Saturday, 18 October 2014

Brief Bloomsbury Recommendations

I haven't reviewed anything for what seems like ages and have been losing the will but I've read two fabulous books from Bloomsbury today so wanted to talk about them briefly!



This is a short story which I've read before but I had to get my hands on it to see what Chris Riddell's illustrations would add to it - and the answer is LOADS! It was already a brilliant read but the black, white and gold drawings from Riddell make it an absolutely perfect book for your shelf - or for Christmas presents! I always struggle to review shorts because I'm petrified of spoilers and it feels like I'll give something away, so all I'll say on the writing is that it's a great version of a fairytale (or two!) which took me by surprise and is just as beautifully written as you'd expect from Neil Gaiman. Oh, actually, one more thing - this has awesome heroines! Riddell's illustrations are breathtaking and the hints of gold added to the black and white pictures catch the eye beautifully.

Jill reviewed for The Bookbag and was also a massive fan, as was Viv at Serendipity Reviews.




Jon Mayhew's Monster Odyssey: Eye of Neptune was possibly my favourite yet from an author who's been consistently excellent, with his loosely-linked Mortlock trilogy being big hits with me. I've been meaning to read his second one in the series for ages but keep seeing it when I don't have spare money or having cash and not being able to track it down - until today, when the brilliant Tales On Moon Lane had it in and I bought it from Jen, my favourite bookseller.

Slight spoilers for EoN, have tried to avoid anything major.

Dakkar and his mentor Count Oginski get viciously attacked by a hideous creature resembling a giant lizard, severely injuring the Count. Trying to track down the lizard's origins, the youngster ends up in a world far below the earth's surface, filled with lizard riders, giants, and another of the Count's evil brothers, Cryptos. Can he find allies and fight his way out?

I feel like I should probably string together a coherent review (and I might, at some point, if I put this on The Bookbag), but OMG YOU GUYS THERE ARE GIANT MONSTERS! And people living in the middle of the earth! And historical characters including a girl I've always wanted to read more about, whose name I'll leave you to discover for yourself and the Emperor Napoleon, as well as a welcome returning character from book one. Dakkar - brave, resourceful, and definitely showing signs of being the man he'll grow up to be (Sorry for the crypticness there but saying more would be a BIG spoiler for book one!) - is a fantastic lead, I love the two girls who play a big part in his adventure, and the other allies and enemies are well fleshed out.

Seriously, what more do you want in an adventure series? I'm hoping we get loads and loads more books - my only complaint here is that the Count needs to find some extra brothers for our hero to take on, I think he has 7 (or is it 6, with him being the 7th?) and that's NOWHERE NEAR ENOUGH.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson and Why You Should Be Involved In The Cover Reveal Flash Mob

(V rushed post; I'm teaching an evening class in 15 minutes but I've just seen this news and wanted to get the word out quickly!)

I was recently lucky enough to be sent a copy of Lisa Williamson’s debut The Art of Being Normal, coming in January from David Fickling Books. My expectations for this were sky-high because it was recommended to me by Charlie, George, and Kim, all of whom have amazing taste in books, but it smashed them completely.

I don’t want to do a full review as I’m leaving that until closer to release date but I mentioned last week when writing my 20 Best YA Books of the Last 10 Years that if I hadn’t limited it to already released books, this would definitely have been on there, and I stand by that. It’s a stunning read which switches between two amazing main characters – David, a year 10 boy who wants to be a girl, and Leo, the new boy in Year 11 with a secret of his own – and the friendship that forms between them. As well as the two great lead characters it has a brilliant supporting cast – with their families being especially strong – and it’s completely riveting. Cat Clarke said of it that it “will break your heart – and then mend it again” which sums it up perfectly.

Just announced is that the cover will be revealed next Tuesday, 21st October, and that David Fickling Books are asking people on Twitter and Instagram to take part in the #WhatIsNormalFlashMob,  tweeting or regramming the image of the cover (which will be available on Tuesday to download from their website) with that hashtag and/or changing their avatar to the cover. I know that a lot of people following me feel really passionately, as I do, about spreading the word about diverse books so I wanted to bring this to everyone’s attention in the hope that as many people as possible would join the flash mob.

If you’ve read it, I’m almost certainly preaching to the converted here. If you haven’t, but you trust my judgement, or that of Charlie, Kim, George, James Dawson, Anna James and Charlotte Eyre of the Bookseller, Cat Clarke, Barry Cunningham, Non Pratt, Cait Lomas, or Darren from Waterstones Durham, please get behind the cover reveal – let’s see if we can turn our Twitter timelines into a wall of #WhatIsNormal!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Top Ten Places Books Made Me Want To Visit/Revisit

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

1. Hogwarts from Harry Potter series by JK Rowling - No explanation needed, surely!

2. Linbury Court from Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge - I'm sure that in real life, I'd have hated boarding school, but Linbury Court always looked so much fun!

