Saturday 31 December 2011

Saturday Spotlight: Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf by Curtis Jobling

Okay, this feature was originally meant to spotlight books which weren't that well-known. I don't think Wereworld QUITE fits into that category, given the amount of people I've heard raving about it - but with book 3 coming out in a week's time, it seemed a good time to publish this review of the first in the series on here.

Drew Ferran knows there's a monster roaming the land where his family farm – he just doesn't realise it could be inside him. Until a terrible creature attacks his beloved mother, triggering a transformation in him, and leading his father and brother to believe he’s responsible for her death. Forced to flee to the most godforsaken parts of Lyssia, Drew becomes quickly embroiled in the world of the Werelords. Can he survive?

I've had to delete my original review of this – it was 500 words long but they were all WOW! and I didn't think it would stand much chance of being published. Having calmed down slightly from the high I was on after the incredible climax, I've tried to pick the best things about a fantastic book.

Firstly, sixteen year old Drew is a brilliant hero – an everyman who is left frantically trying to work out how he can be a werewolf without knowing it, and desperately trying to gain control over the beast within and use it to help people in a land ruled with an iron paw by the tyrannous King Leopold and his son Prince Lucas. Similarly, the villains – Leopold, Lucas, the Rat King, and various others – are pure evil, while Drew meets some engaging friends on his travels, including some of the other Werelords, caught between their natural desire for fairness and their responsibility to the people they rule over not to provoke Leopold.

Secondly, the werecreatures are fantastic – none of these lovelorn puppies imprinting on people (I’m looking at YOU Jacob Black!), but fierce fighters and valiant warriors, ranging from werebears and werefoxes to weresharks and werevermin. No mention yet of wereinsects, unless I missed it, but the boy telling Drew about the Werelords does stress that there are probably as yet unknown ones around. The world Curtis Jobling has created is deeply layered, with huge amounts of history and mythology in there and it’s incredible that there’s currently only two books confirmed in the series – surely he'll need at least a dozen to do the realm of Lyssia justice!

Finally, the amount of action in this book is incredible. There’s dramatic escapes, incredible rescues, huge battles, terrible betrayals, human sacrifices, and all of it feels perfect – everything genuinely advances the story and there’s a huge amount of character development in between the closely-packed big moments.

Incredibly highly recommended to young adult readers of 12 upwards, particularly boys – this one will get some of the guys who normally wouldn’t pick up a book if you paid them completely and utterly hooked. Here’s hoping to many more adventures in Wereworld! (From the information we find out about the fall of Wergar the Wolf king, a prequel would have me stampeding over people to get to the counter with it!)

Thursday 29 December 2011

Friday Feature: Interview with Anne-Marie Conway

Having been utterly charmed by Anne-Marie Conway's Star Makers series, and really looking forward to her upcoming standalone Butterfly Summer, I jumped at the chance to interview her.

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

I suppose at the moment I see nine or ten year-old girls who love real-life stories as well as a bit of singing and dancing. This might change when my next book comes out, Butterfly Summer, as it is slightly more grown-up and much darker.

2. It's been rather a long time since I appeared on stage myself, but my sister has always loved being involved in drama and I know from what she's told me that your Star Makers series is extremely realistic. Do you have much first-hand knowledge of amateur dramatics?

Yes I have loads. I’ve been running my own children’s theatre company, Full Circle, for years and years. We meet on Saturday afternoons (it used to be all day but that was before I had my own children) and we put on fab musicals. I always belonged to a drama group when I was growing up so my experience really does go way back. I just LOVE putting on a musical, even though the process is SO stressful you wouldn’t believe.

3. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, do any of the Star
Makers series have a particular soundtrack?

Actually I listen to 5 live all day. I’m married to a radio journalist and we seem to have the radio on practically 24/7. I like to have background noise while I’m writing - it doesn’t distract me at all.

4. Your upcoming stand-alone novel Butterfly Summer sounds
significantly darker than the Star Makers books. Is this a sign that
your writing's moving in a new direction, or will you go back to the
lighter style in the future?

Yes Butterfly Summer is much darker and very sad. Also the book I’m working on at the moment is pretty sad and has a tragic premise. It’s not intentional, although I am very interested in the darker side of family life. However if my publishers wanted more Star Makers books I’d be happy to write them. I’ve got lots more ideas for the series but the decision is out of my hands.

5. What advice would you give to authors just starting out?

My biggest piece of advice would be to join a critiquing group and get loads of feedback. You can get so close to your work that it’s basically impossible to see the woods for the trees and another pair of eyes on it can be invaluable - not to mention the support when the rejection slips start to drop through the post (I speak from experience!)

6. I really enjoy series which, like the Star Makers Club, focus on a
different person in each book. Out of the three you've released so
far, can you pick a favourite narrator?

In some ways Polly was my favourite of the three because I loved how angry she was and how sad she felt about her mum going away. I lived without my parents from quite a young age and I know that rejected, empty feeling very well. I also love the Monty B storyline in that particular book, although my favourite line in all three books is when Sam says the dog chewed up her new braaaaaaaaaan jumper. I know it’s probably not for me to say but it really made me laugh out-loud while I was writing it.

7. Have you ever thought about collaborating with another author on a
novel? If so, who would be your dream writing partner? (Alive or dead,
I'm feeling generous!)

My husband and I had an idea for a book a little while ago which we thought we might write together because it was about football and he would have all the inside knowledge and I’d have the actual writing experience. The problem is we’d never agree on anything and he’d want to take all the credit and it might not be very good for our marriage. More seriously, I really, really want to write a funny book next and I LOVE the Mr Gum books, but I wouldn’t really want to write with Andy Stanton, I just want to write something that funny!

8. If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask
and who would you ask it to?

I would like to ask JK Rowling if there was a particular moment when she realised that Harry Potter was going to such a phenomenal success. Actually I’d like to just sit down with her and ask her lots and lots of questions. I’m afraid I am slightly obsessed, not with her books so much, but more with the way the whole story played out. I’m very ambitious and realise I’ve entered an extremely competitive and frustrating profession - so I suppose I’m more than a little envious.

9. Which book would you recommend to people who enjoy the Star Makers
Club, and why?

I suppose Jacqueline Wilson would be the obvious answer because her books are always about real-life family situations and maybe Cathy Cassidy? I’m not sure really. My favourite children’s author is Jenny Valentine but her books are a bit more grown-up than the Star Makers series.

10. What's next for Anne-Marie Conway?

Butterfly Summer which is coming out in May 2012: A dark and mysterious story about family secrets and obsessive friendships. Following that, hopefully the book I’m working on now, Forbidden Friends (working title) - and then as I said earlier, I really want to write something FUNNY! I have got some ideas about a girl and her very rude parrot - but not much else to say about it at this stage.

Many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Anne-Marie. I hope Butterfly Summer is a massive success!

Thursday Thoughts: Review of Frost Child by Gillian Philip

Fans of Gillian Philip's Firebrand novels will be thrilled to get their hands on this stunning prequel, set when Seth's mother Lilith met his father, the Sithe captain Griogair, for the first time. Starting with Griogair rescuing the youngster from the Lammyr, who have kept her captive for years, it follows Lilith trying to settle into the way of life of the Sithe as Griogair keeps an uneasy eye on her... and those of us who've read Firebrand and Bloodstone realise that he's right to be worried. When a young Sithe boy starts to bully Lilith, he’s clearly taking a massive risk…

Those of you who haven't read Firebrand or Bloodstone will no doubt be thoroughly confused, but this is fairly clearly written for Philip's existing fans rather than as a jumping-on point. That's not to say that it's inaccessible to newcomers; I feel that it will almost certainly have much more of an impact if you know how main characters Lilith, Leonora, and Griogair develop in the future though. For everyone who's already hooked on the tales of the Sithe, this is a recommendation without question - it's short but impactful, it fleshes out the background of Seth's parents, and the writing is as wonderful as we've come to expect from Philip by now. This is the kind of novella that e-readers are perfect for, and at a fantastic price.

