Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books To Request For Christmas

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

1. I'll Be Home For Christmas (Various, published by Stripes) - Stunning collection (I'm halfway through, but there's already enough wonderful stories to recommend it strongly) of stories on the theme of home from an amazing line-up of authors - including Non Pratt, Holly Bourne and Juno Dawson! I'm super-excited to have tickets for the YA Salon celebrating this book next week (Wednesday Dec 7th at Waterstones Gower Street if anyone wants to join us!) Also, the book is supporting homelessness charity Crisis so you can feel extra good about yourself when asking for it.

2. Winter Magic (Various, curated by Abi Elphinstone and published by Simon & Schuster) - Another brilliant collection - again I've only read some stories as I'm savouring it, but the combination of great ones I've read (Amy Alward's Potion Diaries spin-off rocks!) and awesome authors to look forward to (including Abi and Katherine Woodfine!) make me really happy to recommend it.

3. The Good Immigrant (Various, edited by Nikesh Shukla, published by Unbound) - Yet another that I'm midway through, but I adore what I've read - especially my friend Wei Ming Kam's piece - and it's being celebrated by EVERYONE I know who's read it as a stunning collection of essays from BAME writers. Plus, if you somehow missed it, it won the Reader's Choice award at last week's Books Are My Bag Awards - a huge sign of quality!

4. The Snow Spider (Jenny Nimmo, published by Egmont) - I love Egmont's gorgeous new edition of one of my favourite childhood reads. This winter story works beautifully as an adventure, but also (I have to admit I didn't pick up on this as a child) as an incredible study of a family's grief after their daughter's disappearance.

5. The Dark Is Rising (Susan Cooper, published by Red Fox) - You should absolutely buy the entire stunning 5 book series - another classic childhood favourite of mine - but the title book (strangely the second in the sequence) DEMANDS to be read at Christmas as Midwinter's Eve plays such an important part in the book. (It also CAN be read before book 1, Over Sea Under Stone, without any spoilers.)

6. The Last Of The Spirits (Chris Priestley, published by Bloomsbury) - I think nearly everyone is familiar with A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, but this outstanding twist on the story - showing the trials of two homeless children who beg Scrooge for charity and are turned down - is a brilliantly layered companion read.

7. The Lie Tree (Frances Hardinge, illustrated by Chris Riddell, published by Macmillan) - Like The Good Immigrant, not Christmas themed but still a perfect gift. The Costa-winning The Lie Tree was already one of my favourite books of the last few years - a feminist classic of historical fantasy, showing an outstanding heroine as she tries to solve the mystery of her father's death. Adding illustrations from the phenomenal Chris Riddell makes it even more of a must-buy.

8. Mistletoe and Murder (Robin Stevens, published by Puffin) - As with The Dark Is Rising, this is a must-read series - the Detective Society of Daisy Wells and narrator Hazel Wong are one of my favourite crime-solving teams! I actually wouldn't recommend reading out of order because seeing the two girls' friendship develop is a big part of what makes the series so special, but they are the type of cozy mysteries that would be perfect for binge-reading, so why not just ask for all 5 and devour them as quickly as possible?

9. And A Happy New Year...? (Holly Bourne, published by Usborne) - Like Robin Stevens, Holly Bourne has created a group of friends - in her case a trio - who will go down as one of my all-time favourite sets of fictional characters. Also like Robin Stevens's series, this novella really does depend on you having read the previous 3 books to have the full emotional impact - it left me crying - but if you haven't already you DEFINITELY should, because they're an outstanding series which tackle tough issues like OCD and people's reactions to vocal feminism with great warmth and heart (as well as justifiable anger!)

