Monday, 13 February 2012

Thank You and Goodnight

Thank you for your interest in my book reviews. Although past reviews can still be found here, all new reviews will be posted over at my author blog, taracalaby.com. I hope I'll see you there!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Book Review: Escape from Year Eight - Anna & Mary K Pershall


Title: Escape from Year Eight
Author: Anna & Mary K Pershall
Series: Follows Two Weeks in Grade Six and A Term in Year Seven
Source: Library copy
Read: 16th-17th January, 2012
First Published: 2007
Publisher: Puffin
Pages: 169
ISBN: 9780143303190



"When Kaitlin's mum tells her they're going to live in America for three months, Kaitlin is furious. She finally has a group of friends at school – real friends she can trust – and now she's going to move a million kilometres away.
But when they get to Iowa, even Kaitlin has to admit it's not a total disaster. Amy and Jazz in her eighth grade class seem extra friendly. But what's with that weird kid Leon who won't talk to anyone? And what's his problem with Kaitlin?"

I picked up Escape from Year Eight when I saw it in the library because I remembered reading the second book in the series and not hating it. I also didn't hate this book - but I'm afraid I can't really say that I liked it either, unfortunately.

I could deal with the wishy-washy plot and supporting characters, but there were a few messages here that I didn't find appropriate for the young readers it's aimed at. Firstly, there's a pervasive anti-fat thread within the novel. Kaitlin's mother used to be overweight, but now seems obsessive about staying extremely thin, to the point of not having anything remotely fattening in the house. Kaitlin herself freaks out at the idea of eating anything fattening at all, to the point of pushing aside a lunchtime cheeseburger after only a few bites. What's more, one peripheral character, Simone, is present in the book only to be mocked for her weight and dedication to her study.

There's also ample use of terms like "spaz" (including have the love-interest do "a jerky little dance like a spastic person") and "retard". I'm not trying to suggest that year eight students (or eighth grade students, in this case) don't use terms like that, but I don't think that kind of obnoxious and insensitive behaviour needs to be presented in fiction as being normal and okay.

Finally, the authors touch upon the topic of mental illness. Leon's mother is portrayed as having ongoing issues that mean she struggles as a parent and talks to inanimate objects. She is fairly sympathetically portrayed – although this is limited by the way the kids all talk about her – and it is more the exploration of Leon's own issues that struck me as a little naïve. We're presented with a boy who doesn't talk for a couple of years, who seems to have suicidal ideation, who points guns at people and who hears voices, and then we're told that being sent to an alternative school in a big city is the only way his parents and the authorities are trying to help him.

Ultimately, though, Escape from Year Eight wasn't for me because I just couldn't like its protagonist. Kaitlin is petty and shallow and often downright cruel. She goes along with bullying and even participates in it, without showing any real signs of learning from her mistakes. She is probably quite realistic, in this sense, but that doesn't mean I want to read about her. So no, I didn't hate this book, but unfortunately I didn't really enjoy it, either.


Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Author Interview - Marie Lamba, author of Drawn



Today, Agrippina Legit is participating in a blog ghost tour to celebrate the release of Marie Lamba's latest YA novel, Drawn. You can find my review below but, as a bonus, Marie has kindly answered a few of the (non-spoilery!) questions I was left with after finishing the novel.



1. Your first two novels were both very realistic. What made you decide to dive into the realm of the paranormal with Drawn?

I’ve always been intrigued by ghosts. Not bloody murderous ones, or silly Casper the Ghost ones, but eerie yet fascinating spirits wrapped in longing and unfulfilled dreams.

I’m the sort of person who spends extra time in old graveyards or in the darkest recesses of castle dungeons wondering about the stories and secrets they hold. I grew up adoring Arthurian legends, and have read The Once and Future King countless times. Plus I’m a sucker for a solid chick-flick romance. Drawn pulls all these elements together. And the character of Christopher embodies the haunting longing, the untold secrets and unfulfilled dreams of the past.


2. Sang's Indian-American heritage in What I Meant and Over My Head is similar to that of your children. Are there any aspects of your own life that similarly informed your characters or universe in Drawn?

