Thursday 31 March 2011

Review: The Mammoth Hunters - Jean M. Auel

Don't forget that all comments on posts with the Earth's Children logo made before Midnight GMT on the 8th April 2011 will get you entered into my international giveaway to win a book of your choice from the Earth's Children Series!  See this post for more information.

The third novel in Jean M. Auel's magnificent epic of life on the glacial continent of the last Ice Age, when two kinds of human beings, Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, shared the earth.

Leaving the valley of horses that has become her home, with Jondalar, the handsome man she has nursed back to health and come to love, Ayla embarks on a journey that will lead her to the Mamutoi: the Mammoth Hunters.

But as she gradually settles into this new life amongst a people at first strange and disturbingly different.  Ayla finds herself irresistibly drawn to the magnetic Ranec, their master-carver.  Ultimately she is compelled to make a fateful choice between the two men.

Earth's Children Series:
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Valley of Horses
The Mammoth Hunters
The Plains of Passage
The Shelters of Stone
The Land of Painted Caves

Visit Jean M. Auel's Website for more information.

In the third installment of the Earth's Children series Ayla finally gets to meet more people of her own kind (the Cro-Magnon race she calls the Others).  Spending the winter with Jondalar and the Lion Camp of the Mamutoi Ayla learns about the differences between the Others and the Clan (Neanderthals) she was brought up by.  Although she suffers from prejudice from those who believe the Clan who raised her are nothing but animals she also finally finds acceptance and a sense of belonging.  When the handsome carver Ranec shows an interest in her Jondalar is overcome with jealousy and Ayla is forced to make a very difficult decision.  Should she stay with the people who have made her so welcome and mate with Ranec or should she leave with Jondalar and make the difficult journey to his homeland?

Although it isn't my favorite book in the series I still thoroughly enjoyed The Mammoth Hunters.  I absolutely loved the Mamutoi and finding out about their way of life and also enjoyed watching Ayla interact with a group of people for the first time.  Although not all of the Lion Camp are willing to accept her because of her background some of the camp go out of their way to make her feel welcome and we are introduced to some great characters.  My favorite would have to be Rydag who is a child born of mixed spirits who was adopted by the mate of the camp leader.  Nezzie is such a caring woman and her love for Rydag is heartwarming to see but watching the rest of the group grow to care for him after Ayla teaches them to communicate with him was one of my favorite parts of the book.

Another character I fell in love with was the newest addition to Ayla's animal family.  I'm not going to say more because I don't want to spoil it for you but I defy you not to fall in love with him!  His interactions with the rest of the camp and particularly with the horses made me laugh out loud and were great fun to read about.

I have to confess that the love triangle in this book drives me crazy.  Although Ayla's behaviour is understandable because of her upbringing I could almost strangle Jondalar at times.  He is so jealous of Ranec that he can't see straight and you want to bang his and Ayla's heads together and make them have a simple conversation that would quickly resolve everything.  By the end of the book I'm almost ready to give up on him completely and hoping that Ayla will stay with Ranec and the Mamutoi!  I am happy with the way things turned out in the end though.

A common complaint about this series is that Ayla is a little too perfect and that she and Jondalar seem to invent nearly every advancement made by humans throughout the Ice Age.  I'll admit that this does seem to be the case but I can easily forgive this because it allows us to see in detail how these advances probably did come about.  If you suspend belief that it was all discovered by 2 people I'm sure you'll find it just as interesting as I do.  Another negative comment I've seen several times is the amount of detailed description Jean M Auel goes into but for me this is one of the positives of the series.  She has obviously put in a great deal of research about the era and as it is something I knew practically nothing about before picking up her books I find it fascinating to read about.  Some things do get a little repetitive throughout the series but I don't really find that a problem until we get to the fourth book in the series The Plains of Passage.  Overall this is still an all time favorite series of mine and one I would highly recommend.

Source: Purchased

Other Reviews:
If you have reviewed this book on your blog please leave a link to your review in the comments & I'll add the link here.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Review: The Valley of Horses - Jean M. Auel

Don't forget that all comments on posts with the Earth's Children logo made before Midnight GMT on the 8th April 2011 will get you entered into my international giveaway to win a book of your choice from the Earth's Children Series!  See this post for more information.

The second novel in Jean M. Auel's magnificent epic of life on the glacial continent of the last Ice Age, when two kinds of human beings, Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, shared the earth.

An unforgettable odyssey into awesome mysteries, a novel that returns to the exotic, primeval world of The Clan of the Cave Bear - and the beautiful Ayla, as she leaves the safety of the Clan who raised her and sets out alone on an epic journey of discovery.  A hostile land of glacial cold, terrifying beasts and intense loneliness awaits her, and her need for human companionship and love remains unfulfilled.

But in the Valley of Horses she finds refuge and contentment.  There, fate brings her a stranger, Jondalar, and Ayla is torn between fear and hope - and carried to an awakening desire that would shape the future of mankind.

Earth's Children Series:
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Valley of Horses
The Mammoth Hunters
The Plains of Passage
The Shelters of Stone
The Land of Painted Caves

Visit Jean M. Auel's Website for more information.

In The Valley of Horses we follow Ayla as she sets out on a journey to try and find people of the "Others" (the Cro-Magnon race she was born to).  Although she doesn't want to leave the Clan (the Neanderthals who raised her) she wants to follow her adopted mother Iza's wishes and find a mate of her own.  After a long and difficult journey with no sign of the Others she discovers a valley and a cave and decides to stay there to prepare for the winter.  Alone in the valley Ayla must use all of the skills the Clan taught her in order to survive.  Her loneliness is eased by a foal that she takes in and cares for after killing it's mother but she longs for human companionship. 

While Ayla is making a home for herself Jondalar and his brother Thonolan set off on a journey aiming to reach the end of the great Mother river.  It is through the brothers and the people they meet along the way that we start to learn more about the customs and way of life of the Others.  Eventually a great tragedy will cause their paths to cross and Ayla finally gets to meet one of her own kind.

