26 March 2014

Review: The Book of Spells by Kate Brian

The year is 1915 when sixteen-year-old Eliza Williams arrives at the Billings School for Girls in Easton, Connecticut. Her parents expect her to learn the qualities of a graceful, dutiful wife.

But Eliza and her housemates have a dangerous secret: They're witches.

After finding a dusty, leather bound spell book, the Billings Girls form a secret coven. Bonded in sisterhood, they cast spells - cursing their headmistress with laryngitis, brewing potions to bolster their courage before dances, and conjuring beautiful dresses out of old rags.

The girls taste freedom and power for the first time, but what starts out as innocent fun turns sinister when one of the spells has an unexpected-and deadly-consequence. Magic could bring Eliza everything she's ever wanted... But it could also destroy everything she holds dear.


5 Words: Magic, selfish, silly-little-girls, tragedy, love.

When I first started this, I wasn't so sure about it. But by the end, I knew I'd loved it.

I haven't read any of the Private series itself, but I want to, especially if the writing's as immersing as this. Pity that not a single library in three whole counties near me have the first books. They have books 9-14 though :/ Is it worth reading, fellow readers?

Although the characters appeared to be 15/16 the writing was much younger. But it was refreshing to read a rather "clean" YA that still had intrigue and attraction and naughty-goings-on.

I'm a sucker for boarding school situations. Let's blame that on reading the The Twins at St Clare's and The Worst Witch books growing up. And this book did not disappoint on that front. It reminded me of all of those childhood reading memories, only a little more grown-up, and I probably loved this book all the more for it.

The characters weren't the most likeable I've read. They were pretty much all spoilt little rich girls who were bored and trying to have fun. But that didn't matter, because without that the book wouldn't have worked.

The ending was pretty spectacular, and the build up to it was wonderful. Although there are a few loose ends that I would have preferred were cleared up, I was generally entertained by the book and enjoyed it a lot.

I particularly like how this book can be read on its own. There's no pressure to read the rest of the Private series to better understand the world, and I think this book would likely be rather different anyway, being set almost 100 years in the past.

22 March 2014

Review and Giveaway: Kissing Eden by TA Foster

Have you ever thought of taking a vacation alone? I mean step on a plane, check into your hotel, and lie on the beach completely and utterly alone. No? Me either, but then right before senior spring break I got dumped.

Something about break ups makes you do things you didn't want to do, and try things you didn't know you were capable of.

That’s how I ended up at the Palm Palace.

That’s how I met Grey.

That’s how my spring break turned into the most unforgettable week of my life.


5 Words: fun, sexy, spring, quick read.

I really enjoyed this rather short novel. It was sweet and sassy and made me fall in love with it.

TA Foster has a recognisable style to her writing that I love - it's comfortable to read and easy to fall into, and it really brings these New Adult characters to life. It's age appropriate and it only serves to strengthen the characters.

I liked the main character Eden, how she was strong despite her heartbreak. She's a pretty girl-power kind of gal. And she's selfless and helpful and all round pretty wonderful while still having real flaws. She ain't no Mary Sue.

Grey was quite a character too. He developed and changed as you got to know him through the pages - it was like meeting a real person and learning about them in real-time.

This author is fast becoming my go-to for a romantic NA fix!

GIVEAWAY (US ONLY)


16 March 2014

Review: The Guestbook by Holly Martin

Welcome to Willow Cottage – throw open the shutters, let in the sea breeze and make yourself completely at home. Oh, and please do leave a comment in the Guestbook!

As landlady of Willow Cottage, the young widow Annie Butterworth is always on hand with tea, sympathy or strong Norfolk cider - whatever her colourful array of guests require.  A flick through the messages in the leather-bound cottage guestbook gives a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of everyone who passes through her doors.

This includes Annie herself - especially now celebrity crime writer Oliver Black, is back in town. He might grace the covers of gossip magazines with a different glamorous supermodel draped on his arm every week, but to Annie, he’s always just been Olly, the man who Annie shared her first kiss with.

