Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Tuesday Talk: Interview with Ellen Richardson

I really enjoyed the first in Ellen Richardson's Flip-Flop Club series, so when she agreed to do an interview, I was rather pleased, to say the least!

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

While I'm writing a book I usually don't think about who might read it someday – I'm too busy being each of the characters! But when the first draft goes off to the editor, most of all when I first see the cover and later hold the finished book in my hands, I try to imagine who might read it and whether or not they'll enjoy it.

I meet a lot of readers during school visits and other appearances, and that's very important to me. Meeting readers is probably the best thing about being an author. I had a very special reader in mind, though, as I was writing Charmed Summer, the first book in the Flip Flop Club series. Her name is Lydia and she reminds me a bit of Elly and a bit of Sierra. I dedicated the book to her.

2. I commented that Charmed Summer has a rather timeless feel in many places, reminding me of some of the wonderful children's books I grew up reading. Which books and authors influence you when writing?

Thank you very much! It's not always easy to trace your influences as a writer. These are the first books I've written which are 'realism' – set in our world, in our time. I read a lot of fantasy. Favourite authors include Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Reeve, Jonathan Stroud, Penelope Pearce, Joan Aiken, Margaret  Mahey, Garth Nix. I do love the Swallows and Amazons books, and I admit to re-reading We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea when writing Whale Song so I could see how Arthur Ransome dealt with the technical side of sailing. He puts a lot more sailing jargon than my editors allowed! I also loved and love E. Nesbit's books like The Treasure Seekers and Five Children and It. And anything by Michelle Majorian: she's amazing.

Great picks - Aiken and Nesbit in particular are two of my favourite authors, and I love most of Ransome's books. (Although I have to be honest and say We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea is one I'm not overly keen on. Whale Song sounds intriguing, though - can't wait to read it!)

3. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what's the soundtrack to the Flip-Flop Club series?

Oh, that is difficult. Yes, when I'm writing older. I'm writing a YA book at the moment and I don't think Elly, Sierra and Tash would be too keen on the music I listen to while writing that! I don't tend to listen to music when writing for 8-12s. I'd love to take a poll of FFC readers' favourite tracks and artists. For the next FFC books I could listen to a play list based on that and see what happens!

4. As much as I liked the three main characters, Tash's dog Mojo is a total scene-stealer! Who's your favourite fictional animal?

So glad you loved Mojo. He's straight-forward wish fulfilment. I'm desperate to have a border terrier but we can't right now: I'm too busy to look after a dog properly and both I and my husband travel quite a lot for work. We have two lovely soppy cats and they're much petted and pampered, but yes, I want my own Mojo! 

My favourite fictional animal? Again, a tough one. The horse, Flicka, from Mary O'Hara's amazing book, My Friend Flicka, broke my heart when I was Elly's age. The intensity of that love between child and animal was very much part of my emotional life as a child. I've always loved animals and started off studying biology at university with the intention of becoming animal behaviorist like Jane Goodall. But I soon found out I was a hopeless scientist.

The other fictional animal that stands out for me is Charlotte in E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. That book made me want to be a writer, and I'll always be grateful to my fourth grade teacher, Mrs Ormsbee, for reading it to our class. I don't think the importance of reading aloud to children can ever be emphasized enough.

Agreed, Charlotte's awesome! I've never read Mary O'Hara but so many people love her that I'm clearly missing out... will have to sort it out at some point!

5. What would your ideal pair of flip-flops look like?

Definitely green, like Elly's. And they'd need to be comfortable, so not too slippy and hard. I'm not that sparkly though: I leave sparkle to Sierra.

6. What advice would you give to someone trying to write their first book for children?

In one paragraph or less, eh?  Well, read good stories. Don't just read what you liked when you were young – read what 's being published now. Take a creative writing course; join a local writer's group so you can start getting feedback. Have a look at The Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), which has a very good website with lots of information to get you started.

Most of all, decide why you want to write and especially why you want to write for young people. I write children's books because that's what I most enjoy reading. I also happen to think children and teenagers are the most interesting people on the planet. Writing for children is not, believe me, a path to fame or fortune. Most published writers will never be able to give up their day job. So write for love and to become the best writer you can be. Like any art, it takes years of hard work and practice.

7. There are some wonderful extras in Charmed Summer - a particular favourite of mine was the 'Create Your Own Time Capsule' piece. If you were burying a time capsule, what would you put in?

Photographs of my son and husband; a copies of my books; letters from my parents (yes, they are old; they write letters!); recorded phone conversations with dear friends; photos from our family holidays on the Scillies, which is the place most like Sunday Island. Maybe I'd bury one of my motorbikes in a hermetically sealed chamber so in twenty years I could open it up and have a ride on a retro-bike. Except everything will have gone electric by then ...

8. Of course, even when children have finished reading the book, they can then find out more on the fabulous website! Are you heavily involved in it? What's your favourite part of the site?

The website is great. Oxford University Press have done a lovely job with it. I have an author page there and will answer any questions from readers. I love the trailers and the secret area is fun. Favourite: Flip Flop Club ecards.

9. Which book would you recommend to people who enjoy the Flip-Flop Club, and why?

Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild: a classic loved by so many. And The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit. So good! Books about friendship that I really rate are: Gene Kemp's Juniper and Katherine Paterson's heartbreakingly beautiful Bridge to Terabithia which was made into a film a few years ago. Juniper is an adventure/mystery and Terabithia is simply a stunning classic. Both you'll have to order through the library or find online. I don't think Juniper is in print, which is scandalous. And always recommend books by Diana Wynne Jones. Especially good ones for readers this age are Charmed Life, Witch Week and The Magicians of Caprona.

Some brilliant picks there - Ballet Shoes and The Railway Children are two of my all-time favourites! Wynne Jones is someone else I really should read more of...

10. What's next for Ellen Richardson?

I have a lot of books to write so editorial deadlines will be keeping me busy and out of trouble well into 2013. I'm going to be at the Hay Festival talking about the Flip Flop Club books on Saturday, 9th June. As well as readings and audience question time, there will be games and prizes! It's going to be a sparkly occasion. Sierra would love it!

Fab! Hope you have a great time there. Best wishes for the future, I'm looking forward to reading more about the Flip Flop Club!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Monday Musings: June YA Releases to Watch Out For

What's everyone else looking forward to in June? Here's a mix of ones I've been lucky enough to review for The Bookbag and others I'm desperate to get my hands on!


Pop! by Catherine Bruton - Kitchen sink drama meets community-paralysing politics underneath a fabulous reality TV narrative, according to Jill Murphy at the Bookbag. A review like that from one of the best reviewers around would have me interested whoever the author - but given Bruton's We Can Be Heroes was one of my favourites of last year, this is a definite must-read for me.


All These Lives by Sarah Wylie - This one, about a girl who survives two accidents and grows to feel she has nine lives, then tries to release one to help her twin sister who's dying of cancer, sounds strange but compelling.

A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody Keplinger - I love Keplinger's blog posts but have somehow never got round to reading either The DUFF or Shut Out despite the great reviews I've seen of both. This tale of a girl having to deal with a new stepmother-to-be - whose son just happens to be Whitley's recent one night stand - sounds intriguing and I'm really looking forward to it.


Life According To... Alice B Lovely by Karen McCombie - McCombie is ultra-reliable and I don't think she's ever written a bad book, so my expectations of this one were high. However, it was even more amazing than I was hoping for - perhaps her warmest and sweetest book yet. She also gave me a great interview about it!

My Family and Other Freaks - DO read this, even if you're significantly older than 12-year-old narrator Danni. DON'T read it on public transport - I'm still getting dirty looks from people who get the same bus as me in the mornings three weeks after I practically fell off my seat laughing. Sensational debut.