The Valley of Horses is one of my favorite books in the Earth's Children series although I still think the first book is my favorite.  Considering that Ayla is alone for over half of the book it would have been easy to find her part of the story boring but watching her fight for survival is fascinating.  We find out more about how our ancestors must have survived during the Ice Age and get to see the biggest advantage that Ayla has over the Clan that brought her up.  Unlike the Clan Ayla is very adaptable, she looks for new and easier ways to do things, in fact she has to learn new skills in order to survive on her own.  She has come a long way from the helpless child that Iza found at the beginning of the first book.  It is hard to believe that she is just 14 years old when she sets out on her own but she does still have a childlike naivety to her that can be quite refreshing.

Although it is a bit unbelievable that Ayla makes so many discoveries on her own this is used to illustrate likely ways that humans actually stumbled across these new inventions and it makes for very interesting reading.  Some of my favorite parts of the book are watching Ayla with Whinney (the foal she looks after) and later with Baby (another animal she takes in and cares for).  Her innate sense of caring and her medicinal skills help her to build a strong bond of friendship with the animals and it is only because of them that she survives the lonely three years she spends in her valley.

I also really enjoyed reading about Jondalar and Thonolan's journey and the trials they face along the way.  Through them we are introduced to several other groups of Cro-Magnon people that they meet along the way and get to see how the traditions vary between different tribes.  I loved watching the relationship develop between Ayla and Jondalar when they finally meet.  They have a lot of difficulties at first due to their very different backgrounds but the romantic in me loves watching them together.  I have to give a warning and say there are quite a lot of sexually explicit scenes in the book which is why I would only recommend it to older teens and adults.  If you're not keen on those scenes you can easily skim through them and still enjoy the rest of the story.

Source: Purchased

Other Reviews:
If you have reviewed this book on your blog please leave a link to your review in the comments & I'll add the link here.

Hodder Event: Bringing Ayla to Life - 28th February 2011

Don't forget that all comments on posts with the Earth's Children logo made before Midnight GMT on the 8th April 2011 will get you entered into my international giveaway to win a book of your choice from the Earth's Children Series!  See this post for more information.

When I was first contacted by Kate from Holler about reviewing The Clan of the Cave Bear I think I made my love of the series quite obvious in my reply.  What I never expected was to receive an invite to an exclusive event organised by Hodder and held at the Natural History Museum, I can't tell you how excited it was when I got that email!  It was an exclusive event that 10 fans won tickets to on the Earth's Children facebook page and I feel very privileged that I was able to attend.  Even better I was allowed to bring a guest and the first person I thought of was my cousin Emma who was the one who introduced me to the series so many years ago.  It was a special day and I'm glad we got to enjoy it together.

Emma & me

When we arrived at the Natural History Museum and had been given our guest passes we had a guide to show us to the room where the event was being held (it was a good job too as I don't think we'd ever have found it otherwise).  Along with the fans and Hodder staff we sat around a big conference table and after the introductions it was time to learn a little more about the technology behind the augmented reality cover that we were going to help design.  The idea of the event was for us to decide what Ayla looks like, the artist Judy was going to use our input to create a picture of Ayla and that picture would be used as the basis for the 3D version of Ayla that you will be able to see online if you have one of the limited edition covers. 

The technical team explained more about how the 3D technology works and showed us an example of a 3D car using their laptop.  I wasn't really too sure what to expect but just by holding a normal picture up to their web cam a 3D car appeared on the screen.  What I found most interesting was that by tilting the picture or by moving it around the car on the screen moved too and you could see it from all kinds of different angles, it was quite fascinating to watch and I can't wait to see the finished version of Ayla on screen!

Demonstrating with the 3D car

We were split into smaller groups to have a brainstorming session about what Ayla would look like and I was amazed by the amount of knowledge everyone had about the series.  We all had quite clear ideas about what Ayla looks like and what she should be wearing but luckily each of the groups seemed to come up with very similar suggestions.  As we were discussing our ideas the artist Judy had the difficult task of trying to create a drawing we were all happy with.  I did feel quite sorry for her as we argued over the shape of her chin or the width of her face and any number of other tiny little details but luckily she was very patient and managed to come up with a picture we were all happy with.  The slide show below shows some of the different stages the drawing went through before we got to the finished version:

Having recently re-read the series I think my favorite descriptions of Ayla were found in The Plains of Passage and I think we did a reasonable job helping to create a picture of her.

"Her long, thick, dark blond hair, gleaming with highlights where the sun had lightened it, was held back out of her way with a thong.  But it had a natural wave and loose strands that had escaped the leather binding curled around her tanned face" Pages 83 & 83
"Her large eyes were grey-blue outlined with lashes a shade or two darker than her hair; her eyebrows were somewhat lighter, between the two in colour.  Her face was heart-shaped, rather wide with high cheekbones, a well-defined jaw, and a narrow chin."  Page 85

The finished picture of Ayla

"The sleeveless leather tunic she wore, belted, over leather leggings fitted comfortably ... The laces at the bottom of her leggings were open and she was barefoot.  Around her neck was a small, beautifully embroidered and decorated leather pouch, with crane feathers at the bottom, which showed the bumps of the mysterious objects it held ... Hanging from the belt was a knife sheath ... On the left side was a rather strange, pouchlike object.  It had been made from a whole otter skin, cured with the feet, tail, and head left on.  The throat had been cut and the insides removed through the neck, then a cord was cut and strung through slits and pulled tight to close.  The flattened head became the flap.  It was her medicine bag, the one she had brought with her from the Clan" Pages 83 & 84

Our version of Ayla's outfit, including her otter skin pouch

Judy had just completed the pictures when we were introduced to a very special guest, yes you guessed it Jean M. Auel had come to see the finished version!  I don't think I was the only one who was feeling very nervous when she had her first look at the pictures but she seemed happy with them and said it was a pretty good likeness of Ayla.

Jean M. Auel gets her first look at the finished picture

children!) but that she would love to write Durc's story if she can (I would absolutely love to find out what happens to Durc so I'm keeping my fingers crossed!).  Jean said she writes the books for herself but feels lucky that other people enjoy the series too.  Someone asked her a question about the film that was made of The Clan of the Cave Bear and she confirmed that she hated it, she actually sued the company that made it because she was supposed to have been allowed a say in how it was made.  She did say that she would love to see the series made into films but that it probably isn't something she will let happen, she is going to leave the decision up to her children when she is gone. 

