Thursday, 22 January 2015

Rush Jobs Blog Tour: Nick Bryan on Hobson & Choi's Influences

I'm a fan of Nick Bryan's The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf, first in the Hobson & Choi series, and am really looking forward to sequel Rush Jobs, which is high on my TBR pile. I always enjoy talking to Nick at #drinkYA events, so when the brilliant Faye Rogers was able to get me a guest post from him on his blog tour for Rush Jobs, I was really pleased. (And any blog post which starts off by talking about Jennings, one of my all-time favourite series, is BRILLIANT!)

After Nick's fab post, read further to see an extract from book one, details of the other tour posts, AND a fabulous Rafflecopter tour-wide giveaway where you can win signed copies!


My Influences – Stories That Made Hobson & Choi Happen


More than anything else I've written in my life, the Hobson & Choi series is probably the sum of everything I've ingested over my reading existence - all the long, soapy book series, ridiculous OTT satires, dark dramas, never-ending comic books. But what are the specific ones that instilled those urges in me? If you wanted to write a knock-off of H&C, which books should you read to prepare yourself?

1) Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge


One of the first book series I ever truly loved, the naughty-kid tales of boarding school free spirit Jennings and his tightly-wound glasses-wearing sidekick Darbishire kept me amused all through my pre-tween years. Whether sneaking out of school, hiding illicit parcels or sneaking out of school to hide an illicit parcel, there was nothing these two scallywags wouldn't do.

All my young friends seemed to prefer the Just William series, but they were far too mainstream. Jennings was a true tale of a mismatched duo fighting a corrupt system. And thus it began.

2) Redwall by Brian Jacques


Jennings was good for a while, but I eventually found myself yearning for books with more action, scale, drama and small woodland creatures. After being given the first as a present from my aunt, I fell hard for the Redwall series – the tale of an abbey populated entirely by talking mice, with other chatty forest beasts nearby. This soon expanded into a whole world adventure, each book sweeping into new territory. The tone was grim fantastical adventure, the cast and scale were vast - at one point, they accompanied a badger to the sacred mountain of Salamandastron. I loved it.

Also flirted with the Animals of Farthing Wood (not like that), but they were always either too mundane or too depressing. Redwall was where it was at, and I was really sad to hear Brian Jacques passed away in 2011. He completed a stunning 22 Redwall books, of which I read about half.

3) Quantum & Woody by Priest/Bright (and other comics)


Edging in teenhood, I discovered mainstream American comics. I read the Beano before that, which influenced my sense of humour a bit (PUNS!), but ongoing comic books really scratched my itch for big imagery and long-running serialised stories based on entrenched mythology.

I started on Spider-Man, and he'll always be my main superhero. Still, the comic I always come back to, sealing my love of grim-yet-childish humour, dysfunctional duos and out-of-sequence storytelling, was Christopher Priest and Mark Bright's superhero comedy-drama Quantum & Woody.

I'm not saying this is the best or my favourite comic ever, but as an early influence, especially on Hobson & Choi, it's hard to overstate. The series recently relaunched with new creators, but more importantly: the original Priest/Bright run is available on Comixology and in hardback! For a longer dissection of Q&W as an influence, I did a blog post on my own site a while ago.

Other comics that burrowed into my mind over the years: Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis/various artists, Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis/Darick Robertson, Black Panther by Christopher Priest/various, Chew by John Layman/Rob Guillory and both Preacher and Hellblazer by Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon.

4) Discworld by Terry Pratchett (and other Brit-genre-comedy)


I could pretend this wasn't an influence, but why? In terms of mocking the real world via exaggeration, intelligent use of genre conventions and flat-out funny writing at all times, Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is the gold standard. Like most British genre-liking teenagers, I read a lot of this in my teens, and although I've dropped away from it as an adult, it definitely went into the mix.

Also in a similar vein: The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams and the J.W. Wells & Co books by Tom Holt, re-imagining fantasy tropes as part of a huge bureaucracy.

5) American Gods by Gaiman (and other broad-world fantasy)


Nearly everyone seems to have read this, and I'm no different. Probably one of my first expeditions into “adult” urban fantasy, spurred (predictably) by Gaiman's comic-book fame, this book was huge for me simply for its full-throated engagement with the real world and how it connected its rambling exploration of dark underside back to an actual story.

Although American Gods was first, there are plenty of other books I've enjoyed and learnt from in the world-stretching sometimes-urban fantasy vein, including: The Gone-Away World by Nick Hawkaway, the Curse Workers series by Holly Black, The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock, The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie, Feed by Mira Grant and, of course, A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin.

