Wednesday, 31 July 2013

June in Review

Total Books Read: 31

Spy Society by Robin Benway
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen v1 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
Lions, Tigers and Bears v1 by Mike Bullock and Jack Lawrence
Rules of Summer by Joanne Philbin
Last Chance Angel by Alex Gutteridge

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Game of Thrones Graphic Novel v1 by Daniel Abraham, George R R Martin and Tommy Peterson
Nowhere by Jon Robinson
Invisibility by David Levithan and Andrea Cremer

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Highwaymen TPB by Marc Bernandin, Adam Freeman and Lee Garbett
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
The Year Of Big Dreams by Karen McCombie
Tom Strong v1 by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse

Stormbringers by Philippa Gregory
Death Note Black v1 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
Invisible Girl by Kate Maryon
The Manor House School by Angela Brazil
In Between Days by Andrew Porter

Severed Heads, Broken Hearts by Robyn Schneider
Brooklyn Girls by Gemma Burgess
Sandman v1 by Neil Gaiman
Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Luckiest Girl In The School by Angela Brazil

Angel of the Woods by Sean Michael Wilson and Jorge Heufemann
Creepy Scarlett book 1 by Graeme Buchan
Diary of a Mall Girl by Luisa Plaja
The New Girl at St Chad's by Angela Brazil
Incognito by Ed Brubaker

All The Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry

Random Thoughts

A slightly mixed month for me, with some good books - including several surprises - but a couple of let-downs. On the negative side, I thought Eleanor and Park was fine but couldn't quite see why so many people are raving about it, Rules of Summer and Some Girls Are were big disappointments for me, and All The Truth That's In Me was frustrating as it had some good points but was slightly too flawed for me to recommend too strongly. I also finally got my hands on volume 1 of Neil Gaiman's classic Sandman comic, and wished I hadn't - another where perhaps the hype raised my expectations unreasonably. Even the most recent Fu Manchu reprint didn't catch my interest as much as earlier books in the series did, although I'll definitely read more.

On the positive side, though, Ed Brubaker's Incognito, Graeme Buchan's Creepy Scarlett, Marc Bernandin and Adam Freeman's Highwaymen and Lions, Tigers and Bears by Mike Bullock and Jack Lawrence were a quartet of very different graphic novels which were all brilliant. Having not particularly enjoyed the first Angela Brazil I read, I got hooked on her this month with a trio of enjoyable books. Stormbringers by Philippa Gregory was a fantastic entry into what's quickly becoming a favourite series of mine. Having tried various New Adult books, I love the idea of them, but haven't liked that many of the actual books. Gemma Burgess's Brooklyn Girls stands out as fabulous. Also, having never read David Levithan or Andrea Cramer before, I really enjoyed their co-written Invisibility.

Books of the Month

Finally room for a comic in my top 3 books of the month, and surprisingly, it's from Japan. Prior to this month I'd never been really blown away by any manga, but the first part of Death Note changed that. A stunning and thought-provoking story about power corrupting, I can't wait to read the rest of this series.

In second place, a not-quite-debut novel (the author's published an MG series under a penname but this is her first YA, and her first under her own name.) Severed Heads, Broken Hearts by Robyn Schneider was a stunning read - and gets bonus points for frequent references to The Great Gatsby, which never hurt a novel! This fabulous, literary story about a teen boy coming to terms with the end of a promising tennis career due to injury, rekindling an old friendship, and possibly finding love, is sure to appeal to John Green fans.

Finally, my Book of the Month award goes to an adult novel rather than a YA book for the first time all year! Suzanne Rindell's The Other Typist is nearly completely unreviewable. All I'll say is that it's set in New York in the 1920's at the height of Prohibition, it has brilliant themes - including identity, obsession and truth vs justice - and it's one of the four adult novels of the last 5 years which have left me speechless through sheer brilliance. Oh, and Gatsby fans will love this one, as well - as will pretty much everyone else!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Friday Feature: Interview with Tom Clempson

I've really enjoyed both of Tom Clempson's Jack Samsonite books, so when The Bookbag managed to set up an interview with him, I was thrilled and honoured to be asked to do it! This interview originally appeared over on The Bookbag.

