Saturday, 31 January 2015

Perpetual Page Turner Year-End Survey 2014

Really pleased to be taking part in the Perpetual Page-Turner's Year-End Survey for the first time! The questions are brilliant - thanks Jamie!

Stats

Number Of Books You Read: 

I have no idea...


Number of Re-Reads:

About a dozen, I think. Mainly from Lawrence Block's Burglar series!


Genre You Read The Most From:

Probably just about YA contemporary. (Most started, at least. Not sure how many I finished!)



Books


1. Best Book You Read In 2014?
  
Bone Jack by Sara Crowe, just ahead of Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders. Other ones I loved can be found in my awards posts.


2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

I absolutely loved Dash & Lily's Book of Dares when I read it a couple of years ago and was excited to see the other two David Levithan and Rachel Cohn books released in the UK; sadly neither ended up being to my tastes.




3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014?

I haven't read any of Carrie Ryan's YA but her MG novel with husband John Parke Davis, The Map To Everywhere, was utterly spectacular.



4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2014? 

Got to be Have A Little Faith - I think I gave about a dozen copies away this year; most people seemed to love it. Girl With A White Dog by Anne Booth was one I bought three copies of to lend out to people, while Mel Salisbury's fabulous debut fantasy The Sin Eater's Daughter has been slowly working its way around my book club before its official 5th February release, and I've bought four copies (in hardback!) of Lisa Williamson's amazing The Art of Being Normal, so I can give them to people.


5. Best series you started in 2014? Best Sequel of 2014? Best Series Ender of 2014?

Series I started - A huge amount of fantastic ones. I'm going to go with the two piracy/
magic books which I'm going to be mentioning a lot here, Magic Marks The Spot and The Map To Everywhere, and three stunning Egmont MG series, Jason Rohan's Sword of Kuromori, Jane Hardstaff's Executioner's Daughter, and Sophia McDougall's Mars Evacuees.

Best sequel - Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater is gorgeously written, while Will Hill's Department 19: Zero Hour is spectacularly action-packed. Both of this pair have a huge amount of brilliant characters. Also, Gail Carriger's steampunk Finishing School series is becoming a real favourite of mine so Waistcoats and Weaponry definitely needs a mention here. (Thanks for giving me this, Faye!)

Series ender - YA and adult - I can't think of much that's finished this year; I may be forgetting something. However, whatever I forget, it's unlikely to be as incredible as Leigh Bardugo's Ruin and Rising or Tom Pollock's Our Lady Of The Streets, so no real harm done. MG - Has to be Susie Day's Pea's Book of Holidays; gorgeous!



6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?

Non-debuts, or debuts? Non-debuts, I finally got round to Melina Marchetta (thanks Caitlin for the rec!) and OMG JELLICOE ROAD IS INCREDIBLE.

Debuts - Sara Crowe, of course. Not sure if I 'discovered' Non Pratt in 2014 as I already knew her so I was convinced Trouble would be amazing, but it was good to read it and find out that it definitely was. Duo Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen were brilliant with Lobsters as well.

As for 2015 debuts - let's just say that I will be AMAZED if Sarah Benwell and Lisa Williamson aren't staggeringly hugely well-known authors in 12 months time. Two of the most outstanding YA books I've read for a long, long time. There are also brilliant fantasy books coming from Melinda Salisbury and Abi Elphinstone - get ready to fall in love with The Sin Eater's Daughter and The Dreamsnatcher, respectively.


7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Not a sci-fi fan at all, but Sophia McDougall was kind enough to give me a copy of Mars Evacuees and I thought it was awesome! Another sci-fi I absolutely loved was Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. I'm not that big of an NA fan generally but Molli Moran's One Song Away was briliant, with great chemistry between the two leads, Jake and Sophie-Claire.




8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Lots of great, exciting reads, with most of them being MG, I think. Again, pirate and magic combinations The Map To Everywhere and Magic Marks The Spot feature highly in this category. However the most exciting of them all was a YA book, the fourth Department 19: Zero Hour; this is a staggeringly good series.



9. Book You Read In 2014 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I absolutely adored The Art Of Being Normal, as I may have mentioned on Twitter a few hundred times, and will be reading one of my finished copies very very soon!


10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?

I was thrilled to be involved in the The Art of Being Normal cover reveal, partly because it was brilliant to see so many people come together to promote a favourite book of mine and partly because it's a stunning cover. The Map To Everywhere and Bone Jack are both featuring ridiculously heavily here but they ARE gorgeous covers as well as being great reads. Given the often justified!) criticism of a lot of self-published books for having covers that look cheap, I thought Zero Sum Game by SL Huang, Glaze by Kim Curran and The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf by Nick Bryan were outstanding - none of them look out of place compared to books from much bigger publishers. (The three of them were also the three best self-published books I read all year, which is possibly not a coincidence.)



11. Most memorable character of 2014?

Bringing Kat Stephenson back, even for a novella (Courting Magic) rather than a novel, guaranteed Stephanie Burgis had this - my favourite heroine ever. I also loved the way Kate Saunders developed E Nesbit's Psammead into a much darker character in Five Children on the Western Front.


12. Most beautifully written book read in 2014?

Jellicoe Road is up there, as is Blue Lily, Lily Blue. Can't quite pick between them!



13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2014?

Girl With A White Dog by Anne Booth, a stunningly powerful read.



14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read? 

I FINALLY got round to reading Anne of Green Gables after it was recommended by my friend Stacey and loved it - definitely want to read more by LM Montgomery next year.


15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2014?

The passage from the prologue to Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders which starts
"'Happy ending?' the Professor echoed dreamily, as if talking to himself. 'Yes, there were still happy endings in those days.'"
and ends
"Far away in 1930, in his empty room, the old professor was crying."
had me in absolute floods of tears. Hugely emotional.




16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

I have no clue as I don't really keep records! I'd say The Last Of The Spirits may well be the shortest; longest I'm not sure of at all. Possibly Department 19:Zero Hour.


17. Book That Shocked You The Most

(Because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.)
I've seen a few people describe the ending to The Iron Trial as obvious; it took me completely by surprise.


18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)
(OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)

Sophie and Mina in Tess Sharpe's Far From You were OMG incredible. Most of the other pairings that stood out for me were non-romantic ones, although there were a couple I really loved in anthology My True Love Gave To Me - particularly Sophie and Russell in Gayle Forman’s “What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” and Maria and Ben in “Welcome to Christmas, CA.”



19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

A huge amount here! See my best pairings section of the year-end awards for more, but as a start - the lead characters and their mums in Clare Furniss's The Year of the Rat and Sarah Crossan's Apple and Rain, friendships between Billy D and Dane in Dead Ends and Marrill and Fin in The Map To Everywhere, and the rivalry between Caitlin and Stella in Stella.



