Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Best of the Bunch #August 2011

It's that time of the month again: to decide which of all the books I read in August was the Best of the Bunch.

And the winner of the Best of the Bunch Award August 2011 is...

*dramatic pause*

The Declaration by Gemma Malley

In the year 2140, it is illegal to be young. Children are all but extinct. The world is a better place.

Longevity drugs are a fountain of youth. Sign the Declaration, agree not to have children and you too can live forever. Refuse, and you will live as an outcast. For the children born outside the law, it only gets worse – Surplus status.

Not everyone thinks Longevity is a good thing, but you better be clear what side you’re on... Surplus Anna is about to find out what happens when you can’t decide if you should cheat the law or cheat death.

It was a proper toss up this month between The Declaration and The Hunger Games but I think The Declaration clinched it because it tapped into some major questions I had been asking myself about drugs I found out about recently that are currently under development that will halt and even reverse cell degeneration. That, and it's a brilliant story really well written. I can't wait to read the next books in the series!

You can read my full review here.

Congratulations Gemma Malley!

Please share your Best of the Bunch award by adding your link below.

Monday, 29 August 2011

New YA Releases - September 2011

Here's a look ahead at what's got me excited in the world of YA fiction for September 2011. Let me know if you'll be reading any of these!

*please note I don't hardbacks so although some of these have been out in hardback for a while they will be on this list as they are now coming out in paperback or on Kindle*

Extent: 240 pages
Publisher: Dial Books
Pub Date: 15th September 2011

After crossing the Line, Rachel finds herself in a world where survival is never guaranteed - a world where bizarre creatures roam the woods and people have strange abilities. Everything has gone to ruin Away and the survivors have banded into warring clans. Rachel finds her father being held prisoner by a tribe of Others, and she and her new friends set out to rescue him. But when they cross back over the Line, Rachel and Pathik make a foolish decision, bringing them into further danger that can only be resolved with an unthinkable sacrifice.

An adventure filled with life-and-death choices, dark conspiracies, and heart-poundingly suspenseful moments, this sequel delivers.

Extent: 320 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Pub Date: 20th September 2011

Ariadne is destined to become a goddess of the moon. She leads a lonely life, filled with hours of rigorous training by stern priestesses. Her former friends no longer dare to look at her, much less speak to her. All that she has left are her mother and her beloved, misshapen brother Asterion, who must be held captive below the palace for his own safety.

So when a ship arrives one spring day, bearing a tribute of slaves from Athens, Ariadne sneaks out to meet it. These newcomers don’t know the ways of Krete; perhaps they won’t be afraid of a girl who will someday be a powerful goddess. And indeed she meets Theseus, the son of the king of Athens. Ariadne finds herself drawn to the newcomer, and soon they form a friendship—one that could perhaps become something more.

Yet Theseus is doomed to die as an offering to the Minotaur, that monster beneath the palace—unless he can kill the beast first. And that "monster" is Ariadne’s brother...

Extent: 304 pages
Publisher: Templar
Pub Date: 1st September 2011

Surviving a massive alien siege is one thing-­surviving humanity is another.
I'm all cried out. I'm still alone. The sky is full of giant spinning black balls that kill anyone stupid enough to go outside. I've only been out of the car twice-once to pee and once to look at the sky. That one look was enough for me. Now I sit alone in the car, staring out the window like a rat in a cage. But I don't have anyone to look at. The parking garage is empty, except for twisted-up cars, broken glass, and the smell of leaking gasoline.

POD is the story of a global cataclysmic event, told from the viewpoints of Megs, a twelve-year-old streetwise girl trapped in a hotel parking garage in Los Angeles; and sixteen-year-old Josh, who is stuck in a house in Prosser, Washington, with his increasingly obsessive-compulsive father. Food and water and time are running out. Will Megs survive long enough to find her mother? Will Josh and his father survive each other?

Extent: 432 pages
Publisher: Indigo
Pub Date: 1st September 2011

Before he knew about the Roses, 16-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high-schoolers. Then one day Jack skips his medicine. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts. Soon, Jack learns the startling truth about himself: He is Weirlind; part of an underground society of magical people who live among us. At the head of this magical society sit the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game. A magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death, The winning house ruling the Weir. As if his bizarre magical heritage isn't enough, Jack finds out that he s not just another member of Weirlind, he's one of the last of the warriors at a time when both houses are scouting for a player. Jack's performance on the soccer field has alerted the entire magical community to the fact that he's in Trinity. And until one of the houses is declared Jack's official sponsor, they'll stop at nothing to get Jack to fight for them.

