Welcome to Serendipity Reviews !

The original UK book blog that brings you all the latest book news straight from the publishers, along with book reviews and author interviews. We read and review all genres, although we love paranormal, fantasy and contemporary books.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Windsnap Wednesday - Week 5

To celebrate the launch of the fifth book in the series, Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls, I am so pleased to welcome Liz Kessler back on the blog, to discuss book five in the series, Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun. And don't miss the fantastic competition at the end of the post!
Let me take you on a trip to the land of the midnight sun.

As a writer, I like using words. I use them a lot. I love having conversations with friends, I love writing books, I love writing blogs, articles, emails. I use words ALL DAY. 

Another thing I love is taking photos. So, on this occasion, I’m going to give words a day off, and share something with you that is about pictures – and music.
The fifth Windsnap Wednesday is all about the fifth Emily Windsnap book – The Land of the Midnight Sun. For this book, I went on one of the best research trips I have ever had: a trip to the arctic in the middle of the summer, when the sun never sets.

Here is how the trip went, and here are the many beautiful sights that inspired my book, with music from the choir of the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso. 

So get a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy – and let yourself be transported to the land of the midnight sun.
Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls by Liz Kessler is published by Orion Children's Books on the 6th of August.
When I headed to Fivebays Island with both of my schools, I thought it would be an ordinary trip - well, as ordinary as it could be with humans and merpeople side by side!
But I soon realised something wasn't right. Where was the woman who'd invited us? Why did her husband seem so uneasy? And why did an old-fashioned ship keep appearing and vanishing out in the bay?
I could tell a new adventure was sneaking up on me!
Swishy wishes,
Emily Windsnap

How would you like to win the whole set of Emily Windsnap books? And yes, I am talking about all SIX BOOKS!

Well Nina at Orion Children's Books has kindly offered one set of books to one lucky reader. 
The competition is open to the UK and Eire only and the prize will be sent out by the publisher. All you have to do is fill in the rafflecopter below. Good luck!!!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Published by Simon and Schuster in June 2015
Pages -336

Publisher’s summary:
When he’s sent to Latham House, a boarding school for sick teens, Lane thinks his life may as well be over. 

But when he meets Sadie and her friends – a group of eccentric troublemakers – he realises that maybe getting sick is just the beginning, that illness doesn’t define you, and that falling in love is its own cure.

Reviewed by Isabella Samuels

Robyn Schneider made her mark on the YA bookshelf for the first time two summers ago with Severed Heads, Broken Hearts to a chorus of applause and Extraordinary Means shows no sign of falter in Schneider’s talent. 

Lane is a swot, paranoid about not letting anything – especially a highly contagious, highly deadly disease like tuberculosis – stop him from getting into Stanford University. Sadie is an artistic, trouble stirring girl who harbours a grudge against Lane for a horrible and fictitious incident at summer camp when they were thirteen. We find ourselves in the not-too-distant future where the drugs we use to conquer TB have stopped working and the disease has become as much of a terrifying threat as it was when it killed Keats, the Bront√ęs and Jane Austen. Lane and Sadie find themselves at Latham House sanatorium, trying to ignore that ever lingering dark cloud of mortality and diving headfirst into the possibility of love.

Again and again Schneider presents gritty, rich emotion together with black, I-know-it’s-wrong-to-laugh humour and simply breath-taking revelations. With a Master’s in Bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania her meticulous research is evident as the fears, history and pain of the disease become the driving force of the narrative. 

The presentation of a modern’s teenager’s life too is very real. Latham House, inhabited by teens only, evolves into a school in some respects, the children still having lessons and strict supervision. Therefore their relationships and antics become very recognisable and relatable. It is through this that Schneider helps her reader to empathise with the characters despite the completely unrecognisable circumstances. However, Sadie seems unsettlingly non-plussed by her morbid situation, and sometimes even cold. Schneider seems so wrapped up making sure that she lets Sadie’s bubbly and whimsical personality shine through, TB falls to the wayside until the very end. 

Extraordinary Means, however, remains a gripping and sophisticated read, with its distinctive, inescapable echoes of John Green, both in style and story, and its intense subject matter. In the tradition of coming-of-age tales the ending looms inevitably and Schneider manages to deliver the swift and punchy finale that the novel deserves. Schneider has earned the recognition Extraordinary Means is bound to receive in the YA market.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Frenchman's Creek by Daphne Du Maurier

When the east wind blows up Helford river the shining waters become troubled and disturbed and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shores. The short seas break above the bar at ebb-tide, and the waders fly inland to the mud-flats, their wings skimming the surface, and calling to one another as they go. 

