Sunday, 31 May 2015

Blog Tour: Sarah Sky on Her Favourite Things About Writing Catwalk Criminal

Looking forward to Sarah Sky's upcoming Catwalk Criminal, so really pleased to be helping to kick off the blog tour today!

Favourite Things About Writing Catwalk Criminal

1 Checking out locations

I took a trip up The Shard as I wanted it to be the dramatic backdrop for a gripping start to the book - Jessica's first official undercover mission for Westwood, which goes horribly wrong. I spent a lot of time looking out the windows, trying to figure out potential escape routes. I also quizzed an employee about how the windows are cleaned, which was crucial for my plot.
I scouted locations for London Fashion Week and opted for the BFC Courtyard Show Space at Somerset House - the centre of another plot twist, which I can't reveal!

2 Spy stuff

I love doing all the research for the Jessica Cole books, particularly around the spy gadgets. This is my third year of going to a spy conference in London, to check out all the latest equipment - from unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with gamma sensors and magnetometers to antidotes to biological weapons. I've learnt about surveillance robots, drones, thermal sensors, facial recognition technology and encrypted mobile phones - as well as where to get the best coffee and muffins in the conference hall when I'm all spied out!

I actually got the idea for a crucial plot twist in Catwalk Criminal from attending a seminar at the conference. A speaker was discussing the biggest future terrorist threats to the UK. Let's just say it was an eye-opener and not what I'd expected at all. I knew it would make a great feature in a spy novel and I ended up basing my book around this concept.

3 Hacking

I delved into the world of hacking before writing this book. I read up on famous hackers and hacking organisations and watched documentaries about their shadowy worlds. I found the dark web fascinating - but also extremely scary. Recent high profile cases such as the hack on Sony and the widespread leaking of celebrities' private photographs through iCloud continue to highlight the vital importance of good cyber security. Again, I attended a seminar about hacking at the spy conference and was pretty shocked by how easy it is to hack into some very high profile companies. Documenting all your important passwords in a folder called 'passwords', is not a terribly good idea...

4 Fashion

I love deciding on the clothes Jessica will wear in her modelling shoots and usually scour glossy magazines, Pinterest and the internet for inspiration. This time, I also looked at designers who are currently combining the latest technology with cutting edge fashion. Interestingly, in the weeks leading up to Catwalk Criminal's publication, TV presenter, Donna Air, wore an interactive dress to the BAFTAs, which lit up on the red carpet. We're probably going to see a lot more digital designs on the catwalk in the future.

5 Becky/Jamie

Fans of Code Red Lipstick told me they wanted to hear more about Jessica's best friend, Becky. She played a minor role in Code Red Lipstick, but I wanted her to feature more prominently in this book. She becomes an important part of the plot and will be a catalyst for Jessica's future actions. Jamie also takes centre stage, but it's not plain sailing. If Jessica was finding it difficult to lie to him in Fashion Assassin, it's even harder now that she's been implicated in a cyber terrorist attack on London and the States. Jamie's not too keen on who she's spending all her time with either - a new character called Zak.

6 Introducing new characters

Zak was fun to write - a gorgeous bad boy who harbours a secret. Jessica feels a connection with the top US model, but hates his arrogance and the fact he's getting in the way of her romance with Jamie. He's going to be trouble...

7 Plot twists/ cliffhangers

I enjoy writing Jessica into corners, to see how she can escape. I know fans of Code Red Lipstick and Fashion Assassin expect a good twist as well as red herrings. I think they'll be pretty shocked by the way things turn out...

8 Meeting fans of my books

I enjoyed the UKYA event in Birmingham and it was great to meet fans of Code Red Lipstick and Fashion Assassin. I hope to meet more Jessica Cole enthusiasts soon. I'm talking about the History of Female Spies at Beaconsfield High School's TEDx conference on July 3, alongside authors Non Pratt and Tom Pollock. I'll also be at Hillingdon Libraries' YA Shot on October 28. Hope to see some of you there!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Catwalk Criminal
(Jessica Cole: Model Spy #3)
By Sarah Sky

Models, spies and lipstick gadgets in this fast-paced teen series. Jessica Cole has been recruited to Westwood, MI6's secret division of supermodel spies. Her first official mission seems simple at first, until it turns into the biggest cyber-attack ever known, threatening the security of the whole country. Then it emerges there is a traitor in the midst at MI6 - and suddenly Jessica herself is being accused. With no one believing her innocence, and the country on the verge of chaos, Jessica has no choice but to take matters of national security into her own hands and catch the culprit - fresh from the catwalk.