20. Favorite Book You Read in 2014 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Lots of favourite authors had great releases this year, but Keris Stainton's Starring Kitty was her best yet, as much as I'd enjoyed her first three. Similarly, Catherine Bruton's I Predict A Riot was even better than her We Can Be Heroes, and Alan Gibbons's Hate was the best novel yet in a career packed with lots of brilliant books. (Also, of course, everything mentioned in my answers to the second and third parts of question five!)




21. Best Book You Read In 2014 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure?

I think the Sesame Seade trilogy, pushed on #aryaclub by Cait, which we pretty much all fell in love with, fits the bill here. Apple and Rain was one I only really got around to because Debbie was a huge fan but I adored this one as well. I've had Anne of Green Gables on my radar for quite a long time without it ever really getting close to the top of my TBR pile, but Stacey's fabulous guest post on my blog made me read it and I LOVED it. The Map To Everywhere is one I would probably have meant to get around to without actually picking up (it came out at a busy time!) but I was incredibly grateful that Charlie shoved it into my hands and said "READ THIS!" (Given she also recommended The Art of Being Normal and The Last Leaves Falling, it's fairly clear who had the biggest influence on this survey!



22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014?

I absolutely adored Hilary's governess in Magic Marks The Spot. Sophie-Claire in One Song Away by Molli Moran was great as well. Also, murder suspect Fleet in Antonia Hodgson's The Devil in the Marshalsea is an incredible character.



23. Best 2014 debut you read?

So many amazing ones! Far From You was utterly superb while in the UK in addition to Sara Crowe's Bone Jack (as mentioned above, my overall book of the year) I'll go with Non Pratt's Trouble, as living up to the massive expectations we all had of her was tough, but it ABSOLUTELY did. Also wonderful - Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen's hilarious Lobsters, Anne Booth's incredibly powerful MG novel Girl With A White Dog, and back in the US Robin Talley's Civil Rights era LGBT love story Lies We Tell Ourselves was another hard-hitting but brilliant book.



24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Again, a huge amount of great contenders. (The Map To Everywhere could be my answer to about a dozen of these, to be honest.) I loved the post-apocalyptic setting in Allan Boroughs's Ironheart, though (and the sequel, Bloodstone, is even better!), while Stephanie Burgis, as ever, married Regency England to a world of magic superbly in Courting Magic. And, of course, speaking of historical/magical mash-ups I have to mention Magic Marks The Spot yet again!



25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

The Map To Everywhere is up there towards the top of this list, as is Magic Marks The Spot. (Surprised?!) YA-wise, Grasshopper Jungle is more enjoyable than anything featuring giant praying mantises overrunning the world eating people has any right to be.



26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2014?

Everything made me cry! Most notably, Far From You, which had me in tears for about six hours on New Year's Day, and Five Children On The Western Front by Kate Saunders, which rather remarkably had me crying before chapter one - it has a seriously emotional prologue. (And many, many more, but that most of all!)



27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Stella - Gossip Girl meets Great Expectations - by Helen Eve was a really underrated one, I think, as was RJ Morgan's Fifteen Bones.

Hard to call anything which has been as much loved by UK bloggers as TS Easton's Boys Don't Knit a 'hidden gem' but I wanted to mention it for US readers as it's out there fairly early this year - if you like hilarious reads with great narrators and strong friendships, this will blow your socks off. (And then lead characters Ben will knit you a new pair.)

Also I really rarely recommend self-published stuff but a few well worth mentioning (other than GLAZE by Kim Curran, which is superb but which a lot of people who follow me will already be aware of.) SL Huang's Zero Sum Game is an adult thriller but one which I think has HUGE appeal to YA fans, it's incredibly pacy, really good fun, and raises some interesting moral questions about protagnist Cas's actions - while the sequel Half Life is even better. Mollie Moran's NA One Song Away is a delight, a sweet country-tinged romance. Nick Bryan's The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf is a great comic crime caper; looking forward to reading book 2, Rush Jobs, very soon.



28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

The Last Leaves Falling. In a good way, but STILL.
   

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2014?

I never realised the one thing that would make a coming-of-age story even better would be praying mantises and the potential end of the world, but Andrew Smith showed in Grasshopper Jungle that it absolutely did. I also thought Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield was excellent, although for me the contemporary sections were stronger than the paranormal romance Darcy was writing.



30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

There was a particular moment in Leigh Bardugo's Ruin and Rising which would have had me throwing the book across the room in anguish if I wasn't about to meet her - as it was, I wanted to get it signed without explaining any mysterious damage, so restrained myself. But only just! (The book is BRILLIANT, though.)


Blogging

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2014?

It's a fairly new blog, but I'm loving Tales of Yesterday. I think This Fleeting Dream is one I only really started reading last year although I already knew Julianne from Twitter, because it takes me ages to manage to check out links - I was definitely missing out! Oh, The Books!, run by Asti and Kelley, is becoming a huge favourite,particularly for their staggeringly comprehensive weekly round-ups.  Of the older blogs, I didn't discover The Book Smugglers last year - I was already a fan - but started reading it much more often, fell in love with their publishing, and was massively thrilled to be invited to guest post there for Smugglivus. Also, a combination of getting to know Caroline through #aryaclub and starting to read much more MG, which hasn't been as well-represented blogging wise as YA, meant I went from being an occasional reader of Big Book Little Book to a much more regular one. (Speaking of MG generally not having as many great blogs, I can't WAIT for MG Strikes Back to launch tomorrow!)



2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2014?

I quite liked my Girl Online review. Also, sneaking a 2015 one in to take advantage of my lateness in posting this, I was pleased with my Siena review.


3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

I had a fab discussion with hybrid authors Laura Lam, Kim Curran, Keris Stainton and Siobhan Curham for UKYA Day! Twenty Authors You Should Be Following On Twitter was huge fun to do, as well.


4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

Has to be YALC, I think! Really hope it goes ahead in 2015.
   

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2014?

YALC was fantastic, the Divergent premiere was an amazing experience - I never dreamed of having an opportunity like that when I started blogging - and it still amazes and delights me that so many wonderful people have come to #DrinkYA events that I've organised with Louie Stowell. As well, I got lovely mentions in the acknowledgements of my favourite books yet by two of my favourite authors, Susie Day's Pea's Book of Holidays and Keris Stainton's Starring Kitty. Best of all, though, has got to be the formation of #aryaclub and getting to know some of the nicest people I've met since moving down to London. A huge shout-out to all of them, and a special thank you to Daphne for hosting so many fantastic afternoons/evenings. (Also, Asti, we miss you already!)


6. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

I was lucky enough to have Michael Grant posting about the GONE TV show and my views were through the roof!


7. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

There were so many fab guest posts in Indie Advent that I wish more people had read them ALL!


8. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

The gorgeous Tales On Moon Lane became one of my favourite ever shops as soon as I set foot in it, but I loved it even more once my friend Jen started working there! I have become pretty much a weekly visitor now and the staff there are all amazing. Lots of other brilliant bookshops which I hadn't visited before as well, with this year being one when I really started trying to purchase from indies more. Special mentions to Gay's The Word for having some great books and wonderful events - loved the Writing LGBTQ Books for Children event with BJ Epstein where I first met my friend Charlie in person, and Big Green Bookshop, which has amazingly good staff and a ferociously brilliant social media presence, as well as stocking a superb range of books.


9.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

No, although I honestly can't remember if I set myself any!



2015


1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2014 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2015?

I finally got my hands on a physical copy of Now You See Me by Emma Haughton in the goodie bag at the YA Book Prize #DrinkYA, and while I've had it on Kindle for ages without getting to it, hopefully seeing it on my TBR pile will remind me that I really want to read - it looks brilliant! (And I'm hosting Emma for the UKYA Extravaganza blog tour, so would be rude not to!)



2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2015 (non-debut)?

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black sounds sensationally good and Charlie recommends it highly, which is always a good sign. Dahlia Adler's Under The Lights sounds fabulous as well; I love contemporary LGBT and given Dahlia's an expert on great QUILTBAG books then I'm assuming she'll be a stunning writer of them.



3. 2015 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

I have a feeling I've already read the two best debuts of the year; it's REALLY hard to believe there's anything out there as good as The Art Of Being Normal and The Last Leaves Falling. That said, I'm always hopeful, and there's a ton of others that look potentially fantastic! I did a blog post a few weeks with my most anticipated contemporary ones, of which Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda was probably top (I've read it since then and it's BRILLIANT!), while moving away from contemporary, Tatum Flynn's D'Evil Diaries looks like an absolutely brilliant MG fantasy.


4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2015?

The three I am REALLY desperate for are Will Hill's Darkest Night, the climax of the Department 19 series, the fourth in Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle, and the final book in Daniel Abraham's magnificent adult fantasy sequence The Dagger and the Coin.


5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2015?

Get less stressed about it!


6. A 2015 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

Sarah Benwell's The Last Leaves Falling is a staggering book; beautiful and hugely moving. Don't miss it! Similarly, Lisa Williamson's The Art Of Being Normal is phenomenally good and deserves to be on everyone's TBR pile.


Thank you, Jamie, for such brilliant and thought-provoking questions!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Classic Children's/YA: Jared from Pornokitsch on The Adventures of Vesper Holly by Lloyd Alexander

One of my all-time favourite series is the Chronicles of Prydain, by the superb Lloyd Alexander, but I've never read any of his other books. I'm desperate to put that right after reading Jared's brilliant post on his Vesper Holly series, and am delighted to share it with you!


When I was a kid, there was but a single author. One. That would seem kind of limiting, but, fortunately, he was pretty prolific. Every time I took a trip to the library, I was guaranteed to find a new book from the living legend that was Lloyd Alexander. I even wrote him once, and he WROTE BACK - a little ‘thanks, kid!’ style note that came with a pamphlet of ‘how to pronounce Welsh names’. Like receiving a scrap of the Holy Grail.

As an adult, I’m always nervous about rereading childhood favourites. It is just too risky - what if I’m disappointed? Not because the books will have magically gotten ‘worse’, but that I’ll have grown up too much to appreciate them. And how sad would that be? 

Still, I give in to temptation... (looks at empty roll of biscuits on desk)... a lot. And time and again, Alexander steadfastly refuses to lose his magic. I’ve now travelled back to Prydain (still breath-taking) and Westmark (possibly even better now, who knew?!) and, most recently, I’ve dared to revisit one of my childhood heroes: the fearless Vesper Holly.

Vesper is the undisputed star of a series set in the mid-19th century. She’s a teenage orphan, the daughter of an adventurer father who finally takes one risk too many. Vesper’s rather unceremoniously dumped on the hands of ‘Brinnie’ (her dad’s old sidekick) and Mary, who rather thought they were out of the globe-trotting game. Brinnie’s a proud Philadelphian and was very much enjoying his retirement. Gardens. Etruscan history. Etc.

As we learn from the first pages of The Illyrian Adventure, Vesper’s not one to take no for an answer. Despite being in her teens, she knows her own mind. (And what a mind! She speaks languages, knows history and science, can build stuff and doesn’t even get seasick.) Brinnie might think he’s Vesper’s guardian, but as the series progresses, it is very clear that things are the other way around.

Everything comes from Brinnie’s point of view, and it is absolutely clear - to Brinnie and the reader - that he is the Watson to her Sherlock. He’s there to chronicle her brilliance, play straight man and occasionally trip over a plot-hook.

The six books in the series take Brinnie and Vesper (and eventually a few others) all the way around the world - to places fictional and non-fictional. They go in search of volcanos and missing Brazilian heirs and Cretan beans (seriously) and all sorts of trumped-up excuses. Generally speaking, they all follow a formula. Vesper gets bored, Brinnie gets outvoted, they both wind up on the road. Once in Drackenberg/Jedara/Illyria/etc, they invariably get involved in local politics. Vesper’s good sense triumphs over centuries of engrained silliness (for the good guys) and get them shot at (by the bad guys). Vesper’s personal Moriarty - Doctor Helvetius - will make an appearance, things get tense, things get untense, day saved! They’re as wonderfully pulpy as they sound, filled with improbable scenarios and deliciously goofy circumstances.

As a set, we see Vesper grow from a precocious (if preternaturally brilliant) teen to a charismatic young woman. And what’s amazing? That’s never once challenged. The books simply assume - and keep assuming - that there’s absolutely nothing unusual about Vesper Holly being an action hero, an adventurer, a scientist, a historian, a leader and... a woman. It wasn’t until years later, as an adult, that I realised how rare this was - that silly, improbable, wonderfully pulpy adventures could feature young women as well. And without even making a ‘thing’ of it - which is, in many ways, the biggest thing of all. Adventures are for everyone; why wouldn’t they be?

I wish every reread of a childhood favourite were this successful. Vesper’s adventures are just as fun as they were when I first read, but now I realise they were important as well.