Reissued in July 2015 by Virago Modern Classics 

Pages - 253
The Restoration Court knows Lady Dona St Columb to be ripe for any folly, any outrage that will relieve the tedium of her days. But there is another, secret Dona who longs for a life of honest love - and sweetness, even if it is spiced with danger. Dona flees London for remote Navron, looking for peace of mind in its solitary woods and hidden creeks. She finds there the passion her spirit craves - in the love of a daring pirate hunted across Cornwall, a Frenchman who, like Dona, would gamble his life for a moment's joy.
Reviewed by Vivienne Dacosta

OK, so this isn't my favourite Daphne Du Maurier book, but it does now sit in my Top Three. With Jamaica Inn sitting pretty in the Number 1 spot, followed a close second by Rebecca, but with Frenchman's Creek, hanging a little way back in third place.

I have mixed emotions about this book. I loved parts and hated others.

I didn't understand the purpose of the first chapter at all. I think if this book were to be published for the first time now, then that chapter would be edited out, as it really didn't give anything to the story.

From then on, the book still took me a while to get into. In fact, I can't say I really enjoyed it until the Frenchman turned up. It was like I was reading the story in black and white, until Jean-Benoit arrived on the scene in brilliant technicolour, changing the whole tone and colour of the story. 

Once the book got going, it really felt like one of those romantic summer reads, where the heroine's eyes have finally been opened and she realises there is more to her than just being a wife and mother. She has finally been dragged out of the drudgery of her life. I really didn't like Lady Dona to begin with. This didn't help with my enjoyment of the story. She came across as a selfish, spoilt brat, but as her story unravelled, you realised how trapped she felt in her life. 

As soon as she meets the French pirate, Jean-Benoit Aubery, it is quite obvious that he will treat her as an equal. It's not surprising how quickly they fall for each other, as they are kindred spirits from the start. 

Du Maurier romanticised the idea of pirates, making them appear more desirable than any member of the English aristocracy. I'm positive that Du Maurier never intended for Jonny Depp to be visualised as the French pirate, but that was the only person I could envisage while reading it. His exaggerated swagger played a huge part in the story for me! 

So I enjoyed the second half of the book much more than the first. I loved the sexual tension between the Frenchman and Lady Dona, as well as her feisty attitude when she joins him on the heist. I also loved the way Jean-Benoit constantly outwitted the fumbling aristocracy. 

In the end, you see a dramatic change in Lady Dona. She is finally at peace with her decisions about the future. She has learnt so much from her encounter with the Frenchman that she is willing to sacrifice her own happiness.

On the whole this is a good swashbuckling tale of love, lust and piracy. Ideal for fans of Elizabeth Von Armin's, The Enchanted April. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Blogger Island with Michelle Toy from Tales of Yesterday

Blogger Island is back after a few weeks away. Sorry but the island was getting crowded and there was way too much book sharing going on. So I had to set adrift a few of the castaways. If you haven't read any of the Blogger Island posts before, this is how it works. I give bloggers the option of taking up to ten books with them to Blogger Island. Those are the books they will be stuck with for the rest of their lives, so they have to choose really carefully.  A bit like Dessert Island Discs, only I'm a bit harsher! 
Anyway this week, I've managed to convince Michelle Toy, from Tales of Yesterday to come on the blog, before I leave her on the island and share the books she has chosen to take with her.
*Waves goodbye to all my loved ones steps on the plane and takes off*

Yes that’s right I am going on a mini-break in a book lovers paradise…Book Blogger Island!  

I’ve heard the weather's nice and please don’t worry I have packed factor 50 child protection sun cream.  I’m sure the lovely Viv will take good care of me…..

Wait!  What was that now?  

I’m not coming back?!  And Viv said I have to empty my suitcase to only include 5 – 8 books!


I think I better do as Viv says other wise I may be made a sharks breakfast!

Watership Down by Richard Adams
If you ask me what my favourite ever book is I will always answer this book with a few close seconds!
My English teacher at school used to give me reading lists to take home for me to go and hunt down the books in the library.  One day Watership Down appeared on that list!  
I had grown up with the film Watership Down which thrilled me, made me cry, made me happy and scared the living daylights out of me!
*Flashback to when I thought a gas lamp reflection in my bedroom was an evil rabbit coming to kill me*
But the book is very different from the film adaptation and I fell in love with it.  The detail, the writing style, the rabbits and the scenery made me escape into their world and I cared so much about them….I still do!
This book is a must for me on the island and I would read it over and over again.  My copy that cost 40p at the time is very old and very well loved, but I’m sure it will help me survive!

Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty
*Clutches hands towards my heart*
This book….where do I begin!  Again suggested for me to read by my English teacher was YA before YA existed about two teenagers and an unwanted pregnancy.  The dual narrative was refreshing with Helen writing to her unborn baby in the form of letters and Chris reading those letters and remembering events whilst Helen is in labour!
*Dabs eyes with tissue…sniffles*
I hold this book very close to my heart.  I remember coming downstairs in my teenage years in my house in floods of tears and cuddling my Mom and I think I can actually say this was the first book ever to cause me to have such a reaction and such a strong emotional feeling (bear in mind I was very much into murder books!) I was distraught for quite a few days.
I want to take this to the island as more of a memory of that time and that age as I always remember where I was when I read this book and the feelings it created …so more of a memory lane book whilst stuck on the island.
*Blows nose*

Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling
Now of course there would be a Harry Potter book on this list and although I wanted to bring the whole collection Viv was very harsh and wouldn’t allow me to cheat ☹
The Prisoner Of Azkaban is my favourite Harry Potter book!  Sirius Black, The Knight Bus, The Dementors, time turners…..it had everything and I loved it!
I ploughed through this book many years ago and it’s defiantly time for a re-read.  I’m hoping some other bloggers have brought the rest of the series with them and I can re-relive the magic all over again!
*Don’s robes and waves wand ….I’m a wizard Chelley*

One Day by David Nicholls
I LOVE David Nicholls and this for me is my favourite!  Set over the space of twenty years we get a glimpse into the lives of Emma and Dexter on the same day every year and watch them grow, fight, experience life and fall in love.  
I cannot put into words how much I adore this book.  My copy is very battered and loved and after recently meeting David Nicholls it is signed!
*stokes the book*
I have re read this book a lot of times and I still find something new every time.  David Nicholls also has this way of making characters so vivid and like they are your best friends that you have known for ages so for me this book would remind me of my friends and family back home.

Tess Of The D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
This is my all time favourite classic!  I love Thomas Hardy!  His scenes are enriched with imagination and beauty and his characters are left etched on your memory.  
Tess for me left a permanent mark!  The book follows the life of Tess when she learns she may be the descendant of a rich family, but things take a turn for the worse and throughout her life fate brings her the lovely Angel Clare *swoons*, but then tragedy strikes and a man from her past crushes everything she holds dear!
I am not ashamed to admit but I think Angel Clare was the first literary crush I had!  Wow!
I will be taking this with me so I can daydream for hours about the gorgeous Angel Clare!

An Inspector Calls by J B Priestley

This may seem like an unusual choice but I LOVE this book so much!  
I studied this book for GCSE….okay we won’t go into how many years ago that was, but it made a huge impact on me.  I was very much into adult murder mysteries like Ruth Rendell and Colin Dexter and of course Agatha Christie so when my English teacher presented me and the class this book about an inspector investigating a girls suicide who knocks on a families door and implicates each of them in her death it intrigued me.  
So well written and an absolute classic it gave be plenty of food for thought as the poor person who had to read my GCSE English exam paper probably found out!
*Cheeky Grin*

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
I would take this book on the island to make me laugh!  I first read this book when I was living on my own and I laughed and laughed and laughed and fell in love with Bridget so much!
And as for Daniel Cleaver……*goes misty eyed*…..there was something about Helen Fielding’s writing that made you smitten by his charms just as Bridget was!
Loved the diary entry style writing too…this book would keep me entertained for hours on the island!
*makes blue soup for the camp*
Cruel Summer by James Dawson
Okay this was my pick for the #UKYADay Blogger Island books edition…….
Yes I know….here I am again picking a James Dawson book I hear you shout (he is one of my faves)!  This may be a predictable pick for me…But seriously I would take this book with me to a desert island and read it over and over again!  I love it THAT much!  It’s definitely one of my favourite UKYA books!  It’s a perfect summer read so I could pass the hours away whilst turning a rather reddish lobster colour on the desert island beach and hallucinate about Gil Grissom and Sangria ;-)   
Look at it this way…what better way would there be to pass the time! With characters Ryan, Kate, Alisha, Greg and Ben around there would never be a dull moment!  Moments full of tension and suspicion and okay the odd dead body occasionally!  And with a romance that will break your heart what better book to read again and again than a story set in a sunny paradise, blue sea, lots of sand and well….basically murder!  
*looks suspiciously at that shadow in the trees and gulps*   
Can I please leave the island now?! 
*cries for Mommy* 
Well that its!  That all I am allowed!  I surprised myself with some of my choices…I hope Viv lets me take them all……

