Wednesday, 30 October 2013

HALLOWEEN WEEK GUEST POST: A Bookish Halloween by Cat from Life Through a Cat's Eyes

Halloween is TOMORROW! Are you a bit stuck for costume ideas like I am? Today I am pleased to welcome Cat from Life Through a Cat's Eyes to Halloween Week at The Mile Long Bookshelf! She will be showing you the best book characters you can dress up as for Halloween so please give her a warm welcome! Over to you, Cat. :)

Hello! I'm Cat; resident blogger over at Through A Cat's Eyes and I feel very honored to be guest posting on Amber's amazing blog! I really look up to Amber and have known her for a long time so this is pretty awesome. ^__^
Tuesday, 29 October 2013

HALLOWEEN WEEK: Dreams by Daniela Sacerdoti

Title: Dreams
Author: Daniela Sacerdoti
Published by: Black and White Publishing
Publication date: 18th April 2012
Pages: 432
Genres: Young Adult/Paranormal/Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Seventeen-year-old Sarah Midnight has never had a normal life. To the outside world she is a typical teenager, but on the inside, Sarah holds an unimaginable secret. Her parents are demon hunters, part of a web of Secret Families who have sworn to protect the world. When they are mysteriously killed, Sarah's world is shattered but she knows she must now take up their fight.

Unprepared for the task ahead, she finds herself thrust into a world of incredible danger, full of things she never even knew existed. Including her enigmatic long-lost cousin who, out of the blue, turns up on her doorstep just when she needs him most. He claims to be there to help and protect her, but how will she know who to trust in this perilous new life? And can she stay alive long enough to complete her parents' quest when they have left her so defenceless?

Sarah has to learn, and learn fast - the demons are all around her and death waits for no one...

Sarah Midnight's dreams are utterly terrifying. They are plagued by demons, but that isn't all; they come true. Sarah is the 'Dreamer' of the Midnight family, which means that her dreams - or shall we say nightmares - guide her parents' demon hunts. Sarah's parents rarely have time for her unless they're getting the gory but necessary details from one of her dreams, which is why at the age of seventeen, Sarah still doesn't know how to do any spells. Of course, her mother will have all the time in the world to teach her them! ...Wrong. After Sarah's parents' sudden death, she is pushed into a cruel world of death and fear, as she continues their 'Midnight Mission'. Young, alone and naive, it would be easy for her to make the wrong choices...but one wrong choice could mean instant death. Or a slow and painful one...

Okay, I'll be honest. This book freaked me out at some points. Partly because it's about demons that were so well described they seemed real, and partly because I was sat in my bedroom, on my own, in the dark at midnight. Probably not my best idea!

The characters were well formed and very realistic. I really liked Sarah because she wasn't over-confident; instead she was quiet and vulnerable. It was great to watch her grow as a person and become more ruthless! I also liked Harry/Sean, her cousin. He brought a nice 'safe' feel to the novel, if that makes sense, because he cared for and protected Sarah. It was a bit weird that he loved Sarah more than family, but if you read the story you'll understand why it's okay for him to feel like that, it's just not....normal for the feelings to be recuperated, shall we say. Despite this, I was rooting for them from the start! I SHIP SARRY! 

Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed by Aunt Juliette. She was quite prominent in the story at first, but as more characters were introduced she quickly faded into the background and only popped up once or twice later in the book. It felt like she had been forgotten about. To be honest I'm glad she didn't get in the way too much as I wanted Sarah and Harry to get on with their demon hunting, but at the same time I feel like it would have seemed more real if she had checked up on them more often.

There were about six or seven chapters from other POVs, for example Mike, Niall and Elise - other people who, like Harry, were protecting others. I didn't think these chapters were necessary to the story and they felt a bit like fillers. This book was around 400 pages long and, without the extra POVs I think it could have been a more bearable size and the story could have flowed better.

Sarah had OCD, which I liked. Wait...that came out wrong! Hear me out. I liked it because there aren't many books that deal with things like that. 'Dreams' didn't really go into it properly, but it was still there and I liked that sub-plot a lot.

