Monday 30 June 2014

Louder Than Words Blog Tour: Guest Post by Laura Jarratt on How Media Events Shaped Louder Than Words

Laura Jarratt's Louder Than Words is right at the top of my TBR list as I loved her wonderful debut, Skin Deep, and her brilliant second novel, By Any Other Name! I was thrilled to get a spot on the blog tour for it and am delighted to welcome her to YA Yeah Yeah.

How media events shaped Louder Than Words

This book is the only one I’ve ever written where real time events have shaped what happens in the book. From the very first idea about the hacktivists, stuff seemed to happen to direct and change what was going on in Louder Than Words. As soon as I started to think about it, a group called LulzSec hit the headlines and a high profile court case followed. I was already aware of a hacking collective called Anonymous and that they seemed to have changed their approach from trolling of anyone they didn’t like to a more moral agenda of attack, but then Lulzsec appeared. I kept an eye on the court case and the comments from the various accused. Those certainly began to shape the character of Dillon, and especially that God-complex part of him that you see from time to time.

I did most of the writing of the book while I was on maternity leave. I’d pop the baby down next to me to sleep on a special pod and I’d write while she napped. Any new mother will tell you that you spend most of those early months sleep deprived so I needed lots of little breaks to keep my concentration up. This meant I’d stop every half hour for a break and because I couldn’t move from where I was sitting or I’d wake the baby, I spent time messing around on Pinterest and Twitter and surfing the net looking at breaking news that I wouldn’t normally have time to see.

The cyber bullying part of the book had already been decided but when I was spending more time on the net every day, the sheer amount of trolling of women and aggression towards them was startling. There was one particular incident which really disgusted me. A bunch of girls from an all-girls school in my home city had done a display of pictures for an online promotion of feminism. It was harmless and unexceptionable stuff. Cue a revolting amount of trolling and aggression towards them for daring to open their mouths. In the end their school advised them to withdraw the pictures for their own safety. The internet was also full of articles on how girls were being treated in university – social events using advertising promoting violence towards women. That kind of thing is a complete shock to my generation – we’d have ripped those posters down as soon as we saw them and we just don’t understand why girls tolerate that and tolerate boys who treat them as if that’s just all one big joke. Obviously at the time I was writing Lara as a character. Writing characters can be a bit like method acting – you have to channel them and Lara was furious about this stuff. Some of that found its way into the book.

Then of course there’s Josie and Rafi’s quote swapping and again when I was trawling around Pinterest being Josie it struck me how much time as women and girls we spend whining about hair and weight and getting boys and men to like us. So many quotes about being badly treated by guys. So why accept it? And why care so much that you let it hurt you. Josie was in that place, of course, where she wouldn’t accept any of that. There was a quote on there that I loved: a lion does not lose sleep over the opinion of sheep. My inner Lara and Josie really embraced the concept that you empower yourself against being a victim and hold yourself above that.

Thanks for sharing, Laura! A fab post, and I can't wait to read the book.

Sunday 29 June 2014

Author Interview: Jason Rohan, part 1 of 2

One of my favourite debuts of the year so far has been the brilliant MG adventure Sword of Kuromori. I got in touch with author Jason Rohan to suggest an interview and was thrilled when he suggested meeting up for a face-to-face one instead of doing one by e-mail - my first ever face-to-face interview with an author! It's rather long as we had LOADS to talk about, so I've cut it into two parts - 2nd will be up later this week.

1. When you close your eyes and picture your readers, what do you see?

[Laughs] I've not had that question before! I suppose I see me, if you turn back the clock, but I've also got children, and they're younger versions of the ideal reader is, possibly, between 8 and 14; just someone who's willing to lose themselves in the story.

2. I know that part of your background is as a staff writer for Marvel Comics. What made you decide to make the move from comics to fiction - anything in particular?

I'm not sure if I'll get into trouble for saying this! I was at Marvel for a couple of summers doing an internship in 1984 and 1987 and the industry changed at that time. Jim Shooter was the Editor-in-Chief and he gave Frank Miller the freedom to do Daredevil, and John Byrne a lot of freedom [on Fantastic Four], but in the process he also annoyed a lot of people, so towards the latter end of that time he got the sack and Tom DeFalco came in. Tom DeFalco was very much old-school and was saying, "When I was reading comics they were like this in the Sixties, and that's how we're going to make them now," so he was going to turn the clock back. All the stuff like the Elektra: Assassin series and all that - he didn't like that, it was too edgy for him. So, that was one reason why I didn't want to have to basically suppress all those creative instincts and that freedom. I think once you've started to do more grown-up material within the comics realm, and you've let the creative demons out of the bag, it's very hard to put them back. A lot of people turned around and left at that point. The other thing that really put me off was that a lot of people who'd been there a long time in the business were either somewhat burned-out hacks just taking the money or they were overgrown kids playing with toys, and I didn't want to turn into either of those. So I thought comics had been interesting to do, but it was time to move on, and that was the end for me.

