Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Cover Lover - July

Hi guys, seeing as I'm not going to be reviewing/receiving/reading much over the next couple of weeks, I thought I would give you a lovely look at what fun you'll find on the shelves of your local bookshop over the coming month. 

Look at all the pretty covers!!!

Wish I could figure out how to link the images to various websites where you can find out a bit more about the books... but that's a little too advanced for me. If anyone can help me out on that front, I can't wait to hear from you.

Happy Reading!!!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Lack of In My Mailbox...

Hi guys,

No In My Mailbox today because I've been off work for the past week, and won't be returning to work until July 11th.

Why the long break from the Piccadilly bookshelves?! I hear you cry... well... Am attempting to write a novel of my own, and decided that if I don't take the time to write it now, I never will.

As such my reading level has gone a bit down too... intense reading whilst trying to write your own stuff can be difficult, so am taking things a little slower than usual. Please stay tuned to this blog though, I'm sure I'll be overtaken with some thought or another soon enough and will just have to rant away about it.

Speak soon my lovelies - and find me on Twitter: @nicoleburstein


Thursday, 23 June 2011

Not Quite a Review but Nearly: Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet.

Well, has this book got me thinking...

Before I get into what is undoubtedly going to be a right little tirade, let me put one thing very clear: this book is extraordinarily written and heartbreakingly beautiful. It is a superb work of imagination, research, knowledge and craftsmanship. I have finished the novel feeling as though I know and understand every character and where they come from. A part of me yearns for the tranquil nostalgia of an earlier time, when women wore aprons, young boys rode bikes wherever they liked and strawberry picking was a standard summer pastime. It has a truly explosive ending. 

You will find this book currently on 3for2 tables in the children's sections of Waterstones and it is published (gloriously I might say) by Walker Books, a specialist children's publisher. 

But does it belong in the children's/teen section?

No. No, it does not. 

What struck me continually throughout reading this novel is that, however much I was enjoying it, I felt pretty adamant that it was an 'adult' book. And trying to articulate why I felt this way has led me to some conclusions over the nature of YA writing. 

Meg Rosoff once told me that she doesn't write 'for' teens, but 'about' teens. I'd hold this up as being a very important linchpin to my following argument, that essentially, reading YA fiction should trick you into thinking that you are a teenager again, whatever your age, and that it is this quality that identifies a book as being YA in the first place. YA writing isn't 'for' teenagers, it is 'about' teenagers, and should remind you what it is like to 'be' one. 

Whether you are reading a paranormal romance, a contemporary 'issue' novel or a high school comedy, what signifies a book as being YA is that instant feeling of knowing exactly what it is like to be a teenager. It is an art form. Not everyone can do it. I am attempting to do it, and I have enough respect for the genre to be understanding if my work never makes it into print. Writers from across the pond (yes, I mean you John Green, Ellen Hopkins, Maureen Johnson et al) in my opinion tend to do it significantly better than the British, but there is great momentum building up in UK publishing, spurred on by such terrific writers as Ms Rosoff and Patrick Ness, to only name a couple.  

The trick of making your brain feel sixteen again tends to mean that the best YA fiction is written in the first person and in the present tense, but it can work beautifully if written well in another POV or style. I don't want to deny anybody from considering themselves a YA writer or reader just because a book is 'different' from the rest. I encourage diversity in literature, so long as it is accomplished and actually works! For me, as a passionate reader of all things teen, and a buyer for a large children's department, the first thing I look for in a new YA novel is that gut reaction, that bubbling in my brain that makes me go 'oy vey' and perhaps even makes me fall in love for the first time all over again. Adult readers of YA do so with a yearning to return to that point in their lives where everything was new, exciting and dangerous. Actual teenagers read it because it speaks directly to them, and not at them (as teachers, peers and parents may be doing at the time). 

So I return to Life: An Exploded Diagram.

Why is this not YA?

Because it sentimentalises life. It makes the heart yearn for something that is gone and can never come back. You are never transported directly back to the instant of being, but coaxed there through the whimsy of the aging (and perhaps unreliable) narrator. It is a story of a grown-up remembering, not a teenager being. 

It is a beautiful book, and I would enthusiastically recommend young people and less-young people alike to read it because I can guarantee you will be going on a fantastic literary journey (and you'll learn freaking tons about the Cuban Missile Crisis!). But it does not belong on the teen shelves. 

Perhaps you disagree with me, perhaps your experience of YA is vastly different from mine - I do really want to hear from you because I believe that this is a topic many agents, editors and publishers (and booksellers!!!) are quibbling over. 

Yours forever,


Monday, 20 June 2011

In My Mailbox - 20th June 2011

Happy Monday folks!

These are all the goodies I have received over the past week, complete with blurbs...