  • When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
Tom Clempson: The answer to that changes a LOT from one book to another. On my first book I didn’t picture anyone, because I wasn’t aware that anyone else would ever read it. I didn’t write that book with any readership in mind at all. With my second book I was only too aware of the readership – the exact people who read my first book. I eventually had to learn to not picture readers at all because I found myself writing to please existing fans, instead of writing for the love of writing. Although I have to be aware of who I am writing for I find that I write with more freedom and bravery if I don’t picture the reactions of readers, (it’s especially difficult to write the things I write if I’m constantly aware that my parents are going to read it!) In the end, as far as the readers' reception of my books goes, I have to just trust my instinct. In short, I try not to picture anyone. If I like it, then, hopefully, someone else will too.
  • Part of Jack’s problem in the book is finding a real-life villain for his film. (Well, not so much ‘finding one’, as ‘narrowing it down to one’!) Who do you think was the best film villain ever?
TC: I’m going to have to narrow it down! Picking one is so difficult. There are the obvious greats – The Terminator, because he is so relentless and unstoppable; The Joker, because he is so unhinged and unpredictable; Begbie from Trainspotting, because he is the guy down your local pub who could very easily kill you; Darth Vader, because… well, just because. But I find myself drawn to villains who come with a smile. I loved how, in Goodfellas, Robert Deniro’s character teeters on the precipice of being the loyal father figure and being the uncompromising harbinger of death. You just don’t feel safe, especially when he’s smiling. But the ‘villain’ who keeps springing to mind, for now at least, is, surprisingly, Michael Douglas’s D-Fens in ‘Falling Down’. What I love about this character is that we see his journey into “villainy” and we sympathise with him! He is the villain, but moreover he is the hero, which, in my eyes, is absolutely brilliant.
  • Have you ever thought of shortening your titles? If I want to praise your books on Twitter, writing out the full title uses up more than half the characters I have! How did you come up with the titles in the first place?
TC: Well, the original title for my first book was just three words long. And it was dull. And rubbish. And my editor, quite rightly, suggested I come up with something different. So I came up with a few alternative titles, and then snuck in ‘One Seriously Messed-Up Week in the Otherwise Mundane and Uneventful Life of Jack Samsonite’ as a last minute, tongue-in-cheek suggestion. I never thought they would actually go for it! The lengthy title actually became quite a talking point for the book, and I now feel a certain bond with it. I love titles that are a bit of a mouthful, however, I’m planning on the title of my next book being considerably shorter…
  • You have a reputation amongst book bloggers for being great at providing cakes! (Maybe that says something about the book bloggers I talk to...) What’s your favourite kind of cake?
TC: I would like to make this very clear – Tom Clempson does NOT negotiate with cake-demanders! But, yes, thanks to a certain blogger or two I have become the go-to author for cake (and I have learned, to my expense, that neither Kendal Mint Cakes nor Jaffa Cakes count). Bloggers seem to be quite the cake connoisseurs. I myself am not that fussy, but given a choice, I tend to go for a cake that masquerades as something healthier than it actually is. You can’t go wrong with a bit of carrot cake (Gluten free please. My address is…).
  • I’ve seen at least one review describe Jack Samsonite as ‘an Adrian Mole for our times’ (or something along those lines, at least). Are you going to follow in Sue Townsend's footsteps and carry on writing about him as an adult?
TC: Whenever anyone compares my books to something else, I do my very best to avoid ever exposing myself to that something else, just in case I accidentally absorb some of it, and find it impossible to not write like them instead of me. This is why I have never watched The Inbetweeners, and won’t be revisiting ‘The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole’, which my Mum read to me when I was about seven (and I seriously hope is not that similar to my book, otherwise Child Welfare will be having some serious words with my mum!). So I’m not too sure where Sue Townsend went with Adrian Mole, but all I know is that, as long as people still want to read it, I could happily write about Jack Samsonite until either he or I dies (in between writing other stuff too of course).
  • Did you go to university? If so, did you find your personal statement easier to write than Jack does?
TC: I did go to university, I studied Film & Video at University of Wales Newport. I don’t actually remember writing my personal statement specifically for that course, but that is because ALL of my personal statements for anything (college, job applications, author biog) roll into one, big, pathetic, meandering and failed attempt to make myself sound mildly interesting. Trying to ‘sell’ something, and make it sound enticing and appealing is my Achilles heel as a writer. I’m exactly the same when someone asks me what my books are about – I am so certain that they don’t actually want to know, and that they’re just making small talk, that I try to make it as brief and painless as possible, so, invariably, I answer “it’s just about some kid who gets up to some stuff. You probably wouldn’t like it”.
  • As well as being an author, you've worked on films including Fantastic Mr Fox and the Corpse Bride, although you describe yourself as a speck of fluff on a cog in the film-making machine. What's been the coolest film-related thing that's happened to you? And did you meet Johnny Depp?
TC: Unfortunately no cool film-related things ever happen to me! I really am just a speck of fluff on a cog (which means, sadly, I’ve never been anywhere near Johnny Depp)! And when potentially cool things happen, like meeting Tim Burton, every ounce of potential coolness I might have within me instantly evaporates, leaving just the empty shell of a smiling, moronic fool. I like to think that I’m not the type of person who would get star-struck, but I totally am. Whenever I come face-to-face with a celeb, the art of conversation deserts me completely. The only celeb I ever manage to not get phased by was John Thompson from The Fast Show. I met him outside the toilets at Cosgrove Hall Film studios and managed to talk to him completely normally (but that’s only because I thought he was the new cleaner).
  • If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?
TC: This is easy. I don’t know why, probably relating to my ‘I can’t read Adrian Mole’ thing, but I’ve always wanted to ask JK Rowling this question: “After you watched the first Harry Potter film and then went on to write the next book in the series, did you find it hard to picture the characters as they used to be in your head instead of how they are in the film?” Because I did! I had a very definite vision of what Harry, Ron, Hermione and co. looked like from the books, then, after watching the films, my own imagination got completely wiped and all I could see was Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and that stupid CG Voldemort on the back of Quirrell’s head!
  • What are you reading at the moment?
TC: Total Film magazine. I just bought Geekhood by Andy Robb because one particular blogger keeps comparing our books with each other (in a lovely, flattering way), but I can’t actually bring myself to read it because one particular blogger keeps comparing our books with each other, and then that whole Inbetweeners/Adrian Mole thing kicks in again. I did just listen to the Game of Thrones audiobook though, which was enjoyable but soooooo loooooooong. And I’m now listening to Stormy Weather audiobook, by Carl Hiaasen, which seems fun so far. Between my day job, my writing, and my family, I don’t get much time left to read, so I listen to audiobooks while I’m at [my non-writing] work.
  • What's next for Tom Clempson?
TC: #I wish I knew! I’ve written about three, maybe four middle grade manuscripts since finishing One Seriously Messed-Up Weekend, but I don’t really know what to do with them, so I’ve just shelved most of them, but I would love some of them to get published one day (apart from the crap one. That can stay shelved). I’ve also planned out book three in the Jack Samsonite series and started writing it, just so I can get a feeling for if I’m going in the right direction with it. And I’ve also outlined a few other YA ideas. I just wish I had the time to write all of these things! So, in all honesty, I never know what’s next for Tom Clempson, but as long as it involves writing then I’m happy.

Thanks so much for talking to me, Tom! Tom can be found at his website, and on Twitter

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Girl Meets Cake by Susie Day

Fifteen-year-old Heidi gets fed up of being the only single one when all her friends start coupling up. They're all thrilled to hear that she's got together with Gingerbread Ed, who's sweet, clever and seriously sexy. The only problem is, Ed's a figment of Heidi's imagination. So when her friends get in touch with him over the internet, things get messy very, very quickly...

I picked this up from the library because I was looking for something to rekindle my interest after a run of a few bad books, and while I love Susie Day's stunning Pea series even more than her books for teens, her YA stuff is consistently good. So I went into this with high expectations, and was glad that it completely smashed them.

