Monday, 20 April 2015

Blog Tour: Faith's Guide To Who's Who In Perfectly Ella by Candy Harper

I am always very happy to present guest posts from authors, particularly ones whose work I've been a fan of for a while. That said, as anyone who was following my Twitter feed on Friday is aware, this is an ESPECIALLY amazing one for me. Candy Harper's Have A Little Faith is one of my favourite ever books - I've read it four times, bought it fifteen times (at least; I may have lost count!) and constantly push it on everyone I know. When I found out that Candy had written me a post AS FAITH, talking about the characters in her wonderful new book Perfectly Ella, I was staggeringly excited!


Faith from HAVE A LITTLE FAITH and KEEP THE FAITH would like to tell you about the characters in Candy Harper’s new MG book PERFECTLY ELLA…

Ella is starting secondary school, which if you haven’t got my winning personality can be quite nerve-wracking. Also, when I’ve got a problem I like to tell all my friends and family about it. And usually the postman, Lily’s gerbil and the Sainsbury’s deliveryman too, but some people are a bit on the mousy side and Ella finds it difficult to speak up. But you can’t blame her because she is living in a house with some right big mouths. Ella reckons she’s got a good plan for getting people at school (and home) to like her – she’s decided to be more like her sisters. Let me tell you about her sisters and you can decide for yourself if that’s a good idea.

Amelia is Ella’s oldest sister. She’s in Year Nine (so obvs not quite as mature and sophisticated as me). She’s also a bit of a grump, but she does say some spectacularly rude things to her sisters about how their faces look like pig bums, so you’ve got to admire her way with words. Anyway, it turns out she’s got some good reasons for her moodiness.

Chloe is Ella’s middle sister. She has no trouble speaking her mind. Her mind is mostly full of wrestling moves and what’s for pudding, but I like a girl with confidence. She’s also keen on sports; I can’t say I’m interested in them unless it involves bashing someone. Her other past times are playing pranks on her sisters and burping.

Lucy is Ella’s little sister and she’s my favourite. She’s not afraid to get violent to make her point. If my brother, Sam, had ever displayed Lucy’s biting skills then maybe I wouldn’t make him walk five paces behind me, pretending to be my servant.

Mum is the girls’ mum. Obviously. She’s probably got an actual name, but you’ve got to be careful not to give parents too much of their own identity, otherwise they think they can go wandering off to enjoy themselves at a garden centre when they should be at the supermarket buying you biscuits. To be fair, the girls’ mum does seem to spend quite a lot of time sorting stuff out for them, and giving them hugs and (equally importantly) cake, when things go wrong.

Mr Strawberry is the girls’ dad. It’s not his fault that he sounds like an ice cream van so you can stop sniggering about it. What is completely his fault is the fact that he seems to have forgotten that all his children need his attention. Ella should try what I do whenever my dad stops listening to me: I pull out one of the hairs from his arm. Works every time.

Kirsti is Mr Strawberry’s new baby with his girlfriend, Suvi. She mostly sleeps and eats. Except people think it’s cute when she does it, whereas my parents are always trying to rip me out of bed at the crack of midday. The girls have got mixed feelings about Kirsti, which is understandable because baby siblings aren’t much use until they’re big enough to crawl around the house after you, carrying drinks and snacks on their backs, like a tiny coffee table.

A huge thanks to Candy for that brilliant post! Follow Candy on Twitter, and take a look at the blog tour banner to the right for more stops this week - she's at Queen of Contemporary tomorrow.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Terry Pratchett Blog Tour: My Top Ten Discworld Characters

I was really grateful to be given the opportunity to write about Discworld as part of the blog tour organised by Viv from Serendipity Reviews to pay tribute to the late, much-missed, Terry Pratchett. As I mentioned in the post kicking the tour off, Terry’s books are some of the only ones that I’ve read, and reread, consistently for the 25 years or so since I first discovered them! There have been a host of characters I’ve fallen in love with during that time – Gaspode, Angua, Detritus, Perdita X Nitt, Brutha, Vetinari, and many more. With much gnashing of teeth – and with the proviso this could well change next time I reread anything! – I came up with a top 10. (I’ve kept descriptions relatively brief in an attempt to capture the flavour of characters without spoiling many developments; I know a few people who are new to Terry’s works are following the tour!)

10. Nobby Nobbs - A kleptomaniac, a former street urchin-turned-Watchman, and possibly the only person on the Discworld who could have been have been "disqualified from the human race for shoving", Nobby is nevertheless a heart-warming character because of his loyalty to the rest of the Watch, and is brilliantly funny to read about.

