Sunday, 30 November 2014

Some Recommendations

The Last Of The Spirits by Chris Priestley (Bloomsbury Children's Books, given to me in exchange for review consideration)

Teenage Sam and his little sister Lizzie are starving on the streets of London, which is gripped by terrible cold. Asking an old businessman for money, by a man who looks at them with such sheer contempt that Sam's heart fills with hate. He swears that he will seek vengeance and rob the old man, not caring whether his victim will live or die. But before he can do so, a strange spirit appears to him, and warns him about the terrible path he will put himself on with this violent act. Can Sam resist the temptation to gain revenge? Several more spirits show him the possible consequences of his action, as we see Dickens's classic A Christmas Carol from a new viewpoint.

I love A Christmas Carol so picked this up with a mixture of excitement and apprehension (not helped by me somehow having never read a Chris Priestley book before.) I wanted it to be really good, but was worried it would feel like a pale imitation of the Dickens classic. Nothing could be further from the truth! Shifting the point of view to follow two orphans who are the subjects of Scrooge's disdain, we see familiar events through a different lens. It's a fascinating treatment of an enduring classic which works because Priestley captures the existing characters so well and introduces a pair of brilliant new ones in Sam and Lizzie. It's a short, quick read - it took me perhaps three quarters of an hour - but there's some nice bonus content in the shape of a Chris Priestley piece on A Christmas Carol, and another on adaptations of it, as well as a preview of Priestley's The Dead Of Night.  Despite its brevity, Priestley brings his characters to life superbly and made me care a lot about them in a short space of time. It's also one that I think would be well worth rereading - I can see this ending up as a companion to the Dickens original on shelves, as something you can go back to every Christmas!

One Song Away by Molli Moran (self-published, read via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration)

Sophie-Claire Wright went to be a singer-songwriter in Nashville - but fame never happened for her. When she gets kicked out of her apartment by her roommate, she gives up on her dream to return to her small Southern town. Being back in her old home isn't too bad, but her mother is desperate to set her up with a new beau. Sophie invents one to put her off, then when her mother asks to meet him, has to ask former best friend (and secret crush) Jake Cooper to pretend to be her fill-in boyfriend. It's a simple arrangement in return for a favour - but then Sophie's crush on Jake returns. Does he feel the same way about her? And is her Nashville dream completely over?

I love the idea of NA - capturing the time when someone is starting to settle into a new period of their life - and have found perhaps three or four books which really deliver on that promise, up to now. Easy, Brooklyn Girls and The Gravity Between Us all do a great job of it, as does this new novel from Molli Moran. Sophie-Claire and Jake are a pair of brilliant characters and I love the chemistry between them which is clear from the first moment they interact. Despite this sizzling chemistry, it's not as explicit as a lot of the NA books I've read, and is all the better for it.

The way that Molli Moran has captured small-town life is absolutely fantastic here; I grew up in a village on the outskirts of a fairly small town and it feels incredibly real to me. There are some great supporting characters - my favourite being Sloane Delgado; I was extremely excited when Molli mentioned in an interview with me a few weeks ago that she'll be working on a companion novel from Sloane's point of view next year! Fans of sweet romances and New Adult books should make sure they read this. It's a massive bargain, as well, at under £2 on Kindle!

The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet (David Fickling Books, bought) - Note; this is adult not YA.

Celebrated by critics but ignored by the public, Philip Murdstone's YA novels about difficult boys aren't paying the way - for him or his agent Minerva Cinch. Desperate to get success, Minerva convinces Murdstone that he needs to write a sword and sorcery epic of the kind that are selling so well, but the acclaimed realist is unable to turn his hand to a genre he despises. Until, after drowning his sorrows, he collapses at a set of magickal (yes, with a k!) stones, and a mysterious creature from another realm, Pocket Wellfair, gives him half of a book. To get the other half, all Murdstone has to do is...

Well, it's never quite that easy, is it? The simple bargain always has a drawback... but I'll leave you to find out for yourself just how things go wrong for Murdstone.

This reads as if PG Wodehouse and Stella Gibbons had been reincarnated, seen the legacy that Tolkien had left behind, and got roaring drunk and combined to write a book in response to this. It is screamingly funny in a lot of places - although, as pointed out to Mal Peet in the Foyles event last week, hardly seems calculated to make him many friends. Pot shots are taken at fantasy fans and authors, Amazon, awards ceremonies, countryside dwellers... it can be vicious (although less so than I'd expected in places), but it's always massively entertaining.

The strange thing is, given Mal's views on fantasy seem rather similar to Philip Murdstone's, you wouldn't expect him to be able to write a compelling fantasy novel - but he absolutely has. (Or, at least, parts  of one.) The extracts we see from the Murdstone Trilogy are completely enthralling, despite there being no Pocket to write them for Mal. (I hope, at least!) Speaking of Pocket, he is the standout character here, and the relationship between him and Murdstone - both desperately needing the other to succeed, and wishing they didn't - is brilliantly portrayed, as Pocket gets more and more frustrated and Murdstone starts to enjoy the high life.

My only slight issue with this was that I'd have preferred a different ending; but that's a personal thought and I think the one Peet will probably work well for the majority of readers. Overall, this is an incredibly strong book and I think whether or not you're a fantasy fan, you should definitely check it out!

There's a brilliant review over at the Bookbag from Jill Murphy who's even more of a fan than I am, saying "The Murdstone Trilogy is my favourite book of the year so far."

Twenty Authors You Should Be Following On Twitter

There’s no way on earth I could narrow down the 2,000 or so people I’m following on Twitter to a top twenty, so this definitely ISN’T intended to be one! However with so many people saying to me that they get confused by Twitter or that they’re encouraged to be on there but don’t know what to say, I thought I’d point out some examples of authors using it really well.

Dahlia Adler – Warning – following Dahlia is seriously bad for your bank balance; she regularly tweets recommendations and links to her fab posts for Barnes and Noble recommending even more awesomeness. While I'd normally avoid leading with someone who will utterly destroy your savings account, a) it's in alphabetical order and b) she'd be top anyway. The best taste in book of anyone I've ever known, and an outstanding champion of diverse books - I love her QUILTBAG compendium.

Sarah Benwell – I think the excitement over The Last Leaves Falling is incredible; partly that’s because a few lucky early readers have been singing its praises, which always helps – especially when they’re people like @Charlieinabook with fabulous taste. However I think it’s also tied into Sarah’s love for YA in general and diverse books in particular, which shines through every tweet – I can’t imagine her book being anything less than brilliant.

