Monday, 28 October 2013

Before I Die - Book Review


Before I Die – Book Review

(Re-titled in the UK as Now is Good)

Jenny Downham

YA Contemporary


Tessa has just a few months to live.
Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It’s her ‘To do before I die’ list. And number one is sex.

Released from the constraints of ‘normal’ life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up.

Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, her new boyfriend, are all painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.


This book was heartbreaking. The last few chapters I had to read through tear blurred eyes, even though from the beginning, I knew there would be no happy ending…

The story follows Tessa, a teenage girl diagnosed with Leukaemia, who already knows she is in the final few months of her life. Rather than sit at home, humoring her dad with his latest ‘google’ discovery of ways to prolong her life, she calls up her best friend and makes a list. The top ten things she is determined to do before she dies. Starting with sex.

Yet even as she tries her hand at drugs, shoplifting and even fame, Tessa never expects to accomplish her last wish. To fall in love. But then she meets Adam, and suddenly her world becomes a whole lot brighter. However each day, Tessa feels her body failing and knowing her final sun set is fast approaching… she wonders if she will have the courage to face her inevitable goodbye…

I did enjoy this book, although it took me almost halfway before I truly got into the story. I didn't particularly like Tessa’s character at first. I thought she seemed very detached from her feelings so I found it hard to sympathize with her. This may have been a ploy on the authors’ part; perhaps Tessa truly did dismiss her own feelings in order to better cope with the fate dealt to her. Yet as soon as she starts having tantrums and more emotional outbursts, that was when I feel you really connect with her and her situation.

Also watching how Tessa’s family and friends reacted to her illness was both heart-wrenching and maddening. Her father is over protective, her mother, unable-to-cope has an affair and appears only sporadically. Then there is Tessa’s little brother, who was loving but still a little ignorant towards her pending death. All these characters really impacted upon me the harsh reality that the people whose loved ones have terminal illnesses face each day. I would say some are just as brave as those who are dying.

Adam, particularly, was a really humane character. His dilemma was that he didn’t want to have his heartbroken by falling in love with a dying girl – not that his heart gave him much choice in the matter. However watching him struggle with their relationship - especially as Tessa’s time draws closer and she becomes frailer - was incredibly moving. Afraid to touch her, Adam stays by her side throughout it all. Yet he also knows he must live on when she is gone – and for him no one was a better teacher on how to ‘live’ life than Tessa.

So although sad, it really is an enlightening book. One that makes you consider the trials and sufferings of others. And teaches you to live each day with a purpose by reminding us how short life can be. A really moving read, I give Before I Die 3 ½ stars!

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Friday, 25 October 2013


(Me at the Great Wall)

Hey everyone!

I feel like it’s been ages since I wrote a personal post. Life in China however, is still keeping me crazy busy! Can you believe I’ve been here ten months already?

So October has been rather exciting for me. One of my best friends flew out from England to see me. She’s a bit of a ‘Jiynu’ – a stay at home girl, as the Chinese say – so I was so proud of her getting on a plane by herself and flying all this way.

I’m also pleased to report I can still understand the Geordie accent – Although apparently my own vocab has turned rather… American! (For this I blame my Texan roommate!) Hopefully I can fix this before I return to England.

However the best thing I did this month was visit Beijing. The Forbidden City, the summer Palace, and especially the great wall of China – It was amazing! 

I visited the Jinshanling part of the Great Wall and I would totally recommend it. One of the oldest surviving parts, it was one hell of hike but the views were phenomenal.
I also ate lots of Peking duck, avoided the (still alive) scorpions on sticks and haggled my butt off at every market stall. It was a great experience!

(Seahorse on a stick? No? Perhaps a Scorpion then...?)

Otherwise I’m still having fun teaching. My Chinese is… well, slowly getting better. Oh and as you can obviously see, I survived the Typhoon that we had at the beginning of the month. Although wading in knee deep water for my dinner was certainly an interesting experience lol

(the day after the Typhoon) 

So how was your October?  

