Monday, 23 March 2015

Review: Spotlight on Sunny by Keris Stainton

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A story about discovering who you are, sorting out friendships and family relationships, also exploring what it is like to grow up as a Muslim in Britain.

After winning a local film competition, Sunny and her best friends Kitty and Hannah are off to do a film-making course - in London! Sunny can't believe her dad has let her come on her own (even if he has asked her to phone every day...) Sunny is loving the film-making classes and hanging out with their new friend - lovely, funny Will. Sunny knows that these things don't fit with the future her parents want for her and she starts to wonder what she really wants. And that's not even the biggest thing on her mind - there's also the big secret she's hiding from her best friends...

Review

WARNING: This is the follow-up to Keris' other book in the Reel Friends series, Starring Kitty, so this review will have some possible spoilers for that book but will be spoiler-free for this one.

I was dead excited to receive a copy of Keris' latest book in the post a few weeks ago because I adore how she writes and the warm characters she creates.  I hadn't known this new book was coming out so soon, so it was an extra nice surprise.

Sunny and her best friends, Kitty and Hannah, head to London for a film course after winning a local competition and couldn't be more excited.  Kitty is happy with her new girlfriend, Hannah is happy when there's a bit of excitement and drama in her life but, as pleased as Sunny is to go to London, she's also worried about her life and the future.  Her family is wonderful but there is a sense of pressure for her to follow a certain path and now she's tempted to follow her heart a bit more.  She makes some new friends and even an enemy, which is very unlike her, but Sunny is hoping her time away from home will let her head work out what she really wants in life.  Can Sunny find happiness for herself as well as her family?  Will a secret she's been hiding throw a spanner in her works or will a boy do that for her?

Spotlight on Sunny is another delightful gem from the brain of Keris Stainton who seems to have that magic touch when it comes to writing believable friendships as well as individually complex characters.  Everyone stands out for their unique qualities but each book in the series is letting every girl in the group have a moment to shine.  Sunny is a wonderful character and I loved how we got to see an insight into another faith and lifestyle but it wasn't the focus for the whole book; it was simply part of who Sunny is.  Keris has found a lovely balance between highlighting a person as well as their personality.

I loved the new mix of characters in this book and the tension that brings for the original group.  Will is full of fun and brings out a new side in Sunny that is nice to see but it makes her question her own choices in life too.  

Spotlight on Sunny is just as heart-warming as Starring Kitty and a real pleasure to read.  

Published by Catnip Publishing and is available online and in bookshops now

Monday, 16 March 2015

Review: Weightless by Sarah Bannan

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 When 15-year-old Carolyn moves from New Jersey to Alabama with her mother, she rattles the status quo of the junior class at Adams High School. A good student and natural athlete, she’s immediately welcomed by the school’s cliques. She’s even nominated to the homecoming court and begins dating a senior, Shane, whose on again/off again girlfriend Brooke becomes Carolyn’s bitter romantic rival. When a video of Carolyn and Shane making out is sent to everyone, Carolyn goes from golden girl to slut, as Brooke and her best friend Gemma try to restore their popularity. Gossip and bullying hound Carolyn, who becomes increasingly private and isolated. When Shane and Brooke—now back together—confront Carolyn in the student parking lot, injuring her, it’s the last attack she can take.

Sarah Bannan's deft use of the first person plural gives Weightless an emotional intensity and remarkable power that will send you flying through the pages and leave you reeling. 

Review

I was sent a copy of this book from the publisher to review and generally, I'm trying to avoid taking on anymore review books at the moment but this one really did sway me.  I found the cover truly gorgeous and the blurb was intriguing enough to perk my ears.