Thanks Jared for a brilliant post! Check him out at website Pornokitsch or on Twitter.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Recommendation: Emily Sparkes and the Friendship Fiasco by Ruth Fitzgerald

(Huge thanks to Little Brown, Kids for my copy of this book!)


When it comes to books for the younger age range, I tend to be more interested in the adventure stories, the fantasies, and the mysteries than the more realistic contemporary books. Occasionally, though, something in that genre comes along which completely captivates me - and Ruth Fitzgerald's debut is one of those books. I picked it up to take a quick look after it was recommended to me as being a perfect 'mood-buster', and within 5 pages I was enchanted. (I was also attracting some strange looks on the Tube, having burst out laughing loudly three times by the end of the fifth page - there are definite queries as to how suitable this is as a public transport read!)

Narrator Emily's voice is stunning - the perfect mix of likeability and frustration at her parents, who are (understandably) taking more notice of her newly born, as-yet-unnamed, sister than of her. This leaves Emily trying to deal with her own problems - most notably the upcoming school trip where, thanks to her best friend Bella having moved away, she's likely to be paired with Gross-Out Gavin. If she can only get friendly with new student Chloe, she could avoid this horrible fate - but Emily's bitter rival Zuzanna has the same idea. The pair of them trying to make friends with Chloe, who's perhaps not someone who's really a good friend to make anyway, is a hilarious story. Better than that, though, it looks at family, friendship, honesty, communication, and does so with some brilliant, memorable characters - considering it's not particularly lengthy, I thought the character development here for a number of Emily's classmates was wonderful!

Also, a quick note - this is aimed at the younger end of MG, with the LB website listing it as 8+. Others I've read for this age range include the Pea's Book series by Susie Day and Violet and the Pearl of the Orient, written by Harriet Whitehorn and illustrated by Becka Moor. All are fabulous, but I think there's perhaps more in Emily's voice to appeal to older readers than there is in the other two. (I've described this on Twitter as Pea's Book of Best Friends meets Have A Little Faith by Candy Harper - regular readers know just how much I love both of these two books. This definitely holds its own with them!)

Massively recommended; there are three more books on their way and I hope we get lots and lots more than the ones already announced.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Cover Reveal: Strawberry Sisters: Perfectly Ella by Candy Harper

Regular readers will know of my love for Candy Harper's brilliant Have A Little Faith and sequel Keep The Faith, a series so good that I've lost count of the number of times I've bought the first book to give to people. (I think it's 15, but might be forgetting a couple!)

Bearing this in mind, I was thrilled when Simon & Schuster got in touch to ask if I'd like to reveal the cover to Candy's newest book, Perfectly Ella, first in her upcoming MG Strawberry Sisters series!

So, without further delay, take a look at this gorgeous cover!


Perfectly Ella will be released by Simon & Schuster on 23rd April - I can't wait! I'll be pre-ordering from one of my favourite independent bookshops. (Or perhaps more than one; I'm assuming this is likely to be another one I want to give to quite a few people.) A huge thanks to Simon & Schuster for allowing me to run this reveal.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Rush Jobs Blog Tour: Nick Bryan on Hobson & Choi's Influences

I'm a fan of Nick Bryan's The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf, first in the Hobson & Choi series, and am really looking forward to sequel Rush Jobs, which is high on my TBR pile. I always enjoy talking to Nick at #drinkYA events, so when the brilliant Faye Rogers was able to get me a guest post from him on his blog tour for Rush Jobs, I was really pleased. (And any blog post which starts off by talking about Jennings, one of my all-time favourite series, is BRILLIANT!)

After Nick's fab post, read further to see an extract from book one, details of the other tour posts, AND a fabulous Rafflecopter tour-wide giveaway where you can win signed copies!


My Influences – Stories That Made Hobson & Choi Happen


More than anything else I've written in my life, the Hobson & Choi series is probably the sum of everything I've ingested over my reading existence - all the long, soapy book series, ridiculous OTT satires, dark dramas, never-ending comic books. But what are the specific ones that instilled those urges in me? If you wanted to write a knock-off of H&C, which books should you read to prepare yourself?

1) Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge


One of the first book series I ever truly loved, the naughty-kid tales of boarding school free spirit Jennings and his tightly-wound glasses-wearing sidekick Darbishire kept me amused all through my pre-tween years. Whether sneaking out of school, hiding illicit parcels or sneaking out of school to hide an illicit parcel, there was nothing these two scallywags wouldn't do.

All my young friends seemed to prefer the Just William series, but they were far too mainstream. Jennings was a true tale of a mismatched duo fighting a corrupt system. And thus it began.

2) Redwall by Brian Jacques


Jennings was good for a while, but I eventually found myself yearning for books with more action, scale, drama and small woodland creatures. After being given the first as a present from my aunt, I fell hard for the Redwall series – the tale of an abbey populated entirely by talking mice, with other chatty forest beasts nearby. This soon expanded into a whole world adventure, each book sweeping into new territory. The tone was grim fantastical adventure, the cast and scale were vast - at one point, they accompanied a badger to the sacred mountain of Salamandastron. I loved it.

Also flirted with the Animals of Farthing Wood (not like that), but they were always either too mundane or too depressing. Redwall was where it was at, and I was really sad to hear Brian Jacques passed away in 2011. He completed a stunning 22 Redwall books, of which I read about half.

3) Quantum & Woody by Priest/Bright (and other comics)


Edging in teenhood, I discovered mainstream American comics. I read the Beano before that, which influenced my sense of humour a bit (PUNS!), but ongoing comic books really scratched my itch for big imagery and long-running serialised stories based on entrenched mythology.

I started on Spider-Man, and he'll always be my main superhero. Still, the comic I always come back to, sealing my love of grim-yet-childish humour, dysfunctional duos and out-of-sequence storytelling, was Christopher Priest and Mark Bright's superhero comedy-drama Quantum & Woody.

I'm not saying this is the best or my favourite comic ever, but as an early influence, especially on Hobson & Choi, it's hard to overstate. The series recently relaunched with new creators, but more importantly: the original Priest/Bright run is available on Comixology and in hardback! For a longer dissection of Q&W as an influence, I did a blog post on my own site a while ago.

Other comics that burrowed into my mind over the years: Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis/various artists, Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis/Darick Robertson, Black Panther by Christopher Priest/various, Chew by John Layman/Rob Guillory and both Preacher and Hellblazer by Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon.

4) Discworld by Terry Pratchett (and other Brit-genre-comedy)


I could pretend this wasn't an influence, but why? In terms of mocking the real world via exaggeration, intelligent use of genre conventions and flat-out funny writing at all times, Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is the gold standard. Like most British genre-liking teenagers, I read a lot of this in my teens, and although I've dropped away from it as an adult, it definitely went into the mix.

