Sunday, 30 June 2013

YA Yeah Yeah 2013 Mid-Years and 500th Post Giveaway

I was planning on doing the YA Yeah Yeah Mid-Years, celebrating the best books released so far in 2013, next weekend - but the chance to combine it with a 500th post celebration seemed too good to miss. So, without further ado, I present the 2013 Mid-Years AND a giveaway! (Details at end of post.)

Best Supporting Character (Female)

3. Delphi from Curse of Kings by Alex Barclay - It's the world-building which I particularly loved about this one, but it also has a brilliant main character in Oland Born and a fabulous partner for him in the secretive Delphi.

2. Hana from Requiem by Lauren Oliver - Having enjoyed the first two books in the Delirium trilogy due to narrator Lena's strong voice, the switch to having her old friend Hana narrate part of this one threw me at first. I needn't have worried, though, because she's an exceptional character. She plays a smaller part than Lena but her voice is just as fantastic.

1. Larissa from Department 19: Battle Lines by Will Hill - Teen vampire Larissa is still one of my favourites in any current series. An incredibly well-developed character who gets more and more interesting as the book goes on. I also love her romance with Jamie, they're perhaps my favourite current couple.


Best Supporting Character (Male)

3. Cruz from Shipwrecked by Siobhan Curham - Love interest Cruz is smoking hot and the chemistry between him and Grace could almost set the page on fire.

2. Valentin from Department 19: Battle Lines by Will Hill - I think 99% of writers would be incredibly happy to have created one compelling vampire character; Hill might be thought of as greedy for having produced two of the most fascinating of recent years! The powerful creature who may be Department 19's best chance of taking down Dracula - if anyone can actually trust him - is completely fascinating.

1. Frieze from Stormbringers by Philippa Gregory - There was a time early on in Changeling when I found Frieze irritating. I was clearly a complete idiot during this time, because as I'd worked out by the end of book one, he's one of the funniest but also best-written characters I've read about for ages. In this sequel, if anything, he's better.


Best Main Character (Male)

3. Jack Samsonite from One Seriously Messed-Up Weekend in the Un-Messed-Up Life of Jack Samsonite by Tom Clempson - From my review at The Bookbag, "Jack himself is the main strength of the series. He's sweet (well, as sweet as seventeen-year-old boys generally get), good-natured, and if his overactive sex drive and a tendency to insert his foot neatly into his mouth gets him into some sticky situations, he's normally got his heart in the right place."

2. Archie from Geekhood: Mission Improbable by Andy Robb - I could almost have put Archie's Interior Monologue and Exterior Monologue down as supporting characters, they're so well done. As they're not actually, you know, characters, I figured I'd better just get him in the MC bit instead. A brilliant lead and I love his relations with his family and friends.

1. Dwayne from Black Sheep by Na'ima B Robert - While his voice was difficult for me to understand at first, once I got used to it, Dwayne - whose words "dance and jive and shimmy" became one of my favourite narrators of the year.


Best Main Character (Female)

3. Harriet from Geek Girl by Holly Smale - Utterly adorable, hard-working Harriet, who reinvents herself as a model but never loses sight of who she is, is fabulous. I can't wait for book 2, Model Misfit, out soon!

2. Jane from Tarzan: The Savage Lands by Andy Briggs - While it's still called Tarzan, by now, Jane is by far the best thing about this superb series. Plucky, loyal, resourceful, and completely fantastic, she's a stunning character.

1. Imogen from Bruised by Sarah Skilton - The narrator of Skilton's debut blew me away. A star Tae Kwon Do student who loses her faith in the martial art and herself after failing to stop a hold-up, she's truly incredible to read about.


Best Overall Cast

3. Drummer Girl - The girls in Crush, the people they meet in the music industry, their parents, and the various love interests are all brought to life incredibly well considering this is just one book. There's more character development here than I've seen in many trilogies.

2. LIGHT by Michael Grant - I can't list my favourite characters in LIGHT. That's partly because I want to avoid spoiling who survives earlier books for those of you who haven't read them yet, but mainly because they're ALL fantastic. As a gentle clue without giving anything away, I'm in awe of the way that Grant made many of the non-powered kids just as important and interesting as those with superpowers.

1. The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham - While I was originally going to limit the character categories to YA, Abraham's epic fantasy series is so good that it has to win this. Every character is brilliant, the switches between different POVs give us a superb insight into the heroes and villains of his world, and Geder is still one of the greatest creations of all time.


Best Adult Books - Yes, I do read them occasionally.

3. The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien - O'Brien is incredibly consistent, always bringing her time period to life wonderfully. This tale of Katherine de Valois, Henry V, and Owen Tudor, is brilliant.

2. The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham - Speaking about incredible consistency, Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin sequence has had me hooked from book one, and gets better and better. Full of twists, turns, and outstanding characters, book four is perhaps the one book I'm anticipating more than anything else.

1. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell - Rindell's debut is indescribable, partly because I'm so afraid of spoiling it. She breathes life into Prohibition-era New York, riffs on The Great Gatsby, and brings us one of the best adult novels I've read for many years.


Best MG Books

3. Monster Odyssey: Eye of Neptune by Jon Mayhew - While the amount of sea monsters here are potentially likely to cause nightmares, this is a rollicking take on classic children's adventure stories.

2. Pea's Book of Big Dreams by Susie Day - Like the first in the Pea series, this is utterly charming. Again, it feels like a classic tale in many ways - echoes of Noel Streatfeild, in particular, as Pea tries to look for a new career ready for when she grows up.

1. Twerp by Mark Goldblatt - Goldblatt's tale of a young boy coming of age in New York in the Sixties is one of the most wonderful books I've read in ages. Julian 'Twerp' Twerski is a fabulous narrator, struggling to cope with guilt over one event he's not proud of and avoid talking about it, the other characters are great, and the setting is brought to life brilliantly.


Best YA Historical

3. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein - Another tear-jerker from the author of the outstanding Code Name Verity, this companion book is just as hard-hitting.

2. Smuggler's Kiss by Marie-Louise Jensen - Fabulous character development for narrator Isabelle, who gives up on life and tries to drown herself until smugglers rescue her from the waves, and a brilliant romance make this well worth reading. In addition, the early 18th century setting is superb.

1. Stormbringers by Philippa Gregory - Gregory's second book in the Order of Darkness series, following Luca Vero as he tries to map the End of Days, noblewoman Isolde and their servants Frieze and Ishraq is even better than the excellent Changeling.