10. Unboxed (Non Pratt, published by Barrington Stoke) - My third non-holiday related pick, but again there's a good reason. For me Christmas is about family, friends, and remembering people you miss. After initially expecting to have to wait until 2017 for a new Non Pratt book, I was exceptionally excited to hear we were getting her first Barrington Stoke book this year and it surpassed my high expectations. The story of four former friends meeting together to open up a memory box they'd hidden five years ago - along with a fifth friend who has recently passed away - brought me to tears; Non can pack more emotion and character development into a relatively short book than many authors can into a much longer novel. Read it, call someone you miss, and tell them how you feel.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Spotlight: A Very Merry Manhattan Christmas

I'm a big fan of Christmas books, with the holiday fast approaching, so I'm thrilled to be hosting a spot on the tour for Darcie Boleyn's A Very Merry Manhattan Christmas and spotlighting the book today.

A Very Merry Manhattan Christmas by Darcie Boleyn

Lucie Quigley hates Christmas. It’s the time of year when everything goes wrong in her life. So this year, when she’s asked to be a bridesmaid at her friend Petra’s Manhattan wedding, she jumps at the invitation to escape the festivities.

Dale Treharne has been best friends with Lucie for as long as he can remember. He’s used to looking out for his oldest friend and when she asks him to be her plus one, he can’t seem to find a reason to refuse. Instead, he sees it as a way to help Lucie get through what is, for her, the most miserable time of the year.

In New York, as the snow starts to fall, Lucie and Dale start to realise that their feelings run deeper than just friendship. But can they overcome their pasts, and make it a very merry Manhattan Christmas? 

Information about the Book

Title: A Very Merry Manhattan Christmas
Author: Darcie Boleyn
Release Date: 7th November 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Canelo
Format: ebook

Author Information
Darcie Boleyn has a huge heart and is a real softy. She never fails to cry at books and movies, whether the ending is happy or not. Darcie is in possession of an overactive imagination that often keeps her awake at night. Her childhood dream was to become a Jedi but she hasn’t yet found suitable transport to take her to a galaxy far, far away. She also has reservations about how she’d look in a gold bikini, as she rather enjoys red wine, cheese and loves anything with ginger or cherries in it – especially chocolate. Darcie fell in love in New York, got married in the snow, rescues uncoordinated greyhounds and can usually be found reading or typing away on her laptop.

Author Links

Tour Schedule

Monday 7th November

Tuesday 8th November

Wednesday 9th November

Thursday 10th November

Friday 11th November

Saturday 12th November

Sunday 13th November

Monday 14th November

Tuesday 15th November

Wednesday 16th November

Thursday 17th November

Friday 18th November

Saturday 19th November

Sunday 20th November

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Recent Additions to my TBR pile

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

First, the three anthologies (which are a slight cheat, as I’ve already started all three, but am not far into any of them.)

The Good Immigrant (edited by Nikesh Shukla) – I was thrilled to support this on Unbound and even more delighted to get my hands on it. It’s a stunning collection of essays by BAME authors on race and immigration. I’ve read my friend Wei Ming Kam’s piece, which is superb, already, and am looking forward to reading the rest.

Winter Magic (curated by Abi Elphinstone) – There’ve been some great MG short story collections recently – including Egmont’s Mystery and Mayhem – but this one from Simon & Schuster looks especially fabulous. It’s a gorgeous hardback and contains lots of fabulous authors, including Abi herself, Lauren St John and Katherine Woodfine. I’ve dipped into a few stories and really loved Amy Alward’s – perfect whether or not you’ve read the rest of her Potion Diaries series.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas – The other big anthology at the moment, Stripes are donating some of the proceeds from this one to homelessness charity Crisis, so it’s a way to check out lots of fantastic authors AND do some good. I’ve read a few more from this and Non Pratt’s and Cat Clarke’s, especially, stand out as amazing.

Now the ones I haven’t started…

Uprooted by Naomi Novak – My timeline recently has been FULL of people loving this fantasy novel! Intrigued to see what all the hype is about.

Ink by Alice Broadway – One of the most stunning proofs I’ve ever been sent, I don’t actually know much about this one but it looks breathtaking.