3. Chalet School, in Tiernsee years, from Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer - See above, but with extra Alpine escapades!

4. The Abbey, from The Abbey Girls series by E J Oxenham - Always sounds so beautiful and peaceful.

5. Bath, from A Tangle of Magicks by Stephanie Burgis - I haven't been to Bath for ages, and keep meaning to go back - apart from anything else I'd love to sample the bookshops that bloggers like Lucy The Reader rave about so much! (I WILL visit Mr B’s sooner or later!) However Georgian Bath, as described by Stephanie Burgis in the 2nd Kat Stephenson novel, also sounds AMAZINGLY wonderful.

6. Lyssia, from Wereworld series by Curtis Jobling - With my luck, I'm 90% sure I'd get killed by a therianthrope within my first ten minutes in Lyssia. But it would be an AWE-INSPIRING ten minutes.

7. Everywhere in Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson – Is this a cheat? I basically really want to do a road trip across America!

8. The town in The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson – I love this setting so much but can’t remember its name, or even if it’s actually GIVEN a name. (It’s a long time since I’ve read it.) Anyone?

9. Cornwall in Just For The Summer/In The Summertime by Judy Astley – I love Devon and Cornwall, and Astley has captured the seaside atmosphere perfectly in these two novels.

10. Nancherrow in Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher – As mentioned above, I love the South West, and the magnificent Cornish estate of the Carey-Lewis family would be an amazing place to stay.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Author Interview with Susan Fletcher

I'm a big fan of Les Miserables and Eponine is my favourite character, so I was thrilled to get the chance to read A Little In Love by Susan Fletcher, a novel centred on her. Full review to follow (hopefully later this week) but I'd definitely recommend it - along with some tissues! - it has one of the most powerful endings of the year so far.

I was delighted to get the chance to ask Susan some questions.



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

This is the first time I’ve written for the YA market – so I’m imagining a brand-new readership! I think, in many ways, I imagine the teenaged me: I was quite a secretive reader, choosing cosy places – my bed, a corner, an empty classroom at lunch-break or under a blanket with a cat – to turn my pages in. I think this influences my imagining of my readers. But I’m also keenly aware that YA fiction can be crossover literature – and I’d love to think that it might find an adult readership too.


2. A Little In Love is the retelling of Eponine's story from Les Miserables - but which version of Les Miserables is your favourite, book, screen or stage?

It’s a hard choice – but I would have to choose the book. It isn’t an easy read – it’s 1400 pages! – and it brims with so much description and information that the pace can, at times, become slow. But even so, it’s an extraordinary, sprawling and mesmeric book; it is full of tremendous characters, and full of heartbreak. I felt stunned, in the days that followed reading it. No wonder it has inspired so many. Having said that, the stage and screen versions have, I think, captured the book’s passion and richness brilliantly. The recent film is just wonderful! I’ve seen it many times and absolutely love it.


3. Are there any particular actors whose performances in Les Miserables influenced your versions of their characters?

I tried very hard to empty my mind of all I’d seen and heard. It’s tricky to do – and certainly I could envisage several of the actors from the recent film, from time to time. Samantha Barks’s perfect Eponine, of course, and Sasha Baron-Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter’s wonderful depiction of the Thenardiers were the hardest to put to one side. But Hugo’s book has very defined descriptions of the characters, and I tried to use those as the basis for my own – not the film’s. By the end of the first draft, I could see new people. I could see my own, personal Eponine wandering through Paris – and I still can.


4. While A Little In Love is your YA debut, you're an acclaimed author for adults, winning the Whitbread prize with your debut Eve Green. Do you approach writing for teens differently than writing for adults?

I was fazed, in the beginning. I thought I might have to do everything differently, and I didn’t know how! But I calmed down – and I decided that, actually, there is very little difference between the writing process for YA and Adult fiction. Both readerships want, ultimately, the same thing: a thoughtful and immersive story, a little excitement, a little love, likeable characters - and all told in a way that might, at times, make them read a sentence a second time just because it is beautifully done. That’s what I try for, at least. The only things I altered slightly were dialogue (more of it) and description (less). By doing this, the book’s pace is faster – and I think the YA readers have a greater wish for a speedy read than many adults do.


5. On a similar note, do you read much YA? Do you have any particular favourite YA authors you'd recommend?

Before writing A Little In Love, I hadn’t read any YA novels since my own teenage years. But having taken on the challenge, I did look at some of the most successful YA novels out there – The Hunger Games books, for example. During the actual writing process, however, I stopped reading other novels. I do this with my adult work, too: I find it confusing to have another author’s style and story in my head, when trying to create my own. So I stop reading, and just write …


6. The ending to A Little In Love - surely one of the most powerful of the year - had me in tears on the train. When's the last time you cried at a book?

