difference is definitely a good thing in my mind - girls mature so much quicker than boys, that at 17, college boys are best avoided. The thorny issue of Gemma is more problematic. But is all this relevant anyway? Can Jake really be a contender for Lena's affections? He's definitely not on her cherry-popping list, so he's off-limits, right?

Rowl does breathless romance very well. There were so many moments in this book that had my stomach clenching, butterflies tripping around my insides. It really brought to life those heart-stoppingly awkward but beautiful moments when two people start to realise that there is something more between them than friendship. It's not plain-sailing by any means. Lena runs into more than her fair share of trouble, but luckily there's a certain someone there ready to act as knight-in-shining-armour. By the time I got to the end I was fairly screaming at the book to make it happen already, but that's all part of the fun. The ending itself was a little soppy, but in a nice way.

A perfect blend of teen issues and fun romance, Popping the Cherry is exactly my kind of book, and I hope it is yours too.

Monday, 23 September 2013

UKYA Review: Skulk by Rosie Best

Published by: Strange Chemistry
Release date: 1st October 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:
When Meg witnesses the dying moments of a shapeshifting fox and is given a beautiful and powerful stone, her life changes forever. She is plunged into the dark world of the Skulk, a group of shapeshifting foxes.

As she learns about the other groups of shapeshifters that lurk around London – the Rabble, the Horde, the Cluster and the Conspiracy – she becomes aware of a deadly threat against all the shapeshifters. They must put aside all their enmity and hostility and fight together to defeat it.

My review:
I've had a run of mediocre books from NetGalley recently, but as soon as I started reading Skulk, I knew I'd stumbled across something special. For one thing, it's British, which immediately brings it up in my estimation. I can't help it, there's something kind of amazing about reading a great Brit book after trawling through mountains of US stuff. But that's not all Skulk has going for it - not by a long shot...

It's shapeshifters, but not as we know them. Somehow, Best has come up with a really original way of using shifters. I didn't think there were any left, but Best's groups of shifters are new and appealing. The history and origins of these shifters are interesting, and the way that Meg becomes one is very different. No infected bites here! The description of Meg's first shift, and all that comes with it, is brilliantly-written. In fact, the whole book is. Best brings her characters to life wonderfully - not just Meg, though her voice is very real, honest and likeable - but the rest of the skulk group who Meg meets, and other shifters that she comes across later, are all well-formed, interesting characters. Meg's parents, while lacking in parental skills, are beautifully evil as characters! Meg herself is a multi-faceted girl, on one level a rich, priveladged girl with a crappy home life, on another she's a talented grafitti artist with a mission. Then the skulk comes along and everything changes, and she becomes a reluctant heroine.

There's a lot of action, and it's well-paced. Best isn't afraid to let bad things happen, to show us a bit of blood and gore, and there's none of the 'talking down' effect that you come across in some YA books. Best treats her readers as intelligent people, and she hits exactly the right point between giving enough description to bring her world to life, while leaving just enough to the imagination of the reader. There's a hint of romance towards the end that I think will be built on in subsequent books, but it's not the be-all and end-all of the story, there's no inappropriate swooning at crucial moments and everybody isn't gorgeous! There are a lot of levels to this book if you start pulling it apart - a lot of different issues are brought up, but it's done in a subtle way so that taken as a whole it's just a really good read.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Published by: Scholastic Press
Release date: 17th Sept 2013
Series: Raven Cycle #2
I got it from: Amazon

Quote: "His eyes were frighteningly alive, the curve of his mouth savage and pleased. It suddenly didn't seem at all surprising that he should be able to pull things from his dreams.
In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness. Her raven boys."

Goodreads summary:
Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...

My review:
I haven't been this excited about the prospect of a book for a long time. Ever since I read The Raven Boys I've been waiting, with baited breath, for The Dream Thieves to come into being. As the publication date got nearer, I became more impatient and any book that wasn't The Dream Thieves couldn't satisfy me.

