Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Top Ten Books People Keep Telling Me To Read Now

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

Game of Thrones series by George RR Martin - Rec'd by my dad, Lucy, Daphne, and various others. I'm desperately keen to read them as I love the TV series; however I don't handle long waits for the next book in a series very well so I'm planning on marathoning near the eventual release of the final book (sometime next decade, probably.)

Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas - I know Debbie, who has really similar taste to me usually, and Stacey, despite not being a big fantasy fan, were both big fans of this, so I should definitely get round to it soon.

Replica by Jack Heath - Not that many people I know seem to have read this but Charlie is a big fan and she has great taste in books!

Everything by David Eddings - Daphne is trying to get me to read more fantasy - I love it but there is SO MUCH I've never read. Eddings is apparently excellent.

Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher - This seemed to be rec'd by EVERYONE at Nineworlds! I have the first, obtained at the brilliant Windsor Firestation book swap, and am moving it up my TBR pile.

The Art of Fielding - I wanted to read this, then didn't, then maybe did so I bought it as it was cheap, then decided perhaps I didn't... but Stacey really likes it and told me I should read it. Plenty of people can sell MG and YA books to me; Stacey is one of the few who can push adult stuff on me to the degree that I feel reasonably confident I'll love it.

Rock War by Robert Muchamore - I had reasons for not reading at one point just after I borrowed it from Debbie, but I should probably get round to it so I can give it her back at some point this year!

Everything by Frances Hardinge - Tom Pollock keeps raving about these to me. Given how brilliant Tom's own books are, that's a good sign!

Any novel by Sarah Rees Brennan - I love her short, The Spy Who Never Grew Up, but have never read any of her novels. Several people, most vociferously Caitlin, tell me I need to rectify this ASAP.

The Rain by Virginia Bergin - I read the first ten pages or so of this yesterday in a bookshop but resisted buying because I have far too many books to read. Talking to Ben and to Imogen Russell Williams yesterday may have convinced me that this was a mistake as it looks brilliant. I don't really do post-apocalyptic, but that voice? Awesome!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Dangerous Boys Blog Tour: Abigail Haas's Casting

Pleased to welcome Abigail Haas to the blog today to talk about her 'dream cast' if her book Dangerous Boys was made into a movie.

Chloe: Shailene Woodley
Chloe needs to have a girl-next-door, quiet vibe at the start of the story, then develop in intensity. Shailene has such a sweetness to her, it would be fascinating to see her tackle the darker aspects of Chloe’s character.

Ethan: Robbie Amell
Ethan is a sweet, down-to-earth guy, and Robbie would capture that perfectly.

Oliver: Theo James
Oliver gets by on charm and manipulation, so I’d love to see a leading man like Theo James dig into the darkness behind that perfect smile. We have to believe Chloe would be tempted by him, and I don’t think anyone would be able to resist Theo.

Various Recommendations - Courting Magic, Violet and the Pearl of the Orient, Flora & Ulysses

(Courting Magic was sent to me by the author, although I then bought it myself because I loved it so much, so I’m not 100% sure whether I technically need to tell you that. Just to be on the safe side, I will! Violet… was sent to me by the publishers. Flora and Ulysses was bought from Foyles.)

 Courting Magic by Stephanie Burgis (Historical fantasy, beyond very highly recommended, Five Fathoms Press)

Regular readers of my reviews know how much I love the Kat Stephenson books - witch/Guardian Kat herself is perhaps my all-time favourite heroine, while the characters who surround her are each brilliantly portrayed. To say I was excited for the release of this novella, which sees Kat at eighteen and ready to make her debut in society, is something of an understatement. But while I knew it would be amazing, I'm not sure I was prepared for it to be THIS amazing!

The story sees Kat's sisters try to introduce her to high society only for a task given to her by the head of the Guardians, an unsuitable love interest, and an old friend with issues of her own, get in the way. It's a clever plot and an exciting story, but the real strength is that Kat still has the best voice of any narrator for years, and she's just as vivacious and exciting a character now as she was in the superb original trilogy. Despite her age this is still suitable for the MG readers who the first three books were aimed at - there's off the charts chemistry between Kat and her love interest, but nothing explicit, just really amazing romance to add to the book's other great points. Speaking of relationships, the bond between Kat and her sisters, as they drive each other crazy at times but are clearly absolutely devoted to each other, is still one of the many highlights of the book.