Through the pages of the Guestbook Annie and Olly, along with all the guests that arrive at the seaside retreat, struggle with love, loss, mystery, joy, happiness, guilt…and the odd spot of naked rambling! 

Forget sending postcards saying 'wish you were here' - one visit to Willow Cottage and you’ll wish you could stay forever.


5 Words: hilarious, sweet, interesting, summery, wish-you-were-here.

I think this is the funniest book I've read this year. I don't think I've ever giggled and snorted and rolled about so much with a book. I only wish it hadn't taken so long to get my hands on it!

This was a relatively quick read. If I hadn't taken some time out to buy a puppy (OH YES!) I'd have finished it within hours. I couldn't stop turning the pages and reading bits out to my OH (who didn't appreciate it much, it's his pet hate).

I found the format a bit weird, and some parts didn't seem to make sense for the format in which it was written, but that was all completely neutralised by the fact that this is SO FREAKING FUNNY.

I want to go to Willow Cottage. I want to stay in that beautiful little cottage by the sea and walk along the beach and sit on the village green and in that gorgeous garden. And I want to share a glass of wine with Annie and Olly because they seem like amazing people. Especially Annie!

I will definitely read more of Holly Martin's writing in future.

Make this your beach read this summer. You'll not regret it. Although you might look a bit silly when you laugh so hard it hurts.

Showcase Sunday #7

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea and is a chance for everyone to show off what they've acquired during the week.

This week I have bought a few books. Who could resist them at £2 from Aldi? Plus, I've been wanting to read these particular Hot Key titles for a while. I also got a ticket to Dawn O'Porter's author event at Newcastle. Yaay!

PHYSICAL BOOKS

Hello there, Hot Key. Look at these four gorgeous books! Can't wait to get stuck in! Such a bargain, only £1.99 each instead of £6.99. I also got a couple of books from the library (stand by for my first Sarah Dessen read!) but the next Vampire Academy that I reserved hasn't arrived yet :(


FOR REVIEW

This week I got The Guestbook by Holly Martin from Net Galley and promptly read it and finished it in a matter of hours. Seriously, this book deserves the five star reviews, it is amazingly funny. I also got my first book from Book Bridgr, A Wicked Pursuit by Isabella Bradford. Let's hope this one is as good as it looks too!
   

OTHER NEWS

I'm getting a puppy! That is all. YAY!

11 March 2014

Review: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school - it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s - the very place where they’re most in danger...

Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi - the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires - make Lissa one of them forever.


5 Words: Addictive, surprising, girl-power, attraction, loyalty.

Well.

I'd been hearing a lot about this series. Everyone everywhere was raving and singing its praises. I wasn't convinced - just look at how Twilight and The Selection turned out. But I took a chance. On somewhat of a whim (and perhaps because I was tired and I do silly things when I'm tired) I reserved it at the library. I thought I'd give it a go and see what all of the hype was about. And when a whole lot of fellow bloggers went mad about this book on a Top Ten Tuesday I posted I decided it was time to start.

AND OH MY GOD. THIS WAS EXCELLENT.

I couldn't put it down. I even dreamt about it, which was pretty freaky. And now I'm shipping Rose and Dimitri so hard. And I don't ship. Not since years ago when I madly read HP fanfics.

This isn't the best story in the world. It's not the best written either. And Rose is usually the type of character I'd take an instant dislike to. But something happened and I was drawn right in to the story. And I freaking loved it. And I freaking love Rose and her voice and how bad-ass she is.

Give this a go if you haven't. It was certainly not what I'd usually pick up, but I definitely enjoyed it. A lot.

Now, I'm off to fangirl. When does the film come out in the UK again?


09 March 2014

Whit Hart Blitz: The Making of the Cover

Mae never asked to be craft-born. She never wanted that burden.

