Sunday, 25 May 2014

How I Built #MyIndieBookshop

I'm a huge fan of indie bookshops and while nothing will ever beat the experience of going to a great bookshop and talking to the staff there to get personalised recommendations, I know from past experience before I lived down in London that not everyone is lucky enough to have one close by. If you're keen to support indies but aren't able to get to them as often as you'd like, Penguin Random House's new team-up with Hive, My Independent Bookshop, is a great way to do so. You can recommend 12 books, then if people buy them, a percentage of sales (5% for paperbacks, 8% for e-books) goes to an indie of your choice.

There are so many fantastic indies around that my first issue was which one to pick! I thought long and hard - and may change it around a bit - but I eventually felt that I had to go for a particular shop. With the sad closure recently of Clapham's Under The Greenwood Tree, and the Lion and Unicorn in Richmond leaving us last year, it seems more important than ever to support the remaining childrens' specialists. There are several on Hive - I've never been to Seven Stories, Children's Bookshop in Huddersfield, Storytellers' Inc, or Chicken and Frog but all come highly recommended. One that I have been to many times, though, is Herne Hill's gorgeous Tales on Moon Lane, which is both beautiful and brilliant. With really knowledgeable staff and fantastic displays, this is a fabulous place to visit, and I'm very happy to be supporting it.

So, with the bookshop picked and design choices made (I don't think my eye for graphics is even worth going into details on how I chose shelf style, etc, but it was fun!), time to pick the actual books themselves.

I tried to cover a range in my choice of 12. (Although, only 12?! Good grief! I'm unsure how frequently I'll rotate, but it may be VERY, to get everything I want to on there. Of course, it may well be 'barely ever', as I'll forget, but the intentions are good.)

Because of this, they're not quite my favourite 12, although they're not far off. They are, however, 12 books which should provide something for EVERYONE. (Unless you don't read YA/MG fiction, at least, but in that case, why would you be reading this blog?)

I had to have my two very favourites of the year so far as two of my three featured books, of course. Bone Jack by Sara Crowe is a deeply disquieting tale mixing old legends with thoroughly modern problems. It's a story reminiscent of Susan Cooper's brilliant Dark Is Rising Sequence, and I utterly loved it. Just as amazing, from the other side of the Atlantic, is Tess Sharpe's Far From You, which reduced me to floods of tears for much of the day when I finished it. Nothing has affected me as much as this one has for years - although Jellicoe Road ran it close, to be fair.

While I like having my heart torn apart as much as the next person (well, maybe a little bit less), I also think it's brilliant to read a truly happy book. The one which has put a massive grin on my face each of the three times I've read it has been Have A Little Faith by Candy Harper. I've been fairly vocal recently about the lack of respect shown to lighter reads by many critics, prize panels, etc (with a few exceptions, to be fair - thank you Waterstones judges for the brilliant choice of Geek Girl as best teen novel!) This is possibly my favourite lighter read of them all, a joyously, riotously funny one that will surely make you laugh out loud all the way through. Sequel Keep The Faith is just as good, perhaps even slightly better, but I was trying to keep to series starters here.

When it comes to lighter, happy reads, MG is perhaps a better place to find them than YA generally. Fellow book blogger and ARYA club member Stacey from the brilliant Pretty Books blog and Tumblr has a bookshop dedicated solely to MG, with the tagline 'Because Middle Grade Provides The Best Adventures', which in just a few words sums up what I'm coming to love about this age category. As much as I adore YA, there's something about the quests, journeys, and mysteries in MG which often makes them stand out for me even more than their teen counterparts. I definitely wanted to represent these in my shop, so added Sesame Seade's first outing, Sleuth on Skates, and the initial book in the Very Nearly Honourable League of Pirates series, Magic Marks The Spot. Sesame is a supersleuth with 'a brain with as many connections as there are stars in the universe', and she's brought to life brilliantly by Clementine Beauvais's writing and Sarah Horne's illustrations bring Sesame, her friends, and a few seriously nasty villains wonderfully to life. Another superb heroine for this age range is Hilary in Magic Marks The Spot by Caroline Carlson, who responds to being told she can't join the VNHLOP due to being a girl by running away from school, gargoyle in hand, and joining her own pirate crew. This is magical in every sense of the word!

