Friday, 29 June 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Ruth Warburton

I absolutely loved Ruth Warburton's A Witch in Winter, and am just about to get my hands on the sequel A Witch In Love (released next week!) so I was thrilled to get the chance to interview her.


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

Um... me, I guess! I write primarily to amuse myself, so I suppose I'm writing for a younger version of myself. But when I'm editing I tend to imagine my editor because I know she'll be reading it soon...


2. I absolutely loved the setting of Winter! What are your favourite fictional settings? 

I love Lyra's world in the Northern Lights, her version of Oxford is just so dark and seductive, I'm sure if I ever went there I would just stay for good. I also love the setting of Frank Herbert's Dune - it's so layered and cleverly worked out, and everything fits together, even the ecology. Often in sci-fi there's some element that hasn't been thought through properly and when you put the book down you find yourself thinking, "no, hang on now, how could that possibly..." but with his world you never get that feeling. And I recently finished watching the first season of Game of Thrones - I think the way they've brought Westeros and the seven kingdoms to life for television is just fabulous. I wouldn't want to live there though - I'd be rubbish at court politics and would probably get exiled and have to run away and become a wilding.

Agree that Westeros would be a terrible place to live, but I love the way the TV series brought it to life. (I still haven't read the books, despite my dad being a huge, huge fan.)


3. I'm sure that reading A Witch in Winter will have put some people off even thinking about magic! If you were able to cast a spell that definitely, absolutely, positively, 100% wouldn't go wrong, though, what would you want it to do? 

This is really wimpy, but I actually wouldn't want to do it. I wouldn't want the responsibility. I think it's the same reason I couldn't be a doctor or Prime Minister, I would hate to have that kind of power over other people, even for good, I'd be far too worried.


4. One thing that makes A Witch in Winter stand out is the fabulous dialogue, which I know has left some non-UK readers needing translations! What's your favourite British slang term? 

I like the word "piss" because it's so versatile. Get pissed, piss off, feel pissed off, feel pissed, act pissy, piss yourself... I could go on.


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

I think I'd invite Edward, Alice and Rosalie from Twilight and Bill, Eric and Pam from the Sookie Stackhouse novels and watch them duke it out. I'm pretty sure Eric would end up seducing Rosalie in a broom cupboard. (I know the latter three aren't strictly YA characters but I hope you'll give me a dispensation because I think it would be very entertaining).

Definitely entertaining enough to be worth a special dispensation!


6. What book would you recommend to people who enjoyed A Witch in Winter? 

Is it cheating to say the sequel A Witch in Love? *shameless plug alert*

Sounds good to me!


7. What are you reading at the moment? 

I always have at least three books on the go. At the moment I'm reading Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa for my book club, A London Child of the 1870s by MV Hughes for research, a manuscript for work on my e-reader and Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson for falling asleep at night when you just want something funny and undemanding.

I love Notes from a Big Country - definitely my favourite of Bryson's books!


8. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what's the soundtrack to A Witch in Winter? 

I can't listen to music while I write - I don't know why. I always end up concentrating on the music and not the words. I need to listen to the rhythm of my sentences, so hearing another rhythm in my head would be too distracting.


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

I would ask William Shakespeare who the love of his life was.


10. What's next for Ruth Warburton? 

I'm editing book three of the Winter Trilogy (A Witch Alone, which comes out January 2012) and playing around with ideas for what to do after that. A Witch Alone is the last book in the series, and it feels really weird to realise that I'll be saying goodbye to these characters soon - I've been writing them pretty much continuously for the last three or more years, so they'll leave a big hole to fill when their story is finished.

Can't wait to read it - best of luck for the future, Ruth!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of The High King by Lloyd Alexander



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

I said when reviewing book 4, Taran, Wanderer, that we’d come a long way from the epic fantasy of The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron over the last couple of books. This takes us full circle, with a suitably outstanding conclusion which reunites the vast majority of the surviving characters, good and evil, and gives us thrilling action, adventure, and romance.

Taran and Gurgi return to Caer Tallban a few days after the conclusion of Taran, Wanderer. There, they find Princess Eilonwy, Rhun of Mona, and the former giant Glew. Almost immediately, though, Fflewddur Fflam and an injured Prince Gwydion burst in, with grave news – Gwydion’s sword Dyrnwyn has been stolen by Arawn. With the danger that the loss of the magical weapon presents, the companions embark on a hazardous journey to rescue it, and perhaps confront Arawn himself.

We get to catch up with many old favourites here – Gurgi, who when I read the Book of Three seemed to be little more than a Gollum rip-off has become a truly outstanding supporting character, while Fflam, Rhun, and Eilonwy are nearly as great and most of the others are superb as well. As for Taran, without a shadow of a doubt he’s the best hero I’ve ever read about.