I'm not sure how well it will work for people who've not read the original three, but really, why on earth WOULDN'T you have read the originals, as they're one of the best MG series of the past few decades? (Susie Day's Pea's Book being their only real challenger for me.) If you've not read them, grab them all as soon as possible, and I'm confident you'll fall in love with them and be desperate to read this one. If you have read them, I sincerely doubt that you need me to tell you that this is a must-buy!

Violet and the Pearl of the Orient by Harriet Whitehorn (author) and Becka Moor (illustrator) (7+ mystery, very highly recommended, Simon & Schuster Childrens Books)

The new family who’ve moved in next door to Violet Remy-Robinson seem rather odd. No-one else can see this, but she’s convinced they’re up to no good – and when neighbour Dee Dee Derota has a precious jewel stolen, Violet is sure they’re to blame! Can she uncover the truth and save the day?

I've been looking forward to this ever since meeting author Harriet Whitehorn a few months ago at another author's book launch, so when it arrived this morning I decided to read the first few pages to see if it looked like it would live up to my expectations. I was completely hooked by the double page spread on pages 8 and 9 which introduce us to all of the characters by telling us their favourite food, and which proves to be a perfect way to show us Harriet Whitehorn's sense of humour and Becka Moor's completely gorgeous two-colour illlustrations. It will surprise precisely no-one who knows me that my initial ‘few pages’ turned into reading the entire book straight through then spending twenty minutes going back and looking at my favourite pictures again. (I only missed three buses…)

Throughout the book the two creators are a perfect match for each other - it's a well-told story with a good plot and great characters, but Moor's artwork adds so much to the book, especially in the way she makes the villains looks so horrible.

Even though this is aimed at a slightly younger age range than the Sesame Seade books, it reminds me of them a lot – a great heroine, an intriguing mystery, and brilliant use of language. (I particularly liked the glossary at the back of the book to introduce readers to words they may be unfamiliar with.) It’s also absolutely beautifully published – it’s a gorgeous small hardback which is up there with Wild Boy and the Black Terror (another fabulous mystery, although one aimed at children a few years older than the target audience here!) as the best-looking book on my shelves. I think the sheer quality of the production here will mean it’s got great appeal to slightly older readers than the target audience, as well – I can see younger secondary pupils picking this up because of how stunning it looks; I’ve already recommended it to my mum, who works in the English department of a secondary school, as being a brilliant way to get reluctant readers hooked on a series thanks to the beauty of the book, the pictures, and the inclusion of some challenging words with the aforementioned glossary.

Hugely recommended, there’s about six months until the next book in the series and I’ll be counting down the days! (Although fans of Becka Moor’s wonderful artwork can get more rather sooner than that as she’s teaming with Sesame Seade author Clementine Beauvais for The Royal Babysitters, which features windsurfing starfish, sextuplet toddler princes, and hummingbird cannons, and is out from Bloomsbury next month.)

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo (author) and KG Campbell (illustrator) (MG superhero awesomeness, very highly recommended, Walker)

When an unremarkable squirrel is hoovered up by an out of control vacuum cleaner, Flora Belle Buckman steps in to save him. But the mysterious accident has given him a new life, with super-strength, flight, and the ability to write poetry. As the duo start to make friends, Flora discovers happiness - but every superhero needs a nemesis. Will the pair be cruelly separated?

I’ve been meaning to get this for ages after reading a fab review of it from Tanja on The Bookbag and finally got round to it a few weeks ago when I visited Foyles on Jennifer Bell’s last day working there and asked her to recommend me something. (Psst – speaking of Jennifer Bell, you’re all as excited as I am about Ivy Sparrow, out next year from Random House, yeah?)

She told me this was one of the best children’s books she’d read in recent years and since she has amazingly good taste in books, I had to get it. Of course, that DID raise my expectations even higher, but I’m pleased to say that this absolutely exceeded them! Told partly in prose and partly as a comic strip, this is completely and utterly wonderful. To quote comic-book fan Flora herself, ‘Holy Bagumba!’, this is a heck of a read.