Extent: 320 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pub Date: 5th September 2011

When Dan and Ursula become lost in a thick mist, they have no idea that once they step out of the other side they will find themselves in an England of thousands of years ago and embroiled in a civil war between ancient Britons and Romans. Soon they will have to rely on strengths that neither of them knew they had as they battle both physical and magical enemies, not only to ensure their own safety, but also to try and help save the lives of the Combrogi who face the might and power of the Roman army. In this powerful and sweeping epic novel, survival depends on learning magical arts and respecting codes of behaviour that pre-date all modern life. It is a difficult world to survive in. Are Dan and Ursula able to master all they need to know in time to ensure that they do not become victims of a time far harsher than any they could ever have imagined?

Extent: 304 pages
Publisher: Templar
Pub Date: 1st September 2011

Wickedness is a thrilling adventure that combines history, fantasy and romance, from an exciting new voice in teenage fiction. It will appeal to fans of Hush, Hush and Twilight as well as fans of historical authors like Sally Gardiner and Mary Hooper.

Two flame-haired girls, both fourteen and living in London, but four hundred years apart. A powerful and charismatic man, an Egyptian mummy and twenty spells written in hieroglyphics on parchment. An emerald casket, a gold ring and a ropewalker. All are united by blood and by a devastating prophecy.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Wishlist Diet #8

*The Wishlist Diet is part of the In My Mailbox meme hosted by The Story Siren*

To Read:

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Sidhe's Call by Chisty G. Thomas
Day of the Assassins by Johnny O'Brien

To Review:

Changers' Summer by Mike Lewis
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

I've been trying to read Divergent for weeks now and at last it has come to the top of my pile! Also excited to read a self published book by Christy G Thomas, Sidhe's Call, sounds intriguing... As a huge fan of time travel, I'm also going to be reading Day of the Assassins by Johnny O'Brien, looks like there will be plenty of adventure to be had.

Two other exciting events this week. First, August's Best of the Bunch Award Ceremony, if you'd like to take part do check back here on Wednesday (31st) to add your link. On Thursday will be September's Self Publishing Spotlight which this month is Changers' Summer by Mike Lewis, the first in The Changers Trilogy. Can't wait! This week is going to be epic!

What are you reading this week?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Review: The Magnificent 12: The Call - Michael Grant

Extent: 272 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pub Date: 10th September 2010

Twelve-year-old Mack MacAvoy suffers from a serious case of mediumness. Medium looks. Medium grades. Medium parents who barely notice him. With a list of phobias that could make anyone crazy, Mack never would have guessed that he is destined for a more-than-medium life.

And then, one day, something incredibly strange happens to Mack. A three-thousand-year-old man named Grimluk appears in the boys’ bathroom to deliver some startling news: Mack is one of the Magnificent Twelve, called the Magnifica in ancient times, whatever that means. An evil force is on its way, and it’s up to Mack to track down eleven other twelve-year-olds in order to stop it. He must travel across the world to battle the wicked Pale Queen’s dangerous daughter, Ereskigal—also known as Risky. But Risky sounds a little scary, and Mack doesn’t want to be a hero. Will he answer the call?

A laugh-out-loud story filled with excitement and magic, The Magnificent Twelve: The Call is the first book in bestselling author Michael Grant’s hilarious new fantasy adventure series.

I was very excited to get this book because not only was it free, it was by Michael Grant whose Gone books are a real favourite of mine. This is definitely a middle grade (9-12) book, however, and although I do like the occasional MG book that has good YA appeal this one was definitely well suited to the younger, and especially male, readership.

The main character, Mack, is a great hero, especially for kids as even though he has many flaws – including 21 phobias – he shows great courage by standing up to school bullies and taking the call to herodom in his stride. Having said that, Mack is quite a hard character to empathise with because the story is very narrator-centric. There’s a lot of “and that’s how our story goes” moments where the narrator, or writer, speaks directly to the reader so you feel a lot more removed from the characters than in a more character-centric book. The book is written in the third person but it almost feels like it should be classified as “fourth person” as the reader is following the characters through the medium of a narrator. I’m certain this book would be brilliant read aloud for that very reason as the person reading aloud then takes on the voice of the narrator but for reading in your head it can at times be quite intrusive.