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Every November, the Scorpio Races are run beneath the chalk cliffs of Skarmouth. Thousands gather to watch the horses and the sea that washes the blood from the sand. The mounts are savage water horses. There are no horses more beautiful, more fearless, more deadly. To race them can be suicide but the danger is irresistible. 
Sean and Puck both enter the Races hope to change their lives. But first they'll have to survive.

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
A ship heading for New Earth is halfway through its incredible journey across the galaxy.
On board, sixteen-year-olds Waverley and Kieran are part of the first generation born in space. 
They are in love.
They believe their future is written in the stars.
They have never seen a stranger before...
... until the day they are wrenched apart, and suddenly find themselves fighting for their lives.

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
Norfolk, 1962. It's a hot summer during the cold war. 
Clem, a working-class boy from a council estate, and Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, are conducting a furtive and high-risk relationship.
Meanwhile, the world's superpowers are moving towards nuclear confrontation. 
With the Cuban Missile Crisis looming, it seems that time is running out for Frankie and Clem. There are things they need to do before the world explodes. 

The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton
Lettie Peppercorn lives in a house on stilts near the wind-swept coast of Albion, with no one to talk to but Periwinkle the pigeon. Her days are filled with floor-sweeping, bed-making and soup-stirring. Her nights are filled with dreams of her mother, who vanished long ago. Nothing incredible has ever happened to Lettie, until one winter's night.
The night the Snow Merchant comes.
He claims to be an alchemist - the greatest that ever lived - and in a mahogany suitcase, he carries his newest invention.
It is an invention that will change Lettie's life - and the world - forever. 
It is an invention called snow.
The Snow Merchant is a fantasy filled with family secrets, magical transformations and wild adventure. Join Lettie on her journey to uncover the true meaning of snow, family and friendship.

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
Sixteen-year-old Alex is hiking through the wilderness when it happens: an earth-shattering electro-magnetic pulse that destroys everything.
Survivors are divided between those who have developed a superhuman sense and those who have acquired a taste for human flesh. These flesh-hunters stalk the land: hungry, ruthless and increasingly clever...
Alex meets up with Tom, a young army veteran, and Ellie, a lost girl, and they will fight together and be torn apart. Alex must face the most difficult question of all: in such a vastly changed world, who can you trust?
A story of high-wire tension, gut-wrenching twists and burgeoning love, Ashes will leave you breathless.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Review: Dearly Departed by Lia Habel

What's a hypersomniac girl to do if she finds herself with a free weekend and is determined not to nap her way through it? She finds herself a good ol'-fashioned romance novel to wallow in and keep her heart-rate up for a good few hours. And earlier this week I received a hum-dinger of a YA novel: Dearly Departed by Lia Habel, which looked like it might just do the job.

Check out that cover. I mean, really check it out. Gone with the Wind meets True Blood meets all sort of wacko. You see a cover that bad, and you really need to read the first chapter at least, if only for the comedy value. Tall, Dark and.... most probably very badly written. Gotta be worth a giggle or two. 

I started it out on the tube home from work on Friday, where I ended up sitting next to some slightly pissed lads who wanted to strike up conversation. They asked me what I was reading, and I have never been so embarrassed in all my life. After much pleading on their part, I finally showed them the cover, and they almost fell over themselves laughing. I was mortified. I mean, at least the cover of Twilight looks classy. Being seen reading this book just made me feel like an absolute dimwit with a penchant for corsets. I did some research, and this is the cover the yanks came up with:

I mean come on! Mysterious girl with parasol wins out over Bill Compton/Rhett Butler swoon hero any day. I sincerely hoped that the tragedy that is the UK cover had something to do with it being a US acquisition, but it seriously hurts my soul that somebody in an office in London came up with it. Cover designers and editors, listen up: your readers are not stupid. And even if they are stupid, they don't want to look stupid. 

Right. Breathe Nicole, breathe. 

Rant over. Let's get into the text.

It's quite good. After the first chapter I was quite excited over how good it was, but after a few more chapters I decided that my initial reaction was probably down to my anticipating that it would be really really bad. It's honestly not that bad. It really is quite good. If you can get your heads around the following:
  • In the future society has reverted to a Victoriana-type existence.
  • But it's still futuristic.
  • Feminism has gone back a million miles.
  • There are zombies. Proper gory zombies. And they really want to eat you. 
Heads suitably accustomed? Good. Because this book really is a bit of a rip-roaring affair, stuffed with classic tropes and hot-blooded romance. There is a pleasing absence of adverbs. Habel clearly knows how to structure a story and has taken lots of (good) pointers from Hollywood. It's actually kinda scary in places, and I have to give points to anyone who manages to make a rotting corpse sexy. And the zombies make fun of fictional vampires. High five!