I think my favourite thing about her writing is that she captures the way most teens talk on the internet in a way that relatively few authors do. I see loads of chats, e-mails, and so on which seem - given my experiences as a teacher who has occasionally been called on to deal with cyberbullying, etc - to be unlike anything I've seen in real life. Susie Day, though, gets the voice of her characters perfectly right. I think the only other teen author I can say that about when it comes to e-mails, Facebook and the like is probably Jenny Smith.

And they're fun characters, as well. Heidi is the stand-out, but her friends are well-developed as well, her boss at the cafe is lovely, and the mysterious boy who starts e-mailing her is cleverly done. (I feel quite proud of myself for quickly guessing who the boy was. I'll try to ignore the fact that I changed my mind about half a dozen times when reading it, before the final reveal, though!)

Oh, I'd also rush out and buy DVDs of the Mycroft Christie series - a detective series whose central character Heidi has long, rambling imaginary conversations with - and the 80s set school musical version of Twelfth Night in a heartbeat!

Highly recommended, huge fun.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Blog Tour: Celine Kiernan on Into The Grey

Celine Kiernan's Moorehawke trilogy is one of my favourite fantasy series of recent times - so even though I don't participate in many blog tours, when I was offered the opportunity to host a stop on her tour for new book Into The Grey, I jumped at it! A massive thanks to Celine for this post. (And to Hannah from Walker for arranging it!)

Over to you, Celine...

Into the Grey is a ghost story about twin brothers, Pat and Dom Finnerty, whose lives are turned upside down by the loss of their home and by a subsequent haunting. The book has quite a few chills, there's quite a bit of political history in it, much exploration of death and loss--but there’s also a lot of love and kindness in it, a fair few laughs and a lot of bravery. I thought I’d have a bit of fun with that side of the book on this blog tour, so these posts will be all about music! Why certain songs feature in the story, what they mean to me, what memories are associated with them etc . Into the Grey is set in the Irish seaside town of Skerries in 1974, all the songs featured are evocative to me of both that time and that (very real) place As you will see, they all speak very much to the story, too, and to the characters and the rather desperate situation with which they find themselves entwined.

Post Two.
Sympathy for the Devil: Rolling Stones. (Chapter: The Auld Drunk)

NOTE: The seaside town of Skerries featured large in my childhood. Every year my aunts would rent houses there, facing out on what we called ‘the hurdy-gurdies’, and only a barefooted hop and leap to the beach. It’s all pretty much as described in the book: the house, the beach, the weather. The Rolling Stones ‘Sympathy for the Devil’  was a regular play on the tannoy system of the hurdy-gurdies, and on the jukebox of the pub where my much older cousins and my uncles played pool. For me, it’s not only steeped in happy memories, but is also evocative of the book’s themes of identity and misconstrued intentions—of knowing who you are, but no longer recognising the face in the mirror (or—as for some of the characters—of knowing who you were, but no longer recognising the history your country has painted of you.)

I don’t know what it was that changed Dom’s mind about the beach and made him take the harbour road. All I know is we were halfway to the rocks before it occurred to him. I was
swinging a stick around, swishing it through the air, trying to make perfect “Z”s in the sand, like Zorro. Dom was doing his best Mick Jagger impersonation, all hips and lips. The two of
us were singing “Sympathy for the Devil” and were just on the eighth go-around of the chorus when Dom let a whoop out of him and took a sudden curve for the steps. I immediately followed, his loping enthusiasm too infectious to resist.
“Where are we going?” I yelled.
He stopped at the top of the steps and turned to look back at me, his arms as wide as his grin, the wind whipping his hair and his army jacket and throwing sand into his teeth.
“Let’s take the harbour!”

Check out Sympathy For The Devil on Youtube, and take a look at the blog tour banner to the right to see where else you can catch Celine over the next few weeks!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Friday Feature: Nicky Peacock, Inside The Mind of a YA Horror Writer

Inside the dark depths of horror author, Nicky Peacock’s mind…

No one can truly know another, but I can give you a glimpse into my minds’ activities, challenges, and how I write.
So, the first thing you need to know about me is that I write horror and paranormal romance for both adult and YA. As you can imagine my mind is pretty dark, the kind of dark where you stumble about for a light switch that doesn’t exist. It’s always buzzing with ideas and with my favorite question, ‘What if?’ This is what drives my horror stories. What if the cat crying outside your window is trying to warn you that a stranger is breaking in? What if the bus that just picked you up isn’t public transport but belongs to a secret human traffic operative? What if the sandwich you ate at lunch contained a mutated parasite, who right now is burying into the soft folds of your brain? And of course, what if your only chance to survive a zombie apocalypse was to become a blood donor to a vampire? Which is the very premise of my book Bad Blood.
Yeah, it’s not just dark here in my mind, it’s kind of sticky too and more than a little dangerous. As much fun as the ‘what if’ game is, it can drive you mad eventually. My friends and family know how I think; they know that no matter what the mundane activity is I’m doing, my little shadowy brain is doing overtime.
Writing to me is an outlet. If it happens on the page it’s been purged from my mind. I can then carry on with living my life. Of course the major drawback to this morbid talent is that I worry about everything! But, hey that’s okay right? Worrying is healthy, keeps you alert and bothered about your life. The only problem is when it starts to take over. This is something I’ve had to face and conquer – it just wasn’t as easy as battling a horde of undead flesh-munchers. The trick is to have someone to talk to; a friend or family member who knows your dark little brain well and can help ease those worries.
As a teen there’s plenty of worries to go round – it wasn’t that long ago that I was there myself. Just don’t bottle them up – use them. If you’re worried about a test – turn that worry into study energy. If you worry that the world is changing too fast around you (this was definitely one of my teen worries) take a breath and accept that there are some things in life that you cannot change – just make the world a better place as much as you can. Worried your crush doesn’t even know you exist? Well, that’s their loss.
So, do you want a bit of distraction? Do you want to be taken away to the blood-soaked, burnt streets of London where the zombies have come out to play? If you want to get to know Britannia, the centuries old vampire sworn to protect her country and, more importantly, you - Then download the eBook or buy the paperback of Bad Blood today and delve a little deeper into my dark mind and indulge in a little YA horror.