I love coming of age stories so wanted to make sure I got a couple of them in, at least. Non Pratt's Trouble was an easy pick - written by an author who's one of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met when it comes to teen fiction, this is a breathtaking debut. I read far more contemporary than anything else and while it's my favourite genre, the sheer amount of it I get through means something has to be special to stand out. This definitely does - I love dual narration when it's done well and both voices here are captured perfectly. As well, while the subject matter is teen pregnancy (and the spermy cover makes that fairly clear!) this takes in so many other subjects - bullying, friendship, and family - that it's about much, much more than 'just' that.

Another fabulous coming of age story is the hilarious Boys Don't Knit by Tom Easton. As mentioned above, I really love the lighter reads and it's been fantastic to see so many book bloggers review this one, with lots of huge fans. Ben Fletcher is a hilarious creation and his trials as he gets involved in the Great Trolley Robbery, is forced to make friends with a lollipop lady who won't suffer fools gladly, and discovers a hitherto-unknown talent for knitting which could see him achieve stardom in the field, is a stunningly funny one.

My other favourite coming of age novel of the year so far is a brilliant one about a boy torn between his feelings for his best friend and his girlfriend, trying to come to terms with his sexuality and with needing to do the right thing. It's a tale which will surely go onto be a classic, narrated by a young man with a stunning voice and a heavy sense of his own importance. For me, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith is one of the best stories of recent years about the traumas of adolescence. (Oh, I suppose I should mention it DOES have more giant bugs running about having sex with each other and killing people than most stories of this type do, in case that's an issue for you.)

Moving to historical (with another coming of age story, and one that features an AMAZING romance), I then added Love In Revolution by BR Collins. One of my two favourites of last year, I still haven't written a full length review of this because I was too staggered by it to form coherent thoughts for ages afterwards. I DID tweet quite a lot about it, though, with most of the words being synonyms for brilliant. Two teen girls fall for each other during a revolution in an unnamed Basque country. Middle class Esteya and Zikindi girl Skizi, an outcast, are a wonderful couple with great chemistry. In a review at The Bookbag which is significantly better than any I could manage, Jill says "I loved, loved, loved Love in Revolution... I loved, loved, loved it." and "...this story has the best ending EVER!" I couldn't agree more.

With sci-fi, historical and contemporary all covered, I wanted to make sure I got at least one fantasy in there. There's lots of fantasy sequences I love but my favourite of all recently is the outstanding Micah Grey series by Laura Lam. Micah, who's intersex, is a truly fabulous protagonist. I love the way his (using this pronoun as Micah identifies as male for most of Pantomime and Shadowplay) relationships over the two books are handled. They're also massively exciting and with wonderful world-building. I'm still struggling to contain my excitement over meeting Laura a few days ago at the launch for Kim Curran's brilliant Glaze, and getting her to sign my copy of book one!

While I mentioned above the I love the adventures in MG in particular, clearly that's not the only type of book in the genre. One of the most important I've read recently is Girl With A White Dog, Anne Booth's wonderful debut. I'm hesitant to say too much about this one as I think it's even more effective if you go into it with little knowledge of what it's about, but it truly is a must read.

Finally, I'm always calling for more fun reads to get the credit they deserve, so wanted to put another one in there as my last pick. You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett explores media manipulation, cyber-bullying, body image, romance, friendship and making choices but does it with a beautifully light touch. It also has incredible heart, a wonderful cast of characters, and an ending so perfect I wanted to turn cartwheels after reading it. A truly amazing contemporary.

Do you have your own #MyIndieBookshop? Leave me a comment and let me know, I'd love to come check it out!

(There'll be a list of a few of my favourites coming up in a couple of days time, by the way.)

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