Sunday 27 January 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Growing up there, Ethan Wate always thought Gatlin was a normal enough Southern town, if you could forgive the inhabitants' obsessions with the War of Northern Aggression. That was until he met Lena Duchannes and got plunged into her family's own civil war, as her family fought to get the young Caster to choose either Light or Dark. If you've haven't read Beautiful Creatures, the first novel in this sequence, break off from this review and go out and grab it now! If you have, you'll remember that Lena's 16th birthday left her with a choice to make that would kill half of her family. This book follows Ethan as he tries to support her through that choice but watches her get pulled towards her Dark cousin Ridley and a new boy in town, the mysterious John Breed. While the first novel was more of a romance, this is an adventure story which sees Ethan, his friend Link, new girl in town Liv, and a variety of others embark on a journey to save the day.
I should probably start this review by mentioning that the first book in this series was one of my favourite books of the last few years and this is one of the books I've been most anticipating. Bear in mind when reading this review that I had sky-high expectations of it!
After an excellent start at the funeral of Macon Ravenwood, Lena's guardian, I found the first part of Beautiful Darkness a bit on the slow side. It was certainly a marked change in pace from the original book, and put me off slightly. Having said that, once we got deeper into the action, I was completely drawn back into the world of Gatlin and the surrounding area and loved the way various characters were developed and we found out that more and more of the seemingly ordinary people in the town were somehow involved in the supernatural world. And then there's Link. Resounding unsupernatural, loyal to a fault, and brave to the point of complete stupidity, as a sidekick Link is completely unmatched in recent novels. If the first book is about Ethan and Lena, this one is definitely more focused on Ethan and Link as the pair stick together and fight against the most terrifying and overpowering opposition.
As before, Stohl and Garcia's writing style is absolutely gorgeous and definitely makes this book one to savour and to reread - I was also particularly impressed by the character development here, as Ridley became a much more interesting character as the book progressed and Liv went from being introduced as someone who seemed to be a younger version of librarian and Keeper Marian to becoming a well-rounded character in her own right. Also, special mention for the superb climax as Ethan, Link, Liv and some friends take on the Dark side of Lena's family - I originally thought this was of epic length; on rereading it's actually fairly short but manages to fit in such an incredible amount of action that it feels epic anyway!
There's also an intriguing last couple of chapters and an epilogue which set up the next book in the series really well. I originally had this down as 4½ stars because the start was slower than I'd have liked - but really, anyone who loved the first book will completely adore this one and be yet again hooked in anticipation as they wait for book three, so I can't find it in my heart to deprive it of that fifth star. Very strong recommendation; just make sure you read book one first!

Thursday 24 January 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Overall Top 10 Books of 2012

To conclude my awards posts for 2012, I've finally put together a list of my overall top 10. (In no order except for the Book of the Year, because I'm not THAT crazy!) A bit about each of the books can be found in my top books by genre and my top MG books lists.

Earlier posts:

Best groups/pairs of characters
Best individual characters
Best YA books by genre
Best MG/adult/self-published/pre-2012 books

Overall Top 10 Books of 2012

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill
Fear by Michael Grant
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
Pea's Book Of Best Friends by Susie Day
Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry
A Reckless Magick by Stephanie Burgis
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt
The Things We Did For Love by Natasha Farrant

And the book of the year is...

(Is it worth a drum roll when most of my regular readers will have known immediately which it is, as wonderful as the other 9 are?!)

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Congratulations to Elizabeth, and to all the other authors in my top 10! I hope readers have enjoyed the awards post - if you've done anything similar on your blog, please leave a link in the comments section; I'd love to check it out!

Monday 21 January 2013

YA Yeah Yeah Year-Ends Part 4: The Rest

This is part 4 of my 2012 awards, covering pre-2012 books I read last year, self-published books, MG and adult books.

Best MG book

Life According To Alice B Lovely by Karen McCombie - The exceptionally consistent McCombie comes up with her finest book yet, about a thirteen-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother who scare off every nanny who's hired to look after them - until a teenager called Alice B Lovely gets the job. Watching central character Evie gradually warm to Alice is wonderful, while Stan, in particular, is a wonderful supporting character.

A Reckless Magic by Kat Stephenson - The final book in the magical (in every way!) Kat Stephenson series is the best yet. Stephanie Burgis's tales of witchcraft in Georgian England are stunning, and if she changes her mind and writes a fourth book about Kat I'll be hammering down a bookshop door to get to it.

Billie Templar's War by Ellie Irving - Irving follows up the wonderful debut For The Record with an even better story in this tale of a bratty 11-year-old girl who puts on a military tattoo in the hope of getting the queen to visit her village so Her Majesty can write a note excusing her father from the fighting in Afghanistan. In turns heartbreaking, funny, sweet and constantly wonderfully unpredictable, this is staggeringly good.

Pea’s Book of Best Friends by Susie Day – Noel Streatfeild fans, don’t miss this one! Susie Day’s new series is a modern classic in the making with an outstanding portrayal of family life, a wonderful central character, a sweet plot and some fabulous twists. A massive, massive must-buy. (The sequel, published at the start of this year, is ineligible for these awards due to being a 2013 release but also rather fabulous - to say the least!)

Wonder by RJ Palacio - Lived up to all of the hype - and there was a LOT of hype! Tender and moving story of a boy with a facial deformity struggling to fit in at his first school after being homeschooled, and the effect he has on people around him. Told by a myriad of narrators, this is great.

And the winners are...

A Reckless Magic by Kat Stephenson


Pea’s Book of Best Friends by Susie Day (no way I could choose just one!)