I’ve seen a few reviews – mainly from people determined to read every Newbery Prize winning book – that this doesn’t make much sense if you haven’t read the first four. I’d probably agree with that – so if you haven’t read the first four for God’s sake go and do that now, rather than jump in at the conclusion with this one! For those of us who have read the first four, this is poignant, sad – with some heartbreaking death scenes -  and ultimately wonderful. It’s the only fantasy ever to bring me to tears, and if pushed to choose my favourite children’s fantasy series of all time I think this one would take it. There’s not a poor book in the sequence, the development of the characters through the five books is outstanding, and Alexander created one of the most compelling words I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about.

Massive, massive recommendation, of course.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Pea's Book of Best Friends by Susie Day

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

This is definitely one of my favourites of the year so far - even though it's aimed at a slightly younger age than most of the books I review here.



Pea isn't too sure about moving from Tenby to London. Instead of starting secondary school with her friend Dot, she'll be by herself. But now that her mum is a best selling author, things are changing, and Pea and her sisters Clover and Tinkerbell will have to adjust. Can she find someone to fill the Dot-shaped hole in her life (and particularly at the desk next to her in lessons?)
If I start by comparing this book to Edith Nesbit and Noel Streatfeild, I'm concerned people will get the wrong idea and think it's old-fashioned. Nothing could be further from the truth – the characters feel really up to date, especially the Brazilian au pair and the two female doctors who live together next door. Where it does match up to classic authors like Nesbit and Streatfeild, though, is in the wonderful portrayal of family life and the gorgeous relationship between Pea, fourteen-year-old Clover, and seven-year-old Tinkerbell. (Who at times can be a bit of a Stinkerbell, and was nearly called Stegasaurus…)
As well as these fabulous characters, there’s a sweet plot, a lovely message about making friends which is never hammered home too obviously, and a warm, engaging writing style which hooks you in straight away. It’s also wonderfully unpredictable, even the parts which seem straightforward at first – a bestselling author basing her three characters on her three daughters is fairly common in children’s fiction, but one of those characters turning evil and getting killed off must be much rarer! In addition, it’s one of the funniest books I’ve read for ages – I was struggling to contain my laughter virtually every time Tinkerbell said or did anything, while ex-merminate should win the Word of the Year award. And if, by some oversight, there isn’t a Word of the Year award, someone should set one up just to give it to ex-merminate.
Absolutely huge recommendation as one of the best books I’ve read all year and a definite modern classic in the making. I can’t wait for book two!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Jenny Smith

I'm surprised not to have seen that many reviews of My Big Fat Teen Crisis, by Jenny Smith. I found it to be really enjoyable with a great narrator, Sam, and a particularly strong portrayal of one of her friends Lucy, who has cerebral palsy - a condition not often mentioned in teen fiction. I was really pleased that Jenny agreed to an interview.

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

I see a girl of thirteen, with either a shy or a mischievous smile.


2. I thought your use of Facebook in My Big Fat Teen Crisis was really strong - partly because you showed welcome restraint in the language as I can't cope with an overdose of 'text speak'! How important do you think Facebook and other social media sites are today as an author?

I don't think that authors can ignore what a large part of life social media sites are becoming. So many young people use them to such an extent, they must come into fiction. We've moved from letters to telegrams to telephone to Facebook and twitter. But entire books in text speak are too much, I agree!

As far as marketing is concerned, authors must have a presence on social media sites, but there must be a balance otherwise it distracts from writing. I try to restrict myself and am thinking of limiting myself to certain time slots in the day. I have a domain on my computer where there is no straightforward access to email or twitter, this is the one I write on. I have to switch domains to use social media.


Great idea, I think I may have to try that myself!


3. I loved the positive and negative lists in the book! Can we get a list of the positives and negatives of being an author, please?

Being an author… 1) Positives: Doing what you love, creating a fictional universe and getting to know characters. Meeting readers. Making people smile. Time to think. No office politics!  2) Negatives: Too much time alone. Can be difficult to remain disciplined if working at home, with all the distractions and jobs. Putting yourself 'out there' and therefore making yourself vulnerable.


4. You write really strong supporting characters, with Taylor and Lucy being my favourites. Is there any chance of any of the supporting characters from My Big Fat Teen Crisis getting their own book?

Oh! I like that idea. Now you've got me thinking!

Fab! Glad you're thinking - I'm crossing my fingers here!


5. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack to My Big Fat Teen Crisis?

No music. But I listen to ambient and white noise. You can download this and I listen to it through headphones, blocking out the world. At first my ears got itchy from these big headphones, but now I'm used to it. I have my mobile phone on my desk on 'vibrate', so if it dances towards me, I answer it!


6. What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading 'If You Sit Very Still' by Marion Partington. I highly recommend it. It is a memoir by a woman whose sister was violently murdered, about her journey towards forgiveness. Incredibly uplifting.


