Saturday, 26 December 2015

5th Blogoversary Celebration - 5 Top 5s

5 years ago I was in a job which I was struggling with and pretty much hated, I'd been living in a flat in the town where I was working for about six months and barely knew anyone there, had barely any friends, and I believe there were virtually NO photos of me online which were accessible unless you were a friend of mine on Facebook.  (This may be wrong,because yeah, Facebook privacy settings - ugh!!)

I started a blog on Boxing Day 2010 and could never have even begun to imagine what an incredible effect it would have had on my life. Moving down to London was obviously mainly a job-related decision but part of the reason for making the move was down the thought that I could maybe go to the occasional book-related event. That turned out to be the tiniest bit of an understatement. After struggling the first few months down here, partly because of job-related stuff and partly through social anxiety issues keeping me from going to many things, I've ended up loving it - mainly because of the incredibly welcome I've had from so many people. I don't want to name all of the authors, publicists, and other bloggers who've become incredibly good friends - because I'd possibly fill this page and STILL miss someone out! - but a special mention to my wonderful book club - Asti, Caroline, Caitlin, Charlie, Daphne, Debbie, Faye, Julianne and Stacey - for so many incredible evenings/afternoons, and to Louie for being a brilliant co-organiser of #DrinkYA.

Anyway, going to stop there before I get TOO sentimental, and move on to the main part of the post - 5 top 5s of the last 5 years!  

5 best YA/MG books

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Walker) - Gorgeously produced - particularly the first version with beautiful pictures of poetry - and even MORE gorgeously written, this story of Lennie, grief-stricken at her sister's death and the two boys in her life - newcomer Joe and Toby, Bailey's boyfriend - is a lyrical and truly wonderful novel.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico (Bloomsbury) - If Katherine Rundell had written Rooftoppers and nothing else, she'd still be one of the best authors of the decade so far. The Wolf Wilder, her most recent book, confirms her as being outrageously talented - an incredibly lyrical author who creates superb characters and brings out a surprising amount of humour in the terrible situation lead character Feo finds herself in. Gelrev Ongbico's gorgeous illustrations really add to the novel and it's my book of the year for 2015. (As I think I've mentioned just a few times before!!) 

Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Indigo) - The sizzling chemistry between narrator Sophie and her secret girlfriend, Mina, is incredible here. Sadly we only see this in flashbacks as Mina's dead by the start of the story and Sophie's investigating her death. Another incredible tearjerker, this also has a superb portrayal of chronic pain, which Sophie suffers from.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Electric Monkey) - I can never talk much about this brilliant World War II story without wanting to burst into tears, but main characters Queenie and Maddie are a 'sensational team' - and individually two of my favourites in recent years. This broke my heart more than anything has in many years (even more so than TSIE and FFY!) but oh, what an incredible read it was!

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson (David Fickling Books) - Stunning, gorgeous and wonderful narrative - great to see a sensitively-written trans coming out story, while the two narrators here are outstanding. Heartbreaking at times but ultimately hopeful and uplifting, this JUST edged out another 2015 contemporary, Sarah (Fox) Benwell's The Last Leaves Falling.

5 best YA/MG series

Faith series by Candy Harper (Simon & Schuster) - The perfect contemporary series. Light, warm-hearted, and with an absolutely wonderful group of friends at the centre. Faith, her friendships with Meg, Angharad and Lily, and her relationships with her family are all superbly done while I really enjoyed the flirtations and romance which are a part of the plot but never come close to dominating it. I also ADORE the way the friends handle falling out with each other, by actually talking through issues.

Department 19 by Will Hill (Harper Collins) - Five books, more than 800,000 words, and completely gripping from start to finish. Hill's tale of a group of descendants of the men and women who took on Dracula, saving the world from vampires over a century, is an incredibly telling epic which has dozens of superb characters in. High stakes action and brilliant plot twists make this a must read.

Wereworld by Curtis Jobling (Puffin) - Brilliant mix of action adventure and political intrigue in a world ruled over by Werelords, who can transform into beasts. I love the incredible world-building while there are staggeringly good character arcs, particularly main character Drew, his brother Trent and his first friend Hector.

Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson by Stephanie Burgis (Templar) - The three MG novels about Kat are one of the most incredible series I've ever read - they're stunning stories about an utterly fantastic heroine, set in a brilliantly realised Regency England complete with magic. Follow-up novella Courting Magic, which sees Kat preparing to come out as a debutante, is also superb. I love Kat's relationship with her sisters and her rakish brother, while her father and stepmama are excellent as well.

