Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Top Ten Twitter Hashtags I'm Thankful For

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

#UKYAchat - I think that since Lucy the Reader set up UKYAchat, it has REALLY become a major part of the wonderful UKYA community. There are so many people I've started talking to after seeing their tweets during it who've gone on to become good friends!

- Similarly Lorraine Gregory and Miriam Craig's UKMGchat has been an amazing way to meet fellow MG fans, and MG authors. Also there've been some BRILLIANT socials this year!

#ColourMeMindful - As people who've seen me moaning about the flat saga on Twitter now, it's been a stressful year. One thing that has really helped me relax has been Anastasia Catris's beautiful Colour Me Mindful books, from Orion. I love their small size in comparison to most of the others out there, the excellent paper quality, and the great mix of some simple and some more complicated pictures. The hashtag has been a brilliant way to share some of my own colouring, see other people's, and talk to Anastasia, who's lovely!

#HiddenBooksGame - Not sure I should be THAT thankful for this National Book Tokens game because it is staggeringly frustrating, but it's ALSO a whole lot of fun! After spending ages on it, I've got 19/20, and have at least found the question for the last one. Which to be honest feels like an achievement in itself.

#2015ClassicsChallenge - I haven't read that many classics this year but it has been very enjoyable seeing people's reactions to books they've read for Stacey's fab challenge! Next year, I'm definitely hoping to read 12 for the #2016ClassicsChallenge.

#illumicrate - It has been AWESOME to see how much everyone loves my friend Daphne's great subscription box service! Reading the unboxing posts, watching the videos, and reading tweets about how excited people are for the next one! (Remember, there'll be a chance to subscribe as Daph's opening it to more people this time - but guessing it will sell out pretty quickly, so head over to the website to make sure you're on the list to know when subscriptions reopen!)

#ownvoices - This wonderful hashtag created by Corrine Duyvis a few months ago has been an amazing source of recommendations for titles about marginalized groups of people by authors in those groups. I've come across so many amazing recs via this hashtag, and it's been great to spread the word about some of my own favourites, like Duet Books's wonderful anthology Summer Love. 

#TheseShallowGraves - Slightly selfish reasons here; I was lucky enough to win a copy of Jennifer Donnely's These Shallow Graves in the awesome competition Hot Key ran with this hashtag. But I also thought the competition - answering questions on several blogs to get a word connected to the book - was a really brilliant idea!

#AceYAChat - I came so close to crying with happiness on seeing that this chat (organised by the fabulous Gay YA) was happening, and it was EVERYTHING I could have hoped for. I will, at some point maybe, go into more details about my super-complicated thoughts on various things. But basically I WISH there'd been more knowledge of asexuality and demisexuality when I was a teen, I am staggeringly grateful that there's at least some knowledge of them now, and this chat felt like a truly momentous occasion to me.

#aryaclub - I want to say not in any order, but I CLEARLY saved the best til last. I love #aryaclub, my book club, because they are the best friends I've made in a long time, they are always there for me and they brighten my day up whenever we talk on Twitter, but even more so when we meet up in person. (And yes, this is technically more about the amazing people than the actual hashtag, but my blog, my rules!)

Friday, 20 November 2015

Weekly Recap: 10th - 16th November

I feel that it would be ridiculous to talk about the last week without mentioning the tragic events that occurred - but I don't know what to say, to be honest, other than my heart goes out to people across the world killed or injured in the tragedies.

Events like those of the last week can bring out the best and the worst in people. I'm so glad my Twitter timeline was full of people rallying around each other, supporting people of different religions and races to themselves - but I wish more people in the world acted in this way. I thought Sita Brahmachari's Guardian list of books to breed tolerance was an exceptionally useful resource to share.

In addition, my friend Wei Ming Kam shared our resource sheet from our diversity workshop at last month's YA Shot. Following the people and organisations on that list has made me a more informed and, I hope, better person.

One of the people I've learned most from is Kaye (@gildedspine), whose thought-provoking tweets on the depiction of faith in YA are Storified here. 
For an eye-opening, thought-provoking look at race, I've mentioned previously I adored Master of None on Netflix. Great piece with star and creator Aziz Ansari talking aboutrace and Hollywood in the New York Times here.  Speaking of Master of None, Bim Adewumni’s crush piece on Kelvin Yu is a really fun read!

Morgan York's post on demisexuality is still one of the best, and most important to me personally, posts that I've read all year. This post by her on gatekeeping in the LGBTQ community is also superb, as is Kayla Whaley on the Toast about the summers she spent at a camp for disabled kids.

I love visiting new bookshops, so it was fab to see Books Pavilion open in Covent Garden! I'm HOPING to get a blog post up about them soon with more pictures.

It always slightly frustrates me hearing about great US books which, as far as I know, aren't making it over here. However I continue to yell about them, partly because I try and get some imported and lend to people, and partly because there's surely at least a miniscule chance someone with the power to change that might read this. Trans author Meredith Russo's If I Was Your Girl, about "about a beautiful, intelligent, blonde transgender teen girl who forms a loving bond with a straight male high school football player", sounds amazing - so much so that I'm mentioning it twice in a week. I hadn't picked up on Alloy Entertainment's involvement last time I posted about it. It's really heartening to see Alloy, the book packagers famous for successes like Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, on board with this one - it gives me great faith that it will be a smash hit.

I posted last week about Duet Books's stunning anthology Summer Love being reduced to £7.23 on The Book Depository. I thought then that that was a great buy (and stand by that!), but it's now even cheaper at just £5.70 - nearly 50% off! In addition, next week Duet are going to release the stories as stand-alones, which sounds like a fantastic idea. If you want to try one of them, then I would recommend anything in there, but especially Naomi Tajedler's What The Heart Wants (my short story of the year so far), SJ Martin's The Most Handsome, and Suzey Ingold's The Willow Weeps For Us

Another bargain on TBD at the moment, Dahlia Adler's Under The Lights, which is just £5.93. Not published over here (yet - can someone change that?!) this is a companion novel to Behind The Scenes but works perfectly well even if you haven't read the first book. It's a wonderful f/f romance with a really happy feel to it. Completely charming and gorgeous. 