6) A Serpent Uncoiled by Simon Spurrier (and other strange crimes)


A Serpent Uncoiled is a trippy, singular crime novel, focusing on the inner turmoil of lead character Dan Shaper, combined with a confident, intriguing vision of London. Spurrier combines that with a off-kilter, reality-bending, drug-induced haze of style that really makes it memorable.

I read this around the same time as London Falling by Paul Cornell (police and witches!) and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (murder and time travel!), also both odd, genre-flipping takes on the crime novel.

I was also reading the Dexter books by Jeff Lindsay, which have a self-aware, wry tone that stood out, even better for that is the Miriam Black series by Chuck Wendig. Sarah Pinborough's Mayhem also has a uniquely hazy-Victorian style. Going in a slightly different direction (and much younger age category), Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens isn't as dark as the above books, but definitely has a unique take – plus it's just plain charming.


So, if you just read all of these, you'll probably be ready to write your own Hobson & Choi book. At the very least, consider it a list of recommendations. Should keep you busy a while. Lasted me about thirty years, after all.



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Hobson & Choi Series by Nick Bryan

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The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf (Hobson & Choi #1)


"If we get 400 followers, John Hobson will solve that nasty wolf-murder case for free! Fight the thing himself if he has to! #HobsonVsWolf!"

Angelina Choi was only trying to drum up some Twitter followers and make a good impression on her first day interning at John Hobson's one-man detective agency.

But the campaign went viral and now they have a murder to solve, no money coming in, and an unwilling Hobson faced with battling some enormous beast.

With both follower and body counts rising, can they crack the case without offending everyone or being eaten by a huge dog?

The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf is the first case starring Hobson & Choi, a bickering, mismatched detective duo for 21st century London. This book collects the debut storyline of the hit darkly comic crime web serial, extensively rewritten and improved for this definitive edition.


Goodreads. Amazon.




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Rush Jobs (Hobson & Choi #2)


“Sometimes #crime feels like the Matrix. Or the #patriarchy or #porn. It's everywhere, even in people you trusted, and there's so MUCH of it.”

Angelina Choi returns for her second and final week of work experience at John Hobson’s detective agency, ready for anything after their first successful murder solve.

After all that online buzz, they’re in phenomenal demand. Can Hobson & Choi solve a kidnapping, play chicken with corporate crime, beat back gentrification, save a dog from drug dealers and head off violent backlash from their last case?

Or will grim revelations about Hobson’s past leave them floundering in the chaos?

Rush Jobs collects the second major storyline in the Hobson & Choi saga, #1 on Jukepop Serials and #2 in Dark Comedy on Amazon, adding brand new chapters and scenes to the case.


Goodreads. Amazon




About the Author



me-squared

Nick Bryan is a London-based writer of genre fiction, usually with some blackly comic twist. As well as the detective saga Hobson & Choi, he is also working on a novel about the real implications of deals with the devil and has stories in several anthologies.

More details on his other work and news on future Hobson & Choi releases can be found on his blog at NickBryan.com or on Twitter as @NickMB. Both are updated with perfect and reasonable regularity.

Subscribe to his mailing list using the form in the sidebar of NickBryan.com to get news first and an all-new free Hobson & Choi short story immediately!

When not reading or writing books, Nick Bryan enjoys racquet sports, comics and a nice white beer.


Website. Twitter. Mailing List.




Tour Schedule



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Monday 19th January
Rain On A Summer’s Afternoon

Tuesday 20th January
Claire Rousseau

Wednesday 21st January
Music, Books and Tea

Thursday 22nd January
Ya Yeah Yeah

Friday 23rd January
A Daydreamer’s Thoughts

Saturday 24th January
Tales of Yesterday

Sunday 25th January
K-Books

Monday 26th January
Nimbus Space

Tuesday 27th January
The Online Novel

Wednesday 28th January
Nyx Book Reviews

Thursday 29th January
Winged Reviews

Friday 30th January
Kirstyes

Saturday 31st January
The Book Moo

Sunday 1st February
Bookish Outsider

Monday 2nd February
Pewter Wolf




Excerpt




The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf

Not only was there no name stencilled on the window of Hobson’s office door, it didn’t even have a window. Angelina was disappointed — what kind of crappy detective doesn’t have an office name stencil window?

Instead, it was a solid beige fire door. The only thing marking it out from the beige corridor was the change in texture from beige plaster to beige wood. Same old London office in a boring building. Clearly all her effort to dress interesting had been silly. The black floaty layers and purple tights looked ridiculous against all the nothingness.