Flora herself, cynical, jaded, and upset with her parents, is a really sympathetic main character, while the superhero squirrel is absolutely adorable, as is his poetry. I thought all of the characters here were excellent, though – perhaps especially the ‘villain’ here, who on the one hand is a formidable antagonist but on the other hand clearly has good intentions deep down. It’s an utterly and completely heart-warming read which completely deserves all of the praise it’s getting.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Book Blogger UKYA Award Nominations

Thrilled to be able to present nominations for the Book Blogger UKYA Awards - thanks Faye for the below post!

 photo UKYAAward_zpsb1be5f88.gif 

Hey Guys! Today I am proud to announce that the Book Blogger UKYA Award Nominations are open! Use the form below to nominate the books and authors that you love! You can nominate up to three books and authors per category - choose wisely! Nominations will stay open until 24th August. (That's two weeks!) Then the shortlist will be sorted and voting will begin on the 1st September. Good luck to all the lovely books and authors!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

5 Years at the Bookbag - My Favourite Books and Series

I was planning on celebrating 5 years of writing for the Bookbag by doing a top ten of my favourite books I’ve reviewed for the site, but did anyone REALLY think I’d cut it down to ten? After much heartache (and helped by the fact that there’ve been several of my favourites in that time period which other people have reviewed for the site, like Love in Revolution by B R Collins, which Jill reviewed, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which Linda reviewed, and Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo and K G Campbell, which Tanja reviewed) I finally managed to pin it down to fifteen! I’ve gone for as wide a range as possible.

Confident Readers

The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson series, starting with A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis which Linda reviewed for the Bookbag  - somehow the only one I’ve reviewed for the site is A Reckless Magick by Stephanie Burgis. This is without a doubt my favourite children’s trilogy for a long, long time, and has perhaps my favourite ever heroine. Loyal, clever, and altogether wonderful, twelve-year-old witch Kat is a truly brilliant creation, while Burgis brings Regency England to life superbly. I am so staggeringly excited by the thought of reading about her as an eighteen-year-old next week when Courting Magic is released that I could explode. (But will try not to, at least before reading!)

The Pea’s Book series, starting with Pea's Book of Best Friends by Susie Day – I’ve reviewed the first three for the site; my review of the fourth hasn’t made it up yet because it’s close to completely incomprehensible, semi-coherent, gushing about how gorgeous this series is. Fresh and timeless at the same moment, somehow, this is an outstanding quartet and I can’t wait for the upcoming spin-off series.


Bone Jack by Sara Crowe – I’ve spent much of my life waiting for a book or series which I love as much as Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising. Sara Crowe’s debut is equal to it. A stunning portrayal of a shell-shocked father, a village reeling from foot and mouth, and the old legend which is recurring, this is one of the finest examples of UKYA.

The Faith series, starting with Have a Little Faith by Candy Harper – Everyone knows how much I love these. I’ve given away over a dozen copies of the first to blogging friends because I want everyone to have the chance to experience one of my favourite books for themselves. It’s warm, funny, and a brilliant book to reread – as wonderful fourth time around as it is first time around. Sequel Keep The Faith by Candy Harper is equally superb.

The Micah Grey series, starting with Pantomime by Laura Lam. I don’t actually read all that much teen fantasy but when I find a series I love it can draw me in more so than perhaps any other genre. Protagonist Micah is stunningly written, the supporting characters are outstanding, and the romance is beautifully handled. Add in really sensitive handling of LGBTQ issues and this is breathtaking.

The Department 19 series, starting with Department 19 by Will Hill (which Jill reviewed); I’ve reviewed the other three. Latest, and best of all, is Department 19: Zero Hour by Will Hill. Will Hill’s update of the Dracula tale – casting Dracula as the lead villain, Frankenstein’s Monster as one of the heroes, and the descendants of the men who originally stopped Dracula as the people running the secretive Department 19 to protect the UK from supernatural threats – is truly epic. So many amazing characters, and Hill switches between them superbly.

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson – I love road trip books and I love books with music involved heavily. Matson’s writing is stunning and the scrapbook format this takes is awesome, with her second and third books being nearly as wonderful.

The Brookfield/Ashbury quartet – of which the only one I’ve actually reviewed is the final one, Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty – is completely different to anything I’ve ever read. Thrillingly imaginative and told from multiple viewpoints via exam answer, blog entries, contents of a Scholarship File, a PC responding to an assignment, notes from mysterious societies… no-one writes like Moriarty does. Sensationally good.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson – Gorgeous setting, wonderful characters, lyrical prose. And it’s so beautifully put together with the pictures of the poems that it’s probably the most perfect book I own. Outstanding.