*bats eyelashes at Viv*

I'm considering Michelle's books carefully before leaving her alone on the island. Some pretty good choices there. I hope you enjoy your stay, Michelle...
If you would like to join Michelle on Blogger Island, then either tweet me or leave a comment and I will send you all the details. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Ghosts of Shanghai by Julian Sedgwick

The Restless
Amidst shadows and dragons and watchful, crumbling statues Ruby Harkner crouches in a corridor of White Cloud Temple, sweat prickling her paper-pale skin, heart bumping like mad – waiting to catch her first ghost.

Published by Hodder Children's Books July 2015
360 pages (read via NetGalley)
The stylish Art Deco cover is by Michelle Brackenborough, 
includes useful maps and notes by the author.

Summary from publisher’s website
Obsessed with martial arts and ghost stories, Ruby is part of a gang of Chinese and ex-pat children who hide out in ruined White Cloud Temple. But the world of Shanghai in the late 1920s is driven with danger: disease, crime, espionage and revolution are sweeping the streets. And since the death of her younger brother Thomas, Ruby is stalked by another anxiety and fear. 
Faced with a series of local hauntings, and armed with a lucky bookshop find - The Almanac of Distant Realms - Ruby forms the Shanghai Ghost Club to hunt down restless spirits. When best friend Fei is kidnapped by the Green Hand, Ruby must trust a mysterious stranger - and face her worst fears - in order to save her friends, and her own life. And in the ensuing fight she will catch a glimpse of the one spirit she has longed to see...
The secrets that Ruby's father and friends have kept from her are coming back to haunt them all.

As a child I loved ‘The Water Margin’ – a martial arts TV costume drama series shown in the 70s. It had honourable bandits and fighting princesses – with twin swords. Why wouldn’t I love it?
Only later did I learn that it was based on an ancient Chinese text dating from the 14th century. Julian Sedgwick took his love of ‘The Water Margin’, and ‘Monkey’ much further: it led him to study Chinese and Philosophy at University. His knowledge of Chinese culture and history permeates Ghosts of Shanghai like the scent of Joss sticks in a temple.
First-rate world building, or rather revealing, is not enough. There has to be momentum pulling us through the setting. This adventure story has it running along on speedy tramlines. Our bold heroine and her friends tackle mysteries and danger which spring from a powerful combination of magic and intrigue. You have to know what will happen next.
I am often bored by fight scenes – but the martial arts sequences here kept me engaged with their vigour and simplicity. I am also irritated by historical characters with over-modern attitudes. Not so with this tale – I find 1920s Ruby and her family utterly believable.
There is peril, violence, some frightening and some poignant moments – but nothing a competent young reader can’t handle. Not suitable for those who are unnerved by ghosts (the clue’s in the title) but it will thrill those who like a mix of the supernatural and history. The only problem with Ghosts of Shanghai is that the sequel won’t be around till next year.

PS I have it on reliable authority (the author’s) that the sequel will include “steamboats on a darkened Yangtze river, bandits and more spooks!”

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Setting the Scene with Sarah Benwell

I've been waiting quite a while to get the following author on the blog; in fact ever since her debut novel came out in January. Finally I managed to convince Sarah Benwell to come on and talk about the beautiful settings that she used for her book, The Last Leaves Falling. You can read my review here.
The Last Leaves Falling is a set in a place of contrasts – industrial cities, and countryside; technology and tradition: Japan.

Japan is cool, right? Totally badass and mystical and full of the crazy-but-wonderful? But it’s also, like, people’s home. Ordinary people, who live ordinary lives not so fundamentally different from our own. And with a Japanese protagonist, I got to play with that rather than the tourist’s view. I got to describe my character’s bedroom and his grandparents’ house, the local park. The food he eats. The things he thinks about, and the things that he believes.

I spent a long time in the book online, and got to explore that space, too.

But for me, the setting in Last Leaves does more than let the reader walk through Kyoto streets. There are places in my book which are there to illustrate a mood, a feeling, a moment in time expanding out across other moments to make something bigger. I think this may be a Japanese thing – the setting equivalent of a haiku, or a series of them, strung together, each one changing the next one, just a little bit.

There’s the hospital: a maze of corridors, white walls and people-smells, where Sora feels hemmed in. Sometimes, this is exactly what he needs – it keeps him from spiralling off into despair. Sometimes it feels wrong.

