Thursday, September 27, 2012

Heart Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

A compelling, brutal and heart-breaking story about identity, infamy and revenge, from debut author Tanya Byrne. Shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger 2012

They say I'm evil. 
The police. The newspapers. The girls from school who sigh on the six o'clock news and say they always knew there was something not quite right about me. 
And everyone believes it. Including you. 
But you don't know. You don't know who I used to be. Who I could have been.
Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever shake off my mistakes or if I'll just carry them around with me forever like a bunch of red balloons

Awaiting trial at Archway Young Offenders Institution, Emily Koll is going to tell her side of the story for the first time.

Heart-Shaped Bruise is a compulsive and moving novel about infamy, identity and how far a person might go to seek revenge.

I'll be very clear and very honest here - Tanya is a good friend.  Last year this time I know how she was a bit panicky about attending the annual SCBWI Agents' Party as she was putting her finishing touches on a manuscript called China House Rules.

The upshot of this is: Tanya came away having made contact with an agent, there were shenanigans, the book was taken on by said agent, more shenanigans, the book got bought by Headline MORE shenanigans and hey presto, we have a book in our hands.

I was worried that when the chance came for me to review it, people would go: yeah, but she's your mate, so of course you're gonna say you like it.  I really should never listen to the voices in my head.  I should have listened to my gut and I should have trusted Tanya and her agent and her editor.  But for the longest time I refused to read the book.  I got a manuscript proof copy. I got a hard back copy.  Eventually, I read it.  Then shortly after that I re-read it.  And I kept quiet and smiled dumbly when people spoke to me about it.  Then the paperback turned up and I read it again.  And I decided to break my silence because I came to realise that if you're a reader of MFB you will know the truth of the thing when I tell it to you, because I'm a pretty shitty liar.  So here it is straight:

*cue dramatic music*

And I have FEELINGS about this book.  I threw it across the room when I read it - in disgust.  HOW can it be THAT GOOD? Damn you, Tanya Byrne!

It made me laugh, it made me cry.  It took me by surprise. It made me feel like this girl Tanya I'd come to know is someone else entirely because she had written this book that made me have all these FEELINGS and I expected it...but I didn't expect it to be this much THIS MUCH.

Okay, so enough about ME and my FEELINGS.  More about the book, the story and the voice.

Told in a very close voice first person POV we meet Emily who is currently in a Young Offenders Institution.  She's supremely sarcastic, sharp, clever, realistic and very much a presence from the get-go. HSB is written as if we are being told confidences by Emily through a notebook she'd found in her room at the Institution.  Her descriptions of her thoughts, her day to day interviews and chats with other "inmates" are wildly vivid, charming and shocking.  Here's a girl whose voice makes you sit up and take notice.  She's a dreamer, but rooted in being realistic, in being a bad girl.  She's complex, layered, full of jagged edges and nasty words and sweet smiles.  She is as contradictory as I used to be as a teen, as odd and strange as I see my friends' teenage and pre-teen kids being.  She rings true, and for me that was the key to the whole story.

We find out that she's done a Bad Thing.  For the longest time you think the Bad Thing is an obviously Bad Thing but it's not at all what you think.  She quite bravely tells us headlines and google searches will tell you certain things about her, what the media called her, how they demonised her.  In the end, what we know for a fact is that she stalked a young woman called Juliet.  She made friends with her, inserted herself into every facet of Juliet's life in order to ultimately destroy it and get back to Juliet in this way, for destroying her (Emily's) life.

There is a perverse pleasure in Emily's voice as she admits these things.  She walks the fine line between being an unreliable narrator and being so honest about things that your own judgement becomes clouded.  As her sessions with Dr. Gillyard, the therapist at the institution, progresses, we see this facade Emily holds up to the world slowly crack and crumble, only to reveal another duplicitous layer. She comes across as super tough, wise, wordly but if you look carefully she is this frail and scared young girl, but you blink and that girl is gone and instead you'll be faced with Emily, The Criminal Bad Girl.

As the story progresses and we come more and more involved with Emily and this world she inhabits we find it easier and easier to see things from her point of view, why she did what she did.  She's not necessarily apologetic about her actions, she's very much aware of what she did, but it's a case of things having come so far that when they played out, she almost had no choice left but to hurt the people whom she had grown so close to over a short period of time.

