Monday, 25 February 2013

Monday Musings: January in Review

This spluttered to a halt last year, so let's try a new format this time around - a simple list of what I've read, with links to reviews if written, then a 'random thoughts' piece, then my top 3 books of the month.

Total books read: 15

Pea's Book of Big Dreams by Susie Day
Loyal To The School by Angela Brazil
Killer, Heartless, and Wanted by Sara Shepard

The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien
Hysteria by Megan Miranda
Irresistible by Liz Bankes
Slut? by Kerry Anne Hoffman
Dance Of Shadows by Yelena Black

House Of Secrets by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Tarzan - The Savage Lands by Andy Briggs
Waiting For Gonzo by Dave Cousins
Black Sheep by N B Robert

Random Thoughts

I got hooked on Pretty Little Liars at the tail end of last year, and read three books in the series in January. They're not the best-written of books, but they're seriously addictive and I'm now loving the TV series as well.

Going through older stuff I hadn't previously got round to reading, I tried an Angela Brazil, and was rather unimpressed if I'm honest... not up to EJO, EBD, or the other top Girls' Own authors. Still, I've since read several reviews suggesting it wasn't one of her better ones, so will hopefully get round to checking out something else by her in the future.

Just the one adult novel for me this month, but it was a great one - The Forbidden Queen by the reliably excellent Anne O'Brien. Sizzling chemistry between Katherine de Valois and Owen Tudor make this one a must-read for fans of historical novels.

I tried three debut authors, with mixed results. Liz Bankes' Irresistible, billed as a 'steamy' novel, seemed to be trying to court publicity with a prominently displayed '15' rating on the front - possibly a wise idea, if the plan was to distract people's attention from seeing just how unlikeable all of the characters were. Film director/producer Chris Columbus's move into novel-writing, alongside the established Ned Vizzini, was more successful. I still had issues with the characters in House of Secrets being slightly bland, but the book has a lot of excellent action sequences and a strong storyline, so am happy to recommend it to younger readers and will look forward to the next in the series. Best of the debuts, though, was undoubtedly Yelena Black's Dance of Shadows, which mixed together ballet and black magic to provide a brilliantly bonkers read. The complete lack of any restraint in this madcap adventure made it one of the most entertaining books I've read for a while, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next in the series.

Book of the Month

Two of my favourite current series continued, and I'm giving them both joint third in my 'Book of the Month' rankings as it's far too hard to split them. Andy Briggs's third book in his Tarzan update, The Savage Lands, sees Jane really come of age, and take her place as an utterly superb heroine, while it features all of his trademark great pacing and fantastic action scenes. For something more relaxing but equally brilliant, Susie Day's Pea's Book of Big Dreams had me buying for Kindle at 5 past midnight on release day, and staying up until 1 in the morning to finish it. Superb characterisation and fabulous plotting meant this one was lovely.

2nd place goes to an author new to me - Na'ima B Robert. Her stunning dual narrative Black Sheep gave me my favourite male main character for ages, wannabe rapper and 'badman' Dwayne, whose words 'dance and jive and shimmy', and an equally strong female narrator, university-bound Misha. Superb chemistry between these two make this one utterly impossible to put down, while my heart was in my mouth thanks to the strong plotting as the book builds to an incredible climax.

Book of the month, though, has to go to John Green for The Fault In Our Stars, which I finally got round to reading. I haven't reviewed it, because trying to get my thoughts into order so that I can review a John Green book is like herding cats - an essentially pointless action which will drive you close to madness. Everyone knows he's sensationally good, it would take a far better reviewer than myself to go into details as to why he's so sensationally good. A real tear-jerker which broke my heart.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

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.

Harriet Manners is clever, works hard, and retains lots of information. She knows more facts than just about anyone else at her school. She just doesn't know why barely anyone seems to like her...

So when she gets the chance to become a model, she decides to reinvent herself. Will she succeed? And what effect will the change in Harriet have on her best friend, who always wanted this opportunity herself, her dad and stepmother, and the male model she falls for? (Not to mention her stalker...)