I would like to say a massive thank you to Kate from Holler for inviting me to the event and also to the staff at Hodder for arranging it.  Emma and I both had a fantastic time and meeting Jean Auel was a dream come true for us.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear - Jean M. Auel

Don't forget that all comments on posts with the Earth's Children logo made before Midnight GMT on the 8th April 2011 will get you entered into my international giveaway to win a book of your choice from the Earth's Children Series!  See this post for more information.

The first novel in Jean M. Auel's magnificent epic of life on the glacial continent of the last Ice Age, when two kinds of human beings, Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, shared the earth.

Its heroine is Ayla, a courageous and indomitable young woman whose story begins when she is a five-year-old orphan adopted by the Clan, a group of Neanderthal.

Ayla inspires first surprise, then wariness and finally acceptance by the Clan.  She is cared for by its medicine woman Iza and its wise holy man Creb.  But she makes an implacable enemy of the group's future leader.  Broud does all he can to destroy her, but Ayla is a survivor.

Earth's Children Series:
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Valley of Horses
The Mammoth Hunters
The Plains of Passage
The Shelters of Stone
The Land of Painted Caves

Visit Jean M. Auel's Website for more information.

Ayla is just 5 years old when she loses her entire family and everyone she has ever known to a cave in caused by an earthquake.  Completely alone and without the skills she needs to survive she wanders aimlessly until she is injured by a cave lion and she is close to death when members of the Clan of the Cave Bear find her.  Iza is a medicine woman and although the child is one of the "Others" (a Cro-Magnon human) and very different to the Clan (who are Neanderthals) she is unable to walk away from a child who is in pain.  With the permission of the Clan leader Brun she takes the young child with her and helps to heal her wounds.  Ayla now finds herself living amongst a people who are very different to the ones she was born to, first she must learn to communicate but the hardest thing is to adopt their traditions and behave in the manor that is expected of her.  She grows to love those who care for her but she makes an enemy of Broud, the future leader of the Clan, which is sure to cause problems for her in the future.

I have been a huge fan of this series for about 10 years now and despite the fact I've read all of the books at least 5 times I still love The Clan of the Cave Bear as much as I did the very first time I read it.  Set around 35,000 years ago at the time of the last Ice Age this is the first book in an epic series that follows Ayla on her journey from child to adult.  This series is like taking a step back in time and it feels like you have experienced everything that Ayla goes through right alongside her.

Ayla is without a doubt one of my favorite fictional characters, she suffers so much hardship but she never gives in and she always fights to survive.  Her life with the Clan isn't easy, their traditions are very different to those she was brought up with and she finds it hard to understand why she isn't allowed to do the things she wants to do.  She is adopted by Iza who is an incredibly skilled medicine woman and Creb who is the Clan's Mog-Ur (spiritual leader).  Iza and Creb are both fantastic characters, they have taken in a young child despite her differences and do their best to love her and keep her safe.  I can assure you you'll never think of Neanderthals in the same way after getting to know the members of the Clan, each of them are so realistic it feels like you have actually met them.

Jean M. Auel's descriptions of the Clan's way of life and the land in which they live are fascinating and show the amount of research that has gone into the creation of the series.  She manages to impart an incredible amount of information but it is done in such a way that I didn't once feel bored when reading in fact I loved learning about the medicinal uses for plants, the tools they use and how they were made.  Although this series is marketed as young adult I would recommend it for older teens and adults.  The Clan of the Cave Bear does contain a rape scene that some may find difficult to read but this isn't included for dramatic effect, it fits in well with the story and I believe was something that needed to be included.  This series shows all sides of life both good and bad which is one of the things that makes it so interesting to read.  I have no doubt that after reading this story you will be just as hooked as I am and I'm sure you'll end up devouring the rest of the series!

Source: Purchased

Other Reviews:
If you have reviewed this book on your blog please leave a link to your review in the comments & I'll add the link here.

Earth's Children Week - Introduction & 2 Giveaways

* UPDATE - THESE GIVEAWAYS HAVE NOW ENDED - Winners announced here *

I have been a massive fan of Jean M Auel's Earth's Children series for about 10 years now since my cousin first recommended the first book The Clan of the Cave Bear to me.  I have read the first 5 books in the series about 5 times since then so you can imagine how excited I was when I found out that book 6 The Land of Painted Caves was finally being released today!  To celebrate the release of the final book in the series I'm going to talking about the series all week on my blog.  I've got lots planned including giveaways (details below), reviews of each of the books and write ups for a very exciting event I was incredibly lucky to attend back in February.  I'm hoping to help spread the love for this incredibly popular series.

In case you've not already seen it here is the trailer for The Land of Painted Caves:

And here is a video of Jean M Auel talking about the book and how she felt when she visited the painted caves for the first time:

Giveaway 1 - UK Only

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton I have 5 copies of the first book in the series to giveaway to UK winners.  The Clan of the Cave Bear is probably still my favorite book in the series, it is one that really captured my heart and I'm very excited to be able to share the story with you.  I'll be posting my review later today but for now here is the cover & description

The first novel in Jean M. Auel's magnificent epic of life on the glacial continent of the last Ice Age, when two kinds of human beings, Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, shared the earth.

Its heroine is Ayla, a courageous and indominitable young woman whose story begins when she is a five-year-old orphan adopted by the Clan, a group of Neanderthal.

Ayla inspires first surprise, then wariness and finally acceptance by the Clan.  She is cared for by its medicine woman Iza and its wise holy man Creb.  But she makes an implacable enemy of the group's future leader.  Broud does all he can to destroy her, but Ayla is a survivor.