I managed to time re-reading The Raven Boys perfectly, so that I finished it on the day The Dream Thieves arrived. I didn't start it until the following day though - I needed that small amount of time to soak up all of The Raven Boys and prepare myself. Because I knew it was going to be big. I was not wrong.

Stiefvater's writing has reached a new level with this series. Every single sentence has the feeling that it has been very carefully considered, while still somehow managing to flow naturally and with an energy that will bite you if you're not careful. It's like reading a ley line. Here is a book that you cannot read when you're tired. There is so much going on, and all of it, every single word, demands your complete attention. If you miss something, you will be sorry. I suspect that when I read it again (which I suspect will happen quite soon), I will find even more magic, fall even deeper in love.

I refuse absolutely to give away anything when it comes to this book. The summary, as you can see above, is short and intriguing. It's a very hard book to write about without revealing something essential. There are things which are set up in the Raven Boys which you can't possibly see how they might pan out, and when events conspire to make these things happen it is somehow both surprising and obvious. Stiefvater must surely have access to some place like Cabeswater herself, as I really can't see how all this could have happened inside one brain, in order.

Th Dream Thieves is many, many things. It is, at turns, loud, subtle, gentle, dangerous, perplexing, serious, amusing, warm and awesome. It is, at all times, beautiful, riveting and wonderful. There is just so much of it. It contains magic, and it is magic. When I saw it on NetGalley, I requested it with some trepidation, and I was actually happy when my request was declined. Because this is the type of book that needs to be made of paper. It needs to be bound, or it might fly away. If you've read The Raven Boys, you know what you want, and you can rest assured that it will not disappoint. If you haven't read The Raven Boys, do so immediately.

Thank you Mrs Stiefvater. I had unreasonably high expectations, and you have exceeded them beautifully.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Slumber Blog Tour: Author Guest Post With Kathleen Bolton

I read slumber back in July, and I absolutely loved it, so when the opportunity came up to take part in the blog tour, I jumped at it. You can see my original review here, and today I'm very lucky to be hosting a guest post from author Kathleen Bolton (who wrote Slumber under the pen name Tamara Blake), as well as a giveaway so you can win your very own digital copy of Slumber. Don't just take my word for it though - you can read an excerpt of the book yourself and let me know what you think.

About Kathleen

Kathleen Bolton is a professional writer and editor. Currently, she is a contracted writer to WorkingPartners, Ltd Her projects include Confessionsof a First Daughter, a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President’s teen-aged daughter, and Secretsof a First Daughter, both published by HarperCollins Teen, under the pen name Cassidy Calloway. Her current project, Slumber, under the pen name Tamara Blake, released July of 2013 and is a dark suspense fantasy novel for teens. She is the co-founder of  WriterUnboxed, one of the foremost online communities for writers of fiction.
Kathleen lives with her husband and daughter in upstate New York.
Visit her AuthorTrackerwebpage at HarperCollins Publishing, or Goodreads

Kathleen's Guest Post

Getting the most from your secondary characters
By Kathleen Bolton, author of SLUMBER under the pen name Tamara Blake

Thank you for inviting me to guest with you today. Many readers have said that they enjoy the secondary characters in SLUMBER just as much as the main characters Ruby and Tam. As writers, we work hard to create characters that come alive on the page, no matter what their role is in the book. I thought I would share my three tips guidelines for creating unforgettable secondary characters.

1. Contrast to compare.

I like to use the rule of contrast when creating secondary characters. Doing so enables me to highlight my main character’s traits more brightly. For example, in SLUMBER, the heroine, Ruby, is a broke but hardworking girl who doesn’t like to play games. What you see is what you get with Ruby. So I made sure that her bitter enemy, the immortal fae Ivy, was a foil for Ruby’s earthiness. Ivy is spoiled, pleasure-seeking and likes to toy with people to the point of cruelty. They are opposite sides of spectrum, which allowed me to give their scenes extra zip.