I've been in something of a reading slump recently, where I haven't liked anything new that I've tried all that much, so it was a really pleasant surprise to pick up something by a debut author and immediately find myself smiling. Harriet herself is a brilliant main character whose woes I could sympathise with, and I liked most of the supporting characters - even Toby the stalker, who could easily have come across as creepy, manages to stay just about funny and likeable. The one character I wasn't overly keen on was Harriet's dad, who just seemed a little bit too immature to be particularly believable.

Given that Smale is a former model herself, I was expecting the descriptions of the modelling world to feel realistic, and she certainly didn't let me down. What I wasn't necessarily expecting was that the book would be so cleverly plotted - it's unpredictable, funny, and carries a strong message without ever feeling like the message is more important than the story. She also has a breezy writing style which made this very easy to read, and I raced through it. (Apart from the one scene which nearly made me cry, at least - still great, but I had to put it down for a little bit!)

Strong recommendation as something that will make people smile - if it worked for me in that sort of mood, it should work for anyone! I'm definitely looking forward to Smale's next book.

I was lucky enough to be able to interview Holly - check it out here!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Holly Smale

As those of you following me on Twitter will know, one of my favourite YA contemporary books of the last few months has been the funny, touching, and altogether wonderful Geek Girl by Holly Smale. I was thrilled to get the chance to talk to Holly!

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

Holly Smale: I picture my sister, actually. We're very close and have an almost identical sense of humour, so it helps me relax: instead of worrying about making everyone in the world laugh, I focus on what will entertain the two of us. I honestly think it can be dangerous if you try to aim writing too closely at a particular demographic: average readers don't really exist. Write what feels right and hopefully the perfect readers will find you.

2. The scenes which deal directly with the modelling world seem very realistic - no surprise given your own experience as a model. Were any of the events in the book based on things that happened to you, or people you knew?
HS: Quite a few of them are based on real life, or are a fictionalized or relocated account of something that really happened. I was a very clumsy model, and I was frequently getting into scrapes similar (or identical) to the ones that Harriet goes through. Many of the scenes - where she gets spotted, when she's in the agency - are almost precisely what happened to me. Sadly a lot of the bullying scenes are too. I think you're lucky if you get through school without at least seeing some pretty unpleasant behaviour, and I was no exception.

3. I really liked the relationship between Harriet and her stepmother Annabel. Who are your favourite parents or step-parents in teen books?
HS: Stepmothers frequently get such a bad rap in literature. Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel: you name it, they're all hideous. I thought it was really important to show that it's not always the case, and that the relationship can be just as strong as a blood tie. It's a choice to love, and that's really powerful.
My favourite fictional dad is, hands down, Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird: he's so wise and calm and gentle. I also love Samuel Hamilton in East of Eden for similar reasons (not technically a teen book, but I'm slipping it in there). I have a real soft spot for Adrian Mole's parents, George and Pauline, too: they're hysterical. I'm fond of parents that don't behave like 'parents: it's a misconception that people become perfect as soon as they have kids, and fiction should sometimes reflect that.
I love Atticus - definitely one of my favourite fictional characters of all-time!

4. What are you most looking forward to about being a published author?
HS: That's easy: talking to children who really love the book. One eleven year old wrote to me recently to say that she found the confidence to make friends and stand up to her bullies because of Geek Girl, and I cried for about an hour. It really does make the hard, sloggy parts of writing worth it.

5. Is there anything you're not looking forward to about being a published author?
HS: I genuinely love every single one of my characters: they feel very real to me, and a little bit like my children, so I find it hard when they're criticised. That's all part of the writing process though: you create fiction, and you have to allow people to respond to it exactly as they want to. It just requires a deep breath and a step back, sometimes. After all, nobody loves everybody in real life either.