There are parts of HSB that will resonate with readers, some that will chill you to the bone and bits that will make you grin wryly because you understand the humour, the reality of it, and it's a darkness in all of us.

This is Tanya's debut novel and it's strong, and vivid and slightly wild and breathless.  It's not a very big book, I'll be fair, but it packs a punch and I doubt that as a reader I would have had the emotional strength (or tears left) to face a longer story.

I know people online have grumbled about the way it ends - saying it ends abruptly but to be honest, I think it ends the way it does in order for the reader to decide what happens next to Emily.  There is an anticipation towards those end pages that just blew me away and trust me when I say, it doesn't happen often.

Tanya Byrne really has "burst onto the scene" in a bit of a hurricane.  I think we should fasten our YA seatbelts as we're in for a mad ride on her tailcoats.

Find Tanya on twitter at @tanyabyrne and follower her tumblr page here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Falling to Ash by Karen Mahoney


Trapped between two very different worlds, newly made vampire Moth is struggling to find her place in either. Not only does she have to answer to her strict Irish-Catholic Dad, but her over-protective maker, Theo, is intent on making her the star attraction in his powerful Boston vampire clan. Moth will have to pull off the double-act of the century to please both of them...

Adding to her problems is the dangerously attractive Jason Murdoch, a trainee vampire hunter who loves to play cat and mouse in his spare time (Jace = cat; Moth = mouse). But when the teenagers of Boston’s wealthiest families start to disappear, it forces Moth and Jace into an uneasy truce. Will they be able to solve the mystery behind the disappearances—before someone winds up undead?

I'm on a roll at the moment having read a number of fabulous books. September's been a bumper month and I've been struggling to decide what to read next but have been so looking forward to Falling to Ash that it was an easy decision to start it straight away. I've always loved vampires but for me they have to be the deadly dangerous sort. I was intrigued by Moth since I read her short story in the Kiss Me Deadly anthology back in 2010. Moth is not the sort of vampire that we've become used to in recent years. She's newly made - only a year into her undead existence - and she's yet to come into her powers fully. Still able to walk in the daylight but she's swapped a life of misery with her alcoholic father for suffocatin with an over-protective maker. Her comings and goings are restricted and she has to learn the ways of her new family. She's also had to drop out of college and rarely gets to see her much-loved little sister.

These aren't her only problems. Police turn up on her doorstep wanting to know why a murdered boy has her address in his pocket. When she goes to investigate his body she finds Jace the vampire hunter and together they discover that the boy has transformed into a zombie. They team up to find out who is doing the killing and must do it quickly before more teenagers are taken. Moth is a fabulous character - she's both gutsy and foolhardy but also touchingly trusting and vulnerable. Her tragic family background gives her a sorrowful, serious air but she's also sharp-witted and mistress of the eye roll. 

Moth and Jace are a brilliant partnership and I was praying for them to get together. I won't give anything away but they have some wonderful moments together. Jace has his own problems - a totally single-minded vampire hunting father and zombies a-plenty. Jace is a great believer in research and has a huge library at his disposal. I like to think of him and Moth as a sort of Giles and Buffy combo - but well matched in age and sexy and … oh dear, you know what I mean. Jace is all wise and thinks things though while Moth acts instinctively and goes with her gut. They are the perfect duo!

The story is a wonderful whodunit and it breezes along to an explosive ending. The world of Falling to Ash is rich with folklore. I loved discovering the rules that the vampires must live by and how zombies are created. I sense that there's much to be revealed in the next book. Also available is the Moth Tales  webcomic (brilliantly illustrated by Candace Ellis) which is updated every Monday and Friday and I urge you to check it out in all its awesomeness. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Isis Covenant by James Douglas

AD 64 - Roman centurion Marcus Domitus leads an expedition to find the mythical treasure hidden deep inside Queen Dido's temple.

AD 1945 - In the confusion and chaos of a burning Berlin, two high-powered Nazis disappear, and so does a precious object.

AD 2009 - Two families are brutally tortured and murdered in Boston and London, the crimes linked by a single name and a shared history.

Art recovery specialist Jamie Saintclair receives a call from a Boston detective, asking for his help to investigate a brutal murder. She believes Saintclair might hold the key to solving the crime through his detailed knowledge of specialist Nazi units. But as they delve deeper into the sinister world of the occult, they uncover a dark secret that men have lusted over for more than two millennia. Long ago, in the ancient temple of Isis, something was stolen, and the repercussions have resonated through the centuries. Saintclair must discover the truth before the curse claims more victims, and finally catches up with him.