2. Give secondary character one defining characteristic (ideally in opposition to your protagonist).

There’s a reason it’s called a secondary character: they exist to help tell the protagonist’s story, not their own. In SLUMBER, I needed this rule more than ever. The mansion of Cottingley was inhabited by a number of beautiful immortal faes, and it was challenging to give them enough memorability without derailing the main story of Ruby and Tam. So I made sure to settle on one unusual trait per fae – a swirly dragon’s tattoo, or French accent – so the reader wouldn’t be overwhelmed with detail. Just enough memorability for the reader to keep them straight without having to resort to a cheat sheet to tell who was who.

3. But don’t fall back on clichés.

Even if a secondary character only has a few lines, I like to make sure they seem fresh by giving them an unexpected twist. For example, in SLUMBER, Ruby’s little sister Shelley was in danger of running into cliché territory because she was a cute little girl who did cute little girl things. She needed a little edge, to keep her real and avoid becoming a cliché. So I gave Shelley a passion for drawing really bad pictures that no one can decipher, which provides comic relief and gives her an extra dimension.

There you have it, my three tips for creating memorable secondary characters. Thanks again for having me guest post today. I truly appreciate it.

Thanks for that Kathleen, as a writer myself I found that really interesting and useful, as I'm sure many others out there will. And now it's time for the Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Many thanks to Diversion Books for letting me take part in this tour. You can buy the book from their site.

Monday, 9 September 2013

New Adult Monday: Me, Cinderella? by Aubrey Rose

Published by: CreateSpace
Release date:
24th June 2013
I got it from:

Goodreads summary:

One kind deed can change your life forever...

Brynn Tomlin could never afford to follow her heart. But when she sees a stranger shivering in the snow outside of the college library, an inexplicable urge leads her to buy him a hot cup of coffee. It's just a small act of kindness, a few words of conversation. Brynn should be focusing on her finals, after all, not on the man who looked up at her gratefully with piercing blue eyes.

He could have been anyone - a janitor on break, a graduate student, a bum. But the man standing outside in the cold turns out to be Dr. Eliot Herceg, one of the most brilliant minds in mathematics and heir to a fortune. After years of reclusive isolation, he now finds his heart awakening to the kind girl whose name he does not know.

Brynn has spent her life trying to forget her desires, and Eliot's deep wounds have taken nearly a decade to heal. After so much hurt, will either of them be able to open their hearts again?

My review:
I found this to be a really beautiful story. I wasn't sure if I'd like it before I started, as I'm not sure I like the idea of student/teacher relationships, but I decided as this is NA and the student is older, it's not so bad. So I gave it a chance, and I'm so glad I did. 

Brynn is a really good character. She's had tragedy in her past, she's kind of poor, but she doesn't dwell on all that too much. She is incredibly intelligent and she adores math(s) (I don't get why Americans remove the s). I loved the way she gets so excited about it, how she lives to solve these ridiculously hard problems and gets so much enjoyment out of it. Me and numbers don't have that kind of relationship, but the way Brynn was written made me feel like she was a friend who I totally get and love. She's a little naive, and doesn't have enough confidence in herself, but she's a sweet, smart girl and very likeable. You want her to get the happy ever after.

When Brynn meets Eliot she feels an instant connection, unlike anything she's felt before. The girl is a late bloomer, not having had a relationship before. She's fancied boys, but she's never felt anything like what she feels when she's around Eliot. She doesn't really understand it to start with. Okay, so I found Brynn a little too naive at times - can you really get that far in life without feeling desire? But I can overlook that, and concentrate on the great energy between her and Eliot. Neither of them realises who the other is to start - Brynn doesn't know he's a math(s) professor, and Eliot doesn't know she's a top student, in with a chance at his internship. They're neither of them whole or healthy inside, and each of them has their own reasons for avoiding getting close to someone. They can't deny the electricity they feel though, so we see this awkward little 'I-like-you-but-I-don't-want-to' dance. It's sweet. 