What Boys Really Want - A complete joy, simply because virtually everyone in it is so likeable. Two great narrators and a fun plot with some neat twists make this a massive recommendation.

Emma Hearts LA by Keris Stainton - The best character in Stainton's Jessie Hearts NY gets her own book. It's just as good as you'd expect - a quick, engaging read with a fab writing style and a love triangle which actually has three good characters in.

The Selection by Kiera Cass - The one dystopian of recent months which has caught my eye, with an intriguing twist as a girl is selected to compete in a contest to win the heart of the prince, despite having a secret lover back at home.


For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund - Part of me is thinking a sci-fi retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion doesn't sound all that great of an idea - but if anyone can pull it off, I'd bet on the supremely talented Diana Peterfreund being able to do so. Here's hoping!

Flirting in Italian by Lauren Henderson - Looks like a fun light romance, and I'm really in the mood for contemporary at the moment.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Sunday Special: Interview with UKYA Bloggers Keris Stainton, Keren David and Susie Day

Fans of UK YA definitely shouldn't miss the wonderful blog over at UKYA Books!   I've been lucky enough to do a joint interview with the three fabulous authors behind it - Keris Stainton, Keren David and Susie Day. Given that I'm a big fan of all three as both authors and bloggers, this was rather a special interview to do!

Check out my reviews of their books over at the Bookbag. Jessie Hearts NYC and Emma Hearts LA by Keris, When I Was Joe and Almost True by Keren, and Pea's Book of Best Friends by Susie.

1. Which one of you had the idea to start up the UKYA blog? Why did you decide to do it?

It came out of a discussion on Twitter about how American teen fiction was more hyped and better known than UKYA. Then Keren David had the idea to start a site, mainly to be a destination for anyone searching online for British teen fiction. It was originally just going to be a sort of index, but Keris Stainton got carried away…

2. Do you think you have different expectations picking up a UK YA book as opposed to one from the US? (Apart from the setting on most occasions, of course!)

There's such a huge range of brilliant YA covering all sorts of areas, written in both the UK and the US that it's hard to pin down expectations. One thing you get from UKYA though can be a feeling of close identification with the characters and the situations they are in - which can make you think about your own life in a different way.

3. Are there any British places you'd love to see feature more often in novels?

Too many places to mention! It would be great to see fiction representing every UK region, including the areas that are possibly considered less 'glamorous'. Every part of the UK has many stories to tell.

4. And, conversely, are there any places in the UK that you think are overused?

Maybe there's a tendency to 'Richard Curtis-ise' the UK..to concentrate on the rich areas of London, plus a splash of the Cotswolds.

5. I consider myself to be pretty well-read but there's so much fantastic UK YA coming out at the moment that it can be easy to overlook stuff! Are there any releases over the last couple of years which you don't think have had the success they deserve?

Keren: If there was any justice in the world then Gillian Philip's books would be bestsellers and festooned with awards. I also loved Sheena Wilkinson's books Taking Flight and Grounded, set in Northern Ireland -  a mix-up of gritty crime and pony books, which work brilliantly.

Keris: I love Luisa Plaja's books - funny and romantic and true.

Haven't read anything by Sheena Wilkinson or Luisa Plaja (although I keep meaning to try her because she's fab on Twitter and has commented on here before as well!) but agree that Gillian Philip is great!

6. What's the best thing about being a British YA author?

Great friendships with other British YA authors. And we're lucky in that the UK is relatively small, so it's easy to sit down face to face with editors and agents.

7. If you won a fortune on the lottery and could move anywhere you wanted to, where in Britain would your dream house be?

Keren: North London...just around the corner from where I live now...but I'd also want a fabulous beach house on the south coast somewhere.

Keris: It would be the Lake District for me, I think. Or one of the seafront houses at Lytham St Annes. Somewhere near water, definitely.

Susie: Manorbier Castle, Pembrokeshire. It's a ruin but you can stay in a tiny guesthouse within the walls, so it's not quite as daft as it sounds. 

I'm with Keren here - I love London!

8. When you were a teen yourself, who were your favourite British authors?

Keren: Have to admit to large amount of time reading the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer. I also loved Antonia Forest, Agatha Christie, Emily Bronte.

Keris: I read predominantly American authors - Paul Zindel, Paula Danzinger, the Sweet Dreams series and then Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins. I real a lot of UKYA now though!

Susie: Like Keris, I read a lot of US contemporary teen fiction - but I loved British sci-fi: Nicholas Fisk, John Wyndham. And masses of detective fiction, especially Dorothy L Sayers and Josephine Tey.

9. Which fictional character would you most like to take on a traditional British seaside holiday?

Keren: The ones in the book I'm currently working on -  so I can go on writing about them.

Keris: Mr Darcy. I'd love to see him in a Kiss Me Quick hat.

Susie: Darth Vader. We share a similar approach to sunblock, I imagine.

10. Which British fictional character would you be happy to exile to America or Australia, never to set foot on these shores again?

Has to be Horrid Henry. Little brat. And then send Supernanny round to sort out that entire family dynamic.

11. Finally (to end on a happy note after that last question!) can you tell us a bit about the UKYA books we can expect from the three of you in the near future?

Keren: I'm working on three different projects at the moment - not sure which one will see the light of day first (or at all). Two are contemporary UK-based novels, the other is a historical psychological thriller, with a non-UK setting. Right out of my comfort zone!

Keris: Emma Hearts LA comes out at the beginning of June. Then I hope (fingers crossed) there'll be another book in the 'Hearts' series, but we'll see. I'm also working on something completely different, which I'm excited about, but no on else has read yet.

Susie: The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones comes out in August. It's about a girl turning 13 (with the help - or hindrance - of her 14-year-old self), so it's at the younger end of UKYA, but all that 'figuring out who you are' stuff stays pertinent and powerful even when you're older, I think; it's why I love YA fiction.

Some fab stuff to look forward to there! Thanks for such a great interview.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Saturday Spotlight: The Flip-Flop Club: Charmed Summer by Ellen Richardson

Saturday Spotlight is a new feature where I'm showcasing 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. This is a fairly recent release but I'm fast-tracking it here for two reasons - author Ellen Richardson has been kind enough to give me an interview, which will be up on the blog on Tuesday, and I'm also really excited about the coming sequel Whale Song which is due for release in July.

Elly’s been sent to stay with her Aunt Dina for the whole summer, over on Sunday Island. She’s hoping for fun, friends, and happiness. Mostly, though, she’s just glad to be in a place where people don’t pity her because of her mum’s death. When she receives a mysterious invitation to a midnight meeting, she sneaks out and meets two other girls her age, and the trio quickly become firm friends. Then they make a discovery that could change everything – can their friendship survive?

Appropriately enough given the title, this is a real charmer of a book. It’s fairly slight, and at times rather predictable, but it’s well-written, beautifully laid out with repeated small illustrations peppering the pages, and features a really sweet central trio. I liked all three of them although I think my favourite was the fashionable Sierra. Having said that, Tash’s dog Mojo is a complete scene stealer most of the time he’s on the page!

I actually thought when reading this one that it felt rather timeless – although the language is fresh and up to date, the basic concept is something I could imagine Enid Blyton writing about. (I know Blyton can come in for criticism so should probably stress that’s a compliment!) The location on Sunday Island definitely feels like a ‘classic’ kind of setting, while the messages sent back and forth via Mojo made it a much more unique read than mobile phones or e-mails would have done.

 It’s also very accessible to children who don’t read that much normally, with the chapters being relatively short and the language used being mostly fairly simple. This is definitely one that I’d press on a reluctant reader, although that’s certainly not to say that children who are addicted to books can’t also find a lot to enjoy here. The dialogue holds its own as being especially good, while the story is enjoyable despite it being reasonably easy to guess how things will end up.