Also in a similar vein: The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams and the J.W. Wells & Co books by Tom Holt, re-imagining fantasy tropes as part of a huge bureaucracy.

5) American Gods by Gaiman (and other broad-world fantasy)


Nearly everyone seems to have read this, and I'm no different. Probably one of my first expeditions into “adult” urban fantasy, spurred (predictably) by Gaiman's comic-book fame, this book was huge for me simply for its full-throated engagement with the real world and how it connected its rambling exploration of dark underside back to an actual story.

Although American Gods was first, there are plenty of other books I've enjoyed and learnt from in the world-stretching sometimes-urban fantasy vein, including: The Gone-Away World by Nick Hawkaway, the Curse Workers series by Holly Black, The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock, The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie, Feed by Mira Grant and, of course, A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin.

6) A Serpent Uncoiled by Simon Spurrier (and other strange crimes)


A Serpent Uncoiled is a trippy, singular crime novel, focusing on the inner turmoil of lead character Dan Shaper, combined with a confident, intriguing vision of London. Spurrier combines that with a off-kilter, reality-bending, drug-induced haze of style that really makes it memorable.

I read this around the same time as London Falling by Paul Cornell (police and witches!) and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (murder and time travel!), also both odd, genre-flipping takes on the crime novel.

I was also reading the Dexter books by Jeff Lindsay, which have a self-aware, wry tone that stood out, even better for that is the Miriam Black series by Chuck Wendig. Sarah Pinborough's Mayhem also has a uniquely hazy-Victorian style. Going in a slightly different direction (and much younger age category), Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens isn't as dark as the above books, but definitely has a unique take – plus it's just plain charming.


So, if you just read all of these, you'll probably be ready to write your own Hobson & Choi book. At the very least, consider it a list of recommendations. Should keep you busy a while. Lasted me about thirty years, after all.



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Hobson & Choi Series by Nick Bryan

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The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf (Hobson & Choi #1)


"If we get 400 followers, John Hobson will solve that nasty wolf-murder case for free! Fight the thing himself if he has to! #HobsonVsWolf!"

Angelina Choi was only trying to drum up some Twitter followers and make a good impression on her first day interning at John Hobson's one-man detective agency.

But the campaign went viral and now they have a murder to solve, no money coming in, and an unwilling Hobson faced with battling some enormous beast.

With both follower and body counts rising, can they crack the case without offending everyone or being eaten by a huge dog?

The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf is the first case starring Hobson & Choi, a bickering, mismatched detective duo for 21st century London. This book collects the debut storyline of the hit darkly comic crime web serial, extensively rewritten and improved for this definitive edition.


Goodreads. Amazon.




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Rush Jobs (Hobson & Choi #2)


“Sometimes #crime feels like the Matrix. Or the #patriarchy or #porn. It's everywhere, even in people you trusted, and there's so MUCH of it.”

Angelina Choi returns for her second and final week of work experience at John Hobson’s detective agency, ready for anything after their first successful murder solve.

After all that online buzz, they’re in phenomenal demand. Can Hobson & Choi solve a kidnapping, play chicken with corporate crime, beat back gentrification, save a dog from drug dealers and head off violent backlash from their last case?

Or will grim revelations about Hobson’s past leave them floundering in the chaos?

Rush Jobs collects the second major storyline in the Hobson & Choi saga, #1 on Jukepop Serials and #2 in Dark Comedy on Amazon, adding brand new chapters and scenes to the case.


Goodreads. Amazon




About the Author



me-squared

Nick Bryan is a London-based writer of genre fiction, usually with some blackly comic twist. As well as the detective saga Hobson & Choi, he is also working on a novel about the real implications of deals with the devil and has stories in several anthologies.

More details on his other work and news on future Hobson & Choi releases can be found on his blog at NickBryan.com or on Twitter as @NickMB. Both are updated with perfect and reasonable regularity.

Subscribe to his mailing list using the form in the sidebar of NickBryan.com to get news first and an all-new free Hobson & Choi short story immediately!

When not reading or writing books, Nick Bryan enjoys racquet sports, comics and a nice white beer.


Website. Twitter. Mailing List.




Tour Schedule



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Monday 19th January
Rain On A Summer’s Afternoon

Tuesday 20th January
Claire Rousseau

Wednesday 21st January
Music, Books and Tea

Thursday 22nd January
Ya Yeah Yeah

Friday 23rd January
A Daydreamer’s Thoughts

Saturday 24th January
Tales of Yesterday

Sunday 25th January
K-Books

Monday 26th January
Nimbus Space

Tuesday 27th January
The Online Novel

Wednesday 28th January
Nyx Book Reviews

Thursday 29th January
Winged Reviews

Friday 30th January
Kirstyes

Saturday 31st January
The Book Moo

Sunday 1st February
Bookish Outsider

Monday 2nd February
Pewter Wolf




Excerpt




The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf

Not only was there no name stencilled on the window of Hobson’s office door, it didn’t even have a window. Angelina was disappointed — what kind of crappy detective doesn’t have an office name stencil window?

Instead, it was a solid beige fire door. The only thing marking it out from the beige corridor was the change in texture from beige plaster to beige wood. Same old London office in a boring building. Clearly all her effort to dress interesting had been silly. The black floaty layers and purple tights looked ridiculous against all the nothingness.

Too late to change though, she was already five minutes late. She knocked on the hollow, cheap-sounding door, with the firmness of an adult, rather than a nervous sixteen-year-old. Or so she hoped.

“Yeah, come in,” said the hoarse yell from inside.

Angelina pushed the door open. Considering how long she’d spent staring at the tedious thing, it floated away easily.

The office behind was more interesting than the corridor, thankfully. Bright blue, two desks, a few filing cabinets. But no discarded whiskey bottles, nor a mattress round back where the detective slept.

“Good morning, Choi,” said a deep voice. The huge man behind the larger desk leapt up, revealing a pressed black suit and straight tie. Buttoned down to a fault, this guy could be a real veteran police detective, right up to the grey peppering his short dark hair.

And why was he calling her by surname?

“Good to meet you. I’m John Hobson, just Hobson is fine though.” And, when she didn’t immediately reply: “How are you? Good trip over?”

“Um, thanks, I’m fine, you too.” She forgot to punctuate any of that, blushing as soon as it finished.

“Good. Good. Well, welcome to our new work experience internship programme. I hope I’ll be able to show you something about the business in two weeks. As you can see, I’ve cleared a desk for you here.” He gestured at the smaller one in the room, with a wedge of papers recently shoved to one end.