Both Brynn and Eliot have built pretty big walls around themselves, and as the book goes on we see those walls start to crumble slightly, but it takes something pretty big to pull them down altogether. In the mean-time we're left with a bit of will-they/won't-they. Rose hits the fine line before going over it though - there's not quite too much back-and-forth. Eliot is the real problem. He's older, and his hurt is more personal. He's very stubborn with himself, he doesn't believe he deserves to find love and happiness again, so he really shuts Brynn out. Every now and then though, he can't help himself, so the poor girl is left dangling, not knowing what he wants. Although that frustrated me a little, I couldn't help but fall for Eliot...

Eliot is older than Brynn. I don't think we ever actually hear his age, but he's definitely a bit different to your usual NA hero. He's an intellectual, he's loved and lost, he's kind of broken and he has an air of mystery that draws you in. When he meets Brynn something inside of him starts to open up. He fights it all the way, because he's a good guy and he doesn't think a student/teacher relationship is right. 

Rose treats us to just the right amount of back-story. Sometimes I get bored of reading about a character's past, but the lives that Rose has created, and the way she reveals them, was just right. Everything fits together perfectly in this book - the characters, the plotline, the history, the locations. I love that Eliot is Hungarian and half the book is based in Budapest - this makes such a nice change from the usual US campus, and it's such a romantic city to imagine. 

A note on the ending - you know how fussy I am! The end of this book is fine. No problem there. What I do have a problem with, is the fact that there's a sequel, which we're treated to a preview of at the end of this book. I didn't like that. I want my happy-ever-after, I want fairytale romance and escapism. I don't want to know all about how relationships aren't plain-sailing and easy to maintain. That's just a bit too real for me. So I personally won't be going for the next book, but that's just me.

Monday, 2 September 2013

New Adult Monday: Ice Games by Jessica Clare

Published by: Jill Myles
Release date:
29th July 2013
Games #3
I got it from:
ARC via GR New Adult Book Club Read & Review

Goodreads summary: 

Zara Pritchard is a has-been. Once an Olympic darling, she's been reduced to skating in a dinosaur costume and giving lessons at the local mall...which is why she's excited when she's offered a chance to sub on a TV show, Ice Dancing with the Stars. If she wins the show, this could be the break she needs.

There's just one problem - her partner.

Ty Randall is a MMA bad boy looking to fix his image problem. Sure, he's got the nickname of 'Ty the MMA Biter'. Sure, he might have bit a guy's nose off in the cage. But putting him on a reality TV show? A skating reality TV show? He's not interested. He'll do the minimum to fix his image and call it a day.

But when wash-out meets flame-out, sparks fly and tempers flare. And Ty and Zara start to realize that maybe this partnership might be just as steamy off the ice as on it...

My review:
A fun and flirty holiday read, exactly the kind of NA novel I like for a bit of light reading. There's no angst to be found here, no harsh reminders of the real world. Zara and Ty both have incidents in their past that they're not proud of, that have wrecked their careers, but for the reader it's just a little glitch with a great outcome - bringing the pair together.

Zara is tiny but feisty. She may be small but she's strong in body and heart. And when you hear Ty's words about her you'll see just how sexy she is. With the body and agility of a figure skater, a wild streak a mile wide and a determination to win, there's nothing not to love about this girl.

Ty is a fighter, and you can't deny that there's something sexy about that - his body, his strength and his toughness. But it's what's inside that really counts. He may have bitten a chunk out of a guy's nose in the ring, but with Zara he's as sweet as can be - at least he is after the initial clash of strong personalities. The little skater has got under his skin, and he'll do anything to make her happy - except wear sequins!

These two have chemistry from the moment they meet, and although they string us along for a while, we're treated to a doozy of a sex scene in the end! I don't feel bad about revealing that, as I reckon it's pretty much a given from the moment he puts his hands on her, and it gives you something to look forward to! A short book you can enjoy in an afternoon if you fancy a bit of fun and romance. It's part of a series but works fine as a standalone read.