 High recommendations for tweens and young teens and I’m certainly looking forward to reading the other books in the Flip-Flop Club series!

Friday Feature: Interview with Kathryn James

Kathryn James caught my attention last year with her wonderful portrayal of Nell Beecham, the 13-year-old heroine of her first novel, Mist. I'm far from being the only one who's impressed - in fact, just two days ago she won the Dorset New Horizons Award - congratulations, Kathryn! While I'm eagerly awaiting book 2, Frost, I managed to persuade her to take a little time out from writing to answer some questions I had.

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

Young teens, girls mainly. Those who like getting lost in urban fantasy books, where there’s ‘the glint of strange suns on worlds that never were or will be.’ But I also like to think that my readers are people like me, who didn’t have these kinds of YA books to read as teenagers, and so we love reading them now.

I'm definitely in the latter category! As I've said before, I'm VERY jealous of today's teens as they have so many more great books to read than we seemed to when we were young.

2. As those people who've read my review of Mist know, I loved Nell! She's a brilliant heroine - but when you were a teen, who were your favourite heroines?

Confession time! There’s a black hole when it comes to remembering what I was reading in my early teenage years. Maybe YA books didn’t exist in the dark mists of the early to mid seventies! I remember reading avidly up to about twelve. And the next thing I remember is reading adult books from maybe fourteen or fifteen years old - Agatha Christie, horror books, Georgette Heyer’s historical romances, John
Wyndham and Asimov for sci-fi. Oh and posily carrying round Hesse’s Steppenwolf, but not understanding a word of it. I do remember there being some teen romance books around that none of us touched, because they didn’t ring true and we thought we were too sassy and cool for them. So no teenage books apart from Alan Garner’s Owl Service and Red Shift.

I think that’s why I love these books now. Oh to be a teenager nowadays, with the choice of books available. I’d definitely become a fan of series like the Vampire Diaries.

3. Nell can clearly handle herself in a fight, as we see early on in the book when she stands up to the bully with the threat of a Heavenly Strike kick and the immortal line "My mum's a police officer. Do you think I'd get ballet lessons?" Have you got any personal experience of ballet or martial arts? If so, which one - and if not, which one would you have preferred?

Ballet – no. That’s not me at all Martial arts – yes. My eldest son did judo from a young age, and instead of sitting and watching them a few of us began to take lessons, too. So I got up to my green belt. I can still remember a few moves and how to fall!

4. Another of my favourite characters was Dru Church, Nell's motorbike-riding grandmother. There definitely aren't enough fabulous grandparents in YA, so it was great to see an older lady with serious attitude. Who are your favourite adult characters in YA books?

I loved creating Dru Church. Grans are groovy nowadays, they’re not little old ladies, they’re sixties activists, or ex Bay City Roller fans, or they’re out there getting university degrees. My friend is a grandma and she plays in a rockabilly band at the weekends. As for favourites – the witches from the Tiffany Aching books (see below) are definitely grannies with attitude. They also appear all through the Discworld
series, which has been responsible for getting plenty of reluctant teenage boys back into reading – including my eldest son. Also in a YA book from a while ago – The Changeover by Margaret Mahy – the strange boy Sorry, has a brilliantly unusual, witchy aunt and mother.

I was talking about grandparents in YA the other day and mentioned Dru, and Chloe's grandmother in Welcome Caller, This Is Chloe - but somehow the witches completely slipped my mind! I will probably be (rightly!) shunned by other Terry Pratchett fans with better memories than mine, now I've admitted that...

5. If you could invite any six YA authors or characters to a dinner party, who would you pick?

Madeline L’Engle, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, Margaret Mahy – because they were the authors who set me on my path. Quite a mix. It would either be a roaring success, or one of those awful, silence filled, awkward parties, and I’d spend the time hiding in the kitchen wishing I hadn’t invited them.

Great picks - Susan Cooper, in particular, is a real favourite of mine.

6. What advice would you give to someone starting out as an author?

Finish what you write! Don’t keep changing your mind, and losing steam half way through. That’s what I used to do. I’d get part way through a novel, get stuck and drop the whole thing, and then think up a new idea. It’s not a good way to work. See your book through to the end. Maybe it won’t be right, but leave it for a while and then come back to it and read again. If you keep skipping a section when you re-read it,
then get rid of that bit because it’s not interesting enough to keep your attention, even if you think it’s marvellously written.

7. What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading the first chapter of Anna Dressed in Blood – and enjoying it. Can’t wait to read the rest. It’s got the same ‘on the road hunting ghosts and ghouls’ feel as TV’s Supernatural, only without the brother.
I’m also reading Terry Pratchett’s I shall Wear Midnight, the fourth in the Tiffany Aching series of books, where the heroine Tiffany is fifteen, a witch in her own right and having trouble with romance. Not sure how this series goes down in the YA market, perhaps it’s read more by adults. And lastly, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. I love the old photos.

I'd be really interested in knowing how many teens read Tiffany Aching... I definitely get the impression a lot of the fans are Pratchett's adult fans, like myself, who read anything Discworld-connected. I haven't seen all that many teens reading it, personally.

8. I love the short stories on your fabulous website! You're also active on Twitter. How important do you think a web presence is to a YA author today?

I got the ideas for the stories from TV shows that do webisodes between seasons. So I thought I’d do the same for Mist, whilst waiting for Frost to come out. I think websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter are all important nowadays. I’ve recently done an Elven Name Generator for my website because, as I’m sure you know, everyone has a touch of Elven blood from way way back! And now everyone can find out their secret Elven name. It links to my Twitter and my Facebook page.

So web presence is important, but I’ve also learned that going round schools and meeting readers is just as important. Actually getting out there and talking, is excellent for spreading the word about your book.

Love the name generator! You can now call me Sierra Morn Splash, by the way.

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

I’d ask Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins what it felt like when they suddenly realised their books had taken off in such a huge way. And did it make it harder to write the follow-ups, because of all the expectations.

10. What's next for Kathryn James?

Frost comes out in January 2013, but apart from that I’m writing, writing, writing. I’ve one book with my editor at the moment. And I’ve got three detailed synopsis worked out. I’m alternating between a deliciously dark YA horror, a MG fantasy horror and a thought provoking fantasy/sci fi.

Wow, sounds like you're very busy! Great stuff - really looking forward to all of them, particularly Frost, of course.

Thanks for agreeing to talk to me, Kathryn - best of luck with all your next projects.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Thursday Talk: Boundaries in YA Fiction Interview

Just posting to say that I'm not really here - I'm HERE instead! The fabulous mother and daughter team M and Little M at We Sat Down are running a feature where they talk to people involved in YA about Boundaries in YA fiction - I was delighted to be asked to take part and really enjoyed answering their thoughtful questions. Please take a look!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Tuesday Thoughts: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love YA

I was recently asked to take part in a feature that the fabulous M and Little M of We Sat Down are doing on Boundaries in YA Fiction. It's going to run on Thursday, I believe - so check their site then for it! - but it got me thinking about my history in reading children's and YA books... so here it is.

I used to read a lot as a kid myself but generally went for older stories, such as the Jennings, Just William, Chalet School and Abbey Girls series. I wasn't aware of a huge amount of good stuff being released for children in the late eighties and early nineties when I was growing up - honourable exceptions going to Christopher Pike, Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, and possibly a few others I've forgotten. I moved on to adult novels, including vast amounts of crime - Agatha Christie, Reginald Hill and Ruth Rendell being favourites of the time, while I also enjoyed the work of authors such as Lyn Andrews, Judy Astley - still a favourite - and Mike Gayle.