Overall this is a very strong recommendation if you’ve read those first two books, while if you haven’t I’d urge you to check out the amazing Firebrand first, then Bloodstone, and finally turn your attention to this novella.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: The Selection by Kiera Cass

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

From Amazon

Thirty-five beautiful girls. Thirty-five beautiful rivals…

It’s the chance of a lifetime and 17-year-old America Singer should feel lucky. She has been chosen for The Selection, a reality TV lottery in which the special few compete for gorgeous Prince Maxon’s love.

Swept up in a world of elaborate gowns, glittering jewels and decadent feasts, America is living a new and glamorous life. And the prince takes a special interest in her, much to the outrage of the others.

Rivalry within The Selection is fierce and not all of the girls are prepared to play by the rules. But what they don’t know is that America has a secret – one which could throw the whole competition… and change her life forever.

Why I can't wait to read it

I'm heartily fed up of dystopia but there's something about this one which makes me want to check it out anyway. Just such an awesome premise!

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Books Read in 2011 (Sort of)

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

Okay, having done my YA Oscars recently, I wasn't going to bother with this as it would be a very similar list - however there's so many fabulous books I've read recently that it seems a shame not to plug some more of them! So I've taken out the YA Oscar winners and come up with this list of 10, all of which are superb in their own right. Also, the YA Oscars were fixed on stuff that actually came out this year - in this, I've gone for anything I've read since January 1st, so includes books published in previous years. Oh, they're in no order.

Links go to reviews either here or on the Bookbag.

Firebrand by Gillian Philip - Just shades the sequel Bloodstone, if only because this one has perhasp the best opening scene of the year, as narrator Seth prepares to shoot his brother to give him a merciful death instead of watching him be executed for witchcraft. This is NOT your average fairy story by a long way.

Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad by Hayley Long - Described initially by me as "Brilliantly, staggeringly, life-affirmingly superb.", and I still think that's a pretty fair summary of what starts off as a fun light read and quickly becomes both darker and far more unique as Lottie finds she's suffering from a mental disorder. Two more outings for Lottie since then, both of which are very enjoyable - but this is still my favourite.

Ondine: The Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKenna - The tale of a young girl, a witch, and a ferret who used to be a handsome Scotsman. Light, frothy, and altogether absolutely marvellous. I don't think I actually reviewed this, but it's a massive recommendation.

Don't Ask by Hilary Freeman - Freeman is another author who was completely off my radar prior to this year but have read two brilliant books by her, this and Lifted. The premise of this one - girl creates fake social networking profile to befriend her boyfriend's ex and dig into his past - is stunning, and Freeman handles it brilliantly. Central character Lily, who isn't really easy to like but is very easy to understand, is fabulous.

Bang Bang You're Dead by Narinder Dhami - Stunning novel which is extremely thought-provoking. Without getting too spoilery, what seems like a book about a school shooting quickly turns into a look at the effect mental illness can have on the family of the sufferer.

Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski - Super fun, but also thought provoking, Devi finds a way to communicate with herself three years ago. Giving her younger self advice on what to do, she desperately tries to change her life to make it perfect - and things go about as well as you'd imagine. I'd never heard of Mlynowski before this year but read both this one and her recent Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have.) Both were absolutely superb but this one shades it for me as the 'changing future' aspect was handled perfectly. I don't think I ever got round to reviewing it properly, but definite recommendation.

Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy by Andy Briggs - Briggs plunges the famous lord of the jungle into modern day Africa with an incredible reboot here. Massively exciting.

Six Words and a Wish by Karen McCombie - This stand alone is McCombie at her most typical. We have a likeable narrator, a sweet friend, a bizarre family (dad's a clown, it's always Christmas at home, and older sister went missing a while ago) and an ultra cute boy. In McCombie's hands, stuff that would normally seem trite or samey just WORKS. I read this one with a massive smile on my face from start to finish.

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray - A road trip with a real difference, as three boys steal their friend's ashes and take them up to Scotland to fulfil his dream. On the way, they face pursuit, questions, and the suggestion that the 'accident' in which he died may have been welcomed by him. As touching and powerful as you'd expect given the subject matter, this is also extremely funny.

Shadowfall and Shadowblood by Tracy Revels - Can't split these two 'Holmes as a faerie' stories. Shadowblood is perhaps slightly better but you HAVE to read the original first. Crazy, insane, and totally mind boggling, but somehow Holmes and Watson's characters are PERFECT amidst all the bizarre stuff going on. (Adult not YA, although nothing making them massive unsuitable for teens.)

EDIT: We're now up to eleven, as I realise that SOMEHOW I forgot We Can Be Heroes by Catherine Bruton, which if I didn't have the memory of a goldfish and a short attention span when checking what reviews I've written this year would have been one of the first on my list. Dealing with terrorism, honour killings, and a boy who lost his father in 9/11, this is an absolute must read.

Teaser Tuesday: Ellie Foster's English Coursework by Tina Orr Munro

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"It's one thing to do it but quite another to be told you are rubbish at it. Actually, I don't think Jamie Harbinger had had anything at all, but that didn't stop the gossip and Sandra ended up having lots of 'chats' with the school nurse, who has the bedside manner of Cruella de Vil."

From Ellie Foster's English Coursework by Tina Orr Munro.

Monday 26 December 2011

Monday Musings: Review of The Clever One by Helena Close

Sixteen year old Maeve is the clever one in her family. So clever that she can't believe how stupid the others can be - especially her slightly older sister Fiona, a 'pramface' now after falling pregnant to her no good boyfriend Big. After the news broke of Fiona's pregnancy, Maeve told her best friend Mark that she wanted nothing to do with the baby. But she didn't count on loving baby Harvey so much that she'd do anything to protect him - so she sets a plan in motion to rid their family of Big and the rest of the scumbags he associates with.

Author Helena Close has created a memorable, if not necessarily likeable, heroine in Maeve, and depicts Limerick in a realistic and gritty manner. It's definitely not one for younger teens - one of the very first scenes sees Maeve throw up over a boy who's trying to force her to go further than she wants with him, and that quickly seems incredibly tame compared to some of the later events in the novel. That said, none of the events seem to be there just to shock - they're believable consequences of Maeve’s actions, and we can see how quickly events can spiral out of control.

I found parts of the book to be rather predictable – particularly the romantic subplot between Maeve and Mark – while others, especially the ending, took me completely by surprise. I’d hesitate to call this a particularly enjoyable read; the bleakness of the subject matter makes that description rather inappropriate. It is, though, a very powerful novel and definitely worth reading if you want a gritty and realistic drama. I’ll just repeat once more my warning that this is for more mature teens only!

Overall, this is a well-written tale with some excellent characters, and I look forward to reading more from Helena Close in the future.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Saturday Spotlight: A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master

Saturday/Sunday Spotlight is a new feature I have planned where I'll showcase some of the books I've reviewed for The Bookbag by posting reviews here for the first time. I'm trying to use it to promote books which people may have missed originally - we start off with a fabulous one, which won my YA Oscar for Best Male Character in a Leading Role.

Bedridden with cancer, Bilal's bapuji, or father, doesn't realise how far the plan for the Partition of India has progressed. Bilal has kept the news from him as he was worried that it would kill him – but when he accepts that death is imminent, Bilal swears to at least save him the pain of having his heart broken before he passes away. Along with his friends Chota, Manjeet and Saleem, Bilal swears to stop him from ever finding out. 1947 India, though, is a dangerous place for everyone, and there are people in their town who don't think that Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus should be doing anything together.

This novel manages to be utterly charming and seriously exciting at the same time. The friendship between the four boys, and the love Bilal has for his father, are beautifully portrayed and there are some thrilling sequences as the situation gets ever tenser approaching the day of Partition and arguments between the different religious groups more and more violent. All of the characters – from the main group of children, to Bilal's teacher, the town doctor, Bilal's older brother, and the local printer – are wonderfully well-rounded creations and even though he appears on relatively few pages, Bilal's bapuji is someone who feels truly real because of the way the other characters talk about him.

It's not an easy read by any means – there are some violent scenes, especially one where Bilal and Doctorji are confronted by men who accuse them of being spies, and another where the boys watch a brutal cockfight. It's extremely thought provoking, raising the question of whether Bilal is right to lie to his bapuji to protect him, or whether the dying man deserves to be told the truth even if it will hurt him. The book also does a brilliant job of evoking 1940's India, an unusual setting for a young adult novel, and really increased my interest in this time period.