3. I might know what your answer's going to be to this after the last question! Is there any particular character who might tempt you to go back to comics, and would you like to see Sword of Kuromori adapted, either for comics or screen?

The answer is, "Yes, easily!" to both of those. I didn't fall out of love with comics - it was more of an amicable separation. So if Marvel were to come to me and say, "Would you like to come back and write?" I'd jump at the chance. I walked away in 1987, almost 30 years ago. The industry has changed radically in that time. As for which character? I don't know. Part of me would like to take any character and reinvent it. You've got a lot more creative freedom now - look at what they've done with Ms. Marvel, for example. Marvel aren't afraid to take risks, which I think is almost the polar opposite of where they were when I was walking away, when they were very afraid to take risks, so I'd go back. Any book they gave me, I'd love to do. I've always had a soft spot for Iron Man, but they've changed that character so much now that he's almost unrecognisable from where I left him. As for Sword of Kuromori being made into a movie, I recognise that if there were any interest, I'd probably lose a lot of creative control along the way and would need to trust them to do the best job, but certainly, I'm a control freak - I think every author has to be, because you're God in your own world. You play in that world you create, so I'd like to have creative input and control, but I wouldn't count on it.

4. I know that you did a well-received event at the Discover Story Centre a couple of weeks ago, and have done lots of others. What's the best thing about doing events with kids, and are there any drawbacks to doing them?
I come from a teaching background, which I think benefits a lot of authors. You look at a lot of them like Rowling and Colfer; they've all been teachers, which helps a lot, so I don't have any bad experiences. I'm not shy standing up in front of a crowd of children - the biggest audience I had was 260 for my very first event - part of the Hay Festival, for the Scribblers tour - but what I do like is that you get to meet the people for whom you're writing, and you get to put faces to names. You also get an idea of what works, and often children will like things which you didn't really think of as being particularly notable. They'll say "I really liked that bit," and I'll think, "Oh, that surprises me," so you can pick up little hints and tips along the way as well, but, as I think I said before, the enthusiasm and lack of cynicism are great. When you get older kids, they can be a bit too cool to show any interest - they'll sit there and slouch and they won't answer questions - but the little ones really get into it, because what I do is monsters and action and they really get behind that.

5. I met you for the first time at #DrinkYA a couple of months ago and I notice that you've also been taking part in the #ukmgchat - before you started writing were you aware of the UK MG/YA community, and if not, what do you think of it?

I wasn't aware at all - I was a total Twitter virgin! It was only at the start of the year that my publishers, and my editor, said I should probably look at Twitter. I've had a Facebook presence for years but mainly family and friends, and I was always wary of Twitter because there have been so many news stories about people making fools of themselves so I was a bit suspicious of Twitter. My teenage daughter was on it all of the time, and I thought it might be a bit of a time sink, but then when I started using it and realised how accessible it is, and the fact that someone can buy your book and drop you a note almost within five minutes saying, ''I've started reading it; here's a picture of me holding it,'' I realised it's a very powerful communications tool. So, I've slowly been working my way through and feeling how things work. I started off in the background watching people, and took my first steps when I was a bit more confident, but certainly the community is amazing! The fact that so many people reach out and support each other. I was expecting Twitter to be more trolls and anonymous attacks, but what I've seen of it has been not at all that way. It's very supportive and very nurturing, so when the #ukmgchat started, I was almost the first person in there. It's so great to meet other authors! I hadn't really met other authors or bloggers or anything in the previous seven years of writing - I hadn't really realised they were out there in the sense that you could meet up and have a drink without joining a book group. I think it's great, because five years ago you wouldn't have had anything like it - I'm a big fan.

6. You've got one of the most spectacular covers I've seen all year, and I've seen posters of your book in cinemas, which is really impressive and not something you see that often for MG books! Have you been surprised by how hard Egmont have pushed the marketing of your book?