Giveaway details:
  • This giveaway is for UK residents only
  • 5 winners will each receive a paperback copy of The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, books will be sent out directly by my contact at Hodder & Stoughton so winners must give permission for me to forward their contact details.
  • Winners will be chosen at random from all entries received. 
  • Only 1 entry per person please, multiple entries will be deleted.
  • To enter please enter your name and email address in the form below (extra entries are available but they are completely optional)
  • The giveaway will close on the 8th April 2011 and winners will be announced soon afterwards.  You will have 48 hours to contact me with your address or new winners will be chosen.
Giveaway 2 - International

As a huge fan of this series I wanted to be able to share my love of the books with my international readers too so I am hosting a second giveaway to win a book of your choice from the series.  The winner will get to chose between the following books (links will take you to the Book Depository for more information)

1. The Clan of the Cave Bear
2. The Valley of Horses
3. The Mammoth Hunters
4. The Plains of Passage
5. The Shelters of Stone
6. The Land of Painted Caves

Giveaway Details:
  • I will be ordering the winner's choice of book from the Book Depository so the giveaway is open internationally to any country they deliver to. You can check here to make sure that this applies to you. 
  • To enter all you have to do is leave a relevant comment on any post with the Earth's Children Week logo.  You can comment on as many of the posts as you like and the winner will be chosen at randome from all comments received between now and the 8th April 2011
  • For extra entries post about this topic anywhere (Twitter, Facebook, your Blog - anywhere you like) and leave your link in a separate comment.  You can get an extra entry for each place you post as long as you leave a seperate comment with the link
  • You don't have to be a blog follower to enter but of course all followers are appreciated!
  • The winner will be chosen at random and announced on my blog soon afterward the closing date - the winner will have 48 hours to contact me with their address and if I don't hear from you within that time a new winner will be chosen

RHCB Teenage Kicks Event - 24th March 2011

Bali Rai, Malorie Blackman & Jenny Downham

Last Thursday I was invited to the 2nd Teenage Kicks event arranged by RHCB, the event was aimed at teens and gave them the chance to answer questions and get their books signed by popular authors Malorie BlackmanBali Rai and Jenny Downham.  I loved Noughts & Crosses and Boys Don't Cry by Malorie Blackman and really enjoyed Jenny Downham's You Against Me (click on the titles to read my reviews) so I was very excited about getting the chance to meet them.  I've not read anything by Bali Rai but I've heard fantastic things about his books so am looking forward to giving them a try.

I met up with Caroline (Portrait of a Woman) and Jo (Once Upon a Bookcase) outside and we made our way into a very crowded event.  RHCB had a fantastic turnout of teens of various ages most of whom seemed to be in school groups (I wish my school had arranged trips like that!).  We managed to find seats on the back row but unfortunately it was quite hard to hear what the authors were saying as there weren't any microphones but I did manage to sneak closer to the front to take notes and snap a few pictures.

Caroline & Jo

Pupils from one of the schools (I didn't catch the name) started off by interviewing all three authors and then there was time for audience questions before the signing.  I took a lot of notes so I'll try to share some of the answers here for you.  I apologise for any mistakes I make, I was writing so fast that I'm having trouble reading my writing now (I really should try learning shorthand, it would make my life a lot easier!)

Where do you write?
All three authors confirmed that they take notebooks with them everywhere for when inspiration strikes.  Bali and Malorie also confessed to listening to people's conversations all the time for ideas.  I didn't hear all of the answers to this question but Bali did mention that he is planning on converting his garage into an office / boys room and he will do most of his writing there when it's ready.

What do you do to relax?
Bali actually writes to relax, he said it was a hobby before he became a professional writer so he enjoys writing whenever he gets a chance.  He does also spend time listening to music and playing computer games too though.  Malorie said she loves music and has a drum kit in her attic which she finds great for when people annoy her.  She is also a computer addict who loves World of Warcraft and enjoys spending time on the Wii recently playing Just Dance a lot to help her get fit.  Jenny writes when her children are at school and enjoys spending time with them in the evenings and at weekends, they watch films and do the usual family things but she has recently started Brain Training and also likes spending time in the garden.

What is the hardest thing about writing?
Malorie said she has no problems getting ideas, in fact she has too many of them, she also finds the first draft quite easy.  The hardest thing is reworking the first draft which she does 6 or 7 times before she feels ready to send it to her editor.  Jenny said that she doesn't plan her stories so sometimes she finds that she has spent ages going down the wrong path.  Bali doesn't really find anything about writing particularly hard, he feels lucky to be paid to do something he loves but he does find he starts getting excited about new ideas he has had which can distract him from the book he is supposed to be working on.

Bali Rai

Do they take ideas from other authors? (I'm not 100% sure I got this question down correctly but hopefully that is about right!)
Jenny said that she often picks up new writing methods after reading other stories, the example she gave was writing in duel narrative but she said the styles she tries don't always work for her.  Bali thinks that to a certain extent all writers pick up ideas when they're reading, it's impossible not to.  He said that authors shouldn't be afraid to reinterpret ideas and make them their own.  Malorie confirmed that she has been inspired and influenced by books she has read but she tries really hard not to read books in the genre that she is actually writing.

How do you distance yourself emotionally from the topics you write about?
Bali doesn't distance himself at all, it is easier to write about something you are emotionally invested in.  He gets really angry when he hears about domestic abuse cases and that anger really helped him when he was writing his newest book Killing Honour (this is a book I've had on my wish list since the RHCB bloggers brunch and isn't being released until June).  Bali gets attached to all of his characters, they are like his best friends or he wouldn't want to write about them.  Malorie has to be emotionally involved in what she is writing.  Noughts and Crosses was inspired by the murder of Stephen Lawrence and she wanted to write about racism in her own way.  She thinks it is very important to write about something you care about and she admitted to crying as she wrote the ending of Noughts and Crosses (I cried reading it too!).  Jenny said that as she doesn't plan her books she didn't set out to write a book about a dying girl when she started writing Before I Die.  She does get emotionally involved with her characters though and described it a bit like being haunted by the book and the characters.