Author Bio:
Nicky is an English author living in the UK. She writes both YA and adult horror and paranormal Romance. In her spare time she runs a local writers’ group and can be found online through the links below:

I am Britannia. I am your protector. I will fend off the hungry hordes of undead hands that reach toward you. I am your steadfast defender. I will stand between you and the zombie masses as they try to taste your flesh. I am strong, unyielding, and dedicated to your survival. All I ask from you… is your blood.”
A five-hundred-year-old bloody game of vengeance will need to be put on hold if vampires are to survive the zombie uprising. Britannia and Nicholas, bitter enemies and the only two surviving vampires left in London, have to work together to save un-infected humans and deliver them safely to a vampire stronghold in the Scottish Highlands. Unable to drink the zombie "bad blood," the remaining vampires need the humans to stay alive. But will the vampires tell the survivors who they are and what they want from them? Will Britannia be able to hold back her vengeance for the greater good? Is survivor Josh the reincarnation of Britannia's murdered true love? And can she bring herself to deliver him to the "safe" hold?
Survival instincts run deep, but bad blood can run deeper.
Title: Bad Blood
Author: Nicky Peacock
Publisher: Noble Romance Publishing, LLC -- Noble Young Adult, LLC
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Paranormal.
Theme & Special Content: Zombies, Vampires, Violence, England, post-apocalyptic
Release Date: May 2013
ISBN#: 9781605923482
Length of book: 170 pages – print 119 pages - eBook
Heat rating: n/a
Cost of Book: USA $8.90 Print -$4.90 eBook UK £5.72 Print £3.30 eBook. CA $5.05 Canadian Dollars

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Book Recommendation of Sons of Rissouli by Matt Cartney

(Note: I received this book from the author in exchange for considering it for a recommendation.)

After the death of his parents, Danny Lansing moves in with his Uncle Angus. He's quickly thrown into a dark and dangerous world of guns and high speed chases, after his uncle uncovers an arms-shipping organisation. Accompanying Angus to North Africa to investigate, Danny finds himself in mortal peril - can he save the day?

In many ways, this is reminiscent of classic adventure stories from the early 20th century. If Biggles author WE Johns was still alive, this is one of the books I'd definitely recommend to him - it captures the same spirit of adventure and pluck that his own novels do. That said, it's a modern take on things. That's not to say it's old fashioned - investigative journalist Angus is a modern hero, and it's fast-paced and exciting enough to hold its own against other similar thrillers.

It's refreshingly slim, as well. Due to the pace it still packs a lot of action into it, and there's something quite impressive about a book which weighs in at significantly less than 200 pages but still manages to tell a compelling story, with a decent ending, and leaves the readers wanting more. At a time when more and more adventure stories seem to be becoming rather bloated, a quick but satisfying read is always welcome.

As much as I liked both Danny and Angus, I did wish they had a bit more characterisation (although I appreciate that the strong focus on the action rather than masses of character development helped to keep the book down in length.) That's a relatively minor complaint, though - this is one I'm very happy to recommend, and I look forward to reading the next in the series, Red, White and Black.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Monday Musings: Book Review of Diva by Jillian Larkin

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

SPOILERS BELOW for Vixen and Ingenue, the first two books in the Flappers trilogy. 

Clara Knowles and Lorraine Dyer are both devastated by Marcus Eastman's upcoming wedding. Can either of them stop it? Meanwhile, Gloria Carmody is socialising with business mogul Forrest Hamilton, as befits an icon of flapperdom. But it's not just pleasure for Gloria - if she can get some information about Forrest for the FBI, her future with boyfriend Jerome could be a bright one. If not, she could be back in jail in the blink of an eye...

As virtually anyone I talk to about books knows, I've been having issues with lots of recent reads. Almost everything I've read in the past couple of weeks has seemed jam-packed with unlikeable characters I couldn't bring myself to take much of an interest in. Because of this, the arrival of the final book in Larkin's superb trilogy was even more welcome than it would have been otherwise. Gloria, Clara, and Lorraine are a simply wonderful trio. That's not to say they can't do anything wrong - Lorraine, in particular, can be deeply frustrating - but they're a group of girls who I've come to care deeply about over the course of the series. I love the way they've developed as characters, especially Clara, and their romances have been a lot of fun to read about. (And rather tense, given the crowds they move in - I was never quite sure whether everyone I'd grown to like would make it to the end of the trilogy alive or not...)

As well as excellent characters and a strong writing style, Larkin also manages to capture her time period wonderfully well, bringing to life the 1920s glamour, complete with the speakeasies, the big parties, and of course the flappers that the series is named after. In many ways it's a shame to see a series this good come to an end - I'd have loved another few books! - but Larkin provides us with a richly satisfying climax which does a great job of bringing closure to the various plot strands.

Superb - both the book, and the trilogy as a whole, are massive recommendations.

Jillian was kind enough to give me a great guest post about coming to the end of the Flappers series last week.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

7 Books That Were (Probably) Written By JK Rowling!

As you may have seen if you've been on Twitter today, there's a breaking literature story - JK Rowling has been revealed as the author of The Cuckoo's Calling, a crime novel published under the pen name Robert Galbraith. Prior to the revelation, it was believed that JKR had only written the Harry Potter books and the Casual Vacancy - but today's news has got me thinking. What if it's not just these books? What if JKR is more prolific than we'd ever imagined?

So, here we are - 7 Books That Were (Probably) Written By JK Rowling!

1. Twilight (supposedly by Stephenie Meyer) - Come on. Two guys and one girl as the leads? Hugely successful feature film adaptations? Sometimes banned by schools? I'm amazed it took us this long to work it out.

2. Wicked! (Jilly Cooper) - It's notable that until 1993 or so, Cooper was releasing roughly a book a year. (According to that ever reliable Wikipedia, anyway.) After that point, things slowed down notably - possibly as it would have been hard to keep up that sort of schedule while also writing Harry Potter (JKR completed the manuscript for book 1 in 1995.) That's obviously not proof - but Wicked! is a behemoth of a book, as are most of JKR's novels, and deals with class issues, as does The Casual Vacancy.

3. Jimmy Coates series (Joe Craig) - I'm behind on the Coates books, but this was explained to me by Holly Smale.

4. Geek Girl (Holly Smale) - Oh, come on. Geeky girl who is generally unpopular at school despite her intelligence, and whose name starts with H? It's a Hermione spin-off in disguise! (And if JKR is Craig AND Smale, then it explains some of their Twitter conversations. As much as anything COULD explain some of their Twitter conversations...)