There are some very funny moments in the story, and there are many moments that I’m certain a young male reader in particular would find hilarious. It’s great to see that Michael Grant can do funny as well as serious thriller/horror, he’s clearly a very versatile writer and I’m not surprised by this given how well he gets into the minds of all ages of children. Perhaps the funniest bits are the little notes at the end of each chapter from the golem who has taken Mack’s place back home. Unfortunately, sometimes this humour can become very glib. This again makes it hard to connect to the characters as it feels like the narrator/writer is not taking the story seriously, which is a shame because it is actually a very good and potentially very engaging story. There are also lots of convenience moments in the book like when the kids fall out of the plane and land in the sea right next to the boat that is carrying the next character they need to find. Out of all the boats in all the oceans in all the world they just happened to land next to the right one. It feels like there was some severe restraint on word count but at the same time a strict list of the plot points that needed to be in the book and so to satisfy both the author just stuck in a huge convenience moment. It made the plot feel jagged and actually uncared for, like the realism is right at the bottom of the priority list for this story.

In all, The Magnificent 12: The Call is a great story but it is clearly not for the eyes of older teens or adults who want a lot more from a book. The narrator is overpowering and the characters hard to construct and at times it feels like the author doesn’t care much but perhaps that is what tween boys really like – I’m afraid I don’t know, I never was one.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Review: The Freedom Fighter - Sean Gilpatrick

Extent: ebook (283 KB)
Publisher: Self Published
Pub Date: 9th August 2011

When Brienne Hale’s losing battle with an inoperable brain tumor finally comes to an end, her funeral draws the people closest to her back to their small Massachusetts town. Unsatisfied by the service, the six people closest to her set out on the final adventure that Brienne had planned for herself.

Following plans she had made for a road trip all around the Americas, the six of them put their lives on hold and pile into her broken-down-and-still-breaking 1965 Volkswagen Split Window Van, affectionately dubbed “the Freedom Fighter”. With Brienne's brother DJ at the helm, they plan to drive the length of the trip as an homage to her and her life.

As the trip progresses, it becomes clear that the Freedom Fighter will not survive the journey, and they press on as fast as they can in a desperate attempt to complete their personal farewell to the girl they loved.

There are so many reasons why you should read this book, I don’t even know where to begin. The Freedom Fighter has a really touching premise which is what sold it to me in the first place but I had no idea of the kind of journey through life this book would take me on.

The Freedom Fighter is a story about six people who hardly know each other but are all linked through their love of Brie, a young girl in her late teens who has recently passed away. I just love the fact that although Brie is not there in person throughout the book, she takes these six people on an incredible journey of learning not just to live but how to really experience life, just like she did. This story is just like a beautiful flower that gradually unfolds to reveal the true meaning of life – and it’s not 42! The character, Nick, whose eyes the reader sees the story through is like a tortoise hiding in his shell when the book begins but gradually, through the experiences he has and the people he meets along the way on this road trip, he decides exactly who he is and how he wants to live. There are some incredible philosophical moments during the story that really make you look at things differently. I used to scoff at people in their late teens/early twenties who go off into the world trying to “find themselves” but actually I think I now know what that really means. It’s about discovering the type of person you are and deciding how you’re going to live and The Freedom Fighter takes you on this exact journey.

At the same time it’s also about how you even begin to go about paying tribute someone who has died long before their time and someone who deserved to live because they knew how to. There’s always the regret that you couldn’t have known them better simply because they didn’t live nearly long enough for that to happen. I think this is what Brie gives to these six people: through her diaries they get to know exactly who she was and through this road trip in her beloved campervan they let her live on within them. All of their lives change for the better because of that trip, they come to an understanding with life and that is Brie’s parting gift to them and the reason why she will never leave them.

