Thursday, 27 November 2014

Opening Chapter Reveal: The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

I'm still pinching myself that I have this post... I may have mentioned, on the blog once, and on Twitter a few hundred times, that I'm rather a fan of Lisa Williamson's stunning debut The Art Of Being Normal. I was approached last week to ask if I'd like to host the reveal of the opening chapter.

(I was going to do something to add suspense here, but a) the post title gives it away and b) did you SERIOUSLY think I'd say no to this?!)

So, without any further ado, take your pick as to whether you want to read it yourself, or watch Lisa reading it to you!


You can follow Lisa on Twitter and find out more about The Art Of Being Normal at David Fickling Books, but you should also take the time to read her fabulous guest posts from earlier this week on Wondrous Reads and The Overflowing Library!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Classic Children's/YA: Angie Sage on Titus Groan

Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast is one of those series I've been meaning to read for ages and never quite got round to! I'm delighted to welcome Pathfinder author Angie Sage to the blog today to talk about the first book, Titus Groan.

I read the first book from Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast world when I was nineteen. I still have my copies of all three books: Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone and I notice they cost fifty-five pence or eleven shillings. It was 1971, still in old money to decimal changeover. I love these echoes of the past...

I had just finished the Lord of the Rings series and was looking for something to fill that empty feeling you get when you leave a book-world that has become almost real. My father told me about Mervyn Peake—he was a big fan of his writing—so I went to Foyles in Charing Cross Road and blew fifty-five pence on Titus Groan. And then, like the anti-hero Steerpike, I climbed into the Castle of Gormenghast and never quite found my way out again.

It was the poetry of Mervyn Peake’s language that first drew me in, and the physical presence of the castle of Gormenghast itself kept me there. The castle was so very strange and yet it also felt familiar. It seemed to be a combination of all the dreams of places I had ever had, and I recognised it at once. There were so many amazing images: the four acre stone sky-field on the roof, ‘where clouds moved through it invisibly’, the white horse and its foal swimming in a distant water-filled tower, the enormous tree that grew from the wall where two old ladies took their tea, and the sheer massive, decrepitude of the place. It was truly somewhere to become lost in. Which I did.

The book was inhabited by a variety of strange, intricately described characters, all of whom were living lives prescribed by the rituals of the castle. I think my only reservation about Titus Groan would be that I never found a character to identify with. They were oddly removed, as though the castle itself had taken too much of them. But this is only something I realise now. At the time it didn’t worry me, I was lost in Gormenghast, wandering through the lives of those who lived there, allowed to observe. And I never did find anywhere quite as rich to visit again.

I forgot about Titus and his strange castle for years, or I thought I did. But it lodged in the back of my mind and became, without me realising it at the time, a kind of template for Septimus Heap. And because of this I have never quite dared re-read it, until now. So when I picked up Titus Groan once more in order to write about why I had loved it so much, I did so with with a certain trepidation. It was not just the fear of finding that an old love no longer burns as brightly as it once did, but also because I was a little afraid of how much of Gormenghast had found its way into Septimus Heap.

I was relieved to find no more than echoes. But echoes there are…

There is of course, the dominant presence of a castle. There is Fuchsia, who looks a little like one of my main protagonists: Jenna Heap. Like Fuchsia, Jenna is the daughter of the Castle. But they are such different characters that I suspect they would not get on at all. And there is Titus himself: like Septimus, born at the beginning of the book. Titus will be the 77th Earl of Groan. And Septimus? He will become the 777th ExtraOrdinary Wizard. Hmm …

But that’s it, as far as I can tell. There was no Marcia Overstrand lurking in the Castle of Gormenghast, for which I was thankful. And I suspect they were too.

When I finished reading Titus Groan just now, I realised that it was like meeting a very old friend. There are happy familiarities that you slip back into, but life has moved on, and there were things in Titus Groan that I looked for and did not find. But I got to wander through the Castle of Gormenghast once more and it was magnificent. As ever.

Thanks for a fab post, Angie! You can check out Angie's website and follow her on Twitter.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Author Interview with Molli Moran

One of my favourite NA reads for ages has been One Song Away, Molli Moran's engaging story of a country singer moving back home to her small town after struggling in Nashville, and asking her childhood best friend to pretend to be her boyfriend to stop her mother from trying to set her up with anyone else. It's a fun read with a great setting and a brilliant pair of main characters - I was thrilled to get the chance to ask Molli some questions about it.