This is the story of a school community in middle America that is jolted by the arrival of a new girl, Carolyn, and the tale of her time at the school over the course of a year and how social media, bullying and cliches all culminate to a dramatic moment in Carolyn's life.  It's told from the point of view of a small group of girls that are generally on the periphery of the social scene and in the past tense.  It's an strange but enjoyable viewpoint because you really get a wider scope of what happens to all the characters from those that go unnoticed.
Weightless discusses lots of issues from mental health, cyber bullying to anorexia and we see how, with a drip-drip effect, small actions and moments can change the course of many lives in a reality short length of time.  The book as a whole was engaging but I felt at times that the story was trying to tackle so many issues all at once that it never really gripped me and it seemed like that no one issues was completely tackled head-on.  Many topics were discussed and hinted at but there wasn't one sole focus at any one time.


The characters are well-painted and the slow evolution of the downfall of these people is fascinating to watch.  It was particularly pleasing to see moments when life is working well for Carolyn and all the other characters and made the unravelling of all their lives all the more interesting.  Weightless is a book that left me feeling uneasy because, through the narration, you feel almost part of community and somehow complicit in what happens through-out.  It's that unnerving feeling you have when a couple is arguing on a train and no one says anything; you're involved by your lack of action.

Weightless was a complex book that looked at the idea of how a community can ruin itself by its own actions and through inaction you can be just as to blame as those wielding the words and weapons.  At times it felt like there was an overload of issues tackled, rather than one main focus that was driving the story but overall I found it a good discussion book for teenagers about their roles in other lives.  A good and steady read but it didn't completely grip me at times.

Published by Bloomsbury Circus and is available online and bookshops now 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Event Post: UKYABA Awards Evening!

EEEK!

So many things to say about this AMAZING evening and it all felt like a bit of a blur.  I felt like I was in a whirlwind of bloggers, authors and publishers and when I stopped at the end of the evening I wanted to collapse completely.

To start with, I met Andrew (Pewterwolf) and his gang at a pub/bar around the corner from the venue for a calming drink and quick catch-up.  After a brief change in location (to a pub even nearer to the venue) and meeting up with Natasha Desborough and Stevie (SableCaught) we made our way to Waterstones High Street Kensington for, what was to be, an amazing evening.

There were nibbles to snack on and soft drinks (from Chicken House) and proper drinks (for the grown-ups from Curious Fox) everyone and I was in a haze of hugs and hellos when I saw everyone.  I handed out some books I'd promised to some other lovely bloggers and eventually the evening began and we all gathered round to see Andy Robb and Michael from Waterstones HSK kick off the night with some lovely words and laughter.

Viv from Serendipity Reviews accepting her award
The room was buzzing with excitement for the event and each other as, I think I'm right in saying this, none of us expected to win.  We obviously knew there was a chance if we'd been shortlisted but I think we all turned up hoping to have a laugh and bit of chat with our friends more than anything else.  I ended up talking to Jonathan Stroud for a while and couldn't believe I kept it together enough when he was asking me about my life in general etc (IT'S JONATHAN STROUD ASKING ABOUT ME! WTF?).

Jonathan Stroud presenting..errr...me.
I can't even remember the order of the awards but I will list the winners all below but I wanted to say was how bloody chuffed I was to be shortlisted in the first place and then to win was beyond amazing.  I did get a bit emotional; I can't lie, but I was just so shocked to hear my name.  Everyone of the other bloggers on that list is amazing and I couldn't believe I'd be picked.  I want to thank so many people; from the writers that work so hard everyday and just "get" what we do, the publishers who see us as a real source of information and a format to share their new talent and the other bloggers that made me feel completely welcome from the very second my blog appeared on the scene.

Group shot care of Sable Caught.
Book bloggers do what they do for the love of books and the joy of spreading the news every time we pick up something great.  I hope these awards carry on for years to come and that it could even change the way that bloggers are viewed by the mainstream press and the wider world too.  Maybe these awards could be a game-changer.

I wish I'd had more time to talk to everyone there but I zoomed around as best I could to say hi and thank you to people etc but if I missed you; I'm sorry but I love ya!