Nick Bryan - I think that as a self-published author it's even harder to strike the balance of promoting yourself without spamming people than it is for those with publishing houses behind them - at least if you've got a traditional publisher you can rely on them to do some of the publicity. Nick juggles this really well, talking about his writing of the webserial Hobson & Choi, which he's now releasing as a series of self-published books, rather than just spamming buy links to it. (Also, and this is where so many other people seem to not 'get' Twitter, he talks about a lot of other stuff as well!) The first of his books, containing the first 33 chapters, is available now, and the sequel is coming soon.

Nicole Burstein - Former blogger and 2015 debut author, with the Andersen-published Othergirl coming out in a few months time. Nicole is an ex-blogger and formerly ran the children's/YA department at Waterstones Piccadilly - she REALLY knows her stuff when it comes to books, as you'd imagine! She's also really vocal about libraries - and goodness knows, everyone should be these days! Like many others on this list, I know her offline and she's equally fab there.

Edward Cox – Possibly the most enthusiastic person on Twitter. Proof that self-promotion can be not just non-annoying but actually fun to read if done in an incredibly entertaining way, with fab photos and captions galore. (People who've met him may feel that The Man Of Mystery in the photo at the top of this post looks eerily familiar...) Of course, it helps that self-promotion is a small part of his output; he’s a tireless champion of other SFF authors and a hugely fun person to talk to as well.

Kim Curran – Kim is always fab to talk to, but wanted to mention her superb use of Twitter with the #glazechat hashtag to engage readers in a Twitter chat to publicise her summer release. Working with brilliant PR Faye Rogers, it was probably the highlight of one of the best blog tours I’ve seen. Great stuff!

James Dawson – Love the successful #boyqueen campaign in particular, which saw JD named Queen of Teen 2014, and James’s excellent work on raising awareness of LGBT* issues. He also tweets links to his fab blog posts, like this one about why he charges for school visits.

Abi Elphinstone – Warning; following Abi can be seriously jealousy-inducing as she has EVERYTHING. Fab website, holiday trip to Burma, writing shed… oh, and a really good MG adventure which had a beautiful cover revealed today! (Or possibly three weeks ago last Friday, depending how long this post takes me to write. Edit: Oh, that was EERILY close...) She deserves it all, though, as she’s completely lovely and her book rocks. Second edit: Also, since I wrote this, she managed to get an in-person interview with Cary Elwes, making fans of The Princess Bride even MORE jealous!!

Katherine Locke - I am nearly dying of anticipation waiting for Second Position, which comes out next year from Carina. Her tweets tend to be about ballet, cats and writing. Whatever the topic, she's open, entertaining, and always lovely. Also her conversations with Dahlia Adler frequently make me laugh out loud. Oh, and GREAT bio - the word 'distractypus' is my new favourite!

Zoe Marriott - Always brilliant to talk to and hugely supportive of bloggers, Zoe’s live tweets of TV shows are some of the funniest things I’ve ever read. I miss Merlin even more because of the extra entertainment her commentary provided!

Molli Moran - Molli likes, and tweets about, basically everything I like - country music, Doctor Who, diverse books, Gilmore Girls... Interviewing her the other week was fantastic because of this. I love her conversations with Katherine and Dahlia, as well. (I should point out I join in these conversations when I have something to say; I'm worried it sounds like I sit here stalking them.) Also One Song Away, her gorgeous NA novel, comes out tomorrow - yay!

Non Pratt – Non’s taste in books is pretty much unrivalled in the UK, and she’s hugely enthusiastic over a lot of the same books and people that I am, which is rather awesome. She's also one of the nicest people I've met both on, and offline.

Andy Robb – Andy is possibly the nicest and most laid-back guy I’ve ever met. (As long as no-one mentions The Big Bang Theory, anyway.) His personality comes across brilliantly on Twitter, where he has the same sense of humour that makes his Geekhood books so much fun to read.

Melinda Salisbury – I’m trying to do brief descriptions here; I don’t think I can do justice to Mel in a paragraph, though. Follow the author of the amazing The Sin Eater’s Daughter for an often educating, very often terrifying, but always entertaining ride. (Also worth mentioning Mel’s agent Claire Wilson and fellow Claire’s Coven members Alexia Casale, Lauren James, Tom Easton, Gary Meehan, Alice Oseman, Sara Barnard and Catherine Doyle; the discussions between them quite frequently make me laugh like a drain. And make me feel sorry for Claire!!

Samantha Shannon - Samantha's #BritishAlphabet hashtag - currently on a break as I think she's on a deadline - is brilliant, explaining British slang and unfamiliar words to people who may not have come across them before. She is also the best person I've ever seen at live-tweeting events, which is staggeringly difficult but she makes it look easy. (As does @charlieinabook, sneaking in a plug for a blogger!)

Holly Smale – Clearly, the partial list of what it means when someone favourites your tweet (983 favourites and 1.1k retweets in a week!) would be enough to get Holly on this list by itself. Apart from that, I love her enthusiasm; she’s always completely delighted to hear from Geek Girl fans, and her wide range of interests are fun to read about.

Keris Stainton - Keris's bio says she's been on Twitter 'since it was all fields', and I've known her longer than anyone else on this list, I think - I've been talking to her since the start of 2012 (again, seems longer!) and met her in person later that year after she invited me to the fab Emma Hearts LA launch. She is an incredible champion of UKYA, co-running the UKYA site with fellow fab authors Keren David and Susie Day, and also co-organised the YALC Fringe earlier this year with the fabulous Sophia Bennett. She's incredibly friendly and supportive, and is one of the nicest people I've met, on or offline. (Although warning: there IS a lot of Harry Styles on her feed these days!)

Robin Stevens - Offline Robin has been incredibly supportive of @MeetUKYA stuff; online she's an engaging voice who deserves all the plaudits Murder Most Unladylike is getting. She's also hugely knowledgeable about MG and loves to spread the word about brilliant books!

Louie Stowell - I only met Louie in person back in March, I think, after Non's Trouble launch. I'd been talking to her on Twitter for about eighteen months at that point but it felt like I'd known her forever; she is incredibly easy to talk to, and supportive, both on and offline. She's also become my co-organiser of @MeetUKYA, which is rather wonderful, because between us we seem to muddle through and sort out some fun events.

Lisa Williamson - She's awesome, she's great fun, she stars in the John Lewis Christmas ad. The only way anyone could be better than that is if they'd written the best book of 2015. Wait a minute... SHE HAS! (Disclaimer: I haven't yet read EVERY book published in 2015, despite making serious puppy dog-eyes to a lot of publishers, so it's possible that there will be better books than The Art Of Being Normal released next year. Just not likely.)