Best self-published book

The Boo Hag by David Morgan - A (gasp!) original idea for a paranormal story, which features a scary creature taken from South Carolina’s Gullah culture, the skin-stealing boo hag. An awesome central trio of heroine Lenny, who the creature is chasing, her best friend Anna, and Brian, the hot guy who’s trying to help protect them as Anna tries to get to know him better, make this a really strong recommendation.

Harper Madigan: Junior High Private Eye by Chelsea M Campbell - Fabulous juxtaposition of a junior high setting with a film noir plot – the PTA are the villains, a 7th grader is the maverick hero, and instead of a long-suffering senior officer we get a long-suffering vice principal. Really funny and with one of the strongest voices I’ve read for ages.

Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer - Unsurprising, as everyone knows how much I loved this one. Incredibly strong debut YA novel by Cramer which was one of the few sci-fi books I enjoyed last year, due to the riveting story and great characters.

None of the Regular Rules by Erin Downing - Hot YA contemporary with a fantastic central pairing who practically set the page alight with the chemistry between them. (This is particularly impressive as it's an e-book exclusive!) Established author Erin Downing decided to publish this one herself and her confidence in it certainly isn't misplaced.

(Capping it at 4 as they stood out by far and away as the best of the self-published books I read)

And the winner is...


Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer

Best pre-2012 book I only read this year.

Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander – I always thought I read these about 20 years ago, but I clearly didn’t get the entire series – I think reading it all at that age would have left me heartbroken for years. Just about beats out The Dark Is Rising, Jenny Nimmo’s Magician Trilogy, and the Harry Potter series to get my vote for the best children’s fantasy sequence ever. Stunning character development, hugely emotional, and not a weak book – the first and third are good, the second and fourth are great, and the concluding volume is an absolute classic.

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan - Super-snarky, slightly twee, and altogether wonderful. The perfect Christmas read!

Della Says OMG! by Keris Stainton - Really entertaining YA contemporary with excellent dialogue, a strong central character, and a great love interest. Incredibly, Keris Stainton's 2012 release Emma Hearts LA was even better than this one, but Della is still a fabulous book which raises interesting questions about trust, loyalty, relationships and honesty.

Kat Stephenson series (books 1 and 2) by Stephanie Burgis – My new favourite heroine! Kat, a 12-year-old girl in Georgian England whose mother was a witch and has magic powers of her own, is a stunning character, and the supporting cast are worthy of Jane Austen at her finest. The third book, published last year, is also wonderful, of course (you can read more about it above, if you skipped the MG category!)

Paper Towns by John Green - Prior to this year, I'd somehow not actually read anything by John Green. Looking For Alaska blew me away, but Paper Towns - with a stunning road trip and a wonderful cast - was even better.

And the winner is...

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander 

Best adult book

Better Than Great by Arthur Plotnik - Bravura, fifty-carat, supremely fascinating, Dickensian, this thesaurus of praise and acclaim is the kipper's knickers. (For those of you who aren't Scottish, that's a good thing!)

The Heresy of Dr Dee by Phil Rickman - Rickman follows up the excellent Bones of Avalon with a similarly superb second novel in the Dr Dee series. Packed full of memorable characters, vivid descriptions of Tudor life, and more twists and turns than you could ever imagine, this is stunning.

The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham - Abraham follows up his staggeringly great first novel in the Dagger and the Coin series, The Dragon's Path, by somehow improving on it with this second part. The best adult fantasy book I've read for many years.

One Blood by Graeme Kent - Police procedural set on the Soloman Islands in the sixties, starring Sergeant Kella - policeman and aoifa, traditional law-bringer of the islands - and nun Sister Conchita. A little bit far-fetched at times, but incredibly unpredictable and always gripping. One of my very favourite crime series out there at the moment.

People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan's Shadows by Richard Lloyd Parry - Incredibly hard to read, but impossible to put down, Parry's moving account of the Lucie Blackman murder made me cry three times - a feat no other non-fiction has come close to. Outstanding.

And the winner is...


People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan's Shadows by Richard Lloyd Parry

Sunday 20 January 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Better Than Great by Arthur Plotnik

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 slightly different from normal, as it's an adult non-fiction title and I don't normally post these reviews here because I try to keep YA Yeah Yeah for YA/MG/NA books. However, this is a distressingly excellent book which has proven to be massively useful when writing reviews of those books which really do punch out great's headlights, so I thought I'd share it here to help other reviewers.

Better Than Great is a bravura, ingeniously inventive, roaringly intelligent thesaurus of praise and acclaim - oh, momma! Where has this paean-worthy, distressingly excellent book, which certainly goes the whole hog, been all my life?

Split into fifteen categories such as 'great', 'beautiful' and 'physically affecting', Arthur Plotnik has given us around 6000 expressions to use when praising something. If I'd had this two years ago, rather than my first draft of my review of Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf by Curtis Jobling consisting of the word WOW! repeated 500 times, I could have pointed out that it was marked for greatness, it punches out great's headlights, and is pretty much the kipper's knickers. (Although Plotnik helpfully warns that the last would have only really been of much use if I was talking about it to someone from Scotland.)

Similarly, my review of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is one I'm actually quite proud of, but how much better would it have been if I'd had this book at my hand? I could have paid a more deserved tribute to Wein by telling her that her book was a spirit-buoying, traumatizingly good and keenly affecting novel with fulgent writing. (Although I'd be relying on my readers to know that fulgent means gleaming, which I didn't before I'd read this book!)

At the start of each chapter, there are a couple of pages talking about the upcoming words, while at the end of each we're given Vintage Gold - described by Plotnik in the How To Use This Book section as still-punchy superlatives from yesteryear. Other sidebars include useful adjectives and even terms for the best terms for describing really delicious wine.