7. What books would you recommend to readers who enjoyed My Big Fat Teen Crisis while they're waiting for your next novel?

I'd recommend 'Kiss Date Love Hate' by Luisa Plaja.

That's on my 'to read' list! I don't think I've ever read any of her books but I keep meaning to.


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

Wow! Well three authors and three characters. The authors would be Garrison Keiller, Roald Dahl and Francesca Simon (because they are all great humour writers and all from different backgrounds). The characters would be Toad from Wind in the Willows (because he'd make a good speech), James Bond (because he would look devastatingly handsome and make me a Martini) and Dumbledore (because he'd create a magical feast ... and I could stroke his beard)!

What a brilliant dinner party! Would be great to see the different authors writing about it as well - I'd love to see what Dahl made of Bond!


9. Why do you write for children?


I write for children because they have fantastic, unspoilt imaginations, and respond so well to humour.


10. What's next for Jenny Smith?

I hope to have two more teen books out in the next two years, and in 2013 there will be a series of three books for children aged 7-12 coming out. They are illustrated by Sam Hearn and are to be published by Atom in the UK. The first one will be called 'The Abominators and My Amazing Panty Wanty Woos' and they are very, very, VERY silly indeed. You can follow one of the characters, Cecil Trumpington Potts, on Twitter (he is @PantyWantyWoos). I wrote these books for my young sons and they will be dedicated to my boys, my husband, and to my father, who always dreamed of me becoming a writer but never lived to see me get published.

Very best of luck with the series and the teen books - I'm looking forward to reading more of your wonderful stories, Jenny!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Buttercup Mash by Joanna Nadin




Buttercup Jones has got serious issues. She doesn't know who her father is, her mother is beyond embarrassing, and she thinks she's freakishly tall. As if all that wasn't bad enough, as part of her best friend Imogen's plan to get her hands on the boy she likes, she's just been talked into signing up for Glee club! Clearly, a psychiatrist is required. While she's trying to save up the £500 it will cost her to get an online session with Dr Sven, Buttercup keeps a diary of what's going on in her life...

I was going through a bit of a reading slump when I picked this one up and it really helped pull me out of it. It's very, very funny, it's got a great narrator in Buttercup, some lovely supporting characters - particularly her friends Imogen and Stan - and a good mix of some predictable parts and others which took me completely by surprise. Nadin's writing style is fabulous, although took me a few pages to get into - she really captures Buttercup's voice beautifully.

Highly recommended - not sure if there's a sequel planned but would love to read one! The other book by Nadin I've read is Wonderland, which is also very good but much, much darker - great to see an author who can write really well in two totally different styles.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Summer TBR List


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

A Reckless Magick - Stephanie Burgis - The first two books in the Chronicles of Kat Stephenson series, A Most Improper Magick and A Tangle of Magicks, are two of the best I've read all year - and Kat may be my favourite fictional heroine of recent years. I can't wait to see what happens next in this wonderful Regency series.

Cassie's Crush - Fiona Foden - I loved Fiona Foden's first book, Life, Death and Gold Leather Trousers, and have been eagerly awaiting a new one since I first read it.

Immortal Rules - Julie Kagawa - I won a copy of this in a competition run by the awesome Viv over at Serendipity Reads. I've put off reading it simply because I know once I start, I'll almost certainly lose the entire day as it's fairly hefty and everyone who's reviewed it seems to have had real trouble putting it down. As soon as I have a day with nothing much to do, I'm curling up with this one.

In Honor - Jessi Kirby - My eyes are welling up just reading the plot summary of this one. Road trip novel about a girl dealing with the death of her older brother? Can't wait to get my hands on it.

The Twice Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones - Susie Day - Having not read Susie Day before, I recently reviewed her new MG book, Pea's Book of Best Friends for the Bookbag and was completely enchanted. I can't wait to get my hands on her upcoming YA book!

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood - Ann Brashares - I just finished The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and thought it was a really sweet read. Looking forward to the rest.

The Disenchaments by Nina LaCour - I heart road trips books, as I may have mentioned. I heart music books as well. (I don't particularly heart people who use 'heart' as a verb, so not quite sure where this paragraph is going... but the book looks great!)

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green/Wonder - RJ Palacio
- I must be the only book blogger around who hasn't read either yet! Pressures of time, but really looking forward to both.

The Prisoner of Heaven - Carlos Ruiz Zafon - A rare mention for adult literary fiction here; given the first two in this quartet are both so fabulous, I'm dying to get this one!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Life According To... Alice B Lovely by Karen McCombie

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

This is one of the best so far of the year in my opinion - even by author Karen McCombie's high standards, it stands out as being superb.