Best YA Speculative Fiction

3. Department 19: Battle Lines by Will Hill - As mentioned above, this has got two of the strongest supporting characters around in Larissa and Valentin, a fabulous lead in Jamie who has great chemistry with Larissa, and the rest of the characters are pretty great as well. Additionally, it's well-plotted, never drags despite it being pretty epic in length, and Hill's world-building for the series is wonderful.

2. Pantomime by Laura Lam - Another one I can barely describe for fear of spoiling it, this fantasy is outstanding. A must-read.

1. LIGHT by Michael Grant - Not just a truly superb book, but a truly superb ending to one of the best series of recent years. Stunning.


Best YA Contemporary (see YA Contemporary for my top 10 in this category)

3. Drummer Girl by Bridget Tyler - A strong plot, deals with lots of tough issues, and has fantastic character development.

2. You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett - A brilliant, life-affirming read, with a stunning climax.

1. Bruised by Sarah Skilton - "Tackling themes of violent crime, responsibility, disability, friendship, family and bullying, this is my favourite teen contemporary book of the year so far, and one of the best YA debuts of recent years."

As for the giveaway - follow @yayeahyeah (if you're not already) and retweet the below tweet before 11:59 pm July 14th BST to be entered to a draw to win your choice of ANY book from the Mid-Years!


Terms and conditions:

1. Entrants must be 13 or over.

2. Entrants must live in a country that The Book Depository delivers to. (Full list here)

3. To enter, entrants must retweet the above tweet. They must be following @yayeahyeah - new and old followers alike are welcome to enter.

4. Prize is ONE copy of the winner's choice of any ONE book from the YA Yeah Yeah Mid-Year Awards (subject to availability at The Book Depository or Amazon UK.)

5. Winner will be drawn at random and contacted within 1 week of the entry deadline. They will have five days to respond; if they do not respond in this time the prize will be redrawn.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Friday Feature: Interview with Graeme Buchan

I really enjoyed book one of the comic Creepy Scarlett, which I reviewed yesterday, so I was very excited to get the chance to talk to creator Graeme Buchan.



1. How did you start writing comics?

It started with my love of film. I was learning film-making on my own and making short films.

Mostly I was just learning and playing with ideas. I did a short film for Halloween with the Pumpkinface character. I started working on a Pumpkinface comic and about six pages in the artist abandoned the project. It was coming up for Halloween time again and I decided to make a new short film, Creepy Scarlett. It was just a character idea, there wasn't any story at that time. As soon as I started working on it I knew it was something worth working on more. Almost right away the Creepy Scarlett issue#0 comic started. It was 45 pages and had a few little random stories including Scarlett vs Pumpkinface and Scarlett vs Zombies. I had no idea what I as doing as far as producing a comic book and it really wasn't a pleasant process to be honest. Eventually I found a team and after the issue#0 we started right away on issue#1, The Emerald of Lucifer. So I've been making comics for about 18 months now and here we are. I think jumping in at the deep end is the best way to learn to swim, so there's been a lot of treading water and doggy paddling going on. I think we've come pretty far in a short time but it's only the beginning I hope.


2. Where did the idea for Creepy Scarlett come from?

I spent a lot of time filming and wandering the cemetery where the cemetery in the comic is based on. A lot of it comes from that. Through making short films and testing ideas, eventually it all came together as Creepy Scarlett.

Whatever inspires you, there is always something of those things in your work. I think some of the things that inspired me are obvious in the comic and some maybe not so much.

My philosophy for Creepy Scarlett is, life is not a genre. That's been the hardest part of explaining Scarlett. What is it? A horror? a comedy? A samurai story? It's all those things and in the next issue the circus comes to town. There is the main storyline throughout of the mysteries of the artifacts and Scarlett is the constant that ties all the stories together.


3. You're all over the web, with Creepy Scarlett pages on Wix, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr! How important do you think the internet is to the success of someone working in comics today? 

I think it's very important. It is a long term project and I want people to join in the adveture because they like it. I'm not very good at the promotion side though. Trying to focus on creating the comic takes most most of my energy and I pretty much rely on people finding the project of their own accord. Which isn't the best strategy I guess.


4. Would you ever consider working for one of the big comic publishers? If so, which character would you most like to write?

Growing up I loved the Hulk and Superman etc. I think Batman is the only character that would be of any interest to write something for though.

I might enjoy reading or watching other creations but I much prefer working on my own ideas.


5. What are the best comics you're reading at the moment?

I read random things at random times. I am mostly working on the future of my own project. The next question should answer why I don't have much time to invest in other things just now. There are great independent projects out there and people should actively seek them out. What we all like might be different but any time I see someone who is following their own path I tip my hat to them.

Those are the ones who dare to dream. So to quote the blind melon song; "Keep on dreaming boy, cause when you stop dreamin' it's time to die."


6. What's coming next for Graeme Buchan, after Creepy Scarlett?

There is nothing after Creepy Scarlett. Series two will be set in the 1920's and will be the story of the seal of Solomon. It will have gangsters, a city detective, and a cowboy assassin, all on the trail of the seal of Solomon. Their adventure will lead them to Sunnyville and Scarlett. Each series will continue the main story and have some side stories also. It will continue until it's up to date and current. It's "an epic adventure". Now I know the word "epic" is maybe a bit overused but the scope of the project really is epic.

Obviously it is not all written but it is planned out as 10 series. The next step is to look at an animated series and either a live action or animated film series. So, yeah, I'm just one wee man with a wee dream. It will be a journey and an adventure and I hope some people will enjoy it.



Thursday, 27 June 2013

Comic Recommendation: Creepy Scarlett Book 1 by Graeme Buchan, Felipe Sanhueza Marambio, Jessica Jimerson, Arifin Samsul and Bram Meehan


In 1919, a samurai brings the Emerald of Lucifer to the town of Sunnyville to give it to the pastor there. On being told that the pastor is dead, he leaves the emerald with a girl called Scarlett. When The Order of the Red Sun turn up to try to take it, though, the samurai and Scarlett stand together to fight them. But just who is Creepy Scarlett?

To tell you any more than this would be going much too far into spoiler territory, but Scarlett is a winning creation who I'm looking forward to seeing more stories about. Both parts of this book - initial story The Emerald of Lucifer and issue 2, As White As Snow, which serves as an origin story - are highly recommended and make the central character a fascinating one. She's someone who initially appears to be a kooky character and this could have been something of a one-note joke but she's fleshed out brilliantly through the course of the 2 issues and gets to show that she has the skills to protect the emerald. I particularly liked her relationship with the pastor, and her cuddly toy Mr Ted. Additionally, the villains are more intriguing than most in comics I've read recently - especially Pumpkinhead.