In addition to the fabulous authors you can find on Twitter, there’s also some brilliant hashtags you should definitely be checking out! Miriam Craig and Lorraine Gregory’s #ukmgchat, which runs twice a month (I think that’s right) on Wednesdays, and Lucy The Reader’s #ukyachat, which runs at various times and dates, are brilliant ways to meet new people and get excellent book recs, while LH Johnson’s #kidbkgrp is a fascinating monthly discussion of topics in children’s and YA literature.

Who else is a must-follow on Twitter? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Opening Chapter Reveal: The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

I'm still pinching myself that I have this post... I may have mentioned, on the blog once, and on Twitter a few hundred times, that I'm rather a fan of Lisa Williamson's stunning debut The Art Of Being Normal. I was approached last week to ask if I'd like to host the reveal of the opening chapter.

(I was going to do something to add suspense here, but a) the post title gives it away and b) did you SERIOUSLY think I'd say no to this?!)

So, without any further ado, take your pick as to whether you want to read it yourself, or watch Lisa reading it to you!

You can follow Lisa on Twitter and find out more about The Art Of Being Normal at David Fickling Books, but you should also take the time to read her fabulous guest posts from earlier this week on Wondrous Reads and The Overflowing Library!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Classic Children's/YA: Angie Sage on Titus Groan

Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast is one of those series I've been meaning to read for ages and never quite got round to! I'm delighted to welcome Pathfinder author Angie Sage to the blog today to talk about the first book, Titus Groan.

I read the first book from Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast world when I was nineteen. I still have my copies of all three books: Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone and I notice they cost fifty-five pence or eleven shillings. It was 1971, still in old money to decimal changeover. I love these echoes of the past...

I had just finished the Lord of the Rings series and was looking for something to fill that empty feeling you get when you leave a book-world that has become almost real. My father told me about Mervyn Peake—he was a big fan of his writing—so I went to Foyles in Charing Cross Road and blew fifty-five pence on Titus Groan. And then, like the anti-hero Steerpike, I climbed into the Castle of Gormenghast and never quite found my way out again.

It was the poetry of Mervyn Peake’s language that first drew me in, and the physical presence of the castle of Gormenghast itself kept me there. The castle was so very strange and yet it also felt familiar. It seemed to be a combination of all the dreams of places I had ever had, and I recognised it at once. There were so many amazing images: the four acre stone sky-field on the roof, ‘where clouds moved through it invisibly’, the white horse and its foal swimming in a distant water-filled tower, the enormous tree that grew from the wall where two old ladies took their tea, and the sheer massive, decrepitude of the place. It was truly somewhere to become lost in. Which I did.

The book was inhabited by a variety of strange, intricately described characters, all of whom were living lives prescribed by the rituals of the castle. I think my only reservation about Titus Groan would be that I never found a character to identify with. They were oddly removed, as though the castle itself had taken too much of them. But this is only something I realise now. At the time it didn’t worry me, I was lost in Gormenghast, wandering through the lives of those who lived there, allowed to observe. And I never did find anywhere quite as rich to visit again.

I forgot about Titus and his strange castle for years, or I thought I did. But it lodged in the back of my mind and became, without me realising it at the time, a kind of template for Septimus Heap. And because of this I have never quite dared re-read it, until now. So when I picked up Titus Groan once more in order to write about why I had loved it so much, I did so with with a certain trepidation. It was not just the fear of finding that an old love no longer burns as brightly as it once did, but also because I was a little afraid of how much of Gormenghast had found its way into Septimus Heap.

I was relieved to find no more than echoes. But echoes there are…

There is of course, the dominant presence of a castle. There is Fuchsia, who looks a little like one of my main protagonists: Jenna Heap. Like Fuchsia, Jenna is the daughter of the Castle. But they are such different characters that I suspect they would not get on at all. And there is Titus himself: like Septimus, born at the beginning of the book. Titus will be the 77th Earl of Groan. And Septimus? He will become the 777th ExtraOrdinary Wizard. Hmm …

But that’s it, as far as I can tell. There was no Marcia Overstrand lurking in the Castle of Gormenghast, for which I was thankful. And I suspect they were too.

When I finished reading Titus Groan just now, I realised that it was like meeting a very old friend. There are happy familiarities that you slip back into, but life has moved on, and there were things in Titus Groan that I looked for and did not find. But I got to wander through the Castle of Gormenghast once more and it was magnificent. As ever.

Thanks for a fab post, Angie! You can check out Angie's website and follow her on Twitter.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Author Interview with Molli Moran

One of my favourite NA reads for ages has been One Song Away, Molli Moran's engaging story of a country singer moving back home to her small town after struggling in Nashville, and asking her childhood best friend to pretend to be her boyfriend to stop her mother from trying to set her up with anyone else. It's a fun read with a great setting and a brilliant pair of main characters - I was thrilled to get the chance to ask Molli some questions about it.

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

What a wonderful question. I see people who love to read, people ranging in age from late teen years to adults. Since I write stories set mainly in the US South, I hope some of my readers are Southerners themselves, but mostly, I see people who love sweet stories with messages about friendship, self-love, and finding who you are. 

2. I loved the incredible chemistry between Sophie-Claire and Jake! Who's your favourite romantic fictional couple?

Thank you! I could never limit to just one, but a few of my favorite fictional pairings are: Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, Daemon Sadi and Jaenelle from Anne Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy, Rose and Dimitri from Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series, and of course, Ron and Hermione from the Harry Potter series. (I could talk pairings for days, so I tried to limit myself here. Heh.) 

3. Despite this chemistry, it's one of the less explicit NA novels I've read, making a refreshing change. NA is still a relatively new age category and I still see people who don't really get the idea. If asked to describe NA in a sentence (or paragraph), what would you say?

Again, thank you! I agree that NA is such a new category, and it's still in flux. New Adult to me are books that should capture the sense of knowing you're an adult, but not yet being totally sure of what that means. New Adults are working their first jobs or careers, maybe they're in college, maybe not - but their lives are constantly changing. They're having new experiences, and while sometimes that can be dating or even a serious romance, it's also so much more. I want to see New Adult books about characters discovering their sexuality (all kinds, please), or new hobbies, working, really having the time of their lives discovering who they are. Let's include romance and sex, but let's not limit New Adult books *to* sex. 

4. As a huge fan of country who grew up listening to Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, I'm desperate to know what, if anything, you listened to while writing the book! Can you share a few songs that got you in the mood?

I can! I'll be sharing the full playlist during my blog tour in December, but I can give a sneak peek now. A few of the most often-played songs on my One Song Away playlist are: "A Little Bit Stronger" by Sara Evans, "American Honey" by Lady Antebellum, "Don't Forget to Remember Me" by Carrie Underwood, and "F**kin Perfect" by Pink

5. Which six country artists would you most like to see live? (Feel free to imagine a time machine is involved to travel back to people's primes!)