Micah Grey series by Laura Lam (Tor, previously Strange Chemistry) - Pantomime, first in this series, was the first intersex main character I can remember reading about. I love Micah as a character and the fantastic relationships with acrobat Aenea and clown Drystan. Lam's gorgeous world building brings her setting of Ellada to life superbly as well. I'm so excited for book 3, Masquerade, which at one point looked lost with Strange Chemistry's sad demise but which we're now getting in 2017 from Tor - yay!

5 best authors (A note here - obviously there are a LOT of authors I adore! I went for people who have proven to be consistently excellent, writing in different age ranges and/or genres.)

Holly Bourne - Holly Bourne's Soulmates was a stunning debut with great chemistry between the two leads. However it's the Spinsters Club series that's really made me fall in love with her writing - Am I Normal Yet?, released earlier this year, is a brilliant read which (along with Patrick Ness's The Rest Of Us Just Live Here) is one of the best portrayals I've ever seen in YA of a lead with mental health issues. Evie, who struggles with OCD, is a fantastic character, while it's incredibly good to see a positive portrayal of therapy and medication. Somehow, next year's sequel How Hard Can Love Be? which sees Evie's friend Amber go to America for the summer is an even better read. I always think taking a main character out of the setting of a book can be risky but the new characters we meet are wonderful while it's great to still see Amber's friends Lottie and Evie via Spinsters Club meetings over webcam.

Susie Day - Five years ago Susie Day was a fairly new YA author with a couple of really fun novels out. 2012 saw her release The Twice-Lived Summer Of Bluebell Jones, which I've still not quite forgiven her for. It's a fantastic book but I finished it at 8:50 am, 5 minutes before starting teaching for the day, and was not remotely prepared for the heartbreak it inflicted on me. Since then, she's turned her considerable talents to books for younger readers - the Pea quartet is one of my absolute favourite series, and is incredibly close to making it into the above list, while spin-off The Secrets Of Sam and Sam is another gorgeous read. I particularly love Susie for brilliant sibling relationships, as seen by Sam and Sam, Pea and her two sisters, and Bluebell and Tiger.

Phil Earle - I was hugely impressed by Phil's early books Saving Daisy and Heroic (I've still not read Being Billy and really should change this!) However they're books I admired, rather than loved, because they're quite dark and my personal preference lies towards the lighter end of the scale. (Looking at my 'favourite books', you could raise an eyebrow here, but it does generally!) However I really loved the significantly more cheerful The Bubble Wrap Boy, while his first MG collaboration with superstar illustrator Sara Ogilvie, Demolition Dad, was AMAZING. Sequel Superhero Street is one of the next books on my TBR pile and I can't wait!

Natasha Farrant - Natasha Farrant's The Things We Did For Love was a stunning stand-alone which made me cry my eyes out. She then moved onto writing the superb Bluebell Gadsby series, about a hilarious family, which is also another really emotional read a lot of the time. Narrator Bluebell is a lovely character and I adore the relationship she has with the rest of her family.

Jon Mayhew - Jon Mayhew's stunning Mortlock trilogy, a Victorian-set Gothic chiller series, put him firmly on my radar as an author to watch. Since then, he's followed up with the excellent Jules Verne-inspired Monster Odyssey! Dakkar is a great main character and the series is full of fantastic adventures and brilliant supporting characters. With two superb series under his belt, I'm excited to see what's next from him.


5 best adult books/series

The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham (Orbit) - Incredible world-building here (this is something I REALLY appreciate in series!) while I love the way that Abraham takes really established fantasy tropes and turns them sideways. One of the best ever villains as well, sympathetic at many points but so well-drawn that his terrible atrocities never seem out of character.   

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka (Jonathan Cape) - Dying sports journalist WG Karunasena, who spends the novel trying to create 'a half-decent documentary on Sri Lankan cricket', focusing on a mysterious player who he remembers as his country's greatest ever but who has disappeared and is barely spoken about, is a stunning creation with one of the best voices I can ever recall reading.

Russell's Attic series by SL Huang (Self-published) - Imagine Jack Reacher but with a main character who's a young woman so good at mathematics that she's practically a superhero. Cas calculates the answer to problems so quickly that she can dodge bullets and beat up men much bigger than her. It's far-fetched but incredibly good fun, while the moral ambiguity we see makes it stand out in a crowded field. A truly outstanding series that I wish more people I knew were reading.

Thomas Hawkins series by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder & Stoughton) - Hawkins, thrown into the notorious Marshalsea debtors' prison in the first of this series, the Devil in the Marshalsea, is brilliant. As for his cellmate, the mysterious Fleet - possibly a murderer - he's a phenomenal character and the relationship between the pair of them is SUPERB. I love the way Hodgson brings the 18th century to life so well, while both mysteries in the series have left me completely stumped, but the revelations have made perfect sense.