I normally prefer colourful art but while the first issue of the book is good to look at, it's the second one which is really stunning. Mainly black, white and grey, with just touches of colour - Scarlett's blue eyes, Mr Ted's red scarf, and a few other items - it really stands out and shows off Felipe Sanhueza Marambio's pencils to the best effect possible.

Strong recommendation as an excellent start to the series which definitely left me wanting more. At just $1.99 on DriveThruComics it's an absolute bargain and I hope lots of people pick this one up. (If you prefer printed comics, I believe it'll be up on IndyPlanet soon.)

Monday, 24 June 2013

Monday Musings: May in Review

Total Books Read: 27

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza by Lawrence Block
Daughter of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Monster Odyssey: The Eye of Neptune by Jon Mayhew
The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian by Lawrence Block

School for Stars: First Term at L'Etoile by Holly Willoughby and Kelly Willoughby
WE3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Manga Shakespeare: The Tempest by Paul Duffield, William Shakespeare and Richard Appignanesi
Preacher v1: Gone To Texas by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
Animal man v1: The Hunt by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

Green Lantern v1: Sinestro by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke
Scalped v1: Indian Country
Where You Are by Tammara Webber
Justice League International v1: Signal Masters by Dan Jurgens, Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan
Straight Flush by Ben Mezrich

Manga Shakespeare: Othello by Ryuta Osada, William Shakespeare and Richard Appignanesi
American born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Superior by Mark Millar and Leinil Yu
Finding Fortune by Pippa Goodhart
Drummer Girl by Bridget Tyler

Flutter v1 by Jennie Wood and Jeff McComsey
You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett
God Save The Queen by Mike Carey and John Bolton
Everything Is Fine (and Other Lies I Tell Myself) by Cathy Brett
Bruised by Sarah Skilton

Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra by Greg Rucka and Salvador Larroca
Fear Itself by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen


Random Thoughts

This was the month when I really got back into reading graphic novels hugely, with about half of my reads being GNs. Mixed results on that front - most were good, American Born Chinese and Superior were great, Fear Itself and WE3 were real let downs. I didn't get round to reviewing that many of them, unfortunately, but may sort that out in the future. Speaking of let downs, School For Stars was a real disappointment, with the 'story seekers' stuff setting my teeth on edge!

More promisingly, I carried on with my Bernie Rhodenbarr omnbius and really enjoyed the two I hadn't read before - am now trying to get the rest of the series!

What stood out, though, was the incredible week in which I read Jennie Wood's Flutter - which I didn't have particularly high expectations of, having picked it up on Comixology on a whim, but ended up being amongst my favourite GNs of the year so far - and three YA contemporary books which were amongst my favourite reads of the year so far. So...


Book of the Month

Third place goes to Bridget Tyler's Drummer Girl, a stunning story about five girls finding fame, fortune - and in one case death - through a talent show in America. Exciting and intriguing, I only wished it could have been longer - not something I normally say about books these days!

Second is taken by Sophia Bennett's You Don't Know Me, which for a few days was a front-runner for book of the year for me, and is likely to be up there come December. Another story about girls in a group taking part in a televised talent contest, it's a similar premise to Drummer Girl but a completely different execution and style. Both are fabulous, although the stunning ending to this one got it the nod from me.

Finally, first - and current front-runner for book of the year in any genre - goes to Bruised by Sarah Skilton. A gripping tale of the aftermath of an armed robbery and how narrator Imogen falls apart after failing to stop it despite her Tae Kwon Do training, it deals with a host of difficult topics with great skill and sensitivity. Outstanding.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Sunday Special: Ten Rules For Authors On Being A Good Twitizen


Twitter can be a godsend for authors, especially new ones. It's a way of getting your name out there to a huge amount of people who haven't heard of you. As great as this is, though, there's the potential for it to go spectacularly wrong. (Don't worry, this IS rare - but to minimise your chances of problems even further, check out these ten top tips.)

Disclaimer: This is from the point of view of a reader and blogger, not an author, obviously.

1. Don't respond to or retweet negative reviews - I am absolutely sure that there are some authors who can respond to negative reviews with grace and sophistication. I think I saw one once. That's it, though - one. Authors responding to reviews run the significant risk of making themselves look bad, and that tends to hurt them far more than criticism of the book does. The other reason for not responding to negative reviews is that in general, negative reviews are far less likely to be shared than positive ones. Most people on Twitter are only too thrilled to retweet positive reviews of a book but it's much rarer for them to enjoy passing on critical ones. I think every negative review I've seen that has had lots of people commenting on it and retweeting it has been as a result of the author, or someone close to him or her, initially drawing their fans' attention to it.

This goes triple (at least!) if you build up a large number of followers on Twitter. As Foz Meadows says in this superb post, you're "punching down" if you choose to bring their attention to a negative review, especially one written by a reviewer with far less of a reach than you have. Assuming you don't know each and every one of your followers personally (and on Twitter, does anyone?), then even if you don't intend your tweet as a 'call to arms' asking fans to defend you and attack the author, some will almost certainly take it that way.

Having said that, if a reviewer DOES draw your attention to a review - and in virtually all cases, this will be a positive one, because nearly all reviewers are too classy to shove negative reviews in author's faces - then they're inviting you to respond. Saying 'thank you' then is absolutely fine, and will probably give the reviewer a smile a mile wide.


2. Don't spend ages talking about your book - Nothing bores me more than authors who just constantly spam my Twitter feed with updates about their own books, retweets of reviews, and so on. The 90%/10% rule, tweeting nine times as much about other things than about your book, is a good one to follow.

3. But don't completely ignore it - If you've written a book featuring a homeless character, for example, and people in your Twitter feed are talking about books about homelessness, then it's absolutely fine to mention it! Don't just say "BUY MY BOOK" - but join in the conversation and tell them a bit about it.

4. Tweet and retweet things several times - If something's worth sharing, it's worth sharing a few times. This goes double, or triple, if you've written a post (on your own blog or someone else's), or been interviewed. I try to space tweets out with links to particular posts and send maybe 4 over 30 hours or so, at different times of the day, so that as many people as possible get a chance to see it. The other key thing here (tying into point 2 above) is that you shouldn't JUST be retweeting tweets about your own books. If you see an interesting tweet, pass it on!

5. But don't retweet EVERYTHING - Especially not all at once. A dozen retweets in a row is incredibly annoying as it fills up your followers' feed. Also, please take the time to have a look at something before deciding whether to RT it - it can save potential embarrassment!