Oh wow, so many. I'd love to see Chris Young live, because his albums have inspired me SO much in the last few years, made me laugh and cry. I'd love to have been around to see Patsy Cline in concert, and I'd love to see Reba before she retires, because she was the first country artist I ever listened to. I grew up from then on listening to her albums, and loved her show Reba. I've seen my idols, Rascal Flatts, three times, and I've also seen Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum, the Eli Young Band, Darius Rucker, and Thompson Square, but there are so many I still want to see, like Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Cassadee Pope, and Luke Bryan.

6. Speaking of time travel, I know you're a huge fan of Doctor Who. Favourite Doctor, and why?

I am! Doctor Who is really my favorite show. I saw it for the first time in 2006 and just fell in love. So far, my favorite Doctor is David Tennant's Tenth Doctor. "Why" is probably an essay length response, so I'll keep it short. He is my hero. He embodies all the qualities of the Doctor that I love (wonder at all life forms, bravery, belief in humans above all else) but he was a little more healed and a bit more human than the Ninth Doctor. We went on so many adventures, we got to see Ten fall in love, and it was all so brilliant. 

7. And like myself, you're a big supporter of the wonderful #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. What three diverse books would you love to see in every classroom or school library?

I strongly believe in #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I would LOVE to see Tess Sharpe's FAR FROM YOU, Nina LaCour's EVERYTHING LEADS TO YOU, and Jodi Lyn Anderson's TIGER LILY in all libraries, for starters. I think the next few years are going to hold so many wonderfully diverse books. 

8. Also like myself, you're a fan of Gilmore Girls. Which of Rory's love interests do you think was most suited to her? 

You so know how to ask the hard questions. LOL. I loved Dean, because he was Rory's first love, but like a lot of first loves, Rory had to move on because she'd matured. Ultimately I'm a Jess/Rory girl. Jess challenged and pushed Rory, and made her unafraid to push back in a good way. They really connected on a deep level, and dare I say, they made each other better by loving one another. 

9. What's next for Molli Moran?

I'm working on a novella now for my Walker Boys series called AS WE FALL TOGETHER, and also about to start the first companion book in that series, AS YOU BREATHE AGAIN. Then next year, I'll be working on a companion to ONE SONG AWAY, from the POV of Sloane Delgado, one of the supporting characters in ONE SONG AWAY. 

Thanks so much for talking to me, Molli! 

You can check out Molli's website and catch her on Twitter.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Classic Children's/YA: Ryan Graudin on Redwall by Brian Jacques Plus The Walled City Giveaway

Growing up, I was a huge fan of Brian Jacques's Redwall series, so I'm extremely excited to welcome The Walled City author Ryan Graudin to the blog today to talk about why she loves the books, and to share a couple of fantastic photos! I'm also delighted to be able to host a UK and Ireland giveaway for a copy of The Walled City - many thanks to Nina at Indigo for arranging the post and prize.

I was an avid reader as a child, but there were few series that captivated my imagination like Brian Jacques’s Redwall. This children’s fantasy series featured anthropomorphic woodland creatures who frequently went on quests and had to defend their red sandstone abbey (Redwall) from the “vermin” hordes that occasionally attacked. Mice, squirrels, hare, badgers, moles, voles, hedgehogs, otters and shrews general composed the cast of heroes, while the villains were usually rats, foxes, weasels, ferrets, stoats and wildcats.

There were twenty-two books in the series, published from 1986 up until 2011. The first book in the series (aptly titled Redwall) introduces readers to the abbey, where a young mouse named Matthias has to go on a quest within the Abbey’s walls to find the lost sword of Martin the Warrior, to defend Redwall from Cluny the Scourge and his evil army of rats. The Redwall books are memorable for their songs, feasts, riddles and battles.

As a child, I read this series fervently. I saved my allowance for weeks to buy the books, wrote fan-fiction based on the novels and interwove the saga’s plots into my outdoor playtimes. I would trap through the woods pretending to be a hare from Salamandastron, or an otter from the Island of Lutra. I even became part of an online fan club and a Redwall message board. I sent Brian Jacques semi-regular fan mail, with drawings of his character Martin the Warrior, and once he even responded to say he loved my drawing! (I can feel the giddy twelve-year-old fangirl rising up in me as I write this).

When I was thirteen, I got the chance to meet Brian Jacques. His 2000 “millennium tour” of the US brought him to my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. It was my first experience meeting a real author, and I was aptly starstruck as I listened to him read aloud from Marlfox. I remember being so flustered when he picked me out of the crowd during the Q&A session. We were only allowed to get him to sign a single book, so I chose my favorite (Pearls of Lutra).

The series is aimed largely at middle grade ages, though it could (and should) be read aloud in entertaining voices to younger ones. I cannot wait to, one day, share the series with my own children. 

Many thanks for a fab post, Ryan! Keep reading to find out more about Ryan, The Walled City, and - if you're in the UK or Ireland - enter to win a copy of The Walled City! Also, there have been lots of other fabulous posts on the blog tour - take a look at the banner over to the right for a list; don't forget to check one of my favourite blogs, Wondrous Reads, tomorrow for another post.

The Walled City is a cut-throat world of gangs, drug-dealers and warlords and every day is a struggle to survive.

THE WALLED CITY is a dark YA thriller set within the walls of a lawless slum city where Jin Ling searches for her lost sister and Dai struggles to complete an impossible mission.

A fantasy setting inspired by Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, Ryan's novel has a rich authenticity and an intense atmosphere, and its pace will enthral the reader from the very first page.

Disguised as a boy, Jin Ling searches for her missing sister, Mei Yee, who was sold into the brothels of the Walled City. She relies on her speed and cunning but how long will her luck hold?

When a mysterious boy, Dai, requests her help with a dangerous mission Jin Ling's inclined to say no - this is a world where no one can be trusted - but the mission offers her a vital chance to see inside the brothel where her sister may be being held.

Jin Ling and Dai join forces, but will either of them survive the mission? Is Mei Yee still alive? And how will any of them ever escape the stifling city walls?

THE WALLED CITY will be published by Indigo on 6 November 2014
9781780621999/ Trade paperback at £9.99 and ebook at £5.99

About Ryan Graudin
Ryan Graudin was born in Charleston, South Carolina with a severe case of wanderlust. When she's not travelling, she's busy photographing weddings, writing and spending time with her husband and wolf-dog.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten MG Sequels I Can't Wait To Read

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

The Copper Gauntlet by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black (Doubleday Childrens, second in Magisterium series)

I read The Iron Trial without knowing what to expect, since both authors were fairly new to me. I was pleasantly surprised - I thought it was well-written, had good characters, and the intriguing twist at the end left me desperate to know what happens next.