So, er ... thanks to all of you for reading my blog and making it a champion blog by an adult blogger.  It was great to see all the love online with the hashtag #ukyaba and to see it trended for over 3 hours on Saturday night.  It's all just so amazing.  Thanks to HSK Waterstones for hosting us all, thanks to all the publishers that sponsored an award and a special thanks to Andy Robb who was evil genius behind the whole event.  That bloke is a good egg times a million.  I'm going now before I start sobbing again.  

Thank You.


xo

Here's a list of all the winners and a few links to other blog write-ups too:

Champion Vlogger (sponsored by Mira Ink)
DarkReaders 
QueenofContemporary
BookishBrits
BenjaminofTomes

Champion of Social Media (sponsored by Bloomsbury) 
PewterWolf 
YAYAYeah
BookclubForum
WingedReviews

Champion Teen Blogger (sponsored by Egmont) 
MileLongBookshelf  
QueenofContemporary
ThirstforFiction
CheezyFeetBooks
CicLovesBooks

Champion Adult Blogger (sponsored by Penguin Random House) 
SisterSpooky  
FlutteringButterflies
WritingfromtheTub
WondrousReads
AnAwfulLotofReading
BookAngelBooktopia
NarrativelySpeaking
Readaraptor
SerendipityReviews
OverflowingLibrary

Champion of Diversity in YA (sponsored by Hot Key)  
YAYAYeah  
QueerYA
PewterWolf
LunasLittleLibrary

Champion of Content (sponsored by Faber and Faber) –
 Lunas Little Library
Readraptor
Serendipity Reviews
Mountains of Instead
Book Passion for Life


Champion of YA (sponsored by Hachette) 
QueenofContemporary  
SisterSpooky
SnugglingontheSofa
Readraptor
SerendipityReviews
OnceUponaBookcase
OverflowingLibrary

Blogger’s Blogger (sponsored by Catnip)  
WingedReviews 
MileLongBookshelf
WritingfromtheTub
Books4Teens
SisterSpooky
BookAngelBooktopia
Readaraptor
SerendipityReviews
OverflowingLibrary
PewterWolf

Blogger of the Year (sponsored by Walker)  
WondrousReads 
Books4Teens
SerendipityReviews
OverflowingLibrary
YAYAYeah

Champion Newcomer (sponsored by Little Tiger Press) 
TalesofYesterday 
ChrissiReads
PerksofBeingaBookGirl
AlwaysthatBookAddict

Other blog posts about the event:

Monday, 9 March 2015

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune -- and remarkable power -- to whoever can unlock them. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved -- that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig. 

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. 

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt -- among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life -- and love -- in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape. 

A world at stake. 
A quest for the ultimate prize. 
Are you ready? 

Review

I bought a copy of this book as a payday treat for myself at the end of January and, shockingly, it's not ended up sitting on the TBR pile for over a year (as most of my purchases do).  When handing it over to the staff member at my local big W; Ash (a most EXCELLENT bookseller) gushed about it and guaranteed I'd love it.  I think he even hugged the book a little bit.  High praise indeed.

The book's plot is a little complex to sum up but essentially it's an adventure story with a deadline for a prize that money could never buy.  The world as we know it has crumbled and is in massive trouble.  There is a small piece of salvation in the form of a virtual reality game where people live, work, interact and exist within.  This world was created by a genius gamer who made trillions from it and upon his death, creates a contest within the game in the form of a hide-and-seek puzzle for his fortune.  This book is the story of Wade as he discovers one of the hidden 'keys' and then the unfolding action as the clock starts ticking to find the rest.  It's the ultimate prize at stake with high risks to achieve it.  

This was a fantastic read that mixes past, present and future to look at the roots of humanity and how we engage with our reality, as well as how we ignore it too.  Wade is a captivating character who changes as his power and his reality in the OASIS shifts.  He's come from hardship, like most people in this version of the future have, and see's this competition as his ticket to freedom.  However, as he learns, freedom has a price and it often costs more than you've got to lose. 