1. When you close your eyes and picture your readers, what do you see?

What a wonderful question. I see people who love to read, people ranging in age from late teen years to adults. Since I write stories set mainly in the US South, I hope some of my readers are Southerners themselves, but mostly, I see people who love sweet stories with messages about friendship, self-love, and finding who you are. 

2. I loved the incredible chemistry between Sophie-Claire and Jake! Who's your favourite romantic fictional couple?

Thank you! I could never limit to just one, but a few of my favorite fictional pairings are: Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, Daemon Sadi and Jaenelle from Anne Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy, Rose and Dimitri from Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series, and of course, Ron and Hermione from the Harry Potter series. (I could talk pairings for days, so I tried to limit myself here. Heh.) 

3. Despite this chemistry, it's one of the less explicit NA novels I've read, making a refreshing change. NA is still a relatively new age category and I still see people who don't really get the idea. If asked to describe NA in a sentence (or paragraph), what would you say?

Again, thank you! I agree that NA is such a new category, and it's still in flux. New Adult to me are books that should capture the sense of knowing you're an adult, but not yet being totally sure of what that means. New Adults are working their first jobs or careers, maybe they're in college, maybe not - but their lives are constantly changing. They're having new experiences, and while sometimes that can be dating or even a serious romance, it's also so much more. I want to see New Adult books about characters discovering their sexuality (all kinds, please), or new hobbies, working, really having the time of their lives discovering who they are. Let's include romance and sex, but let's not limit New Adult books *to* sex. 

4. As a huge fan of country who grew up listening to Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, I'm desperate to know what, if anything, you listened to while writing the book! Can you share a few songs that got you in the mood?

I can! I'll be sharing the full playlist during my blog tour in December, but I can give a sneak peek now. A few of the most often-played songs on my One Song Away playlist are: "A Little Bit Stronger" by Sara Evans, "American Honey" by Lady Antebellum, "Don't Forget to Remember Me" by Carrie Underwood, and "F**kin Perfect" by Pink

5. Which six country artists would you most like to see live? (Feel free to imagine a time machine is involved to travel back to people's primes!)

Oh wow, so many. I'd love to see Chris Young live, because his albums have inspired me SO much in the last few years, made me laugh and cry. I'd love to have been around to see Patsy Cline in concert, and I'd love to see Reba before she retires, because she was the first country artist I ever listened to. I grew up from then on listening to her albums, and loved her show Reba. I've seen my idols, Rascal Flatts, three times, and I've also seen Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum, the Eli Young Band, Darius Rucker, and Thompson Square, but there are so many I still want to see, like Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Cassadee Pope, and Luke Bryan.

6. Speaking of time travel, I know you're a huge fan of Doctor Who. Favourite Doctor, and why?

I am! Doctor Who is really my favorite show. I saw it for the first time in 2006 and just fell in love. So far, my favorite Doctor is David Tennant's Tenth Doctor. "Why" is probably an essay length response, so I'll keep it short. He is my hero. He embodies all the qualities of the Doctor that I love (wonder at all life forms, bravery, belief in humans above all else) but he was a little more healed and a bit more human than the Ninth Doctor. We went on so many adventures, we got to see Ten fall in love, and it was all so brilliant. 

7. And like myself, you're a big supporter of the wonderful #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. What three diverse books would you love to see in every classroom or school library?

I strongly believe in #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I would LOVE to see Tess Sharpe's FAR FROM YOU, Nina LaCour's EVERYTHING LEADS TO YOU, and Jodi Lyn Anderson's TIGER LILY in all libraries, for starters. I think the next few years are going to hold so many wonderfully diverse books. 

8. Also like myself, you're a fan of Gilmore Girls. Which of Rory's love interests do you think was most suited to her? 

You so know how to ask the hard questions. LOL. I loved Dean, because he was Rory's first love, but like a lot of first loves, Rory had to move on because she'd matured. Ultimately I'm a Jess/Rory girl. Jess challenged and pushed Rory, and made her unafraid to push back in a good way. They really connected on a deep level, and dare I say, they made each other better by loving one another. 

9. What's next for Molli Moran?

I'm working on a novella now for my Walker Boys series called AS WE FALL TOGETHER, and also about to start the first companion book in that series, AS YOU BREATHE AGAIN. Then next year, I'll be working on a companion to ONE SONG AWAY, from the POV of Sloane Delgado, one of the supporting characters in ONE SONG AWAY. 

Thanks so much for talking to me, Molli! 

