Monday, 20 January 2020

Book Review: A Throne of Swans by Katharine Corr and Elizabeth Corr


In a world where the flightless are servants and the flighted rule, when 17-year-old Aderyn inherits the role of Protector of Atratys, it's vital that nobody knows her biggest secret - she hasn't transformed into a swan since watching her mother be torn apart by hawks years ago. But a trip to the royal court brings intrigue, threats, and the need to do whatever it takes to save the land she is sworn to protect.

Oh, WOW. This is a stunning high fantasy with a brilliant narrator, which had me glued to it while reading. (It's now 4:45am, I woke up at around 3:30 and was too desperate to find out how it ended to go back to sleep!) I love fantasy with political intrigue at its heart and this is a superb example of that - early on Aderyn is warned to trust nobody, and it's clear as the novel progresses through many twists and turns that this is sensible advice. I found the characters to be really compelling and layered, with their motivations eventually making sense but a lot of them being VERY well-hidden. There's also a superb world built here, in which the flightless are treated differently by different rulers but are in general far below the flighted, to the point where even the touch of a noble causes them pain. Aderyn is a wonderful heroine who's clearly trying to do what's right for the kingdom, and in particular for the people of Atratys, although she's distracted both by the hunt for her mother's killers and the need to stay alive in what quickly becomes a really dangerous situation.

It's hard to say too much about the characters without giving anything away, but there's a huge amount of well-developed ones here, from Aderyn's cousin Aron - also flightless due to injury, and therefore without a claim to the throne which should have been his to inherit - and his sister Odette, trying to stay out of court intrigue, to Siegfried, Odette's betrothed, Lucien, son of one of Aderyn's family's closest advisers but loyal to the land of Atratys above his Protector, and Letya, Aderyn's lady's maid and closest friend. And then there's the cruel king, who seems to have purposes of his own in mind for Ateryn...

Despite its length, I raced through this one thanks to captivating writing and a well-paced plot which includes some great scenes as the book builds to a stunning climax. I also appreciated that it's a satisfying ending for a novel in its own right, while doing a good job of setting up the sequel which I'm hugely anticipating now.

Massive recommendation to fans of awesome fantasy novels.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Things I've Read This Week

Best thing I’ve read all week HAS to be this Jolene-inspired f/f short story by Suleikha Snyder, Jesse's Girl! Huge thanks Olivia Waite for tweeting about it.

Great post from Reading The End on her 13 favourite reads of 2019.

Kali Wallace’s Your Heart Is A Moving Target is a superb piece on the pressures of the publishing industry for writers.

Anyone unsure about the double standards applied to Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton can see a ton of proof in this great Buzzfeed piece.

I may have shared this before, but definitely worth signal-boosting because it’s an INCREDIBLE list – Jan-Jun 2020 LGBTQIAP YA Preview on LGBTQ Reads.

Another great list – Reads Rainbow has 2020 books with non-cis protagonists and/or love interests. And another! Pop Goes The Reader’s 50 Most-Anticipated MG Novels from Jan – June 2020

Going back to LGBTQ Reads, they have an extract from Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis; Stephanie is one of my absolute favourite authors and I love what I’ve read of the Harwood Spellbook series, which this is part of!

Clarisha Kent’s 45 Black Actresses To Watch Who Fail The Paper Bag Test is another excellent list – I’ll definitely be checking out films starring the people here.

Jennifer Prokop wrote about the RWA fiasco for Kirkus, as did Kelly Faircloth for Jezebel while there’s also a SorryWatch post on it. I love this fabulous PitchWars interview with Kate Dylan, whose Mindwalker sounds AWESOME, and her mentor Kat Dunn, my super-talented friend who wrote the upcoming Dangerous Remedy (which is INCREDIBLE.)

Another fabulous interview – Word Wonders talks to Anna-Marie McLemore about their new release, Dark And Deepest Red.

Also on Word Wonders, excellent Mike Chen piece on the importance of found family for children of immigrants.

Buzzfeed’s 28 YA books they’re looking forward to in 2020 has tons of fab titles on, as does Perpetual Page Turner’s list on the same topic, and also Double A Reads’s.

Tropics of Meta’s review of American Dirt is phenomenal.

Alisha Rai, author of The Right Swipe, has a fab piece on dating apps.

Samantha Puc and Jey Barnes have created a pay-what-you-can digital zine with tips for speaking up against fatphobia.

Firefly announced the acquisition of Asking For A Friend, by Kate Mallinder, which sounds fabulous (and is being published in May this year, so not THAT long to wait!)