Thirteen-year-old Edie knows that she doesn't need a nanny. She's old enough to look after herself, and her six-year-old brother Stan. Between them, they've managed to scare off nearly everyone who their parents have hired to take care of them. So when a girl of just sixteen starts looking after them after school, Edie is less than impressed. But then the girl, Alice B. Lovely, with her captivating dress sense and strange way of looking at the world, starts to win over Stan... could she be the person to fix Edie's problems?
I'm assuming most people reading the review will have a fair idea of the answer to that one, but even if you're expecting the outcome to be predictable, trust me, this one is so delightful that it's a must-read to see exactly how things do improve! Edie's parents are divorcing, her brother is unhappy, and she's fed up of being treated like a child, particularly by the never-ending supply of Big Fat Phony nannies. She's also perhaps McCombie's least likeable main character ever, at least at the start of the novel - although given this is McCombie we're talking about, she's still fairly sympathetic. However, she's spikey, grumbly, and can be horrible to people, particularly the nannies. Watching the way she gradually changes as things start to get better at home is wonderful, and the development of her character is perfect. Alice, on the other hand, is delightful from her first introduction, and it's easy to see why Edie's parents and Stan are so quickly won over. The supporting cast, as always with McCombie's minor characters, are beautifully fleshed-out as well, with Stan, Edie's friend Tash, and a couple of very special pets standing out as especially good.
I think part of McCombie's magic is that you know exactly what you'll get with her writing. I've read nearly two dozen of her books by now, and if forced I think I'd probably say this was the best. With any of her stories, though, you know that you'll get a heart-warming story, with believable characters, fabulous dialogue, and a plot with enough twists to keep you guessing as to exactly how everything will turn out alright in the end.
Huge recommendation as one that younger teens will absolutely adore and older teens looking for a light read will also find to be well worth checking out.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Derek The Ghost

This is perhaps my creepiest interview ever, as I've managed to communicate with one of the strangest authors around - Derek The Ghost, who haunts Scary School!


1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see? (And, on a related note, can ghosts close their eyes?)

First of all, yes, ghosts can close their eyes. Only problem is our eyelids are transparent so we can see right through them and it makes no difference. When I imagine my readers, I imagine they must be the coolest, smartest kids alive. You know, basically Fonzies crossed with young Einsteins. The girls are probably Olivia Newton John at the end of Grease crossed with Margaret Thatcher.


2. If you could send any YA character or author to Scary School, who would you send and why?

I would send Stephen King to Scary School to see if it would give him new ideas for his books! In fact, I just may have done that when you read Book 2 of Scary School that comes out June 26!

Sounds intriguing!


3. Scary School has an awesome website! Are you heavily involved in it? What's your favourite part of the site?

Thanks so much! Yes, I run the website (www.ScarySchool.com) myself and it was designed by Jett MG (jettmg.com), so I'm very much involved in everything. I wanted the website to really give the visitor a feel for what it's like to be a student at Scary School and spend hours having fun. You can meet the students and faculty, tour the school grounds and classrooms, and watch some funny videos. Plus there are so many hidden easter eggs and secret links I can barely keep count! My favorite part is probably the video game you can play. If you win, you will receive the weirdest trophy ever and get the secret passcode to gain priority admission into Scary School!


4. Scary School has also got some fantastic pictures in the book itself and on the website. Who do you think is Scary School's coolest looking student?

Yes, the illustrations are all done by Scott M. Fischer, who is one the very best artists and illustrators alive. You can check out his stuff at Fischart.com. I think the coolest looking student is probably Johnny the Sasquatch kid, who's a young Bigfoot. I don't think a kid Bigfoot has every been drawn before, so Scott had to rely entirely on his imagination and I think he captured perfectly what one would look like.


5. I know that despite your ghostly state, you love comic books. What's your favourite?

My favorite of all time is the Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns series, which I believe were the biggest inspiration for Chistopher Nolan's Batman movies. It's just so epic and powerful. I also love the old Harbinger series from Valiant Comics, Bone, and Wolverine.

Definitely agree! Dark Knight Returns is AMAZING.


6. Your first book in the Rudy and the Beast series is called My Homework Ate My Dog! It's about a boy, who - well, the title describes it perfectly. How long did it take you to come up with such a fantastic concept?

That was actually the first novel I ever wrote. I came up with the title first and worked backwards from there. It's about a boy whose homework comes to life, literally eats his dog alive, and disappears. The boy has to team up with the school bully and his crazy grandpa to rescue his dog from an evil wizard whose trying to take control of the town and eventually the world. It's a lotta fun, admittedly very similar to Harry Potter, but I had just read the first three books of HP before writing it and felt very inspired to do something similar, but I get a lot of feedback that readers find it to be just as fun as Scary School!


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

I would ask JK Rowling exactly how much of the Harry Potter story she conjured when she was on that one fateful train ride. If you don't know what I'm talking about, look at her wiki!


8. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, what was the soundtrack for Scary School?