The realm needs magic again, and the the King of Aegunlund has been waiting for the first craft-born girl to marry his son, Prince Casimir.

In Mae's town of Halts-Walden, the ambitious miller claims his daughter Ellen is craft-born. Mae knows this is a load of hogwash, but she's glad Ellen will have the unfortunate pleasure of becoming queen instead of her. All she has to do is sit back and wait until Casimir and Ellen are married, then she will finally be free of the threat of her fate. But on that day an event so shocking and terrible occurs that Mae finds herself entering the neighbouring cursed forest on a quest she never thought she'd have to follow. 

Join Mae as she rides her white stag through the Waerg Woods with a pampered prince at her heels. She's out for revenge and nothing, no one, will get in her way.

The cover of this book is just amazing. AMAZING! So I'm super excited to share this article all about it, including the author's own concepts. It's a really interesting read and lets you know the background to how the story itself comes along.

The making of this book cover is pretty intrinsic to the actual novel, because I think I had an idea for the book cover in my mind before I even wrote the story. It was when I was watching Game of Thrones one day. It’s the first time I’ve ever been drawn into an epic fantasy world. I’ve always loved Sci-Fi and Fantasy, both in novels and on the screen, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the JRR Tolkien style stories. I liked the films, but I would never read the books. But as I was watching Game of Thrones, an idea for a story began to form in my mind.  
It was an idea based on the art I’d been seeing everywhere. For some reason, antlers, deer, stags, and anything forest-y is really in right now. I see deer on clothes, on bags and purses, on birthday cards, in beautiful illustrations on Pinterest – just everywhere. And that’s when I had the idea about a girl riding a white stag.  
There wasn’t any other story. Just a girl and a white stag riding through a forest. In my mind, the book cover wove the title and the image together into a birthday-card-esque picture of prettiness, with this white stag standing proudly in a forest. I think if I hadn’t had that thought, I never would have written the novel.  
At first, I wanted to draw the cover myself. I’m not much on an artist, but I had a clear vision and figured that I could do it if I worked hard enough. So I spend some time sketching out designs. They weren’t awful, but I had to step back and put my business brain on. They looked too much like the illustration for a children’s book.


 Even when I photoshopped colour to them they didn’t look right:
   


Which is when I realised that I needed to hire a professional illustrator to take on the job. Rhianna Reeve wanted experience creating book covers, and when I saw her work, I jumped at the chance to hire her. She’s been great, listening to my ideas (which were pretty specific!) and creating the perfect cover for the series, one which has brought my original vision to life. 
That shadow-y image of the stag waiting for you in the dark forest… that is what White Hart is about. There’s a literal, and figurative quality to the cover, and I love it very much! 

06 March 2014

Review and Giveaway: The Boy In The Smoke by Maureen Johnson

On a cold night, Stephen Dene went to the Eton boathouse to perform a desperate act. But someone stopped him along the way, sending his life in a new and decidedly strange direction–leading him to London, to two new friends, and to a world of shadows and mystery.

The prequel, published by Hot Key Books, will be available for purchase for £1/€1.50, or for free in exchange for a World Book Day Token in the UK and Ireland from March 3rd – 30th 2014, in celebration of World Book Day on March 6th.

And you can win a free copy here on this blog.


ABOUT WORLD BOOK DAY

World Book Day is the biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK and Ireland, and this year takes place on Thursday 6th March, celebrating 17 years of encouraging the young and old to share their love of books and reading.

World Book Day is a partnership of publishers, booksellers and interested parties who work together to promote books and reading for the personal enrichment and enjoyment of all.

Take a look at the World Book Day site too, where there's loads going on. There's even a dedicated YA section with reading lists and recommended books.

REVIEW

5 Words: heartbreaking, sad, dark, wonderful, interesting.

It is not bad that I've called this book sad, dark and heartbreaking. It is good and it is necessary.