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales - Emotional, sometimes brutal, but ultimately hopeful, and a great story of friendship and recovery from tough times. Utterly superb.

Far From You by Tess Sharpe - This one absolutely destroyed me, with one of my favourite ever relationships, sizzling chemistry, and a great narrator.


The Dagger and The Coin series, starting with The Dagger and Coin: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham – Epic fantasy at its absolute finest, with some of my favourite ever character arcs and an incredible plot.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald – Slightly weird in that I reviewed it after reading for the eighth or ninth time, but it seemed wrong that The Bookbag didn’t have a review of an all-time classic! Pretty much the perfect novel.


People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan's Shadows by Richard Parry – This deeply moving account of the tragic death of Lucie Blackman is an upsetting, but hugely worthwhile, read, in which Richard Lloyd Parry studies Japanese society while also keeping in close contact with Lucie's family and finding out more about her, portraying them all with great sympathy despite the acrimony between them.

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block – Required reading for anyone who wants to be an author; entertaining enough for anyone who just wants a good read. Everything Block writes is so fantastic that it’s brilliant to take lessons from a true master of the craft here.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Countdown to 7th August: Author Interview with Theresa Breslin

Really pleased to be hosting a post today on my Countdown YA blog tour, especially as it's an interview with an author who was one of my favourites when I was a teen, the wonderful Theresa Breslin. Her new book, Ghost Soldier, is stunning - and as it's set in the First World War, on the home front, it's especially appropriate that we're running it today, as we commemorate 100 years since the war started.

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

Oh, wow, that's a scary question! I've never done that before - never even thought of doing it - and now that I'm trying to do it I can't see anything. That thought could send me to the pit of despair! Often I close my eyes and imagine my characters but never the readers.

2. One of the bits which touched me the most in Ghost Soldier was Rob and Millie's desperation for news of their father. Who's your favourite fictional father?

Fathers were often absent in children's fiction when I was growing up but I am glad to say that is no longer the case. From my own childhood it would have to be Geppetto, Pinocchio's daddy, whose love for his son transformed him into a real boy. There's a lot more in that tale than the superficial Disney version.

3. In Ghost Soldier there's an abandoned house which may or may not be haunted. What's the spookiest place you've ever been to?

I love exploring old graveyards, the older the better, and usually I have a little chat to the residents as I wander about. Obviously I try to make sure I can't be overheard by anyone else who might be around! I'm only recently back from France where I was taking photographs and collecting materials for my WW1 themed creative writing workshops. I visited the "Cave of the Dragon" in the area of the Chemin Des Dames east of Paris. The hillside is riddled with tunnels and caves which have markings that pre-date Christianity. Some of it has been transformed into a huge underground museum but it is also a burial site as they reckon hundreds of soldiers, Allied and German, must still lie somewhere deep in the caves. Being there was an eerie experience. 

4. In addition to Ghost Soldier's publication in August, I think I'm right in saying that a previous WWI novel of yours, Remembrance, was reissued earlier this year? Why do you think World War I stories resonate so deeply with teens today?

Teenage years are a roller-coaster of emotion and memories of this war are embedded in our heritage, in a wide ranging but also deeply personal level. There wasn't a family in the land who was not affected. It's our history and our culture. I've watched the reaction of young people when visiting the battlefields on the Western Front and they are profoundly moved by what they see and read  

5. You were first published just over 25 years ago, with your debut Simon’s Challenge. The publishing landscape has changed massively since then – what do you think is the biggest change?

IT development and everything that comes in its wake has had the biggest impact. It's an absorbed skill for young people and quite a few I have met have published their own books on-line.  .   

6. You seem to be more active on social media, especially Twitter, than many of the authors who started writing at a similar time to you and are still active.  What do you think is the best thing about social media, and are there any drawbacks?

