Friday, 28 April 2017

Eleanor Wood Interview

I used to do a LOT of interviews on this blog at one point, talking to tons of amazing authors. A couple of years ago I hit the stage where I felt I was running out of questions to ask, and took something of a break. I did 2 last year for books I especially loved, though, and after reading another one I adored, Eleanor Wood's Becoming Betty, I was desperate to find out more about her and her awesome book!

If you want to see my mini review, it's at the bottom of this piece along with the blurb for the book - but first, check out the interview itself!

I love standalone books taking place in shared settings, so it was great to see Tuesday appear in Becoming Betty! Are you planning on Tuesday, Lizzie, or any of your other characters appearing in your next book?

I am also a massive fan of crossovers between standalone books. It’s something that Sarra Manning does beautifully and I always wanted to copy! It’s my aim to keep the link going in every future book. It’s nice to give a little nod and feel like we’re all in a gang together.

One of the key themes of the book is Lizzie reinventing herself in order to fit in with what Viv wants. What's the most you've ever changed about yourself for another person? And did you regret it?

I actually had a friend very much like Viv, so that relationship comes directly from personal experience. It started off harmlessly: offering to dye my hair like hers or lend me clothes, but turned into trying to get me to dump my (very nice) boyfriend for someone ‘cooler’ and all sorts of controlling behaviour. Of course, I was eventually replaced with a new BFF who was turned into another clone. This girl was so dazzling – for a while it was like a full-on romance. We would swap dresses halfway through a night out, wear matching make-up, make each other mix tapes and call each other secret nicknames.

When you are not that confident in your own identity, it can be really easy to fall into copying someone you admire. I do regret it, as it ultimately doesn’t make for a real friendship – it should be about what you both bring to the table. Also, of course, I see photos of myself from those months and cringe at the fact I look like someone else!

Music plays a key part in both of your first two books, of course! What's the most fun you've ever had watching music live?

I recently went to see The Raincoats, playing in a tiny community hall near where I live in Brighton. It was truly one of the most amazing nights I have ever had. It was genuinely life-changing. The Raincoats were a 70s all-girl punk band, who are still together and playing live in their 60s – they are still angry and shouty and brilliant. They are not like a normal band and I danced and laughed and cried throughout. It was raw and joyous and emotional. I highly recommend looking up their ‘Feminist Song’ on YouTube. The Raincoats were (among others) a big influence on Dirty Harriet in the book.

Of the bands competing in Becoming Betty, which would you most like to be a part of? And which one would you least like to play/sing with?

I love Dirty Harriet so much. Those girls bring me such joy – I basically wrote them as my dream girl gang. I would LOVE to be in their band. I also have quite a soft spot for Dream Genies, who look like they have a lot of fun.

Living in Brighton and having a lot of friends in bands, I’ve come across a lot of bands like Gypsy Death Curse – music snobs who take themselves *extremely* seriously. I can’t think of anything worse than being in a band like that!

Another key theme is friendship; I love the way the book looks at Lizzie's relationships with friends both old and new. Who are your favourite pair or group of fictional friends?

I love the friendship dynamic in Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, which feels so true to life (I think that book has basically become the gold standard for writing about friendship in YA!). Also Kaz and Ruby in Remix by Non Pratt, and Kate and Mark in You Know Me Well.

It was really interesting to see Lizzie's experiences at college compared to her friends' at sixth form. Do you think it's important to show teens a range of options that are available after leaving school?

Definitely. It was based a bit on one of my best friends, who left our school to go off to college – we all thought she was so cool and I was very envious, while I was still stuck at school and feeling like a child by comparison. She ended up not coping very well and coming back to our school sixth form. It’s a funny time as people go off to do very different things, which really affects relationships – you can suddenly feel like you’re at a completely different stage in life to your friends of the same age; it’s weird.

If you were asked to put together a band of YA authors to support a group or artist on tour which authors would you pick? And who would you be playing support for?

I love this! I would definitely want to put together a YA supergroup of amazing female authors, so I choose Mel Salisbury, Tanya Byrne, Non Pratt and Holly Bourne. We will play disco-punk anthems and support my hero Patti Smith.