Soul Splinter by Abi Elphinstone (Simon & Schuster Children's Books, second in Oracle Bones series) 

Horrendously long wait for this; it’s 2016, with book one Dreamsnatcher not out until February 26th next year. However I’ve been lucky enough to grab a proof of Dreamsnatcher and it’s a great debut, reminiscent in some ways of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy with a brilliant heroine, Moll, whose bond with her wildcat Gryff will warm your heart. It also has fantastic comic relief in the shape of her friend Siddy and his pet earthworm Porridge The Second.

River Daughter by Jane Hardstaff (Egmont, second in Moss series) 

I feel dumb as I didn't even realise this was coming until a few days ago; I thought The Executioner's Daughter was a stand-alone. However I'm delighted to return to Moss's adventures; the first is an engaging read and I love Moss and boy thief Salter.

Knights Haddon #2 by Esme Kerr (Chicken House, second in Knights Haddon series) 

I think this is coming - The Glass Bird Girl was described as the first in a series, although it's frustratingly difficult to track down information on the sequel. I've been really saddened that few people seem to have read the first; it's a clever detective story, the adult suspects are very well fleshed-out (more so than the kids, actually) with believable motivations, and it's an intriguing setting, as the school tries to keep students as disconnected as possible from the outside world. (Is this just for concentration purposes? I have a feeling we may find out more about this side of things later in the series.) I don't think the cover (as gorgeous as it is) and blurb for the Glass Bird Girl did it that many favours, unfortunately - it looks historical to me; I was quite surprised by the contemporary setting when I picked it up.

Wild Boy #3 by Rob Lloyd-Jones (Walker Books, third in Wild Boy series) 

I have had at least 3 conversations over the past 10 days when I was asked to predict the breakout success of 2015 and replied by saying that I thought the third Wild Boy book would push the series into the very top ranks of children's literature. Now that Rob Lloyd-Jones has confirmed via Twitter he's currently working on something else, rather than book 3, I feel like a poor predictor indeed. However, he did mention he'd possibly return to Wild Boy after his current project is finished, and I'm too big a fan of the boy detective to drop him from this top ten just because it might be a while to wait!

Monster Odyssey #4 by Jon Mayhew (Bloomsbury Children's Books, fourth in Monster Odyssey series)

I've just finished the third in this series, The Curse of the Ice Serpent, and as always from Jon Mayhew, it's an exciting read full of twists, turns, great characters and horrifying monsters. With this series following the excellent Mortlock books, Mayhew is up there as one of the most consistently enjoyable series writers around - I definitely want to get back to Dakkar and Georgia's adventures soon.

Secrets of the Tombs #2 by Helen Moss (Orion Children's Books, second in Secrets of the Tombs series) 

Again, no real details yet but am hoping this will come next year. I marathon-read Moss's Adventure Island series earlier this year, getting through all 14 books in 12 days, and fell in love with them by the end of the third. If anything, The Phoenix Code, the first book in her new series, is stronger than her first Adventure Island was so I'm intrigued to see where she goes next with this mystery sequence.

The Pirate Stream #2 by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis (Orion Children's Books, second in Pirate Stream series) 

I don’t think there’s a title announced yet (if anyone knows, please correct me and I’ll edit!) but I already can’t wait for this as book one, The Map To Everywhere, is simply GLORIOUS. Most of my other absolute favourite recent reads have been tear-jerkers; after some great funny reads earlier in the year with Lobsters, Keep The Faith, Trouble and others I haven’t found anything quite to my tastes in that area for quite a while. However this made up for my long wait because it’s incredibly good fun; I read it with a smile on my face the whole way through. I adore the main pairing in it, the world-building is fantastic, and it’s cleverly plotted.  As keen as I am to read everything on this list, this is my absolute most-anticipated of them all.

Arsenic For Tea by Robin Stevens (Corgi, second in Wells and Wong series)

Murder Most Unladylike took most of my absolute best-loved things in books – boarding school, crime, diverse cast, 1930s setting – and put them together really well in a very enjoyable murder mystery. I think boarding schools are probably my second favourite settings for novels, with my overall favourite being country houses. Hey, look where the action’s moved to in this one!

Shield of Kuromori by Jason Rohan (Egmont, second in Kuromori series)

Sword of Kuromori was a complete delight – an engaging, pacy read with a fabulous central pairing, a touch more romance than in most MG reads, and a host of incredibly good fight scenes. Bonus marks for featuring better-rounded villains than the majority of books do, and an interesting collection of fearsome creatures from Japanese myths and legends. I can’t wait for the next in the series!

Monday, 17 November 2014

YA A to Z: Morgan Matson

I'm in a massive rush and meant to write this last night but fell asleep (so tired!) but I couldn't let M day of TLT's awesome YA A to Z feature pass without a quick bit of praise for Morgan Matson!

I think there are lots of great YA contemporary authors around today but if pushed, Morgan would be my absolute favourite, because I've read all three of her books (the ones published under her own name, anyway) and they are all AMAZING. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour was gorgeous to look at - put together in a 'scrapbook style' with travel book pages, motel reservation slips, and similar things - but was also brilliantly written, with two fabulous lead characters who had superb chemistry between them.

Second book Second Chance Summer was perhaps a slightly slower starter but just as amazing; leaving me in floods of tears as main character Taylor and her family prepared for her father's death due to cancer, while she tried to rebuild relationships with friends at the old lake house they'd stayed at every summer until a falling out five years ago.

This year's Since You've Been Gone - which I believe you can still vote for in the Goodreads Choice Awards, hint hint! - is a brilliant story about a girl out of her comfort zone trying to do challenges left for her by a friend who has mysteriously disappeared, in the hope that they'll lead her back to her best friend. I love the friendships here, both the flashbacks showing Sloane and Emily together and the new friendships Emily forms while doing the tasks.

As well as the fabulous writing, both Amy & Roger and Since You've Been Gone are added to by fantastic playlists which have helped me discover so much wonderful music, ranging from musicals, to Oasis, to Owl City, to Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.

Morgan was generous enough to take the time to talk to me about her books and a few other things back in July after Since You've Been Gone came out - a huge thanks again, Morgan! (And, indeed, to the lovely Liz Binks for setting this interview up, and the fantastic Jane Griffiths for putting me in touch with Liz.)

In addition to her books under her own name, Matson also writes as Katie Finn - I haven't tried these books yet but they're definitely on my 'wants' list.

Morgan can be found on her website and on Katie Finn's site and on Twitter both as herself and as Katie.