A real mish-mash of 1980s nostalgia with science fiction and a ring of truth to it.  This future could happen; there is a possibility that this could be us down the line.  This leaves a dark shadow over the story and bad taste in your mouth with every page turn, but you can't help turning those pages to see what happens next.

A great story that's smart and fast-paced.  Ready Player One has that great balance of adventure and heart in it and I'm so pleased I treated myself twice; once when I bought it and again when I read it.  It's a cult classic and I can see why.

Published by Arrow, an imprint of Random House, and is available online and in bookshops now

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Review: Othergirl by Nicole Burstein

GoodReads

Louise and Erica have been best friends since forever. They're closer than sisters and depend on each other for almost everything. Just one problem: Erica has superpowers.

When Erica isn't doing loop-the-loops in the sky or burning things with her heat pulse powers, she needs Louise to hold her non-super life together. After all, the girls still have homework, parents and boys to figure out. But being a superhero's BFF is not easy, especially as trouble has a way of seeking them out. Soon Louise discovers that Erica might be able to survive explosions and fly faster than a speeding bullet, but she can't win every fight by herself.

Life isn't a comic book - it's even crazier than that.

Review

I was sent this book for review by the publishers and think it's only fair to say that I know the author Nicole and have done for many years now, because of her previous life as a bookseller and her blogging.  That being said; I shall be giving this book the same standard of reviewing as I would for any other book and there'll be no special treatment (which I know Nicole would want).

OtherGirl is the story of Louise, the best friend to Erica who has recently discovered she has superpowers.  In this world, superheroes exist and are sponsored by corporations while they fight crime and save the world.  They're worshipped on the internet and now Erica hopes to be "spotted" and recruited with the help of Louise.  These teen girls try to keep Erica's alter ego a secret whilst keeping up with their homework and living normal lives.   Can BFFs survive superpowers and fame or will they fall apart over something as simple as a boy?

I was excited to start this book because I love superheroes and comic books and knew Nicole had been doing her own research into the genre and was excited for comic-books-meets-YA.  OtherGirl is a fun and light read that will work well with a young teen audience (IMO) with it's story of friendship and loyalty meets adventure.  I had hoped for something different; perhaps more along the lines of Hero by Perry Moore that is grittier and is firmly based in the superhero mythology.  OtherGirl is a superhero story but it had moments of a James Bond-type mission to me, rather than the traditional superhero tale, which is fun and works but wasn't what I was craving from this book.  

I enjoyed the book as a whole but I think I had different expectations in my head for the story and therefore was left feeling uncertain about my thoughts for the story.  It's like thinking you're going to have apple pie and then being served apple cake; it's still good but it's not what you had in your head when you sat down.  I think Nicole has a flair for dialogue and I loved the characters and set-up for the book, as well as some key scenes but I think I wasn't completely sold on the plot as a whole.  It works logically but it didn't tick all the boxes I was hoping it would.

A good read that will be nice for the holidays and left me intrigued to see what Nicole comes up with next.

Published by Anderson Press and is available online and in bookshops in April 2015

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Review: The Borribles Go For Broke by Michael De Larrabeiti

GoodReads

What is a Borrible? 

Borribles are runaways who dwell in the shadows of London. Apart from their pointed ears, they look just like ordinary children. They live by their wits and a few Borrible laws—the chief one being, Don’t Get Caught! The Borribles are outcasts—but they wouldn’t have it any other way….

The Borribles Go For Broke

On the Great Rumble Hunt, Chalotte, a Borrible from Whitechapel, very nearly lost her life—and good friends had been left for dead—all because of the Rumble Treasure Chest. To Chalotte the treasure was evil and she had sworn never to go on another adventure. But when Chalotte and the other survivors discover that Sam the horse is in danger they know they have no choice—Borribles always help their friends. Their attempts to rescue Sam lead them into the second Great Borrible Adventure!