Arthur Plotnik - you rolled a natural when you wrote this book. I would go so far as to say that you are a frigorifically cool author.

Himalayan recommendation.

For more from Art Plotnik, you can check out his own website, another website to go along with this brilliant book, and an interview he kindly gave me which is on the Bookbag.

Monday 14 January 2013

Cover Reveal: Tide by Daniela Sacerdoti

I really enjoyed Dreams, book 1 in Daniela Sacerdoti's Sarah Midnight series, so was thrilled to be asked to take part in the cover reveal for book 2, Tide!

Doesn't it look awesome?

DESCRIPTION (Spoiler warning for Dreams)

Sarah Midnight is no ordinary teenager. She is a demon hunter, caught up in one of the deadliest wars unknown to man. Orphaned at the age of sixteen, Sarah learned the family trade of hunting without her parents to guide her but under the watchful eye of her ‘cousin’, who was revealed to be Sean Hannay, no relative at all, but a dear friend of the real Harry Midnight.

Now, in the exciting sequel to Dreams, the fight continues. Sarah and Sean may have defeated the Scottish Valaya, but the rest of the war still rages on, and Sarah, Sean, Nicholas and their companions must unearth the identity and location of the Enemy – the leader of the demons – before the world plunges into the Time of Demons once more. Their quest leads them to Sarah’s family home, the Midnight mansion in Islay, and there they discover horrible truths about the demon ruler, his plans,and Sarah’s own personal history.

Along the way, Sarah must battle not only the demons but her hurt toward Sean and her feelings for the enigmatic Nicholas, who has plans of his own.


Daniela Sacerdoti is the bestselling author of Watch Over Me. She was born and raised in Italy but has lived in Scotland for the past ten years. Daniela holds a degree in Classics from the University of Turin and has taught Italian, Latin and Greek – her great-uncle was the renowned Italian writer Carlo Levi. She lives in Glasgow.


Tide will be released on 21st February for an RRP of £7.99. For more from Daniela, check out my review of Dreams, and an interview she gave me last year.

A huge thanks to Black and White Publishing for letting me take part in my first ever cover reveal!

YA Yeah Yeah Year-Ends Part 3: Best YA Novels by Genre

This is part 3 of my 2012 awards - please check out part 1 and part 2 if you enjoy this post.

As with earlier parts, 2013 releases which I've already read aren't counted - which explains the absence of Pantomime by Laura Lam, which is staggering and would otherwise have been a definite top 5 in the speculative category.

Best YA speculative fiction

Days Of Blood And Starlight by Laini Taylor - I enjoyed most of the first book in this series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but found the last half to be weaker than the first. No such problem in this one - it's great all the way through, with a fantastic plot and a great heroine.

Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill - Ridiculously long, but not a word is wasted. Hill cuts between a myriad of characters effortlessly and despite this book being gigantic, it's completely enthralling from start to finish.

Fear by Michael Grant - The end is in sight for this amazing series, and I really, really don't want it to be. Grant has created an incredible setting and some of the most compelling characters I've ever read about.

Hollow Pike by James Dawson - A tense and terrifying debut novel with some wonderful characters and a brilliant location. A superb debut novel!

Wereworld: Shadow of the Hawk by Curtis Jobling - I don't talk about Wereworld for fear of spoilers. However, it's an epic fantasy which you REALLY should be reading! This one is stunning, book 4 (Nest of Serpents) is also excellent.

And the winner is...

Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill

Best YA historical

Changeling by Philippa Gregory - Fantastic characters and the way adult author Philippa Gregory has captured 15th century Europe so evocatively make her first book for teens a real success.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - A tearjerker which had me crying my eyes out. Wein captures the horror of World War II, and the bravery of numerous people involved, wonderfully.

Debutantes by Cora Harrison - A fabulous cast of characters and writing which evokes a really strong feel of the Twenties make this a very enjoyable read. Highly recommended, especially to Downton Abbey fans.

Flappers: Ingenue by Jillian Larkin - This tale of Prohibition-era America is even better than the first in the series, Larkin's excellent Vixen. Hugely recommended.

The Things We Did For Love by Natasha Farrant - Incredible, heartbreaking, tale of World War II France and the Resistance.

And the winner is...

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Best YA contemporary

The Anti-Prom by Abby McDonald - I raced through McDonald's wonderful light YA contemporary novel in just a few hours - it really is completely impossible to put down.

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley - Stunning teen contemporary novel with a central pairing who have absolutely incredible chemistry and some of the most lyrical writing for a long, long time.

Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry - Really strong characters and an excellent plot make this tale of two damaged teens trying to help each other a must-read.

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson - One of the best tearjerkers in recent memory, this story of a girl struggling to come to terms with her father's illness and a return to the holiday home she last visited five years ago and the people she knew there is outstanding

Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt - A stunning romance which deals with disfigurement, prejudice, mental illness, and recovering from tragedy. Wonderful characters and fabulously written.

And the winner is...

Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt

Sunday 13 January 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garci and Margaret Stohl

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 the first book in one of my very favourite series of recent years (although I somehow haven't read book 4 yet!), and I can't wait for the upcoming movie. I was really surprised to find that I'd never posted my review for it here, but I'm guessing that was because I read it before I started blogging... am correcting that oversight now!