Who are your favourite authors whose surname starts with M? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Recommendation: The Map To Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis

The Map To Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis 
(Orion Children's Books, given to me for recommendation consideration - thank you!)
First in the Pirate Stream series

Whenever I'm in a reading slump in the future I just need to remind myself that MG fantasy and adventure is clearly the way out of it. Having read several books in a row that ranged from underwhelming to fine but nothing more, and giving up on a few halfway through, I was reminded of the sheer magic of reading by two very different adventure stories which were just what I needed.

First up, I got my hands on a coveted copy of Abi Elphinstone's much-anticipated debut Dreamsnatcher - more about this nearer its February release but you should probably pre-order because it's pretty awesome!

Then, Charlie thrust a copy of The Map To Everywhere into my hands. This was one that I basically wanted to read because it has to be a strong contender for most gorgeous cover of the year; I wanted to see if the book could match up to it. I had high hopes because Charlie has rather fantastic taste in books (one of her recent recommendations was The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson; Twitter followers will know just how much I loved that!)

Nothing could have prepared me for just how much I'd love this one, though! I was quickly entranced by the brilliant world-building, with the mysterious Pirate Stream and its unpredictable effects on anything it touches, the rumour vines which pass on secrets, and the pirats (not a spelling mistake; they're actual rats!) who help to crew the ship our heroes sail on.

Throw into this remarkably imaginative world an equally superb cast of characters - Fin, the master thief who nearly everyone forgets as soon as he's out of sight, Marrill, the girl dragged from our world who's somehow able to recall him, and Ardent the wizard, constantly hoping someone will have heard of him, and I was absolutely hooked. (And that's without mentioning any of the wonderfully wicked villains, or the Naysayer, who enters the story quite late on but comes close to stealing the show with his cynical quips.)

This is a quest story, with Fin searching for the Map to Everywhere to try and find his mother, and Marrill needing it to locate her way back to our world and to her own mother, who's ill. It stands out over the majority of similar books, though - the plot is excellent, with twists, turns, and a satisfying conclusion which leaves the way open for the next in the series, but perhaps what makes this even more than the sum of these rather remarkable parts is the sheer sense of fun the two authors being to the book. It's a high-octane, wild ride and I read every page with an absolutely massive smile on my face - at least until tough decisions needed to be made at the end, by which point I was slightly shocked by how deeply I was caring about these characters.

Hugely recommended, book two is already noted as an absolute must-read for next year.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Classic Children's/YA: Robin Stevens Picks Ten Favourites

Ultra-special edition of my semi-regular Classic Children's/YA feature today as Murder Most Unladylike author Robin Stevens shares 10 of her favourites!

I think children’s fiction contains some of the finest novels ever written – and I believe firmly that more adults would read if they rediscovered children’s books. Beautiful, moving, funny and endlessly inventive, there are thousands of hidden gems just waiting to be found. Here are ten of my own childhood favourites. This list contains history, magic, fairy tale, science fiction and even animal dystopia – I love these books, and I hope you will too.

The Book: Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf
The Author: Catherine Storr
The Premise: A wolf comes to eat a little girl, but she’s having none of it.
Why I Really Like It: A sweet, sharp reimagining of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. This little girl’s no damsel in distress – she’s smart and resourceful, and it’s her job to look after the rather simple and helpless wolf. He comes to eat her, but we all know he’ll never manage, and it’s wonderful to watch their careful not-friendship grow.
Who It Will Appeal To: Children 7+ who like their fairy tales a bit twisted.

The Book: The Family from One End Street
The Author: Eve Garnett
The Premise: A charming tale of everyday working-class family life from a vanished world.
Why I Really Like It: It’s a warm, wonderful book that gives a gentle look at a part of early 20th century British history that authors like Noel Streatfeild don’t deal with. Yes, it’s idealised, but it’s so heartfelt and charming – and the Ruggleses are so wonderful – that it can’t fail to delight.
Who It Will Appeal To: Children 7+ who love Noel Streatfeild but want something a little different.

The Book: Carbonel
The Author: Barbara Sleigh
The Premise: The story of Carbonel, the magical King of Cats, and his adventures with Rosemary and John.
Why I Really Like It: A lovely magical adventure, full of spells, witchcraft and talking cats, this was a real wish-fulfilment for me when I read it as a child. I wept bitter tears over the ending, and then read it again and again and again.
Who It Will Appeal To: Budding witches and wizards 8+.

The Book: The Little Wooden Horse
The Author: Ursula Moray Williams
The Premise: A sort of Homeward Bound with toys, the Little Wooden Horse goes out into the world to seek his fortune and then has to get back home.
Why I Really Like It: I was fascinated (and a bit upset) by this book when I first read it. The Little Wooden Horse’s adventures are so compelling, and so dark, but there’s wonderful uplift at the end, and you truly root for him as a character.
Who It Will Appeal To: 7+ kids who like books with heart and emotion (and a bit of a tear-jerker). They may also enjoy Gobbolino, an equally lovely book (but rather close in theme to Carbonel – which is why I picked The Little Wooden Horse for this list instead).

The Book: Catherine Called Birdy
The Author: Karen Cushman
The Premise: A smart, wonderful teenager fights against her fate in medieval England.
Why I Really Like It: Catherine is the kind of heroine who seems to jump out of the book and sit next to you as you read her words. She’s outspoken, funny and feisty, and although her plight (she must obey her father by getting married, and quickly) doesn’t seem particularly relatable on the surface, learning to balance truth and fiction and face up to life challenges is something that we can all connect to.
Who It Will Appeal To: Children 10+ who want an accessible way in to historical novels, and a heroine they can really root for.

The Book: White Boots
The Author: Noel Streatfeild
The Premise: Lalla Moore is going to be a skating superstar – until Harriet and her big, loving family come along. They show Lalla that there’s more to life than skating, but while she’s discovering that, quiet Harriet is falling quietly in love with the ice. A story about friendship, ambition and family love, with just the right blend of showbiz and good sense.
Why I Really Like It:
Who It Will Appeal To: Kids 7+ who want to read about friendship with a little extra sparkle.

The Book: Charmed Life
The Author: Diana Wynne Jones
The Premise: Orphan Cat Chant’s sister Gwendolen, is a witch. When the children are sent to Chrestomanci Castle, Gwendolyn grows sick of the rules and does a piece of magic that could change not just Cat’s life, but entire worlds…
Why I Really Like It: Diana Wynne Jone’s fantasy worlds and made-up characters feel real enough to touch, and you can’t help but be swept up in her wonderful plot. This is simply one of the best magical fantasies you’ll ever read, and I’ve been in love with Chrestomanci for about two thirds of my life.
Who It Will Appeal To: Children 7+ who love humour, fantasy and magic.