If you have ever read the Shades of London books then read this. If you plan to read the Shades of London books then read this. And if you don't plan to do either? Read this anyway.

This short broke my heart as I read it, and it made me understand Stephen so much more. I thought I'd read it in a flash, but I ended up reading it twice, and taking my time with it. It made me think and it made me desperately sad.

It is beautifully written, and subtly witty, and Stephen's character really comes to life. His voice stands out as quite different from Rory's, the narrator of the main Shades of London novels, and it's refreshing to hear a different voice speak out about the whole ghost-seeing thing.
“Eton produced Society's Monsters - everyone knew that. Politicians, mostly, and occasionally people who ran banks and all the other institutions that stole the world's spoils for themselves.”
If you're in the UK then get yourself to a bookshop and buy this. It's only £1 after all, and for a good cause. I know that Waterstones stocks it, but it may well go fast.

GIVEAWAY

Being the lovely, delightful person that I am, and knowing that not everyone can get their hands on this gem, I bought two copies. One for me and one to give away to some lucky person somewhere in the world. That's right, this is an international giveaway.

05 March 2014

Release Day Review, Excerpt and Give-away: White Hart by Sarah Dalton

Mae never asked to be craft-born. She never wanted that burden.
The realm needs magic again, and the the King of Aegunlund has been waiting for the first craft-born girl to marry his son, Prince Casimir.
In Mae's town of Halts-Walden, the ambitious miller claims his daughter Ellen is craft-born. Mae knows this is a load of hogwash, but she's glad Ellen will have the unfortunate pleasure of becoming queen instead of her. All she has to do is sit back and wait until Casimir and Ellen are married, then she will finally be free of the threat of her fate. But on that day an event so shocking and terrible occurs that Mae finds herself entering the neighbouring cursed forest on a quest she never thought she'd have to follow. 

Join Mae as she rides her white stag through the Waerg Woods with a pampered prince at her heels. She's out for revenge and nothing, no one, will get in her way.


5 Words: Exciting, magical, heartbreaking, fantasy, responsibility

Sarah Dalton is one of my favourite authors for a reason. I have never once failed to be seriously impressed by what I've read. All of her books have made me stop and think, and White Hart is no exception.

Even if I hadn't known the author - it's a certainty that I will pick up anything by Sarah Dalton - that cover would have compelled me to read it. Have you ever seen anything so gorgeous?

I wasn't sure whether I liked Mae at first. In fact, I'm not altogether sure that I like her now. But she is a wonderful character who changes so much between the pages. She experiences such hardship and she makes such difficult decisions that I couldn't help but grow to love her and her quirky ways.

I also loved Prince Casimir. He was much more complex than your first impressions of him would have you believe. But my, is he blind! Open your eyes, Cas! Even Sasha could see what was right in front of you. Speaking of Sasha, I liked her. I liked her honesty and her fear and how she helped Mae and Casimir on their quest, even though they treated her badly.

I couldn't stand Ellen. What a total... Nasty, selfish person. I almost feel like she deserves to be with Lyndon, another nasty piece of work.

I liked how the Nix stirred things up and sowed doubts in Mae's mind. It threw her into even greater turmoil. Here she is, trying to deal with everything that's been lumped upon her, her powers and responsibilities and then this creature of evil comes along and jumbles everything up and makes every decision so much harder.

But that ending... I want to read more about Mae and her White Hart and Prince Casimir and even Ellen. The ending is so shocking, so abrupt... At first I thought it was going to be happily-ever-after. Not for Mae, but perhaps for Casimir and the realm. But then those last paragraphs... I read the last chapter multiple times, trying to digest it. Really?! I need more now! It was such an unexpected turn of events.


Come back on 7 March for an article all about that gorgeous cover. In the mean time, why not head on over to Sarah Dalton's own website, where you can find links to others taking part in the Blitz, more about all of her wonderful books, and read some pretty interesting posts from the author herself, the Life of a Self-Published Author is my favourite. Below is an excerpt from near the beginning of the book, which I think sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the book.

