Friday, 28 February 2014

Celebrating 600 Posts: Six Top Sixes (and a giveaway!)

So, here they are - six top 6s from me to celebrate my 600th post; the very best books I've read since I started blogging at the end of December 2010. This has been really difficult to do (apart from anything else I keep changing my mind whether I mean 'YA contemporary debuts', including authors who've written non-contemporary books before, or just limiting it to complete debuts, which is what I ended up going for. (People who entered my competition on Twitter, this choice DIDN'T affect the results; the same person would've won either way.)

Scroll to the bottom of the page to enter my other competition, by the way.

YA Contemporary Debuts

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Far From You by Tess Sharpe
Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt
In Bloom by Matthew Crow
Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry

The Sky Is Everywhere was the most emotional book I'd ever read at the time of reading; it recently got knocked off that spot by Tess Sharpe's stunning Far From You, which has a great chance of being my book of the year after it left me crying for six hours. Overall, though, The Sky Is Everywhere is still my favourite read of the last decade; it's wonderfully written and also a work of art to look at, with the photos of poems scattered throughout the book making it stand out.

I love a road trip and Amy and Roger's Epic Detour is perhaps the best I've ever read, it's another one which is gorgeous to look at thanks to its scrapbook style, which complements the writing perfectly. Katie McGarry's Pushing The Limits is a brilliant read with stunning chemistry between the two leads and a cast of characters who all feel perfectly realised.

The two outstanding debuts of UKYA authors in the past few years, for me - beating off some strong competition from Non Pratt's Trouble, Keren David's When I Was Joe, and several others - are Laura Jarratt's fantastic dual narrative Skin Deep, featuring one of my all-time favourite couples and looking at a wealth of difficult topics, and Matthew Crow's In Bloom. I keep getting worried I'm over-hyping books so probably shouldn't tell you that this is a bit like The Fault In Our Stars, but better. (But it is!)

I ran a competition on Twitter to see who could guess closest to my top 6; it was really difficult - partly because of the confusion over whether they had to be complete debuts or just contemporary ones, with nearly everyone going for Candy Harper's Have A Little Faith, actually my second book. No-one got more than 2 right (to be fair I was impressed anyone got two!); however @secretlyzuzana of It Was Lovely Reading You won on a tie-break as she chose both my two absolute favourites - well done! I'll be in touch about the prize...

YA Contemps Non-Debuts

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
Crash Into You by Katie McGarry
Have A Little Faith by Candy Harper

Leila Sales's This Song Will Save Your Life caused great embarassment to me when I read it last year; I stopped crying for long enough to moan at people I'm following on Twitter for not telling me how AMAZING it was, then I found out that nearly everyone I'm following HAD said how brilliant it was, I just wasn't reading their tweets enough. Apologies again, all, I should've known a book like this wouldn't go under your collective radar. Looking at my YA Contemporary spreadsheet the one book which has got even more unanimous praise out of last year's releases is Sophia Bennett's stunning You Don't Know Me. This was the one that inspired me to write my first Ten Reasons Why post last week as I'd already reviewed it but there was so much more I wanted to say about how incredible it was.

Morgan Matson followed up Amy and Roger's Epic Detour with another which is in my top 10 YA novels of all-time, the tearjerker Second Chance Summer. This story about Taylor and her family returning to the scene of happy childhood holidays to spend one last summer together as her dad is dying hit me like a sledgehammer. The only other author to have books in both these contemporary top 6s is Katie McGarry, whose Crash Into You may be ever so slightly better than Pushing The Limits. It takes PTL supporting character Isaiah and focuses on his relationship with rich girl Rachel, reintroduces us to brilliant characters met in PTL and Dare You To, and brings in several other wonderful ones.

I love dual narratives done well, and McGarry is one of the best at writing them. One of my all-time favourites though, is Cath Crowley's beautifully lyrical Graffiti Moon, which sees a romance develop between two teens over the course of one night as they look for a mysterious graffiti artist. Possibly the best writing in any book I've read over the last few years; Crowley's style is beyond gorgeous.

Candy Harper's Have A Little Faith is so good I bought it ten times; I'm giving copies to everyone I can. It is a stunningly funny read which had me in stitches all the way through both when I first read it and when I reread it. I think there's a tendency to not give light, humourous reads as much acclaim as those dealing with darker subjects; this deserves its place up there with the very best of YA.

YA/Adult SFF series

The Dagger and The Coin by Daniel Abraham
Wereworld by Curtis Jobling
GONE by Michael Grant
Department 19 by Will Hill
Micah Grey series by Laura Lam
Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey

I slipped one adult book into the YA celebration - book 4 in the Dagger and the Coin sequence is the only adult novel to be on my 'top ten most wanted of 2014' - but it's right at the top. Daniel Abraham has created a cast of hugely compelling characters and with brilliant world-building as well, this is a must-read.

Speaking of compelling characters, Curtis Jobling and Michael Grant are the masters of stunning character arcs developing over numerous books. Wereworld's Hector, Gretchen and Trent, and GONE's Albert, Caine and Breeze are six of the best characters I've ever read about, while others in both series are all wonderful as well. These two are gripping series which you simply have to read if you haven't already.