5. Red (Alison Cherry) -  Lily Potter and the entire Weasley family have red hair, and are all fabulous characters. It's no surprise that the logical next step would be to write about Scarletville, where redheads hold all the power and a girl who dyes her hair lives under fear of becoming a social outcast, is it?

6. Emma (Jane Austen) - Rowling is clearly brilliant at courting publicity. It makes you think that when she said that Jane Austen was 'her favourite writer of all time' and praised Emma's surprise ending, it was an incredible move to bring Harry Potter fans to the joys of her work as Austen. And, of course, the title character was clearly named in tribute to Emma Watson's superb performances as Hermione Grainger.

(For those of you who believe Emma to have been written a few hundred years before Rowling was born, I have two words for you. TIME TURNER.)

Thanks to Vicky Walters, who originally spotted this, by the way!

7. Silent Saturday (Helen Grant) - There have been numerous tongue-in-cheek suggestions by authors that they're actually pen names for JKR. The first person I've seen to actually DENY this, though, is Helen Grant.

Doesn't that look suspiciously like a double bluff to anyone else?

So, which of the above authors do you think is most likely to be JKR in disguise? Or is there another, more obvious, candidate that I've missed.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Friday Feature: Guest Post by Jillian Larkin

Jillian Larkin's Flappers series is one of my very favourites, so I was thrilled to get book 3, Diva, today, and even more thrilled that she graciously agreed to give me a guest post for the blog!

(Warning: Mild, non-specific, spoilers for Diva, in the below post.)

What are your thoughts on the completed series, and what are your future plans?

I have always loved reading and writing, so having the chance to actually publish a novel—let alone three!—has been an incredible honor and joy. The Flappers series will always have a special place in my heart. Not only was it my debut series, but it also combines several of my passions—writing, music, and the 1920's—into one, precious gem.

I remember being terribly worried if readers would respond well to Ingenue and Diva when I had completed them. After Vixen had been so well received, I was hopeful that fans would find the sequels just as compelling. When I realized that they had, I was elated. After all, I have come to really love my characters, and the fact that readers did too meant the world to me. As cliché as it may sound, Gloria, Clara, and Lorraine truly came to life in my eyes as I created them. Now that the series is complete, I hope readers continue to find the same joy in reading their adventures as I did in writing them.

When I had originally decided to write a flapper inspired series, I knew I wanted to write about a nightclub singer (being a singer myself). After combining that desire with the Jazz Age that I had grown to love, Gloria Carmody was born! Gloria is a free spirit with a lot of spunk. She isn't afraid to make her own decisions and follow her dreams, and that's why I'll miss writing her character. I feel every girl could see a bit of themselves in Gloria (I know I do!) so I don't believe she'll be easily forgotten. As for her story, she finally received the happy ending she deserved and was able to be with the man she loved.

And who wouldn't miss good'ol Lorraine Dyer! Although her motivations are sometimes flawed, she has a personality that is unparalleled. Sometimes I'd even be surprised at the messes she managed to get herself into! It was a real thrill writing her character—she gave me quite a few laughs!—and I am glad she found love at the end of Diva as well.

Clara Knowles tended to be the favorite flapper of the three for many readers. I can see why this is the case—her scandalous past, her romance with Marcus Eastman, and her good intentions. She was an exciting character to write as well, for she changed so much throughout the series (there was the 'old' flapper Clara, Country Clara, the 'new' flapper Clara, and writer Clara...all slightly different shades of the same girl). I feel everyone rooted for her, right from the beginning, so it was a true relief when everything worked out in the end—another happy ending: an amazing career and the man of her dreams.

Looking back on their journeys and their happily ever afters, I'm feeling quite sentimental. But, as all writers must, I shall make room for more characters, stories and memories! I am currently working on a new young adult novel which is completely different from The Flappers. Although there are still boys, romances, and teen girls on their paths to self-discovery, this new project is set in the future! I am very excited to be embarking on this writing journey, and can't wait to see where the project will lead.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Book Recommendation: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

(I read this book for free on NetGalley when the publishers made it available on 'Read Now' for a weekend.)

I'll break from my usual reviewing style of starting off with a plot summary here, for reasons which will shortly become obvious, and just start by saying The Testing is an interesting dystopian read, with a wonderful narrator, which I'd definitely recommend.

So, that plot summary. Some time after a war has ravaged the world, the post-war government has created a system of colonies. Taken from her home colony, along with a male teen as a love interest, our resourceful heroine is thrown into a situation where a bunch of teenagers are forced to try and kill each other in order to survive. With mutated animals to deal with, as well as the government she'd always thought was trustworthy but now is starting to doubt, can Katniss win out?

I meant Malencia, of course. Can't imagine why the name Katniss sprung into my mind there, can you?

Okay, to say this owes a lot to the Hunger Games would be putting it mildly. Having said that, there's been an awful lot of stuff published recently which owes a lot to the Hunger Games, and this succeeds where the vast majority of the rest has left me cold. The major plus points The Testing has are a fantastic narrator in Cia and the way we're introduced to her world, with the author doing her world-building with great skill. It also stands out as surprisingly brutal, even compared to many of the other dystopians out there today.

It's not five star - for a start, some character motivations seem seriously weird; why on earth are the government willing to wipe out so many promising youngsters? Additionally, there's a slow start which meant it took 50 pages or so to hook me (and another 75 pages or so to check I wasn't rereading The Hunger Games by accident.) It is, however, significantly better than most in the genre, has got one of my favourite heroines of the last twelve months, and features what's quickly becoming the Holy Grail of teen series for me. Yes, it has a cliffhanger ending that actually works perfectly - a few months after reading it, I'm still stunned by how brilliantly Charbonneau set up the next in the sequence.

As stated earlier, definitely recommended for fans of dystopian fiction.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Ten Things I Learned From Screwing Up Young Adult TV

As you may have seen in this post, I've finally revealed the Super Secret Project I keep mentioning on Twitter. GN Yeah Yeah - coming Thursday - will be a companion blog to YA Yeah Yeah, recommending great graphic novels.

