Book Review: All The Bright Places By Jennifer Niven

Book Review: All The Bright Places By Jennifer Niven

Author: Jennifer Niven

Publisher: Penguin

From Amazon
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

Review
Let me take you up a tower and introduce you to two quite remarkable characters, meet Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. They meet under quite, how can I put it – unusual circumstances. But at that very moment everything changes.

All The Bright Places is a beautiful story which really begs to be read, I erm – should have started it a lot earlier than I did. I guess the topic of suicide, whilst intriguing didn’t have a really strong pull on me and I did keep putting it off despite all the rave reviews this book rightfully received.

But don’t let my hesitation stop you from trying it as whist the theme of suicide is never far away, always playing in the back of particularly Theodore’s mind and gets stronger at points it doesn’t ever take over, more an undercurrent to the way the characters are feeling.

Violet is portrayed as the popular girl and the way she acts she more than lives up to the label and I didn’t warm to her straight away. Alone with Theodore she displays a different, more vulnerable side. A side which you can get to like and care about.

Theodore on the other hand I liked right from the off, he showed a great amount of empathy for Violet up at that tower. They had at least both gone up to their first meeting place for the very same reason and I think in more ways than one he saved Violet.

So lets talk about that meeting place, let me take you back to the tower. I keep going back to it because it’s an opening I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I can feel it, see it, sense it – I’m not a fan of heights but I can still feel myself looking over the edge. *shudders* I don’t remember book openings very often but this one has stayed with me as fresh as if I read it yesterday and I doubt I’ll forget it in a hurry. It truly sets the atmosphere for the rest of the story.

Everything is sparked from this point – their meeting, the people who saw them up there, their connection to each other. It all sparked several chains and as the book progresses you can see just how far they’ve come.

Don’t expect All The Bright Places to be a pick you up book but it will certainly give you something to think about. It’s a book you won’t want to put down touches on a very real issue wrapped in a story which could easily stamp on your heart.

Buy this book and then hug it – I’m sure you’ll want to by the end. I know I did! :)

Thanks to Michelle from Tales of Yesterday for sending me a copy!

Countdown To 7th May: Michael Byrne On Writing Lottery Boy

Countdown To 7th May

I’m so excited to be part of this years Countdown to 7th May blog tour arranged by the amazing Jim celebrating all the wonderful YA books publishing on…. you guessed it, the 7th May :)

And today I am welcoming Michael Byrne author of the rather brilliant Lottery Boy. I’m reading this at the moment and can feel everything in this post ring true! :)

But you didn’t come here to listen to me so without further ado I’ll hand you over to Michael…

Michael Byrne

I’ve written a book about a boy on the streets called Bully who wins the lottery. I’ve never been homeless myself and the only way I can begin to imagine how Bully might feel is when I come to London and wander around Waterloo station. Because instantly, you are someone who is in the way, visible to everyone but with no one giving you the time of day as they rush to get to some place, which is usually home at rush hour. You can even stare right into their eyes (I call them ‘zombies’ in the book) and they still don’t see you. It’s a very strange feeling, and I used it as a way in to writing about a boy and his dog with no place to go.

At the beginning of the book, Bully and Jack (his dog) stick to the same patch of London on the South Bank because it’s what Bully knows, what he’s familiar with. Children are naturally more curious than adults but I imagined a boy who was struggling to deal with the loss of his mum, suffering post-traumatic stress like a soldier might after a war, and stuck somewhere emotionally and also physically in this part of London. I used my own fear of getting lost in London to think through how Bully feels when he’s forced to start travelling north to Camelot to find someone who can help him claim his jackpot prize. For example, when Bully’s on the run, one of the locations he comes across by accident is London Zoo in Regent’s Park, which I didn’t even know was there until I took my daughter a few years ago. I’d heard of it of course, but assumed it was just somewhere else in London – not right slap bang in the middle of Regent’s Park. And in a similar way, I tried to recreate that sense of surprise Bully gets when travelling through other famous locations that most adults might take for granted as familiar, like Buckingham Palace and Parliament Square.

Bully’s dog is very important in the story and I really wanted to give her a proper character and not just a place in the plot. She’s a Staffy cross and that’s a popular sort of dog on the streets. If you don’t know much about dogs (which I don’t) you can see they have very intelligent eyes, cheerfully pudgy cheeks and they’re very friendly (and like all dogs, loyal). But when I started writing the book, I didn’t know anything much about any dogs at all. My daughter had wanted a dog when she was little but it was just me and her at the time and it was easier looking after a cat, so I convinced her (when she was four) that a cat was pretty much the same thing as a dog, having four legs and a tail and all that. It just didn’t bark. (So we got a cat in the end.)