Information About the Book:

Author: Sarah Sky
Title: Catwalk Criminal (Jessica Cole: Model Spy #3)
Genre: Contemporary / Crime YA
Publisher: Scholastic
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Published: 4st June 2015

Author Information:

Sarah Sky is the author of Scholastic's Jessica Cole: Model Spy series with Code Red Lipstick and Fashion Assassin. Catwalk Criminal is published in June 2015.
Sarah is a freelance education journalist and lives in West London with her husband and two young children.
She grew up in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, and studied English at Nottingham University before gaining a post-graduate diploma in journalism at Cardiff University. 
She trained as a journalist at the Western Daily Press in Bristol. Her highlight was interviewing screen legend Charlton Heston and lowest point was being sneezed on by a cow at a fatstock competition.
Sarah worked as an education correspondent for a national newspaper before going freelance. She now divides her time between journalism and writing.
She loves reading, baking, table tennis and martial arts. She's a green belt in kick-boxing and a brown with two white stripes at karate, currently training for black.
Author Links:

Tour Stops:

Monday 1st June

Tuesday 2nd June

Wednesday 3rd June

Thursday 4th June

Friday 5th June

Saturday 6th June

Sunday 7th June

Cover Reveal: The Crowham Martyrs by Jane McLoughlin

There are some great books coming out in June - so many that we're having a Twitter chat tomorrow, Monday 1st June, at 8pm to discuss them all! One I'm really looking forward to is The Crowham Martyrs and I'm THRILLED to have a reveal here of both the front AND back covers!

Huge thanks to author Jane McLoughlin and publishers Catnip for setting this up with me.

(And coming soon on the blog - interview with Crowham Martyrs cover designer Pip!)

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Review: Summer Love Anthology edited by Annie Harper

I was lent this by my friend Charlie, who's reviewed it herself at Charlie in a Book and pretty much says nearly everything I wanted to say. Her story by story approach is something I've never been good at for short story anthologies, so if you want more details, I'd highly recommend heading over to her blog; I just wanted to share a few thoughts here as well.

The overall feeling I got when reading this collection was of real happiness and joy - there's an amazing feelgood factor which I still don't think we see enough of in LGBT books (although with novels like Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and Everything Leads To You recently, there's at least a real improvement happening!) I particularly loved the exceptional chemistry between several of the pairings, and the accepting families and friends which many, although not all, of the characters here had.

Naomi Tajedler's What The Heart Wants, a contemporary story taking place around a summer art class, is the masterpiece of the collection, managing to include a young girl coming out, a gorgeous first relationship, a strong friendship, sibling rivalry, and a character who identifies as asexual. (This last, in particular, is something I want to see SO MUCH more of and barely ever find!) This is so well done it feels as rich and fulfilling as many novels do, in the space of just 40 pages or so. I loved so many characters here and will pre-order multiple copies of anything by Tajedler after reading this.

The other stand-out for me is Amy Stilgenbauer's The Fire Eater's Daughter, a carnival-set 1950s romance with a young girl waiting for the return of the fire eater's daughter who she's fallen for. As well as protagonist Ruth and love interest Constance, I adored Ruth's mother Hannah, a Polish woman who cares deeply for her daughter. I originally wrote that this needed to be a novel of its own, but that's ridiculous, thinking about it. It doesn't NEED to be anything other than it is, a gorgeously evocative short story. That said, I'd absolutely read a full length work based on this, or following later adventures of any/all of these three superb characters!

'Gorgeously evocative' is also the best way to describe The Willow Weeps For Us, Suzey Ingold's story of two young men falling in love in the hazy summer and autumn of 1939, just before war breaks out. I loved Jack and Richard, and the quietness of their romance, and Ingold and Stilgenbauer are the two authors here whose writing style stands out as exceptionally good.

Brief thoughts on the others - Cody and Andre in Beautiful Monsters by Rachel Davidson Leigh have stunning chemistry between them, as do Poppy and Ava in On The Shore by Rachel Blackburn. Ella J Ash's Surface Tension features some of the best flirting I've seen for a long, long time, and I love reading great flirting. S J Martin's The Most Handsome, about a transgender main character learning to accept himself, is a lovely story and of all of the contemporary ones probably has the best sense of place, capturing the small town of Provincetown beautifully. The remaining two, Caroline Hanlin's Something Like Freedom and My Best Friend by H J Coulter, didn't stand out so much to me but are solid reads and add to the collection's diversity.