6. Being a model is Harriet's friend Nat's dream, rather than Harriet's. When you were younger, did you dream about being a model, an author, or something else entirely?
HS: When I was very, very young - three or four years old - I was a bit confused, career-wise: I wanted to be a ballerina who worked as an astronomer and paleontologist at night and flew planes at weekends. Then I realised where books came from, and that was it for me: I wanted to be an author. I never wanted to be a model; I hate having my photo taken, and physically burnt quite a few of my modelling photographs because I thought they were hideous. I regret that now. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I didn't fully appreciate it at the time. We never do at that age

7. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack for Geek Girl?
HS: I think sessions for Geek Girl were divided between my favourite instrumental or electro music - Ludovico Einaudi, The Glitch Mob, Explosions in the Sky, Yann Tiersen - and more vocal-based albums: I remember listening to an awful lot of The XX, Florence and the Machine and Bombay Bicycle Club.
Several I haven't heard of there, will have to check them out! I love Florence and the Machine.

8. As I mentioned when reviewing Geek Girl, it's a book which brought me out of a real reading slump due to great characters and Harriet's wonderful voice. Do you ever get in a reading slump yourself, and if so, what do you do to get out of it?
HS: That's so lovely to hear, thank you! Yes, I fall into really big reading slumps: especially because when I'm writing a lot I often struggle to switch on to somebody else's style or voice and turn my own off. It can be very frustrating, and I'll start and abandon maybe eight or nine books in a row before I can settle into one. Often the only thing that helps is re-reading a favourite from my childhood as a kind of literary comfort-blanket, and that will soothe my brain until I'm ready to move on to something new.
Great point - I used to do that a lot, but haven't reread much recently - will definitely give it a try next time I'm in a slump.

9. Rumour has it we can expect to see more of Harriet in the future (which is fabulous news, obviously!), but would you consider writing in another genre as well as contemporary?
HS: Hopefully I've still got a lot of writing years left in me, so I would definitely like to think I'll experiment and do something new. In honesty, I do really love contemporary - I think it's exciting - and I'm more likely to shake it up a bit by writing an adult novel. Saying that, the story tends to choose the author rather than the other way round, so who knows? As long as I'm excited by an idea, I'll be happy writing it.

10. What's next for Holly Smale?
HS: I've got some more Geek Girl books to write, and I'll be travelling abroad to research them (definitely one of the perks of writing). I'd like to finally get my own place and maybe a kitten - so that I can wear black and stroke it like a Bond villain, mainly - but that's impossible at the moment: I'm just too busy, and it wouldn't be fair. Oh, and I really need to learn how to cook. At the moment, I survive on sandwiches and pot noodles: I'm surprised I haven't fallen apart from some kind of vitamin deficiency.

Can't wait for future Geek Girl books! Best wishes for the future, Holly, and thanks for taking the time to chat to me.

Geek Girl by Holly Smale is out on 28th February, published by HarperCollins Children's Books, £6.99 (PB).  Also available in e-book formats.

This is part of the Geek Girl blog tour - see below for other blogs you can catch Holly on!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Historical Characters

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

I decided straight away to limit both top tens this week (check YA Contemporary later on for my top ten YA contemporary characters) to one character per book. You can imagine how long my resolve lasted there, can't you? (If you've been reading this blog for more than a few months, then YES, you do know the two I broke it for.)

Other than those final two, who are probably my favourite characters of all-time, this is in alphabetical order by character's first name.

Bilal from A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master - Bilal, who swears to do whatever he has to in order to stop his dying father from hearing of the Partition of India, to at least allow him to pass away without his heart being broken, is a real hero. 

Daisy from Debutantes by Cora Harrison - Virtually EVERYONE in Debutantes is so utterly charming that it's ridiculously difficult to pick one, but I'll go for Daisy, the aspiring film director, as just edging out her sisters Rose and Poppy here in this wonderful story of Britain in the 1920's.

Hal from VIII by HM Castor – Castor takes one of history’s most infamous characters, King Henry VIII, and creates an utterly compelling life-story for him. Starting as a young boy and taking us right through his reign, his character isn’t particularly likeable but is always fascinating.