And there's a brilliant Hello Chelly post on Dahlia Adler's Just Visiting (out last Tuesday! But in US only, unfortunately :( )

Photo by Caitlin (@CaitLomas)
Speaking of bargains, I'm scarily suggestible and my friend Caitlin is amazingly convincing, so when she started talking about amazing Six Of Crows merchandise in a group DM, I had a feeling it would end up being expensive. Using what little willpower I had, I successfully kept my purchases down to just one tote bag- which, arguably, I don't actually NEED, I guess. However how can you resist something this gorgeous?!  (Especially since it was reduced at the time AND had free P & P, making it an even better bargain.) It's on its way to me, but Caitlin's already received her mug, and was kind enough to let me use her picture here.

Lots of great stuff coming from the wonderful Teen Librarian Toolbox, who'll be taking a much-needed look at mental health in YA next year. One of the books I think is most important in the way it looks at mental health - especially in its positive portrayal of medication and therapy - is Patrick Ness's The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, so it was great to see TLT give it a wonderful review.

Their Sexual Violence in YA Literature Project is also well worth checking out if you've not seen it before (or, of course, rereading if you have!) 

It's really great to see people talking about the portrayal of sex in YA - Jo's Sex in Teen Lit month at Once Upon A Bookcase has brought some excellent posts; in particular this Jenn Bennett guest post last week. And on OuaB, Jo's got a schedule for her fabulous Bookish Spinsters feature.

It was awesome to reveal the wonderful Paul Young and James Macey cover for Caroline Lawrence's Escape From Rome (Orion Children's Books) over on MG Strikes Back. We also saw the stunning UK cover for The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (Hot Key) - I THINK this is a Jet Purdie cover, but will try and double-check this! Fabulous PW review of TGFE, which is one of the 2016 releases I'm most excited for, as well.

Photo by Stacey (@theprettybooks)
One of the coolest things about the past week has been seeing people receive their Illumicrates! My friend Daphne, fabulous blogger at Winged Reviews, has done an amazing job of putting this together. I've included Stacey's picture of the box, rather than showing the contents, to avoid spoilers, but you can head over to her blog Pretty Books to see them for yourself if you'd like to. Also on her blog, her book haul for the past couple of months - lots of gorgeous ones there! And if you want to be part of the excitement of Illumicrate in February when the second box is sent out, go to their website to sign up to be informed when spaces are open for more subscriptions.

Continuing the theme of 'cool bloggers I know doing amazing things', VERY exciting news for The Book Smugglers, who are publishing a new Kate Elliott short story, set in the world of her brilliant Spiritwalker trilogy! Having been a huge fan of the epic novels, I can't wait to read The Beatriceid on December 22nd. And there's a great review of Elliott's Black Wolves on B & N - this looks stunning too! 

I loved this Book Riot article on classic lesbian literature - I'm definitely planning on trying to read some of those picks next year, especially as I'm determined to do better in Stacey's #2016classicschallenge than I did in this year's version! (If you're going to join this, by the way, the newsletter can be signed up to here!)

It's very cool to see that the RNIB's Talking Books service is now free to access for all blind and partially sighted people!

One of my favourite posts to write all year has been this Do's and Don'ts of Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse; I also enjoyed writing a 'Ten Reasons To Read Six Of Crows' over on Teens on Moon Lane. Basically, Leigh's books are very fun to read AND to write about!

Penguin Teen's most wanted Spring 2016 books includes Rebel of the Sands, which I read last week - this is a fast-paced read with brilliant world-building and an unforgettable heroine!. 

I love this great Sue Moorcroft post on writing and social media, and this wonderful piece on The Pool on books celebrating female friendships from Sinead Gleeson. Two great pieces to read together are Lucy Mangan in The Stylist on the Instagram illusion, and Robyn Wilder for Elle UK on presenting herself online 'unfiltered'. Also on Elle, brilliant Anna James gave us a superb feminist reading list!

There's a great Natasha Carthew guest post on True Grit on this blog, while Kate Boorman and Ryan Graudin took part in Teens On Moon Lane's 5-4-3-2-1.

Some reviews I really enjoyed reading
Never Evers by Tom Ellen/Lucy Ivison, reviewed by Sofia.
This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp, reviewed by Debbie.
Island by Nicky Singer, reviewed by Kieran Fanning for MG Strikes Back.
The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud, reviewed by Stacey.
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (my book of the year so far!), reviewed by Reader of Fictions.
Refuge by Anne Booth and Sam Usher, reviewed by LH Johnson.

I also loved Katherine Locke's recommendations for Jewish Book Month.

And great interviews this week as well - fabulous one with Philip Pullman on Slate, and wonderful Bookish Treasures one with Brandon Sanderson.

I'm completely hooked on The Hidden Books Game from National Book Tokens, and also their lovely poem Choosing A Book Is An Adventure In Itself

It was awesome to see Colour Me Mindful feature in Madeline Shaw's video on sleeping tips. I also really loved my friend Melanie's photos of a couple of pages she'd done in these gorgeous books, and she was kind enough to let me share them with you.

Photo by Melanie (@Melly_Carr)
Photo by Melanie (@Melly_Carr)
Finally, my friend Faye is running a UK Book Blogger Secret Santa! If you're interested, you have until 22nd November to sign up - it sounds fab!

Offline, I managed to go out every night, which probably explains why this recap's taken so long to put up, and why I ended up in bed ill last night - oops. Having said that, Into The Hoods and the ballet of Romeo and Juliet were fun, Jane Eyre with Stacey was great, and In The Heights with Ming, Liz, Debbie, Charlie and Zen was the best show I've seen in several years - utterly breathtaking; an absolute MUST-SEE if you're a fan of musicals! It's on at King's Cross Theatre, and the run's just been extended until April. Grab tickets if you get the chance! We also went to a fabulous adult colouring night at Drink Shop Do on Monday where Stacey wowed myself, Debbie and Faye with her super-speedy colouring. (And she was STILL neater than I was, somehow.) My effort below, along with an 'in progress' shot of our table. Thanks so much to Drink Shop Do and Michael O'Mara Books for the fabulous night! The pictures are from The Menagerie, and Richard Merritt's illustrations are stunning.