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson – Debut mystery about a boy with OCD trying to solve the disappearance of a toddler staying next door sounds completely intriguing.

One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva – Recommended by both Peter Bunzl and my friend Debbie – who kindly lent it to me – this sounds like a super-cute m/m romance.

Chasing Danger by Sara Grant – Fab to go to the launch of Mystery at the Ice Hotel last week, at London’s Ice Bar, but I feel really guilty that I’ve not quite got around to reading the first book in the series yet. I’ll definitely change that soon as it sounds like a fun adventure.

Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen – I’ve seen lots of people talking about how great this one is already, and as a big fan of Susin’s – I especially love We Are All Made Of Molecules – I’m excited to read it!

I Kill The Mockingbird by Paul Acompora – An impulse buy at Queen’s Park Books a few weeks ago, this book about children launching a reverse psychology campaign to ‘ban’ To Kill A Mockingbird so that their class gets more excited to read it for school sounds really wonderful!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Why So Many Profile Pics?

I spent so many years of my life being camera-shy that author Allan Boroughs' memorable description of my profile pic as "the hottest real estate on Twitter" (which I think was maybe 200 profile pics ago) still seems like one of the strangest things I've ever had said about me. However, while Allan is clearly an expert at flattery, it IS nice that people seem to enjoy being in it - and even nicer that I like updating it with new pictures in which I think I look ok.

So, after 31 years or so in which I instinctively tried to avoid having ANY pictures of myself on the internet (Okay, admittedly, for over half those years no-one I knew had even USED the internet, which made that part easier), how did I end up posting quite so many pictures of myself?

I blame David Stevens, personally. (For NEARLY everything, but in this case I actually have a fairly good reason to.)

When I moved down here originally, I'd been teaching in a secondary school for 7 of the 8 years prior to getting this job. I'd seen bad things happen to teachers on Facebook - fake profiles set up, groups started solely to talk about how much people hated them - and coupled with my long-held dislike of the way I looked, that was enough for me to be very keen to keep any photos of me far away from public viewing. Of course, David knew none of this when, at an event, he grabbed my phone, got Daphne to take a photo of us together, and said "Go on, put that as your new profile pic." (At least he ASKED then; now he just uploads them himself on the rare occasions I see him!) I did, fully intending to take it off moments later. And then I think I forgot until the next morning - as David was there, I'm assuming I drank large amounts of Prosecco. 

And then when I woke up the next morning, I went to take it off, and decided not to. Partly because I really liked the way I looked in it. (I HATE photos of me without glasses normally so this was a BIG DEAL.) I still don't consider myself to be good-looking in it (or in any picture to be honest!) but I'm smiling (it may be the first picture taken of me this decade where I was!), I'm standing next to someone I really like, and my hair could be worse - and often is. (Also it's kinda blurry, which helped!) Partly because I was trying to figure out the probability of anyone from the college I teach at seeing it and expending the effort to do anything bad with it, and I decided that our students are a) too nice to do that and b) have better things to do with their lives, to be honest. So I left it up.

And then people started commenting on it. (PATRICK NESS commented on it!) And at some point down the road, superstar author Abi Elphinstone decided she wanted to be in it, so we took one together. And then a couple of other people joined in, there was friendly rivalry between David and Abi culminating in one of the three of us together, and people seemed to enjoy them.

And then somewhere down the line - I'm not sure where exactly (so many book events, so much Prosecco!) it became something of a thing. It went from me tentatively asking people if they wanted to be in one, and crossing my fingers they didn't laugh at me (somehow, this rarely happens!), to a few people asking me if they could be in it. (Yes, I know most people are just humouring me, but it's nice that they do that!) It's featured dozens of bloggers, a huge amount of UK authors, and even some who've come over from the US for events and I've been lucky enough to meet - as well as two dogs (Buffy and Pluto) and one baby - my friend Daphne's lovely daughter Theia.