Jericho from the Diviners by Libba Bray – Jericho, employed at the Museum of Creepy Crawlies and covering up secrets of his own, is completely intriguing.

Jerome from the Flappers series by Jillian Larkin – Also set in the 1920’s (this time in America in the Prohibition era), like Debutantes I could have picked pretty much any character from this fantastic series. Jerome – a jazz musician who falls for a white high society girl – is just about my favourite, though.

Jonas from What The Day Owes The Night by Yasmina Khadra – Jonas, who narrates Khadra’s stunning story of a group of friends living in Algeria as the country fights for its independence from France, is massively frustrating – he makes some boneheaded decisions at times – but utterly brilliant as a character.

Kat from the Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson series by Stephanie Burgis - loyal, feisty, clever and altogether wonderful.

Luc from The Things We Did For Love by Natasha Farrant - Luc, a teen who's struggling to cope with his feelings for Arianne and his guilt over something he did in the past, is a stunning creation. My heart cried out to him as he got involved in the fight against the Nazis, and as the ending drew closer I got incredibly caught up in his tale and in hoping that he'd survive. 

Maddie and Verity from Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – As if I could separate these. They are, as we’re told in the novel, a ‘’sensational team.’’ However they’re also a pair of stunningly created individual characters, with real hopes, dreams and fears. There may come a time when I stop raving about these two, and this book in general – but I doubt it’ll be in the next couple of years.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Vixen by Jillian Larkin

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.

Gloria Carmody is a society princess in 1920's Chicago. Engaged to Sebastian Grey, both powerful and handsome, she is expected to be little more than an ornament to him. After spending a night at the notorious speakeasy the Green Mill, though, Gloria knows that there's more to life than balls and socialising...
Clara Knowles - Gloria's cousin - is a notorious flapper given one last chance to reinvent herself as a good girl; if she can't do it she'll end up at reform school. Meanwhile, Gloria's best friend Lorraine Dyer is tired of living in the other girl's shadow - who knows what lengths she'll go to to break out of it?
Jillian Larkin does an incredible job of capturing the mood of Prohibition-era Chicago here, complete with flappers, gangsters, illicit alcohol, clandestine relationships and dialogue to die for. One way in which Larkin does this is by using the lyrics of classic jazz standards which are being sung as the characters are in the Green Mill - it works very well, really drawing the reader into the scenes. It's the atmosphere that Larkin creates which really makes the book succeed - I would normally have thought there was a little too much of the early part of the book given over to scene-setting but when the scene being set is so vividly done it's hard to complain about that. She also creates interesting characters, and it's a very romantic read. In particular, the interracial relationship which becomes a major part of the book is especially well done and made me care about both characters involved. I really enjoyed Larkin's style of writing, as well - it was perfect for a book with this setting, gorgeous and lyrical.
One warning - the ending is a major cliffhanger! As soon as you finish this one you'll be desperate to read book two, Ingenue, to see what happens!
Strong recommendation for a great start to a series - and the second book is arguably even better! Check out my review of that one here.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Undone by Cat Clarke

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.