About 10 years ago, though, I was looking for something different to read and borrowed my sister's copy of The Past, The Present and The Loud, Loud Girl, the first in Karen McCombie's Ally's World series. I was hooked immediately - and it cost me a fortune because I was reading faster than she was so ended up buying the nine she hadn't got myself! That's more of an MG series than YA, but it opened my eyes to the children's and teen sections of the bookshops for the first time in a while. I picked up Cecily Von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl, which was relatively new at the time - long before the travesty of a TV adaptation - and the snarky voice, wonderful narration, and decidedly more adult plot than I was used to in a teen book had me hooked.

Even then, I was splitting my reading relatively equally between adult and YA/MG books for the next six or seven years, until I found the fabulous Bookbag site. I started reviewing for them, reviewed a couple of adult books with mixed success, grabbed some YA and MG ones and found I had much more to say about them. LJ Smith's Dark Visions bind-up and Lauren Kate's Fallen were the first two YA novels I reviewed and I basically raved about both of them, while I found a few flaws in Rick Yancey's The Terror Beneath, first in his Monstrumologist series, but had lots to say about it. (Strangely, I've reread all three recently - and The Terror Beneath is by far the best on second reading!)

I'd now say I read about 90% YA or MG, with the exceptions being a few adult series I'm completely hooked on - Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin being the stand out - and an occassional literary fiction-type book I take a chance on for the Bookbag, which paid off massively when I was able to review the fantastic Sri Lankan novel Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka and the Danish seafaring epic We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen.

I'd love to hear how long my readers have been fans of YA for! Leave a comment below if you have a story to share.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Monday Musings: Book Review of Taran, Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Warning: Spoilers for the first three Chronicles of Prydain below!

Taran has finally realised that he's in love with Princess Eilonwy, but doesn't feel worthy of her because he has no idea of his true identity. He sets out on a quest to find his true parentage, and ends up learning more about himself than he'd ever have imagined...

We seem to have come a fair distance from the epic fantasy of The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron over the last two books - The Castle of Llyr was more humour based, while this moves away from looking at the fate of the world to focus firmly on Taran's character. That's not a criticism, however - Taran has become such a wonderful hero that it's great to see a book in which he really comes of age properly. Even though he's fought valiantly before and proven himself in the eyes of all around him, it's the lessons he learns in this volume which really show that he's a man by the end. Of course, it wouldn't be a Prydain novel without a wonderful supporting cast, and we see the return of Fflewddur Fflam, Gurgi, and King Smout, amongst others, as well as a host of interesting new characters.

I would say the pace was significantly slower than any of the other three books so far, but this didn't put me off at all - apart from perhaps The Black Cauldron, I think this is my favourite of the first four.

High recommendation to readers, but you'll obviously want to check out the first three books before reading it!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Sunday Special: April in Review

No month was ever going to compare to the wonder that was March, when I got to read Code Name Verity, Department 19: The Rising, and The Things We Did For Love, and thought they were all outstanding.

That said, April could have done a bit better job of at least trying. I read a bunch during the month and while there was some good stuff, there was a fair bit of lacklustre writing around.

Still, my top three, and a few others, stand out as excellent, and there's nearly a dozen more 'recommended' ones, so not a complete wash. And on the plus side, not one but TWO self-published books I'm very happy to recommend!

YA books

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams – Football player gets injured, finds out his ex-girlfriend has disappeared from her new boarding school, and goes to join the search. It’s serviceable but incredibly forgettable, to the point where I noted the title but not the author and had to Google it to remind myself what it was about.

Sweet by Julie Burchill – I loved Sugar Rush, but the sequel fell flat with me. Maria Sweet worked brilliantly as a love interest in the original but is an obnoxious narrator. I loved the ending, to be fair, but it still doesn’t lift this into recommended territory.

Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne – Impressive hard-hitting debut which follows the way a girl insinuates herself into another teen’s life to get revenge after her father is stabbed. Gritty and realistic with a really good narrator. Tanya Byrne was kind enough to give me really good interview.

Scarlet by AC Gaughen – Robin Hood retold by Will Scarlett – who’s a girl. Scarlet is one of my favourite narrators of the month, with a fantastic voice. Guy of Gisbourne is a really nasty villain. The action scenes are superb. It’s not perfect – the Scarlet/John/Robin love triangle didn’t work for me and some early dialogue is awkward – but it had me glued to it and I’m looking forward to Gaughen’s next book.

The Summer My Life Began by Shannon Greenland – Coming-of-age story has a predictable plot and characters who never really captured my attention, unfortunately.

Changeling by Philippa Gregory – Another adult author takes the step into YA. Whenever anyone does that I watch with bated breath… but shouldn’t have worried here. Gregory’s first book in her new Order of Darkness series is one of the most entertaining pieces of historical fiction for ages, she captures 15th century Europe wonderfully, and her central quartet are all superb characters.

Slide by Jill Hathaway – This had a few faults, notably an ending I didn’t like, but was a welcome breath of fresh air in the paranormal genre. The idea of a girl suffering from a type of narcolepsy in which she ‘slides’ into other people’s bodies is very original and her quest to expose a killer is an interesting story.

Biggles in Spain by W E Johns – Read it for nostalgia, but either it wasn’t one of the best Biggles or I’m seriously overrating the books in general through rose-tinted glasses. Slightly bizarre as Biggles isn’t in it all that much; it focuses strongly on Ginger. Not dreadful, but not as good as I was expecting.

The Truth of the Matter by Andrew Klavan – As a series, I’m struggling to retain my interest in Homelander. This is reasonable action but nothing special.

Brigands MC by Robert Muchamore
Shadow Wave by Robert Muchamore
People's Republic by Robert Muchamore
- I finally got round to finishing the James Adams CHERUB books, and started the new series focusing on Ryan Sharma and Fu Ning. I thought they were all good, although could have been a bit shorter, and the lengthy scene-setting of Brigands MC and Shadow Wave didn’t do that much for me. People’s Republic is definitely the best, and is a great jumping-on point if you’re new to the series.

Sparks (Or How To Give Grandpa A Viking Funeral) by Ally Kennen – I love the subtitle but found the book to be a little bit so-so. Not bad, and significantly more entertaining than much I read this month, but a slight letdown. I should point out my sister grabbed it after I finished with it and enjoyed it more.

How To Keep A Boy As A Pet by Diane Messidoro – Slightly unintentionally creepy tale of a girl getting advice on how to hook boys from someone who’s apparently a sophisticated American woman who stumbled her blog by accident. Not impressed.

The Boo Hag by David Morgan – Another original paranormal, which takes its villain from the Gullah culture of South Carolina. Despite ending on a cliffhanger, I really enjoyed this one and actually liked the romance here. Well worth checking out, and along with another I'll mention later has restored my faith in self-published books! David Morgan also gave me a fab interview.

Nevermore by Linda Newbery – This old-fashioned tale of a girl moving to a strange country house with a missing owner is serviceable but I’d expected more from Newbery. Narrator Tizzie’s mother is also incredibly unlikeable to the point where she was really winding me up.

Dads, Geeks and Blue-Haired Freaks by Ellie Phillips – Something of a letdown. I loved the idea of a girl searching for her sperm donor father, but found the teen characters to be bland (although the adults were really well-portrayed) and the text speak used in certain scenes had me hurling the book across the room 

King Dork by Frank Portman – I loved the voice of the narrator Tom here to start off with but felt the book dragged on a bit. Considering there’s several plot strands, with Tom trying to find out the truth about his father’s death, seek the identity of a mystery girl he met at a party, and win the battle of the bands, nothing felt all that important.

Mice by Gordon Reece – If this had been 10 times better it would have been merely dreadful. From the bizarre start, in which we find out that the lead character left her school after bullies set her hair on fire, and the headteacher has decided there’s not enough evidence to act against them (NEWSFLASH: However weak the headteacher, the governors and LEA would be involved here, and the media would be having a field day.) to the staggeringly bad ending which appears to be going for ‘black comedy’ and misses by a mile this is by far the worst I’ve read this year.