And somehow, every time I put another photo up, I get a little bit more confident about showing my face. Yes, I still need to take 7 or 8 attempts at it sometimes (or, more realistically, get someone else to take 7 or 8 attempts!) in order to get an angle when I'm even vaguely happy with my chin. But I like the way that I smile when I'm with people I'm a friend of/fan of (in a few cases, both!) I feel my happiness at having a fun time shines through. And, as my friend Debbie said at Sara Grant's wonderful Ice Bar launch, they've started to form a really nice record of great days/evenings. From Katie Webber's first event as a chair, interviewing Leigh Bardugo, to Lauren James and Alice Oseman in Birmingham, via the brilliant launch for the Mystery and Mayhem short story collection, and from numerous #DrinkYA events to lots of cinema and theatre trips, and other days out with fabulous friends, looking back through them reminds me of lots of amazing times. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Top Ten Books To Read If Your Book Club Likes MG

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

I thought I'd recommend some middle grade books/series that I think would be particularly interesting reads for book clubs.

Top Ten Books To Read If Your Book Club Likes MG

Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens (Puffin) - Fabulous historical detective novels which have clever plots and wonderful characters. In addition, it's a stunning look at the racism narrator Hazel Wong faces, and the way that her friendship with Detective Society leader Daisy Wells changes as the series progresses.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico (Blloomsbury Children's) - Wonderfully lyrical historical adventure story with gorgeous illustrations. Rundell's prose is near-peerless amongst current writers and lead character Feo - a 'dark and stormy girl' - is one of my favourites for years. Her quest to rescue her mother - aided by other children and the three wolves that she and her mother have been trying to re-introduce to the wild - is a magnificent story. 

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer (Square Fish - US import) - 12-year-old Alistair Cleary is deputised by mysterious neighbour Fiona Loomis to write her biography, telling the story of the gateway in her basement to a magical world. But in this world, the mysterious Riverman steals the souls of children. Should Alistair believe her tale? Or is something even worse happening to her? This is confusing at times but breathtaking often, an amazing one to discuss.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, new version illustrated by Chris Riddell (Macmillan) - MG/YA crossover maybe, but I wanted to include this (especially since there's a new edition out with illustrations from the wonderful Chris Riddell!) The story of Faith's search for the truth behind her father's death, and the strange tree that bears fruit related to lies you spread, is a strange but gripping historical fantasy. It's also brilliantly feminist, with so many wonderful female characters.

The Wickford Doom by Chris Priestley, illustrated by Vladimir Stankovic (Barrington Stoke) - This novella shows Priestley's skill in building up an incredibly creepy atmosphere in a short book, as Harry and his mother, after the war, seemingly fall prey to a cruel prank only to realise there could be something far more evil than a nasty joke to worry about. A perfect post-Halloween read.

The Summer of Telling Tales by Laura Summers (Piccadilly Press) - Ignore the cover that makes it look like it's for very young readers (I've left it out of the collage to make it easier to ignore!) this is a stunning read - switching between fun, scary, and life-affirming as it tells the tale of two girls and their mum who are on the run from their domineering and abusive father. The two girls blossom in new surroundings - but can they ever be free from their dad's shadow?

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt (Random House - US import) - This is a fascinating read, where Julian Twerski writes a journal about something which got him suspended from school. The narrator skirts around the issue for as long as possible - leading it to initially feel more like an interconnected set of short stories than a novel - but things eventually get tied together superbly. Great characters and an awesome New York 1960s setting add to reasons to recommend it, while Julian's voice is fabulous.

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders (Faber Children's) - A well deserved winner of the 2014 Costa Children's Book Award, Kate Saunders' sequel to E Nesbit's books is an outstanding read which shows just how well a talented author can do in breathing new life into familiar characters. The Psammead and the children here are portrayed brilliantly and it's an incredibly moving read. 