9. Lady Sybil Ramkin - Swamp dragon breeder Lady Sybil defies general expectations of the aristocracy in comedy books by being extremely competent, resourceful, and good in a crisis (and in the Discworld, you're never short of crises!) I adore her relationship with Sam Vimes!

8. Moist von Lipwig – I think conman Moist was possibly the last great Discworld character to be created. In the space of just a couple of books (I haven’t read the third featuring him yet), he became one of my favourite characters because of his quick wit, flexible morals, but genuine heroism at times.

7. Susan Sto Helit - The granddaughter of Death is sensible, pragmatic, and her fireplace poker is the scourge of monsters for miles around. I love the way she gradually comes to accept the supernatural world she keeps getting sucked into, but also that she constantly aims to do well in 'normal' jobs despite her heritage as both Death's descendant and the Duchess of Sto Helit.

6. The Librarian – Ook.

5. Carrot – The watchman brought up by dwarves caught my heart because of his innate goodness and niceness which, to be honest, makes him rather singular in the Discworld. There are other brilliant heroes, but Carrot is perhaps the only one who thinks the best of everyone he meets – and he does seem to meet pretty much everyone in Ankh-Morpork.

4. Nanny Ogg – I love double entendres, but Nanny Ogg’s single entendres are in a class of their own. She’s fun, she’s brilliantly raucous, and her bickering but loving relationship with Granny, her mentorship of Perdita, her flirtations with Casanunda and her loyalty to her large family and cat (most of the time!) Greebo are all fabulous.

3. Granny Weatherwax – Granny knows pretty much everything there is to know about magic; including the fact that you’re generally better off not using it. Her mastery of ‘headology’ is breathtaking and I have a particular love for any scene involving her playing cards, as you know that other people aren’t going to come out of it well.

2. Sam Vimes – Rising from alcoholic copper to a major player in the Discworld’s ranks, dragging the much-maligned Watch along with him, Vimes’s character arc is perhaps the strongest of all in the series. I really love the way he develops so well while never losing sight of who he is. (Also, he reminds me of Reginald Hill’s wonderful Andy Dalziel, my other favourite fictional policeman!)

1. Death - It all comes back to Death for me, every time. Out of context, that's a rather depressing statement, but in context, I'm sure many Discworld fans will agree it's anything but. Not just the Discworld's greatest character, but one of my all-time favourites in any media, the skeleton has more humanity than some of the people he appears for, and his battles against the Auditors who dislike the incovenience of life have been spellbinding. The card game he plays with Granny Weatherwax in Maskerade for the life of a child is a perfect scene, being funny and exciting but also brilliantly capturing both characters at their finest.

What do you think of my choices? Do you agree with them? (I’m not even sure I agree with them, I keep thinking that maybe Gaspode should slip in at number 10…)

I’d love it if you left me a comment, and don’t forget to follow the rest of the tour, on sites listed on the banner on the right (thanks Matt for designing it, and of course the brilliant Viv for organising the tour!) and using the hashtag #terrypratchettblogtour.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Classic Children's/YA: Lisa Heathfield on Her Early Reading Life

I was impressed by Seed by Lisa Heathfield, which was significantly darker than the books I usually read but held my attention through her brilliant writing. I'm really pleased to be on the blog tour for the book, with Lisa talking about her early reading life today as part of my Classic Children's/YA feature.

My Early Reading Life

There's always been something magical about books for me - not only the stories buried deep within them, but also the way the words look on the page, the feel of the cover and even the smell of them.

I can't remember a time when I didn't have a book in my hand - curled on the sofa, tucked in my bed, or lying on the grass - I was always reading. And although I loved many different types of books, there were some that really stuck with me. These are the ones that, even now, give me that feeling in my stomach and the ones that I've searched out to read to my own children. There's nothing like watching our boys' faces, as they too are taken into these wonderful worlds.

The big stand-out one for me, which remains one of my favourite books to this day, is THE FOLK OF THE FARAWAY TREE, by Enid Blyton. From the moment I read the first word, I was side-by-side with Jo, Bessie and Fanny. I jumped over that stream with them and looked in awe at the amazing tree looming above us. I loved each and every one of the characters, from the brilliant Saucepan Man, to sweet-natured Silky - I even enjoyed running away from Dame Slap! I'd grip my book tight, wondering whether I'd get stuck in a land at the top of the tree. I truly believed that if I didn't get back in time, I'd be in the book forever.

Loyal to Enid Blyton, I moved seamlessly into her 'school' stories. in THE NAUGHTIEST GIRL IN THE SCHOOL, I was torn between joining Elizabeth in the tricks she played and the desire to be good enough to become an elusive monitor. And I raced through MALLORY TOWERS, sharing midnight feasts with Darrel.