Anyway, I started thinking about exactly what sort of cross breed the dog would be halfway through revising the book. I was a bit stuck and happened to be visiting London Zoo doing some location research, when I saw this baby ant eater. If you’ve ever seen one, and you don’t know what it is, it sort of looks like the weirdest, ugliest dog you can imagine. So I decided that I’d work my way backwards from that – and that became Jack. (I should say, Jack is a girl dog, a bitch, but Bully can’t bear to call her by her real name… So, she’s just Jack.)

Before I wrote the book I used to wonder why anyone living on the streets wanted a dog anyway – wasn’t it just an extra mouth to feed, and extra hassle? But then I thought about it and realised everyone needs to be needed – it’s what makes us proper human beings I suppose, caring for someone or something that isn’t us. And doing that and being loved and finding someone to love is sometimes a bit of a lottery.

That sort of brings me back to the title of the book, Lottery Boy, because the lottery that people play for money where everyone has the same chance of winning, and everyone is equal before the prize numbers are drawn, is not like life at all. The book is about the real lottery of life – the one that we all win something in the day we’re born. And the big question we all have to ask ourselves at some point is: how much have I won and what do I spend it on?

Further Information

Thank you so much to Michael for writing this post, I can certainly see these themes in the book and although I haven’t quite finished it I urge you all to give it a try ;)

Oh and if you’re wondering about the anteater in question…

You’re welcome ;)

Lottery Boy will be published by Walker Books on the 7th May and you can follow Michael on Twitter at @michaelbyrneetc.

Lottery Boy

Lottery Boy

From Amazon:
Reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire, this contemporary adventure story set on the streets of London follows a boy whose luck is about to change. Since his mother’s death, Bully has lost his old life. Living rough with his dog, Jack, he can’t imagine his future. But one day, in the last birthday card she ever gave him, he finds a winning lottery ticket, a last gift from his mum that suddenly offers such hope. If only he can get to his prize on time. Life is not that simple. Bully’s struggle to survive has just got a whole lot harder. They’re after him on the streets, everyone wants a piece of him. And even if he does claim all that money, will he really be winning what he needs the most?

I Miss UK Cinema Intros

A bit of a random post for you today but hands up if you remember cinema intros – you know those little introductions that used to play just before a film was about to start.

Sometimes they told you of the rules of the cinema and others they just said to enjoy the show but for a long time now they seem to have disappeared – until now…

Or until I plugged the info into old faithful … YouTube! Don’t ask me how they found their way onto their but they have and so now I want to share with you the two cinema policy trailers / introductions I remember.

Without further ado – enjoy the show! :)

Showcase Cinemas Policy Trailer (National Amusements)

Enjoy The Vue (Vue Cinemas)

Told you it was a bit of a silly post but I couldn’t resist!

Book Review: The Haunting Of Sunshine Girl By Paige McKenzie & Alyssa Sheinmel

Book Review: The Haunting Of Sunshine Girl By Paige McKenzie & Alyssa Sheinmel

Author: Paige McKenzie & Alyssa Sheinmel

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

From Amazon
Something freaky’s going on with Sunshine’s new house . . . there’s the chill that wraps itself around her bones, the giggling she can hear in the dead of night, and then the strange shadows that lurk in her photographs. But the more weird stuff that happens, the less her mum believes her. Sunshine’s always had a quirky affiliation with the past, but this time, history is getting much too close for comfort . . .

If there is something, or someone, haunting her house, what do they want? And what will they do if Sunshine can’t help them?

As things become more frightening and dangerous, and the giggles she hears turn to sobs and screams, Sunshine has no choice but to accept what she is, face the test before her and save her mother from a fate worse than death.

Review
Off the bat I am going to put my hand up and say that I am a bit of a wimp – horror books or books that even hint at horror tend to have me looking the other way and if it hadn’t of been for the My Kinda Book blogger event at the end of last year The Haunting of Sunshine Girl would have probably passed me by.

But there was something about the idea that kept drawing me in and basically I couldn’t resist. :)

My first impressions were that this was going to follow a typical horror plot – girl moves into a supposedly haunted house and move on from there with things gradually getting worse. But let me stop you there for just one second.