Too late to change though, she was already five minutes late. She knocked on the hollow, cheap-sounding door, with the firmness of an adult, rather than a nervous sixteen-year-old. Or so she hoped.

“Yeah, come in,” said the hoarse yell from inside.

Angelina pushed the door open. Considering how long she’d spent staring at the tedious thing, it floated away easily.

The office behind was more interesting than the corridor, thankfully. Bright blue, two desks, a few filing cabinets. But no discarded whiskey bottles, nor a mattress round back where the detective slept.

“Good morning, Choi,” said a deep voice. The huge man behind the larger desk leapt up, revealing a pressed black suit and straight tie. Buttoned down to a fault, this guy could be a real veteran police detective, right up to the grey peppering his short dark hair.

And why was he calling her by surname?

“Good to meet you. I’m John Hobson, just Hobson is fine though.” And, when she didn’t immediately reply: “How are you? Good trip over?”

“Um, thanks, I’m fine, you too.” She forgot to punctuate any of that, blushing as soon as it finished.

“Good. Good. Well, welcome to our new work experience internship programme. I hope I’ll be able to show you something about the business in two weeks. As you can see, I’ve cleared a desk for you here.” He gestured at the smaller one in the room, with a wedge of papers recently shoved to one end.

“Looks nice,” she glanced down and nodded. “Lots of room.”

Another silence.

“So,” he was already standing up and hooking his jacket off the back of the chair, “I have to get moving for a lunch meeting, but I do have a job for you to get on with.”

Her ears pricked up, but expectations remained measured. She’d be filing all those papers away, wouldn’t she? Or running out to buy milk?

“I’ve noticed this social Twitter internet media thing seems to be taking off,” he said, gesturing widely at the computer on her desk, as if that explained everything, “could you create an account for me and get me some of those... followers?”

Angelina blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“Well, you know. I’ve just repainted my office, I want to be modern, and your lot seem to be familiar with this kind of thing.”

“My lot? What do you mean my lot?”

“No no no no no,” Hobson spun round, nearly whirling her across the room, “not Asians. Teenage girls.”

“Oh. Right.” Depressingly, she was relieved he’d even noticed she was Asian. “Well, sure. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks, Choi.” He shrugged his massive coat on, composure back in place. “Just a couple of hundred should do. Cheers, running late, back in an hour.”

With that, he waved and dashed out the door. And then popped his head back round. “Oh, could you also go to the shops and get some coffee? Ain’t much left.”

Angelina nodded, and kept her sigh inside until he’d definitely gone. This office was the size of a rich person’s cupboard.

*****


Picking up the coffee took a few minutes. The hardest part was checking out his machine and working out what type to buy. Now she was an intern, Angelina knew she had to do these menial tasks, so swallowed her pride and went to Tesco.

Not long after, guzzling a pack of dirt-cheap cardboard crisps, she plonked herself down in front of her computer. She had a job to do, so resisted the urge to head straight for Facebook and complain about her negligent boss.

Instead she went on Twitter and got to work. She typed, she schmoozed, she strived, she read blog posts about Social Media Success, many of which made her angry. Finally, several tweets and retweets later, something clicked.

Shortly later, so did the door to their office, as Hobson returned. His lunch meeting ended at a reasonable time and left him completely sober; again, both reassuring and disappointing. When did she get to sniff corpses and snort whiskey, delve deep into the underworld?

Instead, she had a presentable, clean shaven, punctual detective without a visible drinking problem. Should’ve been more specific on the form.

“So Choi,” Hobson said, his jacket flopping back over the chair, “am I... trending yet?”

He pronounced trending like it was the name of an alien planet.

“Um, sort of,” she said.

“Sort of?”

“Well, you’ve got 353 followers...” Angelina broke off mid-stream as a rectangular email notification popped up. “Well, 354 now. But I had to say some stuff to get them.”

Hobson fiddled with his own computer, not paying much attention. “Yeah? What kind of stuff?”

“I tried just creating an account and following people, engaging with other detectives, but it wasn’t working much,” she could hear herself talking faster in response to his blank stares, “so I found an interesting murder case and said that if you got enough followers, you’d totally solve it for free.”

And it sounded like a better idea at the time, she added silently, rolling her chair away from Hobson as his face turned red and he stood up, tie flapping wild. It was hard not to be scared when a man bigger than the room he was sitting in started yelling at you.

“You did what?” At least he’d noticed her. “Do you have you any idea how shitty that is? What if the press find out? What if the victim’s family find out? How do you know I even can solve it? How am I meant to pay my rent?”