Friday, 13 November 2015

Classic Children's/YA: Natasha Carthew on True Grit

I've let the classic children's/YA feature slip slightly over the last few months, but hoping to do more with it soon. I'm really pleased to have Natasha Carthew posting on True Grit today!

As a writer I am not alone in my obsession with revenge-based dramas. Ancient Greek myths and Biblical stories understood that the most direct route to justice often requires traveling along the bumpy roads of revenge. In every era in human history, artists have reflected the moral urgency of vengeance, from the high-art of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama to the lowbrow makers of heart-stopping horror films.

There’s nothing like watching a score being settled and payback justly received. In my latest book The Light That Gets Lost the main protagonist Trey must avenge his parent’s murderer in order to find some kind of closure. This theme of justice and revenge is explored to great effect in one of my favourite childhood adventure books of all time, True Grit.

Throughout the course of the adventure in True Grit by Charles Portis, the central themes are obtaining justice: revenge, duty, and doing the right thing. No matter what the motivation is for retribution and how it is carried out, Portis shows there is a price to pay for those determined to seek justice, it can change you, kill you, do you in.

In the book the young, gritty, female protagonist Mattie Ross fully expects that the local sheriff will bring her father's murderer to justice. When he refuses to give chase, Mattie must find someone of sufficient true grit who will restore moral balance by doing what's just and necessary. After she deputises Rooster Cogburn as her father's avenger, she demonstrates her own grit by tagging along with him.

The deeper truth of True Grit is that it serves as a quick fix for our addiction to vengeance. But is revenge an unhealthy addiction or a guilty pleasure? We have all been warned, repeatedly, that revenge is barbaric, a holdover from primitive times. And yet vengeance properly taken feels so righteous and true, especially when depicted in fiction. The audience roots for the avenger all the while knowing that individuals are not permitted to take justice into their own hands.

What else can a daughter do? To be worthy of her father's love Mattie must honour his memory and settle his accounts. Anything less than a complete reckoning is something the reader will not accept.

In life we allow for incomplete justice and curse our fate; in art we long for the righteous avenger to bring about the closure and moral clarity that is so often denied to us under the law and in True Grit (and I hope The Light That Gets Lost) we get this.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Weekly Recap: 3rd - 9th Nov

Okay, carrying on with the weekly recap idea I started last week after some nice feedback - thanks everyone! (Links are ones I've tweeted this week, which doesn't necessarily mean they haven't been around longer, by the way.)

I linked to a couple of other posts from the Gay YA's superb Asexual Awareness Week last week - it closed with Morgan York's wonderful post "Instant Attraction Can't Be Real" - The Tale of An Angry Teenage Demisexual. Oh wow, I loved this post SO MUCH. It was an incredible week and there are tons and tons of great links below but because demisexuality tends to be talked about so little, and for personal reasons (Like Morgan, as a teen I didn't know the word 'demisexual' existed), this really is one which I would love absolutely everyone to read.

This is one reason diversity in fiction is so important. People who don’t see themselves reflected in fiction are more likely to remove themselves from it. They are more likely to be confused about why “everyone else” seems to see the world differently, unaware that people like them exist and their voices just aren’t being heard.

Another excellent article is Alison Evans on 'the never-ending process of coming out as genderqueer'  (Heard through Leah Raeder, who is herself nonbinary and whose new NA release Cam Girl (not out over here but DEFINITELY worth importing!) has an incredible genderqueer love interest and is a must-read for over 18s. (Note the NA and over 18s bits. This is very, very, VERY not YA, and NSFW. But AMAZING.) For more on Cam Girl, don't miss this brilliant Book Baristas review!

Also hugely important, Bali Rai's great interview over at Luna's Little Library (part of her Diversity Month; I also loved this post introducing it!)

"It isn’t worthy to want more diverse characters in fiction. It isn’t about an agenda (although perhaps there is one now). It isn’t about discriminating against middle class, hetero able-bodied white people either. It’s about rebalancing the playing field. It’s about asking for real, true representation. It’s about making sure that everyone in Britain feels that literature is something for them too – rather than something for other people."

As Bali mentions in that interview, the change in publishing is extremely slow. "It is still as difficult today, for a British BAME teen to read about him/herself as a central character, as it was when I was a teen. Or maybe just slightly better."

There ARE people pushing for that change, though, and for writers from different backgrounds to succeed. A couple worth a look - Megaphone is a new writer development scheme, specifically aimed at BAME (Black, Asian or other Minority Ethnic) writers who would like sustained support as they write their first novel for children or teenagers.

Author Kit de Waal is funding a Creative Writing scholarship at Birkbeck, University of London, for a "budding writer from a low-income household or a marginalised background."

And yet another must-read here, from Kayla Whaley, on Microagressions And Erasure of Disability in Diversity Discussions.

I've talked to several people recently who are really keen to see more (and better) representations of disability in YA fiction. That said, it's always important to support the books that are already out there - Corrine Duyvis has put together a great list of #ownvoices books here.

Other great lists I've come across recently - Bustle's 16 of November's Best YA Books To Keep You Warm This Winter. Lots look fabulous, especially Joelle Charbonneau's Need, and Dahlia Adler's Just Visiting. (Speaking of Just Visiting, there's a great review from A Reader Of Fictions!)
10 audiobooks for children to listen to (great to see Sophia Bennett's You Don't Know Me on there!)
Hereville's 'Must Have Graphic Novels For Any School Library' (A couple of years old, though, so add in Miss Marvel!),
Jassy Fizzle's Books That Deserve All The Prizes
An especially important one is Kelly Jensen's Black Girls Matter: A YA reading list.

As always, LOTS of great lists on Nicole Brinkley's fuckyeahyoungadultlit Tumblr, while there are a staggering amount of amazing links listed in this incredible post from Ava Jae, which is a must read for anyone interested in diverse books with great representation!

And speaking of superb representation in fiction, the Duet Books anthology Summer Love - stories about characters across the LGBTQIA spectrum, written by authors also from the LGBTQIA spectrum - has been reduced to £6.87 on the Book Depository at the time I write this; a huge bargain.
Charlie in a Book's review is perfect reading for anyone on the fence about reading it (or check out mine.)