This is such a tremendously great fun quest novel.  The writing is moreish, the plot is insanely OTT and yet it all works because we are given two really great characters to follow around - Jamie Saintclair, our main character and Danny Fisher, a tough Boston homicide detective.

James Douglas weaves seamlessly legends, mythology and modern research into a solid story inhabited by a very tough very frightening villain (with a twist) and a range of backing characters that feel real and interesting.

I (stupidly) did not read the previous novel by JD featuring Jamie Saintclair but even so, I was pretty quickly caught up with what went before with a  neat bit of exposition that didn't feel forced or overwrought.  With that behind us, we went gallivanting around half of Europe with Jamie and a fantastically tough and complex Danny.

It is obvious that the two are attracted to one another and yet it's kept pretty much low key which is how I like my quest novels. There is sneaking, there is torture, there are guns, there is world-travel and there is oodles of research and World War II thieving and explosions and well, I was a happy fan-girl.

I may make it sound like this is a carefree little novel that's all fun and explosions, but I'd like to point out that it isn't.  At its core is a story of a group of men who did some awful things under a regime that most people can't speak about in anything but whispers.  The atrocities committed under the Nazis will never not make us feel sick to our core and Mr. Douglas uses this background to show us how this legacy is still something we have to deal with, all these years on.  The reveals, as they happen are shocking because they are told in a matter of fact voice, there is no need for amped up drama; the reality of what the characters are talking about is enough to make your stomach turn.

It takes a pretty adept writer to pull of a layered quest novel and I'd definitely recommend you give The Isis Covenant a whirl if you're looking for pure escapism.  There is a lot to enjoy and a lot to mull over - it is chewy, but for the right reasons.

I've just gone searching for a hi-res image of TIC and found my friend Kate's review of The Isis Covenant over at her blog - do check it out.  She's far more concise than I've been in this instance.  Needless to say: we liked it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr


In a city of daimons, rigid class lines separate the powerful from the power-hungry. And at the heart of The City is the Carnival of Souls, where both murder and pleasure are offered up for sale. Once in a generation, the carnival hosts a deadly competition that allows every daimon a chance to join the ruling elite. Without the competition, Aya and Kaleb would both face bleak futures--if for different reasons. For each of them, fighting to the death is the only way to try to live.

All Mallory knows of The City is that her father--and every other witch there--fled it for a life in exile in the human world. Instead of a typical teenage life full of friends and maybe even a little romance, Mallory scans quiet streets for threats, hides herself away, and trains to be lethal. She knows it's only a matter of time until a daimon finds her and her father, so she readies herself for the inevitable. While Mallory possesses little knowledge of The City, every inhabitant of The City knows of her. There are plans for Mallory, and soon she, too, will be drawn into the decadence and danger that is the Carnival of Souls.

Straight off the back of my excitement about the new Sarah Rees Brennan book we have a new Melissa Marr. This is almost too much excitement for me to bear! The ending of the Wicked Lovely series was just perfect but I was left a little bereft - all of my favourite series coming to an end in the same year. I needn't have worried as Carnival of Souls arrived with the promise of a new world. The start of a new series is always an exciting event for me: new characters, a brand new world with rules and myths ready to be explored. Melissa Marr is brilliant at merging the recognisable with the bizarre so I wasn't surprised to find that I easily accepted that there is our world and then there is The City. In our world witches live after being banished from The City. I should say that the ones that survived made it to our world as the majority of witches were killed in the wars. In The City, daimons rule but within their world is a rigid caste system which meant that for Mallory's mother her only chance of keeping Mallory safe was to deliver her to our world.

I found Mallory an interesting character. She's been brought up to be on guard, constantly on the run and, we discover gradually, not being told the entire truth about her background. She understands that she'll never fit in to normal school life and that it's nearly impossible for her to have friends. This is why she is surprised by her connection to Kaleb - a boy who appears and starts to show an interest in her. During the first half of the book I really didn't know who to trust. I wasn't sure about Mallory's dad, Adam - but more than anyone I was very unsure about Aya. In the opening chapters Aya is preparing for her latest fight in the competition - fights which set daimons of differing classes against each other in the hopes of becoming a member of the ruling elite. Aya is determined not to marry her love, Belias, for a variety of reasons but her other option is to fight him until one of them is dead or forfeits. Initially, although I could sympathise with her anger at her lack of options I didn't agree with her actions.