Finally I really appreciated the part that Lizzie's parents and sister played in the novel. Other than your own, who are some of your favourite families in YA?

I’m so glad you thought that, because I am extremely fond of Lizzie’s family (I think Grace might be my favourite character in the book). I know it’s different for everyone at that age, but my family always played a really important role in my life and it feels very natural to make family a big part of the story.

I love the family themes of Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s Square Root of Summer, Nina Lacour’s We Are Okay and Jess Vallance’s The Yellow Room. I ADORE the dad in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl beyond all measure.

I always seem to bring up this book, but OF COURSE I have to mention the Mortmain family in I Capture the Castle – the best fictional family of all time!

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, Eleanor!

Eleanor Wood lives in Brighton, where she can mostly be found hanging around in cafes and record shops, running on the beach, pretending to be French and/or that it's the 1960s and writing deep into the night. She used to make a photocopied fanzine, moved on to embarrassingly personal blogging and has written for magazines like Elle, Time Out and The Face. She has a fringe, is fond of eyeliner and wishes she had a dog.

Lizzie Brown's life is one big to-do list:
1. Start college
2. Become cool
3. Decide wtf to do with her life
So when she meets Viv, the crazy, beautiful lead singer in a band, she thinks she's on her way to achieving number two on her list. And when Viv asks her to be the bass player in the band, there's only one problem - Lizzie can't play a single note. And that she's nowhere near cool enough (ok, two problems). And that she has a huge crush on the guitarist (ok, three), who happens to be Viv's boyfriend (ok, this is a terrible idea).

But Viv won't take no for an answer, and decides that a makeover is the answer to everything. Boring Lizzie Brown is going to become Betty Brown the Bass Player and there's nothing Lizzie can do about it . . .

Told with Eleanor Wood's trademark warmth and hilarity, Becoming Betty is the story of one girl's journey to being cool, and learning what's on the other side.

My review:

Eleanor Wood follows up her awesome debut My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend with another incredibly fun contemporary filled with amazing characters (including an appearance, in a small role, from Tuesday, star of her first book.) I adored Betty, the lead here, and this is a really warm and funny read which I raced through. In addition to being completely hilarious it's also a great look at the way friendships change, at a close family - I LOVED that the parents here played more of a part than in most YA novels - and at the different paths teens can choose after finishing Year 11. One of the best UKYA books of the year so far for me and Eleanor is one of my autobuy authors given how good both of her first two books have been.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Books Read in March

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (Penguin, read via NetGalley) – I know that authors often say second books are really difficult, and sometimes I feel the same way reading them. There are some authors whose debuts I’ve loved, but whose second books have left me disappointed. Then again, there are others like Morgan Matson, Non Pratt, and Becky Albertalli (obviously a VERY incomplete list!) who have followed up an astonishingly fabulous debut with an equally brilliant sophomore book. There’s a loose link to Simon Vs here (main character Molly is cousin to Abby in that book, and both Abby and Simon appear in this one briefly) but it’s completely readable as a standalone if you’ve missed Becky’s first book. (Obviously you should then go back and read that because it’s superb though!) Narrator Molly is such an adorable character, while I also loved her twin sister. The romances running through this one are perfectly done and it’s such a gorgeously fun read.

Into The Fourth at Trebizon by Anne Digby, illustrated by Lucy Truman (Egmont, bought) – Reread of one of my favourite of the Trebizon series, with the new edition illustrated, like the rest of the series, by Lucy Truman with her gorgeous artwork. I’ve read this so many times but it’s a perfect comfort read, while Lucy’s pictures definitely add to the experience of reading it.

Girls Can’t Hit by Tom Easton (Hot Key, read via NetGalley) – With the same brilliant sense of humour he showed in Boys Don’t Knit, Tom Easton brings us the story of a girl who somehow ends up taking up boxing despite the disapproval of her family and slight bewilderment of her friends. This is a consistently funny read with a great set of characters, and I raced through it. I also loved seeing a group of friends involved in historical re-enactments, a hobby I’ve rarely seen portrayed in YA - which led to some especially hilarious scenes!

Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson (Harper 360, bought) – This is such an intense thriller, with so many twists and turns, that I don’t want to say much for fear of spoilers. I WILL say, though, that you should absolutely read it ASAP – Tiffany Jackson gives us an incredible story and a truly memorable central character in the shape of Mary, a black girl convicted of killing a white baby when she was just 9 and now fighting to convince people that she didn’t commit the crime in order to keep her own unborn child.  A brilliantly written story which will stay in my memory a LONG time; I’m excited for whatever Tiffany writes next.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III (Harry N Abrams, bought) – Really  interesting coming of age story following a fair-haired, blue-eyed young Lakota boy on a road trip with his grandfather following in the footsteps of the famed Crazy Horse – who was once another Lakota boy with similar features to Jimmy’s, and who grew up to become one of the bravest and most renowned of the Lakota nation. The grandfather’s tales of the exploits of the famous warrior are excellent and I enjoyed finding out more about him as well as getting an insight into the modern-day life of a Lakota boy. It’s also a completely gorgeous hardback; I love the cover and Jim Yellowhawk’s wonderful illustrations really work perfectly with Marshall’s story.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elon Mastai ( Read via NetGalley) – I don’t generally do time travel, but this sounded too intriguing to pass up and requesting it via NetGalley was SUCH a brilliant decision! Starting in the 2016 we were meant to have – a wonderful utopia with unlimited energy, this follows a slacker who is the son of the man who’s invented time-travel. Despite the perfection of this world, main character Tom is left alone by a series of heartbreaks, and after a time-travel accident ends up wiping out the world and catapulting him into ‘our’ 2016 – which may seem like a nightmare world in comparison, but which has people who love him in it. He’s left to try and decide whether to ‘fix’ the universe, or to hold on to the people he cares for. Stunning voice here, genuinely unexpected twists and turns in the plot, and really lovely characters.

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt (Walker, received from publisher) – How can ANYONE be as consistently incredible as Non is? Four books, all of which are very different, all of which would be in my top 20 YA contemporaries of the last 5 years. This story of Claire and Sef, who team up to start a YouTube channel and raise money so that Sef’s brother can stay in his care home, is both moving and at times hilarious. I think Non captures modern teens better than perhaps anyone else in UKYA (and, obviously, with the amount of incredible authors writing UKYA at the moment there’s MASSIVE competition.) The dual narrative format – starting with Claire’s story, switching to Sef’s POV halfway through so we can see his version of events, and finishing off with both of them – works brilliantly. I also really appreciated the ace representation in the form of Claire’s friend Seren, who I thought was a fabulous character.

Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens (Corgi, bought) – I got slightly confused here, thinking the sixth in the popular Murder Most Unladylike series was ‘just’ the short stories that have been published online before plus a couple of new ones. That was already enough for me to buy it; I’ve loved all the shorts I’ve read and Nina Tara’s gorgeous covers ensure that this is a series that’s too stunning to NOT collect in full. However there’s so much more to it than the shorts (as brilliant as they are!) with Robin talking about her inspirations, and in-character pieces by Daisy and Hazel on codebreaking, famous detectives, and other gems. I think this is one of the best ‘companion’ type books I’ve read for a series – you can clearly feel Robin’s love for her characters in everything she writes. In addition, the shorts are superb and it’s fabulous to see George and Beanie both take centre stage as narrators for separate stories without Daisy and Hazel.

Book of the month: Wow, this is tough! Non and Becky’s books were both fabulous, while Tiffany blew me away with one of the strongest YA debuts I’ve read in a long time. However Elon Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays takes this for me; it really is unlike anything I’ve read in ages and I LOVED it.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Immediately Pick Up A Book

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

Boarding schools - I grew up reading Jennings, the Chalet School, and the Trebizon series. I'm not sure I'd ever have wanted to go to a boarding school myself, but they're fascinating to read about.

A favourite: So many to choose from, but Lucy Truman's gorgeous illustrations for the recent Egmont editions of Anne Digby's Trebizon books work perfectly with the delightful stories.