You can check out Molli's website and catch her on Twitter.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Classic Children's/YA: Ryan Graudin on Redwall by Brian Jacques Plus The Walled City Giveaway

Growing up, I was a huge fan of Brian Jacques's Redwall series, so I'm extremely excited to welcome The Walled City author Ryan Graudin to the blog today to talk about why she loves the books, and to share a couple of fantastic photos! I'm also delighted to be able to host a UK and Ireland giveaway for a copy of The Walled City - many thanks to Nina at Indigo for arranging the post and prize.

I was an avid reader as a child, but there were few series that captivated my imagination like Brian Jacques’s Redwall. This children’s fantasy series featured anthropomorphic woodland creatures who frequently went on quests and had to defend their red sandstone abbey (Redwall) from the “vermin” hordes that occasionally attacked. Mice, squirrels, hare, badgers, moles, voles, hedgehogs, otters and shrews general composed the cast of heroes, while the villains were usually rats, foxes, weasels, ferrets, stoats and wildcats.

There were twenty-two books in the series, published from 1986 up until 2011. The first book in the series (aptly titled Redwall) introduces readers to the abbey, where a young mouse named Matthias has to go on a quest within the Abbey’s walls to find the lost sword of Martin the Warrior, to defend Redwall from Cluny the Scourge and his evil army of rats. The Redwall books are memorable for their songs, feasts, riddles and battles.

As a child, I read this series fervently. I saved my allowance for weeks to buy the books, wrote fan-fiction based on the novels and interwove the saga’s plots into my outdoor playtimes. I would trap through the woods pretending to be a hare from Salamandastron, or an otter from the Island of Lutra. I even became part of an online fan club and a Redwall message board. I sent Brian Jacques semi-regular fan mail, with drawings of his character Martin the Warrior, and once he even responded to say he loved my drawing! (I can feel the giddy twelve-year-old fangirl rising up in me as I write this).

When I was thirteen, I got the chance to meet Brian Jacques. His 2000 “millennium tour” of the US brought him to my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. It was my first experience meeting a real author, and I was aptly starstruck as I listened to him read aloud from Marlfox. I remember being so flustered when he picked me out of the crowd during the Q&A session. We were only allowed to get him to sign a single book, so I chose my favorite (Pearls of Lutra).

The series is aimed largely at middle grade ages, though it could (and should) be read aloud in entertaining voices to younger ones. I cannot wait to, one day, share the series with my own children. 

Many thanks for a fab post, Ryan! Keep reading to find out more about Ryan, The Walled City, and - if you're in the UK or Ireland - enter to win a copy of The Walled City! Also, there have been lots of other fabulous posts on the blog tour - take a look at the banner over to the right for a list; don't forget to check one of my favourite blogs, Wondrous Reads, tomorrow for another post.

The Walled City is a cut-throat world of gangs, drug-dealers and warlords and every day is a struggle to survive.

THE WALLED CITY is a dark YA thriller set within the walls of a lawless slum city where Jin Ling searches for her lost sister and Dai struggles to complete an impossible mission.

A fantasy setting inspired by Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, Ryan's novel has a rich authenticity and an intense atmosphere, and its pace will enthral the reader from the very first page.

Disguised as a boy, Jin Ling searches for her missing sister, Mei Yee, who was sold into the brothels of the Walled City. She relies on her speed and cunning but how long will her luck hold?

When a mysterious boy, Dai, requests her help with a dangerous mission Jin Ling's inclined to say no - this is a world where no one can be trusted - but the mission offers her a vital chance to see inside the brothel where her sister may be being held.

Jin Ling and Dai join forces, but will either of them survive the mission? Is Mei Yee still alive? And how will any of them ever escape the stifling city walls?

THE WALLED CITY will be published by Indigo on 6 November 2014
9781780621999/ Trade paperback at £9.99 and ebook at £5.99

About Ryan Graudin
Ryan Graudin was born in Charleston, South Carolina with a severe case of wanderlust. When she's not travelling, she's busy photographing weddings, writing and spending time with her husband and wolf-dog.

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten MG Sequels I Can't Wait To Read

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

The Copper Gauntlet by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black (Doubleday Childrens, second in Magisterium series)

I read The Iron Trial without knowing what to expect, since both authors were fairly new to me. I was pleasantly surprised - I thought it was well-written, had good characters, and the intriguing twist at the end left me desperate to know what happens next.