I can't listen to music while writing. Too distracting. Nothing will get done. But Scary School definitely has a soundtrack. I actually wrote the Scary School song and we recorded it with top Youtube celeb Nice Peter. You can hear the song on the home page of the website and check it out on iTunes here.


9. What book would you recommend to readers who enjoyed Scary School while they're waiting for book 2?

Well, of course my other book Rudy and the Beast! Besides that, you'd like My Life as a Stuntboy by Janet Tashjian, Shark Wars by EJ Altbacker, anything by Dan Gutman, and my favorite of the moment - Ready Player One by Ernie Cline.

I haven't got round to Ready Player One yet but really want to - I keep hearing how good it is.


10. What's next for Derek The Ghost? (or for Derek Taylor Kent!)

Lots of stuff! Of course you can expect Scary School #2: Monsters on the March due out June 26, and then Book 3 June of 2013. I also have a very funny new book called Principal Mikey that we're currently shopping, plus I'm starting up a couple new projects - one is an older YA book that will be kind of an adventure story through great cinema, and also a new middle-grade series about the wackiest town in the world.

Really looking forward to those! Best of luck for the future, Derek. Thanks for taking the time to take part in this interview!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Scary School by Derek The Ghost




Charles Nukid is new to Scary School. Being the new kid is bad enough normally - but when the survival rate is as low as it is at Scary School, with teachers including Dr Dragonbreath, the vampire Ms Fang, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex, he'll be lucky to make his first lunchtime! Derek The Ghost, who didn't last too long at Scary School himself, is on hand to fill us in on Charles Nukid's first days at school, the friends he makes, and the forthcoming Ghoul Games...

This one is aimed at a younger age range than I generally read, but I really enjoyed it despite that. Each chapter reads really well as a short story but there's a fun overall plot, and the humour is delightful. (Special mention to Scott Fischer's illustrations - they're wonderful and complement the text perfectly, with characters such as Peter The Wolf and Dr Dragonbreath looking brilliant.)

It's an enjoyable read which isn't as scary as the name suggests - there's nothing here that's likely to give anyone except the most sensitive of children nightmares, as despite the long rollcall of deaths pretty much everyone comes back in some form or another. Derek the Ghost has a vivid writing style which keeps the action moving really quickly and his characters are brilliant, with a particular favourite of mine being Petunia, who looks exactly like a petunia, has bugs flying around her hair, and has a best friend called Frank (pronounced Rachel.)

There are also some strong messages in there which I wasn't expecting, about not judging people on first impressions, being kind, and the importance of friendship  - it's certainly not preachy but it's definitely going to be thought-provoking for younger readers.

Definite recommendation for younger or reluctant readers. Book two is out in a few weeks time and I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Changeling by Philippa Gregory

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.


Luca Vero is expelled from his monastery after being accused of heresy. The seventeen-year-old is recruited to map the End of Days, and his first task is to go to a nunnery where a Lady Abbess of his own age has been accused of witchcraft. Will he find Isolde guilty and condemn her to the pyre, or is there more to the case than meets the eye?

Philippa Gregory is an author who I’ve been meaning to try reading for ages, but never quite got round to, so I was really excited to get my hands on this one. Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint me. Gregory brings the Europe of the 15th century thrillingly to life, capturing the time period perfectly, and her writing style is engaging and draws you into the story.

She also gives us a quartet of fantastic main characters. I warmed to Luca straight away, from the brilliant opening scene in which he gets removed from the monastery for pointing out that there are far too many fragments of nails from the true cross for them all to be genuine. His servant Freize irritated me for the first 60 pages or so with his constant self-deprecating humour, won me over by the middle of the book, and by the end had become one of my favourite supporting characters for ages. Completing the quartet are two of the strong female characters who Gregory has become so famous for, Isolde – trapped in a nunnery to stop her from claiming her inheritance – and her servant Ishraq, both of whom are portrayed really well. The constantly changing dynamic between the four is a treat and definitely makes this a book well worth reading.
A minor criticism is that the pacing of the book feels a bit off. I loved the first part, but the last few chapters seemed a bit rushed. It’s not a massive complaint, and part of the problem is that I was so in love with the characters that I didn’t want it to end so would have welcomed an extra hundred pages or so to spin the story out.

I’m certainly looking forward to the next book in the Order of Darkness series, and would highly recommend this one to fans of historical fiction.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Michelle Krys

NOTE: Since this interview was originally published, The Witch Hunter's Bible has been renamed Hexed. It's out in June this year!

A few months ago, Michelle Krys announced that she'd got a two-book deal for her debut novel The Witch Hunter's Bible and a sequel with Random House. She was kind enough to agree to an interview about her road to getting published.

1. For those readers who haven't heard of the Witch Hunter's Bible, can you tell us a bit about it?

Absolutely!

In THE WITCH HUNTER’S BIBLE, snarky high school cheerleader Indigo Blackwood is forced into a centuries-old battle between witches and sorcerers, only to uncover the first of many dark truths about her life.