Did you read a lot when you were younger and did anyone encourage you to?
Malorie fell in love with reading during story time at school.  She didn't have anyone encourage her to read or write but she started writing poems and short stories when she was about 7 years old.  After an embarrassing experience when the teacher asked her to read out something she had written at parents evening she was actually put of writing anything else for a very long time.  She used to spend every Saturday at her local library but she never read a book that had a black character in it until she was 23 years old (the first one she read was The Colour Purple).  She wanted to be able to read about characters like her and this influenced the characters she wanted to write about.  Bali said he did read but it wasn't something that he was encouraged to do.  He was inspired by Roald Dahl but spent years thinking you had to be old, posh, rich and white in order to be an author!  Jenny grew up in a house with no books (does everyone else find that as shocking as I did?) but she used to spend a lot of time at the library.  She loved picking up a book and being transported to somewhere else, one of her favorite books was Z for Zachariah.  She had a teacher who encouraged her love of reading and used to give her books to read.  Her parents and siblings didn't read but it made her feel special because she did.

Malorie Blackman

How do you give each different character a distinctive voice?
This question was aimed at Malorie and she said she spends a lot of time getting to know each of her characters before she starts writing.  She has to get to know what they like and creates biographies and both mental and physical descriptions for them.

Do you ever include true stories in your books?
Malorie's answer was a resounding no - she doesn't want to end up getting sued!  She said that sometimes things from her past may influence her but she is very careful to change people's names when she is writing.  She used a friend's name in Noughts and Crosses just because she liked the name not because the character was anything like her friend but it taught her a lesson because the friend in question was really upset when she read the story.  It caused all sorts of problems and it took a long time for their friendship to recover.  Bali was the complete opposite and said he uses real people all the time in his stories.  He tends to make his characters a combination of at least 2 real people, using the name of one and the physical description of the other with the personality usually a combination of them both.  Jenny said some of her characters are a combination of several people she knows and also include parts of herself.  She hears a lot of stories from her teenage son and his friends but she had to remove some of them from the book after her son proof read the for her.

The Noughts and Crosses series was supposed to be a trilogy, what made you write a fourth book?
Obviously this question was aimed at Malorie.  She found that the main character Toby was constantly whispering in her ear and telling her his story and in the end she couldn't concentrate on anything else until she'd got his book out of her system.  She has no plans to write a 5th book in the series unless another character starts talking to her.

Jenny Downham

What is your writing schedule?
Jenny does most of her writing between 9am and 3pm when her kids are at school, she does sometimes write after they've gone to bed if she is on a tight deadline.  Malorie also writes when her daughter is at school but she always tries to make sure that they have breakfast and dinner together.  She tries to do her more creative work in the mornings as that is when it comes more naturally to her.  Bali was working in a nightclub when he first started writing so he got used to writing in the middle of the night when he came home.  He still does a lot of late night writing now but does try to write during the day sometimes too, especially when on a deadline.

Is it harder to write descriptions or dialogues?
Jenny finds writing dialogues really easy, she has an acting background and used to be part of a group that would make up stories and plays on the spot about topics requested by the audience.  She finds descriptions are much harder to write.  Malorie also finds dialogues easier to write which is why she got into scriptwriting.  Bali started off finding dialogue much easier, in fact one of his early books is 80% dialogue and has very little description.  He has found that he enjoys writing description more now and said it is like adding more layers to the story.

What did think of the Noughts and Crosses play and were you involved in creating it?
Malorie said that she initially sold the rights for Noughts and Crosses to someone but it didn't work out and she ended up getting them back.  It was a really difficult experience and really put her off so when the Royal Shakespeare Company wanted to buy the rights her immediate reaction was to say no.  Eventually she agreed to meet with them and by the end of the meeting she felt more relaxed about it and agreed.  Although she knew there would have to be adaptions she wanted someone who would create something that was true to the spirit of the book.  The director from RSC was great at keeping her in the loop and she was able to attend castings, rehearsals and read throughs as the play was being created.  She felt really lucky and is very glad she let them do it even though it was strange to see the characters she created up on stage.  The RSC are currently thinking about bringing the Noughts and Crosses play back next year and they are actually talking about doing Knife Edge and Checkmate too.  The suggestion is that they would run all three plays at the same time but alternating one each night (personally I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they do this and that they bring the plays somewhere near enough to me that I can go and watch them all!)

Me, Caroline & Jo

At the end of the Q&A session we had an opportunity to buy more books and were also able to get our books signed.  A lot of the teenagers had books with them so the queues were quite long but each of the authors took time to chat to us as we were getting our books signed.  It was a great evening and I'd like to thank RHCB for organising the event.  Of course I have to say thanks to the authors too, it was really interesting listening to your answers to all of the questions!

Who was there:
Lauren, Clare, Rosi & Lisa - RHCB
Malorie Blackman - Website
Jenny Downham - Goodreads
Bali Rai - Website

Sunday 27 March 2011

Review: Delirium - Lauren Oliver

They say that the cure for love will make me happy and safe forever.  And I've always believed them.

Until now.

Now everything has changed.  Now, I'd rather be infected with love for the tiniest sliver of a second than live a hundred years suffocated by a lie.

There was a time when love was the most important thing in the world.  People would go to the end of the earth to find it.  They would tell lies for it.  Even kill for it.

Then, at last, they found the cure.

Now, everything is different.  Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen.  Lena Haloway has always looked forward to the day when she'll be cured.  A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But then, with only ninety-five days until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable...

Delirium Series:
Annabel (Short Story)
Hana (Short Story)
Raven (Short Story)

Visit Lauren Oliver's website for more information

Lena lives in a world where love has been classified as a disease called amor deliria nervosa and by law everyone must be given the cure when they are 18 years old.  Lena is only weeks away from getting the cure herself and she can't wait, she is terrified of becoming like her infected mother who committed suicide after several attempts to cure her all failed.  Everything starts to change when she meets Alex, her feelings for him make her start to question everything that she has ever been taught about love.  Can something that feels so good really be so bad?  Is Lena willing to risk everything for the chance to be with Alex?

Delirium is one of those books I was nervous about reading because of all they hype but I ended up loving it and can't wait to get my hands on the sequel.  The story is a little slow at the beginning while you are being introduced to the world and getting to know the characters and I didn't find it very easy to like Lena at first but she did grow on me, especially when she starts to question her blind faith that after the cure everything will be fine.  By the time I was halfway through the story completely hooked me and I didn't want to put it down until I'd finished.