Those of you with fairly good memories may recall it's not the first blog I've started in the recent past. In addition to YA Yeah Yeah and YA Contemporary, which I seem to have been running for ages now, I had a short-lived site called Young Adult TV, intended as a place for YA authors, bloggers and fans to discuss TV shows along the lines of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, and Saved By The Bell.

Sadly, YATV was something of a failure. Great start, but I messed it up badly in the end. On the plus side, I think I've learnt a fair bit from that experience, so here's ten things I learnt from screwing up YATV, and how I'll avoid making the same mistakes again with GN Yeah Yeah.

1. Take time planning - I think YATV was thought of in a Twitter conversation one afternoon, the domain bought an hour or so after it was first mentioned, and the site launched just under a week later, with no real purpose behind it other than a place to talk about some TV. This time, in comparison, I've been planning a graphic novel blog for months, I've spent weeks pinpointing exactly what I want to do with it, and have a decent idea of exactly what kind of features I want to run.

2. Write things ready for the launch - As mentioned above, there was less than a week between thinking of the idea and launching the site. During that week, I got to grips with Wordpress, thought of a couple of ideas for posts, but didn't actually write anything. This time, I've got several recommendations pre-written, a couple of interviews ready to post, and various other things good to go.

3. Stick with Blogger - Potentially controversial, as I know many people swear by Wordpress. However, I've tried it, I didn't like it, I've got advice from people with experience of using it, and I still prefer Blogger. This time, I'm sticking to what I know.

4. Get a schedule in place - For various reasons, with YATV, sometimes I was posting three or four posts in as many days, other times I was posting once a week, if that. This time, I'm aiming for three posts a week, with two coming on specified days - I've got that all planned out.

5. Focus - Perhaps my biggest problem with YATV was that I didn't really know what I wanted from the site. It started off looking at programmes aimed at teens, quickly expanded to include things like Girls and Arrow, and ended up something of a mess. This time around, I know exactly what type of books I'm focusing on - comics that I consider to be a good 'gateway' to the media, for people with little to no experience of reading them.

6. Write about what I love - As you may have seen from the new recommendation policy on YA Yeah Yeah, I don't particularly enjoy posting about things I don't like. This made weekly recaps of Arrow a real chore - it started off well, but quickly went downhill. That's the rationale for no weekly reviews on the new site, just posts about books and comics I really want to recommend.

7. Sort the graphics out - I spent a few hours messing about creating a logo last time, before uploading something a five-year-old could probably have turned out blindfolded. Thankfully, the fantastic Susie Day stepped in and did a much better job of it - but since I can't rely on people to be as kind as that all the time, I've now gone for a similar logo to YA Yeah Yeah's new one. It's not perfect, but I think it looks pretty good.

8. Go out and ask people - Last time around, with YATV, there were a few people who were involved in the original Twitter conversation who were kind enough to contribute posts, then several others who responded to general tweets. Then, the content dried up, and I never actually got round to asking anyone else. This time, I've targetted some fabulous people involved in comics and already have some great posts lined up - but a warning; if I'm following you on Twitter and I've ever seen you mention comics, expect a begging e-mail coming in the next few months! (Feel free to ignore it, of course!)

9. Get involved in the community - One of the best things about book blogging has been the wonderfully warm and welcoming community of bloggers, both on their blogs and on Twitter. There may well be a similar community of TV bloggers - I wouldn't know, as I never went looking for it. This time, I've already started talking to some fabulous comics bloggers on Twitter, and posting occasionally on the wonderful Comic Book Resources forums.

10. Don't get stressed - As much as I want this to be a success, in the end, part of the reason YATV fell apart was because I let it all get on top of me, stopped blogging, and then couldn't face returning to it. This time around, if I need a break, I'll take one. Hopefully I'll still have readers waiting for me when I get back - if not, I'll just try and build them up again.

Have you made mistakes since starting your blog? What would you do differently if you started a new one? I'd love it if you left me a comment!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Top Ten Reasons You Should Be Reading Comics And Graphic Novels - And Super Secret Project Announcement!

I've been reading a lot of comics and graphic novels recently, and I think you should be too. Why?

1. The variety on offer. From pulp action (the awesome Dynamite Comics line) to LGBT romance (the fabulous Flutter, written by Jennie Wood, art by Jeff McComsey), from superhero stories (Dan Slott's stunning Superior Spider-Man, with Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos and Giuseppe Garmuncoli on art) to horror (Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke and Key), from incredible original tales like Mark Waid and Peter Krause's Insufferable to awesome adaptations (Daniel Abraham and Tommy Patterson's superb adaptation of George R R Martin's A Game Of Thrones) and so much more, there's something for everyone in current/recent comics and GNs.

2. They look gorgeous. Well, gorgeous may not be quite the right word for certain of them - there are parts of Graeme Buchan and Felipe Sanhueza Marambio's Creepy Scarlett which would possibly be better described as nightmare-inducing - but the amount of phenomenal artists out there is amazing. Take a look at Bodie Troll by Jay Fosgitt and you'd have to try hard to avoid falling in love with the title character.

3. They’re not just for kids. Okay, we all knew that – the ‘they’re for children’ argument used occasionally to put down comics readers is only used by a few people these days, and it’s unlikely that any of my sophisticated, mature and intelligent readers would believe something like this.

4. But some of them are. The flipside of the above is that sometimes people complain that comics aren’t suitable for young children any more. There may be something of a point here in that some comics definitely aren’t ones I’d recommend to youngsters – although handily there’s a rating guide to give some idea of what age range comics are suggested for – but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of great all-ages comics out there. Bodie Troll by Jay Fosgitt springs to mind as a superb one that I’m recommending to every parent out there. 

5. The story never ends. Not always true, to be fair, but so many comics characters out there have been going for decades and show no sign of stopping soon. Enter the world of the X-Men, for example, and you have thousands of issues you can catch up on.

6. You can get them cheaply. Between free issues and sales on Comixology and a Marvel DCU subscription for digital comics, and the chance to pick up bargains on eBay for job lots of physical copies, getting your hands on a decent amount of comics isn’t expensive. Those of us with no self-control can admittedly find spending can rise – but it doesn’t have to. Your local library is also a great place to get collected editions (trade paperbacks) of many series.