Over at Library Lady, Anne Thompson has her second weekly round-up of news from the world of children’s books.

Zoƫ Hu has a really thought-provoking piece on the new Little Women adaptation here.

Finally, Transworld announced the launch of a volunteer award to honour the memory of their former senior publicity manager, and co-founder of the Flip, Sophie Christopher. I know Sophie is massively missed by all of her many friends in publishing.

The Sophie Christopher Volunteer Award will see Penguin Random House partner with volunteering organisation People & Places to sponsor a two-week programme–open to anyone working in publishing and bookselling–in support of the work of the Treak Community Centre, close to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Further details can be found on www.bemoreSophie.com.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Book Review: Max Kowalski Didn't Mean It by Susie Day


Max Kowalski Didn't Mean It sees a good-hearted but clumsy title character, used to messing things up, have to 'step up' to look after his sisters after his dad disappears. Desperate to hold his family together, and thinking that money will be the only thing which can do so, Max takes the girls to Wales after hearing a legend about a dragon guarding a hoard of gold. Can he find the treasure and take care of the rest of his family?

I grabbed this when I saw it in the library; I'm a huge Susie Day fan - her Pea's Book series is one of my all-time favourites and I love the YA she's written. (Apart from The Twice-Lived Summer Of Bluebell Jones, which is superbly written but which I haven't forgiven for making me cry just before a full day of teaching thanks to a REALLY unexpected ending.)

With any Susie Day book, you're guaranteed a warm, funny, and deeply moving story, and this is definitely no exception. Max is a great central character - struggling ever since the tragic death of his mother in a car accident, which has clearly knocked the entire family for six. "A good, kind, bright young man," as he's described by his teacher early on, but one who's impulsive and can find things overwhelming. There's a really rich supporting cast - Max's sisters are great, while I smiled every time Max's sweet friend Elis Evans appeared on the page. Once they get to Wales, we also get to meet a lovely foster family with two very different dads. The relationships Susie writes are always beautifully portrayed, and the family ones shine through here, both Max's grieving family and Tal and his two foster fathers clearly really love each other, but that definitely doesn't mean they always know the right thing to do where the rest of the family is concerned.

This is a book with very strong themes (another thing you can say about all of Susie's work); it looks at mental health, gender stereotyping, grief, relying on other people, but also accepting that adults aren't always right. It does it all with a touch that I was about to describe as 'surprisingly light', but that's only true for people who've never read Susie's books before - for any who have, there's no surprise at all in the way she weaves all of these into a wonderful story.

What I was quite surprised by, actually, is just how tense it was - it's clear fairly early on that Nice Jackie, Max's dad's boss, is perhaps not exactly what her name suggests, while there's a heartbreaking scene when a pet dies later in the book.

Eventually, though, things build to a realistic climax which deals with some of the problems and gets Max's life on track to improve - while never pretending that it will be easy or that there aren't issues ahead. It's a warm and hopeful read which I'd absolutely recommend to anyone who loves reading wonderful children's novels with bags of heart.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Book Review - The Lady's Guide To Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite


The Lady's Guide To Celestial Mechanics is a beautiful historical romance which sees Lucy Muchelney - mourning both the death of the father she worked with on astronomy, and the marriage of her long-time best friend and lover to a man - take a job translating a groundbreaking French scientific text for the Countess of Moth. The Countess, recently widowed and really NOT mourning her domineering husband, has never thought of being with a woman before but quickly falls for the vivacious and charming Lucy.

This is one which I've seen lots of love for on my Twitter timeline, and it's easy to see why! The central pairing here are an absolutely gorgeous couple with really strong, clear character arcs and sizzling chemistry between them. In addition to the wonderful romance, though, there's also lots here about the importance of art, and ignoring narrow definitions of what 'qualifies' as art, with the Countess creating breathtaking embroidery but initially being reluctant to even claim the word 'artist' to describe herself. Add in some brilliant parts about the overlooking of women in STEM, and the thefts of their discoveries by male relatives or spouses; this is a strongly feminist book which has a great message of empowering women.

I loved the way that the speed of the initial romance left lots of time to look at other aspects of the relationship - what happens when former lovers or love interests reappear? How do you know how far you're willing to go in bed when the idea of being with someone of the same gender is new to you? When your love affair has to be a well-kept secret from society, are you relieved that you aren't trapped in it, or scared that your lover can leave you so easily? And how CAN you commit to a relationship with someone who society can't acknowledge your love for?