The society that Lauren Oliver has created is a scary one, the people who have been cured have not just lost their capacity to fall in love with a partner - they have also lost the ability to feel love and compassion for their children, families and friends.  They are emotionless and robot like and it made for a horrific world to live in.  While Lauren did a fantastic job of describing the symptoms of love and how it could be thought of as a disease I would have liked a little more information about how the world she created came about.  What made them decide that curing love would make for a perfect world and how did they come up with the cure?  Hopefully those questions will be answered in future books in the series.

I'm sure anyone who has ever had a broken heart can relate to Lena's wish to have the cure - there have been times in my life that I would probably have jumped at the chance! - but in order to experience the highs that love can bring you have to be prepared to deal with the lows.  That is quite a powerful message and one that shines through as you are reading the novel. 

For me it was the second half of the book that completely captivated me.  There were so many twists and turns that you couldn't be sure what secret Lena and Alex would uncover next and the story builds to a climax that will leave you breathless.  I couldn't read the last few chapters fast enough and the cliffhanger ending just about killed me!  I am eagerly waiting for the release of Pandemonium to find out where the story will take us next.  If you're a fan of dystopian fiction then I would definitely recommend checking out Delirium, I haven't read many dystopian stories but this is one of the best I've come across.

Source: Initially received for review from publisher via NetGalley but I also received a hardback copy from Hodder & Stoughton

Other reviews of this book:
Read Me, Bookmark Me, Love Me
The Great, The Good and The Bad
If you have reviewed this book on your blog please leave a link to your review in the comments & I'll add the link here.

Hodder Launch Party for Delirium by Lauren Oliver - 21st March 2011

On Monday the lovely Lynsey (from Narratively Speaking) invited me as her plus one to the launch party for Delirium by Lauren Oliver that had been organised by Hodder & Stoughton.  I've heard nothing but good things about Lauren's first book Before I Fall and I absolutely loved Delirium (I'll be posting my review soon) so I was incredibly excited when Lynsey invited me to the event.  We met up in the afternoon and travelled to the event together stopping for something to eat on the way but we were both so excited that we ended up arriving really early.

The event was held in a design shop, cafe and bar called Drink, Shop & Do which I'd never heard of before but will definitely be visiting again.  Not far from Kings Cross station Drink, Shop & Do is a fantastically kitsch place selling both vintage and designer products.  The cafe come bar in the back room is like a wonderfully old fashioned tea room with mismatched furniture and best of all everything you see is actually for sale.  The Hodder and Drink, Shop & Do staff had gone to a lot of effort to create a cozy atmosphere for the event and everywhere you looked were tables piled high with copies of Lauren's books and plenty of cakes and nibbles.  While we were finding somewhere to sit the staff were busy making cocktails in fab little tea cups - cocktails and cake, my favorite kind of tea party!

I had a great time chatting with the other bloggers while we were waiting for Lauren to arrive.  As you can see from the pictures below we were all quite excitable!

When Lauren arrived she was so lovely and friendly, she made a great effort to make sure she went around and spoke to everyone and spent quite a bit of time sitting at our table with us.  We played a fun introduction game where we all had to share our favorite animal.  Lauren's was a teacup pig which she would love to own as a pet one day, we were all laughing out loud at her description of how it would sound clip clopping across her wooden floors.  If you'd like to play guess the bloggers favorite animal the bloggers playing were Lynsey, Jo, Vivienne, Michelle, Lauren, Becky, Kay & me and the animals picked were dolphins, butterflies, koalas, penguins, tigers, elephants and wolves. Feel free to make your guesses in the comments and I'll let you know if you're right or not

When it was time for the more formal part of the evening Lauren was introduced by her editor Kate (who has fantastic taste in books!) and then Lauren gave a lovely speech about how much she appreciates bloggers and how they really helped make a success of Before I Fall.  It was so sweet of her and I think we were all touched. Apart from meeting Lauren the big highlight of the evening was getting to listen to the folk group Minnie Birch.  One of their songs was used for the Before I Fall trailer so when it was time to create the Delirium trailer Hodder sent them a copy of the book and they actually wrote a song especially for the trailer.  Delirium is a beautiful song and the room was in silence as we all listened to them singing it.  You can find out more about Minnie Birch on facebook here and if you'd like to listen to the beautiful Delirium song you can download it for free here (this link was posted by Minnie Birch on their facebook page and isn't a sneaky way of stealing the song!)

Before I Fall Trailer:

Delirium Trailer:

Before the end of the evening we were given fantastic goodie bags by Hodder containing Delirium posters and postcards and we were allowed to take copies of the books from the tables so we could get them all signed. Lauren took time to chat to everyone while she was signing and wrote lovely personalised messages for each of us. It really was wonderful to meet her and she was one of the loveliest authors I've met.

I would like to say thank you to Lauren and Minnie Birch for making it a night to remember.  Also I have to say a massive thanks to everyone at Hodder for arranging such a fantastic event and for letting Lynsey bring me with her!

If you'd like to watch the official Hodder video of the evening I've included it here for you.  You can spot all of us on there if you look carefully enough!

Who Was There:
Leni, Kate, Katie, Laur & Oriel - Hodder & Stoughton
Lauren Oliver - Website - Event Report
Minnie Birch - Facebook Page
Becky - The Bookette
Carla - The Crooked Shelf - Event Report
Jenny - Wondrous Reads - Event Report

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Review: Unseen - Rachel Caine

For millennia, Cassiel was a powerful Djinn - until she was exiled to live among mortals.  Reluctant at first, she has grown affectionate toward her new human compatriots.  But for one Warden in particular, she feels something much more powerful.

After Warden Luis Rocha and Cassiel rescue an adept child from a maniacal Djinn, they soon realise two things: The girl is already manifesting an incredible amount of power and her kidnapping was not an isolated incident.

All over the world, young Wardens are showing their potential far too early.  and this Djinn - aided by her devoted followers - is snatching the children seemingly at will and indoctrinating them so she can use their strength for herself.