Unfortunately, the novel ended with a cliffhanger which frustrated me. I was offered the next book in the trilogy from the publisher, but sadly I had to turn it down because of the amount of books I have to review. I suppose I'll never find out what happens next. :( However, I think this book was spectacular and it introduced me to a new genre, which it turns out I love! The writing was exquisite and I definitely recommend this. 3.5/5!
Monday, 28 October 2013

HALLOWEEN WEEK: The Harry Potter Studio Tour!

I cannot believe I never blogged about this! But better late than never, right? This time last year* I turned 14 and to celebrate I went to the Warner Brothers studios in London to do the Harry Potter Studio Tour. It was the best day of my life!
Friday, 25 October 2013

Roller Girls: In a Jam by Megan Sparks

Title: In a Jam
Author: Megan Sparks
Published by: Curious Fox
Publication date: 12th September 2013
Pages: 181
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Sports
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Ladies, get your fishnets and your skates on!

Life couldn't be better for Annie Turner. Not only is she going out with the dreamiest boy she's ever met, but her roller derby team is riding high in the league. But OF COURSE, just when things seem to be working out, it all starts falling apart. Annie gets left on the bench at a big bout, her best friend can't stand her boyfriend and her mum wants her to quit the team!

Will Annie listen to her heart? And what is it saying, anyway?

'In a Jam' is the third book in this four-book series and, whilst being sad about nearing the end of the series, I was also very excited to be reading about Annie and her life again. The Roller Girls series is such a good set of contemporaries and they're amazing at getting you out of a reading slump! Funny, realistic, exciting...I just love them.

Annie is still thoroughly enjoying her time on the roller derby team, but her boyfriend? Not so much. As time goes on they start to realise how different they are. In this case, opposites definitely don't attract. And then there's Annie's parents' divorce drama to deal with over Thanksgiving. How will she deal with it all?

I think this book was better than the others in the series and my reason for this will sound weird but hear me out! I think it's better because it's not so perfect. The other books are perfect, the characters all act in the right way and conflict is a hurdle that is quickly jumped over. 'In a Jam' seemed far more real. Annie slightly annoyed me sometimes because her boyfriend wasn't a good person and she just couldn't see that he was manipulating her. Tyler, her boyfriend, annoyed me a lot, too. He was always bossing her around and calling her friends 'freaks' just because they dared to be different. But these things aren't faults with the book; in fact, they make it a lot better. These conflicts go on for a while so it's more realistic than conflicts in the other books, where it'd all be over two pages later. I don't think any of that made sense but I hope some of you understand what I mean!

I loved reading more about Illinois, too. I've been there but I hadn't been born yet *spooky music* Anyway, I think it's cool that it was set in Illinois because a lot of contemporaries set in America are in the most glamourised places like Los Angeles or Florida. Again, this contributed to the feeling of it being more realistic and I just.... I loved it, so, so much!

Definitely a good series to read if you're up for a fun contemporary or if you're in a reading slump! I'm about to start the last book in the series and I really don't want it to end. Megan Sparks has quickly become a favourite author of mine but I don't think she's written any other books separate from the Roller Girls series. Hopefully she'll write some more books because she's very talented. I highly recommend this, if you hadn't guessed that already! ;)
Monday, 21 October 2013

Cross My Heart by Carmen Reid

Title: Cross My Heart
Author: Carmen Reid
Published by: Random House
Publication date: 1st August 2013
Pages: 365
Genres: Young Adult/War/Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the author.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?
Break up with your best friend?
Follow the boy you love into danger?

Would you risk your life?

It's 1940. Europe is at war, and fifteen-year-old Nicole's city has been invaded by the Nazis. Desperate but determined, she joins a secret group of freedom fighters - and learns that she's not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak, or put her life on the line.