I have always feared losing someone close to me, especially someone young who hasn’t really lived yet but this book has turned my fear into an optimism that no matter how long someone has lived, if they were good and if they loved life then they were worth loving and you will always carry a piece of them with you. This is a truly uplifting read that will not only change your view of death but also give you a greater appreciation of life.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Review: The Declaration - Gemma Malley

Extent: 304 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pub Date: 5th May 2008

It's the year 2140 and Longevity drugs have all but eradicated old age. A never-aging society can't sustain population growth, however…which means Anna should never have been born. Nor should any of the children she lives with at Grange Hall. The facility is full of boys and girls whose parents chose to have kids--called surpluses--despite a law forbidding them from doing so. These children are raised as servants, and brought up to believe they must atone for their very existence. Then one day a boy named Peter appears at the Hall, bringing with him news of the world outside, a place where people are starting to say that Longevity is bad, and that maybe people shouldn't live forever. Peter begs Anna to escape with him, but Anna's not sure who to trust: the strange new boy whose version of life sounds like a dangerous fairy tale, or the familiar walls of Grange Hall and the head mistress who has controlled her every waking thought?

Not so long ago I watched a comedy programme on TV where a scientist came on and talked about drugs that would effectively stop cell degradation, resulting in a massive slowing of the aging process in humans. The scientist claimed that these drugs would become available in the next 30 years and they would be used to prevent diseases such as dementia, cancer, motor neurone and other horrible ailments. As soon as he said this I didn’t believe it would be that straightforward and the idea of “immortality” or at least life-doubling drugs has been playing on my mind ever since. I am especially intrigued by the social impact these drugs would have. Would they be available to everyone? Would there be an elite class of immortals who could afford the drugs? What would happen to employment levels and would we have enough resources for a sudden increase in the population?

When I downloaded The Declaration I wasn’t entirely sure what the story was about but I am so glad I read this book as it has tapped into these questions that I have been toying with for many months. Gemma Malley has put together an incredibly well thought out future where immortality is the norm and has comprehensively explored the impact such a change in society would have. I think she’s hit me in the face with the reality I didn’t want to admit: that procreation would be made illegal. And then she takes it a step further by exploring this future through the eyes of a girl who was illegally brought into the world. Anna’s voice is so wonderfully institutionalised with capitals on big doctrinal concepts like “Knowing Your Place” and at the start even in her head she follows the rules that have been implanted in her brain since childhood. What is really special about the writing is that as the story unfolds, this voice gradually and very subtly becomes more inquisitive and less accepting. At the same time, the mystery and threat builds and the sense of safety within the doctrine slips away with each chapter. I think this is my favourite style of writing, where developments just seep into your reading – Anna’s relationship with Peter, the discovery of the truth and the curing of the indoctrination – nothing ever switches immediately, forcing you to stumble through a few chapters as you try to come to terms with a sudden change in attitude. It is completely natural.

I think The Declaration really embodies the spirit of dystopia. It’s a world that people have tried to force into a utopia and in doing so have made it completely the opposite. Gemma has been entirely successful in showing the reader the truth about humanity, the side we try to cover up in inspirational, God-Bless-America films and heart-warming documentaries. She has brought out the worst in people, the cruelty and wilful self-preservation that humanity has an alarming propensity for when it comes to the crunch. Don’t forget that alongside those films and documentaries are Big Brother and The Apprentice.

I’m so glad I read The Declaration as not only is it a brilliant story well written it has helped me to work through what would really happen – not just my optimistic and fair ideality – if humanity became immortal and I have now made up my mind that it cannot happen. I think Gemma herself sums it up beautifully in Anna’s metaphor: “‘I mean, old leaves fall off trees, don’t they? Why should old humans stay and the new ones not be allowed? Is that really what Mother Nature wants?’”

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Wishlist Diet #7

*The Wishlist Diet is part of the In My Mailbox meme hosted by The Story Siren*

To Read:

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
Changers' Summer by Mike Lewis
The Freedom Fighter by Sean Gilpatrick

To Review:

The Declaration by Gemma Malley
The Magnificent 12: The Call by Michael Grant

I'm really excited about this week as I'm reading 2 self published titles: The Freedom Fighter by Sean Gilpatrick and Changers' Summer by Mike Lewis. Changers' Summer will be my September Self Publishing Spotlight so Mike is currently cooking up a great guest post about his experiences in self publishing so if you are interested in DIY publishing, make sure you check it out! I'm also really looking forward to The Cardturner by Louis Sachar. I read Holes when I was a kid and was absolutely glued, I even read it on a bus which I never do because reading in a car or bus makes me feel sick.