Jem has always been madly in love with the boy next door. Unfortunately, while Kai is her best friend, she’s not the girl for him. In fact, there is no girl for him – Kai is gay. Jem is one of the only people who knows this, though, until he’s cruelly outed online by someone anonymous. When Kai can’t live with people's reaction to his outing, and kills himself, Jem resolves to find out who was responsible, and bring them down.
Jem is a really interesting narrator - not particularly likeable (Clarke doesn't really do likeable narrators!) but deftly portrayed. Her reaction to Kai's tragic death is completely believable and even as her plans get more and more out of control they always feel rooted in reality - it could easily have become melodramatic in the hands of another author, but never does here. There’s a good supporting cast – it’s hard to say too much about them without going into spoiler territory, so I’ll avoid any details, but all of the other characters are well-drawn, with Clarke avoiding ever making Team Popular as sterotypical as Jem thinks they are.
Dealing with cyberbullying, homophobia, and suicide, it’s no surprise that this is a powerful novel, but Clarke uses enough humour to make sure that it’s never relentlessly bleak. Her writing style, always one of her strongest points as an author, is as good as ever, and this is definitely hard to put down.
A mild criticism is I found most of the book to be a little predictable, until the stunning last few pages. (That said, I said something similar about Entangled, and I don’t recall that being a criticism that many other people made, so perhaps it’s just me!)
Overall, I didn't think this was quite as brilliant as Torn, which I absolutely loved, but it's still a very good read which is a definite recommendation for fans of gritty contemporary stories.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Friday Feature: Guest Post by Milda Harris on 5 Fun YA Mysteries To Read

After going a bit longer than I wanted to without too much author stuff on either blog, I've got some really cool stuff lined up over the next few weeks. To kick things back off, I'm really pleased to present a great guest post from author Milda Harris!

5 Fun YA Mysteries To Read

By Milda Harris
I’m currently working on the third book in my Funeral Crashing Series. I know that Funeral Crashing doesn’t sound like a series of YA mysteries, but that’s what they are – the main character Kait Lenox crashes funerals, crushes on the hottest guy in school, and solves mysteries. They’re fun reads! Anyway, whenever I write mysteries, I find that I also like to read them. A good mystery outside of my book, helps put me in the frame of mind to write an equally excellent mystery, myself.

On that note, here are five fun YA mystery books to read. They’re ones I’ve read AND ones I’m dying to read:

1.      The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin: I am so excited to read this book. It’s on my list of must reads. The general premise is: Mara Dyer survives an accident where all her friends are killed. She wakes up in the hospital and doesn’t remember how she got there and it goes from there as she tries to piece it all together… Sounds VERY creepy and suspenseful!  I love the “what really happened?” kind of mysteries.

2.      The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: This book is an old favorite of mine. I haven’t read it in ages, but I still think it’s a great YA mystery and it did win the Newberry Medal, wow, in 1979! I read it well after that, so hopefully it still holds up in 2013. It’s about a man named Sam Westing who in his will tells his sixteen heirs to figure out what happened to him. Ooo, and there’s a movie…made in 1997 for TV! I need to find it. I’d like to see how they adapted it. I really thought it was an excellent mystery!

3.      Ruby in the Smoke by Phillip Pullman: I’m in the middle of this book right now. It was recommended by a friend who knew I enjoyed The Golden Compass, which Phillip Pullman also wrote. Set in Victorian London, it follows 16-year-old Sally Lockheart who looks for clues in her father’s mysterious death after she receives a strange letter in the mail from an unknown sender. It sounds intriguing so far and I have a thing for creepy Victorian backdrops. They are perfect for mysteries! Ooo, as a note I see that this book was also made into a movie, specifically, a BBC TV movie a few years ago. Fun! 

4.      The Babysitter by RL Stine: This is another older book, first published in 1989. Still, it made RL Stine a prominent author for children’s horror (before Fear Street and Goosebumps) and it spawned three more sequels. Like the title says, it’s about a babysitter…who is terrorized while babysitting. She has to figure out who’s after her before it’s too late. I actually really want to reread it and see if RL Stine still terrifies me with his books like he used to!
5.      Ten by Gretchen McNeil: This is the next book on my list to read and it sounds intense: There is an exclusive house party on an island. This sounds fun until the terror begins and they get picked off one by one. I get chills just thinking about reading it! Plus, the reviews are really good! I can’t wait to get creeped out and start guessing who’s behind it all as the characters get killed off one at a time. You have to be really good at mysteries to pull this kind of mystery off!  

Okay, now I’m inspired! That’s good because I have to go back to writing Funeral Crashing #3  tentatively titled Adventures of a Funeral Chaser due out in Spring 2013. The title could still change, though. I mean, I’m still writing it and maybe I’ve guessed the wrong person as the murderer and it won’t turn out to be who I thought it was! Hey, it happens. That’s the best part of mysteries – the guessing!