6. Sometimes, you need more than 140 characters to make a point - This doesn't mean you should send 4 tweets, or even worse, 6 or 8. Three is just about okay, I'd say (preferably numbered so people can see that they're connected) - if you can't fit it into 400 or so characters, I'd seriously consider blogging about it and just tweeting a link.

7. Don't worry about keeping up with everything - The best advice I've ever been given on Twitter personally is to treat it like a party. Load it up, take a look at what's going on, join in some conversations that are going on at the moment. Don't try and catch up with what was happening six hours ago - that way madness lies!

8. Apologise - You may still screw up. Being honest, lots of people do - in life as well as on Twitter. People will respect you if you apologise in this instance. (At least partly because apologies are so rare on the internet!)

9. Don't be a git - This was Laure Eve's advice. Hopefully the above 8 points will help you to avoid that, but it's probably a good idea to state it explicitly as well.

10. Don't respond to or retweet negative reviews - Seriously, it's worth saying twice.

Do you agree with these 10 (okay, 9) rules? Leave me a comment and let me know!

I previously wrote about this with the post To Tweet Or Not To Tweet, That Is The Question, while Zoe Marriott posted her own Five Simple Internet Rules For Writers also.

Many thanks to Laura of Sister Spooky and author Steve Vernon for taking a look at a draft of this post and providing advice.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Friday Feature: Interview with Jennie Wood


I'm thrilled to interview Jennie Wood, who wrote Flutter, one of my favourite graphic novels so far this year!



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

At a recent comic convention someone wearing a Rise Against t-shirt came up to me and asked what Flutter was about. After hearing the brief synopsis – it’s about a girl who shape-shifts into a boy to get the girl and the chaos that comes from pretending to be someone she’s not – Rise Against responded by saying, “That actually sounds like it doesn’t suck,” and bought a copy. That’s who I see when I close my eyes.


2. I described Flutter in my review as 'one of the most unique graphic novels I've read' - what would you say was the most unique graphic novel or comics you've read?

I always go back to Y: The Last Man. For me, it’s a classic example of authentic characters within a believable world and, therefore, anything is possible. The series is so wide in scope that it really brings home the endless possibilities of the format, just how much a graphic novel can do.

Fab pick - I'm only about halfway through the series as I get distracted far too easily, but it's an absolutely stunning book.


3. The art for Flutter is by the brilliant Jeff McComsey - how did the pair of you end up working together on it?

We were introduced through a mutual friend, Jorge Vega. I was taking a writing class at Boston’s Grub Street to flesh out Flutter. I’d written stuff in other formats, but not comics. Jorge taught the class and thought Jeff would be a great artist for Flutter. Jorge was completely right. From the very first sketches Jeff sent, he had a way of putting on paper exactly what I had in mind for Flutter.


4. One of the main themes of Flutter is identity and finding your place in the world. When did you first know you wanted to write comics?

The moment I picked up Y: The Last Man I knew I wanted to write comics and that Flutter had to be told in that format. I’d had the idea of Flutter for a while, but no format I had worked with seemed right for it. I wanted to show the shape-shifter so the novel format felt too static. When I tried to picture it as a film or TV show, all I could see were cheesy special effects. So when I read Y: The Last Man, I saw how I could show the story of Flutter as a graphic novel. I’d read comics all my life, but something just snapped into place while reading that series. And since then, I’ve been having a blast writing comics. I still write in other formats, but now, every time I work on a comic, it feels like coming home.


5. I notice looking at your website that you're at several conventions later this year - what's your favourite thing about appearing at conventions?

The sense of community at comic conventions just blows me away. There’s this shared love of comics and pop culture at conventions that is just unlike anything anywhere else. I grew up reading comics. Science fiction and comics provided a fictional world for me as a kid that made the real world bearable. And I feel like that shared appreciation for the fictional escape that comics provides is so present at conventions. I’ve been to writer’s conferences and other types of conventions, but no matter how great the organizers of those are, there’s always this sense of competition and desperation to get published or to be noticed. At a comic convention, it’s just a completely different vibe. Everyone is there to celebrate this beautiful fictional world that comics give us.


6. Would you consider writing for either of the 'Big Two' comic publishers? If so, which character would you most like to write for?

I think anyone who enjoys writing comics has to think about writing for the ‘Big Two’ at some point. There are so many great characters and I still believe there’s a lot of ground to cover. Of course, I’d love to tackle anything involving X-Men, but the character I’d most like to write for is the Hulk. I’m fascinated by the triggers that we have, that switch that gets flipped and sometimes it seems like it’s out of nowhere, but next thing you know, you’re in a full blown rage, losing your mind about something. I’d have a lot of fun exploring those triggers – internal, external, and emotional – with the Hulk.

I've never been a Hulk fan, but Waid's current run has absolutely blown me away - I'd love to see what you could do with him! And I'm a huge X-Men fan! Great picks.


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

I always listen to music when I write. And music was a huge influence on Flutter. All the chapters are named after songs. Saffron’s name comes from a song. The main thing I listen to when writing Flutter is Florence and the Machine. Their sound is so huge and dramatic, dark and romantic – a perfect match for Flutter.


8. If you could host a dinner party, which six characters, writers or artists would you invite to it?

I love this question! Wow. I feel like a kid in candy. Let’s have a theme dinner party and invite characters along with the artist or/and writer who created them. Number one on my list is Saga’s The Will because he’s my huge fictional boy crush right now. Love him. And let’s invite the artist who draws him, the extremely talented Fiona Staples. Of course, we must have Brian K. Vaughan. Hopefully The Will won’t still be too upset at them for what they did to his love, The Stalk. Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim is a must have because she’s my all-time crush in comics. And if she’s “played by” Mary Elizabeth Winstead at the party like she is in the film, well, that will make this the most amazing dinner party ever. We’ll have Ramona’s creator Bryan Lee O’Malley there as well. Finally, let’s invite Lois Lane because what’s a party without someone to write about it?

Fab picks! Saga is on my list of books to read when I get round to it. Vaughan's one of my favourite people in comics, so would be great to have him there. 


9. What comics or graphic novels are you reading at the moment?

I’m loving Gail Simone’s The Movement. I can’t wait to see where she takes it. And I’m really enjoying the “all-girl” X-men by Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel.

Haven't read either yet but looking forward to getting my hands on both of them fairly soon.


10. What's next for Jennie Wood
I recently finished my first YA novel, A Boy Like Me. Now I’m working on a new graphic novel with my writing partner, Kelly Ford. It’s about a woman who was frozen before an epidemic and now she must find her lover, the one person who can stop the virus from infecting her. And more Flutter is on the way, too!