I’d say it’s Buffy meets witches, only with more kissing.

It’s due out from Random House (Delacorte) Spring 2014.


2. Who do you think it will appeal to?

Everyone!

Ha. But seriously, I do hope it will appeal not only to teen readers, but to those adult readers of YA fiction as well.


3. What are you most looking forward to about being a published author?

Seeing my cover! Seeing my name on a book! Browsing through my local bookstore and finding something I wrote amongst the other books on the shelves! Reading reviews! Hearing from fans that love the book!

God, there are so many things I’m looking forward to. Can you tell?


4. Is there anything about being a published author that you're dreading?

Oh, absolutely. The public speaking. I’m a horrid public speaker. Just dreadful. It terrifies me. In fact, I may need an Ativan just typing this reply…


5. Have you always wanted to be an author?

I have always wanted to be an author, but I’d always been way too intimidated to actually put pen to paper. I had no training and basically felt majorly unqualified to write a book. Only when I began a year of maternity leave a few years back did I decide that, what the hell, I’d give it try. And I’m so glad I did!


6. I love the query critiques on your blog! What made you decide to start doing them?

Contrary to many authors, I’ve always loved query letters — reading them almost as much as writing them! Weird, I know.

Combine my love of queries with my desire to help unpublished authors realize the success I’ve had, and the blog query critique was born.


7. What made you decide to start a blog?

To be honest, I’d always thought the idea of blogging was nauseating. I felt like I was barely keeping my head above the water balancing my full-time, non-writing job, my two-year-old son, all the household stuff, plus writing books, to even think about adding another responsibility to my overfull plate. But after I landed an agent I did a lot of research on the internet and learned how much importance some editors place on an author’s internet presence. I, of course, wanted to give myself the best possible chance of landing a book deal, and so I started a blog. It turns out I LOVE IT! It couldn’t be more fun, and it’s not actually all that time-consuming. (Fun fact: my editor said she’d checked out my blog before making her offer!)


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

Fun question! Hmm…

My critique partner and fellow YA author from across the pond, Ruth Lauren Steven, would for sure get an invite. In fact, I’m starting to think this hypothetical dinner party might be the only way we’ll ever really meet in person.

Probably have to invite Stephanie Meyer. She did inspire me to get into YA books in the first place with her insanely great Twilight trilogy.

Then I’d probably invite Stephanie Perkins, because I couldn’t love her books more and she seems like a really fun person to be around. Plus every party needs two Stephanies.

Absolutely Veronica Roth would be invited. Aside from loving Divergent, I can’t get enough of her blog and think she’d be a right fun gal to hang out with.

Kendare Blake would get an invite, too. Not only are we agency sisters, but Anna Dressed in Blood is one of my favorite ghost stories. Kendare’s dry humor would be a great addition to any party.

Then maybe Courtney Summers because her books are badass and hilarious, and I think she’d be a riot at a dinner party.

But since I don’t do dinner parties and I’m more of an actual party kind of gal, I’d also invite Tabatha Suzuma because I need to meet the genius who wrote Forbidden, and Jandy Nelson so I can smack her for making me cry so hard when reading The Sky is Everywhere, and ditto to Lauren Oliver with Before I Fall, and Kody Keplinger, and Kristin Cashore, and…

You get the point!


9. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what's the soundtrack to the Witch Hunter's Bible?

No. As my husband can attest, I require absolute silence when I write. And a coffee. And an electric heating pad. And a north to northwest breeze…

But music does inspire my writing. Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night was the inspiration behind a party scene in THE WITCH HUNTER’S BIBLE, as was Hot Chelle Rae’s Tonight Tonight.


10. Have you got any plans for future books you can share with us?

The sequel to THE WITCH HUNTER’S BIBLE is slated for publication with Random House (Delacorte) a year or so following the release of the first in the series.

I’m also working on a YA sci-fi novel set in the East Coast of Canada, which I’m REALLY excited about.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Billie Templar's War by Ellie Irving

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


Billie Templar’s dad is abroad, fighting for Queen and country. She wants him home – partly because they need to defend their record of winning the three-legged race at the school carnival, but more importantly because his best friend has just been seriously hurt and she’s worried it could be him next. She hits on a foolproof idea to bring him back – she just needs to ask the Queen herself to give him permission to come back. But getting to see the Queen is harder than she thinks… so she hatches a plan to stage a military tattoo to get the Queen to her village during the Jubilee celebrations. With an allergy-prone boy, a girl who has no friends, a bunch of old age pensioners and a brass band who only know one song trying to help, it couldn’t possibly work – could it?