With no other options, Cassiel infiltrates the Djinn's organisation.  Deprived of the ethereal gifts allowed her by the Wardens, she soon begins to question her own ideas of right, wrong, and true power.  But if Cassiel cannot stop the Djinn's apocalyptic designs, all of humanity may be destroyed - including Luis.

Outcast Season Series:
(This is a spin off from The Weather Warden Series)

The Weather Warden Series:
Ill Wind
Heat Stroke
Chill Factor
Thin Air
Gale Force
Cape Storm
Total Eclipse

Visit Rachel Caine's Website for more information.

This is the third book in Rachel Caine's spin off from the Weather Warden series and I would definitely recommend it to Weather Warden fans.  I loved the first series but I'm growing to like the Outcast Season books even more, the only disappointment is having to wait a whole year to get my hands on the next (and final) book in the series.  I would say you could pick up the Outcast Season books even if you've not read any of the Weather Warden series but I would definitely recommend reading this series in order starting with Undone.

Cassiel is still struggling to fit into her new place in the world - no longer fully Djinn but also not quite human she finds her lack of power and the fact that she has to rely on the Wardens to live frustrating.  Working in such close contact with her Warden partner Luis has had a big effect on her though and we are starting to see a much more human side to her, she is more caring and wants to do everything she can to help those suffering at the hands of her enemy.  She hasn't had a personality transplant though, she can still be very cool and logical when she needs to be, she will do what needs to be done no matter how much it hurts her to do it.  What I really love about Cassiel is that we are seeing a lot of development in her character, she never comes across as one dimensional and although you might not agree with her decisions sometimes you can understand why she makes the choices she does.

I have been really enjoying the developing relationship between Cassiel and Luis but I have to admit I was disappointed with some of Luis' behavior in this installment.  I can't really say why without giving spoilers but there were times I wanted to shake him!  I will say that he had started to redeem himself by the end of the book so I have high hopes that I'll be back to liking him more again in the next installment.  It broke my heart watching Ibby at the beginning but I was so proud of her by end of the book that I wanted to cheer.  I'm also very intrigued the snake girl and wonder if we'll see more of her in the future.

I can't wait to get my hands on Unbroken which will be the final installment in this series.  Considering the books so far have coincided with the last few Weather Warden books I'm curious to see where we will be in the timeline for the last book, if it runs alongside Total Eclipse there should be some very interesting times ahead for Cassiel and the Djinn.  I would recommend this series to any urban fantasy fan, personally I'd say you're better off starting with the Weather Warden series and reading all of the books in order but if you're not sure you should definitely give Undone a try.

Source: Library

Other Reviews:
If you have reviewed this book on your blog please leave a link to your review in the comments & I'll add the link here.

Review: Lex Trent Fighting with Fire - Alex Bell

Lex Trent is reigning champion of The Games contested between fickle Gods using human playing pieces.

He has it all: Fame.  Glory.  Wealth.  An enormous ego.

But The Games are about to begin again and the Goddess of Luck wants Lex to defend their title.  A challenge he can't resist, despite the risk of death, because the final round will take place in the Wild West, giving Lex the chance to claim the legendary Sword of Life (who wouldn't want that?).  With Lex's mix of skill, quick-wittedness and no small amount of outright cheating, he can't lose!  Can he?

Luck may usually be a lady to Lex . . . but in the Wild West they play by their own rules . . . and Lex has never been good with rules.

The Lex Trent Chronicles:
Lex Trent versus the Gods
Lex Trent Fighting with Fire

Visit Alex Bell's website for more information

It's time for Lex Trent to defend his title as the reigning champion of The Games and Lex never was able to resist a challenge, even one where failure could mean death.  He is determined to keep his title and even has plans for a little side trip between the challenge tasks.  He can't resist the lure of hidden treasure - especially when that treasure happens to be the Sword of Life.  Surely with Lady Luck on his side he will be the one who finds it?

This is the second book in the Lex Trent series and although you could probably read this one without having read the first I would still recommend reading the books in order.  This is a fun fantasy series and Alex Bell has created a world that it is easy to get lost in.  In this installment we get taken to even stranger lands as the contestants in the games try to complete the three very different challenges.

Lex is still a very unlikely hero, he hasn't lost any of his arrogance and is still as selfish as they come but you get just enough glimpses of a more caring side to him to make him a likable character overall.  I was happy to see him taken down a peg or two on several occasions but overall I was routing for him to win.  I'm curious to see if his character changes at all as the series progresses but I very much doubt we'll ever see a fully reformed Lex, I don't think I'd even want to as it just wouldn't be the same.

Knowing he wants to search for the Sword of Life in the Wild West Lex is much more careful when it comes to choosing his companion for his second year in The Games.  Although I was slightly disappointed that we didn't get to see more of Lucius in this installment the new character Jesse more than made up for it.  He is a stereotypical cowboy and actually someone who knows how to play Lex at his own game which makes for interesting reading.  Jesse is much easier to like than Lex is though and it was nice to see him getting the upper hand at times.

I don't want to go into any more detail and spoil the story for you but if you're looking for a fun and whimsical fantasy story Lex Trent Fighting with Fire is sure to be a hit with fans of all ages.  I'd highly recommend giving the series a try!

Source: Received from Headline in exchange for an honest review

Other reviews of this book:
If you have reviewed this book on your blog please leave a link to your review in the comments & I'll add the link here.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Winner: The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

With the help of I am very happy to announce that the winner of the signed copy of The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney is commenter number 45:


Congratulations Alyssa!  If you can email me at sarahsreviews at ymail dot com with your address details I will get your book in the post to you.  If I don't hear from you within 48 hours then a different winner will be chosen.