With those two coming to a close last year, the two SFF series I'm desperately anticipating more from are Will Hill's Department 19 - which shows just how incredible a book you can write by mixing classic characters like Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster with your own brilliant ones - and Laura Lam's Micah Grey series. Pantomime and Shadowplay are superb novels and it's great to see an intersex character taking centre stage. The recent news that Laura is releasing short stories set in her fabulous world of Ellada is hugely exciting.

Rick Yancey's The Monstrumologist is a series I still haven't finished because I'm just not ready to leave his outstanding characters yet. The title character Pellinore Warthrop is one of the greatest recent creations I've read, and his writing gets better and better throughout the series. The third, The Isle of Blood, is an absolute masterpiece.

YA Historical

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Things We Did For Love by Natasha Farrant
Love in Revolution by BR Collins
Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Flappers series by Jillian Larkin

Code Name Verity and The Things We Did For Love are utterly heartbreaking stories about World War II. I made the mistake of reading them both in one weekend, and was left with a book hangover which lasted for months as nothing came close to them. (Oh, and with about six empty boxes of tissues!)

Lesbian romances Love in Revolution and Silhoutte of a Sparrow are completely gorgeous books with brilliant central relationships; I don't think SoaS is out over here yet but it's amazing and well worth getting an import if you can. (I grabbed one from Foyles Charing Cross Road!) The 1920s is my favourite period of history to read about and there have been loads of recent releases that capture the age superbly. Silhouette is one, while Jillian Larkin's Flappers trilogy is another. All three title characters in this wonderful series are fabulously written, while Larkin brings the Prohibition era to life fantastically.

Rooftoppers is my pick for the Carnegie because it feels like a classic novel already. It's beautifully written and has wonderful characters; I can't wait to read more from Rundell.


Kat Stephenson series by Stephanie Burgis
Life According To Alice B Lovely by Karen McCombie
Tarzan series by Andy Briggs
Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Billie Templar's War by Ellie Irving
Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

Stephanie Burgis's Kat Stephenson trilogy is one of my all-time favourite series, with arguably the finest heroine of the last decade and a bunch of other great characters. It's funny, it's clever, it's tense, and it's either perfect or incredibly close to it.

Karen McCombie is possibly the most consistently awesome author of recent years, with everything she releases being very good to superb. Alice B Lovely, a story about a teenage girl becoming a nanny, is her very very best.

Andy Briggs has brought Tarzan crashing into the modern world with a wonderful update of the series, memorable for the pro-environmental message, the action which fills the books, but most of all the brilliant character of Jane, one of the best heroines of recent times.

Eight Keys is a stunning novel with every character fabulously portrayed; it's also a real tearjerker (and little for this age range normally makes me cry!)

Ellie Irving's debut For The Record was really good but Billie Templar's War, which sees a young girl plan to bring her soldier father home from Afghanistan, is even better. Billie, a sometimes unlikeable but always brilliantly-portrayed, is a wonderful character.

Mark Goldblatt's Twerp is another which I'm not sure has been released over here yet but is absolutely amazing. It's about a young boy growing up in 1960s New York, and brings the setting to life fabulously. One of my favourite coming-of-age tales for a long, long time.

Sites/People Who Are Going To Bankrupt Me (There are LOADS of great blogs out there giving fabulous reviews, these are ones where my tastes tend to line up very closely.)

The Bookbag - When I started reviewing for the Bookbag, I thought getting some books in exchange for reviews would be a good way of saving money. Then I started reading other reviewers there and quickly realised I'd never have any spare money again. Sue, Jill, Linda, John, Anne are probably the five I have most similar tastes to.

Stacked Books - Stacked Books's book lists are outstanding. I was about to try and find a particularly good one, but I'm just heading into London and it's perhaps not the greatest idea to check them out just before going to several bookshops as I already bought too much yesterday!

Dahlia Adler - I've now started saying "NOT TOO MANY" whenever I ask Dahlia for recommendations because it's too tempting to buy ALL of them. She has incredible taste in books; I can't wait to read her debut, Behind The Scenes!

Nayu's Reading Corner - It's much easier to find recs for great YA than for great MG, but Nayu has stunning tastes and covers lots of books for younger readers as well as teens.

Did You Ever Stop To Think And Forget To Start Again? - I always thought I was fairly knowledgeable about Girls' Own, but @chaletfan keeps telling me about amazing books from decades ago that I've never read. This leads to me trawling second-hand bookshops whenever possible!

Project UKYA - Part of me wishes #UKYAchat happened every week, but could ANYONE's bank balance take it? Last night we got recommendations from tons of great bloggers and authors, including Phil Earle, Alexia Casale, James Dawson and MALORIE BLACKMAN - wow!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Classic Childrens/YA - The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford by Chiara from Books, Teens and Magazines

Really pleased to welcome Chiara from Books Teens and Magazines to the blog for Classic Childrens/YA today!