I don't often enjoy books about war, but this novel is an exception. It's simply stunning! It's gritty, realistic, and it really moved me. Having done a lot of research about Belgium in WWII before (a few of my Belgian ancestors fought and were killed in the war) I found it fascinating. This was such a sad book at times but I'm so glad that it didn't glamourise the war or shrink away from the unpleasant truths of war and concentration camps.

Nicole was a normal teenage girl. She could be found hanging out with friends, having fun at school and spending time with her mother and grandmother. But then Belgium was invaded by the Nazis. Being a fighter and not a flighter, Nicole secretly joined the Resistance even after her parents and grandmother said no. Taking on her new secret code name 'Coco', she fights for her country's freedom...but will she survive?

I adored Nicole. Her determination to fight for her country, no matter what the consequences were, was inspiring. I really don't think I would have been able to do that if I'd been in WWII. She was ready to give up her life for the freedom of Belgium! The things Nicole overcomes and experiences in this novel are truly astonishing and I'm sure there were lots of girls like her in the war; I'm in awe of them.

Anton was another great character and quite similar to Nicole. He was an old friend of Nicole's and a fellow member of the Resistance. His relationship with Nicole was a lovely addition to the story and I think it softened the intense, terrifying things that were written about. Anton and Nicole's relationship is proof that distance really does make the heart grow fonder.

The things that happened in the Nazi prisons and camps were horrifying and I still find it hard to believe that someone could actually treat another person so terribly. Reid's vivid descriptions added to the feeling that I was actually there, in the story. The writer dealt with the subject really well. 'Cross My Heart' is a sensational concoction of tragedy, love, history and war. The only other book I've read like this is 'Code Name Verity' by Elizabeth Wein, so I'm happy to have read another book like it. Now I'm certain that I love this genre!

This book is such a thrilling read and it's very emotional, especially at the end. It's extremely poignant; I finished it last night and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it all day! ...I want a sequel *cries* I think this book would be fantastic as a film, perhaps it could even be as big as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I feel privileged to have read this book - it blew me away!
Wednesday, 16 October 2013

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Start a Book Blog

I bet you weren't expecting me to do a post on why you shouldn't start a book blog, were you? Well, you've seen tons of blog posts about why book blogging is awesome and why you should do it straight away, so I thought I'd get a different angle on it. Read to the end and you'll get a free kitten.

1) People - mainly authors - will assume that all you do every day is sit and read.
While that would be a really cool thing to be able to do, unfortunately us book bloggers do have a life outside of blogging. There are a lot of things that sadly have to take priority. For the younger ones, it's homework. For us in-the-middle book bloggers, it's GCSEs, homework and other exams. For the adults, it's having a job, caring for children, getting married and doing other important adult-ish stuff. You'll be bombarded with emails from authors asking you to review their book, and after a day you'll probably get another email asking why you haven't reviewed it yet. Yeah. That's happened to me.*

2) You're going to get stressed.
If it hasn't happened to you yet, it will. At some point in your bloggy life, you'll suddenly realise just how many books are on your TBR, how many authors are waiting for the interview questions you promised them and how many guest posts you were meant to have written two months ago.

3) If you're wanting to start a book blog just for the free books, it's not going to work for you.
Book blogging for the freebies is just wrong. And it's blatantly obvious when that's the reason someone started their book blog. Eventually you're going to get so many books expecting reviews that you'll wish you could go back to actually paying for ones that you actually want without having to review them. Sorry, but if you want a book blog just for freebies, please go away *hangs up Closed sign*

4) Book blogging could make you very competitive.
Let's be honest, book blogging has become extremely competitive. Bloggers are competing for views, for the rarest ARCs, for invites to the biggest author's launch, for the most comments. The list goes on. Of course this might not be true for everyone, but I've seen book blogging become more of a competitive environment over the years and it ain't pretty. It's like The Hunger Games, blogger style.