Thank you. I am glad you cried! I hope that doesn’t sound cruel or strange – but it suggests that I managed to get all the emotion that I, too, was feeling into the pages. It suggests you cared for Eponine as I did, which is a lovely thing to know. I cried writing that scene. I often cry when I’m writing – I keep tissues on my desk! It’s hard to explain to non-readers why I do this, and sometimes I worry that I’m too emotional! But I also think (hope!) it’s a good sign: I am so immersed in my created world, and so in love with the characters in it, that they feel real to me. In terms of other people’s work, it’s been a while since I cried at fiction. But I often get tearful at poetry. Poetry is my first love, and I can be profoundly affected by it. I steer clear of Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ for what it does to me! That’s an extraordinary poem. And I cried, recently, at both Missing God by Dennis O’ Driscoll and Carol Ann Duffy’s Water – they are so tender, beautiful and sad. (In fact, I have just re-read them for the sake of this Q&A, and they both got me again!)


7. If you could host a literary dinner party, which six characters or authors would you invite?

What a great question! And virtually impossible to answer; I could change my mind daily, I’m sure! Off the cuff … I’d want Charlotte Bronte with me – and possibly Jane Eyre’s Rochester, too, because he’s flawed but rather fabulous, and I used to have a huge crush on him. Shakespeare. The late Seamus Heaney who made me want to be a writer. The novelist Sarah Bower, because she’s my friend and she’d be as excited by this dinner party as I’d be. And Eponine, too: a dinner party might overwhelm her somewhat, but she’s still a huge part of my thoughts so I’d feel compelled to have her there. And Charlotte Bronte would look after her, I’m sure!


8. Other than your own book, what's your favourite retelling of a classic story?

I recently read a novel called Ahab’s Wife – but Jena Seter Naslund. It is based on Herman Meville’s classic Moby Dick. In Moby Dick, there is a passing reference to the grizzly Captain Ahab’s young bride who is waiting for him, back on shore – and Naslund tells this bride’s story. It’s a wonderful idea, and gorgeously written. The protagonist is a true survivor, and tough in many ways – but it’s also a compelling story of lasting love.


9. What are you reading at the moment?

The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh … See below!


10. What's next for Susan Fletcher?

I’m returning to adult fiction – for now, at least. I am working on a novel that looks at a period in Van Gogh’s life, and a person he met during it. It’s all quite scary, because I am writing out of contract – and sometimes I’m worried that this book won’t be bought, won’t find publication … But I’m loving it. I wake up each morning with a sense of excitement, because of how much I am enjoying the writing of it. I hope this is a good sign! And, as ever, I have my box of tissues at the ready, just in case …



You can follow Susan on Twitter, and get more details about A Little In Love over at the Chicken House website.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Top 20 YA Books Of The Last 10 Years

Well, what an AMAZING weekend that was for YA! The closing weekend of Bath Children's Literature Festival, the opening one of Cheltenham, and also the two day YA Literature Weekender at the South Bank Centre as part of the London Literature Festival. I attended both days of this, and it was really great - the highlight being a fantastic panel on gender in popular culture with awesome authors Holly Bourne and Holly Smale (who I finally got to meet after wanting to for YEARS!) and two of my favourite people in the world of YA, brilliant author Non Pratt and Scholastic's commissioning editor David Maybury. Lots of other great panels and workshops, though, and it's amazing to see bloggers and vloggers I know getting involved officially - the wonderful Benjamin of Tomes did two talks on dystopian books (I only caught the second part of the Noughts and Crosses one due to train issues, but loved the Shadow of the Wolf one!) while I've heard great things about Lucy from Queen of Contemporary's panel at Cheltenham.

As well as the live events, though, there were other great things going on. Monday saw the release of the Book Blogger UKYA Awards, which a number of us have been involved in. Chief organiser has been the brilliant Faye from A Daydreamer's Thoughts - who's somehow managed to do a great job of putting them together at the same time as launching her PR services for authors, which I'd highly recommend to anyone looking for extra publicity. Head to her blog for all the results!

Also, Nicolette Jones wrote a wonderful piece for the Sunday Times on 100 Modern Kids' classics - 20 each in the age groups 0-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12 and 13+. If you're a Times subscriber you can get the full article, which really is a fantastic read. Otherwise, they're got a list on their shop, so you can at least see what made it.

Of course, this got me thinking about my own top books of the last 10 years. I don't know enough about the bottom 3 age ranges, but I had a stab at 13+, and at 10-12. The 13+ are below, the 10-12 will follow at some point next week.

Notes:

I stuck to stuff already released - otherwise The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson would have been a definite, and Melinda Salisbury's The Sin Eater's Daughter would almost certainly have got in as well.

I stuck to individual books rather than series - Curtis Jobling's Wereworld and Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls were the big losers here, I love both series but couldn't quite put them ahead of anything here.

I kept it down to one per author, to try and spread the love around a bit.