Availability - available as a vintage classic so can be found at main book retailers

The premise - three animals - a Siamese cat, a Labrador and a bull terrier are determined to return to their home. They undertake a journey across the Canadian wilderness, suffering many hardships to rejoin their owners. It is a tale of adventure, danger, courage, friendship and loyalty.

Why I really like it - for me, books that I love are often very representative of what I was going through in my life at the time I read them. I read The Incredible Journey when my family had had to relocate from Geneva, where I had lived very happily for four years, to Malta. It was a huge wrench and the consolation for me was that I got to have a pet - a Siamese cat. Before we left Geneva, we had been learning about Canada in geography at my international school (Winnipeg has been stuck in my mind since then) and so this book combined many things that were familiar to me or meant a lot to me.

I loved the way the animals were such individual characters, each with their own strength and weakness and I understood their need to find their home. I lived the journey with them, and I worried about how the book would end. It was an adventure, but so different from the ones I usually read because this was about animals and real life dangers (I had been a big reader of Enid Blyton). I was entranced and excited by the book in equal measure.

Who it will appeal to - the problem with classics is that they may appear dated to today's youth. However, because the book is about animals and the wilderness there is less danger of this. The book is more suited to the 8 to 12 age range and will appeal, in particular, to animal lovers.

Others by the same author - this was by far her most famous book although other titles include Bel Ria: Dog of War and a book about her adventures in Canada, One Woman's Arctic.

I was born in Malta and grew up in Libya and Switzerland. At 16 I came to England to take my A levels and I went on to study Law and French Law at the LSE. I have worked as a retail banker in London and Hong Kong, an investment banker, a primary school teacher and a school librarian; picking up a number of qualifications along the way. I have three teenage boys, two dogs, three cats and a house full of books. I love reading and I love sharing my ideas about books with other people. I launched the Books Teens and Magazines website in November 2012 as a means of sharing information with teen readers and their families, teachers and librarians.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Why JKR (And Everyone Else) SHOULD Keep Writing Books

If you haven't seen the latest Twitter outrage, crime novelist Lynn Shepherd has just written a controversy-baiting article entitled If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It.   (Linked using Do Not Link to avoid rewarding clickbait tactics by increasing their pagerank. Thanks to bibliogato on Twitter for the tip!)

In it, she says to JKR "when it comes to the adult market you've had your turn." Apparently Rowling's success "sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere". Brilliantly, she also attacks adults reading YA, saying "I've never read a I can't comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent" before doing just that. "I did think it a shame that adults were reading them... mainly because there's so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds."

I'm not quite sure how you can judge how 'stimulating' something is without reading it, for a start. For me, I wouldn't say the Harry Potter books were the most 'stimulating' books I've ever read but they're more so than an awful lot of stuff out there (for kids, teens AND adults.) They raise points about love, compassion, bravery, forgiveness, and a whole host of other topics.

The other thing that really winds me up, though, is the thought that reading NEEDS to be stimulating. There are action thrillers (for adults and teens) that I don't personally find 'stimulating' but that I look forward to massively. Similarly with a few comic authors (again for teens and adults) that I enjoy; I may not necessarily find them massively thought-provoking but they can cheer me up when I'm down. Sometimes, you just want to kick back, relax, and enjoy a book.

The suggestion that any author has 'had their turn' is equally abhorrent to me. Given the current issues with bookshops and libraries closing - we're down to less than 1000 indie bookshops in the UK for the first time since records began - I think ANYONE who gets a whole heap of people reading is someone to be treasured. JKR has probably done more to get people reading than pretty much any recent author I can think of. (As a side note, this is one reason I find it hard to get too upset about celebrities getting publishing deals. Yes, they sometimes - although not always - result in books I don't enjoy and don't think would have got published without the author's name value. However they get people into bookshops and libraries who might not normally go there, and they help support publishers to allow them to bring out other books which may be more to my own tastes.)

At the same time, there are a few views floating around from people I generally agree with which are disturbing me a little bit as well. The suggestion that YA is necessarily 'worse' than adult fiction annoys the hell out of me, but the suggestion that it's necessarily 'better' doesn't actually do all that much more for me. Yes, there is a huge amount of great YA out there, but there's also a huge amount of great adult fiction. (I'll be honest, I focus so strongly on stuff I can review for the blog that I don't read anywhere near as much adult stuff, but having read The Other Typist, Chinaman, What The Day Owes The Night, and Daniel Abraham's Dagger and the Coin sequence in recent years and thinking all of them were incredible, you can't just dismiss stuff for adults.) Surely it's better to accept that different people find different books enjoyable?