Definitely. I really relate to Michelle, because I, too, was a teen artist from New Jersey. Also, I spent a semester in college living in an English town similar to the one in Drawn. Before she goes to England, my character Michelle was a bit of an outcast back in New Jersey. I definitely had times in elementary school when I was bullied and an outcast, but by middle school I’d found my footing and my confidence and suddenly my life was different. In the novel, Michelle finds herself the object of William’s affection, she finds that she is actually developing some friendships, and she wonders why. Isn’t she the same girl who was so ridiculed? I remember thinking that same thing myself when I was a teen.


3. You have tried both the traditional and independent publishing routes. What made you return to self-publishing with the release of Drawn?

It would have been great to have Drawn released by a traditional publisher. Truthfully, my agent is
in love with this novel and a number of top editors at the “Big 6” publishing houses expressed a lot of interest in it. But I was anxious to get this novel to readers NOW. I’d spent over two years researching and writing and editing this book, and the traditional wheels of publishing were just turning way too slowly for me.

This felt like the right time to get this one out into readers’ hands. I was so happy with the way Over My Head came out, and it’s been received so well by readers, too, so now I knew for sure that indie publishing was a great option that would get direct results.


4. I must confess to developing a major soft spot for William while reading Drawn. Is there a character whom you are particularly fond of? Or, on the flip-side, is there a character you had a hard time not dooming to a terrible death?

I’m pretty crazy about Christopher, myself. And William is someone I’m definitely rooting for too. But I’d have to say that my favorite character is actually Roger Mortley. Roger is the misunderstood kid who everyone thinks is so strange. Actually he’s quite the hero who silently bears many horrors in his life, yet still has the guts to plan for the future and to put a witty spin on all life’s annoying moments. Prickly, belligerent, but loyal to the end, even if he’s telling you to blow off.

I’d love to have someone like him as a friend.


5. With two contemporary realistic novels and one paranormal romance under your belt, what comes next?

At the moment, I’m trying to sort this out myself. I have a few ideas floating around for the 20-30 age reading group. Humorous and edgy stuff about all the ridiculous hoops people jump through while searching for romance. Plus I would LOVE to write a sequel to Drawn. I’d probably call it “Sketch” and it would explore some decidedly loose ends in Michelle’s life. Questions about just where her missing psychic mother really is, or if she’ll ever see Christopher again. If you read Drawn, you’ll know just how complicated THAT question is. But first I want to see how Drawn is received before I start on the sequel. If readers really like it and push for more, then “Sketch” will be next novel I’ll write.

Thanks for having me here, Tara!

Marie

Sketch sounds great to me, so hopefully Drawn will be just as well-received as I'm expecting it to be!

If you'd like to learn more about Marie or her books, check out her website at http://marielamba.wordpress.com or like her page on Facebook. You can also take a look at the rest of the ghost tour stops for more Drawn information, reviews, interviews and even giveaways.

Book Review: Drawn - Marie Lamba


Title: Drawn
Author: Marie Lamba
Source: Review copy (author)
Read: 21st-23rd December, 2011
First Published: 2012
Publisher: Self-published
Buy Online: Amazon.com





There, in a large gilt frame is an oil painting. It’s Christopher, complete with his long brown hair, his light eyes seemingly on fire. His bear pin gleams on his cape. The artist’s technique is crude, the paint thickly applied and cracking, but Christopher’s intense look is accurately captured.
I step closer. Read the plaque beneath the painting. “Christopher Newman of Watley Manor, circa 1460.” My knees tremble. My hands start to shake.
“What’s the matter?” Roger says. “You look like you’ve seen a – ”
“Don’t,” I say in barely a whisper.

Recently moved from America, due to her father finding work at a prestigious English school, Michelle feels rather out of place in her new castle town home. When she first starts drawing a handsome guy in historical attire, she thinks nothing of it. But then a strange encounter at the castle makes her question whether the man in her drawings is truly a figment of her imagination – and draws her into the long-ago events that set into place the social structure still governing the modern day town.

Marie Lamba has proven herself to be a very proficient author of realistic young adult fiction, with her first novel, What I Meant... being published by Random House in 2007 and its sequel, Over My Head being much enjoyed by me when I reviewed it for my blog last year. I was intrigued, therefore, to discover that her next offering would be a paranormal offerings. There are no vampires or werewolves here, however. Instead, Drawn explores a connection across the centuries with a romantic interest who appears in Michelle's life like a ghost from the distant past.