Soul Splinter by Abi Elphinstone (Simon & Schuster Children's Books, second in Oracle Bones series) 

Horrendously long wait for this; it’s 2016, with book one Dreamsnatcher not out until February 26th next year. However I’ve been lucky enough to grab a proof of Dreamsnatcher and it’s a great debut, reminiscent in some ways of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy with a brilliant heroine, Moll, whose bond with her wildcat Gryff will warm your heart. It also has fantastic comic relief in the shape of her friend Siddy and his pet earthworm Porridge The Second.

River Daughter by Jane Hardstaff (Egmont, second in Moss series) 

I feel dumb as I didn't even realise this was coming until a few days ago; I thought The Executioner's Daughter was a stand-alone. However I'm delighted to return to Moss's adventures; the first is an engaging read and I love Moss and boy thief Salter.

Knights Haddon #2 by Esme Kerr (Chicken House, second in Knights Haddon series) 

I think this is coming - The Glass Bird Girl was described as the first in a series, although it's frustratingly difficult to track down information on the sequel. I've been really saddened that few people seem to have read the first; it's a clever detective story, the adult suspects are very well fleshed-out (more so than the kids, actually) with believable motivations, and it's an intriguing setting, as the school tries to keep students as disconnected as possible from the outside world. (Is this just for concentration purposes? I have a feeling we may find out more about this side of things later in the series.) I don't think the cover (as gorgeous as it is) and blurb for the Glass Bird Girl did it that many favours, unfortunately - it looks historical to me; I was quite surprised by the contemporary setting when I picked it up.

Wild Boy #3 by Rob Lloyd-Jones (Walker Books, third in Wild Boy series) 

I have had at least 3 conversations over the past 10 days when I was asked to predict the breakout success of 2015 and replied by saying that I thought the third Wild Boy book would push the series into the very top ranks of children's literature. Now that Rob Lloyd-Jones has confirmed via Twitter he's currently working on something else, rather than book 3, I feel like a poor predictor indeed. However, he did mention he'd possibly return to Wild Boy after his current project is finished, and I'm too big a fan of the boy detective to drop him from this top ten just because it might be a while to wait!

Monster Odyssey #4 by Jon Mayhew (Bloomsbury Children's Books, fourth in Monster Odyssey series)

I've just finished the third in this series, The Curse of the Ice Serpent, and as always from Jon Mayhew, it's an exciting read full of twists, turns, great characters and horrifying monsters. With this series following the excellent Mortlock books, Mayhew is up there as one of the most consistently enjoyable series writers around - I definitely want to get back to Dakkar and Georgia's adventures soon.

Secrets of the Tombs #2 by Helen Moss (Orion Children's Books, second in Secrets of the Tombs series) 

Again, no real details yet but am hoping this will come next year. I marathon-read Moss's Adventure Island series earlier this year, getting through all 14 books in 12 days, and fell in love with them by the end of the third. If anything, The Phoenix Code, the first book in her new series, is stronger than her first Adventure Island was so I'm intrigued to see where she goes next with this mystery sequence.

The Pirate Stream #2 by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis (Orion Children's Books, second in Pirate Stream series) 

I don’t think there’s a title announced yet (if anyone knows, please correct me and I’ll edit!) but I already can’t wait for this as book one, The Map To Everywhere, is simply GLORIOUS. Most of my other absolute favourite recent reads have been tear-jerkers; after some great funny reads earlier in the year with Lobsters, Keep The Faith, Trouble and others I haven’t found anything quite to my tastes in that area for quite a while. However this made up for my long wait because it’s incredibly good fun; I read it with a smile on my face the whole way through. I adore the main pairing in it, the world-building is fantastic, and it’s cleverly plotted.  As keen as I am to read everything on this list, this is my absolute most-anticipated of them all.

Arsenic For Tea by Robin Stevens (Corgi, second in Wells and Wong series)

Murder Most Unladylike took most of my absolute best-loved things in books – boarding school, crime, diverse cast, 1930s setting – and put them together really well in a very enjoyable murder mystery. I think boarding schools are probably my second favourite settings for novels, with my overall favourite being country houses. Hey, look where the action’s moved to in this one!

Shield of Kuromori by Jason Rohan (Egmont, second in Kuromori series)

Sword of Kuromori was a complete delight – an engaging, pacy read with a fabulous central pairing, a touch more romance than in most MG reads, and a host of incredibly good fight scenes. Bonus marks for featuring better-rounded villains than the majority of books do, and an interesting collection of fearsome creatures from Japanese myths and legends. I can’t wait for the next in the series!

