Thursday 29 August 2013

It's my birthday!

It's my 25th birthday today, and to celebrate, I thought I'd hold my first giveaway! I'm offering two books - one of them a children's/YA book of your choice up to £15 (or the equivalent if you live abroad), and for the other, you can choose one of any of the books I've reviewed on this blog. I've put a widget below so you should be able to click a picture to see what Goodreads says; alternatively you can look at my 'What I've reviewed' page for a link to my reviews. A few books in the widget may not be in my review list yet because I won't be posting them until halfway through the giveaway.

I'm running the giveaway through Rafflecopter, and the winner will be picked at random. It'll run from today until the 12th September, and I'll announce the winner as soon as I can, although definitely within 2 days.

Thanks guys, and happy entering!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday 26 August 2013

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth

Insurgent (Divergent #2), by Veronica Roth
Published by HarperCollins Children's Books

One choice can transform you, or destroy you. Every choice has consequences, and unrest surges in the factions all around her. Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves, and herself, while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.
This is the second book in the Divergent series, and the action was as thick and fast as the first. Its fast pace and some unexpected twists have left me really frustrated that the next book isn't out until October. Having finished Insurgent, I sounded like Verruca Salt when talking about Allegiant - "I want it now!" I recently read one of Veronica Roth's tweets that said it'll be from both Tris and Tobias's points of view - intriguing!

Anyway, going back to Insurgent, I loved that as a reader I got to peek into the lives of the other factions, and the factionless. Candor's truth serum and Amity's happy drugs were really interesting, and totally believable in the dystopia it's set in. Something else I could really believe in was Tris's grief and shock over who she killed in the first book. I could completely understand why she was afraid to shoot a gun, and it added human vulnerabilities that can sometimes be lacking in female protagonists.

The only possible issues I had with Insurgent was that there were issues between Tris and Tobias. This is where my hypocrisy kicks in, haha! It's completely understandable that sometimes they have arguments, but sometimes I was a little frustrated by it. Roth writes the sexual tension between them really well, and I wanted more of that and less of the squabbling, haha! It's a brilliant book, and I'll definitely be reviewing the next one once it's out!

It's my birthday on Thursday, and to celebrate I'll be hosting a giveaway - a book of your choice worth up to £15 (or equivalent), plus a book of your choice that I've reviewed on this blog. Please stop by in a couple of days and enter!

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Orangey the Goldfish, by Eddie Bee

Orangey the Goldfish, by Eddie Bee
Published by Fiction Entertainment

This fun children's picture book follows the story of a growing relationship between an adventurous boy Billy and his new pet goldfish named Orangey. As Billy learns how to take care of his new pet goldfish who really loves to eat, we learn Orangey is a goldfish that talks.

I bought this a while back - it was a freebie on the Kindle charts. I hadn't looked at it since then so I took a small risk when I was visiting my brother's family and the kids asked for another bedtime story (we'd just read Billy and Monster's New Neighbor has a Secret).

Orangey the Goldfish isn't a very long story at all, and for a bedtime story, probably isn't the best. It's told in speech bubbles, so I had to try and change my voice a lot so the kids didn't get confused about which character was speaking. It's very simplistic, but ends really abruptly. I don't think I'll be buying the next book, so I don't know if it picks up at the beginning of #2, but it ends with Billy leaving Orangey to have his dinner, and Orangey getting panicked about where he's gone. That's the end. Very odd.

A sweet idea, but it didn't follow through properly. Probably one for children to read themselves.

Thursday 15 August 2013

A Little Owl Called Hooty, by Diana C Vickery

A Little Owl Called Hooty, by Diana C Vickery
Published by Swankypants Books Ltd

When Hooty's brothers and sisters are big enough to leave the nest, little Hooty stays behind. He has a BIG problem: he is afraid of heights! Can Swankypants and Chatterbox find him the help he needs?
This cute little book was given to me by someone I work with - his mum is the author. Hooty is part of the Magical Journeys of Swankypants range, which follows a cat called - believe it or not - Swankypants in several adventures.