I'm also writing again and am very close to finally finishing my YA novel. As I tend to edit as I go, there's not much more I can do it and I think a fresh pair of eyes would be very useful. Therefore I'm looking for a critique partner (or two) - someone who won't mind ripping into my work and is happy for me to do the same to theirs. I'm hoping to start querying agents early next year so please leave a comment or shoot me an email if your interested...

Monday, 21 October 2013

Tabitha Suzuma - Author Interview

Tabitha Suzuma, author of Forbidden, Joins me on the blog today to talk about her newly released book, HURT



At seventeen, Matheo Walsh appears to have it all. He is a champion diver and a hot prospect for the Olympics. He is a heartthrob, a straight A student and lives in one of the wealthiest areas of London. he has great friends and is the envy of many around him. And most importantly of all, he is deeply in love with his girlfriend, Lola. He has always been a stable, well-adjusted guy...

Until one weekend. A weekend he cannot seem to remember. All he knows is that he has come back a changed person. One who no longer knows how to have fun, no longer wants to spend time with his friends, no longer enjoys diving. Something terrible happened that weekend - something violent and bloody and twisted. He no longer knows who he is. He no longer trusts himself around people; he only wants to hurt, wound and destroy. Slowly, he begins to piece back the buried, fragmented memories, and finds himself staring at the reflection of a monster.

Tormented, Matheo suddenly finds himself faced with the most devastating choice of his life. Keep his secret, and put those closest to him in  terrible danger. Or confess, and lose Lola forever...

Tabitha Suzuma

Tabitha Suzuma Questions and Answers

1) What was the inspiration behind HURT and how long did it take you to write?

It took me seven months to write. The inspiration came from trying to find a subject that was in some way taboo, or that at least wasn't recognized or discussed enough (in my opinion) in modern society. It was also inspired by wanting to write about a guy who on the surface appeared to have it all - the complete opposite of Lochan in FORBIDDEN - but beneath the surface suffered from a different type of neglect. 

2) While you were writing, did your characters behave as you wanted them to? Or did they take over and take the story in a different direction to what you had originally planned?

I don't know if the characters took the story in a different direction. But I had a small epiphany which completely changed the second half of the book.

3) What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing HURT?

Putting myself in Matheo's situation and experiencing his feelings in order to convey them as accurately as possible. He goes through a lot - and the entire book is written from his perspective. The ending was particularly painful and the sex scenes were a challenge to write from a teenage boy's point of view!

4)What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

A greater understanding of the 'issue' (I can't disclose it without spoiling the book) and more awareness and understanding and empathy for others in general. Also an awareness that people who are rich and successful and good-looking and popular can sometimes be the most lonely and isolated of all. And being extremely talented at something - in Matheo's case a diving prodigy tipped for the gold at the next Olympics - is not neccessarily something to be envied. It usually requires long hours of practice, huge sacrifices in terms of socialising and just relaxing, nerves of steel, pressure from a coach, from fans and even from friends, and the constant fear of failure.  

5) Can you tell us about any of your new or future projects?

I'm not working on anything at the moment. I haven't been well and it's been a difficult year so far. But I would like to write something  set at a university involving a love triangle and psychological mind games - perhaps something along the lines of Donna Tartt's THE SECRET HISTORY

6) What was the best piece of writing advice you were given, back when you were still an aspiring author?

'No writing is ever wasted' by author and mentoor KM Peyton.

7) And finally, just to add in a bit of random - who is your favourite childhood villain?

Cruella Deville! She always cracked me up.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Tiger's Voyage - Book Review


Tigers Voyage – Book Review

Book #3 of the Tiger Saga

Colleen Houck

YA Fantasy

With the head-to-head battle against the villainous Lokesh behind her, Kelsey confronts a new heartbreak: in the wake of his traumatic experience, her beloved Ren no longer remembers who she is. As the trio continue their quest, challenging five cunning and duplicitous dragons, Ren and Kishan once more vie for her affections – leaving Kelsey more confused than ever.