Similarly, if you've read Lynn Shepherd's books and think they're dreadful, fair enough to pass comment on them. However to look down on her because she's writing 'fanfic' seems misguided to me, especially if you haven't read them. There are a ton of books, plays, films and musicals out there which could be described as 'fanfic', taking existing characters and building on them, which have become well known in their own right. Shakespeare wasn't the first person to write about Romeo and Juliet, Jean Rhys achieved huge success with Wide Sargasso Sea, Gregory Maguire's Oz spin-offs have legions of fans. For myself, I've loved dozens of Sherlock Holmes stories nearly as much as the originals (Tracy Revels is a massive recommendation as a wonderful author, while David Ruffle does an amazing job of capturing the relationship between Holmes and Watson.) I haven't been awake long enough to come up with anywhere near a full list of wonderful books I've read building on existing characters, but a handful of other recommendations. Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence is a majestic addition to the ranks of books including Arthurian characters; Will Hill's Department 19 is a phenomenal exploration of what happened after Dracula, and Ten Things I Hate About You is a brilliant update of Taming of the Shrew. (I'm not a fan of the original; one of the only Shakespeare plays I've ever felt disappointed in.)

So, in closing, read what you want - whether that's YA or adult, 'fanfic' or completely original books, fiction or non-fiction... just have the courtesy to at least read it BEFORE you write a Huff Post article moaning about it. I know it's getting Lynn Shepherd a lot of publicity today; I'm just not convinced it'll translate into book sales.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Author Interview with Tom Avery

As regular readers know, one of my plans for this year is to read more MG fiction - there seems to be far less bloggers talking about MG than YA, and there are some amazing MG books out there so I'm doing my best to help spread the word. One of my favourites so far has been My Brother's Shadow by Tom Avery, which I reviewed for the Bookbag. It's a well-written and beautifully illustrated look at a family's grief after the death of lead character Kaia's older brother. I was delighted to get the chance to interview him. (This interview originally ran there, all links go to reviews on that site.)

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

When I picture my readers, they are usually children I know - children I've taught or children whose stories I've weaved into my books. I often have a whole group of children that I have in mind, when writing a book. The other child I imagine is a little version of me. I hope I would have liked my books!

When did you come up with the idea for My Brother's Shadow?

The idea for My Brother's Shadow came from two places. I worked with a child, who had lost a sibling, whose family had struggled to come through that terrible event. Kaia came from there.
The Boy, like in the book, just popped up one day. He simply appeared in my mind, wild and staring.

I know you trained as a teacher - are you still teaching, or writing full-time? Do you think being a teacher has helped your writing for children?

I still teach. I love teaching and without a doubt, it has influenced my writing. When I'm writing, I'm usually reading chapters or testing ideas on my children. My stories are peppered with characters and scenes that have come from the classroom. The children often have firm views on where the story should go. Sometimes their ideas are gold dust. Often they want a character named after them!

I thought the illustrations by Kate Grove were breathtaking, and combined beautifully with your writing to make it a truly gorgeous book. How much input did you have into Kate's illustrations - did you specify which scenes you wanted her to draw, or did she choose?

The illustrations are breathtaking. Kate did such a beautiful job. She truly understood Kaia and her story.

I had little input. In my mind, I knew I wanted dark and light, dreamlike pictures. I knew I wanted someone to do more than just illustrate but also interpret scenes and ideas in the book. I had conversations with the fabulous team at Andersen.

It was a special day when I first saw Kate's work. It is simply perfect. I am biased of course though.

True, but speaking as someone unbiased, I agree completely!

The relationship between Kaia and her mum, both overwhelmed with grief, is very well-portrayed, while we also get to see how strong Kaia's relationship with Moses was. What are some of your favourite fictional family relationships?

Oh. What a great question.

The first that springs to mind, although not family at the start, is the relationship that develops between Willie and Mr Tom in Michelle Magorian's classic. The way they move from introverted strangers to family, with delicate steps through their own pain, is so wonderfully portrayed.

Another adopted family that I love is that of Todd, Ben and Cillian in Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking Trilogy. The tender care of Ben set against the unknown, sacrificial love of Cillian is brilliantly and gradually revealed to Todd.

Another favourite is that of Mina and her mother in David Almond's My Name Is Mina. I love the independence Mina's mum gives her daughter.

You mention on your blog that you're a descendant of Henry Avery, known as The King of Pirates. How good a sailor are you - if you were born a few centuries earlier, would you have been on his crew?

I'll break it to you now - I'm afraid of open water. Well maybe not afraid, more cautious. My ancestor would be terribly ashamed. I have a completely unfounded fear of shark attack and crab attack and teeny tiny fish attack.
I can go in big ships. In fact I love a ferry trip. So maybe I could have been a pirate. I'm a little scared of parrots too though . . . 

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack to My Brother's Shadow?

I tend to write without music. However I did have a Ben Fold's Five song stuck in my head as I wrote My Brother's Shadow - Smoke. Like the book, it's a song about loss and grief.

What are you reading at the moment?

I'm re-reading Erich Kastner's Emil and the Detectives. Some books can be read as many times as
there is time for.

I reread that recently too; a wonderful book! The stage adaptation at the National Theatre is rather different but well worth seeing.

What would you recommend to people who enjoyed My Brother's Shadow, while they're eagerly anticipating your next book?

I just finished Liar and Spy and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Both magnificent. I've been recommending them to everyone who will stand still long enough. Both with excellent twists at the end.

I recommend David Almond's work to everyone and will continue to do so. Skellig is the obvious and it's sequel My Name is Mina. I also love the slim, but perfectly formed collaboration with Dave McKean, Slog's Dad.