As coming of age stories go, this is extremely strong and debut author Irfan Master has definitely catapulted himself straight onto my list of novelists to keep a close eye on.

Friday 23 December 2011

YA Oscars 2011

I originally had grand plans for a YA Oscars where I’d try to get some other bloggers involved, do a shortlist, and so on – but life, as it usually does, got in the way!

Anyway, here goes a somewhat condensed version. Last year’s can be found here while my similar midyear post (with a couple of the same winners) can be found here.

I’ve limited books to one award each, and categories tend to fluctuate a little to allow me to showcase the books I really want to praise. Links go to reviews at The Bookbag, which is where I originally reviewed most of them.

Best Male Character in a Lead Role – Bilal, from A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master

Master’s tale of an India on the verge of Partition is a stunning novel, with a truly memorable cast of characters of whom Bilal is the best. His struggle to hide the truth about Partition from his dying father is beautifully handled.

Best Female Character in a Lead Role – Violet, from Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Medium’s daughter Violet is stunned when a ghost appears to her – especially since she had always believed that ghosts were merely creations of her fraudulent mother’s trickery. Her quest to solve the dead girl’s murder is fabulous; she’s a really spunky and likable heroine.

Best Male Character in a Supporting Role – Link, from Beautiful Chaos by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia.

Since Link won this last year, I spent five minutes trying to think of someone else to spread the love around a bit. Really, though, it’s a no contest, as Link is such a wonderfully loyal friend and a fantastic character in his own right that I couldn’t give it to anyone else.

Best Female Character in a Supporting Role – Cynthia, from Dark Mirror by MJ Putney

Given that Cynthia’s first entrance into the book makes her seem like a stereotypical bitchy teenager, her subsequent development is all the more impressive.

Best Debut Novel – For The Record by Ellie Irving

Super sweet charmer with some of the most likeably eccentric characters for ages, in a wonderfully described Jersey village. The story of the villagers rallying round to save their homes by breaking world records is an inspired idea which is brilliantly written by Irving.

Best Fantasy Novel – The Dagger and Coin: The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

I feel I should be recommending a YA book given this is technically a YA blog, but Abraham’s phenomenal start to this series beats down all other considerations. Taking four incredibly overused archetypes – A cynical hero escaping before the fighting starts, a noble son forced into war when he wants to be studying, an orphaned girl disguised as a boy to save a fortune, and a court baron trying to protect his king’s life from traitors – Abraham turns them into incredibly well-rounded characters who I came to care deeply about.

Best Novel for Younger Teens – Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

A real weepie, and beautifully written, LaFleur’s second novel is a staggeringly good coming of age tale as she tells of a young girl struggling to cope with a new school, returning family members, and the legacy left to her by her dead father.

Best Novel for Older Teens – Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

From the first moment I picked this up, and saw the scrapbook style based around the main narrative, I was entranced. Incredibly, in addition to being breathtakingly wonderful to look at, the actual story is just as gorgeous as Amy tries to come to terms with her grief at her father's death, and Roger tries to deal with the end of a relationship, while they travel across Matson's wonderfully described America. (I have a feeling this hit the UK in 2010 if we’re getting technical, but it’s too brilliant not to put in.)

Best Adult Novel – Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka

One of the most beautifully written books I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Getting to the end of the first few pages of this I had to pinch myself because I couldn't believe that I was lucky enough to have a free copy of this - being a book reviewer had NEVER seemed so fantastic! Journalist WG Karunasena's search for the lost legend of Sri Lankan cricket, Pradeep Mathew, is gorgeous, gripping, and heartbreakingly bittersweet.

Best Author – Rick Yancey, for The Monstrumologist: Isle of Blood

560 pages is a crazy length for a YA book, but I only realised this at 3:30 or so in the morning having stayed up half the night finishing the third in this series – while reading it, I didn’t even notice the length. What was always a good series has become absolutely stellar by now, and Yancey’s use of language is phenomenal, as are his characterization and dialogue.

Favourite Interview of the Year – Okay, I have absolutely loved doing all the interviews and really couldn’t separate the numerous fabulous authors who’ve given their time to talk to me. That said, Savita Kalhan deserves a special mention for being the first ever author I interviewed and while her book The Long Weekend was out in 2010 and won one of my awards last year, I’ll take this opportunity to recommend it one more time.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Butterfly Summer by Anne-Marie Conway

(If anyone noticed, huge apologies for the long absence! Things got chaotic in my real life job, leaving no time for the pleasures of blogging. Fingers crossed things will calm down now...)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Butterfly Summer by Anne Marie Conway

From Amazon

Some secrets last a lifetime. When Becky and her mum move to the tiny village of Oakbridge, Mum is hoping for a new beginning. But when Becky discovers an old photo of her mum in hospital clutching a baby, twelve years before Becky was born, Becky becomes haunted by the thought that her mum is keeping something from her. Stifled by her mum's over-protectiveness and depressive moods, Becky feels more alone than ever. The only place she finds comfort is at the beautiful local Butterfly Garden with her new friend, the wild-spirited and impulsive Rosa May. But Becky can't shake off the unanswered questions. Why can't she swim? Where is her dad? Who is the baby in the photo? And why is her mum lying to her? As the two girls spend more time together however, Rosa May's unpredictable temper and possessive streak suggests that she is hiding something as well...and in the heat of the sun-drenched summer, it seems that Becky is the only one in the dark.

Why I can't wait to read it

Conway's Star Makers Club series is just lovely - perfect comfort reading, or for a lazy day getting to know some wonderfully well-written characters. This sounds altogether darker, and extremely intriguing. I was fairly confident after reading the sypnosis that I could anticipate what would happen - but then remembered that reading the second of the Star Makers books, I'd been 100% sure I knew what was going on there and had been incredibly wrong, so I'll avoid making the same mistake again here.

Friday 11 November 2011

Friday Feature: Ellie Irving Interview

One of my favourite books so far this year has been the super-sweet For The Record, a lovely tale of villagers rallying round to try and break 50 world records to save their village. Author Ellie Irving was kind enough to agree to an interview with me.

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

I like to think of happy, smiley faces - readers of any age from say, 8, upwards, enjoying the craziness of the story. And hopefully laughing at the odd joke (some of them very odd...) I try and write with a knowing nod to the adults reading, so I like to think it raises a smile among them, too.

2. One of my favourite things about For The Record was the gorgeous setting of Port Bren - so what's your favourite fictional location?

I'm going to have to say Narnia. Post the White Witch's reign, obviously, where everything is glorious and humans can gallivant about to their heart's content without time ticking on in the real world. The Chocolate Room in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory comes a very close second, though.

3. What are you reading now and how are you finding it?

I tend to read a lot of children's books, but I have just finished 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' by Phillip Pullman, which is only the third or fourth 'grown up' book I've read this year. I'm about to start The History Keepers by Damien Dibben, which I'm very excited about.

4. Which of the 74 world records attempted would you have most liked to be able to watch?

I would have liked to have seen the 'Longest time to hold on to a galloping sheep' record, but I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing you can see on youtube. Although it's not technically a record, picturing Walking-Stick Glyn attempting to recreate Pamplona's Running of the Bulls always makes me smile.

5. If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?

If I can go back in time and ask the question, I'd catch JK Rowling as she stepped off the train all those years ago and say, 'you don't really want to do anything with that boy wizard idea, do you? Let me take that off your hands.'

6. Where did you get the inspiration for For The Record from?

A few years ago I saw an article on Teletext about a village in Spain that broke the record for making the world's largest salad, and it just made me think, 'why would a village go to those
lengths? Why bother?' It made me wonder what would happen if the village had to break a record, and what would be resting on whether or not they achieved it, and the idea sort of grew from there. I was pretty surprised that there haven't been similar stories about world records already, but then I guess I'm probably the only person in the world who still reads Teletext.

7. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what's the soundtrack to For The Record? (I'm thinking Belle and Sebastian personally; they're perfect to listen to while reading it in any case!)

I do listen to music as I write, though normally it's just the radio in the background. I did listen to the theme tune from Record Breakers with good old Roy Castle many, many times, though. Altogether now...'dedication's what you need...'