A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab (Titan Books) - Fantastic world-building as Schwab superbly brings to life three different Londons - King George III's Grey London, familiar to anyone with a grasp of history, Red London where magic exists and is revered, and White London where people murder their way to rule. Kell, one of the only people who can move between these worlds, and sneak thief Delilah Bard are two fabulous characters, and there's a great plot as well. I'm really excited for sequel A Gathering of Shadows, coming soon!

5 best short stories (I hate saying too much about shorts as I always feel it's really easy to give stuff away! So not going into details here, but lots of fantastic diversity and brilliant writing in these five! SL Huang and Stephanie Burgis's are both available online; click on the title to read.)

The Unladylike Education of Agatha Tremain by Stephanie Burgis
Hunting Monsters by SL Huang
Tumbling by Susie Day (available in the Love Hurts collection edited by Malorie Blackman, Corgi)
Gentlewoman by Laura Dockrill (available in the Love Hurts collection edited by Malorie Blackman, Corgi)
What The Heart Wants by Naomi Tajedler (available in the Summer Love collection edited by Annie Harper, Duet Books)

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Book Review: Leap of Faith by Candy Harper

I've actually avoided spoilers for the first two books! My reviews of both can be found at The Bookbag - Have A Little Faith and Keep The Faith.

I love this series a LOT - I've bought something like 17 copies of the first book to pass on to people at various points - and am invested in it to the point where my excitement at getting my hands on a copy was mixed with nervousness - what if it was a let-down? Thankfully, it was clear from very early on that I had nothing to worry about here - I broke my personal "don't mention what I'm reading on Twitter within the first 100 pages in case I give up on it" rule (for the second time in 2 days, the first being for Holly Bourne's How Hard Can Love Be?) to tweet "Perfect book is perfect. Well, I'm only 37 pages in so far, but they are an AMAZING 37 pages!"

The basics of the plot here are that Faith is going on a French exchange, which best friend Megs is strangely reluctant to join her on. Meanwhile there's more boy trouble, while she's also trying to juggle revising for exams and applying to become a prefect (despite perhaps being a less than obvious choice in the minds of certain teachers!)

The plot is never really the main point of a Faith book though - instead it's a welcome way to catch up with one of the best friendship groups in recent YA fiction. The dynamic between Faith and Megs - both quite brash and outspoken, shy Angharad, and Lily, who's in a world of her own, is really wonderful. Throughout the book we get to see how much the four care for each other, but perhaps more importantly we also see them again negotiating issues which arise when people aren't always as thoughtful as they could be. The boys add to this brilliantly - while there's a possibility of romance for Faith here, a lot of the dealings with the guys are about being friends and working out how to act around someone who likes you in a different way from the way you like them (or vice versa.) The addition of the French students, especially Faith's exchange partner Josette, adds some great new characters, both in France and in England when the return part of the visit takes place.

There's also brilliant relationships between Faith and her family - her grandmother, always one of my favourite characters, moving in to stay with them is hilarious - while I've laughed far more at this one than at anything else I've read this year. As hilarious as it is, though, it's the warmth with which Candy Harper tells the story that really makes this completely wonderful for me. The last few pages here feel like they may be the natural endpoint for the series - and while I loved them and would in some ways be happy for them to be the last we hear of Faith and her friends, there's a large part of me which just wants to BEG Candy Harper to write dozens more books about them.

Definitely the best yet of this fabulous series. Generally I need a bit of time to think about how good something is and where it fits in with the other releases so far this year before throwing around accolades like "My Favourite YA book of 2015", but it's the only one I've read in the last 12 months where I've been SO desperate to share my love for it that I've written a review within a couple of hours of finishing it (there are a lot I've really loved that I've still not reviewed at all.) AND it's the book from this year I think I'm most likely to reread time and time again. So...

Yeah, my favourite YA book of 2015.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

International Giveaway: Map of Fates by Maggie Hall

If you've already read The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall, you probably don't need to be told that its gorgeous, thrilling, sexy-as-hell sequel, Map of Fates, releases in three months. What you do need is an Advance Readers Copy of it, and some signed swag, and this is where you can get it!
(Photo: Sofia Embid)
To get your hands on a beautiful ARC, signed postcard, signed bookmark, and tattoos, you have to make the same tough choice as every Conspiracy fan:

Team Jack?
Team Stellan?