Yes, this book does start with moving into a supposedly haunted house but then things get a little different – in fact the set up reminds me a *ahem* little of Buffy (which I happen to love). There’s paranormal workings going on which which work itself into a plot which is totally compelling and addictive.

Sunshine shows herself to have more inner strength than I think even she believes, as the story moves on she discovers more about herself and the world she has moved into!

So how scary is it? Well, baring in mind that although I read a fair portion in bed this was offset by reading Harry Potter straight after, the rest was mostly read in a busy well lit office. This being said it certainly has an atmosphere about it, something which settles around you while you read and at points did send a shiver through me (this could have been from the open window though? Or was it? hehe)

I can’t not talk about the Mum who gets this reviews special mention – whilst definitely a supporting character, her role was integral and how the character was used to build tension and up the stakes was brilliant.

Overall, fan of horror or not – if you want an atmospheric read with a mystery begging to be solved this is for you!

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for sending me a copy to review

Last Chance To Nominate Your Favourite Books Of 2014 & Book Swapping

Back last December I launched Bookish Peeps, a brand new book forum specifically for those who enjoy reading and chatting about YA and MG fiction (though if you’re into adult you’re totally welcome too! :D)

Pretty shortly after the super fantastic Jim of YA Yeah Yeah! fame came up with the idea of the Bookish Peeps Book of 2014 – a countdown of the communities favourite book published in 2014 and I was like, YES!!!

I can hardly believe we are now at the end of March and the deadline to get nominations in for the inaugural countdown of the top books of 2014 is very fast approaching (midnight tonight!) so I wanted to do one very last shout out – if you haven’t already and would like to nominate, this really is your last chance to get your favourite books of last year onto the countdown.

You can get details of how to nominate here. Go now….

Before it’s too late :o

The other thing that’s just started over at Bookish Peeps is a Book Swapping / Giveaway forum – if you want to share the book love maybe because you have duplicates or because you simply don’t have the space for ALL OF THE BOOKS hehe… this forum is for you.

I think that’s everything…

Well, except give a massive thank you to Jim! :D

In Which I Finally See Billy Elliot The Musical

This has been a long time coming. A very long time coming.

Billy Elliot has been on my list of musicals I’ve wanted to see for years, always there but another show kept turning up and taking it’s place when looking at what to see next. Shows which might not stay in the West End long enough for me to see them if I don’t see them right now.

But for the first time although Billy Elliot wasn’t the only show I wanted to see (dying to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and watch Les Mis again) but it was the musical I was most desperate to see and fortunately the tickets matched my budget at the right time (which was lucky as I booked the ticket quite last minute for me!)

So last Thursday I made the coach trip to London, went for a little wander along Victoria Embankment and saw a familiar bridge.

Millenium Bridge

And then walked on said familiar bridge…

Millenium Bridge

Fortunately there were no dementors around :)

After a bit of a rush back I was outside my favourite London theatre – the Apollo Victoria Theatre….

Apollo Victoria Theatre

*ahem* fortunately this just across the road from the Victoria Palace Theatre. I was ready for the show to begin…

Victoria Palace Theatre

Billy Elliot if you didn’t know is the story of a boy who discovers he wants to dance but set against the strikes in the mines a boy who wants to dance isn’t the kind of thing that goes down particularly well.

It was amazing. Perfect. Brilliant. Superb. Incredible.

Okay, okay – I’ll stop now.

As you might have guessed Billy Elliot is much more dance heavy than other musicals, I mean what other show will you see police and miners in an epic dance battle with young girls and Billy having a ballet lesson in the middle.

Talking about the young cast, they were superb and brought a fun and bright side to the show – and I have to give a massive shout out to the boy who played Michael (I wish I remembered his name!) – he was so much fun – I can’t picture the show without him! :)

Which brings me to another point that the show has elements which would fit right at home in a modern contemporary story – it shows the miners strikes from the eyes of a young person and how they effect the whole family.

I’ve been listening to the cast recording for months already so I knew the music was superb but seeing the show really brings it to life.

Oh and don’t ignore the seats at the front of the theatre because of their restricted view marker – I was in seat B22 which is the very front row on the left side of the stalls. It’s marked as restricted view because of the very high stage but really – the view is fine and for little more than £20 you can hardly go wrong.