8. Who's your favourite character in For The Record?

Simon was the first character I created, so he holds a special place in my heart. I love his kindness and his offbeat sense of humour. I love Luke's enthusiasm and determination, but if I had to choose, I'd say Grandad Barry. I LOVE him, special occasion toupees (Hanukkah) and all.

9. Is there any book you'd recommend to readers of For The Record to keep them going while they're waiting for your next novel?

I'm a massive fan of Frank Cottrell Boyce, so I'd recommend anything by him - Millions and Framed are my favourites.

10. What's next for Ellie Irving?

I've just finished work on my second book, 'Billie Templar's War,' which is due out next year. It's about a girl whose Dad is off fighting in the Army, and her efforts to get the Queen to send him home from the war. Aside from that, I'm also working on other ideas and stories.

Sounds fantastic - I'll look forward to reading it, Ellie. Many thanks for your time in answering these questions.

Monday 7 November 2011

Monday Musings - Review of Shadowfall: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes by Tracy Revels

(Originally published over at The Bookbag.)

You remember Sherlock Holmes, yes? Deerstalker, pipe, leetle grey cells… (Oh, sorry, that was Poirot, but same kind of deductive ability), naked winged-woman on, or at least floating above, the sofa in Baker Street… wait a minute? Seriously?

Well, ‘seriously’ is probably not the word to be used to describe this delightful pastiche, but I can happily tell you that mixing Sherlock and Watson with Titania, Spring-Heeled Jack, Charon, and other lesser known tales works surprisingly well. Chiefly this is because Tracy Revels manages to capture the tone of Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals fairly faithfully, just with the twist that Sherlock is only half-human. And looking at his detective skills, it’s a wonder we hadn’t figured that out before.

The characters come at us fast and furious here, and part of the pleasure is there’s no need to spend any time establishing them. We know what to expect from Holmes and Watson, Revels shows us enough to realise that this is still the recognisable duo, despite Watson’s shock at finding out about his friend’s true origins, and that allows the majority of the book to be spent throwing ever-more bizarre obstacles at the pairing and watching them stretch themselves to their limits trying to overcome them. Full marks, as well, for a Watson who is significantly more of a man of action, as in the original stories, than the bumbling fool found in some of the pastiches.

The supporting cast is a mixture of cameos from the usual suspects such as Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, and Mycroft, and the legendary characters thrown in to the tale. I won’t spoil too much by listing the other adversaries – everyone mentioned above comes into the first 30 pages or so – but they’re interesting foes who present a worthy challenge for the great detective and his sidekick, and my blood was well and truly pumping as we reached the final showdown.

Sherlockians and non-fans alike, this is a really wonderful read - high recommendation!

Friday 4 November 2011

Friday Feature: Interview with Keren David

It's been a while since I've had an author interview, but am thrilled to present this one, with the superb Keren David - who wrote three of my favourites of the past couple of years, the outstanding When I Was Joe and its equally brilliant sequel Almost True, plus the excellent standalone Lia's Guide To Winning The Lottery.

Many thanks to Keren for agreeing to do this.

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

I'm not sure, because I never do that. I started off writing for myself as I was at about 13, but now I suppose I see a load of assorted teens.

2. I got hooked on your writing after reading When I Was Joe and Almost True, hugely exciting thrillers. While I enjoyed Lia's Guide just as much, it's a big change in style for you. Which ones did you prefer writing?

I think there are quite a lot of similarities - all the books are about contemporary teens in extraordinary circumstances, they all examine big questions and are character-driven. I suppose the Ty books are thrillers with an element of humour and Lia is romantic comedy with a dash of darkness. I found the Ty books easier to write, I seem to prefer writing as a boy.

3. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, could you share with us the soundtrack to any of your books?

I don't, sorry to say - I'd love to, but the words of songs distract me when I'm writing. I had a Ty soundtrack for the gym full of commercial hip hop to get me in the mood for writing as Ty - Eminem, Black Eyed Peas, Chipmunk and Tinie Tempah. Claire and Ty's song is 'You Make it Real' by James Morrison - I think Claire would listen to it a lot, and Ty not at all.

4. What did you write in your current manuscript to make your daughter call you a 'pervert'? I took a quick look at your blog and I'm intrigued!

Haha...she didn't approve of a 15-year-old boy eyeing up a much older woman. One who is related to him. She has a point, I suppose.

5. Again, looking at your blog, I see that you let a young girl shadow you at work recently. If you had the chance to shadow anyone doing their job, who would you choose?

Oh my lord. I think if I spent a day shadowing Prince Harry I could get a novel out of it. Or Rafael Nadal. Or Jon Hamm from Mad Men. Or Ryan Gosling...Johnny Depp....mmm...George Clooney...

6. If you could collaborate with another author on a novel, who would you choose and why?

J K Rowling. I can add urban edginess and she can boost my bank balance.

7. Having mentioned your blog a couple of times, and seen you on Twitter a lot, how important do you think the internet is to an author today?

From a hard-headed marketing point of view, the internet offers fantastic opportunities to network and promote yourself and your books. From a human point of view, I've met wonderful people, been informed and entertained and - with the blog - had tremendous freedom to develop as a writer and journalist. But as a writer it is a massive distraction and I need to disable it to be able to write.

8. Which book would you recommend to people who enjoyed Lia's Guide while they're eagerly waiting for your next novel?

I loved Bumped by Megan McCafferty, a witty clever dystopia which imagnes a world where only teenagers can get pregnant. Wish Me Dead by Helen Grant is thrilling - and also features a girl in line to inherit the family bakery.

9. What do you enjoy most about writing? What would you rather not do at all?

I love it when all the bits are falling into place and I'm in love with the characters and the writing comes easily and quickly. I hate writing outlines and synopses.

10. What's next for Keren David?

Yesterday I started work on a new book - no idea if it will work or not. From January I'm going to be teaching the Writing for Children course of evening classes at City University.

Sounds fabulous! Good luck with the book, and I'm very jealous of those people lucky enough to be learning from you - I wish I lived in or near London!

Monday 31 October 2011

Monday Musings: Review of We Can Be Heroes by Catherine Bruton

12 year old Ben lost his father in 9/11 and has now been sent to stay with his grandparents due to his mother being in hospital suffering from mental problems. His cousin Jed - 14, the only child of an obnoxious racist and a mother who's banned from seeing him - is also staying there. And the pair meet the enchanting Priti, an 11 year old Muslim girl who's convinced her brother is a future suicide bomber and that her sister is likely to be the victim of an honour killing if she carries on seeing her white boyfriend...

This was one I've been looking forward to ever since I first read the premise and, if anything, it actually surpassed my expectations! Priti is a truly beguiling character, while narrator Ben is wonderfully sympathetic, and other characters like Jed and his hateful father Ian are just as memorably drawn. Bruton manages to deal with the serious issues of prejudice towards Muslims, bereavement and family using a light touch, but the humour of the first part of the book eventually gives way to some incredible action as the trio become ever more certain that their suspicions are right, and the racial tension in the city of Birmingham escalates further and further.

Despite the length - not a lightweight book by any means at 400 pages - I absolutely devoured this and it's probably one of my three favourite YA books of the year so far. Apologies for the brevity of the review, by the way, but this is definitely one where you should discover most of it for yourself!

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Waiting On Wednesday: The 13th Horseman by Barry Hutchison

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The 13th Horseman by Barry Hutchison.

From Amazon:

Drake Finn has just met the Horsemen of the Apocalypse but is that really the end of the world? Pratchett meets Python in this dark comic fantasy with plenty of action, perfect for 11+ boys

Drake is surprised to find three horsemen of the apocalypse playing snakes and ladders in his garden shed. He’s even more surprised when they insist that he is one of them. They’re missing a Horseman, having gone through several Deaths and they think that Drake is the boy for the job. At first he’s reluctant to usher in Armageddon but does being in charge of Armageddon have to spell the end of the world?

An apocalyptic blend of riotous comedy, heart-stopping action and a richly imagined fantasy adventure.

Why I can't wait to read it:

I have to be honest, originally, after reading the description, I had this down as a maybe. But then I found this poster and thought, hey, awesome sense of humour AND quoting Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen? In the words of a fabulous speaker I saw last week, you'll do for me, Barry!

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Books To Read

Well, I wanted to get back into writing entries after a month or so of being ridiculously busy in my real job, but my tastes don't run that much to horror, so this may be interesting...