The love scenes between the pair are simultaneously super steamy and really tender, and do a great job of showing us both of their personalities. While the characters, particularly the main pairing, were definitely my favourite thing about the book I also really appreciated the strong historical setting, especially in regards to the erasure of both same-sex relationships and of women in STEM. The book builds to a clever climax which took me by surprise and really works beautifully well.

Definitely a new favourite of mine, and Olivia Waite is firmly on my 'must buy' list after this one!

Thursday, 16 January 2020

January Preview - My Most Anticipated Books Of The Month

Yes, I know it's super-late, but I decided I was going to try and do monthly previews so I figured I'd start now rather than waiting for February. Mix of UK and US releases (I'll try to make sure I group them correctly!) from various genres and age ranges, just whatever I think sounds most interesting.

Also I found out about most of these from one or more of the following AMAZING lists.

BookRiot's Queer Girls in YA 2020 and 2020 SFF books.
Bustle's 35 most anticipated books of January.
The Perpetual Page Turner's 2020 most anticipated adult fiction books.
LGBTQ Reads's January - June 2020 YA preview, January - June adult preview, and January preview.

UK releases



A Throne of Swans by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr (Hot Key Books) - Out Now

I somehow managed to fall super behind with the Witch's Kiss series by the Corr sisters after really enjoying the first book in the trilogy. I definitely want to finish it soon, but I've been distracted by this, my current read - it's a really intriguing fantasy about a girl who inherits the role of Protector of Atratys in a kingdom where nobles can transform into birds. But Aderyn hasn't transformed since her mother's brutal death at the hands of supposedly-extinct hawks, and she's now left at the mercy of her brutal uncle. Great world-building here and intriguing characters have definitely drawn me into this, I can't wait to see what happens.



Foul Is Fair by Hannah Capon (Penguin Books) - Out Now

This Macbeth-inspired revenge fantasy is getting tons of comparisons to lots of my favourite things, amongst them Cruel Intentions, Riverdale and Heathers. It's about four girls who gatecrash a prep school party, only for the main character to be raped. She chooses to transfer to the school her attackers attend, and enact a violent and bloody revenge, manipulating a boy called Mack to help her do so. Everything I've seen about this so far makes it sounds staggeringly over the top, in an awesome way. Many thanks to Penguin for approving me on NetGalley for this; it's going to be one of my next reads.



Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen (Simon & Schuster) - Out Now

In a rare moment of actually being ahead of the game, I already reviewed this one! (Many thanks to publishers Simon and Schuster for the proof for review consideration.) It follows aspiring dancer Ever Wong as she's sent to Taipei by her strict family to learn Mandarin, rather than dance in the parade she's been looking forward to taking part in. But once Ever gets to the summer program she's enrolled in, she finds that it's an infamous free-for-all nicknamed Loveboat where for many participants, language learning and calligraphy take a backseat to hook ups and clubbing. Ever sets out to break the Wong Rules, assisted by some new friends including potential love interests.

Click the earlier link for my full review, but in general I found this a really enjoyable read with some great characters and a deeply satisfying climax and resolution.




The Sword of Red by Jackie Marchant (BLKDOG) - Out Now

I was a big fan of Jackie Marchant's Dougal Trump series for younger readers (later repackaged as Dougal Daley, after another D Trump achieved rather more notoriety!), a hilarious series about a boy routinely blamed for a ton of things - none of which are his fault, obviously! The switch to YA fantasy surprised me when I heard about it but Marchant is a talented author and I'm really intrigued to see what she does with this novel, about a rebel girl trying to help the bastard son of the Supreme Lawmaker lose his violent past and accept the peaceful ways of the forest-dwellers she lives amongst.



Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Bloomsbury Circus) - Out Now

Tons of great reviews for this debut novel about a young Black babysitter accused by a security guard of kidnapping her employer's two-year-old white child. Her employer is horrified by the way Emira's humiliated as somebody films the encounter, and tries to make things right, but it sounds like unexpected consequences ensue. Goodreads summary says "With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason." Themes here sound incredibly interesting and as I mentioned there's a LOT of praise coming from good sources for it.


US releases


Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore (Macmillan USA) - Out Now

Anna-Marie McLemore is one of the most popular authors amongst my Twitter followers and having recently read their short story Roja in the anthology All Out: The No Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout The Ages, edited by Saundra Mitchell, it's easy to see why. They are an incredibly lyrical writer and I can't believe I haven't got around to reading any of their novels yet. I'm definitely going to change that as soon as I get my hands on this queer retelling of The Red Shoes, about a strange sickness in 1518 Strasbourg making women dance in the streets, and a girl suffering from the same fever 500 years later.