Though I’m sure I kept catching several members of the casts eye – though I hope I’m imagining it! Eek!

Overall, an awesome show – if you haven’t seen it – what are you waiting for?

Book Review: Hacked By Tracy Alexander

Book Review: Hacked By Tracy Alexander

Author: Tracy Alexander

Publisher: Piccadilly Press

From Amazon
Dan had been diagnosed as ADHD as a child. He quite liked the ritalin, but then he got into computers, and for his parents a geek was better than something feral. It was hard to remember when the genuine hacking started; free phone credit was the first illicit, tangible real-life result of a hack, though not the last. By the time Dan is contacted online by Angel, he is eager for the challenge laid before him creating tricky bits of code. But Dan begins to suspect that something more nefarious may be planned for his code than he thought. He will have to decide what truly matters more protecting his anonymity and freedom or preventing a deadly terror attack . . .

Review
As someone who has spent the vast majority of my life near a keyboard, mouse and monitor it’s probably no surprise that this book appealed to me. And appeal to me it did. :)

Hacked is the story of Dan whose life online got him rather more than he bargained for. He got involved in something which progressively found himself digging bigger and bigger holes for himself.

I don’t really want to say too much more than this for fear of spoiling it so I’ll stop there on the story details :)

So, lets instead talk about Dan, I can so easily see how he got himself into the mess to begin with and I loved watching it unravel. There are moments that he shows himself to have a true strength of character. Where he’s in a position to make decisions – decisions where neither outcome is a particularly happy one – but where one is probably what he should choose. And yes he has to decide because to do nothing in this case is making a decision too!

I really liked the unusual way Tracy used usernames for characters (particularly Angel) which we only meet online – not always revealing their real names, shrouding the place in secrecy which makes the twists and turns much harder to spot. It leaves you never really sure about each characters motives which moves me back onto Dan…

Because as much as Dan had a strong strength of character he did seem to dig himself into the hole without too much help. Considering how bright he must be to crack the hacking puzzles it does seem that maybe, just maybe he was a little too trusting.

Oh and as an added bonus you do get a little peak at Bristol as this book is mainly set here – just saying! ;)

Overall, Hacked is a thrilling and fast paced story which won’t take long to take hold and leave you begging for me. Don’t dismiss is just because you think hacking is boring or uninteresting – this book might just surprise you :)

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy to review

Book Series Review: Penny Dreadful By Joanna Nadin

Something a little bit different from me today :)

Over the past few months I had a rather Brilliant Idea(TM) and have been spending my coach journeys to London (and back again!) reading a, um – short story series by Joanna Nadin which goes by the name of Penny Dreadful and they are, well – rather good!

Book Series Review: Penny Dreadful By Joanna Nadin

Rather than review each of the seven books individually I thought it made more sense to pool them into one post.

First point – this series has no relation to the television series of the same name.

Each of the seven books follows Penny on three individual short adventures. Not quite sure that’s quite the right word but I’ll stick with it.

The best way I can think of describing Penny (and therefore the stories) are that Penny is a magnet for disaster (like what I did there? Never mind!). Anything that can go wrong with Penny around generally does. Think of it a bit like the butterfly effect…

Penny has a Brilliant idea(TM) and this sets off a rather hilarious chain reaction of events which affects those around her. From damaging special cakes, supergluing items to things which ought not be superglued and much more.

They are in essence fun and quick reads which at the least will raise a smile and may at points have you having to hiccup back a laugh on the coach *ahem* :)

It’s worth pointing out that it’s not always totally Penny’s fault, there’s a whole cast of her friends to keep an eye out for who might have something to answer for – Cosmo, her best friend can often be found supplying *helpful* ideas and let us not forget the headmaster who is always ‘Sick and Tired’ – I can’t imagine why? hehe ;)

I loved how many of the stories did make casual references to each other (which gives a few hints about what you might not have read yet) but they each stood completely on their own. You could quite literally pick any of the stories (say start with the 2nd story in book 4) and you wouldn’t get lost. I did for once read them in the published order but you really don’t have to. None of them assume any prior knowledge of the characters and each character is introduced as if you haven’t met them before.

Credit also has to go to Jess Mikhail whose illustrations were as much a part of the stories as the story themselves, they were interwoven into the text and brought the fun of the words to life.