Don't get me wrong, there are issues with this book. I got a bit angry at all the chauvinism. Actually, I got a lot angry at the chauvinism. I was so massively desperate for Nora, our hot-blooded heroine, to rip off her crinoline and dive into battle guns blazing. Let's just say that she doesn't, but she does panic at the prospect of anyone possibly seeing her bloomers. Would the women of a post-apocalyptic future really be so ready to descend back to the world of good manners and marriages? It scares me that Habel possibly thinks so. 

Habel also rather likes her exposition. I understand that there is a lot to explain, but does she really have to be so heavy-handed in doing so? In fact, leave the mystery. Leave us wondering. Nora explains away her society within the first few chapters in some rather clunking paragraphs. I'd skip past these bits. I like my plausibility when it comes to dystopian fiction, but when it comes to fantasy I'd much rather be left a little bit in the dark for the sake of my brain cells. Don't give me back-story, give me action! Show me, don't tell me. 

So final verdict? Don't let anyone see you reading this. Hide it away and linger in dark corners or under covers. But do read it, and have fun with it. As you seclude yourself away and fiddle with the torch-light, remember that you're in for a pretty good ride. Unapologetic in it's silliness, ludicrously indulgent and stuffed with a surprising amount of wit. Who knew zombies would be so good with the one-liners? And did I mention the sexy corpses?!

I didn't nap once all weekend. 


In My Mailbox - Sunday 12th June 2011

Happy Sunday folks! 
Here's a round up of all the fun I've received over the past week or so, complete with blurbs....
Dangerous to Know by Katy Moran
Bethany + Jack
Two teenagers in love.
Why is everyone desperate to keep them apart?

No Ordinary Love Song by Alison Prince
Cal hates: what humans are doing to the planet - and his dad, most of the time.
Cal likes: music - and Kerry from Australia, who's so beautiful it hurts. 
But when liking turns to love, everything changes. 

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux flies to London for the start of a new life at boarding school. But her arrival is overshadowed by the sudden outbreak of brutal murders in the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific work of Jack the Ripper.
"Rippermania" grabs hold of modern day London, and the police are stumped with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory has seen their prime suspect on the school grounds. But her friend Jazza, who was with her at the time, didn't see anyone. 
So why could only Rory see him? And more urgently, what is he planning to do next?
In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humour and romance, Rory discovers the secret ghost police of London and the truth about her own shocking abilities, as Jack the Ripper returns... 

The Adventures of the New Cut Gang by Philip Pullman
Bringing together two thrilling, touching and gloriously funny tales of crime and detection in Victorian London's east end: Thunderbolt's Waxwork and The Gas-Fitter's Ball. 
The New Cut, Lambeth, 1894. Eleven-year-old Benny Kaminsky is the energetic leader of a gang of amateur detectives - boffinish 'Thunderbolt' Dobney, hot-tempered Bridie Malone, her omnivorous six-year-old brother Sharky Bob, and the Peretti Twins, Angela and Zerlina, angelic-looking and wicked beyond belief. Together they must solve two extraordinary local crimes. 
In Thunderbolt's Waxwork, someone is passing counterfeit coins and suspicion falls on none other than Thunderbolt's dad. In The Gas-Fitters' Ball, the silver collection of the Worshipful Company of Gas-Fitters is stolen. With a little help from some colourful accomplices, the New Cut Gang is soon hot on the criminals' trial.
Published together for the first time - with all-new illustrations by Martin Brown - here is a pair of aces from the Master Storyteller. 
Pure by Julianna Baggott
We know you are here, our brothers and sisters.
We will, one day, emerge from the Dome to join you in peace
For now, we watch you from afar, benevolently. 
Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson
Dani was born with her heart on the wrong side of her body. In her fifteen years of life, she's had more doctors' appointments, X rays and tests and eaten more green hospital jelly than she cares to think about. Fourteen year old Amanda is a competitive gymnast, her body a small package of sleek muscles, in perfect health. 
The two girls don't know each other, don't go to the same school and don't have any friends in common.
But their lives are about to collide. 
Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Eleven year old Elise feel stuck. Her school locker-buddy squashes her lunch and laughs at her, every day. She doesn't want to go to school - and her best friend Franklin just makes things worse. 
One day Elise discovers an incredible secret. A secret that might just help her unlock her past, and take a chance on the future. 
Dearly Departed by Lia Habel
It should be game over for Nora Dearly when she is ambushed and dragged off into the night by the living dead. But this crack unit of teen zombies are the good guys, sent to protect Nora from the real monsters roaming the country and zeroing in on cities to swell their ranks.
Can Nora find a way to kill off the evil undead once and for all?
Can she trust her protectors to resist th eir hunger for human flesh?
And can she stop herself falling for the noble, sweet, surprisingly attractive, definitely-no-longer-breathing Bram...?