I've just spotted Life An Exploded Diagram on my bookshelf. Mal Peet at his amazing best. Read that too!

I've just finished Liar and Spy and after not being all that impressed for the first three quarters or so the ending completely blew me away and changed my thoughts on the entire book. Wonderful.

What's next for Tom Avery?

I am really excited about my next book. It's a very different setting to my previous books, set by the sea, which plays an important part in the story. It follows twin brothers with a Star Trek obsession and a mysterious interloper into their lives. I can't wait for people to read it and see it.

Me neither, sounds fabulous! Thanks so much for talking to me, Tom!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Historical Recommendations

I've read some amazingly good historical fiction recently, so thought I'd do a quick round-up...

Author: Molly Beth Griffin
Obtained: Bought
Why I Read It: I love 1920s set books and I love LGBTQ books. Perfect match!
Genre: YA historical LGBTQ romance.
Very Highly Recommended

It's the summer of 1926. Sent to stay with relatives in the lakeside resort of Excelsior, Garnet Richardson tries to amuse herself by cutting out birds from paper, a hobby of hers, but quickly gets bored. Then she meets the enchanting flapper Isabella, and her relationship with the more daring girl opens up a huge new realm of possibilities for her. But with marriage to her high school boyfriend awaiting her back at home, can she find the courage to be herself?

I read about this online on Saturday night and was lucky enough to find an import copy in the wonderful Foyle's Charing Cross Road on Sunday - I don't think it's out over here yet. I really hope that it makes its way over here properly soon because this is breathtakingly good. Griffin captures both the time period and the setting wonderfully, while the central relationship between the two girls is a tender one and Garnet is a great narrator with a lovely voice. Garnet's character development during the book is fantastic, too. The rest of the characters are all very well-rounded, as well, while there's an interesting subplot as Garnet tries to get her new employer at the hat shop where she first meets Isabella to stop selling hats bearing the feathers of birds. As for Griffin's writing style - wow! I was hooked within a few pages, she writes so beautifully. I even thought the chapter names, which were all those of birds and their Latin names, fitted the story and Garnet's character perfectly - when I first saw them I wondered if they were pretentious but once I started reading the book I realised that they fit Garnet as a narrator down to a tee. 

I loved the ending, as well. I wasn't sure what to expect but think Griffin handled it brilliantly here. Massively recommended, a wonderful read.

Author: Rob Lloyd-Jones
Obtained: Given to me by the lovely Fiona from Eventide Reads - thanks Fiona!
Why I Read It: I'm reading as many of the Branford Boase nominees as possible and trying to get round to them when/before they're featured on And Then I Read A Book.
Genre: MG historical adventure
Very Highly Recommended

Raised as a monster and sent to a freak show because of the hair that covers his body, Wild Boy is loathed and feared by nearly everyone, but has an incredible power of observation. When he's accused of murder, he's forced to run from the freak show and team up with circus acrobat Clarissa to try and clear his name.

Wild Boy's detective skills are fascinating - this will definitely appeal to the legions of Sherlock fans out there! - but it's also an action-packed adventure, while the uneasy alliance between him and Clarissa is fabulously portrayed. I loved the way it developed from the pair really disliking each other into being forced into respecting each other's abilities. In addition, the villains are well-written and there's a number of suspects as to who it is who's framed our hero - I guessed surprisingly early (by my standards; I'm hopeless at mystery-solving!) but was never very confident that I was right. What I really liked about the villains - and there's a few unsavoury characters here - is that all of their motivations were understandable and they felt realistic.

Add in some strong character development, particularly for Wild Boy, and a great ending which gives us a satisfying conclusion to this volume while setting up the upcoming sequel really well, and you have a wonderful read here. Of the Branford Boase nominations I've read, this is my favourite, shading out Poison Boy.

While Lloyd-Jones deserves a huge amount of credit for writing such a brilliant novel, publishers Walker should get nearly as much for turning it into such a beautiful book. It's got arguably the two best covers of all of the Branford Boase nominees - I prefer the hardback that I own, but the paperback is also truly gorgeous. In addition, the blurb on the back cover of both books is stunningly presented, in the manner of an old-style poster.

Overall, this is one to buy rather than borrow, both because it'll look lovely on your shelves and because it's one you'll no doubt want to reread. Really highly recommended.

Author: Katherine Rundell
Obtained: Borrowed
Genre: MG/YA historical (it's borderline as to which it is, but readers of pretty much ANY age should really like this one.)
Why I Read It: I wasn't that keen on The Girl Savage, Rundell's debut, but thought she had a very promising writing style. I thought I'd see whether this was more to my tastes.
Very Highly Recommended

Sophie is shipwrecked in the English Channel on her 1st birthday, with her mother presumed dead, but she's lucky enough to be found by scholar Charles. He raises her as his ward and they have a happy, if seriously unconventional, existence until the authorities intervene on her 12th birthday. With the orphanage beckoning, Sophie and Charles run away to France in the hope that her mother may be alive after all.