5) You'll be open to personal attacks.
Having a book blog opens the doors to hell, or as I like to call it, The Land of Suck**. The creatures that live in The Land of Suck include plagiarisers, hackers, copy-cats, spammers, cyber-bullies and more. You could create a blog, become popular and then boom; it's hacked and your reputation is instantly ruined. Your work can be simply copy and pasted to someone else's blog, and suddenly they're getting credited for your work. If someone really doesn't like you or your blog, they could easily buy some fake views and direct them at your blog, crashing your stats and diminishing your SEO rankings. Another blogger might begin to dislike you and they might even be nasty enough to do something about it.

Obviously the majority of the book blogging community is extremely lovely *hugs*, I just thought you should know the cons of starting a book blog, because I've Googled and there isn't a blog post like this anywhere. Hopefully this blog post hasn't put you off starting a book blog, in which case you can see my post on how to start a book blog and two blog posts full of blogging tips here and here!

If this post was too negative for you, lighten up, calm down and have a photo of a kitten.

*Please know that not all authors are like this, the majority of them are faaaaabulous. But this has happened to me twice and it is so annoying.
**Book blogging also makes you open to amazing opportunities - every pro has a con, and every con has a pro!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Geekhood: Mission Improbable by Andy Robb

Title: Geekhood: Mission Improbable
Author: Andy Robb
Published by: Stripes Publishing
Publication date: 1st April 2013
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the author.

Archie is a geek with a girl problem.

In his imagination, he's still got a chance with Sarah, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. In reality, she just wants to be friends. With no idea how to behave around her, it's time for Archie to escape the real world and prepare for a new level of geekiness - a weekend of costumed role-playing, complete with elf ears and foam swords.

Then along comes Clare, a girl with a foolproof plan. All Archie needs is a pretend girlfriend to make Sarah jealous - and Clare is happy to play the part. But as their fake romance begins, Archie realises that the idea is as doomed as a raid on a dragon's cave...

Geek + fake girlfriend...prepare for impact!

If you read my review of the first Geekhood book, you will know that I absolutely loved it. I was a little worried that this wouldn't be as good or funny as the first one because that's a lot to live up to! Luckily, this one was just as good. Phew!

If I could only read books by one author for the rest of my life, the author I'd choose would have to be Andy Robb. He has quickly become one of my favourite authors and I'm so glad to have discovered his books! The Geekhood books are both hilarious and very realistic, and they never fail to cheer me up.

In this book we see Archie struggling to adjust to life where he has to visit his Dad and annoying step-family in York. He is still pining after Sarah, too. I liked that a few things had stayed the same because it felt like I was greeting an old friend. The drama in this book was brilliant! I'm not sure how much time had passed between the end of the first book and the start of this one, but it felt like they had all matured a little bit.

Towards the end, Archie and his friends take part in some live-action role play for a weekend. In a field. In costume. I love how the whole book was written, but these parts were especially good! It felt like I was there and, quite frankly, the role playing weekend sounded AWESOME. *puts on a pair of geek glasses*

I think this book had some good advice which was mainly for boys (because most of the main characters are boys), but the advice could easily be adapted for girls. Woop!

I feel like the characters were more developed in this book, especially Sarah and Caitlin. In the first book they were just girls in the background, but in Mission Improbable they really came to life. I feel like there was more story to be told about Sarah though. It was fairly obvious that she was hiding how sad she felt and I could tell she hadn't had a fully happy past, but this wasn't expanded on much. If a third book is written, I would love to know more about Sarah's past!

Geekhood: Mission Improbable is SUCH a good sequel to the first Geekhood book. I'm really impressed and so glad that it's just as good as Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind! I'm really really really hoping for a third book in the series; it can't be over yet! *crosses fingers* If you haven't read these books already, I urge you to - you won't regret it. Fantastically funny and a refreshing read!
Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

Title: Picture Me Gone
Author: Meg Rosoff
Published by: Penguin
Publication date: 5th September 2013
Pages: 208
Genres: Young Adult
Format: Hardback
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Mila has a gift.

She can read a room, a person, a situation - and tell if you're happy, or pregnant, or having an affair.

When her father's best friend, Matthew, goes missing, Mila joins in the search. She sees clues no one else notices, facts everyone else overlooks.