Thanks for stopping by! Make sure to leave me the link to your IMM, I love to know what everyone else is reading.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Review: The Blackhope Enigma - Teresa Flavin

Extent: 304 pages
Publisher: Templar
Pub Date: 1st July 2010

When Sunni Forrest’s stepbrother accidentally transports himself into a Renaissance painting, she and her friend Blaise set out to bring him back. They find themselves in a strange world of labyrinths, monsters and pirates.

Can they evade their greedy pursuers? And will they ever find their way home?

Creating a world is not only the work of an author, it is also the domain of an artist and in The Blackhope Enigma, Teresa Flavin has combined the two to create a fascinating magical mystery adventure.

From the very first page I was thrilled to discover that this is a novel from an author who drew inspiration from her career as an artist and illustrator. It’s actually a very refreshing way of writing, it’s almost like Teresa is writing out one of those enormous landscape paintings where if you look closely, something fascinating is happening in every square inch. I have to confess I am not an art lover but The Blackhope Enigma has allowed me to see the real magic behind a painting and enjoy a really good adventure at the same time. Teresa has created a world that in my opinion is the first real rival to Narnia since C. S. Lewis put pen to paper. The children are sucked into a world that exists inside a magical painting and there they are tested by monsters, mysteries and a map with the corner torn off. There’s a real old school treasure map quest at the heart of this book (with great illustrations!) but it has been given a thoroughly original spin and just a touch of Alice In Wonderland as the children struggle to find their way back to their own world.

The Renaissance has always had a touch of mystery surrounding it with great figures such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton and Galileo getting their inspiration from seemingly nowhere. It’s easy to see how such monumental works or art and science could have been seen at the time as being just a little bit magic and Teresa brings this magic to life in The Blackhope Enigma. She has so comprehensively created the artist Il Corvo that I spent several minutes on Google trying to look him up before I realised he was actually fictitious. How disappointing! But what a testament to Teresa’s intelligent and very well considered world. I cannot wait to see what painting the kids end up in next!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Review: Hunger - Michael Grant

Extent: 608 pages
Publisher: Egmont
Pub Date: 6th September 2010

It's been three months since everyone under the age of fifteen became trapped in the bubble known as the FAYZ.

Three months since all the adults disappeared. GONE.

Food ran out weeks ago. Everyone is starving, but no one wants to figure out a solution. And each day, more and more kids are evolving, developing supernatural abilities that set them apart from the kids without powers. Tension rises and chaos is descending upon the town. It's the normal kids against the mutants. Each kid is out for himself, and even the good ones turn murderous.

But a larger problem looms. The Darkness, a sinister creature that has lived buried deep in the hills, begins calling to some of the teens in the FAYZ. Calling to them, guiding them, manipulating them.

The Darkness has awakened. And it is hungry.

Michael Grant is such a clever writer for YA fiction, he really knows how to get into the heads, not only of the teens in his books but also the children. He knows instinctively what a child of a certain age would be thinking and doing in a given situation and in so doing creates such a realistic storyline you sometimes feel like a watcher of some sick version of The Truman Show. He doesn’t worry about the sensibilities of the reader, he just ploughs on through the brutality of the situation these kids are in, he doesn’t hold off because something might be a bit too vile or a bit too cruel. If you read his books you’re going to be faced with what would actually happen and you’re just going to have to develop a strong constitution if you want to get through it.

Compared to Gone, Hunger is actually a step up in the vileness stakes as the mutations of creatures become more gruesome, the influence of the Darkness becomes more threatening and the behaviour of the characters is more disturbing. The clue is in the title really, a lack of food is driving out any goodness that was left in these kids and stepping up the survival instinct which evolves solely around self-preservation. The bad become worse and the good start to lose it. It is at this point that I really start to lose all respect for the good guys who seem utterly incapable of long-term planning, organisation or efficiency of any kind. And then I think: hang on, they are a bunch of kids who until recently were given survival almost entirely by adults – of course they are going to be totally ineffective in securing their own needs! This is where Michael Grant’s writing genius is at its best, he doesn’t give the reader what they want, he gives them what is realistic and it can have you spinning your head off is frustration and adopting the age old ritual of shouting at the TV, only at books. There are no good kids and bad kids, there are only kids and many of them are deeply traumatised and unstable. Add this to a lack of food and you end up with near savages who lose all benign sentiments for each other and replace them with paranoia, fear and prejudice.