Excerpt

Father and I live on the edge of the gloomy forest; close enough to smell the leaves, hear the rustle of animals, and sense the dangers within. Darkness hangs below the knotted canopy of branches. I stand and watch in awe, following Anta’s hoof-prints. It’s late. The sun sets. The grey of dusk descends over Halts-Walden with the threat of rain in the dark underbelly of clouds. The prince may well be greeted with mud and rain in the morning. The thought makes me feel rather gleeful. I imagine some pampered, puffy prince on the back of a regal horse, riding into the village in search of the red hair of maidens, quaint flowers, and those who bend the knee to him.
“Come in for stew, Mae,” Father says. “You should have a bath, too, if the prince is arriving.”
“I thought the whole point was to make sure the prince wouldn't want me,” I reply, shooting him a glance.
Father sighs. “That’s true. But this is still a momentous occasion for the village, and you should look the part, or you’ll attract attention. Do you know the last time we had a royal come here?”
I shake my head.
“Well, it was before my time. Your grand-papa talked of it sometimes. King Aldrych the First came when he was still a prince. He thought we were enchanted, because of where we live. I suppose the kings always do.”
We’re under Aldrych the Second’s rule, now, a man I know little about because of how isolated we are. His reputation is one of greed. The only thing I know is that he wants his precious Red Palace to make his gems. Apparently the craft is needed for that. I don’t know how it works. Part of me would love to see the castle, to discover what makes it so special.
“Well, Ellen is craft-born, after all.” I snort. She’s got about as much craft in her as the muck in Farmer Black’s pigpen.
“Are you complaining, Mae? You've wanted nothing more than to avoid Ellen’s fate. Ever since…” He trails off.
Ever since I realised I have the magic in me. To finish his sentence, I lift a hand and click with my thumb and index finger. The butterflies that usually hide away between our flowers reveal themselves in the garden. There are dozens of them fluttering through the sky of all colours: red, yellow, blue, patterned with eyes that stare out like rubies. They fly to me and cluster around my hand.
Father shakes his head, but he laughs. “If only your mother could see you.”
A bold butterfly with wings the colour of sapphires lands on my nose, tapping me with its antennae.
“I just wanted to call you,” I say. “There’s no job for now.”
The butterfly leaves my nose sharply, as though in a huff. The others follow, flapping their tiny wings, disappearing back amongst the flowers.
“You shouldn't call them whenever you feel like it,” Father warns. “Nature doesn't exist to serve you and your every whim.”
I've heard this speech many a time, so I clap my hands together to prevent a long lecture. “Stew it is, then!”
Father puts an arm around my shoulders as we head back to the hut. “Rabbit stew, in fact. With carrots and mint. I need to fatten you up—I can feel your ribs!”
I pat my tunic. “Really?” I am small for my age.
He chuckles as we walk through the doorway. I help him up the stone step. “You’re still growing. Don’t worry, I'm sure you’ll be a few inches taller by your sixteenth birthday.”
I lift his arm from my shoulders, and it drags dark curls in front of my eyes. I push them back behind my ears. “I doubt it.”
“Sit down and eat your meal.” Father points to the table, laid out with a bowl of food. It’s barely enough for the two of us. “Tomorrow will be a big day. We’ll see the prince, and when he takes Ellen away, we’ll never have to worry again about you being sent to the Red Palace.”
I like the sound of that. As I shovel down the rabbit stew, my shoulders lighten. For years we've worried about my powers. We know little about craft and the craft-born, except that the magic within me seems to allow me to call on nature. I don’t know why it makes me powerful or how it would benefit the realm, I just know that I don’t want to be a princess and I never have. I can’t think of anything worse than flouncing about in fancy dresses, cooped up in the Red Palace forever, forced into marrying someone I don’t even know. I certainly don’t want to use my powers to help the king become even richer.
But there is something in me that longs to find out more about the powers within me. Sometimes I fantasise about disappearing from Halts-Walden and travelling Aegunlund in search of answers. I want to be in the woods with the birds and the butterflies. I want to climb trees and ride Anta 'til my arse-cheeks are sore. I don’t know why I'm craft-born, and I don’t really care. All I know is whatever the reason, it has to be more than sitting pretty on a throne. There must be more to life. There has to be freedom and adventure in this world. I want to find it.