This is the brilliance of Carnival of Souls. I found that just as I had made a decision about a character something happened to change my mind. Kaleb is my favourite, a cur and therefore bottom of the pile, his involvement in the competition is about long-term survival and prospects for both him and his pack mate Zevi. They have both managed to survive in The City against massive odds and have had to use everything at their disposal to get as far as they have. I haven't even spoken about the Night Market yet - an intense and dangerous place where people barter services and sell everything imaginable to get by. Zevi and Kaleb use the Night Market to make money but Kaleb has kept his involvement in the real world and Mallory secret from Zevi. As the book powers towards the end the stakes rise for every character and I had a clearer idea of which team I was rooting for. I think that Mallory will be a much more full character in the next book. Without giving away the plot she's not able to come into herself in this book which meant that I didn't fully bond with her as much as I did with Kaleb.

All this aside I thought that Carnival of Souls is a brilliant. I'm already heavily invested in the fascinating world that Marr has created and I await the next installment with excitement.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fire City by Bali Rai

Twenty-five years ago the world changed forever. A great war, which had raged for three years ended, and the reign of the Demons began...

Within the crumbling walls of Fire City, fifteen-year-old Martha is a member of the resistance, a small band of humans fighting for freedom in a lawless and horrifying new world. Amidst the chaos of battle arrives Jonah, a handsome stranger with a thirst for revenge and a power to destroy the Demon rulers.

As Martha and Jonah's lives collide, the future of the resistance is altered forever. The battle for humankind will now begin. An epic story of catastrophe, survival and the power of humanity.

This is not like any other of Bali Rai's novels.  It's futuristic and dystopian and possibly post apocalyptic, is my feeling.  And yet, it is very much like a lot of his other novels - because it looks closely at family, friendship, responsibility, affiliations, people's reasons for doing what they in that respect it's not unlike any of his other books that deal with all these issues and more.

I also think it's like his other books because the world he shows us in Fire City is broken - Bali's stories always deal with broken communities and the repercussions of those so, really what I'm trying to say is that although it's a different book (genre wise) for Bali to have written, it is also the kind of book he's always written, with the added elements of actual bad ass demons.

The world of Fire City is complex and well drawn, you can't fault him on that.  The attitude of the various characters may come as a shock to some readers: they are pragmatic and levelheaded.  If people have dreams and aspirations, it's been beaten out of them.  Hope is something you keep tucked away in your heart of hearts and never ever let it show because it could mean the difference between life and death.  Their world is small.  It exists of Fire City alone, their small community of friends.  You shuffle along, you do your thing, you don't ask questions and you keep your head down, you do not draw attention to yourself.

Our introduction to this world is through Martha's eyes - she's a local to Fire City. She knows how to toe the line, how to keep a lowish profile.  As part of the local resistance group she hunts the hunters at night...this sounds dramatic, but basically it works as follows: there are 2 kinds of people in Fire City - those who are "Wanted" (they have cushy lives and are the elite) and the "Unwanteds" and these guys and girls do all the menial labour for very little in exchange.  The demons select people to hunt during the "Hunt" from the aptly named "Unwanted" populace.  And what Martha and the rest of the resistance do during this time is hunt the demons and save as many Unwanteds as they can find.

But it's when Jonah appears during the hunt that things are kicked up a notch - here is a very able bodied young man with a devastating skillset laying waste to bad ass creatures it takes the average human a long time to kill.

From the get go we understand that Jonah has secrets - for some time before we learn his name, he is merely "the stranger" and it reminded me of the novel the movie Drive is based on where the main character is only ever known as "the driver".  The mystery surrounding Jonah and his task (to take down the head demon and as many of his cronies as he can) is pivotal to the role.

Interestingly the narrative moves away from Martha and Jonah to other secondary cast members in Fire City.  It forms a greater picture as a whole, but it did jar me a bit as I'm not used to it in YA fiction.  But then, I did get used to it and I enjoyed getting to know the various voices and you come to understand the motivations behind their actions.

Martha is a very worthy, very strong character - she has her own skillset and her own inner demons and doubts to face.  I liked that she did a lot of the saving and she took point on various missions.  I didn't however feel that her assessment of Jonah when they first met rang true.  I had my doubts, I really did, that Bali would be able to pull off the attraction she felt towards this loner boy who seemed to be this flat facade.  But then I forget the power mysterious strangers have.  You want to know what's going on...and as we learn more about Jonah we realise why he holds up this facade to the world and you understand why Martha finds him so intriguing.