Links go to reviews on The Bookbag.

1. The Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey - As if I could start anywhere else. This is a sequence which just gets better every book, and has a unique mixture of gore and wonderful writing. As I said, I'm not that big a horror fan - but this would win anyone over.

2. By Midnight by Mia James - British vampire story which stands out from the crowd thanks to an awesome setting in London and some really tense moments.

3. The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove by Lauren Kate - The obvious Kate recommendations for this time of year are the Fallen series, but I think her non-supernatural first book - a high school Macbeth - is perhaps more fitting.

4. Forbidden Game trilogy by LJ Smith - Heart-stoppingly terrifying. Group of friends start playing mysterious game which transports them to a world where the sinister Shadow Man is in charge. First is very good, the other two are staggeringly great.

5. Dark Secrets: Don't Tell by Elizabeth Chandler - Seventeen year old girl returns to the town where her mother died to live with her godmother and cousins, one of whom is rather strange. Seriously chilling.

6. Morganville Vampires by Rachel Caine - I'm only a few books into this series but it's definitely an interesting one, as new student Claire Danvers finds out that Morganville is a dangerous place to live.

7. Bang Bang You're Dead by Narinder Dhami - Mia is having enough trouble coping with her mother, who suffers from manic depression, without having to deal with her twin brother's problems as well. But then a rumour spreads that someone in her school has a gun - could it be Jamie? Very different from everything else on the list but still incredibly tense.

8. Mortlock by Jon Mayhew - Imagine Roald Dahl listened to a LOT of traditional folk ballads and then set to write an 1850's adventure. Some fabulous stuff here. (The Demon Collector, by the same author, is worth checking out as well.)

9. Evernight by Claudia Gray - Another vampire book. Except EVERYTHING here is different. Superb.

10. Caster Chronicles by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl - I was planning on leaving this one out as it's YA paranormal rather than being horror as such. Then I decided that since it's probably the best sequence going - only the Monstrumologist comes close - it would be stupid to waste time arguing about the exact genre and I should just encourage anyone who hasn't already got started on Beautiful Creatures, book 1, to go out and buy it now.

Friday 16 September 2011

Blog Tour: Review of The Last Seal by Richard Denning

(Standard disclaimer: Received in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

In 1380 the warlock Stephen Blake released the demon Dantalion from the Abyss, only for his nemesis Cornelius Silver to banish him straight away. Dantalion has nursed his wounds for nearly 300 years – and in 1666, descendants of the original pair clash as he aims to return to the world, and burn down London by starting the Great Fire. While the fire rages around London, and Dantalion’s followers try to break the seals which hold him in the Abyss, four unlikely heroes join forces to stop them from being destroyed – and to save the world.

The main characters, those four heroes, are a schoolboy called Ben from the renowned Westminster School, and a young thief, Freya. They’re helped by a bookseller Gabriel, who’s one of the secret society that Silver belonged to, and Dr Tobias Janssen, who thirsts for revenge on Dantalion’s latest would-be-releaser, Artemas. The opposition, along with various disposable henchmen, consists of Dantalion, Artemas, and Matthias, a crazed preacher.

It’s a fairly small cast in many ways, although there are plenty of minor parts, but that works well because the characters are all really well developed, particularly Ben, who it quickly becomes clear has a murky past. Denning does a fantastic job of drawing out the background behind his main protagonist, and the camaraderie that builds up between he, Freya, Gabriel and Tobias.

When I first got my hands on it last year in hardback, this was the second of Richard Denning's books that I read and while I've since also really enjoyed Yesterday's Treasures, the follow-up to the excellent Tomorrow's Guardian, this is definitely my favourite of his works. As with his other books, there's fast and furious action, great dialogue - the revision since the hardback has notably improved this - and the characterisation is particularly strong in this one. Denning also has a real thirst for historical knowledge and this certainly shines through in his books, with his descriptions of London in 1666 making you feel as if you were in the middle of the raging fire. It’s the kind of book which I can see lots of parents and teachers buying for children to get them more interested in history – I think some young readers might pick up a lot about the 1660’s as they read it. There’s also some interesting cameos from real historical figures, including Charles II, Samuel Pepys, and Richard Busby, the real headmaster of Westminster at this time. All of them are vividly realized in extremely short appearances.

Tantalisingly, this is now being marketed as book one of the Praesidium series - I'll definitely be on board for book 2! Oh, and before that, it looks like we're getting the third in the author's excellent Hourglass Institute series next year - happy times indeed for fans of historical fiction.

For more about The Last Seal, check out the rest of Richard's fantastic blog tour - details here.

Monday 5 September 2011

Monday Musings: Review of Lia's Guide To Winning The Lottery by Keren David

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Lia is obsessed with a guy called Raf who barely seems to know she exists. She has a sister who's got some problems at school, a mother who never seems to stop nagging... and an £8 million lottery ticket in her pocket. Suddenly, she's a lot more popular with her family and friends - but is winning the riches on offer all that it's cracked up to be?

I'm a massive fan of both When I Was Joe and the sequel Almost True, both by Keren David, and this latest from the same author didn't disappoint. That said, it's extremely different - much lighter than the two thrillers David has written for teens, as we instead explore Lia's friends and family's reaction to her winning, her pursuit of Raf, and how she copes with the fame that accompanies her win. Lia is a really interesting heroine - to start off with I found her slightly unlikeable, but as we grow to know her better we see that there are plenty of positive things about her. It's also interesting to note the way she pursues Raf, and to compare her behaviour and attitude to those of some of the similarly wealthy youngsters she meets when she takes a short break. It's certainly an easier read than the previous two books by David - which were heartstopping at times - but it has its own serious issues to raise, as the author skewers our attitudes to celebrity, friendship, sex, and gambling. As always with David, the supporting characters are uniformly strong - I particularly liked Lia's kid sister, her friend Jack, and his overbearing mother.

Overall this is a strong recommendation to everyone, particularly fans of David's writing style who are interested to see her tackle a very different theme.

Friday 2 September 2011

Friday Feature: Five Recent Books Boys Will Love

I haven’t done any Friday features for ages, so thought I’d give one a try. This is partly inspired by the recent discussion about the lack of books aimed at boys in the YA market today – believe me, there are some out there! In many cases I’ve raved about these books several times before – but they’re so wonderful that I can’t leave them out! Order is alphabetical by book/series title as there’s no way I could split them.

1. The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan – Gripping, scary as hell, and utterly, chillingly, believable, this ‘stranger danger’ tale would in lesser hands be one of the ‘’simplistic problem novels that read like after-school specials’’ mentioned in this NYT article. With Kalhan writing it, the end result couldn’t be further away. An incredible lead character in Sam, a plot packed with suspense and action, and it’s short enough not to be daunting to a reluctant reader. I’m tempted to use a phrase like “This isn’t a book young adults should read; it’s a book they MUST read.” but that would be irritatingly preachy so I won’t.

2. The Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey

Incredibly, this Victorian gore-fest was cancelled a few weeks ago, just as fans eagerly awaited the third book, Isle of Blood. Thankfully, common sense – aided by a blog campaign – prevailed and Simon and Schuster have assured us we’ll be getting more of the adventures of the mysterious Pellinore Warthrop and his courageous assistant Will Henry. Incredibly well-written, these will draw you into the mysterious world of the 19th century and leave you spending half your time wanting to know what’s coming next, and the other half of your time hiding under your bed at the mere thought of it.

3. Rebel Angels series by Gillian Philip

Tell a teenage boy that the first book in the series is about a pair of fairies who cross over the veil from their realm to our world and you may struggle to get them to pick it up. Persuade them to read the prologue, which sees hero Seth wielding a crossbow as he prepares to shoot his brother to stop him suffering the agonizing death of being burnt at the stake, and you’ll almost certainly not be able to get them to put it down. With a wonderful narrator and a style that breathes new life into a tired genre, this is superb.

4. Wereworld series by Curtis Jobling

Sixteen year old Drew sees his mother killed by a wild animal, triggering a change he never suspected, as he unleashes the werewolf inside of him. Fleeing from his father and brother who believe he killed her, he tries to help the people of Lyssia against the evil King Leopold the Werelion and his son Prince Lucas, while finding his own place in the world. Epic fantasy at its very finest, this should be far too long for reluctant readers to even think about but I’ve seen kids who wouldn’t normally look at a book even half this thick devour it because of the fabulous action here.