The Book: The Green Knowe series
The Author: L. M. Boston
The Premise: History, ghost stories and folklore all combine in a mysterious old house.
Why I Really Like It: This wonderful series is an odd, unique mix of many stories and many worlds. Ghosts exist alongside the living, darkness and danger are always lurking just around the corner and everything takes place in the gorgeous, magical Green Knowe. It’s scary and alluring at once, and as a child I was absolutely desperate to find a Green Knowe of my own.
Who It Will Appeal To: Children 8+ who love history with a sprinkling of magic.

The Book: The Starlight Barking
The Author: Dodie Smith
The Premise: Everyone’s heard of The Hundred and One Dalmatians – this is the lesser-known sequel, the story of the day that the Dalmatians and their dog friends wake up to find their owners in a deep sleep…
Why I Really Like It: Odder, eerier and sadder than the first book, this is no less enchanting and beautiful. I’ve always loved the idea that dogs have secret lives – and I’m sure that if they took over the world they’d do a pretty great job. It’s very gentle science fiction, a brilliant way in to the genre that features well-known characters.
Who It Will Appeal To: Dog-loving children aged 7+

The Book: The Mouse Butcher
The Author: Dick King-Smith
The Premise: In a world where the humans have all vanished, the cats have formed a hierarchy. But then the lowly Mouse Butcher falls in love with the daughter of the lord of the manor – and decides that he has to prove himself by vanquishing the Monster of Hobb’s Hole.
Why I Really Like It: Another brilliant book about animals in a world without humans, this is an edgy, exciting read, full of danger and clever detail, and a hero it’s hard not to fall for. An animal novel with real teeth!

Who It Will Appeal To: Kids 6+ who love animals – the dystopian readers of the future!

Robin can be found at her website and on Twitter - thanks for a fab post, Robin!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters Who Deserve Their Own Book

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

Neville - Trouble by Non Pratt

Neville is an absolutely wonderful character as a cantankerous old man; I'd love to read what he was like as a teen! Any interest in writing YA historical, Non?

Wergar - Wereworld series by Curtis Jobling

I want a prequel, basically, because I can't bear to accept that a world as staggeringly complex and thrilling as Jobling's was created for 'only' a six-book series! I've said in the past that I'd be thrilled to see the rise and fall of Drew's father, and that hasn't changed.

Westy - Faith books by Candy Harper

I adore nearly every character in the Faith books, but Westy and Lily - both daft as a brush but hugely likeable - hold special places in my heart. We already see a fair amount of the main four girls so how about a book focusing on the boys, with Westy starring?

Graham - Boys Don't Knit by Tom Easton

Come on, Tom, you KNOW we're all waiting for 50 Shades of Graham!

Soap - Finishing School series by Gail Carriger

This series has one of the only love triangles I've enjoyed reading for ages. I can understand Lord Mersey's appeal but will forever be Team Soap here; it's easy to see why he's such a great friend to heroine Sophronia despite the difference in their social standings. I'd be thrilled to see a book completely focused on him.

Rosalind - Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

I was a huge fan of Caine's take on Romeo and Juliet; my only issue with it was that Rosalind was such a brilliant character it was a shame she didn't get more page time. Rectifying that, with the story from her point of view, or a sequel, would be fantastic!

Juliet - Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

Despite Emily being the one in a young offenders' institution, her voice was so remarkably strong that I found it easy to sympathise with her. I'd love to read the story from Juliet's point of view to see if this changed the way I felt.

Stepmama - Kat Stephenson series by Stephanie Burgis

Stepmama is a favourite of mine because I believe she wants the best for her three stepdaughters, even if she and Kat have markedly different views about what this entails. I'd love to read about her as a teen!

Rosie - You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett

You Don't Know Me ended so perfectly that it's hard to think about going back to those characters in case a sequel wasn't as good, but they're so fantastic that it would be worth the risk. (And with the wonderful Sophia Bennett writing it wouldn't really be a risk!) I'd love to know what happened next for Rosie.

Sturmhond - Grisha books by Leigh Bardugo

This one needs zero explanation!

Monday, 10 November 2014

YA A to Z: Patricia Elliott

I've been a fan of Patricia Elliott's since her Pimpernelles series, with second, and concluding, volume The Traitor's Smile being a quickly-paced adventure with a heroine to cheer on and a pair of splendidly rage-inducing villains. Prior to this series, she'd written a number of standalones, including debut the Ice Boy, nominated for several awards, and Murkmere and companion novel Ambergate, all of which are on my 'wants' list.

I think Murkmere and Ambergate look absolutely fascinating - the first book is described as 'a haunting Gothic novel about loyalty, betrayal and age-old fears', and has a cover quote saying it's 'memorable and wonderfully written' from the superb Jan Mark; an impressive recommendation.

However I'll be leaving it a while before reading because I've just finished The Devil in the Corner by Elliott, and I'm sufficiently chilled not to want to go near any more Gothic-type stories for a few weeks! This dark thriller follows Maud, who suffered terrible hardship and abuse when working as a governess, only to be taken in by cousin-by-marriage Juliana, and the young artist John working for Juliana to restore a painting in the church. A dual narrative, although with Maud telling more of the story, the two leads are intriguing characters and Elliott builds a creepy, oppressive atmosphere brilliantly even before people start dying. There's always the feeling that something is 'off' here, without being able to place what this is, and the characters who populate the village of Marsham, especially malevolent butcher's boy Jonas Dorley and the demanding Juliana, add to the spookiness. I'd normally have qualms about the speed at which John and Maud fall for each other but it seems realistic for their characters and it's a troubled, tense relationship.

Both The Devil in the Corner and the Pimpernelles series are well worth reading!

Check out Patricia's website and catch her on Twitter.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

More Mini-Recommendations

As mentioned yesterday, I've lost the energy for 'proper' recommendations, but am trying to clear the backlog of stuff I've read. Apologies to anyone who's given me books for the brevity of these.

Descriptions of each book taken from Goodreads. Please assume all books given to me by publisher or author unless otherwise stated. (It's so long since I got some of them that I actually can't remember. Oops.)

The Imaginary, written by AF Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett (Bloomsbury Children's Books) (Bought)

Rudger is Amanda’s best friend. He doesn't exist, but nobody's perfect.

Only Amanda can see her imaginary friend – until the sinister Mr Bunting arrives at Amanda's door. Mr Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he's sniffed out Rudger. Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. But can a boy who isn’t there survive without a friend to dream him up?

I asked at the launch, when buying this, if it would be safe to read it on the way home (I live alone and get scared easily) or whether I should leave it until morning. The general consensus was that I'd be ok reading late at night; in the end I didn't get round to it until the following day - and I'm quite glad. There are some really unsettling moments here, with a staggeringly nasty villain, and I think it could be a bit scary for the lower end of the age range, at least if they're of a nervous disposition.