Teenage boy meets mysterious new stranger in a small town. They fall in love, he finds out she's harbouring a dark secret, the pair of them try to find out if their relationship can work while she tries to keep him safe from her world. This kind of book appears to be released every few weeks since Twilight became so successful – but rarely in the past few years has it been done as well as it has in Beautiful Creatures.
Ethan Wade, the narrator, is counting down the days until he gets out of Gatlin, a small town in America's South, where most of the inhabitants are still riled about losing the Civil War – or War of Northern Aggression, as they call it. His mother is dead, his father a recluse, and he's being looked after by his stern but loving housekeeper, crossword fanatic Amma.
Moving into town is the beautiful Lena Duchannes, niece of reclusive Macon Ravenwood, who lives in a manor he hasn't left for years. When she and Ethan are almost immediately drawn together, he finds they can read each other's minds, and that she is a Caster – possessing strange magic, like the rest of her family. In addition, they discover a locket which, when they touch it, gives them visions of two of their ancestors during the Civil War.
But while Ethan is counting down the days to leaving Gatlin, Lena is counting down the days to an even more important milestone – her 16th birthday, when she will be Claimed by either the Light or the Dark. As the days come nearer and nearer, it's clear that malign forces are involved, and less clear whether she will even reach that birthday.
Added to that pressure is the bigotry shown towards Lena by most of the other inhabitants of Gatlin, who dislike newcomers and have always shunned her uncle - although some are supportive, as Ethan and Lena find that there are many townsfolk with hidden depths which Ethan could never have imagined.
Many books I read at the moment seem to start slowly and pick up speed. This one starts quickly and is going at a canter by about a third of the way through. Even the bits at the start which appear to be 'just' character development turn out to be subtle foreshadowing as certain facts are revealed to the two teens. It's a multi-layered, wonderfully deep plot, with rich characters and an incredible atmosphere which gave me goose bumps while reading it. It has obvious similarities to Twilight, but it also draws on To Kill a Mockingbird – not only is it the book their English class is reading, but Macon's dog is called Boo Radley.
The characters are wonderful, particularly the main two, with Ethan being the most likeable narrator I've read for a while. Amma, Lena's mysterious cousin Ridley, and Ethan's best friend Link, who stands by him as the romance inevitably alienates him from most of the popular kids in school, are also especially well developed. The scenes the pair see when they touch the locket also deserve special mention – while they're always brief, they feel realistic for a historical fantasy setting, and Lena's ancestor Genevieve and Ethan's great-great-great-great-great-uncle, who he shares a name with, are both well-written.
In closing, this is an excellent choice for any teens with an interest in this genre, and the authors' writing style is good enough to attract those who don't normally read this type of book - it will be enjoyed by adults as well.

Friday 11 January 2013

Friday Feature: Interview with Laura Lam

As mentioned when writing the first part of my YA Yeah Yeah Year Ends, I had a difficult decision to make about whether to include 2013 releases I'd already got my hands on. In the end, I decided not to - so Laura Lam's Pantomime didn't feature. I'd expect, though, that it will be all over my awards (and everyone else's) next year, because it's a simply stunning fantasy, one of the very best I've read in the last few years. I can't wait for the February release so others can see how wonderful it is - but until then, I've at least managed to snag an interview to tide you over!

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

It’s hard to say. I think if I could only choose one ideal reader, it’d be a teen who feels a little awkward in their skin and, through reading my book, feels like it’s okay to be different. That would be the dream, anyway! But I would like to have readers of all ages, backgrounds, and dispositions.

2. I loved the world-building in Pantomime! What's your favourite fictional setting?

I really love the world of Camorr in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series. It’s so refreshingly different with its pseudo-Italian setting. I remember swearing out loud when I came across Elderglass, because I’d already created Penglass for my world. In Camorr, however, Elderglass is integrated into the infrastructure and used by the people who live there, whereas Penglass in my world is sealed off an no one knows what’s inside. Camorr comes alive with spices and alchemy and dark corners.

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

Seeing my book on the shelves and hearing that my book affected people and entertained them. Getting a piece of fan mail. One of the greatest feelings is coming across someone who really got my book and what I was trying to do. A couple of reviews have made me cry!

4. Is there anything you're not looking forward to about being a published author? 

All the pressure and worry about sales, critical reviews, wondering if there’s more I could do to market and get my name out there, fear of the next books not living up to the same standard, not selling more books. When I was writing Pantomime, it was a secret little hobby, and no one would know if I crashed and burned. I remember thinking that once I got published, the fear and uncertainty would all go away. Spoiler: it doesn’t—you get a whole new set of fears!

That said, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

5. I think Pantomime is either the first or second fantasy book which I've cried while reading. Have you ever cried at reading a book? If so, what was the last one? 

First, wow. I am touched that my book affected you in that way.

Recently I sobbed my way through The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke, which is coming out at around the same time as Pantomime through the parent imprint of Angry Robot Books. As the tagline says, it’s a tale of love, loss, and robots. It’s very literary and light on the sci fi, and it’s a beautiful book and I recommend picking it up.

Sounds great - will definitely keep an eye out for it!

6. I absolutely loved the extracts from various sources which start off each chapter of Pantomime. (As you can tell, there's a lot I loved about the book!) Were you always planning on writing these parts or did you add them to the narrative after your first draft?

These were almost the last addition before I re-subbed to Strange Chemistry (I received a revise & resubmit to them after subbing an earlier draft to their Open Door Month in 2011). One of the editorial comments was to add more world building, so I took a page out of Robin Hobb’s books. She has little vignettes at the beginning of the chapters in the Farseer & Tawny Man trilogy, and it’s an excellent way to add little insights to the world that's told in first-person without being infodumpy. I focused on different things than Hobb did, since her snippets are from FitzChivalry’s history of the Six Duchies, but I give her full credit for where I had the initial idea.

7. Which YA characters (or authors!) would you most like to see taking part in a circus, and what acts do you think they'd be good at?