I've been very, very lucky with Egmont! But to be honest, I don't have any real point of comparison. I don't know what 'normal' would be, but I know that when we were putting the book out there, we had about five or six publishers with no interest whatsoever, but then Egmont came out of nowhere, and said, "We want this book now, take it off the table!" Stella Paskins, my editor, has been brilliant. I think it's one of those books where either you get it or you don't, and Stella very much knows her anime and manga. When she came on board, she really put a lot of faith in the book; I think she persuaded a lot of people at Egmont that this was worth getting behind. I think, in hindsight, it's been the best thing, because at a large publisher it might have got swallowed up in the schedules, but a small publisher might not have had enough clout, so Egmont, being a medium-sized publisher looking to flex their weight a bit, really put a lot of work into it and I can only praise the whole team. Benjamin Hughes did the cover - in terms of commissioning it as Art Editor - and he also designed the chapter headings and all the Japanese writing. Stella's editing has made it a smooth, painless process and I'm really happy with the whole team behind it. The cover artist comes from Singapore, which again fits the whole international theme of the book.

Friday 27 June 2014

Recommendation: The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted by Mark Forsyth

Title: The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted
Author: Mark Forsyth
Obtained: From publisher
Very Highly Recommended

It’s clearly a trying time for bookshops at the moment and things took what many people have seen as a turn for the worse last week with the announcement of Amazon’s Fire phone with its Firefly feature, allowing users to get prices for items simply by scanning them with the phone. This has led to worrying about showrooming (which I can’t help feel is exaggerated – being completely honest, if I look at a book in a shop then I can almost always get it cheaper on Amazon if I choose to, but I DON’T choose to because I want to support the shop.)

Some bookshops are, according to Twitter, responding by banning phones, while others are posting signs discouraging you from buying elsewhere. I can’t help thinking both are problematic – banning phones stops those of us who like to alert our friends to what’s in stock/on offer from using pictures to do so; while the suggestion that you should be buying a book in the first place you saw it doesn’t really work for me. Personally, I love browsing in bookshops I haven’t visited before, and generally try to buy something, but the majority of my purchases and pre-orders are made in my favourite few shops.

Bearing in mind the general climate at the moment, I was intrigued to see what tack Mark Forsyth would take in this essay, specially commissioned for Independent Bookseller Week, and was delighted to read it. Rather than being an anti-Amazon rant, it’s a persuasive and well-judged tribute to the big advantages that your local bookshop will always have over Amazon. Forsyth borrows Donald Rumsfeld’s concept of the ‘unknown unknown’ to discuss just how pleasurable it is to discover something you didn't know you were looking for, using examples including Romeo & Juliet, and Elizabeth Bennet & Mr Darcy, to back up his points.

I don't want to go into too many details here as it's a short, quick read, and I'd rather you found out for yourselves just what Mark Forsyth says, but please do go out and get it! I think his arguments are strong enough that you'll be visiting your local bookseller at least twice - once to buy this one (a steal at a mere £1.99), and again to pick up some more books.

This is available this week ONLY from indie bookshops - I believe it will be available elsewhere from September, but you definitely don't want to wait that long to read it!

10 2015/16 Debuts I Can't Wait To Read

So, because the 200 or so books in my TBR pile and the 400ish on my Kindle aren't tempting enough, I occasionally end up browsing publishing websites, Query Shark and similar sites, tempting myself with books coming in the distant future. If you have a problem with anticipation, look away now! If not, here are 10 debuts in 2015 and 2016 that I can’t wait to read.

(One warning: not 100% sure everything is coming out over here, so you may need to be ready to hit up Foyles for imports... I certainly am!)

Title links go to author/publisher sites or announcements, depending what I could find. Author links go to their Twitter feeds. If you're particularly looking forward to any of them, drop them a tweet! No particular order except for the top one which is my most-anticipated.

IVY SPARROW by Jennifer Bell (Random House)

I don’t think being hugely knowledgeable about children’s books guarantees you’ll write a great novel, but I think it probably boosts the chances. Jen, assistant children’s buyer at Foyles, is one of my absolute favourite people to talk to about MG and YA books. This magical adventure set in “a city beneath London where uncommon people trade in uncommon goods” sounds wonderful!

THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER by Mel Salisbury (Scholastic)

I don’t know all that much about this one, other than it’s about a young girl working as a court executioner, which sounds fabulous. Oh, and it’s the first in a trilogy. However, I‘ve met Mel twice. She is terrific, in the Lords and Ladies sense of the word. I am half looking forward to seeing what she’s come up with for her book, and half wondering whether I dare read it. Also, I’m hugely jealous of Rainbow Rowell, because she has a copy of this in her TBR pile. (Well, not quite true. I’m hugely jealous of Rainbow Rowell because she’s a talented, best-selling author with legions of fans and gets great reviews. Having a copy of this as well just makes me even MORE jealous!)

BRIMSTONE FOR BREAKFAST by Tatum Flynn (Orchard) - Note: Since this post, this has been renamed The D'Evil Diaries. Also, check out the fab cover reveal and an extract here!

Tatum Flynn is one of my favourite people to talk to about MG on Twitter, and I love reading her blog – her interview with Susie Day last week was BRILLIANT. I’m keen to see what her novels are like and the Brimstone Diaries series, about a devil who's 'terrible at being terrible' looks amazing.

SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

“You’ve Got Mail starring teenage boys with good grammar”? Sold! Becky’s agent is the fabulous Molly Ker Hawn, which only adds to my feeling that this is going to be amazing.

THE FLOOD GIRLS by Richard Fifield (Gallery Books)

Yes, rare moment of me being interested in something that isn’t YA/MG! Montana, softball, fabulous flamboyant 12-year-old boy, self-acceptance and love – lots of brilliant-sounding elements in this one.

WHEN MY HEART WAS WICKED by Tricia Stirling (Scholastic)

The line “magic exists in the everyday” in Molly Ker Hawn’s post about this one (linked above) has me seriously intrigued, as does the one sentence summary about an unstable mother who’ll use dark magic to keep control of her daughter’s heart and soul.

THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig (Greenwillow Books)

Nix grows up on a ship which travels through time, but her father will go anywhere – and do anything – to save the life of her mother. Even though changing history like that could mean Nix was never born…

I don’t like time-travel at all, but how could you resist anything which looks as wonderful as this query makes this one sound? Also, I’ve just realised that Heidi is represented by Molly Ker Hawn. I possibly knew this previously but had forgotten. I’m not ACTUALLY just going through the Bent Agency blog to put this list together. (Although saying that, it might save time!)

THE BAD KID by Sarah Lariviere (Simon & Schuster)

Okay, up until that last paragraph, I WASN’T trawling through The Bent Agency’s blog pages, but I decided I might as well start. And wow, what a decision! Phrases like ‘mobster grandfather’, ‘screwball humour’, ‘original voice’ and ‘modern-day Harriet The Spy’ make me desperate to read this ASAP.

STONEBIRD by Mike Revell (Quercus) – I’m not actually sure if I can read this, as it’s about a ten-year-old struggling to deal with his grandmother’s dementia and it may hit too close to home. My own beloved Nain (Welsh name for grandmother) passed away a few years ago. Towards the end of her life she was in a nursing home, and visiting her was incredibly difficult for me emotionally as it was tough to see someone I absolutely adored, who’d been a rock for me all of my life, not really know what was going on any more. Because of this, I’m not sure I can personally read anything dealing with dementia, but also because of this, I think it’s a topic which needs much more understanding. Having met Gemma Cooper a few times recently and being a big fan of Robin Stevens and Katy-Jo Cannon, who she represents, I have absolute faith that any author who has her as an agent will treat the subject with the utmost respect.


This snuck on right at the last minute, I saw this deal on The Bookseller just as I was about to post this. I really love non-fiction and haven’t read that much of it recently for various reasons, but anything London-based is especially interesting to me.

So, which of the above 10 are you most looking forward to? Anything else that should be on my radar? Leave me a comment or tweet me!

Monday 16 June 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR List

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

So, at the risk of causing jealousy, most of these aren't out until after summer. However, if you've watched Debbie's BEA video, some of these books may look rather familiar. This is because she is the most wonderful and generous person I've ever met and she is hopefully lending me them. (I'm crossing my fingers frantically here!)

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson - This shouldn't actually be here because I should have read it by now. I desperately need to read it this week but the only way to do so was to find someone to borrow a copy from. The only person who has a copy (AFAIK) is Debbie, who has a signed hardback, which I don't think she's read yet. Being probably the most generous book blogger in the history of the universe, she's lent it me. This is a) UTTERLY AMAZING (thank you again!) and b) REALLY WORRYING (because I get nervous reading precious books, and 'signed Morgan Matson hardback' practically redefines precious. But tomorrow, I'm reading it!
I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson- I actually know nothing about this at all (intentionally) except that it's by Jandy Nelson. If it wasn't for the Morgan Matson, that would be enough to put it top of my list. The Sky Is Everywhere is still probably my favourite YA novel ever.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer - Boarding school? Magical realism? SO IN.