Rundell's characterisation - which I thought was the weak point of The Girl Savage - is much stronger here. Sophie and Charles are both excellent, and the relationship between them is very touching - Charles has to be right up there with Atticus Finch as one of my very favourite fictional father figures. The children Sophie meets in Paris are very well-portrayed as well. The writing style which showed promise in that first book is more developed now and is stunning at times - I read this a few months ago (but have only just got round to reviewing it), before it was longlisted for the Carnegie, but it was clear even then that this was likely to be a favourite for several awards. It's beautifully written but never feels stilted. How about this for a description of a character?

"Think of nighttime with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal cords. Give those things a narrow aristocratic face with hooked eyebrows, and long arms and legs, and that is what the baby saw as she was lifted out of her cello case and up into safety. His name was Charles Maxim, and he determined, as he held her in his large hands—at arm's length, as he would a leaky flowerpot—that he would keep her."

The rest of the book is written in the same gorgeous style, and it's married to a clever plot, lots of excitement, and one of the most wonderful climaxes for a long, long time. It's also one that I think could open older readers' eyes to the amount of amazing books out there today. This feels, in so many ways, reminiscent of classics like Noel Streatfeild and Joan Aiken that I'd put it towards the top of my list of books to hand to readers who haven't read recent YA. An utterly heartwarming and uplifting book; I have a feeling that this will win the Carnegie.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Jane Elson

I've been trying to read more MG this year and one of the best of several really good ones I've enjoyed was Jane Elson's A Room Full of Chocolate. I was really pleased to get the chance to talk to her about it. This interview originally ran at The Bookbag - links go there!

1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
Jane Elson: A child who loves animals, probably has a special secret den that they read in: probably a bit of a daydreamer.

2. One of my favourite things about A Room Full Of Chocolate was the lovely friendship between Megan and Grace. Who are your favourite fictional friends?
JE: Peter Pan and Wendy immediately came to mind. That story is so haunting. I am thinking of books that had an effect on me as I was growing up. I remember a book called Nobody’s House by Martin Hall where there was a very touching friendship between the Victorian workhouse ghost and the children that lived there. I am a sucker for any book with horses! My all time favourites were the Flambards books by K M Peyton. I love the complicated friendships between Christina, Mark, William and Dick.
My favourite friendship between an animal and a child is Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka. The relationship between Ken and his horse Flicka is so special.
Shamefully, I’ve only read the first Flambards book, but thought it was wonderful.

3. Also, I love books with travelling in them, so I really enjoyed reading about Megan and Grace's journey. What's the best journey you've ever been on?
JE: Driving with friends in a car through San Francisco. I absolutely love that city! Also exploring the south of France by car with a friend. A truly stunning part of the world. I also think any journey where you are travelling towards someone you love is special.
I’d absolutely love to go to San Francisco, it looks amazing!

4. Your bio mentions that in addition to writing, you run creative writing and comedy improvisation workshops for children with special educational needs. What's the best thing about doing these?
JE: For me there is nothing greater in life than seeing a child’s communication skills and confidence improve. I love it when other teachers tell me that because of the drama workshops they have seen a difference in that child in other areas of their life. We have so much humour and laughter in the workshops as well. When I am teaching dyslexic children and they see how dyslexic I am, I find they relax and we have a lot of banter in the sessions which helps produce good work.

5. Prior to writing, you performed as an actress and a comedy improviser - what's the role you had the most fun playing?
JE: I love this question and it would make my friends laugh as they joke that for an actor whose roots are in comedy my latest roles have been so serious! But I hasten to add that these roles are extremely important.
I did a play about knife crime among youths and my most recent role was a verbatim piece about child abuse. We had a lot of laughter in breaks in rehearsals as a release from the subject matter. Laughter is so important it can really help you cope. Way way back I remember having a lot of fun playing Jackie in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever.

6. Also, you write plays as well as novels - do you approach the two in similar mindsets, or is there anything different in the way you prepare to write a play compared to a book?
JE: I approached writing a book very differently at first, very cautiously, but then as I progressed with my course at City Lit I realized that writing dialogue for plays stood me in really good stead for writing believable conversations in books and really they are not so different. I approach both as I do when playing a role as an actor getting right inside the character.

7. Your bio also mentions you ate a lot of chocolate in the name of research - very sensible! (And if there's a sequel and you need help preparing for it, just drop me an e-mail!) What's your very favourite chocolate bar?
JE: Oh there’s a question! I vary but I must admit I ate an awful lot of Galaxy.

8. On a similar note, if you could give a lifetime's supply of three particular chocolate bars to three fellow authors (one each), which bars would you pick, who would you give them to, and why?
JE: I would give the new Cadbury’s bar Marvellous Creations to David Almond – it has fizzy beans that explode in your mouth and surprises you like his stunning writing. You never know where it will take you. Reading Skellig was a wondrous adventure.
I would give Bourneville chocolate to Judith Kerr. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a really special book to me and gave me the confidence to write A Room Full of Chocolate which touches on my own childhood. Bourneville was a chocolate that would have been eaten in the 1940s and must have been a truly special thing to have at that time. A rare treat like Judith Kerr’s writing.
My third lifetime supply of chocolate would go to author Lou Kuenzler. I would give her a life time supply of Revels. She was my tutor at City Lit and taught me so many different things. She has this amazing fun energy and each session would hold a surprise for me like Revels with all their different centres. Also they are mini chocolates which is the perfect sweets for Lou who is the author of the delightful Shrinking Violet series.
What a fabulous answer!