Fire City pulls no punches.  There is violence.  There is the reality of characters dying in bad ways.  There is greed and hubris.  The world they inhabit is tough and therefore they have to be tough - the story develops strong and fast and the characters are tough and strong but they never ever lose their humanity. Martha especially retains a great sense of compassion when faced with the suffering of the people she knows. She's impatient sometimes, she's rude but never out of malice, unless you are her stepdad well then, you better run.

There is a lot going on in Fire City.  I'd say that if you were a boy who likes RPG games and shoot 'em ups, you'd love Fire City.  There is action aplenty and the dystopian world Bali's created is very vivid.  Similarly, if you're a girl, you'll have fun with the action but you'll revel in Martha's strength and attitude. Bali takes his time setting things out and explaining things, so even reluctant readers, who may initially be put off by the size of the book, will be able to work their way through this with a sense of accomplishment.  The packaging is clever and the book looks great.

I think Bali's proved himself here that he remains one of the UK's top storytellers for teens. Well done, Mr. Rai, you shiny star.  More power to the writing elbow!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Q & A with Sarah Rees Brennan

We're excited to have Sarah Rees Brennan with us today answering some questions so without further ado ...

Hi Sarah. Thanks so much for answering these questions. We're huge fans over at My Favourite Books!

Heyla. Thank you so much for having me!

Was it difficult to start a new series? Or did you have the idea for Unspoken bubbling away for ages?

Oh no, I was super excited to start the new series. I had the idea for Unspoken bubbling away for AGES upon ages... I wrote a book with a girl whose imaginary friend turned out to be a real guy when I was seventeen. Unfortunately, oh seventeen year old self, why were you not awesomer, said book was JUST TERRIBLE. I read one page of it when I decided to go back to it, threw it across the room like it was a snake, and thought I could do much better starting from scratch. I hope I did!

It was really a blast to write: being able to focus on romance, which I love, and put my own weird slant on it, was fun, and I went for a new tone so I could really kick back with my naturally goofy humour. Of course, starting a new series... having a new series published and have people read it... THAT is scary. Wish me luck!

Have you always wanted to write a Gothic novel? Which ones are your favourites?

I haven't because up until a year or so I didn't think much about the genre, despite the fact I love so many Gothic novels. I love Rebecca and Jane Eyre, and one of the modern Gothics I love is Barbara Michaels's Houses of Stone. But I didn't think, oh, these spooky houses and creepy relatives, this is a real THING, up until I was actually writing my own, when I realised that my book was THIS THING, and I went to find out all I could about it. That's how I found Barbara Michaels. ;)

There's a mass of myth-building in Unspoken: Japanese folklore, the Gothic, Nancy Drew fabulousness. Did you enjoy preparing for this series? What sort of things did you read before you started writing?

I have a whole Gothic bookcase now. There are at least two books called The Brooding Lake, and one of them is REALLY bad, but I won't say which one. ;) I've had very embarrassing phone conversations with the library. 'You owe us a fine... oh no, there must be some mistake with the computers, you can't possibly have thirty Victoria Holt books out.' 'Um... yes. Totally the computers.'

I've been to Japan, and it's a fascinating country and I tried to learn everything about it I could, and was able to pick up stories from people I talked to and books I can't get over here, though I also messed with Japanese myths in the same way I used to mess up Irish myths, in my head, in the way kids try to make their cultural stories--especially, I think, if they feel distanced from that culture and are storytelling kind of kids, as Kami is and I was--their own.

Reading up on everything was lots of fun... I wanted to say a lot of things about the books I read, and wanted to write about a girl who was a reader and invested in words the same way I was, and even have magic that had a lot to do with stories and perception. So really, my writing is always about 'STUFF WHAT I THINK IS COOL' and then I run off and get to do lots more reading on the subject. Only one problem: I have run out of bookcases.

There are a lot of linked pairs in Unspoken: Jared and Kami, Rosalind and Lillian, Rosalind and (someone I can't mention due to spoilers!), even Lynburn House has it's own link in Monkshood Abbey. Would you agree that Angela is the most isolated character as the book progresses?