Monday, 17 November 2014

YA A to Z: Morgan Matson

I'm in a massive rush and meant to write this last night but fell asleep (so tired!) but I couldn't let M day of TLT's awesome YA A to Z feature pass without a quick bit of praise for Morgan Matson!

I think there are lots of great YA contemporary authors around today but if pushed, Morgan would be my absolute favourite, because I've read all three of her books (the ones published under her own name, anyway) and they are all AMAZING. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour was gorgeous to look at - put together in a 'scrapbook style' with travel book pages, motel reservation slips, and similar things - but was also brilliantly written, with two fabulous lead characters who had superb chemistry between them.

Second book Second Chance Summer was perhaps a slightly slower starter but just as amazing; leaving me in floods of tears as main character Taylor and her family prepared for her father's death due to cancer, while she tried to rebuild relationships with friends at the old lake house they'd stayed at every summer until a falling out five years ago.

This year's Since You've Been Gone - which I believe you can still vote for in the Goodreads Choice Awards, hint hint! - is a brilliant story about a girl out of her comfort zone trying to do challenges left for her by a friend who has mysteriously disappeared, in the hope that they'll lead her back to her best friend. I love the friendships here, both the flashbacks showing Sloane and Emily together and the new friendships Emily forms while doing the tasks.

As well as the fabulous writing, both Amy & Roger and Since You've Been Gone are added to by fantastic playlists which have helped me discover so much wonderful music, ranging from musicals, to Oasis, to Owl City, to Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.

Morgan was generous enough to take the time to talk to me about her books and a few other things back in July after Since You've Been Gone came out - a huge thanks again, Morgan! (And, indeed, to the lovely Liz Binks for setting this interview up, and the fantastic Jane Griffiths for putting me in touch with Liz.)

In addition to her books under her own name, Matson also writes as Katie Finn - I haven't tried these books yet but they're definitely on my 'wants' list.

Morgan can be found on her website and on Katie Finn's site and on Twitter both as herself and as Katie.

Who are your favourite authors whose surname starts with M? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Recommendation: The Map To Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis

The Map To Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis 
(Orion Children's Books, given to me for recommendation consideration - thank you!)
First in the Pirate Stream series

Whenever I'm in a reading slump in the future I just need to remind myself that MG fantasy and adventure is clearly the way out of it. Having read several books in a row that ranged from underwhelming to fine but nothing more, and giving up on a few halfway through, I was reminded of the sheer magic of reading by two very different adventure stories which were just what I needed.

First up, I got my hands on a coveted copy of Abi Elphinstone's much-anticipated debut Dreamsnatcher - more about this nearer its February release but you should probably pre-order because it's pretty awesome!

Then, Charlie thrust a copy of The Map To Everywhere into my hands. This was one that I basically wanted to read because it has to be a strong contender for most gorgeous cover of the year; I wanted to see if the book could match up to it. I had high hopes because Charlie has rather fantastic taste in books (one of her recent recommendations was The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson; Twitter followers will know just how much I loved that!)

Nothing could have prepared me for just how much I'd love this one, though! I was quickly entranced by the brilliant world-building, with the mysterious Pirate Stream and its unpredictable effects on anything it touches, the rumour vines which pass on secrets, and the pirats (not a spelling mistake; they're actual rats!) who help to crew the ship our heroes sail on.

Throw into this remarkably imaginative world an equally superb cast of characters - Fin, the master thief who nearly everyone forgets as soon as he's out of sight, Marrill, the girl dragged from our world who's somehow able to recall him, and Ardent the wizard, constantly hoping someone will have heard of him, and I was absolutely hooked. (And that's without mentioning any of the wonderfully wicked villains, or the Naysayer, who enters the story quite late on but comes close to stealing the show with his cynical quips.)

This is a quest story, with Fin searching for the Map to Everywhere to try and find his mother, and Marrill needing it to locate her way back to our world and to her own mother, who's ill. It stands out over the majority of similar books, though - the plot is excellent, with twists, turns, and a satisfying conclusion which leaves the way open for the next in the series, but perhaps what makes this even more than the sum of these rather remarkable parts is the sheer sense of fun the two authors being to the book. It's a high-octane, wild ride and I read every page with an absolutely massive smile on my face - at least until tough decisions needed to be made at the end, by which point I was slightly shocked by how deeply I was caring about these characters.

Hugely recommended, book two is already noted as an absolute must-read for next year.