7. Rereading them is easier. One aspect of a really interesting discussion a few weeks ago about spoilers was that sometimes, a particular work is BETTER when you know what’s coming. I can appreciate that suggestion, and think I agree with it at times, but I can’t bear spoilers and struggle to find the time to reread novels due to the sheer amount I have that I haven’t read yet. I can read a comic really quickly, though, and then reread it – and there are definitely some which you can take so much more from second time around. Becky Cloonan’s Demeter stands out, in particular!

8. There’s no budgetary constraints for creators. Well, they do need to be able to afford materials to write and draw comics, I suppose. However if you read Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight you’ll see things that simply couldn’t have been done on TV because the cost of special effects, etc, would have been through the roof. In comics, as in novels, anything is possible.

9. There’s a great community. Several, in fact. In addition to lots of incredibly enthusiastic people on Twitter who love discussing comics, there are some brilliant fan sites out there. I love Comic Book Resources – I avoid the Marvel and DC forums because I’m so far behind with many of their books, but the independent forums are a superb way to find out about books you may not have heard of before. Marvel Masterworks is another great forum, while blogs like New Readers Start Here, That Comic Blog, Red Mage Comics, and many others run superb reviews and features.

10. My new blog - which I'm running in addition to YA Yeah Yeah and YA Contemporary will focus solely on them. That’s right, the Super Secret Project (which half of my readers may well know about as I’m terrible at keeping things quiet!) is the upcoming GN Yeah Yeah, focusing completely on comics and graphic novels. Whether you’re a long-time comics fan or just someone who’d like to give some great books a try, the aim is to make it a great place to find recommendations. It will particularly focus on books which I’d recommend to new readers – short runs, one-shots, limited series, and some of the Marvel/DC books which ‘stand alone’ rather than needing you to be reading lots of others at the same time. I’m hugely excited about it, and hope that some of my readers here at YA Yeah Yeah who don’t normally check out graphic novels and comics will give some of my recommendations a try. Launching Thursday 11th July, and featuring a great interview with Princeless writer Jeremy Whitley on Friday 12th, I can't wait to share this with you!

Are you a comics fan? If so, are you looking forward to GN Yeah Yeah? If not, is there anything that I could do on GN Yeah Yeah to persuade you to give a couple of books a try? Please leave me a comment, I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Friday Feature: Interview with Sophia Bennett

I wrote an incredibly vague review of Sophia Bennett's You Don't Know Me - which finished 2nd in my recent YA Yeah Yeah Mid-Year Awards for Best YA Contemporary - as I really didn't want to spoil it for anyone. I jumped at the chance to talk to her about the book, though!

This interview originally ran at The Bookbag - a huge thanks to them for arranging it.

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

I see a hazy version of teenage me, alongside the faces of the girls and boys I've been speaking to at various school events thoughout the year. I'm really inspired by them. Also, I picture the fans who write to me.

I wrote The Look for a girl called Elizabeth who asked me if I thought she should be an English teacher or a model when she left school. I think she wanted a brief email paragraph, but she ended up with a novel. But really, it's the novel I'd have wanted to read if I'd been considering a career in modelling at her age (not that I ever did).

It varies through the writing process, though. At the beginning I'm thinking of those school visit boys and girls. Then I start to panic mildly about people in the US, and Germany, France, Italy and Japan, and other places where my books have sold. Will they get the references? Will they care? Will they like it too? You have to forget them, you really do, and just write from your heart. If you try to please everyone you'll write the blandest thing ever invented. So it's back to two or three faces, two or three emails that really spoke to me, and myself.

I try to be honest and entertaining. It's more than just stories for me - they're my philosophy of life. You Don't Know Me is for all the people who are embarrassed about singing into hairbrushes in their bedrooms, and shouldn't be (embarrassed, I mean, not singing - they should be singing). And for the ones who are supporting their favourite act on The Voice, or planning to go to a festival this summer. And for the ones who are saying hideous things for a joke about Rosie O'Sullivan from Britain's Got Talent on Twitter right now. So they can understand where they went wrong, and put it right. And the ones who are finishing their exams and just need a fun read on the beach. I hope they get that, and some interesting characters and plot twists, and some food for thought too.

2. BB: You Don't Know Me features the famous Andy Warhol quote In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, and the opening line of the book itself is It's funny how fifteen minute can change your life. What would be your perfect way to spend fifteen minutes?

Great question! At the dinner table with my family, riffing on a joke about something, with each of us making the others laugh and the smell of roast chicken filling the air. (And in a truly perfect world, the dinner table would be by the pool in the South of France, or Madagascar, or possibly Necker Island. But at home in South London is fine.)

3. I know you're really active on the internet, with a fab site and blog and frequent tweets, but as You Don't Know Me shows, there are definitely negatives to the internet as well. What do you think are the best and worst things about the net?

SB: Best thing? I need two. I love making and keeping friends through Facebook, Twitter and Ning, sharing problems and passions. The internet is a lifeline for me when I'm alone, writing. Also, I love how it's used to expose the black deeds of powerful people, and force the truth out into the light. (I'm writing a bit about that in my new work in progress.) It can be such a powerful force for good.

However, worst thing? Casual cruelty towards people you can't see. I think a lot of cyber-bullying is unintentional - just people trying to be witty at someone else's expense - but that doesn't make it any less harmful or wrong.

Agreed - as a teacher, it's amazing the amount of issues caused or escalated by cyber-bullying!

4. Music is at the centre of You Don't Know Me, of course. Who was your favourite artist or band when you were a teen?

OK, so this was the late 1980s. Pre-teens, my favourite band was, quite seriously, Abba. I had Arrival sitting permanently on my turntable (yep, it was before CDs) and I danced around the living room to every song, all of the time. I actually came fourth in a school talent show, dancing to Dancing Queen. Quite possibly in a seminal leotard. Then I moved on to Blondie, The Police, Scritti Politti, the Bangles, Duran Duran and Japan, with elements of Paul Simon (thanks to an uncle with musical taste), Steely Dan, and David Bowie. Bowie's the only one I remember seeing live. I wasn't cool, musically, but I listened to music all the time. I loved jazz and anything funky. I was a huge fan of Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter and Ian Dury and the Blockheads singing 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick'. Of them all, though, I guess Steely Dan were my band. I knew and loved them better than anyone. Nobody else understood them the way I did, even though they're pure California and in my teens I'd never been there. But that's the sign of true fandom, isn't it?