In general, I'd read more from any author included here - an impressive success rate for any anthology, particularly one featuring stories from 9 debutantes! Hugely recommended; I'm sure anyone with an interest in LGBTQ books will find several stories to love here.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Reads

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

The Twice Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones by Susie Day - This is about a girl who makes a wish and summons her future self, a year older, to help her become a cool and glamorous teenager. It's a fun read, told with great humour, and wonderful characters. And then you get the ending which I haven't QUITE forgiven Susie for even after nearly three years. BRING TISSUES.

Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison - One of the funniest books of the entire of last year for me, with brilliant characters. Superb.

Paper Towns by John Green - You can't have a list of summer books without a road trip story, surely? I was tempted by the superb Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, but as I've already got another of hers here, and I haven't read Maggie Harcourt's The Last Summer of Us yet (although it's getting FANTASTIC reviews!), I'll go for this. My favourite of John Green's books, I love the way he captures the last few days of a group of teenagers' school lives so well.

Summer Love edited by Annie Harper - There'll be a full review of this going up in a few days, but it is SO good that you should pre-order now rather than waiting for that! A bunch of heartwarming, fun, and gorgeous stories with characters and authors from all over the QUILTBAG spectrum. 

We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen - The ultimate seafaring epic. An adventure story, a romance, a coming-of-age story, a war tale, a drama, and a comedy, and one of the greatest novels of this century so far.

Indigo Blues by Danielle Joseph - This dual narrative, about a boy who becomes a hot new rock star on the back of a song he wrote about being dumped, and the girl who dumped him, is a fun, fresh and engaging story. A perfect summer read!

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson - You're happy to be seen lying on the beach crying your eyes out, yeah? If so, take this with you! If you'd rather do your sobbing in private, perhaps leave it until the evening when you're back at the hotel - but either way, a must read if you haven't already devoured it.

Remix by Non Pratt - Capturing a music festival perfectly, Non's newest book - out in just a week or so! - is a gorgeous story of friendship with the same wonderful characterisation and great writing style that made debut Trouble (which would also be fabulous for this list!) a massive favourite amongst bloggers.

Starring Kitty/Spotlight on Sunny by Keris Stainton - Sunny is perhaps more of an obvious beach read because of the setting, in the school holidays as friends Sunny, Hannah and Kitty go on a film course and get to know London. I couldn't recommend it without also suggesting you read the first in this series, though, a gorgeous LGBT love story!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Video Blog Tour: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

I enjoyed reading Katherine Woodfine's debut, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, so I'm thrilled to have a video from her on the blog today!

You are cordially invited to attend the GRAND OPENING of Sinclair’s department store!

After the death of her father genteel young lady Miss Sophie Taylor must seek employment.  She’s thrilled to join the staff at Sinclair’s, the most beautiful department store in London – and consequently – the whole world.  There she enters a world of bonbons, hats, perfumes and MYSTERY around every corner. 

Working at Sinclair’s, Sophie makes lots of new friends: GLAMOROUS aspiring actress, Lil, serial paper obsessed Billy, and Joe – who is on the run from underworld criminals.

When the priceless Clockwork Sparrow is stolen from Sinclair’s grand opening exhibition, it is up to Sophie and her friends to bring the DASTARDLY villains to justice…


Katherine Woodfine is Arts Project Manager at Booktrust, the UK’s most prominent literacy charity. She is a true champion of children’s literature and throughout her time at Booktrust has project-managed the Children's Laureateship and worked on a huge range of other children's book prizes and initiatives, including YALC 2014, the UK’s first Young Adult Literature Convention, curated by Malorie Blackman.

She has reviewed and recommended children’s titles online, in print and on the radio as part of the founding team at Down the Rabbit Hole, a monthly show for Resonance FM discussing children’s literature.  She lives in London.  Follow Katherine on Twitter @followtheyellow.

Don't miss the rest of the tour, as well as Katherine's brilliant post on the Guardian today!