“Looks nice,” she glanced down and nodded. “Lots of room.”

Another silence.

“So,” he was already standing up and hooking his jacket off the back of the chair, “I have to get moving for a lunch meeting, but I do have a job for you to get on with.”

Her ears pricked up, but expectations remained measured. She’d be filing all those papers away, wouldn’t she? Or running out to buy milk?

“I’ve noticed this social Twitter internet media thing seems to be taking off,” he said, gesturing widely at the computer on her desk, as if that explained everything, “could you create an account for me and get me some of those... followers?”

Angelina blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“Well, you know. I’ve just repainted my office, I want to be modern, and your lot seem to be familiar with this kind of thing.”

“My lot? What do you mean my lot?”

“No no no no no,” Hobson spun round, nearly whirling her across the room, “not Asians. Teenage girls.”

“Oh. Right.” Depressingly, she was relieved he’d even noticed she was Asian. “Well, sure. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks, Choi.” He shrugged his massive coat on, composure back in place. “Just a couple of hundred should do. Cheers, running late, back in an hour.”

With that, he waved and dashed out the door. And then popped his head back round. “Oh, could you also go to the shops and get some coffee? Ain’t much left.”

Angelina nodded, and kept her sigh inside until he’d definitely gone. This office was the size of a rich person’s cupboard.

*****


Picking up the coffee took a few minutes. The hardest part was checking out his machine and working out what type to buy. Now she was an intern, Angelina knew she had to do these menial tasks, so swallowed her pride and went to Tesco.

Not long after, guzzling a pack of dirt-cheap cardboard crisps, she plonked herself down in front of her computer. She had a job to do, so resisted the urge to head straight for Facebook and complain about her negligent boss.

Instead she went on Twitter and got to work. She typed, she schmoozed, she strived, she read blog posts about Social Media Success, many of which made her angry. Finally, several tweets and retweets later, something clicked.

Shortly later, so did the door to their office, as Hobson returned. His lunch meeting ended at a reasonable time and left him completely sober; again, both reassuring and disappointing. When did she get to sniff corpses and snort whiskey, delve deep into the underworld?

Instead, she had a presentable, clean shaven, punctual detective without a visible drinking problem. Should’ve been more specific on the form.

“So Choi,” Hobson said, his jacket flopping back over the chair, “am I... trending yet?”

He pronounced trending like it was the name of an alien planet.

“Um, sort of,” she said.

“Sort of?”

“Well, you’ve got 353 followers...” Angelina broke off mid-stream as a rectangular email notification popped up. “Well, 354 now. But I had to say some stuff to get them.”

Hobson fiddled with his own computer, not paying much attention. “Yeah? What kind of stuff?”

“I tried just creating an account and following people, engaging with other detectives, but it wasn’t working much,” she could hear herself talking faster in response to his blank stares, “so I found an interesting murder case and said that if you got enough followers, you’d totally solve it for free.”

And it sounded like a better idea at the time, she added silently, rolling her chair away from Hobson as his face turned red and he stood up, tie flapping wild. It was hard not to be scared when a man bigger than the room he was sitting in started yelling at you.

“You did what?” At least he’d noticed her. “Do you have you any idea how shitty that is? What if the press find out? What if the victim’s family find out? How do you know I even can solve it? How am I meant to pay my rent?”

“I don’t know, I’m sorry, I wanted to get it right and I just...” Angelina inhaled deep and snorted by accident. “I may have said something else too.”

“Oh God.”

“Yeah. If we get up to 400 followers, you have to fight a wolf.”

The email indicator leapt up again. Only forty-five to go.





There is a tour-wide giveaway throughout the tour as well.

The Prizes
One Signed Paperback Set of the Hobson & Choi Series
Three E-Book Sets of the Hobson & Choi Series

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Top Ten Recommendations for the 2015 Classics Challenge



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

I'm taking part in this year's Classics Challenge, which my friend Stacey runs over at her brilliant blog The Pretty Books. With this in mind, I thought I'd use the 'freebie' week of Top Ten Tuesday to recommend ten of my own favourite classic books and series.

(Classics can be defined however you want them to be for the purposes of the challenge; I've gone for books which are more than 50 years or so old.)

Also, for more recommendations, I've had some fab Classic Children's YA posts recently - check out Jon Mayhew on Jules Verne, Alex Bell and Lou Morgan on  Frank Richards and Philippa Pearce, and Sarah Sky's top 10.


Children's Classics

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander


While Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising is one I still hear people talking about a lot, Alexander’s Prydain series is less commonly discussed. Like Cooper’s books, this is heavily influenced by Welsh mythology, but it’s set in a different world to our own – the titular Prydain. For me, it’s the greatest children’s fantasy series ever written – it follows the fortunes of hero Taran, who starts off as an assistant pig-keeper with dreams of being a hero, but matures wonderfully over the course of the five books as he’s plunged into a series of adventures to try and stop the Death-Lord Arawn. I love the complex characters, with so many strengths, weaknesses, and failings, while the last book is incredibly emotional.



Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Brought back to Matthew Cuthbert’s Avonlea farmhouse to live with him and his sister Marilla, who were expecting a boy to help them run the farm, red-headed Anne is expecting to be sent straight back to the orphanage but quickly wins over the siblings. This book, first in a series, follows her through her coming of age years.


I finally read this last year after Stacey’s fab guest post persuaded me to and fell utterly in love with it – it’s a brilliant read with a fantastic heroine and so many quotable lines!


Five Children and It by E Nesbit

On holiday, five siblings find a gravel-pit in which there lives a strange creature called the Psammead. Grumpy and vain, the creature doesn’t take too kindly to being disturbed, but has a remarkable power to grant wishes. Through numerous adventures, the children come to learn the truth of the saying “Be careful what you wish for.”


I’ve just reread for the first time in 15-20 years, after adoring the Costa-winning Five Children On The Western Front by Kate Saunders, and really enjoyed it. It’s my favourite Nesbit – although I also love The Story of the Treasure Seekers and The Railway Children, amongst others – and it feels fresh and funny, even now.


Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken

Starting with the Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and continuing for another 11 books, this is a stunning series set in an alternate version of 1830s England ruled by James III. I've actually only read about half of them, somehow, but Black Hearts in Battersea, Nightbirds on Nantucket, and The Stolen Lake, in particular, are three of my favourites of all-time, and the heroine of these, and others, Dido Twite is probably the only serious rival to Kat Stephenson when it comes to talking about my favourite ever main characters in series. Aiken's plots are glorious - Dickensian tales of villainy and dark plots, with added legends - but it's Dido, a young tomboy who quickly won my heart as a child, and the various people she comes up against, all truly horrible in their evil ways, which make this a really outstanding sequence.