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry (Piccadilly Press) - Reading like an MG version of an Alan Ayckbourn farce, this Victorian murder mystery - which shows the seven schoolgirls at St Etherelda's School For Young Ladies try to cover up the sad news of the deaths of the headmistress and her brother - is a hilarious read. It's really interesting to look at the way Julie Berry plays with expectations even in her characters names, with Smooth Kitty, Disgraceful Mary-Jane, and so on, being revealed to have more layers than these adjectives may lead us to believe.

Jane, The Fox and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault (Walker Books) - Beautiful graphic novel which shows the story of a girl who thinks of herself as fat and plain and buries herself in Jane Eyre to avoid bullies. The combination of a muted palette for much of the book, and flashes of colour as Helene reads about Jane Eyre, stands out as being gorgeous, while Britt captures the poignancy of the lead's despair in her sparse, well-chosen words.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Litsy - My Updated Thoughts

I posted about Litsy back towards the start of the year (exactly 8 months ago today, actually!) and thought I'd blog today to talk about some of the changes made since then. I have to admit, I dropped out of using it much over the summer due to being incredible busy, but I've been back to it a lot recently. (My interest was renewed a lot by the Android version being released, which seems to have really added to the amount of people I know using it - particularly superstar Julianne who is the most Litfluential person I know (for NOW; I'm aiming to overtake her by the end of the year!)

Julianne's impressive stats!
For my first thoughts, you can read/reread that post here

Thoughts since then - the app still looks pretty much the same when you load it up - with the home/search/add/notifications/profile icons still forming the bottom bar. The home page shows featured posts now on occasions as well as those from people you're following. This doesn't happen anywhere near enough to be annoying (and in actual fact I'd be quite keen for them to show MORE featured posts, or at least give you the option of seeing more, just to boost discoverability a bit and make it easier to find new people to follow!) I've been featured once for my Riverkeep post, and Julianne was featured for her I'll Give You The Sun review.

Search is still decent and seems to have most things although there are a couple of surprising omissions - Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens, released last week, isn't on there yet (despite me trying to get it added via the cool 'tap here to suggest a book' link at the bottom of the search page.) I'm slightly confused as to when books are meant to go up - I'd originally thought it was only already released books on the app, but it already has Katherine Webber's 2017 release Wing Jones (under the US title The Heartbeats of Wing Jones), amongst a few other upcoming books I've seen. 

The big changes made have really improved it - notably, there's an increase in character limit from 250 to 451 which seems much better. I feel I'm able to put together a decent review in that length (the app was inspired by 'shelf talk' cards in bookshops, and you can definitely see the similarities here.) Hashtags have also been added and while they don't seem to be being used THAT much there are some fun ones there - I'm especially enjoying #booktober, run by the brilliant Real Life Reading. As well, you now have three stacks you can add books to - as well as the previous 'to read' and 'have read' there's a 'reading one', the contents of which show up at the top of your profile page. 

One thing which I don't think HAS really changed much, but which I hadn't explored properly last time around, is the picture editor - there are a ton of cool things you can do, from Instagram-type filters to blurring out text to show small parts of quotes, changing focus, and other touch-ups - very cool.

I still want to see more ways of browsing the app, but it's a really fun experience which I definitely feel combines the best parts of Goodreads and Instagram. 

I also want to take this opportunity to share details of my #UKYANov hashtag which I'm going to be running on Litsy AND Instagram in November. Rather than a daily prompt, this will have a prompt every three days, but I'm hoping people will stick to UKYA books when posting their pictures. It should be a fabulous way to spread some love for amazing UKYA authors and books - it would be brilliant if readers wanted to join in!

Monday, 24 October 2016

Gravity Blog Tour: Andy Briggs on Things He's Learned While Writing The Inventory Series

I enjoyed Iron Fist, the first book in The Inventory series by Andy Briggs, so I'm looking forward to reading the recently-released sequel - and have been enjoying the blog tour for it! This is a great post by Andy on what he learned writing Gravity.