9. What are you reading at the moment?
JE: I always have several books on the go at once. I am coming to the end of The Book Thief and loving it. I have just started Anne-Marie Conway’s Butterfly Summer and am finding it very intriguing. I am just about to start  Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher. Really looking forward to it. Her book My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece was a masterpiece.
I’m a huge fan of The Book Thief, Butterfly Summer AND Ketchup Clouds!

10. What's next for Jane Elson?
JE: I have a two-book deal with Hodder so I will be busy working on Jump my second book with my lovely editor Naomi Greenwood. I also have some festival appearances which I am really looking forward to. A Room Full of Chocolate is my debut novel so this is all new and exciting for me.

Thanks so much for talking to me, Jane!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Classic Children's/YA: Stacey from The Pretty Books on Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Stacey from the Pretty Books is not only a great blogger but a really nice person as well; it was fab to talk to her at the recent Faber and OUP events! I'm thrilled to present this guest post from her about one of those series I've been meaning to read for ages...

Number of books: 6 books in the series: Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars (also known as Anne of Windy Willows), Anne's House of Dreams and Anne of Ingleside, which range from when Anne Shirley is 11 years old to 40 years old. She is 11-18 in the first two books, which are the two (for obvious reasons!) published as children's classics.

Availability: Anne of Green Gables, originally published in 1908, is a popular children's classic so it's incredibly easy to find copies of the first two books. I love the Vintage Children's Classics edition, but there are many other beautiful editions, including Modern Library, Aladdin Classics, Usborne, 100 Years of Green Gables, Puffin Classics and Puffin Classics Hardback. Just pop into your local bookshop and have a look! If you'd like to purchase the entire series or would just like a taste before buying physical copies, there's also inexpensive eBooks collections available. I bought the Delphi Complete Works of L.M. Montgomery, but there's so many more available (and cheaper) now.

The Premise: Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, two siblings living on Prince Edward Island, Canada, decide to adopt an orphan boy to help out on their farm. But when Matthew goes to pick up the boy from the train station, he is shocked to find little red-headed Anne Shirley, and is instantly taken to her, charmed by her enthusiasm and talent for chattering. Anne Shirley, or as she likes to call herself, Cordelia ('It's such a perfectly elegant name') is an imaginative, creative young girl who fervently disapproves of anything that leaves 'no scope for imagination' and is given to colourful outbursts ('my life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes'). Soon it becomes impossible for the Cuthberts to imagine life without little Anne Shirley.

Why I Really Like It: Anne Shirley is one of the best characters in classic children's literature – and one of my favourites. I adored her imaginative, romantic exaggerations, which made me giggle and smile to myself, and her ability to see beauty in everything, which is rather fluffy, but lovely. She is incredibly articulate, loquacious and funny, and I couldn't help but love her. I also love reading about a time that's so different to our own. I enjoyed the playfulness of childhood – the ability to see a beautiful garden or tree as a excuse for imagination and adventure – and going back to a time when loyal friendship was so easily forged. It's a mixture of conservative views – often taken with irony – and progressive views, such on the women's vote and involvement in politics. It's a wonderful novel that I hope people who love children's books, even if they're intimidated by classics, will have a go at reading.

Best Books: I haven't yet read all the books in the series, but Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea are considered to be the two children's classics.

Who It Will Appeal To: Anyone interested in classic children's literature, who has watched Little House of the Prairie, or loves smart, funny, imaginative child protagonists. I can imagine people who love Harriet Manners in Geek Girl or Colin Singleton in An Abundance of Katherines loving this series. But it's not just for children! Anne of Green Gables was originally published for all ages and we follow Anne Shirley's life right up to her having children, a career, a house, getting married...
Others By The Same Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery is best known for Anne of Green Gables, but she has also written Rainbow Valley, Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes Are Quoted, about Anne Shirley's children and family friends. She has published 20 novels, 530 short stories, 500 poems and 30 essays. Whew!

Stacey has awesome blogs on both Wordpress AND Tumblr - check them out! Also, follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

YA Recommendations: Find Me, The Poison Boy and Prince of Shadows

Title: FIND ME
Author: Romily Bernard
Obtained: Bought from Tales on Moon Lane as part of my Bookshop Buy feature.
Why I Read It: Picked it up because I hadn't actually heard of it - rare for me when it comes to recent YA contemporary releases! - read the first chapter, and was completely hooked.
Genre: YA contemporary thriller
Highly recommended

Wick Tate is given Tessa Waye's diary, with a simple note - "FIND ME". Tessa and Wick haven't been friendly for years, though, so Wick is tempted to just ignore it - even when Tessa turns up dead. But when Wick finds out that whoever was responsible for Tessa's death has now set their sights on Wick's kid sister, she's forced to take matters into her own hands.