Review

WARNING: This is the second book in a series and therefore, this review will likely have spoilers for the first book but is spoiler free for this book.

I'd been meaning to pick this book up off the review pile for quite a while but I often like to space out reading books in a series to give the previous book some time to settle in my head and to look forward to the next one even more.

We enter back into the world of the Borribles and meet the remaining Borribles from the Great Rumble Hunt as they try to piece their lives back together and are confronted with the chance to save an old friend they thought was lost.  However; this adventure is blighted with meetings with old foes and new ones that are even more terrifying.  Will everyone make it out alive and how many secrets will be revealed to us?  Will the Borribles ever be the same again?

I loved the first book for it's quirkiness and strange dialogue as it mapped the London landscape with new eyes.  The city is like a new beast to discover and play in as Michael presents a different way of seeing someone that we think we know but can be surprised by.  I found it wonderful to see locations that I know well but feel like I was visiting them for the first time.  

It's been suggested in other reviews that this book isn't as good as the first and not of the same standard of adventure; and it's true but I see that as a positive.  This is a much darker and richer book because these characters have seen awful things and survived and by surviving you are forever changed.  This is the book from a more mature view point and shows great development in terms of characters and mythology.  I loved the introduction of new characters like the drunken trap who aids them in their mission as well as the evil new villain that has a heart blacker than night.  It gave me chills when reading him encounter our heroes.

I look forward to reading the next book to see where it goes and how it develops from here.  It's a clever way of storytelling and gives the audience something to grip onto rather than just shelling out a poor rehashed adventure based on the original.  Dark Mid-Grade with a great set of characters.
Published by Piccolo and is available online and selected bookshops now

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Cooking with Spooky: Meatloaf

So, I treated myself to another cook book and this one jumped off the shelf in my local bookshop.  It looked cool, the recipes seemed easy to follow and the photos are great visuals.  I love a cook book with good photos and easy to follow instructions.  

This recipe for Meatloaf seemed like a good one to try and I've tried Meatloaf on the US once and loved it.  
  
New gorgeous book!
So, Meatloaf, is just like it sounds because it's essentially a loaf of meat, but the flavours are delicious.  


You start with cooking mushrooms, celery, onions etc to soften them and you prep the other ingredients in a bowl for mixing.  That means chuck in the meats, the breadcrumbs, egg and then the cooked bits into a bowl and mix them really well.  I think that the cooked bits should have been sliced smaller but I followed the recipe.  If I do it again, I'll be dicing them up into teeny pieces to make the mix hold together better.  I also used dry breadcrumbs and think fresh ones would work better.

The mixing up part is a bit gross, so make sure you roll up your sleeves and take off rings and other jewellery to save you bother later on.  Then you add in ketchup and tabasco sauce.  These are key ingredients and MAKE the meatloaf.  It's a lot of ketchup but I'd recommend adding it in parts and judging the wetness of the mix as you go.  I didn't have tabasco to hand so I used a well-known chicken restaurant's sauce that was knocking around.  

I then put it all in a bread tin and more ketchup goes on the top.


Another big tip: don't put it in the tin!  The recipe's says to do it this way but when the meatloaf is cooking, there is a lot of fat that runs off and no where to go.  I had to drain it off after (very messy) and then the loaf wouldn't hold it's shape, I think, because it was so wet.  So, next time, I will make sure the mix isn't so wet and make a freeform loaf on a baking tray so the fat has somewhere else to go and hopefully it will then slice well.  The other trouble with the loaf tin is that it is VERY hard to remove the whole loaf once it's cooked in there without it falling apart.

However; the taste was fantastic and there was so much that it could be saved for the next day and it tastes just as good (if not better).  I'd be keen to try different meats in the mix.  This mixture was beef mince and veal (as the recipe states) but I'd love to try a stronger flavour; perhaps a game meat like venison.

Overall; top marks and things learnt!

I served mine with peas and a jacket potato but mash and gravy is traditional.