Technically the Farseer books aren’t marketed as YA, but I read them as a teen so I’ll say The Fool from the Farseer trilogy would be an amazing additional to the clown troupe or the acrobats. I actually made Drystan, the leader of the clowns, dress in white motley as a little nod to the Fool. Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone also had a lot of training so she’d be a great addition to the circus as an aerialist or an acrobat, and her Naga Chimaera friend, Issa, would naturally be the snake charmer. Gemma Doyle from Libba Bray’s books could be the tarot reader or psychic.

Fab picks! I enjoyed Smoke and Bone (and really loved the sequel) and think Gemma Doyle is wonderful - I'd definitely go to any circus with her, Karou and Issa in!

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

I don’t actually listen to music that much when I write. Usually I’m writing at Starbucks so I just listen to whatever is there. When I’m writing I tune out and have tunnel vision so it wouldn’t register anyway.

9. Were you deliberately trying to write the most unreviewable book ever just to torture those of us who are trying to explain how wonderful it is without spoiling anything?

I keep having to fight the urge to apologise to all reviewers! When I originally wrote the book, I didn’t think of keeping the twist secret, mainly because I’m usually an open book, if you pardon the pun. When the publisher suggested it, I was initially a little torn, but it has been a great way to create curiosity about the book and to let the reader be surprised. But it does mean that most reviews have had to be vague and skirt around the actual plot and characters. It’s just as hard for me to speak about the book while not giving anything away!

I can imagine - I really appreciate you doing this interview, as I think in your shoes I'd just be hiding away until everyone had read it!

10. What's next for Laura Lam?

I am working away on Pantomime 2, and also another YA piece, which is a ghost story with a twist set in the Bohemian Forest. I have some other ideas bubbling away on the back burner as well, both YA and adult books.

Can't wait to read them - especially Pantomime 2! Thanks again for taking part in this interview, Laura.

Laura Lam can be found online at her website and on Twitter.

Thursday 10 January 2013

YA Yeah Yeah Year-Ends Part 2: Best Individual Characters

This is the second of a four part series celebrating my favourite books of 2012. Today's is the second of two featuring the best characters - from YA (mainly), MG and adult books alike. These are my very favourites in each category. As with the rest of the series, this is limited to 2012 UK releases.

You can find the first post here.

Best supporting characters (male)

Frieze - Changeling by Philippa Gregory
- Taken from my review - "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." He's not been beaten by many since!

Geder - The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham - I'm not even going to attempt to describe Geder because I'm guessing most of my readers haven't read either book in Daniel Abraham's superb The Dagger and The Coin series yet, as it's adult fantasy. There's a reason that it's one of the only adult novels I loved last year - it has outstanding characters, and Geder is the jewel in the crown. Superb.

Hector - Wereworld: Shadow of the Hawk AND Wereworld: Nest of Serpents by Curtis Jobling - Hector's character arc over the Wereworld series has been second to none. Again, mentioning much about where he is now would risk spoiling earlier books, but it's been an incredible journey to get there.

Taylor's dad - Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson - This was one of my favourite contemporaries in a really strong year, and there were several of Matson's characters who nearly got a mention in today's posts. Her absolute best, though, is Taylor's dad, who's brave in his acceptance of his terminal illness and manages to help her and give her good advice even as his condition deteriorates.

Valentin Rusmanov - Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill - Another one where giving details would spoil it. Suffice to say that Valentin is one of the two most spellbinding vampires I've ever read about.

And the winner is...

Hector - Wereworld: Shadow of the Hawk AND Wereworld: Nest of Serpents by Curtis Jobling

Best supporting characters (female)

Alice B Lovely - Life According To... Alice B. Lovely by Karen McCombie - Counting her as supporting rather than main, even though she's the title character, because the book is really about the effect teenage nanny Alice has on narrator Edie - and what an effect it is! The enchanting Alice is so vivacious a character that Edie's gradual character development is brilliant, and totally believable.

Larissa - Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill - This is yet another one I'm avoiding spoilers for (sorry!), so saying very little. I'll just let you know that Larissa is the other one of the two most spellbinding vampires I've read about.

Sybil - I'm Dougal Trump and It's Not My Fault by Dougal Trump - Sybil is a brilliant antagonist to the fabulous Dougal Trump, in the same vein as the long-suffering Ethel in Richmal Crompton's famous Just William series.

Zuzana - Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor - A complete scene-stealer every time she appears on a page. Absolutely wonderful - a loyal friend and a kick-ass character in her own right.

Lucy - My Big Fat Teen Crisis by Jenny Smith - One of the only times I can ever remember reading about a character with cerebral palsy in a teen book, Smith's portrayal of Lucy is absolutely lovely.

And the winner is...

Alice B Lovely - Life According To... Alice B. Lovely by Karen McCombie

Best main characters (female)

Emily - Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne - Is it wrong that I found a criminal to be one of my favourite characters of the year? While she's hardly a traditional heroine, Emily's character is so well-written that it's hard not to sympathise with her.

Kat - A Reckless Magick by Stephanie Burgis - A feisty, clever, resourceful and generally amazing heroine. Kat was one of my very favourite heroines ever when I read her first book, A Most Improper Magick, and has got better and better as the trilogy went on.

Maddie - Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - One of two young women who completely broke my heart last year. (Both were fictional!)

Pea - Pea's Book of Best Friends by Susie Day - Adorable! Pea is a stunning character in the best tradition of classic authors like Noel Streatfeild.

Verity - Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - The other one who broke my heart. I think the weekend I read this was the most I've cried in years, and certainly the most I've ever cried over fiction.