Also, the reviews/plot summaries are extracts of my longer reviews, which you can get to by clicking on the title - mainly at The Bookbag.


The bare bones. There are four girls in a band. There's a TV talent show, and the chance to progress, just not as a quartet. There's a difficult decision to be made.

And there's one of the best YA contemporary stories I've read in years, exploring media manipulation, cyber-bullying, body image, romance, friendship, making choices, and doing it all with incredible heart and a wonderful cast of characters. Narrator Sasha is outstandingly portrayed, with Sophia Bennett bringing her vividly to life, flaws and all, but the other girls in the group are all very realistic as well, as are their schoolmates and the various people involved in the talent show. I also really liked the way that Bennett dealt with the fall-out from the decision made and both the positive and negative effects of social networking.

As for the climax - I'm not quite sure if this is my favourite UKYA contemporary book of the last decade, but it's got hands-down the best ending, so perfect that I wished I was fit and coordinated enough to be able to turn cartwheels, as it seemed to be pretty much the only appropriate response to such a wonderful conclusion. 


Love In Revolution by BR Collins

I can never really review this; I just incoherently ramble "OMG READ THIS NOW!" Wonderful love story between two girls falling for each other during a revolution. Perhaps the most outstanding book of last year for me. (And last year was AMAZINGLY good.)



15-year-old Ash has been waiting for his father to come back from the war. He's following in his dad's footsteps as the stag boy in the traditional Stag Chase, and he knows his dad will be proud of him. Running through the mountains whenever he can to train, he's not bothered by the taunts of the other boys who he beat to become the stag, and who will take their places as hounds - he knows their hostility is traditional. But something is stirring in the countryside, and he sees strange visions, while his old friend Mark is behaving seriously creepily. Is Mark just grieving for his father, or is there something more sinister at work?

Classic fantasy at its absolute finest, this stunning debut brilliantly mixed old legends with thoroughly modern problems - including Ash's dad's PTSD, the foot and mouth crisis which has left his village reeling, and the bankruptcies of local farmers. Reminiscent of Susan Cooper's wonderful The Dark Is Rising series, this is my favourite UKYA of the year so far, and my tip for the Carnegie. 



Lucy wants to celebrate the end of school by finding the mysterious graffiti artist Shadow, whose work she's becoming obsessed with. The last thing she wants is to be stuck with Ed, a boy she briefly dated a couple of years ago, especially since that date ended with her breaking his nose after he put his hands in an inappropriate place. Ed, though, is supposed to be able to help her find Shadow, so she puts up with him. During the night, we see the story from both Lucy and Ed's sides as they gradually grow closer to each other.

Crowley has created a wonderful cast here of smart, artistic, and romantic young people. Ed and Lucy are wonderful narrators and the chemistry between the pair of them is absolutely off the charts - I was desperately hoping throughout the book that they'd get together. The supporting cast is also really strong, while the events all happening in one night works very well, making it a pacy and action-packed read.

As great as the characters and plot are, though, the real selling point is Crowley's fabulously lyrical prose, which is an absolute pleasure to read. There are gorgeous lines on virtually every page, making it a book you can completely lose yourself in.



The story of two teens trying to lose their virginities before going off to university. They’re both legally allowed to have sex, they’re both keen on the idea, but a mixture of their friends, bad timing, and sheer dumb luck keeps getting in the way.

It’s played for laughs and it’s hugely successful at getting them – I was nearly falling off my chair quite early on – but it’s also a book which really cares about its characters. Yes, there are some people acting in massively stupid ways at time but they’re not nasty to each other – just impulsive and sometimes careless. Massively, staggeringly funny.


Cellist Mia has just performed well in her audition for the ultra-prestigious Juilliard school, her boyfriend's rock band are becoming increasingly successful, and she has a loving family. Everything to live for... and then.

Left in a coma by the car crash that killed her parents and has put her young brother at death's door, Mia has to choose whether to live or die. Told in a mixture of Mia watching the people she lives react to her horrific accident, and flashbacks to show her relationship with boyfriend Adam develop and her growing interest in music, this is heartstoppingly brilliantly written. The characters - Mia herself, of course, but also Adam, her younger brother Teddy, her parents and her best friend Kim - are all lovingly crafted, the writing is lyrical, and the tension is built up to an incredible level - I honestly had no idea what Mia's final decision would be until right before she made it. 



Again, no plot summary as this is the last in one of my all-time favourite series.

Brutal, as his fans have come to expect by now - nothing quite as horrifying as a couple of the scenes involving Penny earlier in the series, but there are still some terrible deaths, one of which nearly had me throwing my copy at a wall in frustration, despite this being the most expensive book I've actually bought for ages. (I was 2nd in line to borrow it from my local library, but I couldn't wait even a day longer to read it and grabbed it in town a few days ago.)