“I don’t know, I’m sorry, I wanted to get it right and I just...” Angelina inhaled deep and snorted by accident. “I may have said something else too.”

“Oh God.”

“Yeah. If we get up to 400 followers, you have to fight a wolf.”

The email indicator leapt up again. Only forty-five to go.





There is a tour-wide giveaway throughout the tour as well.

The Prizes
One Signed Paperback Set of the Hobson & Choi Series
Three E-Book Sets of the Hobson & Choi Series

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Top Ten Recommendations for the 2015 Classics Challenge



Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

I'm taking part in this year's Classics Challenge, which my friend Stacey runs over at her brilliant blog The Pretty Books. With this in mind, I thought I'd use the 'freebie' week of Top Ten Tuesday to recommend ten of my own favourite classic books and series.

(Classics can be defined however you want them to be for the purposes of the challenge; I've gone for books which are more than 50 years or so old.)

Also, for more recommendations, I've had some fab Classic Children's YA posts recently - check out Jon Mayhew on Jules Verne, Alex Bell and Lou Morgan on  Frank Richards and Philippa Pearce, and Sarah Sky's top 10.


Children's Classics

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander


While Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising is one I still hear people talking about a lot, Alexander’s Prydain series is less commonly discussed. Like Cooper’s books, this is heavily influenced by Welsh mythology, but it’s set in a different world to our own – the titular Prydain. For me, it’s the greatest children’s fantasy series ever written – it follows the fortunes of hero Taran, who starts off as an assistant pig-keeper with dreams of being a hero, but matures wonderfully over the course of the five books as he’s plunged into a series of adventures to try and stop the Death-Lord Arawn. I love the complex characters, with so many strengths, weaknesses, and failings, while the last book is incredibly emotional.



Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Brought back to Matthew Cuthbert’s Avonlea farmhouse to live with him and his sister Marilla, who were expecting a boy to help them run the farm, red-headed Anne is expecting to be sent straight back to the orphanage but quickly wins over the siblings. This book, first in a series, follows her through her coming of age years.


I finally read this last year after Stacey’s fab guest post persuaded me to and fell utterly in love with it – it’s a brilliant read with a fantastic heroine and so many quotable lines!


Five Children and It by E Nesbit

On holiday, five siblings find a gravel-pit in which there lives a strange creature called the Psammead. Grumpy and vain, the creature doesn’t take too kindly to being disturbed, but has a remarkable power to grant wishes. Through numerous adventures, the children come to learn the truth of the saying “Be careful what you wish for.”


I’ve just reread for the first time in 15-20 years, after adoring the Costa-winning Five Children On The Western Front by Kate Saunders, and really enjoyed it. It’s my favourite Nesbit – although I also love The Story of the Treasure Seekers and The Railway Children, amongst others – and it feels fresh and funny, even now.


Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken

Starting with the Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and continuing for another 11 books, this is a stunning series set in an alternate version of 1830s England ruled by James III. I've actually only read about half of them, somehow, but Black Hearts in Battersea, Nightbirds on Nantucket, and The Stolen Lake, in particular, are three of my favourites of all-time, and the heroine of these, and others, Dido Twite is probably the only serious rival to Kat Stephenson when it comes to talking about my favourite ever main characters in series. Aiken's plots are glorious - Dickensian tales of villainy and dark plots, with added legends - but it's Dido, a young tomboy who quickly won my heart as a child, and the various people she comes up against, all truly horrible in their evil ways, which make this a really outstanding sequence.



Autumn Term by Antonia Forrest

This school story is the only book currently in print of Forrest's Marlows sequence (which puts it one ahead of my other favourite Girls Own books, the Drina series by Jean Estoril, Elinor M Brent-Dyer's Chalet School books, and Elsie J Oxenham's Abbey Girls!) I read it fairly recently and was worried it wouldn't live up to my high expectations but it's a glorious read. Central characters Nicola and Lawrie are likeable, but flawed, heroines, while there's more characterisation for some others - especially 'bad girl' Lois Sanger - than I would have expected. I would LOVE someone to reprint the rest of the series, if anyone in a position to do so is reading this!



Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge


Another set of school stories, the adventures of the reckless title character and his timid friend Darbishire at Linbury Court, where they constantly try the patience of masters Mr Carter and Old Wilkie - the latter of whom doesn't have much patience at the best of times - are childhood favourites from when my dad used to read them to me. Still wonderfully funny after all these years! (And an inspiration to an author who'll be guest posting on here on Thursday...)