Happy reading!

Author Milda Harris is a Chicago girl who ran off to Hollywood to pursue a screenwriting dream! She has a dog named after a piece of candy (Licorice), was once hit by a tree (seriously), and wears hot pink sunglasses (why not?). Between working in production on television shows like Austin & Ally, Hannah Montana, and That's So Ravenand playing with her super cute dog Licorice, she writes young adult murder mystery, horror, paranormal romance, and chick lit novels.You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and her website.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: Tide by Daniela Sacerdoti

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted on Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Tide (Sarah Midnight 2) by Daniela Sacerdoti


The Sarah Midnight Triology continues... 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.

 Why I Can't Wait:

I really enjoyed the first in this trilogy, partly because it's an ambitious novel told from a variety of viewpoints, partly due to a strong plot, and partly because it has that rarest of things - a love triangle where I actually liked all of the characters! (Check out my review,and an interview with Daniela.) I've been looking forward to this one for a while and was thrilled to be invited to take part in the blog tour - check YA Contemporary on 20th February for a blog post from Dani on Sarah's books!

Release Date: February 21st 2013

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Best Bookish Memories

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

These are in roughly chronological order (allowing for me having a truly awful memory!)

1. Meeting Terry Pratchett - When I was at uni, I was a massive Discworld fan. Terry Pratchett doing a book signing at WH Smith was a massive event and it was brilliant to meet him and get some books signed!

2. Being accepted as a reviewer for The Bookbag - A few years ago, prior to the blog, I stumbled across the Bookbag and noticed they had vacancies for reviewers. I thought carefully for a few weeks about what to review as a sample, decided on the Great Gatsby, had about six attempts which went horribly wrong, borrowed Paul Torday's The Girl on the Landing from the library, raced through it and wrote a review with minimal editing. Sue and Jill, who run the site, liked it, and accepted me as a reviewer. My first couple weren't great, but thankfully they gave me some brilliant advice on how to actually write a readable review, and I've now done nearly 350 reviews for the site, as well as interviewing over 40 authors.

3. Reading The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson and setting up YA Yeah Yeah as a result - I started writing for the Bookbag in 2009, and at first was mainly reviewing adult books - I wasn't reading much teen stuff at that point. I gradually gravitated more and more towards YA books, really enjoying Lauren Kate's Fallen, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's wonderful Beautiful Creatures, and various others. The first which I absolutely fell in love with, though - and still possibly the best YA book I've ever read, neck and neck with Code Name Verity - was The Sky Is Everywhere. Just before Christmas I bought it from WH Smith at the station at Birmingham New Street simply because it looked so gorgeous. I nearly read it on the train home - I would have finished it but I had to pause to avoid bursting into tears in public. I'd been considering writing reviews of books I bought and borrowed from the library for a while (and in fact Nobody's Girl by Sarra Manning was actually the first I put on the blog, with The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo second), but this was the one which really cemented my desire and gave me the kick I needed to start YA Yeah Yeah.

4. Interviewing Savita Kalhan - I think I may be up to 50 interviews - or certainly very close. Every author I've talked to has been so fantastic that it's hard to choose favourites, but a couple stick in my mind. This one does, because it was my very first ever interview and Savita, author of the fantastic Long Weekend, was so lovely to work with.

5. Receiving a review copy of Firebrand by Gillian Philip - By the time I'd started my blog, I'd already written a bunch of reviews for the Bookbag. However Gillian was the first author to arrange for me to get a review copy of one of her books, and it was a great feeling. (Also a fabulous book!)

6. Reading Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer - I barely ever accept review copies from self-published authors, but Scott Cramer's polite e-mail and summary of his debut novel made me interested enough to tell him I'd take an e-book and try to get round to it in the following few months. A couple of days after that, I had a dentist's appointment and started reading it on the Kindle app for my iPod while waiting. I raced through it so quickly that I lost all track of where I was (impressive, as I hate going to the dentist!)