Books told in letters, emails, etc – I’m a huge fan of books that aren’t told just as straight narratives, and love letters, e-mails, notes, transcripts, and so on being added in.

A favourite: I really love Jaclyn Moriarty’s quartet of contemporary novels about penpals in two Australian schools, particularly Finding Cassie Crazy and Dreaming of Amelia.

Childhood sweethearts/crushes reuniting – I am not hugely romantic, to be honest, but I have a soft spot for stories about people who were in love as children finally getting together.

A favourite: Molli Moran’s One Song Away is a gorgeous story of a girl moving back home and persuading her old best friend to pose as her fake boyfriend. The pair fall for each other, of course…

Small town settings – Coming from a fairly small village where I knew most of my immediate neighbours really well, it’s kind of strange being in London and barely knowing anyone who lives near me. I love reading about small towns where everyone knows each other’s business and looks after each other.

A favourite: Sweet Pizza by GR Gemin – Gemin’s first two novels, Cowgirl and Sweet Pizza, are both gorgeously evocative MG stories set in the same small Welsh town. I think this one captures the feel of the place perfectly, as main character Joe tries to spice up his family’s run-down cafĂ© with a little Italian flavour in tribute to his heritage.

Big families – I find family dynamics really interesting to read about, especially when there’s either a large number of siblings or several generations living in close proximity.

A favourite: When We Collided by Emery Lord – Jonah and Vivi are a stunning couple in this contemporary novel, but I really adored Jonah’s relationship with his siblings and mother, and the way Vivi got to know them all.

Wales – I’m from Wales, and rarely get to read books set there, so on the occasions I do it REALLY sticks in my mind.

A favourite: Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider trilogy (especially the first book) was a childhood favourite which is still a fabulous read (and works both as a fantasy for children, and a study of grief.)

Asexual representation – Okay, compared to books set in Wales, books with ace characters are FAR rarer. However they’re becoming more common, at least, and I’m super-excited by this.

A favourite: This Song Is (Not) For You, by Laura Nowlin, is a stunning love triangle between a straight girl, straight guy and an ace guy. Super-romantic and awesome!

‘End of an era’ feeling – I love reading about or watching something coming to an end, whether that’s a time period, a relationship, or something else. (A couple of favourite films of mine include The Last Days of Disco, where the characters catch the end of the disco craze, and Cat Ballou, set in the dying days of the Old West.)

A favourite: Paper Towns by John Green captures the strange, slightly surreal feeling of a year group’s final weeks in school better than any other book I’ve read.

Personal recommendations – I don’t really bother looking at average ratings, or reviews from people I don’t know, but there are a few bloggers and friends who can always interest me in a book – especially my best friend Debbie, who blogs at Snuggling on the Sofa.

A favourite: A recent rec from Debbie was I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson, a really exciting read about Jemma, a girl with severe cerebral palsy who can’t communicate with anyone. Her carer’s boyfriend taunts her by telling her he’s responsible for a murder that has recently taken place. When the possibility of a way to communicate becomes available, her life faces change.

Mismatched teams – I love the relationships possible when a team has to work together to solve a problem, especially when they wouldn’t normally get on.

A favourite: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and sequel Crooked Kingdom, are fabulous fantasy heist novels about a sextet of daring adventurers trying to pull off a huge job.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Twenty Things I've Read 14

My links recap continues, after a break of a few weeks for various reasons. 

As mentioned in week 1, there are some sites which could quite conceivably fill this list between them EVERY WEEK as they constantly produce amazing posts - and I find it way too hard to single them out! So instead, I will just list them at the start of each post. If you're not reading the following, you are REALLY missing out.

Safe Space

Media Diversified
The Pool
Teen Vogue 

Addition: Given the current political climate, I would strongly suggest also reading EVERYTHING Celeste Pewter tweets; she is incredibly insightful and her tweets on US politics have helped me figure out which things going on are reasonably worrying and which are absolutely terrifying.

The Twenty

I've been reading lots of graphic novels recently but am still looking for more recommendations - brilliant post on Meet The World with 30 diverse graphic novels!