And the winner is...
Kat - A Reckless Magick by Stephanie Burgis

Best main characters (male)

Archie - Another Life by Keren David - The switch from Ty to Archie to narrate the main part of this last book in Keren David's superb trilogy is a bold move which really pays off thanks to Archie's entertaining character and excellent voice.

Dougal - I'm Dougal Trump and It's Not My Fault by Dougal Trump - I never thought a book in which a young boy was writing his will (and constantly revising it) would be quite this funny. Dougal - thankfully not actually dying, at least unless the creature in the shed gets hold of him! - is a brilliant narrator.

Hal - VIII by HM Castor - An enthralling portrayal of the life of Henry VIII, one of history's most notorious rulers. The development of Hal from a charismatic teenager to an aging tyrant is wonderfully done.

Harper Madigan - Harper Madigan: Junior High Private Eye by Chelsea M Campbell - I dipped into self-published novels here and there last year, with some results which were much better than I was anticipating. One of my favourites was this superb mix of a school story and a film noir, thanks to narrator Harper's incredibly strong voice.

Tarzan - Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior by Andy Briggs - Briggs, in his reboot of the Tarzan saga, has created a modern legend in the making in his portrayal of the title character as an eco-warrior for our age.

And the winner is... Hal - VIII by HM Castor

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Bookish Goals For 2013

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

1. Update more regularly - I flaked out a tiny bit towards the end of last year. I'm aiming for at least 6 updates a week, spread between, and - fingers crossed I can make it!

2. Keep a list of books I read! - Having done this pretty religiously for half of last year, I somehow managed to convince myself typing titles into my iPod was too much effort. Not this year.

3. Read at least 200 books.

4. Run an interview at YA Yeah Yeah or a guest post at YA Contemporary every week - this is slightly dependent on having authors (or other bloggers!) who are generous enough to answer questions or write posts. Incredibly, though, there were lots last year, which was great, so I'm hoping to make them a pretty regular feature in 2013. (If you're interested in taking part, e-mail me at or comment below!)

5. Read more adult fiction. (General adult, not '50 Shades' etc!)

6. Read more short stories.

7. Comment on other blogs more! - Again, this is something I convince myself I don't have time to do, which is rubbish because it takes all of 20 seconds to type something telling someone you enjoyed their review/article. (Unless they have word verification on, in which case "Gah!" and "Blargh!" and other exclamations.)

8. Read more debut novels.

9. Work on the 'look' of the blogs. I've just subscribed to the premium version of PicMonkey (AMAZING!) and am trying my hand at some basic graphics. I don't think I'll ever be a master artist, or anything, but am hoping I can brighten things up a bit.

10. Remember that, at the end of the day, they're just blogs - As much as I love doing them, sometimes I can feel myself getting stressed out about them. I'm aiming to achieve the top 9 goals - but the important one for me is that I realise there's nothing wrong with adjusting them/not completing them if things don't work out the way I planned.

What are your book-related goals for the year ahead?

Monday 7 January 2013

YA Yeah Yeah Year-Ends Part 1: Best Groups/Pairs of Characters in 2012

This is the first of a four part series celebrating my favourite books of 2012. Today's is the first of two featuring the best characters - from YA (mainly), MG and adult books alike. These are my very favourites in each category.
Also, this is limited to 2012 UK releases. I did debate whether to include 2013 releases that I'd read already but decided it would be fairer to wait until next year. (That said, if you went out and bought Pantomime by LR Lam and Geek Girl by Holly Smale as soon as they were available, I don't think the characters would disappoint. Just saying!)

Top overall casts

Emma Hearts LA by Keris Stainton - Emma herself, sister Bex, and love interest Alex and Oscar are all great characters. I want to read much, much more about them! (We want Rebecca Hearts Paris, don't we, everyone?)

Fear by Michael Grant - As Grant's epic sci-fi series draws to a close, everyone has been wonderfully developed. All the kids here - powered and non-powered - are completely believeable and brilliantly written.

Flappers: Ingenue by Jillian Larkin - Larkin's three wonderful narrators, and some fabulous love interests, are all beautifully portrayed.

The Anti-Prom by Abby McDonald - An outstanding central trio make this contemporary YA comedy a superb book.

The Things We Did For Love by Natasha Farrant - As I said when reviewing this one, I fell completely in love with about six different characters when reading it. I was crying so much whenever anything bad happened to ANYONE that tissues were being used up at a scary rate.

And the winner is...

The Things We Did For Love by Natasha Farrant

Best non-romantic couples

Chris and Declan - Silenced by Simon Packham - Written in the form of a letter from a grieving Chris to his best friend Declan, who's just passed away, Silenced is a stunning novel. The grief Chris feels for his dead friend is moving, and Declan's personality shines through in Chris's words.

Holmes and Watson - Sherlock Holmes and the Lyme Regis Legacy by David Ruffle - I love Holmes books, and will grab any new releases I can get my hands on. I generally find that there are some really good ones out there (with two of my favourite writers, apart from Conan Doyle himself, being Barrie Roberts and Tracy Revels), but Ruffle seems to capture the friendship between the central pairing in a way that few people have done since the originals.

Kat and Charles Stephenson - A Reckless Magick by Stephanie Burgis - Kat has been one of my favourite characters ever since I read the first book in her series. Charles reforming himself and becoming an overprotective brother instead of a drunken gambler is brilliantly hilarious.

Stella and Ruby - Torn by Stephanie Guerra - Good girl Stella and her new wilder friend Ruby are a fabulous pairing in this coming of age story. 

Verity and Maddie - Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - Two of the best heroines of the year, the friendship between these two brave young ladies is outstanding. (There's lots more I want to say, but as always when discussing this one, my fear of spoiling things gets in the way!)