5. When I Was Joe series by Keren David

After Ty witnesses a stabbing, he’s plunged into a nightmare world of thugs on his trail, forcing him and his mother to go into the Witness Protection scheme. Will he ever be safe? Can he fit into his new school while worrying about the people chasing him? And does a certain girl have a dark secret of her own? This is a modern thriller in every sense, tackling tough contemporary issues which every teen will be familiar with. Ty is a simply fantastic character, the story develops brilliantly, and one particular scene is perhaps the most haunting of the past few years for me.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Thursday Thoughts: Review of Walk The Lines by Mark Mason

I was sent this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review, by the way.

Mark Mason, lover of all things London, sets himself a mission. To walk the length of EVERY one of the capital’s eleven Underground lines – but to do so overground. Travelling 403 miles, learning more facts about London than you could ever imagine, and meeting a variety of people – including the Krays’ biographer – and find out that the legendary Circle Line pub crawl (drinks in 27 pubs, one for each station) may not be as much fun as it’s cracked up to be.

This is one of those books that will, if you’re anything like me, take a ridiculous amount of time to read, because it conjures up so many visions of London with Mason’s vivid descriptions of the city that I spent half my time in pleasant daydreams of doing the same thing as the author. Sadly – or perhaps thankfully – I don’t have the time, or the energy, to walk over four hundred miles myself, but I certainly felt as though I was accompanying him on his journey as he made his way to hundreds of stations. It’s also a wonderful book to dip into and read a line at a time, prolonging the enjoyment.

Mason’s style is an extremely easy one to read and he raises a smile not just with his descriptions of the areas he walks through and their history, but also with the people who accompany him on occasions – especially his friend Richard, far keener than the author to plan things out to the nth degree. A massive amount of footnotes adds to the information without breaking up the main narrative, providing plenty of extra facts – did you know how big the Square Mile is now? I’ll give you a clue, it’s not exactly a square mile anymore – but to find out the actual area, you’ll need to buy the book. Or I suppose you could look it up on the internet; but then you’d miss out on dozens, if not hundreds, of similar bits of trivia. (Seriously, you can’t tell me you don’t want to know why City police call the Met the Bantams, can you?)

High recommendation, particularly to London lovers like myself.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Teaser Tuesday - Ondine by Ebony McKenna

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Mine today is from the fabulous Ondine by Ebony McKenna.

"Shouldnt you tell Mrs Howser you're leaving?" Melody asked.

"Pfft. She's the psychic one, why should I bother?"

Sunday 28 August 2011

Hayley Long Interview

Hayley Long, author of the superb Lottie Biggs series, was kind enough to stop by and answer some questions for me. Hope you enjoy it!

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

Me. The truth is I write primarily to entertain myself. And what I write comes from the heart and I believe in it absolutely. The quirky fonts, the daft illustrations, the jokes, the cultural references, the recognisable everyday scenarios and characters… they’re all there because that’s what engages me. Of course, it goes without saying that it’s a real buzz to get messages from my readers – it feels a bit like being in a club with other people who share the same sense of humour and points of interest as I do. But more than anything I like to write and it’s important that I focus on the creative act of something I care deeply about. I could easily spend hours on twitter and facebook but then I wouldn’t get anything written.

2. I know you’ve written books for adults as well as the Lottie Biggs series for teens – which do you prefer, and are there major differences in the way you approach writing them?

I’ve enjoyed writing everything I’ve written. But I have to admit that writing for teens probably has the edge. For these reasons:

- The final word count doesn’t have to be so high so it’s a lot less daunting.

- I can do fun visual things like throw in silly pictures or suddenly switch to

size 72 font (Blogger's note: Hayley actually put this in size 72 font but I'm somehow not able to do this on the blog. I'm assuming this is me being dumb and will try to edit once I post... fingers crossed!)

or maybe just put one word on an entire page….


Also, it’s fun writing about teenagers because – although they may not realise this but I think they do - they are often very very entertaining.

3. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been waiting to ask this question – are you a Gavin and Stacey fan? I can almost hear Nessa’s voice when I read Lottie sometimes!

Oh! Gwen! Make me an omelette!


Yes, yes, I LOVE Gavin and Stacey. Although, LOTTIE BIGGS CAME FIRST. I’d written several drafts of Lottie Biggs is Not Mad before I even began watching Gavin and Stacey. And yes, you can hear Nessa I suppose – but only because loads of people sound like her in Cardiff. Or should I say The Diff?

Either ways, I loves The Diff, I do.

4. Lottie’s list of her ten favourite Welsh people on MyKindaBook is great – how many of the non-fictional entries in it would be in your own top ten as well? Anyone in your top ten who’d surprise us?

Well thank you, I’m glad you liked Lottie’s Welsh list, I’ll pass that compliment on to her…

As for my own list, Shirley Bassey WOULD DEFINITELY be on it! Because, like Lottie says, she’s a proper legend, isn’t she. There’s no other singer like her and I don’t think there ever will be again. And also, it would be rude and disrespectful not to have her in any list of Top Ten Welsh People.

Who else? I’d have Cerys Matthews from Catatonia in my Top Ten too. I absolutely loved Catatonia in the 90s and saw them play loads. Cerys is a feisty girl with a great voice and she can play the guitar. I admire that.

Rhod Gilbert, the comedian. To be honest with you, I don’t actually find him all that funny but… er… well… I think I sort of fancy him a bit….

Oh and Dylan Thomas, the poet. YES I KNOW that there are plenty of other writers who have come out of Wales but really, Under Milk Wood is beautiful. And anyone who wrote the words…

‘The ship's clock in the bar says half past eleven. Half past eleven is opening time. The hands of the clock have stayed still at half past eleven for fifty years. It is always opening time in the Sailors Arms.’

… truly deserves to be remembered.

And finally, I’d choose my friend Kirsty who is from Mold in North Wales – just down the road from Wrexham. So that’s five people I’ve picked. So that’s a Top Five Favourite Welsh People then.

5. As a resident of Wrexham with a friend who has a shop in the Butchers’ Market you have no idea how thrilled I was to see Lottie turn up there in book three! Have you spent much time in the town yourself? Any favourite places?

Hahaha, I LOVE that your friend has a shop in the Butchers’ Market! Which one is it? (Blogger's note: The fantastic Mad4Movies, which sells DVDs and BBluRays at superb prices.)

I’ll be honest, I’ve only ever visited Wrexham twice. The first time I went with my husband because there was actually a possibility that he might have taken a job there – but then he didn’t, so that was the end of that. We went by train up from Cardiff and the train ride was beautiful. And I liked Wrexham too. Mind you, I like absolutely anywhere if it’s in Wales. My favourite place actually was the Butchers’ Market. It’s got a nice atmosphere and it has one of those cafés that looks like it serves you extremely strong tea in a chipped mug.

That was the inspiration for the Good Friends Café in Lottie Biggs is Not Tragic. And then the second time I visited I had a fun weekend break in the town – so essentially I was a tourist! I bet Wrexham doesn’t receive too many of them! But, actually, I was secretly sizing the place up as a partial setting for the third Lottie book. The people in Wrexham are lovely. Very friendly. I hope the football team gets back into the football league where it belongs. (Blogger's note (yet again; sorry!) - me too, although I think we've got a really good chance this year - but then again I say that EVERY year...)

6. I love Winnie the chinchilla! Do you have any pets of your own?

Yes, I have a little black rabbit called Irma the Bunny. She’s lovely. For six months of the year she lives in the garden and for the other six months – when it’s cold – she lives in my front room as a house bunny. I was all set to give Lottie Biggs a pet rabbit but then one day I went to Pets at Home to buy Irma some food and I saw a really ancient white-haired chinchilla called Winnie in the pet adoption centre. I wanted to take Winnie home with me but, actually, you need a lot of space for a chinchilla because they need a massive cage and they aren’t all that easy to look after – you have to know what you’re doing. So instead I just added Winnie to the cast of Lottie Biggs is Not Desperate and gave him to Lottie Biggs.