I think the most impressive thing about the series, as a whole, is just how realistic the characters and their relationships feel. Yes, there's people who can shoot light out of their hands, telekinetics, and healers, but as out of the ordinary as the powers are, the teens wielding them seem utterly believable. As well, I love the way the non-powered teens have played such a big part in the series, and the character development of the entire main cast over the six books.

It's completely unpredictable - I had absolutely no idea how on earth it would end, but Grant brings things to a stunning conclusion. Amazingly good.



Faith has been moved into a different form to separate her from her friend Megs, as the teachers seem to think they're a bad combination. On the plus side, the school are bussing in cute boys for their choir - and Faith is ready to get to know the dreamy Finn a lot better. Until she realises he's singing a duet with her sworn enemy, at least. Can Faith get the boy? And will she be able to move back into the same form as Megs by impressing Miss Ramsbottom with her new found maturity?

While there are some hilarious lines on nearly every page, it's Faith's voice in general, and the wonderfully warm characters, which had me hooked on this. Faith herself is a brilliant creation - heedless and bossy at times, but with her heart in the right place - while her friends and the boys they're interested in are all well-developed. Also, while I don't think I've read any other book more than twice in recent years - and few more than once - I've read this four times in the last eighteen months and it is brilliant EVERY time.



No plot summary, for fear of spoilers for first three in one of my favourite series.

I was expecting this to be amazingly good after loving the first three in the series so in many ways I wasn't surprised here. As ever, Hill has created a complex, twisting plot, going back and forth between numerous protagonists, and juggles the action and pacing perfectly here. Similarly, his characterisation is uniformly strong. Larissa, Jamie, his parents, the Rusmanov brothers, Dracula, Henry Seward, Paul Turner, Cal Holmwood, and Kate and Matt are all vivid, well-rounded creations.

I'm also fascinated by the development of the world that we've seen over the four books so far. While the biggest change since the start of book one is that various revelations have opened some people's eyes, at least, to the existence of vampires, the more interesting one - at least to me - is tied into this. We've seen good and evil vampires before, but in the previous book, and even more so in this one, we get to see that there are a large number of indifferent ones. They're not interested in fighting, just in surviving, in as far as vampires can be said to survive. Can Department 19 continue to kill them just for being vamps, or does this make them as bad as the vigilante groups which have formed and are panicking and attacking innocent humans? It's an intriguing question and Hill doesn't give any easy answers here.



14-year-old Jenna survived a car crash which killed her best friend. Sometimes, she wishes it was her who was dead. Because the crash left her face scarred, and she can't stop feeling like a freak. As if that wasn't hard enough to cope with, her dad is out for justice and has set up a pressure group in response to the light sentence given to the driver of the car she was in - and the youth is responding with intimidation. Just as she hits rock bottom, though, 16-year old New Age traveller Ryan comes into her life. Could he be the person to see past her scars?

Intensely romantic, really thrilling, and with lots to provoke thought on the nature of beauty, friendship, discrimination, mental illness and loyalty. I found it an incredibly easy book to read because Jarratt's writing style is absolutely superb - pacy and vivid - while I was particularly impressed by the way Jenna's disfigurement was handled with sensitivity and by the way her character changed as she started to come to terms with it.



Pantomime is almost certainly the best fantasy of the last decade. That's virtually all I can say about it without getting deep into spoiler territory, which as regular readers will know, I hate. (Oh, actually, I can probably just about tell you that there's a circus in there as well without completely ruining it for you.) I'm not sure whether to praise LR Lam for writing such a phenomenal book or curse her for writing one that's almost completely unreviewable. There's such a big twist early on (which, admittedly, I guessed), that I can't even really say much about the start.

Inside Lam's world, she's created a fabulous society of circus misfits who are reliant on each other to earn a living but have their own intrigues, quarrels and love affairs. She's populated it with brilliant characters, capable of love, heroism, and cruelty. It's a book which looks at bullying, romance, family, and perhaps most impressively, issues about sexuality that are normally found only in a handful of contemporary books. 



Two boys - no longer a couple, but still friends - are kissing outside their high school. But this is no ordinary kiss. This is a kiss which they intend to last over 32 hours, breaking the world record for longest kiss. Their friend will document it, spreading the world to, and beyond, their community, some of whom will be supportive, others of whom will be disgusted. Two other boys are in a relationship, while two more may be about to start one. An eighth is looking for something he may never find. Two Boys Kissing tells the story of all these different boys, at different stages of love.

This is, in a word, stunning. Narrated by a Greek chorus of gay men who've died from AIDS - a lost generation, admiring yet at least slightly resenting these younger boys who have the opportunities they missed - it's a lyrical, wonderful, exquisite book which cements Levithan's place as one of the greatest prose stylists writing today. 