But the answers refuse to line up and Matthew refuses to be found.

Is there something Mila has missed?

Something closer to home than she ever imagined?

This review is going to be difficult to write. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that when I give a book a negative review, I also try to find positives to balance it out. Unfortunately I am unable to do that with this book, which is a real shame and I feel horrible for it!

Mila is a 12 year old girl who is much wiser than her age. She is enormously observant, to the point where she is imagining flow charts and check-lists in her head to work out the emotions and motives of others. You know when you're reading and you kind of have a voice reading it out in your head? It makes the reading experience better and more natural, but this time I couldn't do that. My brain got confused. In the story, it doesn't say that Mila is 12 until the book is nearly finished; as I said earlier, she is much wiser than her age, so for most of the book I found it really hard to hold a steady image of her in my head. This lead to not being able to connect with her at all, and I think it's really important for the reader to connect to the main protagonist in any book.

The writing technique in 'Picture Me Gone' is very unusual. There are no speech marks, so I found it hard to differentiate between dialogue and the rest of the book. It's a very Marmite kind of writing style, and by that I mean you either love it or hate it. I know people who found themselves loving that kind of writing but...well, it just didn't agree with me. I spent more time wondering if a sentence was speech or an internal thought than I did fully immersing myself into the plot.

Towards the middle of the book, we are introduced to a boy named Jake. I can't say why or how he is part of the story because I hate spoilers! I really liked him as a character though, and he was probably the only thing I liked about the whole book. He was the normality when everything else seemed a bit...messed up. Jake wasn't in it much, which was sad because I think he brought something really great to the book and, if he had been in it more, maybe I would have enjoyed it a bit more than I did. Rosoff started a sub-plot with him which had a lot of potential, and then it just fizzled off like a firework losing it's spark on Bonfire Night.

'Picture Me Gone' is very much about getting the reader to decide things for themselves. There were moments when things would pass between characters, but Rosoff didn't draw upon them and it wasn't obvious what was happening. This made the book lack quite a bit of emotion.

I was really excited about reading this after seeing tons of positive reviews, so to say I'm disappointed is an understatement. The cover is really pretty, but it's the inside that counts! I really don't like writing negative reviews and I feel terrible; hopefully none of you hate me too much after this. I give this book 1/5.
Monday, 7 October 2013

GUEST POST: "My journey to publishing 32C That's Me" by Chris Higgins

I always thought I would be a writer. One day. I just never thought I would take so long to do something about it.

I loved writing stories when I was little and poems as a teenager. Very mournful poems actually, wishing I was dead or had never been born. I can’t remember being that miserable at the time. I guess I just thought that was what poetry was supposed to be about.

English was my favourite subject at school. Reading and writing was what I did best. Then history, then art, then drama, then sport, in that order. Maths and Science were my least favourite because I was rubbish at them.

So I did English, History and Art for A level and went off to do an English and Education degree. Why not straight English? I’ve often asked myself that question. I had NO careers advice.

Consequently I became a Secondary School English teacher. What a surprise! I enjoyed teaching but, looking back, I think I should have been a journalist. Like I said, zilch careers advice. I got married, had four kids, did an MA in English and carried on teaching. So busy was I juggling my busy life, I never had time to think about getting published.

I continued writing though. I used to write plays for my students and produce them at school and also I wrote short stories whenever I got the chance.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, when my children were teenagers, I was diagnosed with a serious, life-threatening illness. Cancer. I had to take time out of my busy life for surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. It went on for a long time. I never went back to school.

Afterwards, so aware that cancer affects not only the sufferer but the whole family, I found myself writing a story about a girl called Jess whose mum has breast cancer. The story soon developed into a full-scale book called “32C, That’s Me.”.

At the start of the book, everything in Jess’s life is good. She is doing well at school; she has a best friend called Ali; her Dad is a deputy-head at her school but it’s ok, he’s liked and respected by everyone; her sister, Carly, is going round the world on a gap year and that’s exactly what Jess wants to do when she finishes school; and, best of all, she’s going out with David Morgan (Muggs) who’s the stud of the school.