Monday 21 March 2011

Launch Party for Department 19 by Will Hill - 16th March 2011

I was really excited to be invited to a launch party for Will Hill's debut novel Department 19 at the HarperCollins offices last week.  I went up to London early and met with Lynsey (from Narratively Speaking) for an afternoon of shopping in Foyles.  It was lovely to see her but unfortunately she was attending a different event so couldn't make the launch party.  After a bit of drama on the underground I eventually met up with Jenny (from Wondrous Reads) at Euston so we could travel to the event together.  I was fully expecting to get lost on the way to the HarperCollins offices but thanks to some very easy to follow directions from Geraldine we found them with no problems (in fact we were almost an hour early).  On arrival at the offices we were issued with really cool name badges (giving us level D2 clearance for the event!) and a Department 19 pack filled with all kinds of goodies.  Jenny and I spent some time staring in awe at the very impressive reception while we were waiting for more people to arrive (I didn't take any pictures but Jenny has posted one in her event report, link below)

When we were shown up to the 4th floor for the event where HarperCollins had laid on a lovely spread of drinks and nibbles for us to attack while we were mingling (I was impressed that I managed to stick to my diet and avoid digging in!).  It was lovely to catch up with some of the other bloggers who were there and also to finally get to meet some of the publicists who I have been emailing for months now.  I was also lucky enough to be able to spend a bit of time chatting to Will, his editor Nick and a couple of the bloggers.  I had quite a few questions about the sequel to Department 19 and I was quite surprised by how much information Will was happy to share (although there are still a lot of things I didn't feel quite brave enough to ask!).  I'm happy to discover that Matt is going to have a role in the sequel (we weren't told that outright but as Will said that Matt is the character who is most like him and Matt spent most of Department 19 in a coma I've jumped to my own conclusions!).  I did try begging to read the sequel now but Will is still in the revision process and not even Nick has been allowed to read it yet so I didn't have much luck there unfortunately.

It was soon time to sit down and we got to watch the Department 19 trailer (you can watch it above if you've not already seen it) before Alison introduced Will and Nick for a Q&A session. 

I made quite a few notes about what was discussed, the following is in my words & if there are any mistakes it is down to not being able to read my terrible writing!
  • Will was a massive horror fan when he was younger but found that there wasn't much available aimed at teens.  He progressed from reading Roald Dahl straight onto Stephen King (I was very much the same except I became addicted to Dean Koontz & had collected almost his entire back list by the time I was 15) and I think this is one of the main reasons he was inspired to write a horror / thriller story aimed at teens.
  • As a fan of Dracula Will found himself curious about what would have happened to the characters after the ending of the book and so the idea for Department 19 was born.
  • Will felt that vampires have become a little defanged and sparkly recently and wanted to bring back the more traditional non-cuddly version.  He also wanted to write about vampires that can't go out in the sun.  Will asked himself the question "would vampires really be the same person they had been when they now had all of these amazing supernatural abilities?" - you'll have to read the book to find out the answer to that!
  • Nick pointed out how much research Will put into creating his world.  He had only written the prologue and 2 chapters before he decided to create a full family tree for each of the main families in the series.  Although most of these characters will never appear in the series (and some may just warrant a paragraph entry) Will has created a 1/2 page bio for every person in the family trees.  He also created ID codes for every member of Department 19, a diagram of the base and a list of each of the commanders throughout the organisation's history.  I have a feeling that is just the tip of the iceberg as Will spent 5 years researching and building his world - that is something that really shows when you read the book.
  • Some information about the 2nd book in the series: it's currently 234,000 words and an 806 page manuscript (although Will did say he is working on trimming that down!).  Will describes it as a little bit like Empire Strikes Back - it starts to answer some of the questions raised in the first book but not all of them and it will leave you with new questions at the end.  The story is much darker than Department 19, the first book was a search and rescue mission the second is a fight for survival.
  • There are 3 books planned in the series so far.  Will knows exactly how the series ends (in fact he's already written the final scenes but he hasn't shared them with anyone) but he isn't sure how long the journey will be before we get there.  We can expect to see more vampires, some werewolves and even zombies in the series (Department 19 are the supernatural police force after all, not just the vampire police)
  • When asked if he has started to think about what comes after this series has finished Will described an idea for a story that he says is a cross between The Exorcist and On The Road.  This would be the story of a friendship between 2 teenage boys with a horror story overlaid and looks at the question "Are you the sum of where you came from or are you your own person?"
  • Character Larissa was only supposed to appear in 3 chapters but she quickly became Will's favorite character and ended up with a major role in the story.  Initially he felt sorry for Larissa and was enjoying watching Jamie struggle with the fact that she tried to kill him but he can't help really fancying her!  He found it interesting to put 2 damaged and lonely people in close proximity and see what happened.  Will also liked the idea of a female character who wasn't a victim which is something I'd like to see more of in YA fiction!
The Q&A session was finished off with a sneak peek at the newest video created as part of the Department 19 viral campaign.  Unfortunately they couldn't get the sound working on the night but that's probably a good thing as I'm sure I'd have embarrassed myself by jumping out of my skin (yes I'm one of those people who watches horror movies thinking "any second now something bad will happen" and I still have to climb down from the ceiling after the bad guy jumps out - my friends all laugh at how easy it is to make me jump!).  You can watch the video yourself here but make sure you have the sound turned on - it really is better that way!

After watching the video it was time for us to get our brand new very shiny copies of the Department 19 hardback (which releases on the 31st March) signed by Will and spend a bit more time catching up with everyone.  I think I ended up leaving at about 9pm and walked back to the tube station with the 2 Darrens before we all went our separate ways to come home.  It was a fab evening and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

It wasn't until I got home that I had a proper look in the goodie bag we were given and I was very excited about the contents.  It included posters, postcards, a patch but the highlight was a fantastic Department 19 memory stick.  The memory stick was loaded with some great extras like the family trees, a diagram of the base, a guide to vampires and some deleted chapters that I was very happy to read!  Some of this content is available to download on the Department 19 website so make sure you check it out for yourselves.

I'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone at HarperCollins for inviting me and for arranging such a fab party!  Thanks also to Will for being so friendly and not getting too intimidated when we were hounding you with questions :o)  If you haven't already got Department 19 on your wish list you really do need to add it now!  It's a fantastic debut and I can't wait to get my hands on the rest of the series - check out my review here for more information.

Who Was There:
(I'm not sure if there were other bloggers there who I didn't get a chance to talk to but let me know if I missed your link & I'll add it for you)


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