This is fast becoming one of my favorite YA series! Like the first two books of the Tiger Saga, I found Tiger’s Voyage to be just as addictive and brilliant as the others. A really, really great read!

The story kicks off with Kelsey. Once again in the company of Mr Kadam and her two Tiger Princes, they set off on another adventure to break the third part of Durga’s curse. Using both the clues and weapons left to them by the Goddess, they find themselves venturing off the land and into, and under, the ocean.

But despite the sharks, dragons and sea monsters, it is her love life that causes Kelsey the greatest turmoil. With Ren’s memory of her gone, her heart is left shattered, but Kishan is more than willing to pick up the pieces. But can Kelsey forget Ren as easily as he forgot her? Or can she win his heart once again, before Kishan wins hers…?

This book really has me torn. As much as I love the adventure and fantasy elements of this story, it is the romance that has me completely hooked! From the beginning I have loved both Ren and Kishan’s characters and honestly, I want Kelsey to end up with both of them – each for different reasons.

Of course I know she will have to pick one of them, and while I do still lean (only slightly) more towards Ren, I love all the drama and conflict this love triangle has created. Which is a big thing for me to admit, because while I usually detest love triangles, this is probably the best one I've ever read.

Yet there is so much more to the story than just romance. Once again the settings and mythology behind the story continued to capture and hold my interest. Combine all that with a frustrating, head-banger off a cliff ending and Tiger’s Voyage becomes a truly brilliant read. Filled with magical descriptions and vivid imagery, Colleen Houck has created a fantastical story that I simply can’t get enough of! 5 stars!

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Monday, 7 October 2013

The Assassin and the Pirate Lord - Book Review


The Assassin and the Pirate Lord – Book Review

Sarah J Maas

YA Fantasy

(Throne of Glass Novella #0.1)


On a remote Island in the tropical sea, Celaena Sardothien, feared assassin, has come for retribution. She’s been sent by the Assassin’s Guild to collect on a debt they are owed by the Lord of the Pirates. But When Celaena learns that the agreed payment is not in money, but in slaves, her mission suddenly changes – and she will risk everything to right the wrong she’s been sent to bring about…


The first of four prequel novellas, The Assassin and the Pirate Lord is a fast paced, action packed read that throws you into a world of fantasy and mayhem. Introducing you to the deadly assassin, Celaena Sardothien, this book is a great set up for Sarah J Maas’ debut novel, Throne of Glass.

Jumping straight into the story, you are immediately immersed into a world of deadly secrets, treachery and adventure. While admittedly, things are a little confusing at first, you will soon find yourself hooked and will be begging for the next novella in the series!

In this short story we see Celaena paired up with her rival assassin, Sam. Less than pleased with her handsome companion, Celaena seeks a way to end this mission quickly and without Sam’s help. But when they discover that the debt owed to the assassin’s guild is to be paid in slaves and not gold, the two foes find themselves united in their disgust.

Now together, they hatch a plan to free the slaves… and bring down the Pirate Lord once and for all. But their kindness and daring will come at a heavy cost, and as Celaena’s feelings for Sam grow, she realises the consequences of their actions may have a heavier price than she is willing to pay…

I really enjoyed this novella. Not only was it a great intro into Celaena’s world, but it gave us a great first insight into the characters personalities and relationships. From Celaena – with her tough girl attitude but girly need to shop and be pampered, to Sam - with his boyish good looks and heart of gold.

Also the slow blossom of romance between Celaena and Sam was really sweet to read and I’m looking forward to seeing how their feelings will (hopefully) continue to develop in the next few novellas.

So overall a really great read. Fixed with plenty of action from covert missions to drunken, pirate brawls, The Assassin and the Pirate Lord is a must read for any fantasy loving fans. 4 stars!

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