I definitely have a very odd relationship with the Gone series: I love them for their gritty realism but that it also what makes me hate them and has me burning with frustration. I guess that just shows you what a good writer can do. And it’s not just frustration at the characters either but at the lack of answers the reader has to endure – I am literally squirming in my seat writing this, it’s like literary torture. You seem to get one big answer per book but that only raises a hundred more questions and I still feel so far away from knowing the overall truth about what is going on. I guess that shows you what a good writer can do too!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Review: The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Extent: 464 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Pub Date: 5th January 2009

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

I was a bit hesitant about reading The Hunger Games as with all the hype I thought it might turn out to be another Twilight where gushy romance and swoonathons take away all sense of plot but I am unbelievably happy to find The Hunger Games was nothing like Twilight. For a start, the heroine, Katniss, is a real force to be reckoned with: she is strong, resourceful and courageous beyond measure. Now that’s a proper heroine!

I think the most shocking aspect of The Hunger Games was actually that I didn’t find it shocking at all. Suzanne Collins so easily conjures up this post-apocalyptic civilisation and my belief in its validity is either testament to my pessimism and a lack of faith in humanity or it’s just damn good writing. In reality, it’s probably both and that is why Suzanne has hit on such a good story. People nowadays always hark back to the gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome when they think of abject cruelty and sadism but I hasten to ask the question: are we so different now? OK so we don’t put people in inescapable stone rings and demand blood but we do like to watch people suffer. I once flicked over to Britain’s Got Talent out of curiosity but was so disgusted by the behaviour of the crowd when someone wasn’t all that talented, booing and jeering, I had to immediately abandon channel. And what really sells newspapers and gets the viewing figures up on the news on TV? Peace, love and random acts of kindness? No. It’s war, terrorism and other random acts of cruelty. OK, I’m starting to go on a bit, but this innate brutality in humans is exactly what Suzanne has tapped into in The Hunger Games. She has taken the glorification of the gladiators, the sadism of reality TV and the psychology of war and put them in a future where humans really haven’t changed all that much. If you were to ask me: can you imagine a future where the privileged prey upon the poor, force children to engage in fights to the death and turn punishment for a war long over into public celebration and entertainment? I would have to say “yes” and the proof lies scattered throughout history and has come to life in this book.

I cannot begin to explain how much The Hunger Games affected me and it probably has a lot to do with the fact that I think reality TV is a sick modern version of the gladiatorial games. People just love to watch other people in pain, whether it’s physical or mental and The Hunger Games runs up and punches you in the face with that fact. No one thinks about the long-term damage that their booing and jeering has on people but Suzanne Collins presents the reader with a case study in the emotionally damaged Katniss. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series as I can’t even begin to imagine how Katniss is going to put her life back together. If you’ve ever wondered what turns a normal person into a killer then don’t bother with the psychology journals, it’s all right here, frighteningly real but definitely not shocking.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Wishlist Diet #6

*The Wishlist Diet is part of the In My Mailbox feature hosted by The Story Siren*

To read:

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
The Magnificent 12: The Call by Michael Grant
The Declaration by Gemma Malley

To review:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Hunger by Michael Grant
The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin

I'm very excited about this week's attempt at hacking at my wishlist! That might have something to do with the fact that I got The Magnificent 12 free on a Kindle pre-order - I'm a sucker for a free book. So if it's pants I won't feel bad! I'm sure it won't be pants though, I really like Michael Grant (hence the review of Hunger which I just finished this morning) and it will be great to read a shorter book by him. I'm a bit undecided about I Am Number Four as lots of reviews say it's just another unoriginal high school romp and I really can't stand these, so if anyone has read it let me know if it's more than that! Also going to read The Declaration as The Legacy is out in paperback this month and this series really has me interested.

I'd love to know what everyone thinks of my reading list this week, if you've read any of these let me know what you thought!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Review: Young Samurai: The Ring of Fire - Chris Bradford

Extent: 320 pages
Publisher: Puffin
Pub Date: 4th August 2011

Jack Fletcher faces his toughest challenge yet.

After a snowstorm forces him to take shelter, Jack comes across a village in need of protection from raiding mountain bandits. Torn between moving on or helping, Jack is persuaded to stay and fight their cause.

But Jack is the first and only samurai to do so. Now he must enlist other warriors to the village's aid before the bandits return to steal their harvest. No easy task when the reward is so little and he is a foreigner. If only he had his friends to call on…

Using the Ring of Fire, can Jack overpower the bandits and win?