Amy hasn't got in a car for months, since her dad died in the crash, so she can't believe it when her mother tells her she needs to take it from California to the East Coast, even if she has arranged for Roger, the seriously cute son of a family friend, to drive. She thinks the trip will be a four day nightmare, as scheduled by her mother. Except Roger's not keen on overly regimented trips, and Amy's so upset at being forced into doing this that she's happy to go off track… so the pair decide to take the scenic route and explore America on the way there.

I adore the way this is put together – it's stunning. The travel book pages, motel reservation slips, and similar things add to the story wonderfully, especially towards the end, the photos are beautiful, and as for the playlists… wow! However, in addition, it's superbly written. Amy and Roger are fantastic characters, the people they meet are sweet, funny and quirky in their own ways, Amy's fear of cars and the start of her recovery from her guilt after her father's death are very well-portrayed, and the descriptions of the places they visit are great. 



There were once two sisters who were not afraid of the dark because the dark was full of the others voice around the room...

But now there's only one, because 19 year old Bailey has died and her 17 year old sister Lennie is left alone in her grief, apart from her Gram and Uncle Big.

What happens to a stupid companion pony if the racehorse dies?

Shattered by her sister's sudden passing, the only person Lennie feels she can turn to is Bailey's boyfriend Toby. And then the unthinkable happens and they kiss...

What if music is what escapes when a heart breaks?

Arriving into this mess is the gorgeous newcomer to school, Joe Fontaine. From the moment Lennie meets him at band practice there's instant electricity between them, and after never having anyone special in her life, Lennie is irresistibly drawn to two different boys. Can she go on with her life without Bailey to lead the way?

This is breathtakingly, incredibly, heartbreakingly beautiful. Debut author Jandy Nelson – how can anyone be this talented when writing their first novel? – creates a cast of compelling characters and manages to make Toby and Lennie so sympathetic that what seemed to be a rather unlikely love triangle works surprisingly well. I read through the entire book in a three hour train journey, stopping only for ten minutes to tear myself away before I burst into tears at Lennie's grief. (This worked originally but by the end I was crying anyway!)



Hannah is 15 and pregnant. She can't tell anyone who the father is - but new boy at school Aaron steps up to offer his services as a fake father. Hannah accepts, and the pair start their journey to parenthood. But who really is the dad, and why is Aaron willing to make such a massive commitment to a girl he doesn't even know that well?

Two brilliant narrators with amazing voices make this a must read, while Non Pratt also excels at capturing the relationships between friends, both the backstabbing that goes on between the shallower teens and the real love and support shown to Hannah and Aaron by a couple of their classmates.



Elise is a fragile girl who's never felt like she fitted in anywhere. Shuttled between her divorced parents, she's desperate to be popular at school but can't work out how. Then a chance event leads to her DJ'ing in Start, a hot underground nightclub and her life suddenly improves dramatically - but can she really leave behind her old self, or are the bullies who make her feel like there's nothing worthwhile about her life right all along?

Gripping from the very first chapter, which ends with Elise making a horrific decision which feels all too real because of the skill with which Sales shows us her issues. Demonstrating how casual day to day nastiness can be so draining on a person and just how much damage a teenager's peers can do, it's got a strong anti-bullying message which never feels preachy. It's brutal at times - if anything, the stunning prose and Elise's incredible voice make it even harder-hitting. The voice, the prose, the plot, an amazing ending, and a strong supporting cast (including parents who actually clearly care about their daughter and don't act like complete idiots) mean that it's one of the best teen novels of the decade so far.



This is being billed as a story of drug addict Sophie investigating best friend Mina's death, which is remarkable for being both an honest description and completely misleading at the same time. Yes, the focus is on Sophie's hunt for Mina's killer, but the mystery aspect is the weak part of the book - there aren't enough clues given for the reader to have a decent chance of working out the solution through anything other than random guesswork.

So why is it top five of the last ten years despite the murder mystery not really working that well for me? The characters are absolutely outstanding. Sophie is a superb narrator - sent to rehab for an addiction she'd already beaten and finally out and ready to seek justice. The relationship between Mina and Sophie has incredible chemistry and made me really care about both of them - which was rather soul-destroying as we know from the start that Mina is dead! As well, the jumping from time to time - the narrative alternates between 'now' and events at various prior points in Sophie's life - works brilliantly, gradually painting a fuller picture of Sophie, Mina and Mina's brother Trev.

Oh, and it's also probably the most emotional book I've ever read. I've mentioned before that a couple of the very best books of recent years have made me cry in public - but none of them destroyed me in the way this one did, leaving me choking back sobs for hours afterwards.

Hugely recommended as an absolute must-read.



Austin is confused. He's in love with both his girlfriend Shann and his best friend Robby. As if that wasn't a big enough problem, he and Robby have just managed to let loose an army of preying mantises which may bring about the end of the world. Who said Ealing, Iowa was boring?