Sounds fantastic! Can't wait to read them both.


Jennie Wood can be found online at her website and on Twitter. If you like the sound of Flutter, you can read a free preview on publishers 215 Ink's website!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Invisible Girl by Kate Maryon



Twelve-year-old Gabriella Midwinter has ended up lost and alone. After her father and his new fiancee moved away, she was meant to go and stay with her mum. But her memories of her mum are so bad, that she's desperate enough to run away. Taken under the wing of a more experienced girl, Gabriella is forced to try and work out what she's willing to do in order to survive. Can she find her older brother Beckett, who she hasn't seen for years, and find a home with him?

I thought that this was a well-plotted and well-written story which didn't quite live up to expectations as I wasn't particuarly keen on Gabriella as a narrator. I sympathised with her for being in a dreadful situation - and for having such completely horrendous parents - but never found her to be all that interesting, to be honest. Similarly most of the other children are also a little on the bland side.

Having said that, Maryon deserves credit for creating adult characters who are completely vile but still believable. I also found her writing style to be easy to read and think it's really good to see a story written about a topic like this.

I'd be happy to recommend this to older tweens and younger teens looking for a thoughtful read.

Fellow Bookbag reviewer Anne really enjoyed this one - check out her review here for a second opinion.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Monday Musings: Regular Kid Books Don't Exist - And Never Have Done


I Was Wrong - There's No Such Thing As 'Regular Kid Lit'

At the start of the weekend, I wrote a post on YA Contemporary in response to Hillary Busis's EW article bemoaning the lack of 'regular kid' lit out there today. In it, I named a few dozen recent books that I thought fit in with what she meant by the term. The more I think about it, though, the more I'm convinced that I got it wrong, and Busis was half-right.

There have hardly been any 'regular kid' books published in the last few decades.

Because there's no such thing as a 'regular kid'.


WHAT IS A REGULAR KID ANYWAY?

I mean, let's look at this. Busis praises Davey Wexler, lead character of Tiger Eyes, for her "essential ordinariness". "Nothing about her life is sensationalized, not even the bloody holdup that abruptly robs her of her father," according to the article. I'll admit I haven't read Tiger Eyes, but as a long-time Judy Blume fan, I'll take Busis's word for it. But a 'bloody holdup' that leaves Davey without her father? Sounds like pretty 'tough stuff' to me. Is a book like Sarah Skilton's Bruised, about a girl who's at the scene of an armed robbery, so far away from that that it's not classed as 'regular kid' lit when Tiger Eyes is? You don't need to have been caught up in a violent crime to appreciate Bruised as a stunning story for the way that it tackles identity, responsibility, friendship, family and bullying.


REGULAR KID vs REGULAR SITUATION

When I read Busis's article I took it to mean children and teens in situations which a reasonably large number of readers may find themselves in at some point in their life. 'Regular' and 'ordinary' as descriptions, though, seem to underplay just how interesting these characters can be. Danielle in Carol Midgley's My Family and Other Freaks, Archie in the Geekhood series, and Lucy and Ed in Graffiti Moon are in what I'd call 'regular situations'.  Older examples from authors Busis refers to that fit the bill would be Kendra in Paula Danziger's Remember Me To Harold Square, Margaret in Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and Gary in Louis Sachar's Dogs Don't Tell Jokes.

So, are any of these characters 'regular'? Surely not. They're all highly individual and wonderful in their own way. So, though, are a whole heap of characters from books which involve more unusual situations.


ARE THEY 'ISSUE BOOKS'?

Take The Fault In Our Stars, which Busis refers to as 'a highly stylized novel detailing a doomed romance between two cancer-stricken teenagers.' This is a fair enough description, and it's undoubtedly not an easy read. However to describe TFIOS as an 'issue book' is missing the point. Yes, the vast majority of readers, thankfully, will not be suffering from a terminal illness. Hopefully, though, reading a book like this can help them to empathise with those people who are. As well, the book's themes of love, loss, family and identity are ones that teens and adults can all relate to.

I think this is perhaps the key, and where Busis underestimates some of today's writers badly. I've certainly read some novels in the past I'd probably think 'issue books' was a fair description for. In these, a novel focuses strongly on a particular issue to preach a point of view. Characters tend to be flat and plot wafer-thin. Much of today's YA and MG fiction, though, tackles hard-hitting topics without ever being solely about them. Consider Second Chance Summer, by Morgan Matson. A weepie about a girl whose father is dying, it looks at forgiveness, grief, family and rebuilding relationships. To reduce that to the description of an 'issue book' doesn't come close to capturing the book's incredible spirit.

The list of books with decidedly irregular situations but themes which can touch all of us could go on and on. A few other examples.


  • Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt - Girl disfigured in a car accident falls for a New Age traveller. Themes - disfigurement, prejudice, mental illness, recovering from tragedy, beauty, friendship, loyalty
  • You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett - Girl group enter a TV talent contest and are told they can progress only if they drop one of their members. Themes - friendship, loyalty, difficult choices, body image, cyber-bullying, media manipulation.
  • When I Was Joe trilogy by Keren David - A boy moves into a Witness Protection scheme after seeing a stabbing. Can he build a new life for himself and avoid the people out to silence him? Themes - identity, family, secrets, self-harm, romance, loyalty.
  • Wonder by RJ Palacio - Born with a terrible facial abnormality - "Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." - Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. But can someone who looks like him ever fit in? Themes - appearance, tolerance, friendship, bullying, honesty, courage.
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - Two girls try to help the Allies in World War II, but one gets caught by Nazis. Themes - friendship, loyalty, patriotism, courage, romance, platonic love, family.
  • A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master - A young boy in 1947 India tries to stop his dying father from hearing about the news of Partition. Themes - coming-of-age, family, honesty, white lies, religious tolerance.
  • Heroic by Phil Earle - Two brothers look out for each other as they grow up on a notoriously rough estate - until one joins the army. How will things change when he returns? Themes - sibling rivalry, friendship, loyalty, PTSD.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher - A teen receives a set of tapes from a classmate who killed herself. Themes - guilt, choices, responsibility, bullying, 


All of the books above feature characters who don't have superpowers, aren't magical, and aren't living in a fantasy world or a dystopian society. (Although check back next week for my thoughts on some of those kids who do have superpowers, or are from another world, and how they often have a lot to say to readers too!)

The contemporary ones, in particular, seem to get labelled by some reviewers as 'issue books'. As you can see from the list of themes, though, however unfamiliar the situation, there are a huge amount of talented authors out there who can bring it to life and also bring in themes which all readers will be familiar with.