Pick one of the below pictures (with thanks to creator Diana Sousa!) and share it – on Instagram and Twitter – with the hashtag #MapOfMates, and tell us where you’d want to be swept away on an all-expenses-paid trip!
On January 2, five ARC winners will be selected, and yes, the giveaway is international!
  • 1 #TeamJack from Instagram
  • 1 #TeamStellan from Instagram
  • 1 #TeamJack from Twitter
  • 1 #TeamStellan from Twitter
  • 1 from either team who has one of the pics as their Twitter avatar
Haven’t read The Conspiracy of Us yet? Buy it now, and/or enter to win it (until 12/17) here! (Prefer paperback? That releases on February 2nd!) (Whether you enter or not, please spread the word; Maggie’s an amazing, generous, and talented member of the YA community, and due to emergency circumstances, she's unable to promote her own books right now, so please give all the support you can!) (But, like, you should enter, because these books are pretty damn good.)
Winners will be notified on January 2, 2016. See you on #MapOfMates!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten International 2016 Debuts I'm Looking Forward To

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.
This is books by non-UK authors - UK ones will be up over on Teens on Moon Lane shortly. (Just waiting to confirm whether I'm allowed to talk about one of them!)

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (Hot Key Books) March - Okay, I'll be completely honest and say that I don't really do time travel or time slip books normally. The only one I can think of that I've really enjoyed is Lauren James's The Next Together, which is wonderful. I'm really hoping Heilig's Girl From Everywhere, a tale of a girl and her opium-addicted father sailing through real and fictional destinations throughout time, will be another one - reviews from numerous people who've read it so far suggest it really is outstanding.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (Andersen Press) March - Small town Southern Gothic, by an author who seems super-cool on Twitter, which is massively recommended by Dahlia Adler? Oh yeah, you'd better believe I'm all over this novel about a preacher's son and his friends trying to make it through their senior year at high school!

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber Children's Books) April - Four teenagers' lives become entangled in Alaska in 1970. I love stories about groups of people coming together, while the setting sounds incredibly intriguing. Again, several people whose opinions I trust have absolutely loved this one. 

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom (Harper Collins) May - This book about a blind girl reacting to the reappearance at school of the boy who broke her heart is getting incredible reviews and Parker sounds like a completely unforgettable character!

We Were Never Here by Krystal Sutherland (Hot Key Books) Autumn - In general, I go for books either because I'm immediately drawn in by the blurb, or numerous people I respect speak highly of them. There are only a few people who, by themselves, can get me super-excited about a book - but Katie Webber (whose own debut Wing Jones is my most-anticipated of 2017!), is definitely one of them, so her strong recommendation of Krystal Sutherland's high school love story, about a senior falling for the new girl at school, has got me desperate to read it. 

As far as I know, the below five aren't being published in the UK. I would LOVE to be wrong here; let me know if I am!

Of Fire And Stars Audrey Coulthurst - "A princess with a forbidden magical gift is shipped off to a neighboring kingdom to marry a prince, but she has to choose between her duty and her heart when she falls in love with his rogueish horse-training sister instead" may not be the best blurb ever... oh, who am I kidding? It is CLEARLY the best blurb ever. Magic, girls in love, Game of Thrones meets Malinda Lo comparisons - when can I get my hands on this?!

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrustskie - I finished this an hour or two ago after utterly devouring the incredibly compelling second half. Set in a future where genetically-engineered sea monsters called Reckoners protect ships from pirates, it follows Cassandra Leung, kidnapped by pirate queen Santa Elena and forced to raise a Reckoner pup for her. Cas knows that Reckoner trainers are meant to come back, like the ancient Spartans, with their shield or on it, but is determined to stay alive to work out just how Santa Elena was able to get a Reckoner, and pass word of it to her family. Great, great world-building here, while there's a slow-burn romance between Cas and the pirate girl assigned to take care of her which is working very well for me so far. Ending is incredibly powerful, as well!
Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate - The only other one on this list I've read so far, Redgate's story intrigued me in two ways - firstly because it's told by seven narrators and secondly because it has the first openly pansexual character I can remember reading in YA. Multiple narrator stories are something that always excite me in theory, but in practise I find they tend to be hit or miss. This is a decided hit, with all seven leads having strong, distinctive voices. The pansexual character is handled really well and the way that the characters react to the central incident - a rumour of a teacher/student affair - feels completely believable. 

This Is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp - Hugely recommended by Luna, who's pushing this on EVERYBODY, there's a copy of this making its way around UK bloggers at the moment. Marieke is completely awesome and I've been made even more excited for this by the reactions of those who've read it so far. It's another told from various perspectives, set over just 54 minutes as a school shooting takes place. Described by Debbie, who has amazing taste, as "one of the most emotionally gripping books (she's) read for a very long time" this is a must-read.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo - Saying I've saved the best until last seems like a stretch with a list of ten books which ALL look utterly amazing. But a romance about a trans girl, written by a trans woman, with a trans model on the cover, and with Alloy Entertainment involved (which suggests it will get a BIG marketing push, hopefully showing the desire for more LGBT novels)? This is one that I am so, so invested in. (And the fact that everyone I know who's read it completely adores it is just adding to the excitement.)