Zac & Mia by AJ Betts - This sounds like it brings all the tears, in the same way that In Bloom, Before I Die, and TFIOS did!

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan - I haven't read Farizan's If You Could Be Mine yet, but know it's gotten lots of amazing reviews. This looks even more to my tastes - I think it's meant to be a touch lighter, which I always appreciate.

Jackaby by William Ritter - Doctor Who meets Sherlock comparisons make this sound fabulous!

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud - Currently midway through the first Lockwood and Co book after the wonderful Faye lent it to me, and massively enjoying it! This sequel looks brilliant.

Can't Look Away by Donna Cooper - I really like Jodi Picoult so seeing comparisons to her intrigues me. This sounds like a real tearjerker - fashion vlogger Torrey's sister is killed in an accident, possibly because of Torrey's videos, and Torrey's world implodes.

Blonde Ops by Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman - Fashion/action mix worked well in Sarah Sky's Code Red Lipstick, let's hope it does the same here!

Courting Magic by Stephanie Burgis - The new Kat Stephenson novella (check out the awesome cover on YA Book Nerd!) is out August 14th. Kat is maybe my favourite character of the last 10 years, so I REALLY can't wait for this!

Thursday 12 June 2014

Recommendations: Flora in Love by Natasha Farrant, High & Dry by Sarah Skilton, Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

Title: Flora In Love 
Author: Natasha Farrant
Genre: MG/YA contemporary (it’s the 10-14 age range which falls slightly in between, as does so much of the brilliant UK contemporary!) 
Why I read it: I liked the first book and was always going to read it but after hearing Natasha read an extract at the Faber bloggers’ event a few months ago I was DESPERATE to read, and devoured on the way home. (Of course, four months later, I’m now writing the review!)
Obtained: From Faber at the bloggers’ event – thank you!
Very Highly Recommended

Spoiler warning for After Iris, first in this series.

After a shocking announcement from Bluebell’s family, Bluebell thinks everything could be turned upside down. She’s desperate for au pair Zoran to come back to them but Zoran has problems of his own – including new guitar protégé Zach. Then Zach meets Blue’s sister Flora and the two immediately hit it off, but Blue’s enthusiasm over filming everything leads to her putting her foot in it. Will Flora ever talk to her again, and when Zach goes missing, can the sisters and the rest of their family help find him?

I was a fan of the first in the series, After Iris, but didn’t absolutely love it – perhaps a case of my expectations being a little bit too sky-high after the overwhelming brilliance of Natasha Farrant’s first novel for teens, The Things We Did For Love? I’m pleased to say that I adored this one – it’s an improvement on the first in every way. There are lots of hilarious scenes – I loved Bluebell and Dodi trying to apologise to Flora, as well as a stunning poetry competition – but there’s also a huge amount of warmth, love and a great plot here. I also really like the way it’s told, with the video transcripts being perfect additions to the narrative!

In addition, I thought the characterisation was superb. In book one, I said that Bluebell and her siblings were fabulous, as was scene-stealing au pair Zoran, but was less convinced by her parents and Dodi. Here, all of the characters, new and old, feel wonderfully realistic and brilliantly written, and the relationships between Blue’s chaotic but loving family are outstanding.

Hugely recommended as one of the sweetest and funniest contemporaries of a great year for the genre! I can’t wait to read book three.

Title: High & Dry
Author: Sarah Skilton
Genre: YA contemporary
Why I read it: Skilton’s first, Bruised, was one of my favourites of last year, so this has been on my ‘must read it’ list.
Obtained: Generously given to me by a non-blogging friend
Highly Recommended

Charlie Dixon is having a bad week. Still struggling to get over being dumped by his girlfriend, he’s turned to alcohol, and now finds himself the lead suspect in the near-fatal drug overdose of a schoolmate. Offered an alibi by an ex-girlfriend who needs him to find her a missing flash drive, he takes the chance to investigate – but quickly finds that the truth is hard to come by and a lot of people seem to have been doing some dark dealings. Can he solve the case and win the girl back?