There’s the Imperial Park: green, wide, open spaces, colour-changing trees, the sky. This serene, beautiful space is an escape. It’s freedom. It’s also the ground for watching the seasons change – both a Japanese obsession and a perfect miniature for Sora’s journey.

The bridge inside the park, over the koi pond, bridges Sora’s past and future. It’s a space where time can stop, just briefly, and everyone can breathe. It’s a place where they can stand together, in the middle of the bridge, grab those moments, and not – just yet – have to cross to the other side.

His grandparents’ house, out in the Kyoto provinces, embraces nature and tradition. It’s the place where all of Sora’s stories live. All of the magic and myth of growing up. It’s a place of tree climbing and mountains, a place of togetherness and love. It’s safe and warm and nothing ever changes.

And then there’s Sora’s room, so ordinary, but so much happens here. It’s his space. It mirrors him, and how he feels about his life. There’s an early scene where his room feels too small and inadequate and everything comes under scrutiny. But as the novel progresses, that changes, until the last scenes in his room, there’s nothing but comfort and love. 

Setting is the foundation for any story – it’s the world in which our characters and stories live. Sometimes it adds colour, flavour, a base coat for the truly important things. Sometimes, a street is just a street, a meal is nothing but something to fill the empty belly of a character. But sometimes, setting morphs into a character or symbol of its own: sometimes it means something more.
Japanese teenager, Sora, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Lonely and isolated, Sora turns to the ancient wisdom of the samurai for guidance and comfort. But he also finds hope in the present; through the internet he finds friends that see him, not just his illness. This is a story of friendship and acceptance, and testing strength in an uncertain future.
About the author.
Sarah Benwell lives in the picturesque city of Bath. Which is nice, but she’d much rather be off exploring deserts and jungles elsewhere. Having seen a good chunk of the world, Sarah is a keen advocate for diversity in life and on bookshelves, and she loves nothing more than acquainting herself with both.
To find out more about Sarah Benwell:

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

One by Sarah Crossan


We Are.

And we are living.

Isn't that amazing?

How we manage

to be

at all.

Published by Bloomsbury in August 2015

Pages - 428


Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins.

And their lives are about to change.

No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world – a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love?

But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined…
Reviewed by Vivienne Dacosta

WARNING: This book causes severe heartbreak. Proceed with extreme caution. Do not, under any circumstances, read the last quarter of the book in a public place. The result will be disastrous!

Sorry for being bossy, but I think I needed to get that out there in the public domain, before I gush uncontrollably about the best book I've read this year.

Before I start my review, I want to share a couple of lessons I've learnt while reading this book.

Firstly, that I really love books written in verse.

 Secondly, that Emma Bradshaw speaks the truth, so I need to listen to her next time, when she says I will love a book. 

Moving on!

This book is beautifully written. Every single damn word blends perfectly with the next. Sarah Crossan makes me want to jack in my writing attempts, because I could never produce anything so exquisite as this. There is no need for any extra fluffy words, it all seamlessly flows together, creating a heartbreaking journey.

The story hit me more than I ever expected it to. I felt an instant connection to Tippi and Grace and I think that's because I have twins myself. While reading this book,  I found myself analysing every aspect of the journey the twins took. I discussed conjoined twins constantly with my girls. How would we have coped in the same situation? Would we have opted for surgery? The honest answer is, I don't know. I honestly haven't got a clue how we would have coped. I don't normally react to a story like this, but this is the type of novel that provokes discussion and lots of questions.

I'm not sure I've ever told this story on my blog, but I was originally carrying triplets; three months into my pregnancy, one stopped developing, which was heartbreaking enough. When I asked the doctor what would happen, they told me the foetus would dissolve and blend in with the other two. I had many a nightmare that one of my children would come out with two heads, or an extra arm. I was thankful that my daughters were born individually and without any extra limbs.

I hated the way Grace and Tippi were treated. The looks, the ill thought out comments and  stupid questions. I understand that people are ill informed, but surely they must realise how hurtful their words can be. 

This story sucked me in before ripping my heart out. I cried so much at the end of the book. I wanted to read it again, in case I had missed something. A small, hidden glimmer of hope that things could be different.  It left me wanting more. It left me desperate to read all of the books by this author. 

I'm in awe of Sarah Crossan's gift for writing. I have no doubt that she will win a heap of awards this year. It's like the Wonder of YA! Make sure you read the book everyone will be talking about this year. You really don't want to miss out.