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow Video Blog Tour

Friday 22nd May – Tales of Yesterday
Saturday 23rd May – Library Mice
Monday 25th May – YA Yeah Yeah
Tuesday 26th May – Overflowing Library
Wednesday 27th May – Middle Grade Strikes Back
Thursday 28th May – Winged Reviews
Friday 29th May – Snuggling on the Sofa
Saturday 30th May – YA Shot
Monday 1st June – Special Announcement! (A special post that we will share via Egmont channels on the day!)
Tuesday 2nd June – Playing by the Book
Wednesday 3rd June – George Lester Reads
Thursday 4th June – Chouchett Blog

Monday, 18 May 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Twitter Accounts To Follow For LGBT Book Recs/Discussion

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

There are SO MANY posts I was considering doing for today, for Top Ten Tuesday free choice! To fit in with my impromptu LGBT recs week, I was originally going to do the ten upcoming LGBT books I'm most looking forward to, but then I thought about doing ten fab people to follow for LGBT book recs/discussion on Twitter. (I may do the other one later today if I get a chance.)

Then, of course, I couldn't get CLOSE to narrowing it down to ten people, so I've gone for top ten (oops, make that twenty 25) authors and top ten bloggers/sites. (NOT CHEATING, Debbie, whatever you think!)

I've gone for my top author and top blogger first, as I'd written a paragraph talking about them both back when this was a reasonably-sized list, and then gone bloggers/sites alphabetically by Twitter handle, and authors alphabetically by Twitter handle, apart from a couple at the top of the authors list where I wanted to draw attention to other sites they're involved with. I did want to write more about individual authors, but ran out of time!

Also, there are people who nearly made it on but I was trying to keep the list semi-reasonably sized; there are no doubt people I've forgotten and will be MORTIFIED about as soon as I realise this, and there are almost certainly amazing people tweeting about LGBT books who I haven't come across yet. Comments pointing me in their direction would be HUGELY appreciated, and an apology to anyone who isn't on there.

Finally, a huge thanks to my friend Ming (@raremediumwelldone) for her fabulous suggestions!

Top two

@MissDahlELama and @charlieinabook - I would say that if you spent a year reading NOTHING but books recommended by at least one of these two, you would end up with an incredibly good reading list. Charlie is probably the one person whose recommendation of a book can single-handedly immediately make me go out and buy it if I have money available. (I CAN'T immediately go out and buy every book Dahlia recommends because there are just SO MANY, but I try to pick up a decent amount and I don't think I've ever been disappointed.) 

Charlie also writes for MuggleNet and Inclusive Minds, as well as blogging at Charlie In A Book while Dahlia has her own brilliant blog at the Daily Dahlia (including this AMAZING QUILTBAG compendium!) and can often be found on the B & N teen blog, in case her Twitter feed hasn't destroyed your bank balance completely.

Other bloggers/sites

@snugglingonsofa - Superb book blogger at Snuggling on theSofa, wonderful at recommending diverse books, and keeper of the fantastic spreadsheet which is a great way of checking out upcoming LGBT releases!

@cloverness - Fabulous blogger at Fluttering Butterflies, as well as one of the amazing bloggers (alongside numerous others on this list) at @BookishBrits. This awesome recent YouTube video about the relaunch of the Bookish Brits Book Club, focusing on diversity, is brilliant!

@daydreamin_star - Faye is hosting next week's LGBT Readathon at her brilliant A Daydreamer's Thoughts blog, which will include the #UKLGBTChat on Sunday 31st May at 8pm. I know from past experience of her chats that they're brilliant, and she is great at recommending really interesting diverse books, so definitely looking forward to this. (And hoping to take part in the readathon, despite being terrible at them!)

@diversebooks - Surely the most successful book-related grassroots organisation for some time, the Twitter account, the website, the associated hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks - have been responsible for SO MUCH wonderful discussion over the past year or so!

@Jo_OuaB - Book blogger at the excellent Once Upon ABookcase, in addition to being a brilliant bookseller at Foyles' flagship Charing Cross Road. It's mainly down to her displays and recommendations that Foyles is definitely the place to go when tracking down LGBT YA books! 

@Lunaslibrary - Luna is a great blogger and excellent on Twitter, as well as designing some gorgeous book related jewellery! I love her brilliant Diverse Bookcase list, with a huge amount of great books, and links to her reviews for many of them.

@queerya - Run by @Caroni_Clarke, brilliant site with fab posts - but Caroline is also wonderful at sharing so many other brilliant things she finds via Twitter.