When I wasn't dreaming of being a writer, I was hoping to be a ballerina. I thought I could join Margot Fonteyn on the stage one day, but unfortunately I wasn't a natural… As I dusted myself down from rejection from ballet school, all I had to do was open Noel Streatfield's BALLET SHOES and instantly I was a dancer. I was there without having to even touch my toes!

All these early childhood adventure stories were soon replaced  by those depicting the devastation of the Holocaust. The realisation that this horror existed, brought with it a voracious need to know more and remember those who suffered. From the safety of my home, I read about human endurance in Anne Holm's I AM DAVID and Esther Hautzig's THE ENDLESS STEPPE. I re-read WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT recently and found that it was still moving and brilliant (and I was lucky enough to hear the inspirational Judith Kerr talk about writing and her childhood). In Ian Serraillier's THE SILVER SWORD I walked with Ruthy, Edak, Bronia and Jan and joined them again, as my husband and I read it to our boys a few weeks ago.

After my fascination with these dark, heart-rending books, things became a bit more abstract for a while. I found myself devouring every story by the medium Doris Stokes. And my mum despaired slightly as I read book after book about children possessed by evil spirits. I had definitely started tumbling down a darker route. Beatrice Sparks's GO ASK ALICE was a pre-cursor to the Melvin Burgess' novel, JUNK, that I'd love years later.

I don't think it's any co-incidence that the stories which find their way out of my pen, err on the edge of darkness. In SEED, the community are surrounded by the beauty of nature - they swim in the lake, worship at Dawn Rocks and grow all they need on their land. Yet, just underneath the surface, the roots of evil are growing. It takes the arrival of a stranger to unearth this darkness and open Pearl's eyes to the truth from which she must escape.

I'm convinced that everything I've read is stored in my subconscious and my writing spirit plucks and chooses what it needs for inspiration. It's reading all these books throughout my childhood that have shaped the writer I am today. And it's an unbelievable feeling knowing that my writing may influence another, as this love of words continues to step down the generations.

For more from Lisa, follow her on Twitter!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

UKYA in the USA 2015 and 2016

So, the original plan for today was to celebrate the UKYA Day being run by Lucy The Reader over at her fantastic Queen of Contemporary blog by recommending lots of UKYA and UKMG books coming out in the USA this year/next year, along with US readalikes, as I thought my American readers might be interested. This hit two road blocks fairly quickly; firstly because I kept losing track of what's coming out there, and secondly because I haven't read good readalikes for a fair few of the ones I DO know about. Thankfully, Charlie and Daphne stepped in to help with lots of recs!

The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell is a heart-breaking and gorgeous read about a Japanese teenager, confined to a wheelchair by ALS, who turns to the wisdom of the samurai and to friends made over the internet to come to terms with his diagnosis.

My general preference for lighter reads means that I've heard of a lot of books which I'd think were possible good matches for this one, but haven't really read any, at least not recently. Turning to Charlie, again, she recommends it for fans of All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, saying both books are beautifully written with similar themes, and pointing out that disability comes in many forms from physical to mental health.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson is a stunning dual narrative story which is hugely powerful, and explores gender identity issues with wonderful characters and a hopeful ending. This is out in 2016 in the US, I believe, but it's far too good to leave out of this round-up! I haven't read many books with trans characters so again turned to Charlie for suggestions of similar books in the US; she says that while this is aimed at a slightly older audience than Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polansky, the two books complement each other really well.

I should probably keep reasonably quiet about The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell because it's ages away and I don't want to make people TOO jealous about the fact that I've read it already, but it's an absolute gem. Just as exquisitely written as her last book, Rooftoppers was, but with more humour and an even better setting, the story of Feo, who lives in the snowy wilderness in Russia and teaches domesticated wolves how to be wild, is a really exciting read with a wonderful main character. Cheating slightly here because my readalike was born in the USA but is currently living over here (so I'm sneaking an extra UKYA author in, in many ways) - but Feo's a brilliant heroine and I think fans of Kat Stephenson, from Stephanie Burgis's Kat, Incorrigible, will love this.

Like The Wolf Wilder, it's MG rather than YA, but Robin Stevens's Murder Most Unladylike (coming to the US as Murder Is Bad Manners) is a huge favourite of readers in the UK, along with sequel Arsenic For Tea. They're a brilliant pair of novels about detective duo Wells & Wong, two schoolgirls who form their own Detective Society and get involved in two murders. Huge fun and with a brilliant 1930s boarding school setting, I think fans of Julie Berry's fabulous The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place will be charmed and delighted by these books.