Talking of diversity, it's very, VERY cool to see We Need Diverse Books partnering with Scholastic to offer a special collection of diversity-themed books!

While I rarely review for the Bookbag any more (because let's face it, I rarely REVIEW anymore!) I'm still an avid reader of the site, which was my gateway into the bookish world online, and was thrilled to see some of my favourites, including Abi Elphinstone's The Dreamsnatcher, in their brilliant top 10 2015 books for confident readers.

And for authors rather than specific books, I loved Samantha Shannon's UKYA recommendations!

As mentioned, I'm looking at things I've tweeted this week - not necessarily things written this week; occasionally I stumble on things late. And then there's posts like this one - Justina Ireland on 'bootstrap equality' - which I know I included last week, but I'm putting in again because it is so, so great. Please read.

And one which I've tweeted about MANY, MANY times which always gets a great response is Dahlia Adler's fantastic series of posts giving publicity advice to upcoming debut authors - a must-read!

Buzzfeed have a look at the Harry Potter Colouring Book here while Melinda Salisbury, author of The Sin-Eater's Daughter and the upcoming The Sleeping Prince (both Scholastic) has kindly let me post a photo of one of her completed pages.

From The Harry Potter Colouring Book (Studio Press). Pic by Melinda Salisbury

I can't quite imagine it will surpass the brilliant Colour Me Mindful books by Anastasia Catris for me - they're SO GREAT, as the gorgeous below pictures from Lady JulianneDebbie and Grace and her sister show - but I'll definitely be buying this one.

From Colour Me Mindful: Seasons by Anastasia Catris (Orion). Pic by Debbie

From Colour Me Mindful: Seasons by Anastasia Catris (Orion). Pic by Julianne.

From Colour Me Mindful: Butterflies by Anastastia Catris (Orion). Pic by Grace
From Colour Me Mindful: Butterflies by Anastastia Catris (Orion). Photo by Grace (coloured by her sister, though!)
On the subject of Harry Potter, one of my favourite posts of the year to put together was this one to celebrate JK Rowling's 50th birthday - around 50 people shared their favourite moment from the series on MG Strikes Back!

Anna from Enchanted by YA rounded up YA Shot, including a lovely mention for the workshop which I did with Daphne.

I love the shortlist for the Irish Book Awards - great to see Louise O'Neill on it twice, for RTÉ Radio 1 The Ryan Tubridy Show's Listeners Choice Award  and the Specsavers Children's Book of the Year - Senior Award, with Sarah Crossan's incredible One also being in that category.

There's a great Shelley Diaz post here on the audience for YA novels. I love reading YA. However, I agree with Deborah Taylor's quote "It would be such a tragedy for teens to be guests in their own category... I understand that publishers want to take advantage of adult interest in YA. But YA novels’ primary audience should be teens."

I LOVE this brilliant Lauren James post, a Snapchat between the two lead characters in her wonderful The Next Together! Also great is Lauren's friend and fellow Claire Wilson client Alice Oseman, with this Writing And Studying Is Not Impossible guest post.

Following on from the brilliant news about a hopeful screen adaptation of Becky Albertalli's Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, which I referred to last week, it was great to see Marjorie Ingall at The Tablet introduce the 'First Annual Marjorie Ingall Buy-This-Book-For-The-Young-Adult-In-Your-Life-Right-Now Award', or Mibby, so that she could give it to this outstanding book!

And there was great TV news for another author I really like, with Gemma Burgess - who writes the Brooklyn Girls series (third of which, Coco, is just out from Quercus) selling True Love, an hourlong romantic dramedy, to American network ABC.

SCWBI magazine Words and Pictures had a really interesting interview with three independent booksellers about how they buy children's books.

Of course, certain booksellers - including my friend Louise! - had to deal with The Apprentice candidates in the episode aired this week. I only lasted half an hour, but most of my Twitter timeline watched. Great pieces on it from Yasmeen Ismail and Nicolette Jones.

I adored this AbsoBookingLutely post on 'weeding' your school library - great advice for librarians! Especially the section on books on puberty.
"I’m not even kidding, you should read every book in this section. Make sure it’s not body-shaming, homophobic, heternormative, cisnormative, or just plain gross. Make sure it doesn’t just describe sex as peen-in-vageen. Does it talk about consent? Does it say that being gay is a phase? Does it encourage young girls to shave off their body hair? Does it promote masturbation for boys but not girls? READ EVERY BOOK. Take the time. This shit can fuck kids up. A library is a place of answers, and if the answer to ‘I think I’m trans’ is ‘lol no it’s a phase, literally trans people don’t exist’, then think carefully about the effect your books are having on students.
Replace any gross books with James Dawson’s non-fiction. Trust me on this one."

And this one on history books.

"DO YOU HAVE ANY BOOKS ABOUT PEOPLE WHO AREN’T WHITE? Prioritise that shit. Make space in your budget. You don’t need 10 copies of The Fault In Our Stars, you need some motherfucking history books about people of colour."

Speaking of James Dawson, who recently announced he was starting 'a very long journey into living as a woman' (he's asked that for now, we continue to use he/him/his when talking about him), I loved this Maximum Pop piece on the supportive reactions of the YA community to this news.

And with lots of YouTube stars likely to be hitting the bestseller lists soon, James makes some great points about the publishing industry's need to harness their popularity in The Bookseller

Also I was super-thrilled to win a signed hardback of Jennifer Donnelly's These Shallow Graves by taking part in the #TSGMurderMystery from Hot Key, definitely one of the coolest publicity ideas of the year!

Michael Rosen's impassioned criticism of the new SPAG test for KS2 children was a great article in the Guardian, which had a tremendous week. Others I really enjoyed in the paper are Imogen Russell-Williams on children's non-fiction and Daniel Jose Older's Do Black Children's Lives Matter If Nobody Writes About Them?

This video of Daniel Jose Older, in which he talks about the issues with picture book A Fine Dessert, is also incredibly powerful.

While The Guardian was definitely the paper that impressed me most last week, I also loved this Telegraph post with pictures from If It Fits, I Sits: Cats in Awkward Places, published by Orion.