I really enjoyed Ellie Irving’s first book, For The Record, and was looking forward to this one from the first time I heard about it (during an interview she did with me!) but it completely surpassed my expectations. It’s in turns sweet, really funny, heartbreaking, and massively feelgood. In fact, Irving is becoming one of the authors I’m most likely to turn to when I need cheering up because she writes with such warmth it’s impossible not to read her books with a massive smile on your face. She also manages to fit in some really important messages towards the end of the book with one speech, in particular, without ever seeming to hit the reader over the head with them.

And she has such great characters! While Billie is the undoubted star – and I can forgive her even some rather bratty moments because her heart is so clearly in the right place that even when she starts sounding like an 11-year old Simon Cowell she’s still adorable – the rest of the cast are all fabulous. My personal favourite of the supporting characters was Billie’s nana, but her aunt who’s looking after her, the residents at the old people’s home she’s pushed into volunteering at, and the classmates who help her organise the tattoo are all great as well.

She’s also gone from writing a book which was wonderful, but rather predictable (the subtitle gave it away somewhat!) to writing one which left me guessing right up until the very end as to what would happen – would the Queen turn up? I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for you… but I thought the ending Irving came up with was absolutely perfect.

Absolutely huge recommendation, a real must-read. (And as if the book wasn't superb enough, I think it may be my favourite cover of the year!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Romances


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

This week is a 'Rewind' week where you can choose any topic that's been covered in the past - I used a random number generator to pick one because I had ZERO inspiration, and got 'Top Ten Romances'.

1. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald - I like my love stories dark and tragic, but will try to keep to mainly happy ones for this feature. Had to get this one in to represent the darker side, though.

2. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson - Just wonderful - an amazing road trip and a beautifully developed romance.

3. The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson - This, like Amy & Roger, gets into most of my lists. There's a reason for that - it's fantastic.

4. Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt - And completing the trio of my favourite contemporaries of the past 5 years or so is this heartbreaking tale of a girl coming to terms with her disfigurement in a car accident and a new romance.

5. Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs - Mermaid story which is ridiculously cute and really awesome.

6. The Boyfriend Thief by Shana Norris - I've now read three really good self-published books this year! This is one of my very favourite contemporaries of the past year or so, with a superb love interest in hyperactive Zac.

7. When Skies Are Gray by Leigh Brescia - Heartbreaking short story from The First Time, the collection I reviewed yesterday. Utterly wonderful.

8. From Notting Hill With Love... Actually by Ali McNamara - It's like a romantic comedy film on the page. Fab stuff, and it's rare for an adult book to make their way into my top 10s but this definitely deserves it!

9. Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher - Oh look, another adult book! This is one I'd recommend to adults, teens, aliens from outer space... pretty much everyone ever. It's a coming of age story which is absolutely huge but I've still read it about a dozen times (to the point where my first copy fell apart and I've had to buy a replacement!) The romance is only a fairly small part of this, but is still awesome enough for it to make my top 10.

10. The Flappers: Vixen by Jillian Larkin - Bookending my list with Jazz Age stories, this is a teen novel which portrays an interracial relationship in 1920's Chicago really well.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Monday Musings: Review of The First Time edited by Jessica Verday and Rhonda Stapleton



I picked up the Jessica Verday and Rhonda Stapleton anthology The First Time for Kindle a while back and have been reading a few stories every now and then. It’s a wonderful mix – 25 tales of first loves, first kisses, first zombie slayings, and various others. I don’t think there’s anything bad in here at all, but special mention goes to the following.

Premeditated Cat by C. Lee McKenzie – A really creepy tale about a very strange art teacher and the influence he has on a teen girl.

Sweet Truth by Stacey Jay - Any dystopian tale which gets my attention at the moment has to be stunning, as I’m fed up of the genre. This was so well-written I really enjoyed it.

Turn Here by Jackson Pearce – A girl and her mother find a cell phone that’s barking out directions via GPS, then follow it, starting a treasure hunt of sorts. Very unpredictable and really sweet.

Romeo and What’s Her Name by Shani Petroff – It’s got Shakespeare and it’s side-splittingly funny. Read it now!

The First Goldfish of McKinley High by Sydney Salter – Thought provoking political satire following a high school election. Brilliant.

Selling Mr. Peanut, by Laura Zielin and Green Glass Reflection by Cheryl Renee – Two really good romances.

Heart On by Rhonda Stapleton – Funny and surprisingly sweet.

The best of them all, though, has to be When Skies Are Gray by Leigh Brescia – One of the most heartbreaking, and wonderful, stories that I’ve ever read. Absolutely incredible.

Overall, really strong recommendation – it’s introduced me to lots of new authors and I’m looking forward to tracking down more of their work, particularly the ones mentioned above. It’s also staggeringly cheap, currently going for £1.90 on Amazon UK – less than 8p a story! I would have happily paid twice that for the Leigh Brescia story alone.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Saturday Spotlight: Outlaw by Michael Morpurgo

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.