And the winners are...

Verity and Maddie - Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein 

Best romantic couples

Echo and Noah - Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry - Two hugely damaged characters, one who has scars on her arms and no memories of the night which gave them her, and another who's been torn away from his beloved younger brothers after their parents' death, find love in an incredible book.

Gloria and Jerome - The Flappers: Ingenue by Jillian Larkin - Larkin portrays the problems that a couple in an interracial relationship in Prohibition-era America have wonderfully, and both of this pairing are incredibly believable.

Jacqueline and a certain other guy - Easy by Tammara Webber - I hate love triangles. BECAUSE I hate love triangles so much, I normally don't have the problem of trying to rave about a book without giving away who the girl ends up with - I just don't bother raving about it. However, Webber's Easy, the flagbearer for the emerging New Adult category/genre/whatever people are calling it today, is sensational, with a stunning romance at the centre that I can't STOP singing the praises of. 

Jenna and Ryan - Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt - Two broken characters - a girl horribly scarred in a car crash and a boy who's spent his life dealing with prejudice against travellers - help each other in a wonderful romance.

Lucy and Ed - Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley - Lucy wants to find mysterious graffiti artist Shadow, not get stuck hanging around with Ed, a boy whose nose she broke last time she spoke to him. She only spends a night wandering the city with Ed because she's told he can help her find the guy she's after. Ed has other ideas, though - and a secret to keep.

The Winners Are...


Echo and Noah - Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Lucy and Ed - Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
(Sorry, I've spent 3 weeks trying to choose between them and just CAN'T, they're both amazing!)

Check back on Thursday for Part 2 of the YA Yeah Yeah Year End Awards, the best individual characters.

Sunday 6 January 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden

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.

Ellie and her friends are going to Hell. On a camping trip, that is. Taking enough supplies to last a week, the Australian teens are determined to have fun in the remotest part of the bush and get to know each other a little better. Or a lot better in certain cases… The week goes well, but all too soon it’s time to leave. Except when they get back, it’s to find their worlds have been turned completely upside down. Their farms are devastated, animals dead or dying, and families nowhere to be found. How can this have happened, and is it related to the mysterious planes they saw flying overhead on Commemoration Day? The teens set out to find out what happened to their families and work out just how they can survive.

Okay, I feel rather ashamed that I’ve never picked this up before considering it was originally published in 1993. In my defense, I’ve only recently started to read much dystopia and while this is set in our world rather than the future, it’s still definitely in that genre. The invading forces are a terrifying enemy – made more unsettling, if anything, by Marsden’s refusal to identify exactly which army it is that’s invaded. The teens are resourceful and plucky heroes who are forced to do some awful things themselves in order to survive, and the character development – especially of Ellie and of her friend Homer, classroom joker turned crafty plotter, is outstanding. I also thought the romance involved here was superb – never feeling tacked on, instead the intensity of several characters’ feelings for each other seemed a very natural response to just how close death could be to the group of teens. It’s also not afraid to make you ask yourself some hard-hitting questions – just how much is fair in love and war? Some of Ellie’s actions seem to scare even her; can they be justified if they could help her get her family back?

There’s seven books in this series plus another connected series as well and if they maintain anywhere near this level of quality that’s my reading for several months sorted out! Very high recommendation.

Friday 4 January 2013

Friday Feature: Interview with Natasha Farrant

One of my favourites of last year was Natasha Farrant's incredible The Things We Did For Love, which came out in paperback yesterday! When Natasha agreed to do an interview to celebrate the occasion, I was really pleased.

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

Myself! I write for me.

2. Your first two books were both aimed at adults. Had you always planned on writing a novel for teens as well?

I think I’ve always been heading that way.  Both my adult books have a number of child and teenage characters, and the teen love story in my first novel, DIVING INTO LIGHT, touched a lot of readers. My novels are all very much character led, and my characters tend to announce themselves to me of their own accord – not created so much as discovered. I had known for a long time that I wanted to write about Oradour, the village on which my fictional Samaroux is based, but I was struggling with how to approach the story.  As soon as my imagination uncovered Arianne, I knew it would be a book about teens and for teens.  The all-consuming immediacy of young love struck me as both a brilliant contrast and a parallel to the equally devastating whirlwind of war. 

3. In addition to being an author, you're also a literary scout. Could you tell those readers who haven't heard of literary scouting before what the job involves?

Ha! Seriously, I spend half my life explaining my job.  Basically, I am paid a monthly fee by publishing companies in France, Germany, Israel, Italy and Spain to find books written in English for them to translate into their languages.  The most high-profile recommendation I made was TWILIGHT to my French clients.  I read it way before it became a bestseller and fell in love with it.  My clients went on to sell five million copies. I also do similar work for a film production company based in Portland, Oregon, looking for books for them to turn into animated movies.  It’s a lot of fun. I’m lucky to work with some of the best and nicest people in the business.  In fact, most of them are now also my publishers!

Sounds like a very cool job!

4. Two of my favourite books of 2012 have been set in the Second World War, The Things We Did For Love and Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity. Are there any other novels set in this time period that you'd recommend to people who enjoyed The Things We Did For Love?

Well, they could read DIVING INTO LIGHT, my first novel!  And one of my all time favourites is Eva Ibbotson’s A SONG FOR SUMMER.  Those are both “adult” novels.  For slightly younger teens, I always recommend Ian Seraillier’s THE SILVER SWORD.  I gave it to my daughter last Christmas.  It was first published in 1956 but I think it was reissued last year, and she loved it.  Judith Kerr’s WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT is also firmly etched in our hearts.  These are specifically books about the war in Europe, which fascinates me, probably because I am half French and grew up hearing stories of the Occupation.