@thegayya - Current Twitter header has Pantomime, Everything Leads To You, and Simon vs in the centre, so it would be worth recommending on that ALONE. However it's also a fantastic site with so many superb posts - loving Dahlia's yesterday on Making Choices in LGBTQ YA, and Nita Tyndall's from Sunday, Labels are for Soup Cans (and also for me)

@TheGeorgeLester - Superb blogger at and booktuber at - one of the most awesomely enthusiastic people I've ever met, when it comes to LGBT books!

Other authors

@lauren_e_james - Lauren runs the brilliant LGBT YA Tumblr, and tweets lots of great recommendations and discussion about LGBT books both on that Twitter feed and her personal one. I really loved this post about her second book, which has a lesbian protagonist.

@swritesbooks - Author of one of my three favourite books of the year so far, the magnificent Last Leaves Falling (the other two being The Art Of Being Normal and The Wolf Wilder). Sarah also runs @DiversifYA - Twitter account and amazing site - along with @mariekeyn, who's also wonderful on Twitter. 

@amipolonsky (Ami Polonsky)

@beckyalbertalli (Becky Albertalli)

@bibliogato (Katherine Locke)

@Cat_Clarke (Cat Clarke)

@Corinneduyvis (Corrine Duyvis)

@elloecho (Ellen Oh)

@hannahmosk (Hannah Moskovitz)

@_JamesDawson (James Dawson)

@kerensd (Keren David)

@keris (Keris Stainton)

@LeahRaeder (Leah Raeder)

@lisa_letters (Lisa Williamson)

@lizkesslerbooks (Liz Kessler)

@LR_Lam (Laura Lam)

@malindalo (Malinda Lo)

@MissMolliWrites (Molli Moran)

@mariekeyn (Marieke Nijkamp)

@mssusieday (Susie Day)

@Nina_lacour (Nina LaCour)

@NitaTyndall (Nita Tyndall)

@Patrick_Ness (Patrick Ness)

@Robin_Talley (Robin Talley)

@sharpegirl (Tess Sharpe)

@tehawesomersace (Justina Ireland)

Review: We Are All Made Of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Stewart is a thirteen-year-old prodigy, academically brilliant but socially inept, and grieving over the death of his mother. Ashley is a fourteen-year-old queen bee, ruling the school but struggling with her work - and hiding the secret that her dad split from her mother as he'd fallen for another man. When Stewart's father and Ashley's mother fall in love, the four of them move in together - but can these unlikely new siblings learn to tolerate each other?

I've been gushing about this on social media and at events a LOT since first reading it one Wednesday last November, then rereading it just two days later as I loved it so much. So of course, I've never actually got around to reviewing. For the few readers of this site who've somehow missed my dozens (maybe hundreds?) of tweets about it, this is an absolute gem. The two narrators have brilliant voices, particularly Ashley. As a former secondary school teacher, she's right up there with Candy Harper's wonderful Faith as one of the characters who has felt like the most realistic portrayal of a popular teen that I've read in YA novels. She's a complex lead, often bratty, having real problems with her father's sexuality, and capable of being mean to Stewart - but she's also a loving daughter, someone who tries to do her best and has flashes of empathy even when she seems at her nastiest, and I adored her character arc over the book. Stewart is also very well-written, but it's arguably the adult characters who are even more impressive - Stewart's dad, Ashley's parents, and her dad's new boyfriend are all brilliantly rounded, and the new dynamic of their family relationship, with Ashley's parents staying friends after they split up, is excellent.

In addition to the great characters, it's a wonderfully warm-hearted story, with a beautiful feeling of family and friendship, and a message about tackling bullying and supporting those around you. Definitely one of my favourite contemporaries of the year so far!

Slightly more spoilery bit below - warning in case you want to stop reading now!

Stewart is a good character with a strong voice, and is absolutely sympathetic in his grief, but it's Ashley who stands out to me because she feels like a character who's not seen that much in books, at least as a POV character. I think that the way she grows as a person throughout the course of the book, becoming more accustomed to her father’s sexuality and his new partner, as well as to living with Stewart, is really good, and that change feels more realistic because of the little sparks of niceness we see in her earlier on when she’s less of a pleasant character. I was also really unsure how it would play out – one character, in particular, ended up playing a far different role from the one I’d have expected them to, and it’s great to be surprised when reading a novel. The heartwarming, cheer-inducing ending is amazing; it feels breathlessly happy, and positive, and is up there with Sophia Bennett’s You Don’t Know Me as one of the climaxes which has left me with the biggest grin on my face when reading.