Have you heard of Robin Hood? Of course you have. Have you heard of Michael Morpurgo? I’m guessing the answer to that one is yes as well. This new version of one of England’s most famous legends, told by one of the country’s most popular authors, is surely a can’t miss prospect, isn’t it?

It is, of course. Morpurgo brings his usual wonderful writing style to classic characters such as Robin himself, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, Maid Marian, and the rest and brings them vividly to life. Other than a short framing story there are few parts here that an adult won’t have read before, or at least seen on screen, but the author makes the age old tales such as the archery contest, Little John’s introduction to the merry men, and Friar Tuck and Robin carrying each other across the river seem somehow fresh with his skilful handling.

Anyway, as much as adults might enjoy Morpurgo, he’s never been writing for us. He is a children’s author who knows exactly what children want to read, and this is a book to truly enchant youngsters who don’t know the old stories. Robin is a brilliant hero, brave, loyal, but with enough flaws to be interesting, and the supporting cast are drawn superbly. The Sheriff and Guy of Gisbourne are truly vile antagonists, Marian is a love interest to be cherished, and the rest of the Merry Men each feel like real people. It's also, as you'd expect if you have any experience of Morpurgo's writing, really easy to read - and hard to put down!

I doubt I need to mention this - I have a feeling most people who love children's books will have seen that it's Morpurgo and Robin Hood and rushed out to buy it without even reading the body of the review! - but if I haven't made it clear enough, strong recommendation here.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Stephanie Guerra

I reviewed, and really enjoyed, Stephanie Guerra's Torn earlier this year. She was kind enough to do this interview with me.

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

I see teenage girls who are negotiating decisions about love, sex, drugs, drinking, and other edgy issues that are so prevalent in our culture. Their friendships matter deeply to them, and they often rely on each other for help and advice about these things.


2. Torn is centred on a fabulous pair of friends in Stella and Ruby. Who's your favourite fictional pair (or group) of friends?

Oh, wow, that’s a tough one. I guess I love Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables. Anne is such a funny firecracker, and Diana is her perfect complement; quiet, slow, and prudent. They balance each other, which I think a lot of good friendships (and marriages) do. I tried to create that yin/yang dynamic with Ruby and Stella. 


3. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack to Torn?

Actually, I prefer complete silence! I rarely get it; more commonly my “soundtrack” is toddler screams, crashes, and thumps. But quiet is what I crave.


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

I hope you don’t mind if they’re all dead. Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Booth Tarkington, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien—and a translator, I guess. Then, of course, I’d have to hide under the table because I’d be too awestruck and intimidated to actually face this crowd. 

I agree with you there - a very high-powered group of people. I'm sure the conversation you could hear from under the table would be fascinating, though!

 
5. Torn's your debut novel - congratulations, by the way! How difficult was the road to becoming a published author?

Thank you! I’m grinning at this question, because the road was so difficult, it’s almost ridiculous. I’ve been writing since I was a child, and I’ve written seven novels that I never submitted for publication because I knew I hadn’t developed enough as an author. As with any craft, there’s an apprentice period for writing, and mine was approximately ten years. During that time, I did an M.F.A. in creative writing and sent around a middle-grade manuscript which got some encouraging rejections. Torn was the first manuscript that I felt sure was salable—and it was.

 
6. Can you recommend another book you think readers of Torn will enjoy while they're eagerly waiting for your next novel?

I recommend anything by Sara Zarr, Laurie Halse Anderson, or Holly Cupala. They all write in the same uber-real, gritty vein that I do.

I really want to try Cupala and Zarr and keep meaning to get round to them. Anderson is a favourite of mine, an incredibly powerful author.


7. You're the Seattle host for Readergirlz, which looks like an amazing project! Can you tell us a bit more for those who aren't aware of it?

Readergirlz is a nonprofit literacy and social media project for teens. Our mission is to promote teen literacy and corresponding social service. As the Seattle Host, I blog about book events in Seattle, and offer author interviews and book reviews.


8. What advice would you give to someone looking to write a novel for teens?

I would tell them to find a way to be around teens. Teach a class, volunteer with teens, or find some way to engage with teens in the community. It’s the best way to put a finger on the pulse of the issues teens are facing, and to get an idea of their constantly evolving language.


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

I would ask Fyodor Dostoevsky to talk about his Orthodox faith and how it informed his novels.

 
10. What's next for Stephanie Guerra?

I have a middle-grade novel coming out in Fall of 2013, and right now I’m working on the first round of revisions. It’s about a hyperactive ten-year-old with a behavior problem and a penchant for making movies. There’s a graphic element, and I’m very excited to see who my publisher chooses as the illustrator. Other than writing, I’ll keep teaching at Seattle University, and I’m applying for a grant to start a creative writing program in the King County Juvenile Correctional Facility. 

Really looking forward to the new novel, Stephanie! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me - and best of luck with the writing, teaching, and getting that grant.