Jameela Khan, Haleema Mirza and Fawzia Mahmood wrote for Gal-Dem about their upcoming game Aaliyah, which sounds superb.

Gal-Dem are in the running for the Dazed 100 by the way - vote for them (or whoever else you're a huge fan of) here!

I saw Power Rangers recently and really enjoyed it - it's great to see a positive portrayal of an autistic character! A review of the film goes into more detail on that portrayal over on Neurodivergent Representation in Media.

As a fellow singleton, I really loved Samantha Shannon's piece in the Daily Mail on why she loves being single.

I loved Sarah Shaffi's April preview of books coming out this month!

Michelle Dean has awesome podcast recs in The Guardian.

Swapna Krishna had superb advice for Marvel on how to bring in new female readers.

Grace Petrie wrote on feminism and transphobia.

Melinda Salisbury wrote a stunning piece about her grandmother for The Guardian.

I've been trying to decide whether to try 13 Reasons Why on Netflix (I had major issues with the book) and was extremely grateful to Courtney from the Internet for this post about it.

Really great thread here by Bobu Babalola about upcoming TV series Guerrila.

Danielle Dash wrote an outstanding post about Rachel Dolezal,

I loved Simon Smith's piece for the TES on why getting rid of staff ISN'T the answer to challenges faced by headteachers.

Stripes announced the 4 authors who'll be featured in their upcoming anthology!

I really liked this VODzilla list of Netflix underrated gems.

Autostraddle's 25 New Queer YA Books To Read This Spring And Summer has some amazing recs too, as does Huffington Post's 9 Great YA Novels For Politically Engaged Readers.

I also adored this interview with Whitney Gardner, author of You're Welcome, Universe. And finally, another great interview, as Teen Vogue talked to Hanna Nowinski, who wrote the fabulous Meg and Linus!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Blog Tour: Katy Cannon's Road Trip Essentials

As a huge fan of Katy Cannon's I'm really excited for her new novel And Then We Ran, which I've just started reading and am loving! To celebrate, Katy is here talking about her Road Trip Essentials as part of the blog tour.

Over to you, Katy...

It’s a long standing ambition of mine to go on a proper road trip. The sort that involves driving through the night, living on snack food, and stopping at fascinating, out of the way spots along the journey. 

The closest I’ve come was when my husband and I toured Texas, shortly after our wedding. We were visiting relatives over there, but also took a week or so to explore the Lone Star State on our own. And there was a lot of it to explore. We’d put the sat nav on and the helpful woman would say “in 400 miles, turn left.” 

But it was great fun. We put the radio on loud (country music, of course), we stayed at roadside motels, we ate a lot of pancakes… And it definitely gave me a feel for what I think are the essential components of a great road trip. 

Your mileage, of course, may vary…

Katy Cannon’s Top 5 Road Trip Essentials

1.      A cool car. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in it, so you either want something phenomenally comfy with all mod cons, or something so damn cool that you don’t care how uncomfortable you are.

2.      A soundtrack. Whether it’s as background music while you survey the landscape around you, pumping out loud to keep you awake when you drive through the night, or just something you can belt out at the top of your voice as you drive, music is essential. (If you want to check out the road trip soundtrack for And Then We Ran, check it out on my blog.)

3.      Snacks. And plenty of them. There’s not a lot to do in a car, and you need to keep your energy up, so yeah, snacks. And stops at diners and service stations along the way. Basically, think sugar and burgers. This is not the time for dieting. Road trips are unhealthy. Embrace it. 

4.      A notebook and pen. You never know what you’re going to see on a road trip. You’re travelling through new surroundings, meeting new people - and you don’t want to forget a moment of it. If nothing else, it’s great inspiration for your next book! So keep a notebook and pen handy, and keep taking notes. 

5.      Great company. This is the most important point on the list. After all, without someone to banter with, sing along with, share the driving, bicker about directions, and talk about anything and everything, what’s the point of taking the road trip at all? 

And Then We Ran is published today by Stripes Publishing! Check it out at all good bookshops, and don't miss the rest of the blog tour.