Adult classics

How Green Was My Valley - Richard Llewellyn


This 1939 novel about a Welsh coal mining community in the time of Queen Victoria is an outstanding read - a brilliant story of love, family, and the valleys, wonderfully written with lyrical language.
   
 

Three Men In A Boat – Jerome K Jerome

Narrator J, his friends George and Harris, and dog Montmorency take an entertaining trip along the Thames. This was originally meant to be a serious travel guide, but Jerome’s witty asides and the humorous elements kept taking over the book. It’s one of the funniest I’ve ever read, and is possibly my most reread book ever – it’s definitely up there with Gatsby in double figures. A huge amount of laughs, which doesn’t seem to have dated at all in the 125 years or so since it was first published.


Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons


Orphaned at 19, Flora Poste – a London sophisticate – is led to retreat to deepest Sussex to live off her relatives the Starkadders at the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, a mournful bunch who take her in as they couldn't refuse anything of Robert Poste's child, but seem less than happy with having to do so. As she meets the preacher Amos, his over-sexed younger son Seth, his flighty sister Elphine, and the hugely memorable – if barely seen – Aunt Ada Doom, the first person in literature to see something nasty in the woodshed – she resolves to take the family in hand and solve their problems.


I ignored this for years because I wasn’t sure if I’d like the novel from the plot summaries I’d seen, but if I’d realised how incredibly funny it was I’d have got to it a couple of decades sooner, I’m sure! Gibbons brilliantly parodies authors like Mary Webb and DH Lawrence – although you don’t need to be too familiar with them to enjoy the fantastic humour here; her deliberately impenetrable language and wonderfully memorable characters make this a superb read.


The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

 
Narrator Nick Carraway takes a job in New York selling bonds, and moves to live in a small house on Long Island. He meets his next door neighbour, the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby, and befriends him, becoming embroiled in Gatsby’s romantic feelings for Nick’s cousin Daisy. This brings the Roaring Twenties wonderfully to life and is stunningly lyrical, while the tragic plot – a story of the American Dream gone wrong – is perfect.


It also has probably my two favourite sentences in the history of literature, the closing one and this one below, which sends shivers down my spine just reading it as it brings back so many memories of the novel.


“No — Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Double Review: Stella and Siena by Helen Eve

I'm a big fan of Helen Eve's two books so far, so thought it was about time I shared my reviews (both previously published on The Bookbag) on this blog! Thanks to the kind people at Pan Macmillan for both of these.

(Please note: Stella was the first book published; Siena is a prequel. For maximum effect I would STRONGLY advise reading them in publication order!)


Stella

What do you get when you mix up Cecily Von Ziegesar's delightfully trashy Gossip Girl series with Dickens's classic Great Expectations, and throw in a splash of Animal Farm by George Orwell? A really readable YA contemporary story which has surprising depth and has been one I've been thinking about a lot since originally reading it towards the start of the year. I read Stella for the first time after getting it out of the library, and at the time I was extremely impressed by the voices of lead characters Stella and Caitlin, but had issues with it. On rereading, to prepare myself for upcoming prequel Siena, I think it's one of the relatively few books I've read recently which works even better second time around, although those issues haven't vanished completely.

The best part of the book is definitely the two narrators, who have excellent voices, their changing friendship, and the character development throughout the book. Stella starts the book as a consciously vain mean girl who is convinced she's better than anyone else around here. It's not even that she changes that much over the course of the book, but we see through her memories just what's shaped her into the character she's become, and it's a fascinating, if deeply disquieting, journey. Caitlin tells us in her first chapter that she should have beaten Stella to become Head Girl of Temperley High, but that the night instead ended with her picking jagged glass splinters out of her face. Nearly immediately, we're taken back to Caitlin's first day at Temperley as she enters the school an unknown, who's in awe of Stella and her clique the Stars. How did this quiet girl end up challenging the popular one? The rise (or fall, depending how you look on it, I think) of Caitlin is a stunning journey and I found it scarily believable.

My issues with the book are mainly that there are other parts which are less believable. The cliques, the Stars, and the way that the entire school are so obsessed with them doesn't quite ring true, and while it didn't feel as obviously over the top on the second reading as I'd thought it was originally, it's still jarring. (I should point out this feels like a deliberate choice for story effect, rather than poor writing, but I can see it not going down too well with people who weren't expecting it.) In addition, the ending is powerful but not completely convincing. My other issue with it is that so much of the story's strength is tied into the links to Great Expectations that I'm not 100% sure you'd get the full effect if you weren't aware of the story of the original. (I haven't actually read it, but I've at least seen several adaptations.)