I don't think I would, really, though of course authorial intent is a flawed vehicle, the writer can be entirely wrong about her own book, &c! Angela has her own pair, her brother Rusty, who she's always with, who is always loyal to her and knows all her secrets. And of course she and Kami have BFF charms, except Angela lost hers and is too lazy to look for it. ;)

But you're absolutely right that Angela is alone and vulnerable at a very bad time for her in the book... and it's true that all the characters have at least one and usually more than one natural pair, depending on circumstances, and then we look at what happens when your other half gets taken away.... Muahahaha. Muahahahaha.

Can you give us a hint of what's in store for Team Kami in the next book?

I can! Winter is coming.

... don't sue me, George R. R. Martin. In Unspoken it was autumn, and in Untold it'll be winter--there's a lot about nature in the books, and there's a theme going on. The winter of our discontent, a time of loneliness and a need for warmth.

There's also going to be lots of kissing. I'm just putting that out there. That's how trilogies work. Book one, set up, book two, make out, book three, defeat evil.

And we get a different look at several of the characters which I hope people will enjoy--more insight into Ash, Holly and Rusty especially, I think. /mysterious.

Do you feel ready to talk about the goat in the woods incident? Too soon?

The assault on my person--a lady's delicate person--by a goat small in stature but looming large in sin and aggression--still haunts me to this day. There I was sitting innocently in an orchard, after innocently climbing a large gate, and suddenly a goat came and headbutted me in the (I hesitate to use the word in polite company but...) knees. My legal team is on the hunt and once we determine Mr T. Goat's address there will be consequences and reparations made!

SOS to all innocent city girls: as you'll learn in Unspoken, the countryside is a dangerous place.


Thanks so much, Sarah!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan


Kami Glass is in love with someone she's never met - a boy the rest of the world is convinced is imaginary. This has made her an outsider in the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, but she doesn't complain. She runs the school newspaper and keeps to herself for the most part - until disturbing events begin to happen. There has been screaming in the woods and the dark, abandoned manor on the hill overlooking the town has lit up for the first time in 10 years. The Lynburn family, who ruled the town a generation ago and who all left without warning, have returned. As Kami starts to investigate for the paper, she finds out that the town she has loved all her life is hiding a multitude of secrets- and a murderer- and the key to it all just might be the boy in her head. The boy who everyone thought was imaginary may be real...and he may be dangerous.

It's no secret that I love the Demon's Lexicon series and that it's ending was a bittersweet moment for me last year. I was incredibly excited to hear about the new Lynburn Legacy series that begins with Unspoken. The thing which defines Kami is her link to Jared - the boy who lives in her head. He's been there as long as she can remember and his constant presence has cost her friends and got her the reputation for being a little odd. However, she's got her life sorted, has a great friend in the shape of Angela and is creating a school magazine so she's a more than a little mortified when he turns up in her life. Cousin of the angelic Ash and his bad-boy credentials cemented in stone when he beats up some of the school cricket team, Jared is a magnetic character. Seriously, I don't know how SRB does it. Whereas with Nick from the Demon's Lexicon series we never really knew what he was thinking, thanks to the psychic link with Kami we know where his emotions are going. But this doesn't make him any less confusing or gloriously exasperating. Seriously, one minute I wanted to hide him from the cruel world and the next I wanted to have him trampled by elephants.

The reappearance of the Lynburn family in Sorry-in-the-Vale isn't greeted with much joy by the inhabitants. For reasons that Kami is determined to unearth the Lynburns are treated with a mixture of suspicion and awe. When they return strange things start to happen and Jared's arrival just seems to accelerate the oddness. Kami has to try and sort out her feelings for him and his cousin Ash alongside her ongoing investigations for the school paper. Soon Kami and her friends are out of their depth and in terrible danger. Unspoken has tonnes of wonderful Gothic elements: door knockers like hands, forgotten houses, family secrets, spooky woods - the list is endless. The atmosphere is both unsettling and a little bit claustrophobic. I defy anyone to read the scene where Kami discovers a Hyakume in the woods without shivering - there's plenty of horror within these pages.

There are plenty of other reasons why I loved this book. The author's dialogue is as snarky and sparkling as ever. While reading Unspoken I was laughing one minute and terrified the next! There's also a wonderful cast of characters. Kami and Jared are awesome, that goes without saying. My other favourite character was Angela who hates everyone (except Kami), likes a nap and is also both devastatingly beautiful and loyal. Then there's Holly who is one of those girls who boys gravitate to but other girls cold-shoulder. As Holly's character is developed it makes you question the fairness of this. There's also the fabulousness of having a mixed-heritage main character. She stands out in Sorry-in-the-Vale for this reason and also because of her habit of conversing with someone who no one else can see.