This isn't a book I'd expect anyone to merely like. This is one that seems to be almost calculated to provoke strong reactions, whether they're ones of love or hate. Where it worked pretty much perfectly for me was in the central love triangle. Austin is a wonderful narrator who genuinely cares about both Shann and Robby and struggles with his feelings for them, while they're both well-rounded characters with real strengths and flaws. It's also - for all the sex, bugs killing people, teen angst about sexuality, and the fact that Austin spends much of it counting down to the end of the world - an incredibly fun book.



The year is 1959, and a small group of black students are attending Jefferson High, a previously all-white school. Barely anyone is happy that Sarah Dunbar and her friends are going to Jefferson, and the group face a terrifying ordeal as they're surrounded by people who want to see them fail. Chief amongst them is Linda Hairston, daughter of one of the town's most vocal segregationalists. But when Sarah and Linda start working together on a school project, they start to realise they may have more in common than they think - and friendship might not be all they're looking for from each other.

A hugely, nearly unbearably powerful read, with a great pair of narrators and excellent chemistry between them.



Verity is a collaborator. Captured by the Gestapo in France in 1943, she agrees to give up information about the war effort – not even in return for her life being spared, but to gain just a few weeks and a quick and merciful death. She tells the tale of how she came to be in France, from the moment she met her friend Maddie, the pilot whose plane she bailed out of, right up until her capture. It’s a gripping tale of friendship, courage, patriotism, love, and family. And nothing – but nothing – is quite as it seems.

Anyway, the best advice to give you would be to go and read this NOW. Yes, I could ramble on about Verity and Maddie, the two wonderful heroines, and the way their friendship is handled so beautifully. Yes, I could talk about Weir’s phenomenal writing style, and the superb narration by Verity, which veers between heartbreaking, brutal, gorgeous, and surprisingly funny. I could even tell you how many times I burst into tears reading it. (Actually, the last one’s a lie, I lost count at around page 250.) But just trust me, you MUST read this.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Classic Children's/YA: Marcus Sedgwick on The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

I haven't run a classic children's/YA post for ages - keep meaning to set them up but forgetting - but I mentioned to Nina Douglas at Orion that it would be a cool feature for Marcus Sedgwick to take part in if he was interested, and she was kind enough to set it up. I was THRILLED when I found out he'd chosen to post about one of my all-time favourite series! Huge thanks to Marcus for such a brilliant post, Nina for setting it up, and Susan Cooper - firstly for writing such an outstanding sequence, and secondly for allowing us to use the picture of her notes for the series.

Over to you, Marcus!

  
There is one series of books from my early childhood that means more to me than any other, and those are the five books that comprise The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper.

My original copy of The Dark is Rising



I joined the books a few years after the second, eponymous, volume, was published, and followed them from then on to their epic conclusion in Silver on the Tree. Thinking back, I know exactly what captivated me by the books, The Dark is Rising especially; from the opening moments in which Will steps out at the midwinter solstice into a unseen, snowbound version of the real world, I was hooked. It was all about the atmosphere, and I lapped it up.

You can imagine how excited I was therefore last November when I was given the chance to interview Susan in front of an audience at Waterstones Piccadilly, almost forty years after first becoming a fan of her books. I loved speaking to her, and didn’t fail to take the chance to get that old copy signed:


Susan and I got on very happily, so when she invited me to visit her in Massachusetts this summer, once again I didn’t pass up the chance. It can be a dangerous thing to meet your heroes; they very often have the proverbial feet of clay, but in Susan’s case I was charmed beyond all reasonable expectations. She is witty, generous, intelligent and kind in equal measure. I managed to stay reasonably calm throughout my stay with her, but when she happened to mention she’d recently uncovered her original notebooks for The Dark is Rising, I confess I lost self-possession.

Trembling, I beheld what she’d written all those years ago, and it was genuinely one of the most special moments of my life.

Here, with Susan’s permission, a shot of that notebook:









The spiral is infinite
It copies and builds on itself forever


A story of four quarters that can be read in any order
The author’s choice:

Whispers in the Dark
The Witch in the Water
The Easiest Room in Hell
The Song of Destiny

‘[Marcus Sedgwick's] beguiling novel about human longing is the strongest teenage novel of the autumn'
Martin Chilton, THE TELEGRAPH

The spiral has existed as long as time has existed.
It's there when a girl walks through the forest, the green air clinging to her skin.
There centuries later in a pleasant green dale, hiding the treacherous waters of Golden Beck that take Anna, who they call a witch.
There on the other side of the world, where a mad poet watches the waves and knows the horrors they hide, and far into the future as Keir Bowman realises his destiny.
Each takes their next step in life.
None will ever go back to the same place.
And so their journeys begin...