Charity's Child by Rosalie Warren – I’m still not overly convinced this is YA, despite the teen narrator. It’s a gripping tale of religion, teen pregnancy, and other controversial subjects which is very well-written – I just think it may appeal to adults more than teens. Definitely worth checking out, though.

Top 3 of the month, though, are…


Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer – I think I’d have offered long odds against a self-published author ever making my top 3 of the month, but Scott Cramer’s incredibly tense account of a world after space dust kills off everyone past puberty, leaving the children to form a new society, deserves its place. Really strong characters and a great plot make this one which I’d highly recommend. Scott was kind enough to give me a great interview, as well!


Della Says: OMG! by Keris Stainton – Despite the cover, which looks like it’s going to be a really light read, this has got a bit more depth than expected. It looks at trust, loyalty, honesty, relationships, and family, and is incredibly frank. I thought the dialogue was brilliant and Della, her friend Maddy, and love interest Dan are three of my favourite characters for a while.

But my YA Book of the Month is…

Fear by Michael Grant – My top three are all pretty great, to be fair, but this sneaks first place. Grant’s ‘Gone’ series is one of the best dystopians around and his character development over the course of the five books so far is pitch-perfect.

MG books

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander – I started rereading classic fantasy series the Chronicles of Prydain. The Book of Three is an entertaining start to the series without being particularly memorable. More of the series in a minute… hint, hint!

Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy – Super-sweet story about a wild 12-year-old girl who’s sent from London to Ireland to live with her dad and his new partner and her 9-year-old daughter. I loved the character development here, there’s a great romance between Scarlett and a mysterious boy she meets, and Cassidy’s writing style is as wonderful as ever.

Outlaw: The Story of Robin Hood by Michael Morpurgo – Morpurgo writes Robin Hood. If you’re not convinced by those 4 words, I’m not sure what else I can say.

Creepover: Truth or Dare by P J Night – Despite the characters being a tiny bit underdeveloped, this is atmospheric enough and a quick enough read that it’s definitely worth checking out. Really looking forward to later books in the series!

The Flip-Flop Club: Charmed Summer by Ellen Richardson – Seriously sweet read with three fab central characters and a dog who steals every scene he’s in! I found this to be really good in a rather timeless sort of way and can't wait for the next in this series.

And the MG Book of the Month for me is…

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander – If the first in the Chronicles of Prydain isn’t all that memorable, this makes up for it in spades! A great plot, which is influenced by Welsh mythology but feels really fresh, wonderful character development, and a bunch of really interesting adversaries, this is one you shouldn’t miss. 
Highly Recommended (These are all the books I rated 4 ½ or 5 stars this month.)

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy
Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer
Fear by Michael Grant
Changeling by Philippa Gregory
Outlaw by Michael Morpurgo
Della says OMG by Keris Stainton

Recommended (These are the books I rated 4 stars this month.)

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne
Scarlet by A C Gaughen
Slide by Jill Hathaway
The Boo Hag by David Morgan
Brigands MC by Robert Muchamore
Shadow Wave by Robert Muchamore
People's Republic by Robert Muchamore
Creepover: Truth or Dare by P J Night
Charmed Summer by Ellen Richardson
Charity's Child by Rosalie Warren

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Saturday Spotlight: Book Review of My Big Fat Teen Crisis by Jenny Smith

Saturday Spotlight is a new feature where I'm showcasing 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. This is a fairly recent release which I haven't seen that much about.

Sam’s left alone when her best friend moves to the Outer Hebrides. Can she take this opportunity to reinvent herself as a cooler, more sophisticated person? And will she manage to win the heart of the new boy at school, David? Aided by her childhood friend Cat, who’s just returned to the area, she’ll do her best – as long as the nasty Tania doesn’t get in the way.

This is a really modern book – with a fair amount taking place via Facebook status updates, and through internet chats between Sam in Greenfields and Gemma in the Outer Hebrides. Wonderfully, this is handled with a few common abbreviations but without the descent into endless text speak which has made a couple of children's books nearly unreadable for me, a welcome change! Despite these parts, it deals with the same topics of friendship, bullying, and first love that crop up so often in books for this age group because of their importance. With an engaging central character and a breezy writing style, it’s an appealing story which is well worth checking out. Sam is very sweet – slightly immature at the start of the book but still likeable enough, she does a fair amount of growing up during the course of the story but develops in a very realistic way. She has a really strong narrative voice and Jenny Smith has done a great job of capturing the language that teens use today.

The book also has some excellent minor characters, most notably Lucy, a 17-year-old friend of Sam’s with cerebral palsy – an absolutely lovely portrayal of someone with a condition not often dealt with in children’s or teen fiction. That said, I found the bully in the book, Tania, to be a little bit too one-dimensional. I also thought there were a couple of things which were rather predictable. (But having said that, I’m between two and three times as old as most of the target audience for this one so most readers will probably have read significantly fewer similar stories than I have!)

Overall, though, this is recommended as a pleasant read which older tweens and younger teens will be sure to enjoy.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Louisa Reid

Louisa Reid's debut Black Heart Blue is bleak, uncompromising, disturbing - and definitely shouldn't be missed! She was kind enough to grant me an interview which originally ran at the Bookbag - many thanks to them for allowing me to publish it here as well.

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

I guess because I'm a teacher, the first thing I see is a class full of teenagers, although that may be just because of my familiarity with that environment. I absolutely adore teaching literature - I probably get a bit too passionate about it sometimes - and I'd love it if my book were discussed in classrooms.

2. Rebecca, one of the two narrators of Black Heart Blue, suffers from Treacher Collins Syndrome. What inspired you to write about someone living with this condition?

I saw a documentary about a man with Treacher Collins - Jono Lancaster. His story is really inspirational. The fact that his parents had given him up when he was born because of his syndrome struck something deep in me. As a mother myself, I couldn't imagine having that reaction, although of course I don't stand in moral judgement over his parents - they did what they felt they had to do. But that might also have inspired some of the anti-maternal feeling in the book.

3. I have to be honest, there were a couple of times when I nearly had to put Black Heart Blue down for a bit due to the subjects covered and the power of your writing. Was it as difficult to write as it was to read?

The words came incredibly naturally so in that sense it was not difficult to write. I felt I knew both girls so well that they spoke for themselves. But yes, the subject matter is harrowing. In many ways I was shocked at myself for putting the characters through those horrific situations. However, if I hadn't been true to my imagination, then I wouldn't have been true to their stories and then what would have been the point? I don't intend to shock or upset people just for the sake of it, but I do hope the book makes readers think. Having said that, I had no idea of the impact the book would have. To some extent the response I've had so far reassures me that we have not become as desensitised to horror and suffering, because of what we see on our screens and read in the news, as I had thought might be the case. When I wrote this book I had no inkling that anyone would ever read it so I didn't censor myself and I think that's ultimately a good thing.

As hard as it was to read, I definitely think the power would have been diminished if you'd censored it at all. It really is incredibly hard-hitting!

4. I loved the structure of Black Heart Blue and the way we switched viewpoints in each chapter. Did you find one of the twins easier to write for than the other one? 

I started with Rebecca and wrote a lot of her story first. But there was something missing, and that was Hephzi. She needed her chance to speak too. Both voices were equally easy to write, perhaps because they are so different.

5. Which book has most influenced you and do you still have a copy?

There are many books which have influenced me and I'm still adding to the pile. One of the most long-standing influences is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It's so much more than a ghost story - but I won't get into that here - and yes I do still have a copy. I teach it regularly.
I tend to be influenced heavily in my writing by the novels or poetry I'm teaching at that particular time in school. When I was a teenager there was a book my friends and I absolutely loved called Easy Connections, by Liz Berry. I think it's out of print but I still have a copy of it and still think it's a great teen book. It's pretty controversial though - funnily enough.