While Skilton’s first novel, the excellent Bruised, was memorable for its stark realism, this is altogether a different type of book. It’s technically contemporary, I suppose, but it seems deliberately unrealistic, set in a school where the cliques are taken so far to the next level that permission is needed to speak with younger students in a different group. With the school divided into songbirds, beckhams, and chekovs, Charlie is forced to use all his ingenuity to try and get to the bottom of the mystery. This reads like a mash-up between a normal contemporary and a film-noir.

While the setting is far from what I expected, where the book IS completely realistic is in its portrayal of the characters and the dialogue. I loved the friendship between Charlie and Ryder, the relationship between Charlie and Ellie, and – perhaps most of all – Charlie’s family life. I found it really interesting that he actually talks to his parents and goes to them for help at times, because it’s still relatively rare to see that in a YA novel. As a narrator, Charlie is superb, with a breathtaking voice. There are lines here which are so hard-boiled you could probably break something on them – “She looked like a sad girl in search of a tragedy. I could steer her toward mine, but it would cost her a finder’s fee.”

In addition, we have a layered, complex, and really hard-hitting climax – definitely one of the most memorable endings of the year so far for me.

Highly recommended and the huge differences between this and Bruised make me even more excited for Sarah Skilton’s next novel – I now have no idea what to expect, but I’m sure it will be fantastic!

Title: Don’t Even Think About It
Author: Sarah Mlynowski
Genre: YA contemporary (ish?)
Why I read it: Read for #aryaclub, although I’m a big fan of Sarah Mlynowski’s so would no doubt have picked it up anyway sooner or later.
Obtained: Via Netgalley (thanks to Orchard!) in exchange for consideration for a recommendation.

Something weird happens after 10B get their flu shots - they develop telepathy. There are good points - they know what other people think of them, they can cheat on tests, and they have the upper hand in conversations with others. But there are some drawbacks as well - not only do they no longer have any secrets from each other, but also, knowing what other people think of them can be a two-edged sword! High school is hard enough to survive when you're normal - will being an Espie make it even more difficult?

This was exactly what I’ve come to expect from Sarah Mlynowski after reading and enjoying Ten Things We Shouldn’t Have Done and Gimme A Call – a light, fun, easy read. Someone at my book club last week described it as ‘like a popcorn movie’ and that sums it up pretty well for me. I quite liked that there was no real explanation given for the telepathy and that Sarah Mlynowski instead focused on the uses – and problems – it brought. Having said that, I also thought there was a bit more depth to the novel in general than I'd perhaps have expected from the summary – in particular, it raises the question as to whether it’s better to think you’re being talked about, or to know for sure that you’re not! It's also got a really interesting narration as the entire group tell their story, sometimes disagreeing with each other.

My slight issue with this one which stopped me pushing it over recommended was that I didn’t feel we got to know many of the characters that well, partly because there were so many of them. Pi, Olivia, Tess, Teddy, Cooper, BJ, Madison, and others all feature heavily but they’re mostly slightly one-note – Pi is an overachiever, Tess is hung up on Teddy, Madison feels really guilty at cheating on Cooper, and so on. The best of them are Olivia, who gets a fair amount of character development, and Cooper, who we get to see struggling with family issues as well as a cheating girlfriend.

Despite this, it’s an enjoyable read and I’d definitely recommend it.

Sunday 8 June 2014

OMG BUY IT NOW! Pea's Book of Holidays by Susie Day

(Disclaimer: Not only did I receive a copy from Red Fox in exchange for consideration for review - thanks! - but I'm thanked in the author's note for this one. This is one of the coolest book-related things that's ever happened to me, but in case people think that I'm biased, I should point out this review was pretty much written before I'd realised that - I finished the book with about 10 seconds to go before starting work, tried reviewing at lunchtime, and only read the author's note in the afternoon. It's just it reduced me to such a state of excitement that it's taken me a couple of weeks to edit that lunchtime review into something even semi-coherent!)

“I hope I’m allowed to like things when not all of them is perfect.” 

Just typing that line, a quote from this magnificent, superb story, is making me need to bite my lip a bit, because it sums things up so beautifully. In Pea’s Book Of Holidays, (fourth in series, this post is likely to be completely incomprehensible anyway because all I really want to do is say “OMG BUY IT NOW!” so probably not TOO much need to worry about spoilers), Pea says this, referring to Enid Blyton. But it reflects so well on the novel as a whole, and opening up a wider discussion, that I wanted to lead with it.

This is outstanding because it is simultaneously a love letter to Enid Blyton and stories like hers, and an insightful critique as to the issues with reading books from her era today. But of course, more than any of those things, it’s a charming, wonderful, and beautifully written story of adventure, friendship and family.