Back to The Guardian, this piece on the way male friendships can disappear in your 30s really hit home. As I mentioned on Twitter, this is basically where I was when I moved out of my parents house for the first time since uni (although at that time I was in my 20s.) In the town I moved to, I didn't know anyone except work colleagues, and being super-shy really struggled to make friends. Thankfully, while that nearly happened when I moved to London (a quick check of old e-mails sent reveals that I'd blanked out a three month period when I was REALLY unhappy and ready to move back up.), I ended up finding some of the best friends I've ever had. (I'll stop there; my tweets already drew the response from Melinda Salisbury "You're getting emotion all over my timeline.")

Also on the subject of friendships, I think one of the hardest things I've ever had to learn was when to walk away from a toxic friendship. Author Molli Moran, whose One Song Away is still one of my favourite ever NA reads, is brilliant on that subject here.

Speaking of friends, it's awesome to see fantastic people in the book blogging community doing brilliant things! Daphne, one of my best friends, is about to send out her Illumicrate subscription box - I can't wait to see people's reactions on receiving it! Daphne has been very busy - she was over on Gollancz's blog last Friday, with a brilliant post on reasons to read/reread The Falconer.

Meanwhile The Book Smugglers' publishing venture gets better and better - I loved The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper, a fabulous fairytale/film noir mash-up by Carlie St George, opening the Spindle City Mysteries! I also adored this brilliant Book Smugglers review of Frances Hardinge's superb The Lie Tree.

Another of my closest friends, Stacey, has been telling me about some of her plans for the 2016 Classic Challenge, which sound amazing! I have sadly been fairly hopeless at keeping up with the 2015 Classic Challenge, but WILL do better next year. Hopefully!! Over on Stacey's blog recently, author Holly Webb, who's written Return to the Secret Garden, posted about why people should read children's classics.

And I know several people following me are looking for book-related jobs - there are some GREAT ones out there at the moment! Foyles event co-ordinator (closing date 15th) and assistant to amazing agent Juliet Mushens (closing date 13th) stand out.

Lots of people I know are doing NaNoWriMo this year, although I'm taking a year off. Regardless, I read and loved this Rainbow Rowell pep talk!

The FCGB announced their Children's Book Award 2015 shortlists. I haven't read everything on there, but would definitely recommend Polly Ho-Yen's Boy in the Tower and Sarah Crossan's Apple And Rain - I'd love to see them win!

Emily June Street's feminist steampunk novel, Velocipede Races, sounds amazing! It's fully funded on Kickstarter after just a week, but there's 2 and a half weeks left if you want to sign up for any of the fabulous rewards on offer at great prices.

Adding reviews to the spreadsheet (now up to date, as far as I'm aware!) always exposes me to SO MANY incredible reviews from British bloggers. Some of my favourites found this week.

The Light That Gets Lost by Natasha Carthew, reviewed by Jill at The Bookbag.
The Imaginary, written by AF Harrold and illustrated by Emily Gravett, reviewed by Debbie at Snuggling on the Sofa.
Monster by CJ Skuse, reviewed by Sally at The Dark Dictator.
Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, reviewed by Stacey at Pretty Books.
Birdy by Jess Vallance, reviewed by Orli at Blame MyBookshelf.
Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, reviewed by Bella at Cheezyfeet Books.
Stonebird by Mike Revell, reviewed by Leanne at Thoughts About Books.
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, reviewed by Darren at Bart's Bookshelf
The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, reviewed by Anna at Enchanted by YA.
Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison - joint review from Michelle at The Unfinished Bookshelf and Jasmine at Jassy Fizzle.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, review by The Arts Shelf.

The reason for actually getting round to updating the spreadsheet, instead of leaving it all to Debbie as usual, was so that I could write a quiz about it for Teens on Moon Lane - the most reviewed books of 2015 amongst British bloggers.

Also, we e-mailed a number of publicists about an idea tying into the spreadsheet and were thrilled to get an amazing response with so many people liking it! More details soon, but we're very grateful to all the publicists who replied to us supporting the idea and sending details of upcoming releases. A couple that especially look great - Nicci Cloke is fabulous so her YA debut Follow Me (Hot Key) is sure to be brilliant while Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's The Smell of Other People's Houses (Faber), set in Alaska in 1970, sounds seriously intriguing, as does Laini Taylor's new Muse of Nightmares (Hodder & Stoughton).

And while those were new to me, The Square Root Of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood (Pan Macmillan) is on I've been desperate for for ages - great to see the cover reveal on Maximum Pop!

One that, as far as I'm aware, isn't coming out over here is Meredith Russo's If I Was Your Girl, "about a beautiful, intelligent, blonde transgender teen girl who forms a loving bond with a straight male high school football player." Written by Russo, a transgender woman, this sounds AMAZING. (Also I LOVE that cover, featuring transgender model Kira Conley!)

Speaking of plans for 2016, I'm very happy to be bringing the Happy Book Birthday feature back to Middle Grade Strikes Back as a monthly feature, restarting on 7th January! Looking for a few more birthday-themed questions like the one in that example - any ideas, anyone? Leave me a comment!

Over on Teens on Moon Lane, I finally posted the Top Ten Books I'm Too Scared To Read For Halloween post that I'd been working on for what seems like ages, and also posted Top Ten Debut Authors Whose Next Books I'm Excited For.

I also brought back an old post from YA Contemporary, Ten Reasons To Read Undeniable by Liz Bankes - I'm going to try this as a review style for a bit and see how it goes - and firm favourite 5-4-3-2-1 continued with The Light That Gets Lost author Natasha Carthew, and The Imaginary author AF Harrold (big thanks Bloomsbury for setting those two up!)

My friend Gracie is 4 weeks into her radiotherapy; I'm really looking forward to celebrating the end of it with her soon. Her fabulous fundraiser for Little Princess Trust is now on £1785 - please consider donating, or spreading the word about it.

And talking of Gracie, I loved her post about the awesomeness of the UKYA book blogging community!

Joanne Stapley's Bookish Spinsters continues, with a great post from her on Sex And Female Sexuality.

Most of the weekend has been spent watching Master of None, which I was hooked on after a few episodes - I was first alerted to it by the wonderful Bim Adewunmi's Buzzfeed post! There's also a great NY Times review of it here. Additionally, I enjoyed reading writer/star Aziz Ansari talking to EW about Indians on TV, one of my favourite episodes of the show.