Writing a new book is always an educational experience for the author. No matter how well you know the characters or the subject matter, there is always something that will surprise you. The life of an author really is one of complete bafflement combined with the wise teachings of hindsight.

The first lesson I learned while writing the series is one that I think all authors should embrace, and it should be the staple of any “How to write novel” manual. It’s this – whatever deadline your editor gently coerces you into, always add an extra four weeks as a “cushion”. This accompanies another pearl of wisdom: never deliver your manuscript to the publisher on a Friday. There is nothing more soul destroying that rushing to make that deadline… only to receive an “out of office” reply almost instantly. At that precise moment you will realise those two days over the weekend were when you would have had that Eureka moment over the plot point you’d been stumbling on.

Specifically, with the Inventory series, which revolves around the lofty world of high technology, it was surprisingly difficult to come up with an amazing gadget or gizmo that somebody hasn’t already attempted (often with dismal success, but they gave it a shot).  People were building flying saucer shaped aircraft in the 60s, flying cars have been done already, and a quick check on the internet will show you half a dozen hoverboards. Of course, none of these real world gadgets are quite as efficient or as cool as you’d want them to be… but it just goes to show it won’t be long before we have them in our lives.

In this series, more than anything else I have written, I discovered that you can never really know everything about your characters. In my first series: HERO.COM and VILLAIN.NET I felt comfortable with those characters and over the eight books, I felt as if I knew them very well. With TARZAN there was the weight of history behind these characters, so I had a good sounding board on how they would behave and react. However, with this series I started out with an idea of how Dev, Lot and Mason would be – and they all decided to run in different directions, leading me to some very intriguing character arcs that hadn’t occurred to me while planning the stories. In fact some of the secrets in the original ending of IRON FIST were pushed into GRAVITY – and some of those have since been pushed into book 3 (out next year!) – because the characters ended up taking me on a different adventure than the one I’d intended.

As a screenwriter I diligently plot stories out before I write them. I have to know exactly where each scene is taking me, and that is how I have always written my books. However, when it came to GRAVITY I tried a more ‘freeform’ approach. I knew what the story was, and my final destination – but because IRON FIST had taught me that the characters were now dictating the pace of the secrets I was revealing, I thought I would do less plotting upfront and see where it took me. I have to be honest, I was worried with this new approach – but in the end I found it a hugely enjoyable experience… and something I intend to do again.

Gravity (The Inventory #2)
by Andy Briggs

Eeek! Think that’s a monster? Nope: it’s a person. What terrible weapon could do this…? Errr – well, that used to be top-secret. Problem: it’s not quite so secret anymore. Dev messed up big time the day he let the ruthless Shadow Helix gang into the Inventory. What is the Inventory, we hear you ask? Well, it’s the secret lockup for all the deadly battle tech the world is NOT ready for. Which is why letting it get nicked was a REALLY BAD IDEA. Now the Shadow Helix have Newton’s Arrow: a terrifying weapon that messes with gravity, causing … well, you get the picture from this book’s cover. Dev and his mates HAVE to get it back – even if it means crossing the entire globe. To stop this evil, no trip is too far!

Information about the Book
Title: Gravity (The Inventory #2)
Author: Andy Briggs
Release Date: 6th October 2016
Genre: MG Sci-Fi
Publisher: Scholastic
Format: Paperback

Author Information

Andy Briggs is a screenwriter, producer and author of the Hero.com, Villain.net and Tarzan series. Andy has worked on film development for Paramount and Warner Bros, as well as working with Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee and producer Robert Evans. With a strong social media following, Andy tours the UK regularly, doing festival, school and library events. 

Tour Schedule
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Monday 17th October

Tuesday 18th October

Wednesday 19th October

Thursday 20th October

Friday 21st October

Saturday 22nd October

Sunday 23rd October

Monday 24th October

Tuesday 25th October

Wednesday 26th October

Thursday 27th October

Friday 28th October

Saturday 29th October

Sunday 30th October