In The Book of Five Rings episodes of Young Samurai, I’ve really enjoyed exploring the rest of Japan with Jack: finding out what exists beyond the walls of the samurai school and meeting an ever unique cast of new characters. That being said, I have to say I was gushing with excitement to see some of the old characters make a reappearance in The Ring of Fire. I’m not going to tell you which ones they are but I can honestly say I was on the verge of tears to see them again, just when Jack needed his friends the most. I’ve never done that before with a book – feel genuine joy when fictional characters come back into my life – so it really is a testament to how Chris Bradford sews these unique and unforgettable people in the fabric of your soul when they’ve never actually existed.

Despite the reappearance of old friends and the forging of new friendships, The Ring of Fire is a real test for Jack to stand on his own. Before, there have always been older samurai or ninja giving him orders, advising him what to do and generally saving his butt at the crucial moment but now that Jack’s only allies are all teenage samurai with as much if not less battle experience than him, the task of leadership falls on his head. It’s daunting at first but as a dedicated Jack fan, you know he has it in him and at last all his training and all the lessons in strategy that he has learned throughout the preceding five books come together and once again his abilities and his bushido inspire the instant and unconditional loyalty in those around him.

As I’ve said in reviews of previous Young Samurai books, you learn something new about 17th century Japan in every book and in The Ring of Fire it is the Japanese class system that is highlighted and with it the cracks in the system are shown. I’ve put a lot of faith in bushido so far but in fact it seems that most samurai have never heard of the concept of the way of the warrior. Their stomachs are fed by the peasants of Japan yet the farmers are seen to be too lowly to bother fighting for, they only want to fight for the wealthy to earn great rewards. They want to pick and chose their fights, yet Jack, who has been the victim of relentless prejudice, is the first one to know no prejudice when someone cries for help. I think the greatest lesson in The Ring of Fire is that no desperate cause is not worth fighting for, no matter how lowly the desperate are. The greatest glory is that which comes from no glory. That is why Jack is the embodiment of bushido and through his friendship others come to know the true meaning of the way of the warrior. I think that’s why Chris Bradford is so determined to keep killing off some of my favourite characters, because sacrifice is the ultimate act of a person who has come to know the true meaning of what it is to be samurai. An honourable death is the only way they can become true heroes – and live forever.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Review: Young Samurai: The Ring of Water - Chris Bradford

Extent: 320 pages
Publisher: Puffin
Pub Date: 3rd March 2011

August, 1613. Bruised and battered, Jack Fletcher wakes up in a roadside inn wrapped only in a dirty kimono. He has lost everything, including his memory of what happened.

Determined to discover the truth, Jack goes on a quest to retrieve his belongings - his precious swords, his friend Akiko's black pearl and most important of all, his father's prize possession. Relying on his samurai and ninja training, Jack realises The Ring of Water is the key to his survival.

But with only a washed up Ronin - a masterless samurai - for help, what will Jack manage to find? What will he lose? And what will he have to sacrifice?

Well, it appears that, for storylines, Japan is the country that just keeps on giving and fortunately for me, Chris Bradford is the author that just keeps on receiving. I love the premise of this story: Jack wakes up to find everything gone, including his memory of what happened and he has to gradually put his life back together. Cue thrilling adventures and wonderful new characters.

In The Ring of Water, we meet a brand new kind of Japanese warrior – a ronin. I’ve only snatched glimpses so far in my life to tell me what ronin are, and in those glimpses I’ve seen them as mysterious, untrustworthy types and from what I’ve learnt about bushido and the value of loyalty, they don’t strike me as very good samurai. Despite my misgivings, the eternally drunk Ronin has actually turned out to be my favourite character so far in the series, and it’s precisely because of his mystery. His background is patchy and at best hinted to but for some reason he pledges his loyalty and help to Jack and continues to surprise the reader with his abilities. The little thief girl Hana is also a mystery character with a murky background but she again is a real and surprising testament to loyalty.