We Used To Be Friends by Amy Spalding (Harry N. Abrams) - Out Now 

I've followed Amy Spalding on Twitter for ages and it seems like I've been waiting FOREVER for this one as I loved the sound of it from the first moment I read about it; I'm so glad it's here. It's a story about a friedship breakup between two girls, Kat and James, and it's told in dual timelines - one moving forward in time and the other moving backwards. I love stories told in interesting structures and this sounds like a great example of that, while I definitely feel there should be more books about the painfulness of friendship breakups, which for me can potentially be far worse than the end of a romance. 



Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden (Bloomsbury YA) - Out Now

Savannah Riddle, daughter of an upper class African American family in early 1900s DC, is a well-educated young woman who has her pick of the young men in her set. But she feels suffocated by fancy parties and the shallow people she mixes with, and after meeting someone from the working class, is drawn into suffragist lectures and socialist meetings. She's determined to educate herself, but as she starts to change her views, DC erupts in riots, bombings and lynchings. This sounds like a tough read, but also a really fascinating era and setting to read about.



Throw Like A Girl by Sarah Hennings (Poppy) - Out Now

This is being compared to Morgan Matson, which on its own is generally enough to get me interested, but add a sports setting and I'm SOLD. It's about a softball star who loses everything - including her scholarship - after throwing an ill-advised punch during a game. Transferring to the nearby public school, she has to face the teammates of the girl she punched, and can't even get onto the softball team there - until an injured star quarterback promises her he'll get her into the softball team in spring if she replaces him on the gridiron until he's recovered. Love interest here sounds intriguing and main character Liv seems like an awesome character.



Nottingham: The True Story of Robyn Hood by Anna Burke (Bywater Books) - Out Jan 21st

Robin Hood retellings are totally my jam; books about found family are even more so. So this one about Robyn Hood, on the run from the law after a fateful hunting accident and taking on the Sheriff of Nottingham with the help of her band of merry women and the Sheriff's intriguing daughter Robyn sounds AMAZING.





Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Six Discoveries of 2019 - Adult Romance Special

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl - huge thanks to her for hosting.

As I think I mentioned previously on here (or maybe just tweeted about?) last year’s reading slump wasn’t quite year-long, with a few books here and there dragging me out of it. Virtually every book that DID manage to do that was an adult romance, so I figured I’d spend today’s Top Ten Tuesday talking about six awesome romance authors I discovered last year/early this year. (I couldn’t get up to ten because it was a BAD reading slump, but wanted to celebrate these six awesome authors!)

Emily Larkin – Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series, about a family where women are granted a gift by a strange (and less than trustworthy) godmother on a particular birthday, was one which I devoured quickly. The first book, Unmasking Miss Appleby, was one I picked up just because it was free on Kindle, but I hadn’t expected to be drawn in so completely to the series by it. In this series starter, Charlotte Appleby – an orphan ill-treated by her aunt and uncle – takes the gift to change shape so that she can earn a living as a male secretary to an MP working to abolish the slave trade, only to fall in love with him. Really strong main pairing here and I loved seeing them pop up again in the later books in the series, all of which were fantastic reads as well.

Suleikha Snyder Tikka Chance On Me was a definite favourite of mine, an awesome romance between a bad boy biker and the good girl whose family’s Indian restaurant he frequents. This is a short but super-fun novella showing two people who’ve known each other for years finding out each other’s secrets. Incredibly hot and awesome characterisation.

Tessa Bailey Getaway Girl was another massively fun read, featuring a woman returning to Charleston after a six-year absence to gatecrash her cousin’s wedding – only for her cousin to disappear, leaving Addison playing getaway driver to the jilted groom. The two fall for each other in a relationship filled with tons of sparks, despite the disapproval of some people around them. Companion novel Runaway Girl, about the cousin who left, is high on my TBR.

Alisha RaiCabin Fever, about a reclusive modern-day witch who heals the stranger she finds bleeding out on her porch, then has to care for him as a snowstorm rages outside, is one of the steamiest books I’ve read and definitely has one of my favourite couples. The relationship here feels utterly realistic while the magic part is well-handled. This builds to an incredibly exciting climax, as well. I'm excited to read more of Alisha Rai's extensive back catalogue!

Olivia Wilde - I fell super hard for both characters in The Lady's Guide To Celestial Mechanics, a beautiful historical romance which sees Lucy Muchelney - mourning both the death of the father she worked with on astronomy, and the marriage of her long-time best friend and lover to a man - take a job translating a groundbreaking French scientific text for the Countess of Moth, only to find that her and the countess both want more than a professional relationship. Sizzling chemistry and wonderful character arcs for both MCs make this an outstanding read.