After having looked forward to it for so long, I'm so pleased to say that I loved this book. Oh, also, just a warning about the ending. My heart broke.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Summertime of the Dead by Gregory Hughes

Yukio’s two best friends are dead. Tormented and blackmailed by the Japanese mafia- the notorious yakuza- they have taken their own lives. Overcome by heartbreak and fury, Yukio is determined to avenge their deaths.

So begins a deadly mission that will take Yukio on a destructive path to the rotten core of Tokyo – and to his own dark heart. But once there, will he ever find his way back?

At the start of SotD, Yukio is a really nice guy. Studious, a respected kendo fighter, respectful to his slightly out-of-touch grandmother and slowly realising that he’s falling in love with one of his best friends. It’s when he starts acting on the latter realisation that the warning lights get ready to come on. A celebration sees them brought into the orbit of the relatives of the local yakuza boss, a meeting that changes the course of all of their lives.

Once the full extent of his grief sets in and he realises that he brought them into the yakuza’s sights, Yukio’s world de-stabilises. Ingrained tenets of honour, once a wholesome part of his kendo practice, press in on his conscience, pushing him towards a darker path, one marked with revenge and slicy death.

I have to admit that for a while, SotD began to annoy me. The yakuza came across as a bit slow and insubstantial, cardboard cutout villains, kind of like the faceless mass of the Crazy 88 from Kill Bill.  But you have to realise that this isn’t about them. It’s about Yukio, and his perception of them. And as the pressures of his self imposed mission to save Tokyo put his mind under increasing strain, you begin to realise something is seriously off kilter. Once it reaches tipping point, the story simply hurtles towards its shocking conclusion in a mad ‘just another couple of pages’ rush.

Fast, engaging and laced with an unexpected streak of darkness, SotD was a pleasant surprise, one that lingered for sometime after I closed the cover.

MFB would recommend this for readers ages 14 upwards.  The violence is there, it's not gratuitous but it pulls no punches, letting the reader decide for themselves what to make of Yukio's actions.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Sidekick by Adeline Radloff

Katie Holmes, aged 17, lives with her adoptive mother, the housekeeper of a fabulous house in Camps Bay belonging to the gorgeous hunk Finn O’Reilly. Finn has the ability to stop time, to move into what is called “untime”. Katie can’t stop time but, uniquely, can function in “untime” and works as a partner, a sidekick, to Finn. When kids start disappearing, Katie uses the opportunity to strike out and try and figure things out by herself, especially as Finn is being rather...reluctant to do things. 

A big thanks to Matt Imrie (teen librarian) who visited SA recently and brought me back a copy of Sidekick by Ms. Radloff.

I read Sidekick in a few hours - it's not a big book and it reads so well that before I knew it, I was saying goodbye to Finn, Katie and her mum and closing the covers.

The novel is told entirely from Katie's point of view, in first person.  Katie has to be one of the coolest (slightly clueless) together and level-headed heroines I've ever come across.  Her voice is apparent from the first paragraph and it just goes from strength to strength.

Ms. Radloff has paced the story out well so that although we get backstory and a smattering of exposition, but because it's all in Katie's voice, it's as if you're having a great chat with a new friend. We are informed what untime is, what Finn's powers are and how Katie remembers him being before a certain event that changed the way Finn behaves and why she thinks he's "broken" now. All of this is played out throughout the book.  Interestingly here, the superhero thing is important, but it's not all it's about.  It's about Katie figuring out who she is.  She doesn't mind being his side-kick, she totally is happy with that, she just doesn't know who else or what else she is, in real life.

She still goes to school and this is the place she feels apart - she genuinely doesn't fit in.  Apart from the fact that her name is Katie Holmes (and the majority of people tend to call her by her full name) she's awkward and hides in the library where it's quiet and people can't see her and tell each other she's a stuck up bitch, oh wait, they do that anyway.

When it becomes apparent that something's definitely going on, something not good, that kids are disappearing from their beds, with no trace left behind, Katie is rearing to try and figure out what's going on.  But Finn is far from interested.  If it's not getting him money or upping his profile, he doesn't care.  This is not the Finn that Katie grew up with.