7. If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask
and who would you ask it to?

I’d bring William Shakespeare back to life and I’d sit down with him – probably in a tavern over a glass of cloudy ale – and I’d say, ‘Now be honest with me, William, who REALLY wrote those plays?’ Because it sure as heck wasn’t an uneducated glove-maker’s son from Stratford-upon-Avon. This just wouldn't have been possible in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

8. Do you listen to music when you write, and if so what’s on the
soundtrack to the Lottie Biggs series?

Nope. Absolutely can’t do it. I love music and still have loads of vinyl left over from the days when I used to DJ in Cardiff with my friend Kirsty – that’s the one from Mold – but I just find it too distracting while I’m writing. I can cope with a bit of classical music playing in the background but that’s about it.

Music always features in my stories though. I don’t consciously choose something. It just sort of presents itself. Lottie Biggs became a fan of Jimi Hendrix because of his song ‘Manic Depression’ and then in the second book, Carole King popped up. It doesn’t worry me that most kids probably don’t know who these people are. They’re respected musicians who will sound good forever.

And it’s fun to discover new stuff through reading I think. The book I’m working on at the moment features several iconic American singers. I daren’t discuss it yet though in case I jinx it in some way…

9.Is there any book you’d recommend to readers who’d enjoyed the
Lottie Biggs series?

For me, the most fantastic teen book ever is The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4. I read that book when I was 12 and I honestly think it changed my life. It certainly made me laugh a lot. I remember thinking it was so funny and so outrageously rude but really, it just captures that difficult teenage experience perfectly. And Sue Townsend, the author, is so brilliant at observing the bizarre little details of life that many of her characters and situations are instantly recognisable. I’ve never been a big one for fantasy. I think real life is frequently fantastical and weird enough. Sue Townsend always illustrates this.

10. What's next for Hayley Long?

What indeed? Well, it’s time to move on from Lottie. I’m in the middle of a new novel. I’ve got some new characters. They live in London. They’re teenagers. Hopefully anyone who liked Lottie will like this too. Yes they will. Of course they will! Anyway, it’s coming from the heart again! I really can’t tell you any more than that I’m afraid. It’s all still at that stage where it’s just between me and my keyboard.

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions, Hayley, and very best of luck with the new novel!

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Loved But Never Wrote A Review For

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

1. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - I spent 3 hours or so trying to write a review for this and gave up. I still can't decide whether I liked it or not. Incredibly powerful book but I go up and down over whether the ending was amazing or amazingly bad. Still, anything to get me thinking that hard should probably be reviewed.

2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - I read this about 3 years ago and it was absolutely incredible. I want to review it but would need to reread it first to make sure I did it justice. Anyone who wants a really thoughtful dystopian should try this one.

3. Hey Dollface by Deborah Hautzig - A stunning story of two girls trying to figure out in just what way they like each other. Short but unbelievably powerful for its length. Hautzig's Second Star To The Right, on the subject of eating disorders, is also wonderful.

4. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher - Read this just before I started blogging, maybe a couple of months before. I think if I'd read it just that few months later I'd definitely have reviewed it. Incredible book, completely devastating in parts. Couldn't honestly say I enjoyed it, due to the subject matter, but a very powerful read.

5. Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer - The one series I grew up reading again and again. I loved these at the time but find some of them hard to read now; especially with the quality rather tailing off towards the end. Having said that, some of the early ones - notably The Chalet School in Exile - rank amongst the very best of children's fiction prior to the YA boom, in my opinion.

6. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - Astounding. I read this on recommendation from one of my year 11's who claimed it was the most beautifully written book of all time. I'm not sure I'd go quite that far, but it wouldn't be out of my top 5. As a sign of how good this is, I read Zafon's The Angel's Game, which would probably make it into my top 20 of all time, and was actually disappointed with it because it pales in comparison with Shadow.

7. Funland by Richard Laymon - Have never really enjoyed horror much, but went through a spell about 15 years ago of reading everything by Laymon I could get my hands on. This tale of the youths of a town standing up to the homeless people they see as threats, with things getting out of control very quickly, is classic RL - scholocky, crazy, and wonderfully entertaining.

8. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier - My English teacher at school recommended Robert Cormier to me and I tried four or five of his books, finding them either woeful or wonderful. This was definitely wonderful and unflinching in its portrayal of bullying and mob rule in a private Catholic school in America. The sequel is nearly as brilliant.

9. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee - The only book I studied at school that I actually liked; that said I liked it so much that it made up for all of the rest. A true classic with one of the greatest heroes of all time in narrator Scout's father Atticus, and a wonderfully evocative portrait of small town America. Southern Gothic at its absolute finest.

10. Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge - While I probably read the Chalet School series more when growing up, these hold a special place in my heart because they're my dad's favourite books and he used to read them to me all the time. Colossally funny even all these years later, I still enjoy rereading them and was incredibly pleased when I tracked down a signed copy of one for my dad's birthday last year.

Friday 19 August 2011

Save The Monstrumologist - Oh, Wait, It's Been Saved...

William James Henry always claimed was born in the year of our Lord 1876.

He passed away, in a nondescript nursing facility, in 2007. The observant amongst you will note that at the time of his death, he professed that he was 131 years old. Two mysteries, then. How had he lived so long? And how had he ended up a shadow of a man, who would do nothing but repeat his name and year of birth, before falling silent.

Those of us who've read the Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey have been waiting some time to find out the answer to both. While I'm yet to get my hands on the Isle of Blood, and therefore can't say if it answers question one, I have a strange feeling that it may be left open, as it was at the end of the prologue to Curse of the Wendigo, with just a suggestion that may or may not be true.

Sadly, we appear to have a premature answer to question two.

So, what vile force send Will Henry prematurely into retirement? What foul creature could take a man who, even as a young boy, fought valiantly by the side of Dr Pellinore Warthrop, and reduce him to someone capable of just a couple of sentences? A rogue Anthropophagi? A vampire or zombie, determined to make light of Warthrop's belief that they were nothing but bogeymen to scare children with?

No, the terrible creature which appears to have dealt a mortal blow to the Monstrumologist himself, and to have left his assistant in this state, is that two-headed beast with the Latin name of Simonnus et Schusterrus.

Or, as you may have heard of it, Simon & Schuster. Yet, I hear my readers cry, surely this cannot be? Did not Simon and Schuster raise the Monstrumologist and his assistant? Were they not helped out into the world by the polycephalic colossus?

Indeed they were. But, having given the world two such people, Simon and Schuster have decided to take them back. Announcing after book 3, the Isle of Blood, there will be no more of Henry and Warthrop's tales to thrill, delight, and educate younger readers about life in the nineteenth century, they have instead chosen to adopt a replacement, the perhaps better-looking - but nowhere near so captivating - Hilary Duff.

Hey, if you were in Will Henry's situation, wouldn't you be somewhat lost for words as well?

But wait...

As typing this call for arms, I hear good tidings! A group of the species known as bloggerus bookitus - the common book blogger, like me - were able to band together to shelter the Doctor and Will. On seeing the amount of these small, but fearless, creatures who were willing to stand up to it, Simonnus et Schusterrus reconsidered its decision and welcomed the Monstrumologist back to its nest.

A fairytale ending, indeed.

If you'd like to thank the creature for sparing the Monstrumologist and his young assistant, could you take a couple of minutes and head over to Stephanie Reads where you can find out how to say thanks to Simon and Schuster AND get an entry into an international giveaway of signed copies of the first three books in the series!

Thursday 11 August 2011

Thursday Thoughts: Review of Bloodstone by Gillian Philip

Please note, I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Usual spoiler warning for book 1, Firebrand, applies here.

Seth and Conal MacGregor have spent so long hunting for the Bloodstone for Kate NicNiven, their queen, that they're reached the present day in our world (after Firebrand took place in sixteenth century Scotland.) They still haven't found it, though, but they have got themselves involved with some wonderful new characters, notably sullen teenager Finn, who's unaware of her Sithe heritage but about to find out with far-reaching consequences. Returning to the realm of the fairies with her in tow, and two others, the MacGregor boys are about to find even more trouble.