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury is a wonderful fantasy with exquisite world-building, one of the few love triangles I really like, a compelling plot and a chillingly evil villain. My lack of recent US fantasy reads has let me down, but Daphne assures me that this is one for fans of Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch.

TS Easton's Boys Don't Knit is an absolutely hilarious story about a boy who gets in trouble with the police after stealing booze from a supermarket as part of an ill-planned heist, gets forced to do community service helping the lollipop lady who stopped his getaway, and takes up knitting. It's a brilliant read with real heart beneath the swearing and the (all too believable) stupidity of Ben and his friends. I think fans of Frank Portman's King Dork would love this one.

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig is technically adult rather than YA, I believe, but has huge crossover appeal and restored my faith in dystopian reads by being significantly more fun than anything else in the genre for ages - Cass, the main character, is a superb lead, there's a really fast pace to the book, and Haig's snappy dialogue adds a lot to it. If you liked Joelle Charbonneau's The Testing series, don't miss this!

Geek Girl by Holly Smale is a massive favourite in the UK with lots of tweens, teens and adult readers of YA. It's a warm, funny and affectionate look at a self-confessed 'geek' who gets discovered as a model. Harriet's clumsiness and struggles to fit in both in the world of modelling and with others in her year at school are great to read about, and with a fairly chaste romance, despite being YA they're books that a lot of parents are buying for much younger children as well. I'm going to go classic with this one, and suggest that they're a perfect contemporary YA/MG crossover read for fans of Anne of Green Gables, another wonderful red-haired heroine.

Seed by Lisa Heathfield, released last month, is a devastatingly powerful look at a teenage girl growing up in a mysterious cult, and the arrival of a new family who turn her world upside down. It's hard-hitting, and, in many ways, rather too dark for me, but there are lots of people who've adored it. The subjects aren't particularly similar, but I have a feeling fans of Margie Gelbwasser's Pieces of Us will be sucked in by this because of the confident and careful manner in which both authors handle difficult topics.

Last of the books I've read - but DEFINITELY not least, I just put it here because it was the only one I couldn't think of any suitable readalike for - James Dawson's This Book Is Gay, a warm, witty and wonderful 'instruction manual' for LGBTQ teens, should be mandatory in all libraries because of the amount of superb advice it gives and because of the brilliant way in which the reigning Queen of Teen writes. This is the one book I'd want EVERY teen to have access to - it's hugely important.

A few books coming out over there that I'm really excited about but which I haven't read yet - The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich - this is a psychological thriller which looks incredible, but I haven't talked to that many people about it and those I have spoken to are keeping their cards very close to their chest! I'm going to take a little bit of a stab in the dark and say that from what I've seen of it, Charm & Strange fans might be really keen on this one.

Read Me Like A Book by Liz Kessler is about a girl with a crush on her English teacher, Miss Murray. This is another one I haven't read yet, although I've heard really good things about it - Charlie compares it to Keeping You A Secret and Annie On My Mind.

Tell The Story To Its End by Simon P Clark is being published in the US (UK readers will be more likely to know it as Eren.) Everyone I talk to about this says that you need to go in knowing as little as possible, so I'm a bit lost as to what would be a good readalike - and probably couldn't tell you if I DID know! Maybe We Were Liars, given the publicity campaign for that highlighted the need to keep quiet about certain things?

So, there's a few recommendations from me - how about you? Is there anything I've missed coming out in the US that you really want people to read? Or any better readalikes for books I've talked about? Drop me a comment!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The Lives and Loves of Jesobel Jones Blog Tour: Anna Mainwaring on The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

I've just started reading The Lives and Loves of Jesobel Jones and am enjoying it, so I was really pleased when Faye Rogers was able to arrange for author Anna Mainwaring to take part in my Classic Children's/YA feature.

Being asked to write about a children’s classic is a bit like being asked to choose between your children. Books have feelings after all, don’t they, and I’d hate to see my ‘Dark is Rising’ sequence start to sob, howling “But we always thought we were your favourites…”

As however I’ve already written about my love for Susan Cooper, the books that are as just as much part of my childhood as those for very similar reasons are “The Weirdstone of Brisingamen” and “The Moon of Gomrath” by Alan Garner.

Let me set the scene. It’s the late 1970s in surburban Leeds. Most things are beige – food, clothes, life. We were only just recovering from power cuts and the lingering fear of the Yorkshire Ripper. Beyond reading and going for walks there wasn’t that much else to do. So myself and two friends began to create an imaginary world based on our reading. Key sacred texts were Alan Garner’s first two novels, first published in the 1960s. These two debut novels were instantly successful and have never been out of print in the intervening years.