When not watching that, I've been listening to a lot of Karina Ramage - check her out on Soundcloud!

Other than staying in marathoning MON, I went out a fair bit - I had a great time at the STREAM festival, really enjoying Girl Power with Jenny McLachlan, Lucy Saxon and Katy Birchall, and then Emily Drabble's great chairing of James Dawson and Laura Dockrill. I then headed to Guildford (DON'T ASK about the journey there!) for a brilliant event featuring a fabulous quartet of authors, Holly Bourne, Mel Salisbury, CJ Daugherty and Alexia Casale. A really excellent event, and great to catch up with my friends Faye, Laura and Caroline there.

I also went to the theatre with Debbie to see Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games. The dancing was great, and we both enjoyed it, although the set - including footage on a big screen of unicorns, and a seriously corny villain - weren't particularly to my tastes! We got reduced price tickets, and felt it was good value for money for that, at least.

Have there been any great posts I've missed? What was the highlight of your week? Leave me a comment!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Week in Review: 26th Oct - 2nd Nov

I don't use this blog much at the moment as I tend to be busy with Teens on Moon Lane, but thought I might try something new. I figure I tweet links to posts and articles I love ALL THE TIME, so maybe it would be worth putting them together in a more permanent fashion. This is, for now, a one-off, but could potentially be recurring.

I loved this There Were Books Involved review of Jenn Bennett's The Anatomical Shape of a Heart - more familiar to me, at least, under UK title Night Owls. That, and Sarah Benwell being hugely enthusiastic about it on Twitter, has pushed it towards the top of my TBR pile.

It was fascinating to attend the Rock The Boat blogger event a few months ago, and it was clear from talking to people there how much they valued bloggers. This post on their site definitely shows that!

An old post that I got seriously excited about when talking to Katherine Woodfine, author of The Mystery Of The Clockwork Sparrow - Marcus Sedgwick's wonderful classic children's/YA feature on The Dark Is Rising, including a fantastic picture of Susan Cooper's original plans for the sequence!

Speaking about excitement, I got Karina Ramage's brilliant Demons CD in the post! (If you're interested in listening to Karina, who blew me away a few weeks ago when I saw her playing by the South Bank Centre, check out her Soundcloud!

And I was rather thrilled to be retweeted by Penguin Books after posting a photo of myself and my friend Grace with Anastasia Catris's gorgeous Colour Me Mindful: Butterflies on Global Colouring Day!

Speaking of Grace, I LOVED hearing about her fabulous time at Stylist Live! Check out her brilliant post on it.

(Also, if you're able to contribute to her JustGiving for Little Princess Trust it would be MASSIVELY appreciated! She's on £1725 at the moment and really really hoping to get to her goal of £2000 before she finishes radiotherapy.)

On the subject of charity, it's amazing to hear that Nosy Crow are giving £5 from every copy sold of Anne Booth and Sam Usher's Nativity retelling Refuge to War Child - made possible as everyone involved in producing, distributing and selling the book are doing so without making a profit. More details here.

There's been a LOT of talk on diversity this week, much of which I'm keeping out of as other people can say things far better than I can in many cases - although I am hoping to try and write something about the diversity workshop I ran with Wei Ming Kam at YA Shot. I would strongly, STRONGLY recommend people read the following.

Katherine Locke interviewing Simon Tam of Firefly about asexuality, just one of the many excellent posts for the Gay YA's Asexual Awareness week.

Kaye on Ice Cream and Sprinkles, replying to a post by Roger Sutton. (The comments on that Roger Sutton post are definitely worth reading, for a change when it comes to internet comments!)

Agent Aletha on 'Reading While Asexual', also as part of the Asexual Awareness Week.

Ellen Oh on The "Diversity Agenda People".

Justina Ireland on Earned Equality.

I was also able to take part in #AceYAChat, run by Nita Tyndall - a chat about the representation of asexuality, demisexuality, and the ace spectrum in general in YA. This was WONDERFUL and it felt very special to be able to talk about the ace spectrum in a welcoming and supportive environment. A massive thank you to Nita for running such a great chat!   

Obviously, my go-to people for diverse book recs are numerous, but one of the top ones is American author Dahlia Adler. Dahlia's #DahlBC is a wonderful idea and she's just announced her November books, which you can find here. I would MASSIVELY recommend George by Alex Gino to everyone, and Cam Girl by Leah Raeder to everyone over 18, while I'm reading Dahlia's own Just Visiting at the moment and loving it!

One of the people at YA Shot who took part in the workshop was Charlotte from Firefly Reads, whose blog I don't think I'd seen before. It's quickly become a favourite of mine - her posts on the UCL MA Publishing course she's studying on are particularly interesting!

YA Shot was an incredible day, by the way! So many great events and wonderful people there. My Wednesday came to an emotional end as I met up with some of my best friends to say goodbye to our friend Caitlin, who we wanted to say goodbye to before she moved away from London. Thank you to the lovely staff at Fourteenth Colonie for a brilliant night - this also explains why my profile picture is suddenly fixed in place on Twitter; I don't think anything's going to beat this one. (But feel free to try, David!) Caitlin, London won't be the same without you.

The plagiarism stuff last week was mind-boggling and I won't even TRY to explain it - instead, I'll direct you to Jenny Trout's always fantastic blog. I also loved her blistering takedown of a journalist suggesting that romance novels were all the same, really.

And, speaking of people who are constantly providing great posts, I really enjoyed Lucy's 5 Female Authors I Adore post at Queen of Contemporary while it was also great to see her Project UKYA "I Pledge UKYA" campaign get off to such a great start! Sofia's post Why I Love The UKYA Community definitely struck a chord with me while Holly Bourne's UKYA Life Highlights were brilliant!

And Holly's fabulous Am I Normal Yet? also inspired another superb campaign, Joanne Stapley's brilliant #BookishSpinsters hashtag about feminism. I loved reading posts from Joanne and Sunny on 'What Is Feminism?' and look forward to reading future prompts, and hopefully taking part myself as I know Joanne wants guys to get involved as well.