It's a really nicely illustrated story about a small owl who is scared of heights and can't quite find the courage to fly and catch his food. It has a rhyming scheme that helps the story bounce along well and is easy to read along to with the kids. I read it to Caitlin last week, and she was really engaged, particularly with the pictures. At first she wasn't sure why Hooty didn't want to fly, but got into urging him along when the big owl came along to show him how it was done! I must admit, she had a little bit of trouble with some of the words. While they were easy enough to explain (such as 'wise'), I think she'd probably enjoy it a lot more in a year or so (when she's 6).

It's definitely a book I'd read next in conjunction with the other Swankypants stories - knowing who Swankypants and Chatterbox are is really helpful, as Caitlin was always asking which cat was which. It's always the little things, haha! The series has just started hitting some big shops in America, and having looked at some of the potential illustrations on their facebook page, I'm really looking forward to seeing some of the books to come. Have a look at the pictures - Lewis would love the bark creatures (as they look like dinosaurs!), and I think the witches look awesome!

Also, I'm hoping to get an interview with Diana C Vickery, the author, soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

Sunday 11 August 2013

Weekend Walkthrough: Newes From the Dead

What was happening in 1650?
The English Civil War broke out in 1642 and still wasn't officially over by 1650. Charles I was executed in 1649, and his son, later to be Charles II, was exiled. In 1650 England therefore had no monarch, and existed as the Commonwealth of England, a republic under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. It was therefore a time of great instability and uncertainty, which is often apparent in the book.

As Mary Hooper pointed out in a note at the end of the book, a statute was passed in 1624 that effectively made an unmarried woman guilty until proven innocent. After this statute became law, it became a capital (which means punishable by death) offence for unmarried women to conceal the birth of a child. It's worth noting that it's only in the past 30 years or so that illegitimacy has become accepted/more acceptable.

According to this website, it has been argued that convictions for infanticide between 1580-1700 resulted in more executions than the witch craze of the same period. The unmarried mother needed at least one witness to prove that her child had been born dead. Even if she was able to do this, often she was still sentenced to death for the crime of concealing a child, which shows that the statute was just as much to prevent illegitimacy as to punish infanticide.

Being hanged
Hanging was a common form of execution in England, with the first hangmen records dating from the 1360s, and the last hanging being surprisingly recent, in 1955.

The picture to the left is a common hangman's scaffold. A noose would be fastened around the person's neck, and a trap door under their feet would be opened. If the noose was knotted properly, and the knot was in the right place, the person's death would be quick, as their neck would be broken by the pressure put on it during the fall. If it wasn't, death would be from suffocation, and could take a lot longer. As I've mentioned before, it could be sped up by friends/family pulling and swinging from the person's legs.

A macabre thing to note is that hangings were, most of the time, public, and many people attended, as it was a popular form of entertainment. If you think about it, it makes sense as there was likely to be little to do for fun in those times, but it's still not a nice thing to think about!

How did she survive?
As Mary Hooper mentions in the back of the book, it is likely that the knot of the hangman's noose was in the insufficient place to break Anne's neck, meaning that death would have taken longer while she suffocated. Friends hanging off her legs (as they did) would have made it slightly quicker, but it still wouldn't have been instantaneous. It was a really cold day, too, and she wasn't wearing very much, so the most likely explanation for her survival is cryogenic preservation. Sub-zero temperatures mean that the brain is frozen, and therefore can't be starved of oxygen, which is what causes death.

Given the religious fervour of the time, Anne's recovery prompted officials to grant her a pardon. It was felt that god had sent a sign of Anne's innocence, and as such would be blasphemy to sentence her to death a second time. Something that strengthened this view was the illness and death of Sir Thomas Reade a couple of days after Anne's recovery. Given that he had ensured Anne did not receive a fair trial in the first place, this was seen as a further omen of God's will.

Going off on a tangent, while instances like this were rare, it would have been similar cases (or other medical anomalies) that made it necessary for the 'saved by the bell' legend in the 17th and 18th centuries. The picture to the right is a drawing of a 'safety coffin'. The hand of the deceased was attached to a bell, so if they, by some weird chance, woke up while buried, they could ring it and be saved. This followed stories written by Edgar Allen Poe and rumours of corpses being dug back up with scratch marks on the inside of the coffin.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Newes From the Dead, by Mary Hooper

Newes From the Dead, by Mary Hooper
Published by Totally Random Books

In 1650 Anne Green, a young servant girl, gave birth prematurely to an illegitimate child. Sadly the baby died and poor Anne was falsely accused of infanticide. In front of a large crowd she was hanged and then carried to the College of Physicians to be dissected for medical science. But as Anne's corpse lay on the table and the doctors assembled, a strange rattle was heard in her throat. Could she still be alive?
First off, sorry for the lateness of this post - I meant to do it for last week, but haven't been too well, and writing was the last thing on my mind! The history post will be published tomorrow as I've been thinking that the posts get a little too long both with a review and history!