White Hart is FREE this week only with code RW100 on Smashwords.

International Giveaway

So, this is a pretty awesome giveaway. Look at all the goodies! This giveaway is running as part of the Book Blitz.

The Prizes:
  • Signed copy of White Hart & Charcoal drawing 
  • Ebook copies of White Hart & other Sarah Dalton books
  • $10 Amazon gift card

04 March 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #5

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and is a chance for everyone to get to know fellow bloggers and share lists. I love lists. Every week is a different list.

This week is Top Ten Popular Authors I've Never Read.


There are a lot of popular authors I've never read... Short and to the point. And I'm sure we have a few in common! I also added one I've avoided and one I've tried (so many times!) but just can't. Maybe that's because I've only tried her YA offerings?

Authors I Haven't Read


These are the authors I just haven't read yet. Although I now have a few books on my TBR - I even actually bought a few! And I got Vampire Academy out of the library.
Jodi Picoult
Ally Carter
Veronica Rossi
Sarah Dessen
Meg Cabot
Richelle Mead
Sylvia Day
Anne Rice


Author I've Avoided

Just... I'm not the hugest fan of horror but I know what I like within the genre. I like gritty, British horror, where it's subtle and builds slowly and has so much more to do with atmosphere.
Stephen King


Author I've Attempted

I tried Stormbringer and put it down after just the first page. Why? The first line. And that terrible start has put me off this author for ever. I think I'll stick to Elizabeth Chadwick when I need a historical fix.
Phillipa Gregory

01 March 2014

Review: Wolf Bride by Elizabeth Moss

England, 1536

Bound to him against her will...

Lord Wolf, hardened soldier and expert lover, has come to King Henry VIII's court to claim his new bride: a girl who has intrigued him since he first saw her riding across the Yorkshire moors.

Eloise Tyrell, now lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn, has other ideas. She has no desire to submit to a man she barely knows and who - though she is loath to admit it - frightens her not a little.

Then comes that first kiss...

It awakens in both a fierce desire that bares them to the soul. But as the court erupts into scandal around the ill-fated Queen, Eloise sees first-hand what happens when powerful men tire of their wives.

Dare she surrender her body and her heart?



5 Words: lust, passion, intrigue, treason, love.

I was extremely sceptical when I started this - I didn't think it'd be my cup of tea. At all. But it has a pretty cover and I'd read some amazing reviews so I thought I'd give it a go. So I shadow read it a little. Or rather, I shadow read it to the 50% mark.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

So up it went on my Currently Reading for all to see.

I'm not sure about the whole "Fifty Shades of Tudor Sex" thing, this does not compare at all to Fifty Shades - and thank goodness. But it's probably a good marketing gimmick.

Wolf Bride is full of passion and lust and misunderstandings. It is heartbreaking, frustrating, empowering and incredibly sexy, and it was a roller-coaster of a read. I enjoyed every moment. This book took my breath away more than once and for many different reasons.

I loved how confused and conflicted and innocent Eloise was. And how naive. She really came to life in the pages and I felt for her so much. I even felt like crying.

Wolf is smart and cunning and ruthless, but he is so intensely passionate. And he turns out to be nothing like your first impressions of him.

This is Fifty Shades with all of the passion and none of the sickening abuse. It is an intense and passionate romance set in the turmoil of the Tudor Court as Queen Anne is trialled and executed.