Autumn Term by Antonia Forrest

This school story is the only book currently in print of Forrest's Marlows sequence (which puts it one ahead of my other favourite Girls Own books, the Drina series by Jean Estoril, Elinor M Brent-Dyer's Chalet School books, and Elsie J Oxenham's Abbey Girls!) I read it fairly recently and was worried it wouldn't live up to my high expectations but it's a glorious read. Central characters Nicola and Lawrie are likeable, but flawed, heroines, while there's more characterisation for some others - especially 'bad girl' Lois Sanger - than I would have expected. I would LOVE someone to reprint the rest of the series, if anyone in a position to do so is reading this!



Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge


Another set of school stories, the adventures of the reckless title character and his timid friend Darbishire at Linbury Court, where they constantly try the patience of masters Mr Carter and Old Wilkie - the latter of whom doesn't have much patience at the best of times - are childhood favourites from when my dad used to read them to me. Still wonderfully funny after all these years! (And an inspiration to an author who'll be guest posting on here on Thursday...)


Adult classics

How Green Was My Valley - Richard Llewellyn


This 1939 novel about a Welsh coal mining community in the time of Queen Victoria is an outstanding read - a brilliant story of love, family, and the valleys, wonderfully written with lyrical language.
   
 

Three Men In A Boat – Jerome K Jerome

Narrator J, his friends George and Harris, and dog Montmorency take an entertaining trip along the Thames. This was originally meant to be a serious travel guide, but Jerome’s witty asides and the humorous elements kept taking over the book. It’s one of the funniest I’ve ever read, and is possibly my most reread book ever – it’s definitely up there with Gatsby in double figures. A huge amount of laughs, which doesn’t seem to have dated at all in the 125 years or so since it was first published.


Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons


Orphaned at 19, Flora Poste – a London sophisticate – is led to retreat to deepest Sussex to live off her relatives the Starkadders at the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, a mournful bunch who take her in as they couldn't refuse anything of Robert Poste's child, but seem less than happy with having to do so. As she meets the preacher Amos, his over-sexed younger son Seth, his flighty sister Elphine, and the hugely memorable – if barely seen – Aunt Ada Doom, the first person in literature to see something nasty in the woodshed – she resolves to take the family in hand and solve their problems.


I ignored this for years because I wasn’t sure if I’d like the novel from the plot summaries I’d seen, but if I’d realised how incredibly funny it was I’d have got to it a couple of decades sooner, I’m sure! Gibbons brilliantly parodies authors like Mary Webb and DH Lawrence – although you don’t need to be too familiar with them to enjoy the fantastic humour here; her deliberately impenetrable language and wonderfully memorable characters make this a superb read.


The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

 
Narrator Nick Carraway takes a job in New York selling bonds, and moves to live in a small house on Long Island. He meets his next door neighbour, the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby, and befriends him, becoming embroiled in Gatsby’s romantic feelings for Nick’s cousin Daisy. This brings the Roaring Twenties wonderfully to life and is stunningly lyrical, while the tragic plot – a story of the American Dream gone wrong – is perfect.


It also has probably my two favourite sentences in the history of literature, the closing one and this one below, which sends shivers down my spine just reading it as it brings back so many memories of the novel.


“No — Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Double Review: Stella and Siena by Helen Eve

I'm a big fan of Helen Eve's two books so far, so thought it was about time I shared my reviews (both previously published on The Bookbag) on this blog! Thanks to the kind people at Pan Macmillan for both of these.

(Please note: Stella was the first book published; Siena is a prequel. For maximum effect I would STRONGLY advise reading them in publication order!)


Stella

What do you get when you mix up Cecily Von Ziegesar's delightfully trashy Gossip Girl series with Dickens's classic Great Expectations, and throw in a splash of Animal Farm by George Orwell? A really readable YA contemporary story which has surprising depth and has been one I've been thinking about a lot since originally reading it towards the start of the year. I read Stella for the first time after getting it out of the library, and at the time I was extremely impressed by the voices of lead characters Stella and Caitlin, but had issues with it. On rereading, to prepare myself for upcoming prequel Siena, I think it's one of the relatively few books I've read recently which works even better second time around, although those issues haven't vanished completely.

The best part of the book is definitely the two narrators, who have excellent voices, their changing friendship, and the character development throughout the book. Stella starts the book as a consciously vain mean girl who is convinced she's better than anyone else around here. It's not even that she changes that much over the course of the book, but we see through her memories just what's shaped her into the character she's become, and it's a fascinating, if deeply disquieting, journey. Caitlin tells us in her first chapter that she should have beaten Stella to become Head Girl of Temperley High, but that the night instead ended with her picking jagged glass splinters out of her face. Nearly immediately, we're taken back to Caitlin's first day at Temperley as she enters the school an unknown, who's in awe of Stella and her clique the Stars. How did this quiet girl end up challenging the popular one? The rise (or fall, depending how you look on it, I think) of Caitlin is a stunning journey and I found it scarily believable.

My issues with the book are mainly that there are other parts which are less believable. The cliques, the Stars, and the way that the entire school are so obsessed with them doesn't quite ring true, and while it didn't feel as obviously over the top on the second reading as I'd thought it was originally, it's still jarring. (I should point out this feels like a deliberate choice for story effect, rather than poor writing, but I can see it not going down too well with people who weren't expecting it.) In addition, the ending is powerful but not completely convincing. My other issue with it is that so much of the story's strength is tied into the links to Great Expectations that I'm not 100% sure you'd get the full effect if you weren't aware of the story of the original. (I haven't actually read it, but I've at least seen several adaptations.)

Overall though, this is a strong debut, and has proven to be significantly more memorable than the vast majority of books I've read this year. I'm really excited about starting the prequel soon to find out exactly what happened to Stella's sister Siena!


Siena

Siena Hamilton rules over Temperley High, along with her clique the Starlets. Nothing can stand in her way – not even the return of ex-Starlet and her former best friend Romy, who spent a term in France after a shocking incident one night led to the headmistress deciding the girl needed to spend some time away from their school. If you've read Stella, you know roughly what happens here, but you don't necessarily know why. If you haven’t read it, I'd definitely suggest going for that one first. (There may be spoilers here, although I've tried to avoid anything too specific.)