Overall though, this is a strong debut, and has proven to be significantly more memorable than the vast majority of books I've read this year. I'm really excited about starting the prequel soon to find out exactly what happened to Stella's sister Siena!


Siena

Siena Hamilton rules over Temperley High, along with her clique the Starlets. Nothing can stand in her way – not even the return of ex-Starlet and her former best friend Romy, who spent a term in France after a shocking incident one night led to the headmistress deciding the girl needed to spend some time away from their school. If you've read Stella, you know roughly what happens here, but you don't necessarily know why. If you haven’t read it, I'd definitely suggest going for that one first. (There may be spoilers here, although I've tried to avoid anything too specific.)

I said when reviewing Stella that there were things about the school in the book - the cliques, the Stars, and the way that everyone else was so obsessed with them - that didn't ring true, but that this felt like a deliberate stylistic choice by the author. In this prequel, set five years before Stella, things are taken even further. For those who haven't read that book, it focused heavily on Stella's campaign to take her rightful place as Head Girl of Temperley High, with a level of staggering obsessiveness with the position that was like nothing I'd ever seen in a supposedly realistic YA novel. This shows us how the Head Girl position came to be so coveted, and there are intriguing reasons behind it. That's not to suggest it makes the campaign any more believable in retrospect - but it's so gloriously over the top that it's an intriguing look at what student politics could develop into if left completely unchecked. It's even less realistic than Stella was, and yet it somehow manages to also work as a tragedy.

In fact, I think it’s the knowing shallowness of much of the book which means that when things develop later on, it’s a change of tone which has a staggering impact. We know from both the other book and the first two pages of this one that Siena dies here, and yet the actual climactic scene is one of great power, making it a more emotional book than Stella was. While Stella was Gossip Girl meets Great Expectations, this starts with an extract from The Lady of Shallott, and you could suggest that like that titular lady, Siena is cursed – but it’s also an echo of the previous book and the central question of whether destiny can be changed, or if with a family like Siena’s and Stella’s, they were doomed from the start. Despite there being so many similarities with Stella’s story, it’s not one that feels repetitive; it’s compelling reading as we see just how Stella grew into the person she was in the book named after her, and what Siena’s influence on her was.

I found Siena to be just as strong, and fascinating, a character as her sister was in Stella - and it was interesting to see how her actions set Stella up to follow in her footsteps five years later. Romy, for me, was a nicer character than Caitlin was in the other book, easier to warm to but not as interesting. The two main villains here are pantomime-style baddies, but that fits in with the overall tone, making it hard to criticise this characterisation. Overall, it's definitely a better book than Helen Eve's debut was, and the pair of them, and the pair of them are well worth reading. Will Eve next give us the story of the third Hamilton sister, Syrena? Part of me thinks that it would be going to the well once too often; part of me has a feeling that if anyone could do it, Helen Eve could.

I will be extremely intrigued to see what Helen Eve writes next, whether it’s Syrena's story or something completely different. Fans of complex stories where there’s much more going on than meets the eye should definitely read both of these.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Trailer: The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone



Unless you've been hiding under a rock when it comes to all things MG-related for a few months, you've probably seen the excitement building for upcoming fantasy debut The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone. I was lucky enough to be one of the first bloggers to read it (and, with my usual organisational skills, am probably going to end up being one of the last to review it - but Book Zone and The Bookbag have both done a better job than I will of capturing what makes this book so fantastic, anyway, so check them out!)

It's a brilliant adventure story with a wonderfully memorable heroine in Moll, and a fantastic companion, wildcat Gryff - so I am THRILLED to be able to show you them both in this awesome trailer!

For more details about The Dreamsnatcher, see below the video.


Title: THE DREAMSNATCHER
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy / Adventure
Publishers: Simon & Schuster
Release date: February 26th, 2015
Blurb:
Twelve-year-old Molly Pecksniff wakes one night in the middle of the forest, lured there by a recurring nightmare - the one with the drums and the rattles and the masks. The Dreamsnatcher is waiting. He has already taken her dreams and now he wants her life. Because Moll is more important than she knows...The Oracle Bones foretold that she and Gryff, a wildcat that has always been by her side, are the only ones who can fight back against the Dreamsnatcher's dark magic. Suddenly everything is at stake, and Moll is drawn into a world full of secrets, magic and adventure. Perfect for fans of J.K. Rowling, Michelle Harrison and Eva Ibbotson.