I think in this book I finally figured out why Jack continues to thrive in all his adventures. I was worried for him when he had to leave all his friends from the samurai school and strike out on his own. The ninja village should probably have given me a clue because even there, where samurai are hated, he managed to make friends but it just smacked me in the face in The Ring of Water. So quickly did Ronin and Hana – two roguish outcasts with questionable integrity – give their loyalty to Jack that it made me realise that this is Jack’s greatest weapon: it’s not his ability to fight, it’s his ability to find true friends amongst all the hatred and prejudice. And it’s his friendship that brings out the best in the other characters, they let go of the emotions that are causing them harm and rediscover how to be a good person who makes the right choices because that’s exactly what Jack does. I’m so glad that Chris Bradford has brought back Kazuki at this point as it just emphasises the point: Kazuki is the opposite of Jack, he chooses his friends because of their background and status but Jack gives his friendship to anyone worthy of it, even if their background is unknown. That’s why Jack makes friends whereas Kuzuki just makes bodyguards, it’s a false loyalty.

Where The Ring of Earth was a test of Jack’s physical abilities, The Ring of Water is a test of our hero’s mental agility and fortitude. He must find clues, solve riddles and cope with the distress of returning to Kyoto and seeing his beloved Niten Ichi Ryu samurai school in ruins. I honestly can’t get enough of Young Samurai as every book gives you so many more new things to explore, each chapter is like opening a present and Chris Bradford gives wonderful explanations for strange new aspects of Japanese culture and embellishes the scant knowledge you might already have – I now fully understand the rules of Go. I’m starting to worry that at some point the books are going to undergo the infamous “second album syndrome” but I just don’t think that’s possible somehow, the first five books have not disappointed me on any account, in fact they have done the opposite. I would quite happily keep reading them to the day I die!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Review: Young Samurai: The Ring of Earth - Chris Bradford

Extent: 336 pages
Publisher: Puffin
Pub Date: 5th August 2010

Jack Fletcher is on the run.

With no sensei to guide him, he has just his wits and his swords against many new and unknown enemies, as he journeys along the treacherous road to the port of Nagasaki and perhaps home... But the Shogun's samurai are hot on his trail. Barely escaping their clutches, Jack runs headlong into a trap. Kidnapped by ninja and led to their village deep in the mountains, Jack has no means of escape.

The only question is who will kill him first - the ninja or samurai?

I had a Young Samurai break after They Way Of The Dragon and I have to say I have sorely missed Jack, and with three new books out I decided it was high time I spent some quality time with my favourite hero again. As Kung Fu Panda Po would say, I am blinded by awesomeness!

In classic Chris Bradford style, The Ring Of Earth hits you with the good stuff on page one and doesn’t stop hitting you until you fall bruised and battered onto the last full stop. The samurai school is gone, his guardian Masamoto is banished and he has left the survivors amongst his friends to attempt a perilous journey back to England. For the first time, the young samurai Jack is utterly alone and I just had to wonder how the story was going to recover from that. But it more than recovers, it sprouts new limbs of awesomeness and my heart is still pounding with excitement just thinking about it. As a reader you’ve been brought up so far to perceive the ninja as a ruthless and unprincipled enemy, encapsulated by the merciless Dragon Eye, but in this book it is the ninja that take the spotlight. The author lets his experience in the ninja arts shine through and reveals that not all is what it seems with these masters of stealth. Chris Bradford has really matured Jack after his experiences in The Way Of The Dragon and this is evident through Jack’s reasoning. Bushido has become who he is and it is through this that he makes his decisions and justifies his actions and in so doing he has already got the heart of a ninja. Bradford, as ever, is brutal with Jack’s new training but the strength of his writing shows through his knowledge of Jack’s character and his unbending enforcement of that character. All his characters get this same treatment, truly he writes characters like Mozart composes music or Da Vinci paints masterpieces, they are so real and complete and convincingly written that they just sit almost tangible in my imagination. They could be standing around me, talking as I read.

With the start of a new series, Jack is back to basics again and you learn with him as he takes instruction in a whole new world. Honestly, I feel like I’ve gone through it all with him and have a sudden urge to hang out, concealed in the branches of a tree. Bradford never ceases to amaze me with his ability to keep the story fresh and actually very fascinating. I’m sure I couldn’t learn more about the art of ninjutsu if I read an encyclopaedia on the subject. Once again Jack finds he has to prove himself. Just as he had been accepted by the samurai at the Niten Ichi Ryu, he has to start all over again with a new set of suspicious people but if you know Jack as well as I do, you’ll know there is no such thing as giving up. This is exactly the kind of story that makes me believe I can take on the world and win. I just love it!