Easy Connections sounds intriguing! Will have to try and track down a copy somehow... eBay may be calling me.

6. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, what was the soundtrack to Black Heart Blue?
Sometimes. The Hephzi and Craig love affair is set to the song "Rosa" by The Gilded Palace of Sin. I imagine them on Craig's bike, motoring off into the distance to the sound of that song. There is a bittersweet beauty to it. The ending I wrote to the song "I'm With God" by the Cesarians. That may seem ironic, but the music is so uplifting and swept me up in its power. I think it's actually a song about drugs but that's not really the point for me.

Have never heard of the Cesarians before, but just checked out I'm With God - wow, fabulous!  

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

Living or dead? Dead it would be Emily Bronte. I think we both like looking at the savagery of human nature. Living would be Emma Donoghue. Her novel Room is one of my absolute favourites. She is brilliant at capturing voice and creating tension. It would be incredibly interesting to work with someone as brilliant as her.

8.What do you like most about writing? What would you rather not do at all?

I really love playing with language. When I write a line in which I think the choice of words really reveals character or says something important about setting I get a bit of a thrill.

I would rather not have to delete things that I've written that I like and feel a bit proud of. But you have to if they just don't work! 

9. There were lots of wonderful characters in Black Heart Blue - apart from the two narrators, did you have a particular favourite? 

I think it would be Danny. He is the epitome of down to earth goodness. But I also love Cyrilla, the old lady in the care home. I based her on my grandma who died last year.

Danny's my favourite too! Great pick.  

10. What's next for Louisa Reid?

Another novel, Lies Like Love, coming out next year, if I ever manage to pin it down. More books after that - I'm writing one now which I'm getting quite excited about. I'll keep on writing forever I should think. 

I hope you do! Really looking forward to Lies Like Love. Many thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Louisa.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of The Boyfriend Thief by Shana Norris

Ever since Avery James's mother abandoned her family, Avery has become a control freak who plans her life out to the utmost degree. Her future after leaving school is no different - she'll work on a humanitarian program in Costa Rica this summer, and use this experience to help her get into college and medical school. Unfortunately, the program costs more cash than she's been able to save - so when her former friend Hannah Cohen offers her 500 dollars to steal her boyfriend Zac from her, Avery decides to go for it. She doesn't count on Zac being very different from the slacker she thought she knew, though...

I picked this up on the Kindle because I was looking for a contemporary read and it was only a couple of pounds. I haven't read anything of Norris's before and wasn't sure what to expect, but I was captivated right from the opening scene in which we see Avery's job working at a local hot dog joint, where she's dressed as a giant hot dog and having to dance for kids' entertainment. This kind of fun humour is sustained for the entire book, while Avery is a really strong character, Zac is a wonderful love interest - hyperactive, sweet, and with his own family issues. I was really rooting for them to end up together, and the romance between them developed brilliantly. I also thought there was a strong supporting cast with the adults, especially Avery's father and his new girlfriend, being realistically portrayed.

There were a couple of things which made me roll my eyes a bit - Avery's history with Hannah and her co-worker Elliott was shrouded in mystery slightly too much, with references every so often to a big event which made the three of them fall out. This started of as being intriguing but became irritating fairly quickly.

However, this definitely stands out as much, much better than the majority of similar books out there and I'll definitely keep an eye out for more by Shana Norris - her Troy High, a contemporary high school retelling of the Iliad, looks especially intriguing!

Strong recommendation, especially at current Kindle price of just £1.92 - grab it here!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Recent Releases You Should Be Reading (But Probably Aren't)

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

I wasn't going to bother with Top Ten Tuesday because it was Ten Authors You'd Most Like To See On A Reality Show, and I barely watch any TV except Neighbours - but it got opened up to a freebie, which gave me the excuse to plug some underappreciated books!

I've limited it to books with 20 or less ratings on Goodreads and published June 2011 or later.

I've been lucky enough to talk to several of these authors on the blog - hyperlinked names go to interviews.

1. Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer - Drop what you're doing NOW, stop reading this article, and grab the wonderful Night of the Purple Moon for Kindle FREE for today! Argh - you missed it! However, it's currently at a special promotional price of 77p in the UK - here or $1.24 in the US - here. Not sure how long the price is staying that low for, so definitely worth grabbing it while you can. Cramer's story of what happens when everyone who's gone through puberty dies because of some mysterious space dust is excellent, with great characters and a wonderful plot.

2. The Things We Did For Love by Natasha Farrant - I can understand some of the others being fairly unknown, because several of them are self-published and/or e-book only. But for a Faber and Faber book, which is absolutely heartbreaking and beautifully written, to have attracted comparatively little attention absolutely astounds me. I think it was overshadowed by the release of another World War II novel, Code Name Verity, but as great as that is, this is also in my top 5 of the year so far and really shouldn't be missed.

3. Harper Madigan: Junior High Private Eye by Chelsea M Campbell - It's pretty much a Raymond Chandler story set in a junior high with a young teen main characer who's already nearly as jaded and cynical as Marlowe ever was. Brilliant voice in this one and inventing planning of the school ruled with a rod of iron by the PTA, it's well worth reading.

4. Frost Child by Gillian Philip - This is e-book only, which explains why it hasn't received the same level of attention as the rest of Philip's wonderful Rebel Angels series. This prequel, however, is just as well-written as the two excellent novels so far, fills in some important background on a few characters, and is stunning value for money!

5. Sinking Deeper: Or My Questionable (Possibly Heroic) Decision to Invent a Sea Monster by Steve Vernon - Fabulous subtitle, great narrative style and some weird and wonderful characters make this tale of a young boy and his grandfather inventing a sea monster to rejuvenate the sleepy Canadian town they live in well worth checking out.

6. Life, Death and Gold Leather Trousers by Fiona Foden - This MG charmer has a wonderful lead character struggling to deal with the death of her rock star uncle and her parents splitting up. It's a real heartwarmer and has a brilliant supporting cast.

7. The Boo Hag by David Morgan - YA paranormal which stands out as a welcome break from vampires, werewolves, zombies and fairies by taking a villain from South Carolina's Gullah culture. Morgan creates a great central trio and a memorable antagonist.

8. For The Record by Ellie Irving - MG in which a young boy tries to save his village from being demolished to host a waste-incinerator plant by getting the residents to break 50 records. Ultra-sweet, gently humorous, and full of fantastic English eccentrics.

9. Shadowfall and Shadowblood by Tracy Revels - They're not YA, but they feature Sherlock Holmes as a half-fairy with cameos from hosts of great literary characters. If you have any interest at all in detective novels, you need to check these incredible books out!

10. Signs of Love: Love Match by Melody James - MG about a girl who wants to be a journalist on the school webzine but gets stuck doing the horoscopes has a fairly standard plot but some wonderful characters and fabulous dialogue.

Tuesday Talk: Interview with Daniela Sacerdoti

Dreams, the first volume in Daniela Sacerdoti's Sarah Midnight trilogy, was an enjoyable read with one of the first love triangles for ages that I've actually liked, so I was really pleased to get the chance to interview her.

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

At the moment, I see people in Brazil! The rights of both Watch Over Me, my first book, and Dreams have been sold there, and I find it terribly exciting, to think that Sarah’s story will be read in far away, beautiful places like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo! But really, when I think of my readers I think of all kind of people. I suppose the traditional target audience would be teenage girls, but I’ve had so much great feedback from boys as well, I would hate to think of Dreams being labelled as a “story for girls”, because that’s not true at all. Also, I think you don’t need to be a teenager to enjoy Dreams – it’s very much a cross over.