There were three contenders for the best news of the week - Debbie got us Cursed Child tickets, YALC tickets went on sale (for anyone who hadn't blown their entire bank balance on Cursed Child tickets - hoping they don't sell out TOO soon!) and Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda got optioned for film! Becky Albertalli's gorgeous gay contemporary romance is perhaps the sweetest book I've read all year and I would LOVE to see a big screen version.

Over on Teens on Moon Lane, I got David Owen, author of Panther, to take part in 5-4-3-2-1. I really enjoyed this, particularly one of the pieces of advice he'd give to himself if he could time-travel to before he was published "Don’t follow literally thousands of random people on Twitter to build your own follower number in the hope of looking important. It’s pointless, and will just leave your Twitter in a terrible mess. You’ll also inadvertently follow some truly reprehensible people."

We also got the shortlist of the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, which is excellent! Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree is one of my favourites of the year, Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders was perhaps my favourite of last year, while David Almond's A Song For Ella Grey and Sally Nicholls's An Island Of Our Own are high on my TBR.

Offline, it was a busy week for me - two outstanding Leigh Bardugo events, Showstopper: The Improvised Musical with Debbie, which is well worth seeing, and the aforementioned farewell gathering for Caitlin. I also saw Spectre, which I enjoyed, and The Martian, which I ADORED! As well, I went with various other #ukmgchat regulars on a bookshop crawl organised (fantastically well!) by Miriam Craig and Lorraine Gregory - a great day out, going to Dulwich Books, Tales on Moon Lane and Village Books. After that on Saturday, I wandered down to the Southbank food market, where I bought a burger from Woodwards Farm, delicious as ever, and duck fat chips from The Frenchie - gorgeous!

The joys of bookshop browsing - and actually looking at adult books for once - meant that I saw Ferguson's Gang: The Secret Society That Saved Rural England for the first time. This looks WONDERFUL and will definitely be buying soon! On Sunday, more bookshop browsing meant I picked up Love Hurts, the anthology edited by Malorie Blackman, to look at Susie Day's story Tumbling and somehow found myself at the till after reading three pages. I haven't read the rest yet but this gorgeous story about two girls who ship Sherlock and John together and fall for each other while discussing the show online is WELL worth the cover price on its own.

Nearly everyone I know is busy doing NaNoWriMo, I think (I'm feeling slightly left out!) If you can tear yourself away from your novel for five minutes, these tips and tricks from The Book Belle are great!

Other reviews and posts I loved - Debbie on The Imaginary, Luna on her Diversity Month and The Louth Leader on one of Abi Elphinstone's many primary school visits!

Finally, there were fairly major updates to the spreadsheet of reviews and upcoming releases, as Debbie continues to be amazing at updating it while I was less lazy than normal! Check out next year's releases.

Have there been any great posts I've missed? What was the highlight of your week? Leave me a comment!

And to finish off, a few more #ColourMeMindful pics.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Red Eye Interview: Lou Morgan and Alex Bell

Thrilled to present not just my first author interview for some time on this blog, but my first TWO interviews! I normally like to talk to authors about their books, but the Red Eye books are rather too scary for me to read, which presented something of a problem. Thankfully, the wonderful Lou Morgan and Alex Bell were happy to answer some Halloween/horror themed questions.

Lou Morgan

1) What was the first scary movie you can remember watching, and what effect did it have on you?

I think that would have to be Hitchcock's The Birds. It's not... scary, exactly, but you know what? It is. It really is. The idea that for no apparent reason and with no warning, all the birds could just turn against us? That's very unsettling. Because birds are everywhere. What do you do if they decide that, actually, they don't like people that much after all? I think it was the senselessness of it that bothered me the most: horror films involving awful things happening on a completely arbitrary basis; those are the ones that really bother me. (I'm clearly very judgemental and only like bad things to happen to bad people.)

I also remember seeing a version of Dracula very young: it was Frank Langella's one, I think. I used to collect vampire anthologies I found in second-hand bookshops, and I was forever smuggling them home past my mother - who hated horror. Then I saw The Lost Boys when I was 13,and there was no way I was ever going to not love vampires after that.

2) Which YA characters would MOST scare you if they visited youtrick-or-treating?

I'd have a real problem if any of the Sickos from Charlie Higson's The Enemy series knocked on the door - probably because they'd mostly be trying to eat me. Likewise, I'd be very keen to avoid Valeri, one of the vampire brothers who turns up in Will Hill's Department 19: The Rising. The most worrying one, though, would probably be Mary from James Dawson's Say Her Name. You wouldn't even have to open the door to her, would you?

3) Which other authors would you want with you if you were exploring a haunted house?

Preferably ones who can handle weapons, and who run slower than I do. Never be the slowest runner in the pack. As well as the sacrificial bit-players who are only there to make up the numbers so the rest of us make it out alive, I feel like James Dawson knows so much about horror that he'd be able to point out every lethal horror-cliche before we became one. My fellow Slytherin Mel Salisbury would be leading the exploration party (and would hopefully be able to get us out again). Non Pratt would be generally calming and excellent all round... and Robin Stevens would be able to prove to us that the old house wasn't haunted after all: it was a trick by the creepy caretaker who was Up To No Good.

4) What's the most scared you've ever been?

Good question. I've had a lot of the boring kinds of scared, or the being in the wrong place at the wrong time kind of scared - or even the "Oh good god, I think I might have got locked in this Tube station for the night" (true story) kind of scared.

But actually, the most scared I've ever been was a little more serious than that: I spent quite a long time at the very end of my teens and start of my twenties on and off medication to control my recently-diagnosed manic depression. That was very scary: not the medication - but the moment when it had just started to work, when I looked back and realised that for some time, I hadn't quite been... for want of a better word, sane. And - worse - I couldn't remember when or how it had started. (There's actually a very good analogy for that in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, of which I'm a huge fan: if you've read the novel, you'll know it involves candles and pineapples. And if you haven't read the novel then, frankly, I don't think we can be friends any more.)

It was that fear, that idea - the idea that you can completely lose control of what's going on inside your own head *and not know it* - which partly inspired Sleepless. It's one of the things that scares me most in the world.

5) I sometimes ask authors why people should read their book - but as a variation, why SHOULDN'T people read your book late at night on Halloween if they're alone?