To put the icing on the perfect cake of her life, Jess tries out for the lead female part in the school play, “Macbeth”.

Now, you don’t need to know a thing about “Macbeth” to read “32C”. But most people know that it’s a play about superstition and witchcraft and murder. Unsurprisingly, it’s a play that is often associated with bad luck for people who act in it. When Lady Macbeth finally gets what she wants,

which is for her husband to murder King Duncan, everything in her life goes down the pan. Eventually she commits suicide.

Like a mirror image of the character she is playing on stage, when Jess gets the part she craves, things immediately start going wrong in her life too. The first thing that happens is her mother gets breast cancer. I’m not going to tell you what else goes wrong or how Jess deals with it because I want you to read the book.

Someone whose opinion I valued read the first few chapters and told me I should send them off to an agent. I went through the Writers and Artists Year Book carefully and sent them to Fraser-Ross Associates. The most amazing agent in the world, Lindsey Fraser, liking them, asked to see the rest and then sent out the manuscript to various publishers.

I would love to say it was snapped up immediately but this is simply not true. Six publishers turned it down with comments like, “Teenagers do not want to read about cancer”. I found this incredible. Teenagers are affected by cancer day in, day out, either directly or because friends or family members are sufferers. Fortunately for me, the wonderful Anne McNeill at Hodder Children’s Books felt differently and gave me a two-book deal.

To date I have had sixteen books published and am currently working on my seventeenth and eighteenth. My books range from scary psychological dramas like “He’s After Me” and “The day I met Suzie”, to teen books about life, love, secrets and control such as “Love ya Babe”, “Would you rather?” or “Tapas and Tears”, to name but a few, to my series about starting secondary school, “The Secrets Club”, to the illustrated adventures of “My Funny Family” for newly independent readers.

Ten years ago I could never have predicted I would become a full-time writer. In many ways I wish I had done it a long time ago.

Please don’t wait like I did for a life-changing event like cancer to follow your dream.

Follow it now.

Follow Chris on her website  Facebook  Twitter  Buy her books
Thursday, 3 October 2013

GUEST POST: 'Why I wrote Cross My Heart' by Carmen Reid

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family? Break up with your best friend? Follow the boy you love into danger?

Would you risk your life?

It's 1940. Europe is at war, and fifteen-year-old Nicole's city has been invaded by the Nazis. Desperate but determined, she joins a secret group of freedom fighters - and learns that she's not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak, or put her life on the line.

I've written many books for grown ups and for teenagers in the chick lit vein and yes, although these books all have their dark and serious moments, they're generally quite light-hearted with plenty of laughs and happy endings.

So Cross My Heart with it's World War Two setting, torture and work camp scenes is pretty different.
All I can tell you is that I was just longing to write this story. I've always been fascinated by WW2. Half my family is German, half is British, so they experienced both sides of the war.

I always wanted to know more about what it was really like to be alive at that time and to endure such difficult circumstances.

What was Germany like back then? What was it like to live in a country occupied by the Nazis?

When I found out that young teenage girls were a very important part of the secret armies plotting against the Nazis, I just knew I had to discover more.

So that's how Cross My Heart was born.

Nicole goes from lookout to fully fledged bomber in a short space of time. She has to make difficult choices with terrible consequences and I wanted the violence in the book to feel real and frightening, not at all cartoon-ish.

I loved doing the research: the story is packed with intriguing details I could never have made up - the woman who pushed explosives through checkpoints in her baby's pram, the way you help a plane land in a field with a torch, how two young girls used to defeat their hunger in a concentration camp, how an old fashioned bomb detonator works…

I was intrigued to learn that so many girls were involved in the Resistance. I suspect girls have been involved in war for much longer than we imagine.

I really hope you'll give Cross My Heart a whirl, you'll love it and you'll learn something really interesting. It's very scary. And quite weepy. And also - sigh - very romantic.