THE GHOSTS OF HEAVEN by Marcus Sedgwick will be published by Indigo on 2 October 2014
9781780621982/ Hardback at £10.99 and ebook at £5.99

About Marcus Sedgwick
Marcus Sedgwick is a full time author. His first novel, FLOODLAND, won the BRANFORD BOASE AWARD for the Best Debut Children's Novel of 2000. Since then his books have been shortlisted for the GUARDIAN CHILDREN'S FICTION PRIZE, the BLUE PETER BOOK AWARD, the COSTA BOOK AWARD, the CARNEGIE MEDAL and the EDGAR ALLAN POE AWARD. His previous novel, MIDWINTERBLOOD, won the 2014 MICHAEL L. PRINTZ AWARD. He lives near Cambridge.
www.marcussedgwick.com and @marcussedgwick 



Picture of Marcus Sedgwick (C) Kate Christer

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Crushed Blog Tour: Eliza Crewe 'Stranger Than Fiction'

Really pleased to welcome Eliza Crewe to the blog today for a post as part of her Crushed blog tour! Thanks for a fab post, Eliza.

I always think it’s fun to meld real-life events into book, particularly to provide a supernatural explanation for unusual events. I usually do this for parts of my book that aren’t the most interesting, a location they’re traveling through for example, or to spice up some backstory.  In Crushed, there’s one scene where I had to explain how the demons get in and out of the demon headquarters. I envisioned it as a passageway underground, and I remember watching a documentary years ago that talked about the hidden underground worlds under a lot of major cities. I used to live in Edinburgh, and I knew that it had a series of vaults that people used to live in hundreds of years ago (and hide bodies used in science experiments), so I thought I’d do a bit of research find a neat underground passageway, maybe an abandoned subway system, or something similar under Washington D.C. My research (i.e. wild googling) turned up a series of articles published in the Washington Post by John Kelly, describing something more bizarre than I could ever dream up:  one Harrison Dyar--entomologist, bigamist, and hobby-tunnelist.

Harrison Dyar (1866-1929) was an entomologist for the Smithsonian and so spent his days studying bugs. At night, he engaged in his other hobby: tunneling beneath his house and the streets of Washington D.C.  The tunnels were made of brick and there were multiple layers connected by shafts and ladders. The ceilings were arched and he decorated the walls with carvings of human and animal heads, and, in one place, carved the inscription:  Facilis Descensus Averno meaning “The way down to the lower world is easy.” The tunnels were discovered in 1924 when a truck fell through the road into one of Dyar’s tunnels beneath. When interviewed, Dyar told the newspaper that he tunneled “for exercise.”

Even more bizarre than the tunneling, was Dyar’s personal life. He married two women--at the same time--and had two children with one of them (his original wife) and three more with the other, a woman named Wellesca Allen. He’d been having an affair with Wellesca for years before he married her, which he did under a pseudonym (this later caused some problems when Wellesca tried to divorce her invisible husband to re-marry the newly divorced Dyar).  The real Mrs. Dyar sued Mr. Dyar for divorce in a wildly public manner, and all the evidence was aired in the newspapers of the day. This fascinating character formed the foundation for the character Eddison in Crushed.

If you want to read more, there’s a whole series of articles on him:

And here’s a diagram from a 1932 article from the magazine Modern Mechanics & Inventions.


Crushed


Genre:  Young Adult Urban Fantasy

India Print- & E-Release Date:  July 2014
Everywhere but India e-Release Date:  September 22, 2014
Everywhere by India Print Release Date: November, 2014 (tentative)

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Print edition coming soon!

Blurb

Meda's back. This time, she has a friend.

The battle is over; the choice has been made. Meda Melange has officially hung up her monstrous mantle and planted her feet firmly on the holy and righteous path of a Crusader-in-training. Or, at least, she’s willing to give it a shot. It helps that the Crusaders are the only thing standing between her and the demon hordes who want her dead.

The problem is, the only people less convinced than Meda of her new-found role as Good Girl are the very Crusaders she’s trying to join. So when a devilishly handsome half-demon boy offers escape, how’s a girl supposed to say “no?”

After all, everyone knows a good girl’s greatest weakness is a bad boy.


Eliza Crewe always thought she’d be a lawyer, and even went so far as to complete law school. But as they say, you are what you eat, and considering the number of books Eliza has devoured since childhood, it was inevitable she’d end up in the literary world. She abandoned the lawyer-plan to instead become a librarian and now a writer.

While she’s been filling notebooks with random scenes for years, Eliza didn’t seriously commit to writing an entire novel until the spring of 2011, when she and her husband bought a house. With that house came a half-hour commute, during which Eliza decided she needed something to think about other than her road-rage. Is it any surprise she wrote a book about a blood-thirsty, people-eating monster?

Eliza has lived in Illinois, Edinburgh, and Las Vegas, and now lives in North Carolina with her husband, her hens, her angry, talking, stuffed dwarf giraffe, and a sweet, mute, pantomiming bear. She likes to partially-complete craft projects, free-range her hens, and take long walks.