Seth burst onto the scene in Firebrand as an incredible narrator, full of youthful rebellion and fury, and while four centuries or so have passed, he's still the same flawed but lovable hero. Add to that Conal, calmer but just as wonderful, and great new characters like the surly Finn, and this is a surefire winner. The narration is mainly by Seth but parts are done by Jed, the human son of a woman Seth has a relationship with, and his voice brings an interesting new twist to things.

It's an epic, sprawling, plot, as befits a series which has so far spanned four hundred plus years over just two books, and similarly to its predecessor sees betrayal and revenge as major topics. It's incredibly difficult to know who to trust and that makes the book a really tense read.

Special praise for the ending, which was incredibly striking and felt, in many ways, nearly unbearably final. However, with two books to go in the Rebel Angels series, it's clearly not. I have no idea where Gillian Philip will take us from here - but I have every confidence that it will be an incredible journey finding out!

High recommendation, and this series is definitely one which adults will enjoy just as much as teens.

Further reading suggestion: Another excellent book about humans interacting with strange creatures from another realm is Cold Tom by Sally Prue, a fantastic retelling of the folk tale Tam Lin.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Heist Society by Ally Carter

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

From Amazon:

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie travelled to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own - scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind.

But now her dad's life is on the line, and Kat must go back to the world she tried so hard to escape...

Why I can't wait to read it:

Okay, Ally Carter created some of the coolest teen characters around with her Gallagher Girls in the books of that name. Now she's doing a teenage criminal? Just try and keep me away!

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated Books

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

Loving today's topic, a fantastic way to plug some books which for whatever reason haven't got quite as much attention as they deserve!

All links are to my own reviews on either this site or TheBookbag.

The Last Seal by Richard Denning - Superb historical fantasy with really well developed central characters and a fascinating mixture of a demon and the Great Fire of London.

For The Record by Ellie Irving - Wonderfully quirky story full of the best kind of English eccentrics trying to save their Jersey village from the bulldozers.

Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K Jerome - Despite it being acknowledged as a classic, I think this is underrated because people don't necessarily realise how easy it is to read. Jerome's crisp prose and sparkling dialogue, with the humour which runs through the book, make this as wonderful today over a century after its initial publication as it was when it first came out. (Probably, at least, I wasn't around to know for sure!)

Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf - Curtis Jobling - I have no idea why this isn't the publishing sensation of the year. Epic high fantasy which features an astoundingly wonderful world of lycanthropes and a thrilling story.

The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan - One of the most terrifying thrillers of the past few years is aimed at young kids who will NEVER forget the 'stranger danger' message after reading this. Give it to your children - and then be prepared to calm them down at night!

Moorehawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan - This captivating series of fantasy, political intrigue, and romance, is breathtakingly good. One of the best trilogies for ages.

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur - Cheeky inclusion, it's not particularly big as it's not out for another 2 days. Having read a review copy, I can confidently predict this is the only time it will EVER feature in a list of underrated books because as coming of age tales go this is sensational. Hugely moving with a phenomenal cast and should win a ton of prizes if there's any justice in the world.

Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad by Hayley Long - What starts off as a fun 'slice of life' style teen novel quickly becomes a much darker book as Lottie realises she's suffering from a mental disorder. Brilliantly, staggeringly, life-affirmingly superb.

Mortlock by Jon Mayhew
- If Roald Dahl had written a Gothic fantasy influenced by old English folk ballads, this would have been it. Great stuff, and it helped me win my friend £5 on a quiz machine last week with a question about sacred flower the Amarant. Proof that reading fiction really does pay off!

The Secret Kingdom by Jenny Nimmo - Given how good, and how popular, Nimmo's Children of the Red King series is, I'm amazed this exciting prequel hasn't made more of a splash.

Friday 5 August 2011

Review of Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad by Hayley Long

Lottie Biggs is about to turn 15. She has a job which she doesn’t mind, as Head Saturday Girl at shoe shop Sole Mates, a fantastic best friend in the ultra-cool Goose, and a crush on the divine Mad Alien (or Neil Adam, as his name reads slightly less-excitingly forwards.) All that her and Goose are thinking about at the moment (except for Neil) is getting their GCSE’s so they can get out of the boring suburb of Cardiff they live in. Things are about to change for Lottie, though…

I was enjoying this one right from the first few pages – Lottie is an exceptionally warm narrator, reminiscent of a teenage Nessa from hit sit-com Gavin and Stacey in some ways (they’re both Welsh and they both have fantastic dialogue, I may be stretching the comparison a little bit but it’s there in my mind so I’m leaving it!) As a sample, I give you her thoughts on Shakespeare’s famous ‘’Sonnet CXXX’’ (My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun…)

‘’When I read this, two things immediately became apparent to me. Firstly, William Shakespeare may have written a lot of stuff that is widely admired, but his spelling is disastrous and, secondly, anybody who looks like this has no business being rude about the personal appearance of anybody else.’’

The first half of the book rocks along in this kind of style – wonderfully narrated, with quirky characters, and a fast-moving plot – but it’s the second part, in which Lottie starts to realise that she’s having some rather serious mental health problems, which completely blew me away. The tone of the book changes to a much darker one, although it’s still funny enough to keep it in ‘easy read’ territory, and the way she and the people around her come to terms with her illness is handled beautifully. Every moment of her struggle with a malady which is never really specifically revaled seems completely real and this is potentially a book which will be incredibly helpful to teens struggling with similar issues as a stepping stone towards recognising that there is support available.

Also of note, the setout of the book is fantastic – with illustrations by Lottie all over the narrative, which takes the form of her creative writing coursework in English. Having said, this, the one slight quibble I have is that both the cover and the blurb seem to be aiming at the younger end of the teenage years while I’d say this was actually more suited to older teens and adults given the subject matter.

Absolutely massive recommendation as brilliantly, staggeringly, life-affirmingly superb.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Thursday Thoughts: Review of Star Makers: Polly Plays Her Part by Anne-Marie Conway

This is the second in the Star Makers series, fairly major spoilers for the original Phoebe Finds Her Voice included. You have been warned!

Polly Conway is having to deal with rather a lot at the moment. Her mum has got a fabulous new job – but it’s in Spain! That leaves Polly to live with her dad, her new stepmother who she can’t stand, and her baby brother who’s just annoying. Depressed by the problems in her life, she ignores her dad’s rules and turns to the friend2friend website to find comfort. As she gets increasingly addicted to the site, she starts to lose focus on the important things in her life – including her family and the Star Makers’ new production.

Minor gripe to start off with – this is book 2 in the series and follows on from book 1 in which, as far as I can tell, Polly was bullying her now best friend Phoebe. There’s nothing obvious to state it’s the second in the sequence and I have to admit I’d have given it a miss and waited to read the first one if I’d realised.

That said, I’m still glad I picked this one up from the library as it’s a breezy read with some surprisingly well-developed characters compared to most books aimed at this age range. I really liked Polly’s stepmother Diane in particular, as she tried to get to know Polly better and help her settle in despite her ingratitude, and found Polly herself a great narrator – some of her actions were infuriating but in a completely realistic way.

Full marks to Anne-Marie Conway as well for the way in which she handled the friend2friend storyline – I thought I knew exactly what would happen here but I was significantly off target with my guess. I’ll avoid any spoilers, but thought it added a lot to the book to show a rather less publicised danger on the internet.

Finally, I thought it was really refreshing to find a book which had such well-rounded supporting characters. The clownish Monty, the supportive Phoebe, and the rest of the drama group all seemed very well developed and I look forward to reading more of their stories.

High recommendation to its target audience of girls in or approaching their early teens.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

From Good Reads:

Taylor's family might not be the closest-knit – everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled – but for the most part, they get along fine. Then they get news that changes everything: Her father has pancreatic cancer, and it's stage four – meaning that there is basically nothing to be done. Her parents decide that the family will spend his last months together at their old summerhouse in the Pocono Mountains.

Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven't actually gone anywhere. Her former summer best friend is suddenly around, as is her first boyfriend. . . and he's much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.

As the summer progresses, the Edwards become more of a family, and closer than they've ever been before. But all of them very aware that they're battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance – with family, with friends, and with love

Why I can't wait to read it:

Matson's Amy and Roger's Epic Detour may have been the find of the year for me and I've been eagerly anticipating her next novel even without seeing a plot summary. Now I've read the summary I really can't wait for it - sounds like a massive tearjerker.