I love everyone in these books. Imaginative, sweet, caring Pea herself, younger sister Tinkerbell, colossally daring but with the kind of mood swings that explain how she got the nickname Stinks, older sister Clover, trying to become a great actress… then there’s the girls’ mother, a loving but seriously stressed-out author who’s desperate to write her latest novel. And – even if we don’t see them as much as usual – Dr Paget and Dr Skidelsky. the two ladies who live next door with their twins Sam 1 and Sam 2, get some wonderful lines, especially when they’re talking about Blyton, taking one side of the argument each.

Pea realises herself at one point that Enid Blyton simply didn’t write about certain types of people (at least not as main characters) – mixed-race girls like Tinkerbell, families like the two Sams and their mothers, or people with hemiplegia like Ryan, who they meet on holiday. Despite this, though, Pea and Tink still enjoy the stories, and Pea’s upset when they’re criticised, wondering “were there special rules about which bits of reading she was allowed to love?”

Parts of the novel read like Golden Age stories, part read like ultra-modern tales – often the same parts, in fact! I’m not sure anyone is as good as Susie Day at making a book seem both fresh and timeless, to be honest.  

I teared up towards the end of the book – partly at the last letter Pea writes to Enid Blyton, and the one she writes to Anne, which was beyond wonderful.

I loved it – it’s one of the only two books all year – the other being Far From You by Tess Sharpe – which I’ve pre-ordered even though I already own a copy, because I know that I’ll want to give at least one of these as a present.

Staggeringly huge recommendation.

As part of my Countdown to 5th June tour, Susie wrote this brilliant guest post at Fluttering Butterflies about Enid Blyton – you really should read it!

Monday 2 June 2014

Recommendation: Sword of Kuromori by Jason Rohan

Title: The Sword of Kuromori
Author: Jason Rohan
Obtained: From non-blogging friend.
Why I read it: I met Jason at the #drinkYA event a month or so back and I was keen to read this one as soon as he told us about it.
Genre: MG fantasy
Highly recommended

Greek legends seems to have been done to death in YA and MG recently, there’s been a fair amount influenced by Norse mythology over the years, and Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles are probably the most popular of several books and series which have brought us stories based on that of Egypt. Japanese culture doesn’t seem to have played as big a part (although fellow reviewers at The Bookbag are big fans of Stormdancer and Kinslayer) so it’s refreshing to see an adventure here featuring kappas, nure-onnas, and oni, amongst other fearsom creatures.

While the Japanese setting and monsters from that culture are likely to be relatively new to most readers, the central story is more familiar. As in so many fantasies, a hero with a special power, subject of a prophecy, is sent on a quest to save numerous lives. However it’s not just the Oriental influence which lifts this above the pack – hero Kenny and Kiyomi, the girl who fights alongside him, are two of my favourite characters for a while. (I initially wrote ‘girl who helps him’ but that’s rather understating Kiyomi’s importance. She ‘helps’ him in the same way Hermione helps Harry Potter; she’s significantly ahead of him for a large amount of the novel. And she has a motorbike, shuriken, wooden swords, and a host of other weapons - well-prepared is something of an understatement when trying to describe this heroine!) That said, Kenny develops to hold his own and it’s an intriguing journey for him as he starts to master powers he knew nothing about.

In addition to the strong characters, I like that there’s a little bit of romance (more than usual for a book aimed at this age range) without it ever dominating the plot, while Rohan’s fight scenes are really gripping. We also get a wide range of villains, from the truly evil to the pitiable and everything in between, and a strong ending which gets a huge thumbs up from me for actually managing to resolve this storyline well but still leave me looking forward to the next in this exciting new series.

 Highly recommended to fans of action series, of all ages.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Author Interview: RJ Morgan

One of my favourite contemporaries of a brilliant year has been the stunning Fifteen Bones by RJ Morgan - I was thrilled to get a chance to talk to her for the Bookbag, and am delighted to republish the interview here!

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

I must admit I’ve never done it. As soon as I saw a physical copy of my book and realised people might actually read it, I went to the tiny reading room, had a mini panic attack, and wanted to withdraw it, but by then it was a bit late because they’d already made the stickers and I’d spent my advance on chocolate buttons.

2. Fifteen Bones is 'not suitable for younger readers', according to the warning on the back. What do you think of age ratings or age guidance in books?