With that in mind, though, this is a really magical read. I loved the friendship between the two main characters, Amanda and Rudger, and Emily's illustrations add a lot to the story. The use of colour as a contrast to the mainly black and white illustrations is eye-catching, while the narrative is superb. The ending brings tears to join the scares, and will stay with me for a long time. It's also a really funny read!

Highly recommended to children who don't get nervous and to adults of all ages.

Waistcoasts & Weaponry by Gail Carriger (Atom) (lent to me by Faye)

Warning: Spoilers for first two in this series

Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style--with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey stowaway on a train to return their classmate Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. No one suspected what--or who--they would find aboard that suspiciously empty train. Sophronia uncovers a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos and she must decide where her loyalties lie, once and for all. 

I've said previously that the love triangle here is one of my very favourites, but I've also criticised some rather flat supporting characters. The good news here is that the love triangle is brought closer to the forefront of the book, with the majority of it concentrating on the three people involved and Sophronia's friends Dimity and Sidheag; the better news is that this focus on fewer characters means we get a far better idea of who Dimity and Sidheag are and I grew to really like both of them as well-rounded characters.

As ever with this series, the plot is zany but huge fun - there's a brilliant moment when the friends decide to steal the train, which is something I'd never expect to have seen stolen in a YA novel - the world-building is well done, continuing the intriguing jockeying for power of vampires, werewolves and Picklemen, and the final part is intriguing, with one character in particular ending up in a situation which will make book four very interesting indeed.

That said, I think the climax was too open for my preference, even in a series book - I'd have liked to have seen a bit more of a resolution. Still, this is just about the best so far of a very enjoyable series; the fourth is high on my most anticipated list for next year!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Recommendation Round-Up

I need to finally admit to this; I haven't got the energy to review at the moment. I feel bad about this and wish I did, but I've been trying to get things going again for what seems like months and I'm not getting anywhere.

I'm writing two last reviews for The Bookbag which will hopefully be done over the next couple of days; other than that I'll be trying to use the next few weeks to write mini-reviews of some of the books I've read recently and haven't got round to, in between a few more YA A to Z posts and a couple of fabulous guest posts I have lined up. December should be a REALLY good month on the blog, with something I'm massively excited about planned! Come January, I may start doing proper recommendations again.

Descriptions of each book taken from Goodreads. Please assume all books given to me by publisher or author unless otherwise stated. (It's so long since I got some of them that I actually can't remember. Oops.)

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (Simon & Schuster)

Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she's made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy's novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the 'Afterworld' to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved - and terrifying - stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.

Two books for the price of one here as we get the story of Darcy trying to make it in the book industry and Lizzie's paranormal romance. I enjoyed Lizzie's novel despite it not being a genre I'm keen on these days, but it's Darcy's story which had me completely hooked. It's an intriguing insight into the joys (and problems) of being an author, I thought the romance aspect was brilliant, and I liked Darcy's relationship with her family a lot, especially her younger sister. Big thumbs up here and I'll look forward to more from Westerfeld, who I've somehow never read before despite lots of people having recommended him, particularly the Uglies series.

The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard (Hot Key Books) (Bought)

From the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling series Pretty Little Liars comes a thrilling new novel about five perfect girls who are framed for a murder they didn’t commit. 

In Beacon Heights, Washington, five girls—Ava, Caitlin, Mackenzie, Julie, and Parker—know that you don’t have to be good to be perfect. At first the girls think they have nothing in common, until they realize that they all hate Nolan Hotchkiss, who’s done terrible things to each of them. They come up with the perfect way to kill him—a hypothetical murder, of course. It’s just a joke...until Nolan turns up dead, in exactly the way they planned. Only, they didn’t do it. And unless they find the real killer, their perfect lives will come crashing down around them. 

News of this one had somehow completely passed me by so as a big fan of Pretty Little Liars I was thrilled to see it on shelves last month. I picked it up, read two paragraphs, was hooked straight away, bought it and read within a few hours. Shepard's style is just wonderful; her voice - reminiscent of the narration to Desperate Housewives, or of Grace Metalious's classic melodrama Peyton Place - lures me in every time. In many ways it's very reminiscent of PLL, but that's what I was hoping for and it definitely delivers. (On a side note, I've seen a couple of reviews which seem annoyed that it contains privileged kids, forbidden love and dark crimes - it seems a bizarre complaint to have, along the lines of people reading Agatha Christie and moaning "Oh, this is so repetitive, there's ALWAYS a dead body.") I actually got taken by surprise by one twist simply because I was expecting a certain storyline to play out more like Pretty Little Liars than it turned out to. On the less good side, there's a major cliffhanger ending - again, I've come to expect this from Shepard but I still want more closure, darn it! Still, it has me completely hooked as I desperately want to know what happens next.

The Glass Republic/Our Lady of the Streets by Tom Pollock (Jo Fletcher Books) (TGR borrowed from Daphne)

No plot summary because I'll spoil the first in this magnificent trilogy. Reminder of book one, from my review last year.

The City's Son sees Beth Bradley stumble into a secret city where the ghosts of trains rush around, and glass-skinned dancers light the streets. It's notable for exceptionally strong character arcs for several characters - Beth herself, her father and her best friend all develop brilliantly. If anything, my one issue with this one is that I think I would probably have enjoyed it even more if I'd read it fifteen years ago when I was younger and had more of an imagination. Darn you, Tom Pollock, for not writing it a couple of decades earlier! 

Books two and three follow the further adventures of Beth and best friend Pen. I was sent book three by the publishers, then Daphne was kind enough to lend me book two, and I read them back to back. I finished Our Lady of the Streets on the Sunday morning of Nineworlds, saw the author, and immediately walked over to say "**** you" to him, holding back my tears long enough to do so. (I may have actually used slightly politer vocabulary, but that was the rough idea.) Tom, being a really nice guy when not breaking his readers' hearts into a million pieces and trampling on them for fun, took it in good spirits and seemed delighted that he'd had that effect on me. Bah.

The reason I've taken four months or so to review the last two books in this trilogy - and coincidentally, Tom, I've reviewed very little else in this time - not saying that it's ALL YOUR FAULT, but it kinda is - is that I can't really figure out what to say about it. It's phenomenally imaginative, has two superb heroines, and I love the romance Pen gets involved in, which plays a big part in the second book in particular. Every supporting character here seems fully realised and fleshed out - Beth's dad is especially wonderful, as is Johnny Naphtha, leader of the mysterious Chemical Synod. Arguably the best character of them all, though - even ahead of the pair of excellent leads - is London itself, which comes to life (literally, as well as figuratively!) A near-perfect fantasy trilogy; massively recommended.