So what was it about these works that so appealed to us? Well, the books follow the magic formula that has characterised so much brilliant MG fiction. Two apparently ordinary children, Susan and Colin encounter an intimidating woman apparently called Selina Place who is, of course, more than she seems. She is the foul Morrigan, based on Irish myth. In her Garner creates one of children’s literature’s most compelling villains until Philip Pullman’s Mrs Coulter some thirty years later. Supernatural and quite terrifying forces are soon after the children as the Cheshire landscape, so beautifully drawn by Garner, turns from familiar to threatening. The ancient myth of the warriers waiting inside Alderley Edge for Arthur’s return becomes all too real for them as they are guided through this new world by Cadellin, a Merlin figure. Both Susan and Colin have different roles to play throughout the two books, forming a duo until the intriguing ‘Boneland’ of two years ago completed the trilogy, but with ultimately Susan playing the most fascinating role.

As children my friends and I loved the idea that a magical world was just hiding behind the ordinary, we just needed to wait for the invitation, find the right door or the right words. Creating spells seemed as natural as breathing. We read so many books inspired by Celtic or Arthurian legends that soon we played endless games where we took centre stage. The barrier between book, game and our imaginations blurred like twilight and to this day, I sometimes forget what we read and what we made up. It was a happy time for a while.

But what do those books mean to me now? Oddly, I’ve ended up living not too many miles from Alderley Edge, the Goyt valley, Reedsmere and Shining Tor, all important locations in the two books. I now take my children to the Edge, tell them the story of the sleeping warriors, and as they run, romping through the trees, I have to stop myself telling them to watch out for the Morrigan or the svart-alfar. For me, the magic still feels very close at hand. Garner himself famously grew bored with Susan and Colin by the end of the second book and on re-reading their characters are not as well drawn as those in later books. But then perhaps that made it easier for us to project ourselves on to them. In truth I was too young when I read Garner’s great works, ‘Elidor’, ‘The Owl Service’ and ‘Red Shift’. These are the true children’s classics but the paradox is that I didn’t think so as a child.

It was a real honour to meet Alan Garner a few years ago. I’d gone to The Medicine House, the medieval hall next to his home, to discuss something with his wife Griselda. I’d taken my books with me, in hope he might sign them if he were there. I found out later that I was most privileged – not only did I get my books signed, but I was invited briefly back into Toad Hall, their home.

For me, Alan Garner is one of the most extraordinary and influential of writers. I loved his first two works as a child; I am intrigued, baffled and inspired by his lastest, ‘Boneland’. I believe he is still writing. The nine year old girl, and the much older adult, is waiting in enthralled fascination.

The Lives and Loves of Jesobel Jones by Anna Mainwaring

Jesobel Jones can bake. In a truly triumphant, appearing-on-TV kind of way. But this means nothing to the rest of the world, because apparently all that cake mix is starting to show – in all the wrong places. So when she lands an invite to the Party of Year by the Boy of Her Dreams, she wonders whether it’s time for a new, improved Jess. But will life still taste as good?

Anna Mainwaring's debut is a light-hearted and sometimes poignant take on the pressures that face teenage girls. It's hard to smile in all those selfies when you don't like the girl who looks back at you. But which is more important - looking perfect or being happy?

Information about the book:
Title: The Lives and Loves of Jesobel Jones
Author: Anna Mainwaring
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publisher: Portal Press
Format: Paperback and E-Book
Published: 25th March 2015

Author Information

Anna Mainwaring first read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ when she was seven and she hasn’t stopped reading since. 

Her debut novel, “The Lives and Loves of Jesobel Jones”, follows Jess through the joy and pain of being a teenager in the modern world; first love, friendship, embarrassing families, and asks the big questions in life: how much cake is it really acceptable to eat?

After studying English at university, Anna made the foolish decision to work in corporate finance, not the best career choice for someone who a) is number dyslexic b) hates anything corporate. After travelling, Anna re-trained as an English teacher and works in a girls’ school in Cheshire. When not writing, teaching, or looking after her children, Anna can generally be found walking up a big hill, looking for inspiration.

You can find out more about Anna on her website or by following her on Twitter.

Author Links

Tour Schedule

Monday 6th April

Tuesday 7th April

Wednesday 8th April

Thursday 9th April

Friday 10th April
Live to Read. Read to Live.

Saturday 11th April
Joshua J Stories

Sunday 12th April
Becca Talks YA

Monday 13th April
Chrissi Reads
Marie’s Journal

Tuesday 14th April

Wednesday 15th April

Thursday 16th April

Friday 17th April
The Page Starts Here

Saturday 18th April

Sunday 19th April