I struggle to keep the website up to date ( it isn't) I find Facebook a bit "lookee me, me me," but Twitter is fast and funny and full of fabulous gems as lots of people tweet fascinating things that I would never otherwise know about. I love to RT interesting things. Also I find that if there's an event on or something new coming out then there's lovely support from other writers and illustrators and folk like yourself who will help spread the word.  But... There are ENORMOUS drawbacks if you are a creative write It drains energy - no doubt about it and Time goes gurgling down the plughole. So if I'm in 'writing' mode I do not connect to the Internet at all at all.

7. You’re a Carnegie Medal winner for the superb Whispers In The Graveyard and have been longlisted and shortlisted since then for the medal as well. After The Bunker Diary’s win a few weeks ago, there were several complaints about the novel’s darkness, and a few authors including Frank Cottrell Boyce and Shoo Rayner calling for separate prizes for teens and younger children. Do you think there’s any merit in the idea of separating them?

I think the Carnegie is the Carnegie is the Carnegie. Bear in mind that I am a professional librarian! I'm now writing full time but at one time  was responsible for Youth Library Services for a local authority and so am aware of various issues here.

On Wednesday 13th August I'm taking part in a panel event called BOOKS THAT WIN at the Edinburgh Book Festival chaired by Joy Court, chair of the Carnegie Medal Working Party, so I'll have more to say on the subject then!

8. This is the second book you’ve been involved in which has featured in Countdown, as you also had one of my favourite stories in June’s War Girls anthology and took part in a fab interview then over at Comet Babe Books! Is there a difference between the way you approach writing a short story and the way you approach writing a novel?

Great Galloping Galoshes! Yes, indeedy. I hate loathe and detest writing short stories. Usually I am so wrung out when I finish one I swear I'll never write another. The editor at Andersen was extremely patient as it took me ages to write SHADOW AND LIGHT. From the first word a short story has got to turn like a spinning coin, you can't meander off and indulge yourself. It's very very tight.  With a book I think and then write, and write and then think,  and then think and write. With a short story. I think and think and think and think and think and then I write. And then I stop and do the same thing all over again. Many times. with lots of teeth gnashing in between. 

9. In that interview, you mentioned your love of travelling. What would be your dream trip?

I'd love to go to Africa - for about a year or more. But I did kind of fall in love with Siberia when I was there and would like to return. The people were hungry for books. The descended like locusts on the Book Fair about 10 o'clock in the morning and by 11.30 am the place was picked clean. FYI  the Book Fair wasn't due to open until noon! Fortunately the suppliers had container trucks full of back up stock parked outside! 

10. What’s next for Theresa Breslin?

Usually end of summer sees the beginning of my writing seasons, although this year I'm busy with WW1 school events. But I do have an outline done, one good draft, and an early 2015 delivery date...

Good luck with that, Theresa! Thanks so much for such a fabulous interview.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Six Degrees of Separation - Gone Girl to Trouble

Six Degrees of Separation is a fabulous meme which started a few months ago! Huge thanks to Annabel Smith and Emma J Chapman for coming up with the idea. Head over to one of their blogs and leave a link in the comments if you take part, please! 
Okay, I picked up Gone Girl a while ago despite not reading that many adult novels these days because there were SO MANY people raving about it on Twitter. Admittedly, I haven't got round to reading it yet, but I still intend to, honestly. Another adult novel I picked up because of the buzz on Twitter was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, recently longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Unlike Gone Girl, I HAVE read WAACBP, and loved it. I firmly believe it's a novel you should go into knowing as little as possible about it, but I'll say for now that it's a wonderful look at how your family can screw you up, even when their intentions are good - as is Sarah Crossan's upcoming MG novel, Apple and Rain.

As I've mentioned on Twitter a couple of times over the last week or so, I've been really struggling with contemporary books recently (not ideally for someone running a blog called YA Contemporary, in addition to this one!) Apple and Rain is one of the few recently to have held my attention from start to finish, with the other I can recall being Judith Tewes's My Soon-To-Be Sex Life.

MSTBSL sees a girl trying to lose her virginity, although - despite the title - it's far from being the main point of the plot. One book which is strongly focused on teens trying to have sex for the first time is Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison, one of the funniest reads of the year so far.

If you're a regular reader of my reviews, you'll probably remember that dual narratives are one of my favourite things in a story. There don't seem to have been that many this year - at least not ones I've read - but those I have read have been great. Lobsters is definitely one of the best, having two narrators with wonderful voices, but you can say the same thing about Non Pratt's superb debut Trouble.