Author Bio:
Abi Elphinstone grew up in Scotland where she spent most of her childhood building dens, hiding in tree houses and running wild across highland glens. After being coaxed out of her tree house, she studied English at Bristol University and then worked as a teacher in Africa, Berkshire and London. THE DREAMSNATCHER is her debut novel and when she's not writing about Moll and Gryff, she runs her children's books blog www.moontrug.com.



Thursday, 15 January 2015

Classic Children's/YA: Jon Mayhew on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

I've discovered lots of brilliant authors in the 5 years or so since I started book reviewing - one of my very favourites is Jon Mayhew, whose Mortlock trilogy was superb and whose current Monster  Odyssey series - based on the early life of Jules Verne's Captain Nemo - is one I turn to whenever I want a really exciting MG read (often!)

Third in the series, Curse of the Ice Serpent, is out TODAY, and if I was really organised, I'd link to my review. Obviously, I'm not really organised, and haven't actually written a review yet, but basically, if you want Arctic adventures, marvelous monsters, vicious villains and a stirring tale of action, friendship and a brilliant lead in Dakkar (Nemo), you'll love this!

I'm delighted to welcome Jon to the blog today to take part in my Classic Children's/YA feature, talking about Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, to celebrate release day!



It is interesting that I’m writing about Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea for a Classic Children’s/YA blog because it was only really in Britain that Verne’s work was considered to be for children. To the literary and publishing minds of nineteenth century Britain, his work was much too fanciful for anyone but children. In other parts of the world, Verne’s speculative fiction was considered worthy of adult attention but not here. It seems the debate about what adults ‘should and should not’ read has been raging for a long time!

Part of me wonders what kind of critical reception Verne would receive were he publishing today. Would he write YA? I like to think so. Certainly, Captain Nemo is a dark and tortured soul wrestling with his turbulent emotions and trying to come to terms with great tragedy. In one moment he wants to turn his back on his fellow men and in the next, he is wreaking havoc amongst them. He is idealistic and antagonistic towards the notion of Empire, supporting Greek revolutionaries and saving a humble pearl diver. Nemo could so easily be an angst-ridden teen hero.

Verne was very keen to get the Science in his books right and he consulted with the foremost minds of the day. The fact that they weren’t always correct in their theories only adds to his work’s sense of fantasy. If only there were prehistoric creatures roaming around underground worlds.

And then, of course there is the out-and-out adventure: giant squid (not just one but a whole army of them), Polar exploration, battles with warships a giant whirlpool.

I can remember a copy of Twenty thousand Leagues Under the Sea lurking around our house when I was a child and, inspired by the film on TV, I set about trying to read it. I confess, it was a difficult task. Verne does include a lot of Scientific speculation in his work and I skimmed through professor Arronax’s discussion with his servant Conseil about the various molluscs that inhabited the region they sailed through.

But it is the character of Nemo that draws the reader into the book and it was Nemo’s youth that I wanted to write about in the Monster Odyssey series.

So, yes, there are monsters in the books, giant serpents, enormous turtles, eels but there is intrigue and betrayal, everything that would start a young Captain Nemo on a pathway to destruction. To a day when he would look in the mirror and ask, “Am I a monster?”



Thanks for a great post, Jon!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Meant To Read In 2014 But Didn't

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Today's 'Books I Didn't Get Around To Reading in 2014' is a really timely topic - over at Bookish Peeps, we recently announced the Bookish Peeps Book of 2014 vote, where we're asking forum members to vote for their favourite books released in the UK. I'd love it if people joined in the conversation there!  



1. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel – I rarely enjoy dystopian or post-apocalyptic books that much, but there’ve been a few exceptions in the last year – notably Kim Curran’s excellent near-future dystopian Glaze and Allan Boroughs’ superb post-apocalyptic MG series, Ironheart and Bloodstone. Station Eleven is a near-future literary novel set twenty years after a pandemic wipes out 99% of the world’s population. It follows the Traveling Symphony, who roam around performing Shakespeare to small settlements which has sprung up in the aftermath of this tragedy. It’s definitely not my usual sort of read but I bought it because there’ve been too many amazing reviews to resist it, and because Chloe in Dulwich loved it so much that her enthusiasm was infectious.

2. Ms Marvel v1: No Normal by G Willow Wilson and Jacob Wyatt - I don't buy many single issues of comics, generally waiting for the trade, but grabbed issue one when it first came out because of the number of people on Twitter I follow who were really excited about it. I somehow then completely lost track of it, despite having enjoyed the first issue a lot, until Daphne reminded me about it and lent it to me.