An abomination! Only kidding….sort of kidding. Age ratings are uniformly patronising and awful, but, ‘not suitable for younger readers’ is a little different. I think it comes from a caring place, it wants to protect young people from the world, but it doesn’t account for the disregard violence, mental illness and grief have when it comes to one’s age. What are you supposed to do? Find out about gangs when you’re forty and drive a Toyota? Also, when I was young enough to not be allowed in to certain films, I loved that books didn’t have age ratings. Reading is its own entry requirement. It was the one world where you control everything. It would be awful to lose that.

3. I think I'm correct in saying you're a teacher yourself, like me? Do you talk to the students you teach about YA books? Do you get, or give, any recommendations?
Yes. And YES! I have a dedicated YA box, much of which was recommended in an excellent move by the Institute of Education whose entire initial reading list was a bumper crop of the world’s best YA. When I hear that we need to ‘move students on’ from YA, I say well, Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye, and Great Expectations, and Romeo and Juliet are on the curriculum…so…what’s your point?

4. And on that note, do you think being a teacher has helped you? One of the things that most impressed me about Fifteen Bones was how realistic the dialogue felt - is that aided by working with teens?

I don’t think being a teacher helps with anything other than developing a massive dependency on glucose to get through each never-ending day. I’m only joking…yes, when I had a ‘proper job’ I was bored out of my tiny malteser-brain because I only had adults to talk to. More than anything on this earth, I love the English language, and teenagers are absolute masters of it. Whenever I read a book that has a teenager talking like an adult, I send it windmilling across the room. What a waste! It’s like offering up a candy pez that only dispenses tiny pellets of poo. Teenagers – and Londoners in particular - are the emperors of wordage, you can see how the language lives and breathes…and they don’t waste a beat. I never ask the kids what stuff means or to translate for me… it would kill the precious words, and I’m scared they’d ask for royalties.

5. Fifteen Bones deals with some really tough issues, including gang violence. How much research did you have to do for the novel? 

Unfortunately not very much. I’ve been a teacher in South London for a long time so I know what’s what and I’ve filled out enough child protection forms for one lifetime.

6. Despite this toughness, it's a very funny book, with Jake's narration featuring a lot of black humour. How important do you think that humour is to the story? 

Humour is the story. It’s a story about someone trying to get their sense of humour back. Humour is our route to expression, our defence, our glue, all we do as kids is chase bubbles of humour and try to make them burst. Some lucky people keep it in adulthood, in others the bubble mutates into cruelty… or dies, and that’s always a terrible thing.

7. Cattle Rise is a memorable school setting. What was your school like? Were there any teachers who particularly inspired you?

I went to a huge state school in Cardiff that was chock full of brilliant, kind, and dedicated teachers. A lot of people from my high school have their dream jobs, from the DJ to the police officer to the doctor to the news reader….to the kid who plays for Real Madrid (we don’t like to brag) and I think that’s the best thing you could say about any school… they didn’t turn you into a money guzzling sloth muncher, they helped you follow your stupid dreams! I loved my biology teacher Mr Withey, and my history teacher Mr. Thompson, he used to tell amazing stories and all the famous poshos would have funny accents. I’ve still never heard anything funnier than King George III as a cockney wench. I thought I’d die laughing. He was a great teacher.

8. I know you've been doing the rounds of several London bookshops signing copies of Fifteen Bones. Is it strange seeing your debut novel on shelves? (And, indeed, in pride of place on display tables!)

Strange and incredibly exciting. I first saw it at the Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace and it was hard to shake the idea that Jonathan – the owner – didn’t just have them there as a favour! My friend and I visited the book in Waterstones in Clapham Junction - and then it started to sink in. I spoke to all the lovely booksellers there and even signed a copy for an amazing woman who was amused by my delight at seeing my own book! The best thing ever was seeing it on someone’s personal bookshelf, right between Kafka on the Shore and Hannah Kent’s excellent Burial Rites. Amazing!

9. What was the last thing you Googled?

Actually I just cleared my cache because I’ve also been looking up so much about paralyzers and untraceable poisons (for a book, guvnor, I swear!) I’m worried the NSA are coming to get me.

10. What's next for R J Morgan?

Well I’m currently writing a profound, world-beating, bestselling revision lesson for my Year 11s about Of Mice and Men (the key to it is marine biology. Marine! Biology!), and then I’m off to Texas to get loads of research done for the next book. Including going to a gun range. I’m definitely on a watch list aren’t I?