I was hooked on this right away because Wick is a brilliant narrator with a fantastic voice. She's a computer hacker who uses her talents to earn extra money by checking out men who women think might be bad news. Her background is a really difficult one - her father is a criminal and she's worried that he may track her and her sister down, while there's a cop who seems to know that Wick's doing something illegal and keeps hanging around the house. Due to her background, Wick is also struggling to believe that things are now going to go right for her - can her fourth set of foster parents really want her? It's a compelling portrayal of a really damaged girl who's got lots of problems but works hard to overcome them.

Other characters are similarly strong; I particularly liked Wick's relationship with kid sister Lily while there are several suspects as to who the villain is. I called it right at one point but then kept changing my mind! I also thought the motivations for various characters acting in the way they did were very believable.

Overall this is a tense read with a stunning climax; I will be hugely excited to read Bernard's next book! And speaking of hugely excited, she's been kind enough to offer a few signed copies as a giveaway - RT the tweet embedded below before midnight tonight to enter, and check Snuggling on the Sofa soon if you want another chance. 

Author: Fletcher Moss
Obtained: I won a signed copy ages ago and just hadn't got around to reading it.
Why I Read It: It's been on my TBR pile forever; a mix of the Branford Boase nomination, a great post about it on And Then I Read A Book, and Fletcher writing me an awesome guest post over on finally got me to read it.
Genre: YA historical adventure
Highly recommended

Young Dalton Fly is a poison boy, tasting the food for people in the city of Highlions to stop them falling victim to people who want to ghost them. While he's built up something of an immunity to dangerous substances, it's certainly not foolproof - and we see this right at the start as his friend Bennie dies horribly, with Dalton waking up covered in his blood. Out for revenge, Dalton is determined to track down the killer, but there are people equally determined to find him - with a ragtag band of friends he hastily assembles, can he avenge Bennie, or will staying alive be too much of a problem?

Part of me is kicking myself for taking so long to read this one, but part of me is thinking that at least it's meant I have less time to wait for a new one from Fletcher Moss! We don't have confirmation for book 2 but his Twitter bio describes it as 'in the pipeline' - and that's a very good thing, because I'd love to read more! Having said that, a pet hate of mine is series books finishing on cliffhangers, so you'll be pleased to know there's a really satisfying resolution to this one but with enough left open to raise a really compelling question about the next book.

This is great for a number of reasons - it stands out as a real adventure (I kept being reminded of Susan Cooper's classic The Dark Is Rising sequence despite there being not many surface similarities. However they've both got a large number of superb characters and clever plots which brilliantly build up the tension.) Dalton himself is an excellent main character, tough but realistically so, while the girl he meets, Scarlet Dropmore, is wonderful - it's great to see a female character who can handle herself rather than needing rescuing. Similarly their friends Sal, the youngest son of the mapmaker, and Luke, a girl who rails against the 'pig-dog' men who dominate the city state, accompanied by blind cuddly rabbit Hoppy, are really well-rounded.

In addition, I loved thelanguage Moss uses. I didn't discover until the end there's a glossary listing the meanings of words such as 'dreckwit', 'wet yourself', and 'Gannet', but it's easy enough - and more fun - to work them out for yourself because of the context Moss uses them in.

Overall a definite recommendation to all fans of adventure!

Author: Rachel Caine
Obtained: I bought it last week (even though it wasn't technically out until a couple of days ago; I got very lucky there!)
Why I Read It: It's a Romeo and Juliet retelling, how was I meant to resist?
Genre: YA historical
Highly recommended
Think you know the story of Shakespeare's tragic lovers? Think again. Master thief Benvolio brings you the real tale of how it happened, along with Mercutio's downfall and Benvolio's own feelings for Rosaline.

I absolutely love Shakespeare retellings and Romeo and Juliet is perhaps my favourite of his plays - Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream pushing it close - so when I saw this, from an author I like, I was thrilled. Caine has created a superb narrator in Benvolio, some excellent supporting characters - particularly Rosaline and Mercutio - and really brings Verona sharply to life in this book.

I think it's one which is actually stronger the further away from the original play it gets - the first 100 pages or so are set before we get to the famous ''Do you bite your thumb at us, Sir'' scene which opens the Shakespeare tale. Because we don't know what's coming next, they're a great way to confound our expectations and introduce new aspects of the characters. When we get to the events of the play themselves, I found the scenes which were actually in the original to be fairly interesting but those which took place 'off-stage', as it were, far more so.

My only real complaint is that the blurb made this sound like a romance between Benvolio and Rosaline would be centre-stage here, and they meet early on and there's great chemistry between them, she doesn't actually appear that much -a shame, as she's a fabulous character.

A minor criticism, though - there are so many other compelling characters to read about, with Tybalt, Benvolio's domineering grandmother, and his young and manipulative sister all well-drawn villains - that this is one which all Shakespeare fans should definitely consider.

I know Caine is already prolific, with the massive Morganville Vampires series to her name (and a screen version in progress!) and her adult Weather Warden books, but I'd love to read more historicals from her!