2. The Sarah Midnight trilogy are your first YA novels, but you had a successful adult debut last year with Watch Over Me. What's the main difference between writing for adults and writing for teens?

Absolutely none. I write from the heart, and at the best of my ability whether I write for adults or teens. I have decided long ago that nothing I write would ever contain gratuitous violence or anything I wouldn’t have my children reading in a few years time, so I think that Watch Over Me would be suitable for older teens as well. Writing for children as such, like my next book Weird Removals.com – suitable from 7 years onwards - that was entirely different, because the writing has to be simpler and not all themes can be touched upon. As a parent, if in doubt, I would read it first myself to make doubly sure it’s suitable for my child/teen. Whoever I write for, though, it’s the same amount of emotional involvement, hard work and care that come into it. I would never patronise my readers or write too simply, as I believe that it’s always best to stretch young readers a little, though not too much as to alienate them.

I’ve seen so many delicate themes being touched in Young Adult nowadays – death, homosexuality, self-harm, mental illness – and I’m a firm believer that it’s up to the writer to explore these themes in a soulful, truthful way as to make them thought-provoking for young readers. In particular, I think that more YA should have lesbian and gay characters, to reflect the diversity of the reading community. I’m keen on doing so – but I’m waiting for the right character!

I think that's a really great point you make. I love reading about LGBT characters, but they have to be the right ones - you can tell if an author's just shoehorned them in there! Glad to hear you're waiting for the right characters - and the children's book sounds interesting, will be keeping an eye out for that!

3. I was surprised by the way the main body of Dreams was interrupted by so many different characters narrating short chapters - and stunned by how well you pulled it off! Did you always plan on having this sort of structure, or did it start off as a more linear narrative just focused on Sarah?

It wasn’t planned, really – the story came out this way. To write in the first person from different POVs is so much fun, it allows you to sink deep into the minds of the characters and truly listen to their voices. In the second volume of the trilogy, Tide, there are more characters and more POVs, which was incredible to write – a real emotional journey into their hearts and souls.

4. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, what was the soundtrack to Dreams?

Oh, yes! All the time! At the moment, as I’m writing this interview, it’s Runrig, a celtic rock band from the eighties-nineties – geeky, I know, but I love it!  Sarah’s main soundtrack is Julie Fowlis, a lovely Scottish singer who’s ideal to write to, gentle, light, fresh. And various Irish musicians, Maire Brennan, Paul Brady, Damien Rice, the Corrs – I love Irish music, having lived in Dublin for over two years.

Some fab musicians there! I love Irish music as well, and Runrig are great. Although you can't beat the Saw Doctors for me personally... 

5. Some of Sarah's dreams are terrifying! What's the worst dream you can remember having? How about the best?

The worst dream was so bad I can’t even talk about it! And the best one, I dreamt of my dad, who passed away 6 years ago – we were talking, and I was so happy to see him. I asked him “where are you?” and he replied “I can’t say.” He also said to me that everything was going to be ok, and that he was happy. This dream actually inspired Sarah’s dream of her mother, where Anne says to her she can’t say where they are.

6. In addition to Sarah's more unusual talents, she also plays the cello. Do you play an instrument at all?

Unfortunately not, but I love singing. When I was at University, I got into a prestigious singing school attached to the Teatro Regio in Turin (Royal Theatre). After a three years course the school would allow you to apply for a job in the theatre Opera Choir. But the next year I was offered a scholarship to write my Mediaeval History dissertation in Dublin, so I considered my options and I decided singing wasn’t the way to go.

7. What's the best thing about being an author?

Oh, the writing itself is the best. And then reading books, or simply just staring out of the window, and calling it “work”!

8. And the worst thing?

The emotional ups and downs. I get so drained with the writing sometimes, I have no energy for anything else – and when bad things happen to my characters, or when there’s a particularly emotional bit to write, it takes me days to recover. It’s not a very efficient way to write, but it’s the only one I know.

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

I’d love to speak to Emily Bronte and unravel what’s behind Wuthering Heights!

10. What's next for Daniela Sacerdoti?

I’m the process of finishing Tide, the second volume in the Sarah Midnight Trilogy. I have a children’s book out in August, Weird Removals.Com, out with Floris Books. Also, I’m writing a supernatural thriller called Faith. It’s all going! On the horizon, Spirit, the third and (maybe) last volume of Sarah’s story.

Thank you for this lovely interview, Jim! You certainly asked all the right questions!

Can't wait to read volume two and find out how the cliffhanger gets resolved! Definitely looking forward to Weird Removals.Com as well, and Faith sounds interesting - you're definitely very busy. Best of luck for all these exciting things.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Monday Musings: Book Review of Dreams by Daniela Sacerdoti

(I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

Seventeen-year-old Sarah Midnight's parents are dead. Everyone else thinks it's an accident - but she knows the truth. Because her parents were demon hunters, and her dreams helped her guide them from the safety of her bed. But they didn't train her for what would happen when they were gone - and if she doesn't master her powers, and learn who she can trust, she might be the next to die. Can she live up to the Midnight motto, Don't Let Them Roam?

As paranormal novels go, this is definitely one of the most ambitious! We get a bunch of Secret Families, magic, demons, romance, action, and an amazing number of points of view. While the main narrative is told in the third-person, following Sarah, we get some first-person chapters from a whole bunch of characters - heroes, villains, and some I'm still not quite sure of. This is a fascinating choice of style, and I'm really impressed with how well Daniela Sacerdoti makes it work, actually. You'd perhaps expect the amount of shifts to be jarring, but they never are, and she captures the voices of so many different people very well. It particularly pays off when we get inside the heads of the two love interests, both really good characters. Yes, that's right, there's a love triangle which doesn't make me want to strangle anyone involved - miracles do happen! It helps that Sarah herself is instantly likeable and sympathetic.

Another really strong point is that the stakes feel suitably high. There's one death which took me completely by surprise, while the entire last third of the book or so has a huge amount of tension. We also end at a point which will have you desperate to see what comes next... more about that in a minute. I have to also praise Sacerdoti's world-building, which is excellent and creates a compelling mythology without ever dumping too much information on us.

That said, it's not quite up there with my favourites in the genre - the plot as a whole is rather confusing at times, although I always got the general idea of what's going on, and I'm sure it will get easier to follow in the next couple of volumes of the trilogy. On a similar note, the cliffhanger at the end is, as I warned, absolutely massive - I can cope with this myself, but I can see some people being annoyed by it as there seem to be an awful lot of things which are left unresolved until the sequel.

Overall, I'd certainly recommend this to people looking for a new paranormal series to enjoy - although if you ARE easily irritated by cliffhangers, it may be worth waiting for the next two books to come out and reading them all at once.

Daniela Sacerdoti has been kind enough to be interviewed by me for the blog - check it out soon!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Sunday Special: Interview with Raimy of Readaraptor!

Yes, it's another blogger interview! Today is the turn of the fabulous Raimy from Readaraptor!, which is an awesome site with perhaps the coolest banner around - as well as some wonderful content, of course.  

1. Tell us a bit about yourself - what do you do aside from reading and blogging?
Hi - Thanks for having me! 
I'm Raimy, i was born Rachel Amy but when I was 16 I decided that name wasn't cool enough for me so I adapted it, haha! Raimy stuck and I'm hoping to legally change it sometime soon! 
I work in journalism and when I want to sound important I say I'm a magazine journalist... I kinda am but at the lowest possibly rung on the ladder so we'll keep it at that! I'm big into music as well as books and blogging and I go to every gig I possibly can (wallet and location seriously affect this though so there's not been many gigs lately!) 