The Finn she grew up with cared about everything all the time but it ran him ragged.  Until this one awful international event, where Finn couldn't help at all.  He disappeared for some time and when he came back, he just didn't seem to be the same and when a close friend of theirs died, a while before the opening of the book, he became apathetic, drinking, using drugs and getting into riskier situations.

There are some bad words said between them when Finn refuses to help and Katie and she goes off, resigns from being his sidekick and starts doing research in to the various kids that are kidnapped, checking how it was done and if they had any similarities in their backgrounds.

That's all I'll say about that because the way the story fits together is so much fun and how Finn and Katie come to work together again had me grinning.

What I liked too is how Katie explains Finn's superpower and her own.  She's the only person in Cape Town who, like Finn, can move in untime.  This is significant and a bit of a fantastic and innovative reveal.  I approved.

Sidekick is set in Cape Town and mentions a lot of well known touristy places that you can google.  I was worried that if I recommended this to you guys you may not get some of the references, but then I thought: why read something that doesn't challenge you? Things are easy enough to google or figure out within context.

One thing though: Sidekick is a great book, there is some swearing, it deals with a lot of mature themes and there is an attempted rape.  None of it is gratuitous and serves rather to underscore some important points Ms. Radloff makes.  It's contemporary YA fiction and borderless storytelling.  I enjoyed it and I hope that if you decide to buy a copy - The Book Depository has some in stock - that you thoroughly fall for Sidekick too.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Adorkable by Sarra Manning


Jeane Smith is seventeen and has turned her self-styled dorkiness into an art form, a lifestyle choice and a profitable website and consultancy business. She writes a style column for a Japanese teen magazine and came number seven in The Guardian's 30 People Under 30 Who Are Changing The World. And yet, in spite of the accolades, hundreds of Internet friendships and a cool boyfriend, she feels inexplicably lonely, a situation made infinitely worse when Michael Lee, the most mass-market, popular and predictably all-rounded boy at school tells Jeane of his suspicion that Jeane's boyfriend is secretly seeing his girlfriend. Michael and Jeane have NOTHING in common - she is cool and individual; he is the golden boy in an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt. So why can't she stop talking to him?

I've been in a mini reading slump over the last week or so and wasn't getting on with the book I was reading so picked up Adorkable from my tbr pile just to read the first few pages. I was completely hooked and read it off and on through the day - finally finishing it in the early hours. Jeane's voice is very unique and she's in that strange under-populated land of characters that I like despite my efforts not to. Jeane's vocal, opinionated and a huge success. However, she's also vulnerable, intelligent and completely alone. The thing about Jeane is that outside of school she's a blogging phenomenon living the kind of life that most kids would kill for. However, in school she's a loner with only her boyfriend Barney for company. Her outrageous dress sense gets her noticed and she's renowned for arguing with teachers but she doesn't have any actual friends.

Enter Michael Lee whose girlfriend Scarlett is obviously smitten with Barney. He attempts to let Jeane know but instead they get into an argument. Suddenly, as their respective relationships crumble, they start meeting up for snogs. They don't talk or want anyone else to know but eventually they realise they have to acknowledge that something is happening between them and so their relationship changes. I'm at a loss to know how to explain how much I loved this book. Both Jeane and Michael are flawed in different ways. They say and do the wrong thing, treat each other badly but then try to be better. They lie and then regret it but are also brutally honest with each other. As we get to know more about them and their lives away from school we can understand and empathise further.

Sarra Manning doesn't shy away from the real stuff. Jeane is a result of an awful home life which is revealed little-by-little as the story unfolds. Michael and Jeane appear to be opposites but there's much more depth to both characters. Michael is no knight in shining armour. He judges Jeane purely on her appearance and does the whole Mr Darcy, "I like you against my better judgement," thing. But still I found myself willing them together. The sex scene is cringe-worthy in its realism and I applaud the author for that. The scenes between Jeane and her parents are seriously depressing and I defy anyone not to feel for her and excuse all of her behaviour after the heinous Garfunkel's scene. Adorkable also addresses huge issues like being different, identity and self-worth, peer pressure and feeling comfortable in your own skin. It does this through the power of Jeane who is probably one of my favourite characters of the year.

I'm not doing this book justice at all so I'll stop burbling and just say that I heart Adorkable, that I want to read everything by Sarra Manning as it was a heartbreaking, beautiful and magical book.