I stumbled across the blurb of this book while looking at the Totally Random Books website. It's really intriguing and, as I read around, I could see that the book is based on a true story. That was it, I had to buy it! It didn't disappoint, and I read it in a day.

While this is a YA book, it's worth pointing out that it deals with some really adult themes, which is something to consider if you're thinking of letting a teenager read it. I'll outline the main points in the next paragraph, so if you don't want any spoilers at all, skip this bit. The chapters flick between the events that led up to Anne's hanging, and what happens while she's laid on the dissecting table, apparently dead. Her downfall comes when the master's grandson promises her the world in exchange for him getting his end away, shall we say. As tends to happen, she becomes pregnant, which she manages to keep a secret until she miscarries. She has the 'audacity' to tell people who the father was, so never receives a fair trial, and is sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of her child. Her sentence is carried out, but she regains consciousness while on the dissecting table. However, she's unable to move a muscle, even to scream.

Anne is a nice girl with a promising, if humble, future, and I liked her. Even while I was willing her not to trust the father of her child, I could understand why she did what she did, and I felt really sorry for her as she lost a lot. The events of both storylines were fascinating, and in the dissection chapters I was constantly willing the doctors to notice what was going on. Although I knew they wouldn't cut into her and it was a little drawn out, some parts got quite tense, which I liked.

Being a sucker for history, I really liked the way everything was portrayed. Mary Hooper, the author, made me realise how important it was in how you were perceived in those times - if you think gossip can be bad now, it was a million times worse in 1650, when holding someone's hand, even for an innocent reason, can potentially start a deadly rumour. I thought the book brought across everything that would have happened at the time really accurately and realistically. I know the author had true events to go on, but Anne's life before her hanging was all imagined. There's a note from Hooper at the end that specifies what records say about what happened to Anne Green after her hanging, which is also really interesting. I'll definitely be checking out more of Hooper's books!

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Pretties, by Scott Westerfeld

Pretties (Uglies Quartet #2), by Scott Westerfeld
Published by Simon & Schuster UK

Tally has finally become 'pretty'.
Her looks are beyond perfect, her clothes are cool, her boyfriend is totally gorgeous, and she's completely popular. It's everything she's ever wanted.
But beneath all the fun - the non-stop parties, the high-tech luxury, the total freedom - is a nagging feeling that something is very wrong. Something important. And sure enough, when a message from Tally's 'ugly' past arrives, the fun stops cold. Now Tally has to choose between fighting to forget what she knows and fighting for her life...
The effective cliffhanger of Uglies pulled me in, and I couldn't resist reading Pretties. Tally is in full-on 'pretty' mode when the book starts, and although I did have to push the annoying lingo to one side, I was hooked from the beginning.

The world of a pretty sounds very frivolous, and operations such as 'surges' are available. For instance, Tally's friend Shay gets crystals put around her irises, which are then revealed to be a backwards clock. Then there's a hole in the wall that gives people anything they want to wear - as someone who struggles to find nice clothes, that appealed to me! It's so over the top that even though I know I would probably hate it there, I couldn't help but be fascinated by all the technology - be it cosmetic or purely gadget.

This book introduces us to Zane, who becomes Tally's boyfriend. Things aren't black and white about whose side the reader is supposed to be on, so I knew things were going to be even more complicated with David when they met again (because I knew they would). Even though I liked David in Uglies, I also liked Zane in this book. Either way, the love interests don't overwhelm the plot, making it a better story.

Like in Uglies, there's nonstop action, a wicked-fast pace, and a 'bad guy' that's close enough to home and intriguing enough to warrant its own book (Specials, next in the series). I loved it. I think the two books in the series I've read so far would translate well to film - I'd be intrigued to see what they would do to (already gorgeous, no doubt) actresses; whether they 'uglied' them up in the beginning, or made them completely gorgeous. Or both, I guess!