2. I absolutely love your blog title, and the fabulous banner of two dinosaurs hugging. (Or whatever the equivalent of hugging is for dinosaurs.) What inspired the 'Readaraptor' name, and where did you get such an awesome banner?
I love dinosaurs, that love started out a few years ago and stuck. I thought about every possible blog name to do with reading then decided that I could interpret my love of dinos and play with a dinos name for the blog name. I actually found the picture of the dines online and adapted it and made the banner myself, so thank you for saying its awesome! *beams proudly* 
I'm seriously impressed to find out you made it yourself - it looks stunning!

3. Speaking of dinosaurs, if dinosaurs were YA characters, who would the following be?
Oooo this is hard!! I've never thought of YA characters as dinosaurs but maybe I should! 

Brontosaurus - I'd like to think these dinos were like the hippies in dinoland... so I have to say that I think Asher from Guitar Highway Rose or the woman from the family that Asher and Rose meet in Guitar Highway Rose would be Brontosauruses.

Velociraptor - These dinosaurs are small but vicious, with that in mind I would have to say Peter from Divergent is pretty Velociraptor-ish! 

Tyrannosaurus Rex - this is the scariest and meanest dinosaur at all... so obviously it has to be Voldemort! haha
Haven't read Guitar Highway Rose or Divergent, but Voldy is a great call for the T-Rex!

4. You have a ton of blog tour dates coming up, including Shelley Coriell, Paige Harbison, and Keris Stainton! How did you get involved in blog tours and what was your first one?
Oh thats a good question!! I don't think I can remember what my first one was! I think it was Kay Woodward's for her book Wuthering Hearts. Most of them come from requests from publicists or authors themselves. Im lucky for knowing Keris really well so I grabbed a place on her blog tour straight away! 
I do remember getting the email through from Kay Woodwards publicist offering me a place on the tour and I think I squealed, it was kind of a "Wow, I must have made it as a book blogger now, people want me for blog tours!" 

5. If you were throwing a literary dinner party, which six YA characters or authors would you invite?

This is another hard question! I can only pick six? Right then... Georgia Nicholson from the Louise Rennison series would have to be there to feed my teen obsession with those books! Then I think I'd want someone from Harry Potter would be there but I'd like to think it would be Luna. Oscar from Emma <3's LA by Keris Stainton would have to be there just cos I'm in a war with a fellow blogger over him! Then I'd have Manchee from The Knife of Never Letting go by Patrick Ness curled up under the table, Hannah from Scatterheart by Lili Wilkinson and Suzume from Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott. 

Thats only if I had to keep it at six though... I've got a few more that I'd be inviting if I could! haha 
I have to be honest, I can't stand the Louise Rennison books, OR The Knife of Never Letting Go! Luna and Oscar are fab picks though, and I really want to read Shadows on the Moon because Zoe Marriott's blog is so great that I'm sure her fiction must be amazing too.

6. Are there any books you've reviewed which haven't been as successful as you would have expected?
There are a few that I thought would really hit it off around the blogosphere but haven't which shocked me. Pink my Lili Wilkinson should be read by everyone but I don't actually know too many people who have heard of it. There are also books which have been really successful which have shocked me because I didn't enjoy them as much as everyone else seemed too, Matched by Ally Condie was definitely one of those for me, I thought it was going to be amazing but wasn't impressed at all with it!
Hadn't heard of Pink but I just Googled it and it sounds amazing! I keep meaning to read Matched but haven't got round to it yet, something else which looks better always seems to come up.
7. Which classic children's novel would you recommend to teens today?
Oh wow... Im not huge on my classics... but that depends on what you'd call a classic I guess. I would argue that the Noughts and Crosses series by Malorie Blackman is a classic and I'd recommend that to everyone! if we're talking proper classify-classics though Stig of the Dump was a favourite of mine years ago and no teenager should be without The Hobbit, even if they don't want to tackle Lord of the Rings!! 

Noughts and Crosses series is another one I've never read... shameful! Definitely agree on Stig, and much preferred The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings, personally!

8. I’m hoping some of my readers will rush over to Readaraptor! once they’ve finished this interview. Is there any particular post on the blog you’d recommend they check out? 
Oh, thats quite hard... I don't really like to big myself up! haha. I think there are a couple that I'd like to share... but they are a little old now... I was really happy with the response to my Swearing in YA and Why I think LGBT Characters are Important in YA posts (andl) and I would always direct new readers to these posts!! 
Both fab posts which people should definitely check out!

9. Do you like watching movie adaptations of YA books? If so, what's the one book or series which hasn't yet hit the screen which you'd love to see made into a film?
I do, but I almost always have to read the books first otherwise it ruins the book!! I would love Uglies by Scott Westerfeld to become a movie but there are a few dystopians which lend themselves to movies well so I would campaign more for thriller books like Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy to become a movie. It was made into a stage show a few years ago that I went to see but I think it, or Anne's newest book Dead Time, would make amazing movies also Cat Clarke's Torn would lend itself well to a thriller/crime type movie too! 
Haven't read either of the Anne Cassidy's or the Scott Westerfeld series (by the way, if you're new to the blog, I may be giving you the wrong impression - there are a lot of books that I HAVE read, honestly!) - but definitely agree Torn would be an amazing movie!

10. Do you think you'll still be blogging in another 2 years time?
I really hope so! I started blogging as something to get my confidence up, improve my writing skills and talk about the books I love. I never thought it would turn out to be practically another full time job but I love every minute and wouldn't be without it! I really hope that I will be here for readers in two years but they will have to want me I guess!

I'm sure we will, Raimy! Thanks for that fabulous interview.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Saturday Spotlight: Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid

Saturday Spotlight is a new feature where I'm showcasing some of the books I've reviewed for The Bookbag by posting reviews here for the first time. I'm generally trying to use it to promote books which people may have missed originally, but this is a release from this week which I'm really excited about and had to share with you!

Rebecca and Hephzi are a pair of sixteen-year-old twins. But while Hephzi is beautiful, Rebecca suffers from a condition which has left her disfigured, taunted as a 'freak'. They long to escape their harsh upbringing and abusive parents, and think they may have found a way when they're allowed to start college. Then Hephzi dies, and Rebecca is left alone. Can she tell the truth about her sister's death, and break free from the horrors of her life?

The main part of this intensely gripping novel is told by both sisters, starting with Rebecca after Hephzi's funeral, and then flipping between her viewpoint after Hephzi's death and Hephzi's narration of the months leading up to the tragedy. It's a narrative device which works well, breaking the story into short chapters and revealing just enough each time to leave you wanting to read on and find out more.

I wouldn't say I liked Black Heart Blue – given the subject matter, there's a strong argument to be made for it being the least enjoyable read I've had for quite some time. I was, however, absolutely riveted by it and found Reid's portrayal of both sisters to be stunning. Given that Hephzi is revealed to be dead at the start of the novel, and that her parents are clearly horrific, it's no mean feat to make her a rather unlikeable character herself, but Reid manages to do this by showing the way she can be unkind towards Rebecca, then redeems her somewhat as the novel progresses. Her father, on the other hand, the local reverend, gets no such redemption, and is one of the most loathsome people I've ever read about, while Rebecca herself may be one of the most sympathetic.

It's bleak – not unrelentingly so, but close to it – and uncompromising and hard-hitting. It will almost certainly win a fair few awards, and while it's not something I'd reread, it's certainly something I won't easily forget. In dealing with abuse, disability, and the willingness of people to turn a blind eye to terrible events, it may be one of the most important books of the year. If there's a minor criticism, it's that there are parts which are rather predictable at times, but this didn't deter me from reading it in one sitting.

Somewhere between a fairly strong and absolutely huge recommendation depending on the strength of your stomach, I'd say. Reid is clearly a major talent, and I'll look forward to her next book with interest – even if I do hope it's about a slightly lighter subject.