I said when reviewing Stella that there were things about the school in the book - the cliques, the Stars, and the way that everyone else was so obsessed with them - that didn't ring true, but that this felt like a deliberate stylistic choice by the author. In this prequel, set five years before Stella, things are taken even further. For those who haven't read that book, it focused heavily on Stella's campaign to take her rightful place as Head Girl of Temperley High, with a level of staggering obsessiveness with the position that was like nothing I'd ever seen in a supposedly realistic YA novel. This shows us how the Head Girl position came to be so coveted, and there are intriguing reasons behind it. That's not to suggest it makes the campaign any more believable in retrospect - but it's so gloriously over the top that it's an intriguing look at what student politics could develop into if left completely unchecked. It's even less realistic than Stella was, and yet it somehow manages to also work as a tragedy.

In fact, I think it’s the knowing shallowness of much of the book which means that when things develop later on, it’s a change of tone which has a staggering impact. We know from both the other book and the first two pages of this one that Siena dies here, and yet the actual climactic scene is one of great power, making it a more emotional book than Stella was. While Stella was Gossip Girl meets Great Expectations, this starts with an extract from The Lady of Shallott, and you could suggest that like that titular lady, Siena is cursed – but it’s also an echo of the previous book and the central question of whether destiny can be changed, or if with a family like Siena’s and Stella’s, they were doomed from the start. Despite there being so many similarities with Stella’s story, it’s not one that feels repetitive; it’s compelling reading as we see just how Stella grew into the person she was in the book named after her, and what Siena’s influence on her was.

I found Siena to be just as strong, and fascinating, a character as her sister was in Stella - and it was interesting to see how her actions set Stella up to follow in her footsteps five years later. Romy, for me, was a nicer character than Caitlin was in the other book, easier to warm to but not as interesting. The two main villains here are pantomime-style baddies, but that fits in with the overall tone, making it hard to criticise this characterisation. Overall, it's definitely a better book than Helen Eve's debut was, and the pair of them, and the pair of them are well worth reading. Will Eve next give us the story of the third Hamilton sister, Syrena? Part of me thinks that it would be going to the well once too often; part of me has a feeling that if anyone could do it, Helen Eve could.

I will be extremely intrigued to see what Helen Eve writes next, whether it’s Syrena's story or something completely different. Fans of complex stories where there’s much more going on than meets the eye should definitely read both of these.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Trailer: The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone



Unless you've been hiding under a rock when it comes to all things MG-related for a few months, you've probably seen the excitement building for upcoming fantasy debut The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone. I was lucky enough to be one of the first bloggers to read it (and, with my usual organisational skills, am probably going to end up being one of the last to review it - but Book Zone and The Bookbag have both done a better job than I will of capturing what makes this book so fantastic, anyway, so check them out!)

It's a brilliant adventure story with a wonderfully memorable heroine in Moll, and a fantastic companion, wildcat Gryff - so I am THRILLED to be able to show you them both in this awesome trailer!

For more details about The Dreamsnatcher, see below the video.


Title: THE DREAMSNATCHER
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy / Adventure
Publishers: Simon & Schuster
Release date: February 26th, 2015
Blurb:
Twelve-year-old Molly Pecksniff wakes one night in the middle of the forest, lured there by a recurring nightmare - the one with the drums and the rattles and the masks. The Dreamsnatcher is waiting. He has already taken her dreams and now he wants her life. Because Moll is more important than she knows...The Oracle Bones foretold that she and Gryff, a wildcat that has always been by her side, are the only ones who can fight back against the Dreamsnatcher's dark magic. Suddenly everything is at stake, and Moll is drawn into a world full of secrets, magic and adventure. Perfect for fans of J.K. Rowling, Michelle Harrison and Eva Ibbotson.

Author Bio:
Abi Elphinstone grew up in Scotland where she spent most of her childhood building dens, hiding in tree houses and running wild across highland glens. After being coaxed out of her tree house, she studied English at Bristol University and then worked as a teacher in Africa, Berkshire and London. THE DREAMSNATCHER is her debut novel and when she's not writing about Moll and Gryff, she runs her children's books blog www.moontrug.com.



Thursday, 15 January 2015

Classic Children's/YA: Jon Mayhew on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

I've discovered lots of brilliant authors in the 5 years or so since I started book reviewing - one of my very favourites is Jon Mayhew, whose Mortlock trilogy was superb and whose current Monster  Odyssey series - based on the early life of Jules Verne's Captain Nemo - is one I turn to whenever I want a really exciting MG read (often!)

Third in the series, Curse of the Ice Serpent, is out TODAY, and if I was really organised, I'd link to my review. Obviously, I'm not really organised, and haven't actually written a review yet, but basically, if you want Arctic adventures, marvelous monsters, vicious villains and a stirring tale of action, friendship and a brilliant lead in Dakkar (Nemo), you'll love this!

I'm delighted to welcome Jon to the blog today to take part in my Classic Children's/YA feature, talking about Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, to celebrate release day!



It is interesting that I’m writing about Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea for a Classic Children’s/YA blog because it was only really in Britain that Verne’s work was considered to be for children. To the literary and publishing minds of nineteenth century Britain, his work was much too fanciful for anyone but children. In other parts of the world, Verne’s speculative fiction was considered worthy of adult attention but not here. It seems the debate about what adults ‘should and should not’ read has been raging for a long time!

Part of me wonders what kind of critical reception Verne would receive were he publishing today. Would he write YA? I like to think so. Certainly, Captain Nemo is a dark and tortured soul wrestling with his turbulent emotions and trying to come to terms with great tragedy. In one moment he wants to turn his back on his fellow men and in the next, he is wreaking havoc amongst them. He is idealistic and antagonistic towards the notion of Empire, supporting Greek revolutionaries and saving a humble pearl diver. Nemo could so easily be an angst-ridden teen hero.

Verne was very keen to get the Science in his books right and he consulted with the foremost minds of the day. The fact that they weren’t always correct in their theories only adds to his work’s sense of fantasy. If only there were prehistoric creatures roaming around underground worlds.

And then, of course there is the out-and-out adventure: giant squid (not just one but a whole army of them), Polar exploration, battles with warships a giant whirlpool.

I can remember a copy of Twenty thousand Leagues Under the Sea lurking around our house when I was a child and, inspired by the film on TV, I set about trying to read it. I confess, it was a difficult task. Verne does include a lot of Scientific speculation in his work and I skimmed through professor Arronax’s discussion with his servant Conseil about the various molluscs that inhabited the region they sailed through.

But it is the character of Nemo that draws the reader into the book and it was Nemo’s youth that I wanted to write about in the Monster Odyssey series.

So, yes, there are monsters in the books, giant serpents, enormous turtles, eels but there is intrigue and betrayal, everything that would start a young Captain Nemo on a pathway to destruction. To a day when he would look in the mirror and ask, “Am I a monster?”



Thanks for a great post, Jon!