5. As I mentioned in my review, I got through most of a box of tissues reading The Things We Did For Love! Did you cry when writing it?

A bit, at the end… And also a bit at the beginning…  I don’t want to give anything away! Mainly though I cried when I visited the actual village of Oradour sur Glane, where the massacre I describe in The Things We Did For Love took place. It has been preserved as a museum and is one of the most moving places in the world. I defy anyone not to be affected by it.

6. Some sections of The Things We Did For Love are narrated by someone whose identity is hidden until near the end. It's an unusual, but hugely effective, technique. What made you decide to use it? (If you can tell us without revealing the identity of the character, that is!)

I wanted to give the story a dimension which lifted it beyond itself – without being pretentious, I wanted it to feel more universal.  My narrator gives a glimpse of what happens after the massacre .  One of the most horrible aspects about the events which happened at Oradour/Samaroux was its randomness.  In the novel’s closing pages, the narrator places them in a greater context, suggesting that these things could have happened, and do happen anywhere and that they are somehow – terribly – part of the cycle of life.

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

Barbara Kingsolver.  She’s one of my favourite contemporary writers, and I love that she always writes about difficult subjects she feels passionate about. Antoine de St ExupĂ©ry, who wrote The Little Prince.  He was very handsome, always broke and always borrowing money from his friends so he could throw parties he then invited them to! Lovely Eva Ibbotson, who sadly died last year. I’ve learned so much about plotting and character from reading her books, which always make me feel like I’m wrapped up in a huge snuggly duvet.  Pierre Bezukhov from War and Peace, a huge, bumbling, clumsy man but so kind and such a desperate, genuine, sincere character.  I think he’d get on really well with all the others. I’ve always had a weak spot for Scarlett O’Hara, the spoilt, stubborn, brave heroine of Gone with the Wind.  I think it’s inevitable that Pierre will fall in love with her.  And Eoin Colfer, because he’s charming and funny and will make everybody laugh.

I love Eva Ibbotson - a really fabulous author! Great choices.

8. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, is there a soundtrack to The Things We Did For Love?

I listen to classical music when I write, very loudly, on my iPod.  The Things We Did For Love  was written to Brahms 4th Symphony, Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, Purcell’s Dido And Aeneas, with a bit of random Coldplay thrown in.

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

Scott Fitzgerald.  I would ask him how he makes his novels so restrained and so utterly devastating.  I just finished re-reading Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby back to back and I’m still recovering.

If pushed, Gatsby might be my favourite novel of all time... Just picked up a new copy as mine was practically falling apart through being read too much!

10. What's next for Natasha Farrant?

I’m being funny! My next novel, AFTER IRIS comes out with Faber in July. It’s a contemporary story about a hopelessly dysfunctional family trying to recover from the death of Iris, the narrator’s twin.  It’s told as a sequence of film transcripts and diary entries and everyone who has read it laughs out loud then starts crying.  Think SAFFY’S ANGEL meets LOVE AUBREY, with a dose of Noel Streatfeild.  There’s a love story, inevitably, but mainly it’s a book about families.  For girls from 11 to 110!

Sounds fab! I'm a huge fan of Noel Streatfeild's. Best of luck with it - really looking forward to reading it.

Natasha Farrant can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and at her website

Thursday 3 January 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Pea's Book of Big Dreams by Susie Day

(Sequel review, but for once I've pretty much avoided spoilers for the brilliant Pea's Book of Best Friends!)

For as long as she can remember, Pea has wanted to be a writer like her mother, the famous Marina Cove. But when she loses confidence in her writing ability, she decides it's time to look for a new career to aspire to. What should she be? An artist, a footballer, a pet therapist, or something else? One thing's for sure... there'll be lots of laughs, love, and even a little lunacy as she finds out. (Especially when little sister Tinkerbell, in her most Stinkerbellish of moods, gets involved!)

I've been waiting for this one ever since I first read book one, Pea's Book of Best Friends, months ago. That was one of my favourite books of last year, and when I realised this one was out this morning, I decided to stay up until midnight last night to see if it became available on Kindle immediately. It did, thankfully, and I ended up reading until one o'clock or so, at which point I finally finished it, with a huge smile on my face, and got some sleep.

So, why was I so desperate to read it, and why did I stay up until one to finish it? Quite simply, it's amazing!  Okay, in some ways it's more of the same, but when more of the same means more wonderful characters, more brilliant plotting, and more laugh out lines - with my favourite being "Abort the toast! Abort the toast!" - that's certainly not a criticism! Pea is as charming as ever, the family dynamic between her, her sisters, and her scatter-brained mum is still great, and it still reminds me of a modern twist on Noel Streatfeild and the other greats of the genre.

Huge recommendation, fairly obviously. Susie Day assures me book 3 will be out later this year. I can't wait!

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Resolve To Read In 2013

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

I keep buying cheap books for Kindle, and never actually getting around to reading them, so my New Year's Resolution is to try and clear some of the backlog! Here are ten that I've got which I really do want to read in the next few months.

1. The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles by Rosemary Sutcliff
2. The Enemy by Charlie Higson
3. The Truth About Faking by Leigh Talbert Moore
4. Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn
5. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
6. Twisted by Amity Hope
7. Girl Heart Boy: No Such Thing As Forever by Ali Cronin
8. Love and Kisses by Jean Ure
9. Artichoke Hearts by Sita Brahmachari
10. The Queen Bee of Bridgeton by Leslie DuBois

What books do you resolve to read this year? Leave me a comment, or a link if you've posted your own list!