Bowie live? HUGELY jealous there! Agree with you about him, Paul Simon, and Steely Dan in particular. (My Old School might be my favourite song ever... certainly top 10.) Oh, and Ella singing Cole!

5. And while You Don't Know Me focuses on music, your previous four books have all been set in the world of fashion. When growing up, would you rather have been a fashion designer, a model, or a musician?

Oh, fashion designer, no question. But I couldn't draw. My bedroom walls were literally covered edge to edge in pages of Vogue, which I'd re-Blu-tack every term. I should perhaps have thought of stylist as a profession, but I never did. I never considered being a model or a musician either. But if I were to go back, it would be musician. There's nothing, nothing like playing live music with friends. I'm about to take up the bass guitar in fact, as a result of writing the book, and I hope both my boys will learn to play an instrument they can improvise on. At my wedding, my husband played guitar, with my brother on bass, my father on drums and my new brother-in-law on vocals. They started their set with an Arctic Monkeys cover and it was brilliant.

Sounds fab! Good luck with the bass, as well.

6. I thought the huge list of writing tips over at your website was fantastic! Which one would you say was the very most important?

Thank you! The most important tip is the one I was given when I wrote to a great journalist called Susan Marling when I was fourteen, asking for advice. It's this: write. Just write. Practise. Do it over and over. (And, as Neil Gaiman says, finish things.) There's a theory put forward by Malcolm Gladwell that you have to practise something for 10,000 hours before you can be seriously good at it. That applies as much to Bill Gates programming as to Mozart composing. So get going! What are you waiting for?

I love Gladwell, think he's one of the most accessible authors in his field. Great advice!

7. I know from reading your blog that you've recently been doing a schools tour - what's the best thing about going into schools and talking to children?

They're my readers. It's such an honour and a pleasure to get to meet them. I do so in all sorts of different circumstances, in different schools in different areas, some rich, some poor, and fundamentally all the kids are the same: curious, engaging, fun to be around, and secretly less confident than they'd like to be, but being brave about it. I love to know what inspires them, what makes them laugh, what they worry about. I also steal their names for books, which is useful. And, as I say, I imagine them when I'm writing the new book and I test out ideas on them. They think I've come to entertain them, but they have no idea - secretly, I'm using them as focus groups. They're magic.

8. You've clearly been busy, because I know you were also at the Hay Festival - what was the highlight for you?

I adore visiting Hay. The bustle and glamour of it is wonderful. The Green Room, where the artists go (I love being an 'Artist') is filled with literary celebrities, who we try not to stare at too much. And friends. This year I got to perform with Sarah Webb and Luisa Plaja, chaired by the lovely Tom Donegan from Ireland. We had a blast onstage, just chatting about how we write, and then we got to meet lots of fans in the signing queue. It was two hours of sheer fun. But the highlight was probably Sarah Webb dressing up as Cinderella's fire brush and talking about a ballet dancer she loved to hate when she was a teen. You kind of had to be there, but it was very funny.

9. What are you reading at the moment?

I've just started Drummer Girl by Bridget Tyler, which came out at the same time as You Don't Know Me and is about … guess what … a group of girls who do well in a talent show and then have to cope when it all goes wrong. But as Drummer Girl starts with the dead body of one of the girls in a swimming pool in California, I'm guessing it's a bit different! Can't wait to read more. I know you loved it too. (By the way, I know some writers worry when they hear that someone is writing about a similar idea to theirs, but I really wouldn't - it's all about how you write it, and everyone is different. It needn't be a problem at all.)

Agreed! Another of my favourites of the year so far. (In fact, You Don't Know Me just edged Drummer Girl into 3rd place in the Best YA Contemporary category of the Mid-Years.) I wasn't sure whether to read them both so close together as they sounded quite similar, but as you say, they're incredibly different despite the premises!

10. What's next for Sophia Bennett?

Adventure. Because for years, I've wanted to tell the story of a girl whose dad is an action hero, but who ends up having to rescue him from difficulty. Except that in this case, her dad was killed by a bomb two years ago, and she's the only person who won't believe it. There's a castle in the Mediterranean, and an evil billionaire, and a network of tunnels that only children can fit inside and … I'm having a blast. Then a series about a nanny. I hope. But no ordinary nanny. Imagine Mary Poppins meets … no, better not say. Watch this space.

Wow, sound fabulous! Can't wait to read them all. Thanks so much for talking to me, Sophia.

Sophia Bennett is the author of the Threads series, the Look, and You Don't Know Me. You can find her online at her website, her blog, on Twitter, and once a month on GirlsHeartBooks.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Pea's Book of Birthdays by Susie Day

It’s a busy month for Pea and her family, with four birthdays! Clover has an Alice in Wonderland-themed party to celebrate her upcoming starring role in a play, Tinkerbell has a magician booked for hers, but what kind of party could Pea have? What she wants most of all is to have her long-lost father appear… could her wish possibly come true?

I’m a huge fan of the Pea series, despite being rather older than the intended audience, because Susie Day always manages to make her books feel timeless and fresh at the same time. While there are modern aspects to Pea’s Book of Birthdays, like Pea starting to try and find her dad using the internet, a lot of the general themes of the book are the same that have always been popular in children's fiction. The Noel Streatfeild comparison I've made about the other two books in the series still seems to hold true here - as in Streatfeild classics like Ballet Shoes, the relationship between the three sisters at the heart of the story and their mother is fantastic.

It's also refreshingly hard to predict for a book of this sort. I can generally tell what's going to happen quite early on when reading books for the 8 - 12 age range, but I couldn't guess what Pea's party would be here. (Which is perhaps a sign that I'm not as sharp as I used to be; as soon as it was revealed it was obvious that it was the perfect party for her!)

Highly recommended as another superb entry in one of the best series out there for younger readers.