7. Emma Hearts LA launch - This was the first YA event I attended, and it was fantastic to meet Keris Stainton, Tanya Byrne and Tom Clempson, in addition to a host of brilliant bloggers.

8. UKYA last summer - Slightly less nervous than I was for the Emma Hearts LA launch, I was thrilled to see Keris again, meet more brilliant bloggers, and get to talk to a whole host of wonderful authors who I'm not going to attempt to list because I'll clearly leave some out and feel awful. A few highlights though - meeting Susie Day and Keren David, who run UKYA with Keris, and getting some fabulous advice on the just-launched YA Contemporary from Keren. Asking for recommendations for a fun, quirky book for younger readers and Keren recommending Dougal Trump - then introducing me to Dougal's 'co-author' Jackie Marchant. And getting Bluebell Jones rock from Susie!

9. Interviewing Karen McCombie - As I've said, all of my interviews have been great, but as Karen McCombie's Ally's World was one of the series which got me back into reading children's fiction after years of barely touching it, being able to interview her was a massive thrill for me!

10. EC Myers guest post - By the time Eugene contacted me to offer to write a guest post for YA Contemporary, I'd run a bunch already - however, his was really special as he was the first author who I didn't know (either in person or via reviewing their books) to volunteer to write for me, and I was so pleased that someone liked YA Contemporary enough to give up their time to write a post for someone they'd had no dealings with before. (It was a brilliant post, as well, with lots of recommendations for books I really should read!)

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

As always with sequels, spoilers – in this case fairly major – for Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl and Beautiful Creatures: Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl; read with care.
Those of you who've been hooked on this series already will remember where we left off. A choice was made. Everything seems to have been changed. And now, we find, the End of Days is near… Dark characters lurk. Some who we thought (or hoped) were gone, have returned. Other things we’ve not seen before are starting to tear the small town of Gatlin apart. The shorthand way of summing up how terrible things are is to note that Mrs Lincoln may be one of the good guys now…
Can Ethan, Lena, the ever faithful Link (now with super-powers, sort of, at least) and Liv – no longer a Keeper in training after getting involved last time around – save the world? Given the blurb for this one specifically states This time there won’t be a happy ending, it’s a tougher question than it usually is when you’re reading this kind of book.
Of course, the previous sentence suggests that this is a book which fits into a particular kind. Really, that’s doing it a disservice. Yes, it's paranormal romance – but it's also a thrilling adventure, a wonderful Southern Gothic, and, above all, a story about people. The characterization is simply marvelous. In a sense, it always has been – but Stohl and Garcia, already on a level far above most writers today, seem to have really upped their game here and developed some of the lesser characters to the same level as the main trio.
To give too many details here would firstly risk spoiling things, and secondly, be rather pointless anyway. This is pretty much review-proof – if you've read the first two, you're surely not going to stop at this point, and if you haven't, you need to start with them rather than this. Let's just say that the first 400 pages or so completely lived up to the Everest-sized expectations I had for this one, and the closing chapters somehow managed to get better and better. By the end, it's brilliant, fabulous, and above all absolutely heart-breaking.
A special note on the world-building here – most authors would feel pleased if they created one compelling world. The pairing of Garcia and Stohl has come up with two; the paranormal one of Casters, Incubuses, Vexes and so on, which is fabulously fleshed out – but also the normal Southern town of Gatlin, one of the most memorable settings I've read for ages. In addition, they're a pair of fantastically literary authors, with references to other works abounding - here, the most notable (apart from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which has been a constant presence in the series), are The Crucible and Of Mice and Men, which both feature and are somewhat mirrored in the plot.
Anyway, I've rambled on enough, and as I said, I'll avoid giving too many details. One warning, though - stock up on tissues. You'll need them! If it isn't obvious, massive, massive recommendation.