3. Red Rising by Pierce Brown - I love Daphne's "Camp Half-Blood meets Battle Royale" comparison here; this sounds awesome! (Can you see a pattern in these recommendations?) Again, Chloe was also really talking this up.

4. Take Me On by Katie McGarry - I am such a huge Katie McGarry fan that I have no idea how I haven't got round to this yet, it looks amazing!

5. The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski - I borrowed this from Daphne ages ago and shamefully still haven't got around to reading it despite her repeatedly telling me how brilliant it was. Given her recommendation of A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab was PERFECT, I should really get on this.

6. The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley - Note to authors trying to sell their books on Twitter; the best way to do it is to stop trying to sell your books on Twitter. I took a look at the Mirror Empire because Kameron Hurley's tweets are engaging and interesting, which led me to check out her book. Numerous glowing reviews then swung me towards buying it.

7. Now You See Me by Emma Haughton - I picked this up on Kindle after seeing it described as 'gripping' by Debbie, who probably has closer tastes to me than any other blogger I know. I quite often forget to actually read stuff on Kindle, though, so I was really pleased to get a paperback in my goody bag at last night's #DrinkYA.

8. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan - Jen at Tales on Moon Lane did an amazing job of selling this to Erica a few months ago when I bumped into her there, but Zoe at The Bookbag also loved it.

9. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira - This has been urged onto me by lots of people, particularly Faye from A Daydreamer's Thoughts. It sounds incredible but also sounds really intense, so I'm waiting to be in the right frame of mind before reading.

10. Running Girl by Simon Mason - This thriller about an underperforming genius schoolboy trying to solve the mystery of his ex-girlfriend's death sounds excellent, getting a really positive review from Jill over at The Bookbag. That was enough to make me buy it just after release date - I just haven't got around to reading it yet.

Any there that you'd particularly recommend I get to before making my final list?


Monday, 12 January 2015

YA Yeah Yeah Year-Ends 2014 - The Winners!

I'm really pleased to finally bring you the results of the YA Yeah Yeah Year-End Awards, giving you my personal favourites in a host of categories! For the first four, there were no shortlists as I hadn't read enough in that category to feel justified making one, but I wanted to spotlight a brilliant short story and three superb books. For others, click on the category name to be taken to the shortlist post, with my thoughts on each of the selections.

Best Short Story:

Hunting Monsters by SL Huang (Read it over at The Book Smugglers!)



Best YA Historical:




Best YA Non-Fiction:

This Book Is Gay by James Dawson


Best Adult Non-Fiction:

Harry's Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith



Best Bookshop:

Highly commended:

The Big Green Bookshop

And the winner is...


Tales on Moon Lane (photo credit - www.talesonmoonlane.co.uk )

Best Cast:

Highly commended:


Department 19: Zero Hour by Will Hill and Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

And the winner is...

Trouble by Non Pratt


Best Pairing:

Highly commended:


Apple and her mum (Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan) and Stella and Caitlin (Stella by Helen Eve)

And the winner is...



Fin and Marrill (The Map To Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis)

Best Supporting Character:

Highly commended:


Little Pea (I Predict A Riot by Catherine Bruton) and Mark (Bone Jack by Sara Crowe)


And the winner is...

Sturmhond (Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo)


Best Main Character:

Highly commended


Pearl (Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss) and Jake (Fifteen Bones by RJ Morgan)

And the winner is...


Kat Stephenson (Courting Magic by Stephanie Burgis)


Best artwork:

Highly commended:


The Sleeper And The Spindle (written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell)


And the winner is...


The Imaginary (Written by AF Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett)

Best Self-Published:

Highly commended:



Zero Sum Game by S L Huang



And the winner is...






Dirty London by Kelley York


Best Adult Novel

Highly Commended:


We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

And the winner is...



The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson


Best YA Speculative:

Highly commended:


Department 19: Zero Hour by Will Hill

And the winner is...


Bone Jack by Sara Crowe


Best YA Contemporary:

Highly commended:


Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison and Trouble by Non Pratt


And the winner is...


Far From You by Tess Sharpe


Best MG:

Highly commended:

Girl With A White Dog by Anne Booth, Pea's Book of Holidays by Susie Day and Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton

And the winner is...


Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders


Best 2015 Release I've already read

Highly commended


Bloodstone by Allan Boroughs


And the winners are..

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson AND The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell.
(Did anyone seriously think I'd be able to split these?!)



And finally - no surprise to anyone who's heard me talking about it this year! - the Best Book released in 2014 overall was...

Bone Jack by Sara Crowe

Thank you for reading! It would be awesome if you'd like to leave me a comment and let me know what you think of the awards.