What do you think of the terms 'regular kid' books and 'issue books'? Do you relate to characters in books dealing with difficult topics differently from those dealing with more everyday life? Which authors do a fantastic job of creating compelling characters?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Sunday Spotlight: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

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. 




As far as she knows, Cassie could be the last human on Earth. Surely, she's one of the last few. After the first four waves of the Others - mysterious aliens who appeared and quickly laid waste to humanity - it's impossible for her to trust anyone she meets. Can she ever find the strength to rescue her kid brother?
I'm not a sci-fi fan at all, but picked this up because Yancey's Monstrumologist series is one of my favourites of recent years so I thought it was worth giving it a go. Thankfully, my gamble paid off, with Yancey providing us with an epic, and brutal, story full of thrills and huge moments, as well as some big twists - some of which I saw coming, but others which took me totally by surprise. It's an difficult read at times, especially when we see the lengths to which young children are pushed, but it's never less than completely gripping.
Yancey has always built tension really well, and this is definitely no exception - a couple of the later scenes, in particular, being nearly unbearable to read! There's an interesting romance - it's one I'd normally be annoyed at as it's veering towards the dreaded 'insta-love', but it earns a pass from me because the creation of this terrible world where every moment could be her last makes it easy to see why Cassie is quick to fall for somebody who shows her affection. The changing points of view also really add to the book - after a one page prologue, it's split into thirteen sections, alternating between several characters' points of view. These sections are mainly told in first person - by Cassie and others - although part of the story's in third. (I'm trying to be as unspecific as possible there, by the way, as it's definitely a book you don't want to read spoilers for!)
The minor problem I had with it is similar to the one I had with the first in Yancey's Monstrumologist series - it feels too long. In fairness, it's not an issue to the same degree as that one was, but I do think that at 50 - 100 pages shorter this could have been a masterpiece, rather than just very, very good. Having said that, the Monstrumologist has got better and better as the series progresses - with theIsle of Blood being even longer than this, but absolutely impossible to put down so I'm hoping this will too. If it improves from a starting point as high as this, then it has a fair chance of being one of the best series for quite some time.
Highly recommended!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Sheena Wilkinson

Sheena Wilkinson, author of TAKING FLIGHT, GROUNDED and TOO MANY PONIES, is an author I've been meaning to read ever since her FRIENDS IN THE FOURTH was published by Bettany Press. I was thrilled to get the chance to interview her!


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

I don't really do that. I close my eyes and see my characters. Obviously, I am more aware of a readership now that I have had several books out, but I think my duty is to the characters and story -- if I get them right, they'll find the right readers. Like all writers, at some level I am writing the book I want to read.


2. Your novels so far have all involved ponies - are you a keen rider yourself?

I was a horse owner for about ten years, until recently, but my pony and I parted company at Easter. I've actually written a lot NOT about horses, but -- so far -- the horsey ones are the ones that sold! There are lots of other things I want to write about and my new novel (work in progress) has no horses at all.


3. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I was an obsessive reader as a child -- still am. And as soon as I realised that you could write your own stories down I started doing so. I think the whole world of books was just one I wanted to enter on as many levels as I could. It was always my dream to be a 'real' writer.

4. In addition to your novels, you've written several short stories - including several award-winning ones. What are some of your favourite shorts by other authors?

This is a terrible confession -- I love writing short stories but I don't read as many as I should. I like to get really involved in something which is why I prefer novels. That said, I absolutely love Katherine Mansfield for her subtlety and deftness.


5. As well as your fiction, you've also written a book, Friends in the Fourth, published by the wonderful Bettany Press, about girls' school and college friendships in 20th century British fiction. Who are your favourite fictional friends?

What a great question! How long have you got? That's a good way to put it, too, because for me in reading and writing it's so much about the people. I could give you a very long list of the characters I think of as friends, but to pick out a few besties -- Jo March, Elizabeth Bennett, lots of the Chalet School girls; the Swallows and Amazons, Petrova Fossil, the Marlows (in Antonia Forest's amazing books) -- and then there's the boys --- KM Peyton's the go-to woman for writing boys I had crushes on as a teenage readers. Poor old real-life boys didn't stand a chance.

Some fab picks there! I love the Chalet School and Swallows and Amazons books, as well as Jo March and Petrova Fossil. AF is one of the few 'big name' GO authors I've never read, definitely need to get round to it sometime!


6. On that note, which children's stories of the 20th century would you recommend to a modern reader? (I loved several series when growing up myself but tend to think some have held up a lot better than others.)

Another great question. I'm a big fan of school stories, but I think today's children might not respond to them in quite the same way. Ditto Swallows and Amazons. KM Peyton -- again -- hasn't dated, and I'd recommend her books about Ruth, Jonathan, Peter, Pennington, etc. to anyone, as well of course as Flambards. Wonderful characters, stories and writing.

Agree that in many cases the school stories aren't quite the same for today's readers. I read Flambards recently and absolutely loved it, fab pick!


7. You recently won both the CBI Book of the Year and Children's Choice awards for Grounded, to add to the 2 CBI Awards you won for Taking Flight - congratulations! When you started writing, did you ever expect your books to be as well-received as they have been?

Thanks! I was thrilled to win the Book of the Year this year, because after Taking Flight did so well I was worried about the whole difficult second novel syndrome. I didn't want to be seen as a one-trick pony! I felt myself that Grounded was a strong book, but you never do know how readers will respond. Awards don't make you a better writer, but they do make people notice you more, and being published by a small (and wonderful) Irish publisher, I need all the attention I can get! It's been a long apprenticeship for me, and I'm now grateful for that, because I get to look like an overnight success when in fact I've been practising in secret for years. Heh heh.


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

I'd ask Shakespeare how on earth he managed to have such profound insights into so many areas of human nature, but he probbaly wouldn't be able to answer. 

9. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, can you share the soundtrack to one of your books?

I love music, and I'm a singer, but on the whole I don't listen much when I am actually writing -- I find it distracting. If I do take a notion for listening, I find that music which meant a lot to me as a teenager helps get me into the right frame of mind for my teen characters, even though it's very far from what they'd listen to themselves. So -- The Smiths, Big Country, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen -- all very retro!

Very retro but very cool, I love Bowie! And my parents are going to see Cohen later this year, hugely jealous of them!