Michelle is a likeable protagonist, whom readers should find it very easy to identify with. Her isolation in her new home makes her immediately sympathetic and her determination to ensure Christopher's safety is admirable. More importantly, she doesn't fall into that all-too-common paranormal trap of losing herself in order to be with her love interest. She is willing to make sacrifices for Christopher, but will not stand for too many of his dated ideas about women.

Indeed, the best thing about Christopher, in my opinion, was the fact that he isn't just a modern character in historical dress. He does not react to Michelle like someone from her own era and nor is his behaviour modern – especially when it comes to modesty! Lamba prevents him from ever seeming boorish, however, even at his most unrefined, which makes Michelle's feelings for him believable – and will probably ensure he earns a lot of reader fans as well.

For me, however, the most fascinating character was William, son of the town's most influential man. His depiction had so many different facets to it and his nature was so complex that I couldn't help but be intrigued by him. He's never entirely likeable – but that's rather the point! In contrast, I wished that we had seen a little more of Constance. I found her character very interesting and a good foil to William and I would have liked to see how things worked out for her.

With a little help from Back To The Future, Drawn looks at the troubles associated with time travel to the past, in terms of changing the present, but also deals with the difficulties of a a romance where the two lovers' worlds and lives are not just separated by states or oceans, but rather by time itself. While I thought that the novel's ending was possibly a little too perfect (or perhaps that should just be enormously lucky!), I enjoyed the way that Lamba presented Michelle's struggle to balance family ties and romantic love and thought her conclusions were very appropriate.

A clever and enjoyable paranormal romance with a love affair that fans of the genre are sure to swoon over.



If you liked this book, you might also enjoy:

Over My Head, by Marie Lamba

Coffeehouse Angel, by Suzanne Selfors

Darkness Becomes Her, by Kelly Keaton


Thursday, 2 February 2012

Book Review: The Lying Game (The Lying Game #1) - Sara Shepard


Title: The Lying Game
Author: Sara Shepard
Series: The Lying Game, #1
Source: Library copy
Read: 13th-14th January, 2012
First Published: 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 307
ISBN: 9780007237425



"The worst part of being dead is that there's nothing left to live for. No more kisses. No more secrets. No more gossip. It's enough to kill a girl all over again. But I'm about to get something no one else does – an encore performance, thanks to Emma, the long lost twin sister I never even got to meet.
Now Emma's desperate to know what happened to me. And the only way to figure it out is to be me – to slip into my old life and piece it all together."

The Lying Game has an extremely interesting premise, in that it's narrated by a dead girl who is watching the action through the eyes of the identical twin sister that she hadn't known existed. Therefore, while it is essentially told in the first person, it usually reads like a third person perspective, with the ghostly Sutton relating Emma's experiences as she tries to fit into Sutton's life and work out what has happened to her sister. It sounds a little confusing when described and it took me a while to adapt to the concept but, once I did, I found it a very clever take on the whodunnit format.

The plot of the novel is very engaging, and I quickly found myself guessing at who might turn out to be Sutton's murderer. I found Sara Shepard's mystery writing to be quite reminiscent of Agatha Christie, in that she is very good at ensuring that there are numerous suspects, all with very good reason to want Sutton out of their lives. I certainly have my own strong suspicions about the murderer, but I will most likely be proven wrong!

While Emma is a likeable character, the twin she is pretending to be is very much not, which is one of the most interesting things about The Lying Game. Ghost!Sutton has very little memory of her life, meaning that she discovers just how unpleasant she was at the same time as Emma and the novel's readers do. I think this helps the character to be a lot more sympathetic than she otherwise would be, which is important in a book that is populated largely by people who aren't very nice.

There are a few things that aren't very believable here – like Emma being able to bluff her way as a tennis captain despite only having played the sport on a Wii – but it's not so bad that it detracts from the plot. And it's the mystery here that's the book's biggest strength. In the end, the characters and Emma's charade are secondary to the question of who killed Sutton. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is not revealed in this first book of the Lying Game series. Indeed, The Lying Game does not exist very well as a stand-alone novel, lacking as it is in any real conclusions. Luckily, the story is interesting enough that I'm happy to read on to get the answers I need.