Sleep deprivation. Exhaustion. Hallucinations. Phantom footsteps, and the feeling that someone's behind you, reaching out to touch your shoulder in the dark.

And when the daylight eventually, finally, comes, things get even worse...

Alex Bell

1) What was the first scary movie you can remember watching, and what effect did it have on you?

It was this awful thing called The Willies that my Dad rented from the video store when my Mum was in hospital one night. I think I was about six and my brother was a year younger, and we were both terrified. The film was made up of several short horror stories but the worst one was about this monster that lived in a school toilet and kept slaughtering people that went in there. Unfortunately, when I started junior school soon afterwards, I thought that the toilets there looked exactly like the ones in the film, so I was scared to go in them. I had to race in and out as fast as possible and sing the theme tune to My Little Pony under my breath the whole time I was in there so that I wouldn’t freak out. So, yeah, thanks for that one, Dad! 

2) Which YA characters would MOST scare you if they visited you trick-or-treating?

Sebastian from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, because he’d be totally cold and ruthless. Also, the ghost of Anna from Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake.

3) Which other authors would you want with you if you were exploring a haunted house?

Hmm. I think my friends Jaine Fenn and Suzanne McLeod would do a better job of staying calm in that situation than me. And also my buddy Sarwat Chadda because I have a feeling he’d turn into some kind of ghost-banishing ninja if the need arose. 

4) What's the most scared you've ever been?

Taking part in a séance this one time in the pitch black at about 3 o clock in the morning on one of these organised ghost night things. It was at an old house in the country with a really freaky fireplace and other fittings that had been brought from another house. The medium kept calling it a “house within a house” which I found really creepy. And during the séance he claimed to be channelling a ghost called Albert. My family later pointed out to me that he was achieving a weird sounding voice by breathing in as he spoke – but at the time I was pretty much wetting myself. Unfortunately, when I get really scared, I have a nervous laughter response that I can’t stop – and this didn’t go down very well with the medium, who probably thought I was mocking him. In fact, I was just scared out of my wits!

5) I sometimes ask authors why people should read their book - but as a variation, why SHOULDN'T people read your book late at night on Halloween if they're alone?

People shouldn’t read Frozen Charlotte at night on their own because they might start hearing tiny fingernails scratching at the windows – and if there are any dolls in the house then they might start to become very suspicious of them and convince themselves that the doll moved when they weren’t looking. Definitely not a good idea if you have any kind of antique doll collection, that’s for sure.

Check Studio Reads on Monday 26th October (edit: argh - that's TODAY, because I somehow messed up scheduling this post!) to see the Red Eye authors discussing Halloween costumes.

You can find out more about the Red Eye books at the publisher's website.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Guest Post: Nick Bryan - Behold The Darkness Beneath The High Street

I'm a big fan of Nick Bryan's Hobson and Choi series and really enjoyed his blog post for me on the influences for the series around the time of the Rush Jobs release, so when awesome publicist Faye Rogers offered to arrange another great guest post from him I was hugely pleased!

Behold The Darkness Beneath The High Street! – Five Institutions To Turn Evil In Future Hobson & Choi books?

In the Hobson & Choi books, regular shops and businesses are revealed to have a terrifying evil dark side full of crime, exploitation and outright evil. There was the underworld pub in The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf, a dark recruitment agency in Rush Jobs and Trapped in the Bargain Basement’s secretive shopping centre.

That’s often the most fun part of the series, to be honest – spotting everyday businesses/organisations and making them a front for something awful. So, to mark the release of the third book, here are a few more crime-riddled high street regulars which… probably won’t be appearing in future H&C books. (Although they might.)

Cruel Charity Shop

Up and down the high streets of Britain, charity shops sell second hand items for worthy causes, letting us either feel good about handing over a bag of our junk or buy someone else's old property without the ever-present worry that we’re funding their drug-dealing.

But what if they were evil? What if charity shops were actually throwing most of your donations into a massive furnace to burn to encourage chemical reactions, whilst selling the few worthwhile items to fund ingredients and chemistry equipment for… yes, drug dealing.


Hellish Hospital

Well, hospitals are fine, of course? They make people better, they're run by the good old National Health Service (if you're in Britain), a cuddly organisation that wants to let us heal everyone else.

But what if they were awful? What if they were run by a cult devoted to destroying the planet through over-population? Just think, they could let us die when we get ill, but instead they cure us, so people just keep surviving and consuming and burning fossil fuels and throwing nappies into landfill sites and soon the planet will be an uninhabitable mudball.


Lethal Library

Of course, libraries are cuddly. You rent books, sit in reassuring quiet, the world is full of knowledge and calm. They serve the community, spread stories, another way we all pitch in to lift each other.

But what if they were nauseating? What if every library item contained a tracker, enabling them to guarantee the exact home location (none of this 'proven home address' rubbish) of each person, which the library then sells to the highest bidder – such as marketing companies, loan sharks, burglars seeking heavy media consumers and anyone who doesn't like you?


Insidious Internet Café

The internet is a life essential for many of us nowadays, but sometimes you won't have it when you need it. Maybe your smartphone is dead, the connection at home isn't ready because you've just moved, and that's when internet cafés are there to save the day!

But what if they were soul-crushing? What if every computer had a keylogger installed for identity theft purposes? And then, once they'd stolen your online identity, they had plastic surgery to steal your real self, killed and dumped you in a ditch, started posting platitudes and images of inspirational quotes on your Facebook and none of your friends even noticed the difference?


Nefarious Nursery

They look after children! They change their nappies! Keep them busy so that the parents can have some breathing room to manage their real life! Good old nurseries!

But what if they were disgusting? What if they'd realised that children, if deployed correctly, could drive anyone over the edge? What if, underneath each nursery, is a room rented out to mobsters and shady government agencies where suspects and rivals are tied to a chair, unable to move and left among screaming, pooing children until they crack?


Hopefully the above hasn't left you unable to walk down the high street without trembling. If you enjoyed this short stroll through a grim mirror town, why not pick up the Hobson & Choi series (first book free on digital!) and see how dreadful I can make the everyday over the course of a full length novel?

Follow Nick on Twitter and check out his website