Written for younger readers the Penny Dreadful series is a fun collection of stories which is sure to raise a smile and brighten a dreary morning Monday ride to work or looonngggg coach trip to London! :)

Book Review: Geek Drama By Holly Smale (Geek Girl World Book Day 2015 Book)

Book Review: Geek Drama By Holly Smale (Geek Girl World Book Day 2015 Book)

Author: Holly Smale

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

From Amazon
“My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek.”

Harriet Manners knows that the hottest observed place on earth is Furnace Creek in Death Valley.

She knows that dolphins shed the top layer of their skin every two hours.

And she knows just how badly auditions can go, especially when you’re a model.

But she has no idea how to get herself out of the extreme embarrassment of the school play or what to do when arch-nemesis Alexa decides it’s the perfect opportunity to humiliate her…

Can GEEK GIRL survive the bright lights of the stage?

Review
This is the first World Book Day £1 book I’ve bought in YEARS but we’re talking about our favourite red head and her bestest-best stalker friend, Harriet & Toby. How could I refuse? Answer – I. Could. Not!!! :)

Geek Drama is set between books 1 and 2 and tells the story of Harriet and Natalie as they take on their next adventure. Forget about the modelling, this one’s all about the drama – Shakespeare to be more specific.

It’s all the fun and joy you’d expect from a Geek Girl story wrapped up into a smaller package. We’ve got Harriet – the girl who is like a walking, talking Wikipedia – full of facts – many of which you never really know but will find interesting and surprisingly relevant to the various different scenarios she finds herself wrapped up in.

Then, Toby – super stalker extraordinaire – he takes his stalking very seriously don’t you know and as it seems in every Geek Girl book he deserves a special mention and I can’t deny him one in this book either. He calls himself stalker – I’d say more super friend. He’s got Harriet’s back whether she wants it or not. Is there a Toby fan club somewhere I can join? :)

Wilbur is back of course and the parents are just as perfectly bonkers – well Richard is anyway, Annabel is more level headed. The pair of them just work, always have done and I’m sure will continue to do so!

There is a bit of modelling reference in this story but it’s much less relevant – this is much more like a homegrown contemporary. One much more local with friendship at it’s heart.

Pure and simple it’s Geek Girl in a small form, it’ll whet your appetite for the series if you haven’t tried it yet without being too spoilery and is a pleasantly quick pick me up for those of us who are already massive fans of the series.

Book Review: The Art Of Being Normal By Lisa Williamson

Book Review: The Art Of Being Normal By Lisa Williamson

Author: Lisa Williamson

Publisher: David Fickling Books

From Amazon
Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year 11 is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long …

Review
I’ve only read one other book similar to The Art Of Being Normal (Alex As Well if you were wondering which was pretty special) but this book is something else.

Meet David and Leo, two boys and two secrets they’re not particularly keen on spilling. Lets start with David, he comes from a very supportive family – a family who clearly cares for him and who just happen to be expecting him to come out to them…

Except the thing he’s going to come out to them might not be exactly what they are expecting. You see David was born a boy but wants to be a girl.

I loved David so much, his need to be a girl isn’t just a whim or a phase – it’s something he has thought a long time about. He’s curated a collection of female clothes and wigs, he’s written numerous letters to his parents explaining what he wants all while his body is having other ideas.

He just hasn’t quite found the courage to tell his family though and it’s throughout the course of this book and the events which unfold that at once give him more confidence to be who he really is and also cautions him of what he might face. Quite simply he grows and comes out at the end a person who is not only prepared to take the next step (whatever that might be) but also as a stronger person (and lets face it he’s pretty strong to start with).

But there is more to The Art of Being Normal than a story about gender, it’s a story which gives us a front row access to the experience of being bullied (in more than one way) and how it can grow from a seed of name calling to something much worse.

And…

Wait, there’s more??? Well, yes as it it happens but I’ll let you discover that for yourself – I’ll just say that although this book is a book with a strong transgender theme – there are other stories running through which support it and put it into context.

The special mentions for this review (there are two of them – aren’t we lucky!) go to the boys sisters, Livvy and Tia. They brightened the page and acted like beacons of sunshine when the boys were a bit down.

P.S Did anyone else always think of Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer whenever Spike was mentioned?

..

Just me then hehe ;)

Overall, The Art of Being Normal is a book which tackles a lot but which will guide you by the hand. Yes it will probably break your heart in a few places but it will then help put it back together again (be rude not to really).

Which all leads me to ask the question – is there really any such thing as normal? Because I’m not so sure!