10. What's next for Sheena Wilkinson?

I've been fortunate enough to have been awarded a Major Award from the Northern Ireland Arts Council, which will allow me to take at least a year off my teaching job to write -- and meet readers -- full time. I am so excited because for the last two years I have written books back-to-back while teaching 36 classes a week and I am knackered! My new novel, Too Many Ponies, for 8-12s, came out recently, and I am writing another YA -- very psychological and hopefully very mysterious, but firmly in the real, gritty contemporary world I love to write about it. And I have an idea for the one after that....

If I wasn't in awe of you for being an author before, I definitely would be for doing it while teaching that many classes! Looking forward to your new YA, which sounds fab!

Very best of wishes for the future, Sheena - thanks so much for taking part.


Sheena can be contacted on Twitter. Her books are published by the brilliant Little Island.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of The School For Good And Evil by Soman Chainani


(Note: The publishers provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.)


Every four years, two children disappear from Gavaldon village. According to legend, one goes to the School for Good to become a fairytale hero, the other to the School for Evil where they turn into a villain. Beautiful Sophie is desperate to be chosen for the School for Good, while crotchety Agatha seems a natural fit for the School for Evil. Both girls are picked - but they're put in the wrong schools. Aren't they?

I thought this was an intriguing idea for a children's book and there's no doubt that debut novelist Soman Chainani has done a good job of world-building and plotting here. Agatha is a brilliant character, with Sophie not far behind, and I enjoyed reading about their adventures as they tried to cope with being in the 'wrong' school. I really enjoyed the interaction between the pair, and thought there were some interesting supporting characters as well. It also had a love triangle which I quite enjoyed. (Regular readers of my reviews will know that's rather rarer than actually meeting a fairy-tale character in real life!)

That said, it's not without its flaws. For a start, it's about 50% longer than it needs to be. Much of the book is fairly repetitive and at not far short of 500 pages it seems to overstay its welcome somewhat. Despite this, it's also got an ending which seems somewhat rushed. On the plus side, though, it's a clever conclusion which brings a real sense of closure to this adventure - and when I seem to spend a fair amount of time complaining about endings which aren't remotely satisfying, it's nice to be able to give a book credit for knowing the perfect place to stop.

Not quite as good as I was expecting it to be after the world-building got me hooked quickly, but it's still definitely worth a read if you're looking for a clever, funny fantasy tale. I'll certainly be on board for the next book in the trilogy!

Oh, one last thing - I love the cover; one of my favourites of the year so far. The manga-style characters capture both of the leads perfectly!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Monday Musings: On Being Spoiled, and Reviewing Difficulties


I'm a huge fan of Game of Thrones and am devouring the TV series - I haven't actually read the books yet, simply because I have no patience and given the speed at which they're being published I'd rather wait until all of them are available and set aside a month or so to get through them!

Many of the people I follow on Twitter are also huge Game of Thrones fans, so my timeline exploded on Sunday night as I kept seeing messages along the lines of "ARGH! Can't believe that just happened in #GoT!" However, since everyone I follow on Twitter is an awesome and thoughtful person, the tweets I read were blessedly free of any specific spoilers.

I know that not everyone was this lucky - and over here in the UK, we had an added problem as free newspaper Metro decided to plaster a huge picture of the climactic scene on page 3, along with a headline and story that gave away major details of the episode just 30 hours or so after it had aired on Sky Atlantic, without any spoiler warning. I'd seen the episode on Tuesday night (thank you Sky+!), and thankfully several kind people took to Twitter to tell fans to avoid that page until after the episode (or even better, avoid the entire paper completely for good!), but would have been extremely annoyed if it had caught me by surprise.

It did get me thinking "What's so bad about spoilers?" I’ve seen the point of view expressed before that if a spoiler stops you enjoying a novel, movie or TV programme, it must be a sign that the thing in questions wasn’t that good to begin with. I can see where people who hold this opinion are coming from – the best novels definitely hold up to multiple readings – but I’d strongly disagree.

Yes, really good books and movies, and the like, can be read/seen/etc more than once (I think my record is perhaps 10 times for watching Casablanca and a dozen times each for reading The Great Gatsby and Three Men In A Boat.) The experience in reading or watching something without knowing what happens, though, is completely different from the one you get when you do know. Is it a better experience? That depends, to be honest. I think Hayley Long’s What’s Up With Jody Barton?, for example, is one example of a story that’s a better read the second time around when you can fully appreciate just how clever a book it is.

The key thing, though, is choice. I chose to read Jody Barton again almost immediately after I'd finished it because I wanted to see what it was like knowing everything about the book. What really frustrates me about spoilers is they take away that choice - once you’ve seen them, there’s no way you can ever get that 'unspoiled' experience for that book. If you think the book's better when you know what's happening, that's fine - you can always reread it again. But if the magic lay at least partly in not knowing what's coming - and for me, it usually does - that's one experience you just can't have for that book. (Or film, TV series, or whatever else.)

Of course, because I get so upset about spoilers myself, I try my hardest to avoid giving anything important away when reviewing a book. Sometimes - particularly in cases like You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett and The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. They're two of my favourites of the year so far but I think both are best read knowing as little as possible about them. This leads to me having to say things like "I've tried about sixteen different ways of describing this one, but any comparison I make - except perhaps for The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald - clearly a major influence - seems to be too close to giving something away" about Rindell's Jazz Age tale. Is that enough to get someone interested? I'm not sure - part of me thinks I should risk spoiling it at least slightly (most other reviews have gone into significantly more details that I have) in order to make a stronger recommendation, but I was so enchanted by it that I can't bring myself to stop anyone else from having that same experience.

As a general rule, when reviewing, I try to give away less than the first 20% of the book, and less than the blurb. That does occasionally get broken - The Girl Savage by Katherine Rundell was one such as the story doesn't really seem to get started until halfway through. All in all, though, I think it's generally a good enough point to provide enough information without damaging people's enjoyment too much.

What do you think? Do you get annoyed by spoilers? How do you deal with spoilers when you're reviewing? Feel free to comment.

Just, PLEASE, don't spoil anything for people who haven't read/seen it!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Heroic by Phil Earle

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.

Jammy and Sonny McGann are brothers from the notorious Ghost estate. They and their friends are always there for each other - and with the drugs and violence that dominate the place where they live, they need to be. In particular, Sonny needs his older brother to keep an eye out for him and make the plans for their group. Then Jammy and his mate Tommo join the army and go off to Afghanistan, and Sonny's left to hold the fort at home. With his brother no longer there to look after him, can Sonny keep it together? And when Jammy returns, how will things change?
Phil Earle is making a name for himself as one of the grittiest writers of teen fiction out there today, and this is no exception. For the first part of the book, we go back and forth between scenes on the Ghost estate as Sonny runs into problems with a local gang and has to hide from the police, and scenes in Afghanistan as Jammy tries to cope with going to war. All of this is compelling reading and the two narrators have strong voices which really drew me into their stories. Each of their stories also benefits from good supporting characters, especially Sonny's girlfriend Cam - Tommo's sister - and Tommo himself and more experienced solider Giffer. In addition, both strands of the story are well-plotted and completely believable, in particular the incredibly tense parts as Jammy and Tommo go house to house searching for explosives and weapons.
The book falters ever so slightly at around the halfway point, where Jammy returns home. While the portrayal of Jammy is superb, and extremely harrowing, Sonny seems to become less interesting, spending too much time repetitively whining about how everyone prefers his older brother. However, Earle gets things back on track fairly quickly, and gives us a stunning climax which makes this one a definite recommendation.
Phil was kind enough to talk to me about the cover for Heroic - check it out here.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Friday Feature: Blogger Interview with Laura of Sister Spooky

Really pleased to present my first blogger interview for a while, with the wonderful Laura from Sister Spooky! A huge thanks to Laura for taking part in this.


1. Tell us a bit about yourself - what do you do aside from reading and blogging?

I work in a chocolate and sweet shop, I've just started learning to play the guitar and like to express my artsy crafty side from time to time and currently that's via miniature painting. 


2. I'm absolutely loving Geek Week! What's the geekiest thing you've ever done?

Oh My! That's a tough one.  It's either the time I went to my first ever convention for a weekend, alone (A Firefly con since you asked) and was so afraid I'd be silent the whole time because I was there solo but some lovely Northern girls and Aussies took me under their wing and we had an amazing time!  Either that or the time I camped out all night for a My Chemical Romance gig in Hammersmith in the pouring rain.  Over 24 hours but I got right to the front so it was worth it.


WOW! MCR sounds fab! 


3. One of my favourite reads of the year so far is Sophia Bennett's You Don't Know Me, which I know you really enjoyed as well. I was thrilled to see Sophia Bennett's awesome playlist for the book on your blog. What's your favourite song from that playlist?

hmmmm

*goes and checks out the playlist again*

Wayward Daughter: You Lost Your Place

Beautifully simple and heart breaking.




4. What's your favourite genre to read?

It changes over time but currently I've been drawn to Contemporary books and on the flip side a lot of sci fi and fantasy novels.  Way off Paranormal romances at the moment but time may change that!


Yay for contemporary!


5. I'm still grateful to you for cheering up my readers over on YA Contemporary last year when you followed my ever-so-slightly depressing theme week on The Evil That Men And Women Do with a brilliant post on Funny YA Contemporary books. What's the funniest book you've read so far this year?


If I'm honest, it would be Geekhood Mission Improbable by Andy Robb.  I must sound like a broken record now but it really stood up to the first book and still hit all those high marks that it set.  Andy Robb must tap into my mind because he knows how to make me laugh!  Close second is Goblins vs Dwarves by Philip Reeve.

Fab choice - which might be mine, as well!


6. I'd hope that most of my readers will take a look at Sister Spooky when they finish reading this interview. Is there a post you're particularly proud of that you'd like to direct them towards?

I've written so many blogs but the ones that really stick out are because of the responses I've had from them or how personal they were for me.

The review I'm most proud of is for The Perks of Being A Wallflower because I had SUCH an amazing response to it from a wide variety of people.  My favourite blogger/event post was my first in-person author interview with Andy Robb that was so big I had to split into two posts. I had THE best time. (Note from Jim - Check out part 1 and part 2!)

I have written very personal posts too that have always shocked me at the responses they've received.  I had some personal things going on last year and felt like I had to let the blog become lower on my priorities and I was sent hugs, long emails with advice and tweets and texts from authors, agents, publishers, bloggers and readers.

I love all of the amazing Andy Robb stuff! Still jealous that you've met him as I really wanted to at Hay but I was feeling too lousy to actually make it up there last week.


7. I'm in awe of how productive you are on your blog - I think it's a good week if I get 3 or 4 posts up, while you weren't far off a post a day last year! What tips could you give to bloggers like me to improve our productivity?

HA! Don't have much of a social life perhaps?  Well I think I just try and aim to have posts spread out over a week but don't let yourself get to worked up if you don't cover every day.  I like to have at least one review up out of 3 or 4 posts over the week as a whole.  I've recently REALLY cut back on the sort of posts I do so there will be fewer on my blog but I hope that old "quality not quantity" thing works out. 

Best tips are to try and have a rough schedule if you can, spread posts out over a week and it seems fuller (great illusion) and make a note of news and points of interests to read later because they may make a great posts.

Fab tips - thank you! I really need to make better notes of stuff as I quite often have an idea for what I think would be a good post but forget about it...



8. What's your favourite thing about blogging, and is there anything you don't like?

Favourite thing is the community of like-minded people.  It's like a family and we really band together and have a genuine passion for writing, publishing and books in the UK.

Things I don't like…. there are many but sometimes it can feel like your hard efforts aren't appreciated for what they are.  I've felt like a bit of a marketing tool sometimes and "used" for the potential audience I can provide.  I don't claim to speak for every blogger or that I'm some big shot in the blogging world but I feel like bloggers are seen VERY differently by authors, other bloggers and the publishers.

Agree there, at least to a point - I LOVE most people involved in the world of YA books, but the criticism of bloggers as 'unprofessional' by one author last week made me fume, for example.



9. Is there anything you wish you'd known about blogging when you first started?

SO MUCH!

I had no idea about how it worked, how to manage a blog, how other bloggers fit it all in with their daily lives and how the relationships between publishers/authors and bloggers work. 

Main thing to know is DO NOT do it for the free books.  It really REALLY is not what it is about.  Be prepared to read some things you may not like as much as your favourite-books-ever because books vary so much.  Be prepared to do the work and plan ahead.

Most of all: Just Be Honest.  Don't be rude but be truthful when it comes to your thoughts.  It's YOUR blog and should reflect you as well as the books you read.


10. Do you think you'll still be blogging in a few years time?

Honestly…. I hope I will but I very much doubt I'll be blogging as much as I do and in the same way as I do now.  Blogging has changed hugely even since I started and either I'd have to change how I blog and how I think of blogging or I'll give up.  I don't want to change my blog but I can see that I may eventually make it more general and more focused on discussion posts etc.  I'd love to be more brutally honest sometimes but you have to find a balance.

A huge thanks for taking part in this interview, Laura - it was fab talking to you!