Farrah Rochon - Huddle With Me Tonight, my first Farrah Rochon - and the first in her New York Sabers series of sports romances - was a brilliant read with a fabulous central pairing of a snarky review blogger and a family man football player who grows frustrated when she slams his cookbook, as he's worried it'll affect the success of the restaurant he's launching with his beloved sister. The misunderstanding here is cleared up fairly quickly, but with New York intrigued by the argument, they keep up a friendly rivalry as they compete in a charity cook-off, while privately getting to be significantly more friends than rivals! Super-excited for the rest of this series, and for Farrah Rochon's other books, which I've heard tons of great things about.

(Tragically, Farrah's sister Tamara Roybiskie passed away just a few weeks ago. She was trying to raise money for a new organ for her church at the time of her death; Farrah has set up a GoFundMe to continue Tamara's fundraising. There's a wonderful $26,000+ donated so far, but the cost of the organ is $32,000, so if anyone has any money to spare for a good cause, please consider donating.)

Monday, 13 January 2020

Book Review: Are You Watching? by Vincent Ralph


Are You Watching? is about Jess, whose mother was tragically murdered 10 years before the start of the book, leaving her family devastated and her dad a broken shell of himself. In a desperate attempt to find the killer, who's struck repeatedly since that awful day, Jess applies for a new YouTube series which will follow 5 teens around one day a week for a month, with the winner being featured for an extra 2 months. Can she use her newfound viral fame to draw out the monster who stole her mother?

I picked this up partly because of the intriguing premise and partly because it was only 99p on Kindle, but mainly because debut author Vincent Ralph is represented by Claire Wilson and I don't think you can go wrong with reading anything written by any of Claire's clients. This book totally justified my faith in her - it's an incredibly pacey and well-plotted debut which has me really excited to read future books from Vincent Ralph! 

For me, the strongest part of the book was definitely that amazing pacing - Ralph writes in really short chapters, mostly just a few pages, which are perfectly suited for the thriller genre. He builds tension excellently and the book raises some interesting questions about the nature of social media, whether it can be used for good in the way Jess wants to, and how far Jess is responsible for unforeseen events which happen once she starts taunting The Magpie Man to try and get him to slip up. In addition, it builds to a heart-in-mouth climax, with a couple of especially superbly written scenes, which had me glued to the screen of my Kindle trying to work out what would happen, while the identity of the killer is an intriguing mystery with plenty of potential suspects. 

Jess herself is an outstanding central character; I enjoyed the others but the majority of them have relatively little time on the page. That said, her father is an excellent study of grief and I thought their relationship, with her needing him to let her do the show but also being frustrated by how badly he'd fallen apart after the tragedy, was a very strong portrayal. The other relationships - between Jess and a mysterious neighbour boy who claims to be trying to protect her, and with her current best friends and the friends who drifted away after her mother's death - are also interesting ones. Director Danny, who appears on her day of the week to follow her around for the day, and is quickly torn between wanting the viewing figures they both need and fearing for her safety, is an intriguing character who veers well away from the stereotype of someone who'll do anything for ratings.

In addition to the quest for the killer, there's also a strong theme about moving on with your life and what comes next - Jess has felt her life overshadowed by her appalling loss, and the way her dad has struggled to cope with it for so long; even if she gets justice, will she be able to put it behind her? It's a sensitively-handled theme which is really well dealt with.

In conclusion, thriller fans definitely shouldn't miss this one, and it's announcing Vincent Ralph as a major talent who I'm sure we'll see more great books from in the future.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Things I've Read This Week

I have no idea why I didn't include anything related to the ongoing RWA fiasco last week, but realised my oversight a day or two after posting. Kayleigh Donaldson's piece on it is superb. https://www.pajiba.com/miscellaneous/a-timeline-and-explanation-of-the-romance-writers-of-america-controversy.php

More to read on that, in addition to Fantasy and Science Fiction, from Cat Rambo.

There's also a letter from 19 former members of the RWA Board of Directors here.

One of the board members to quit over the appalling treatment of Courtney Milan was Farrah Rochon. Tragically, Farrah's sister passed away just a couple of weeks ago. She's been raising money for a church organ in memory of her sister, who loved singing in her church choir. Nearly $25,000 has been raised so far; the full cost is around $32,000 so if there's anyway you're able to contribute to the GoFundMe I know she'd be grateful.

I'm finding the 10 For 20 Challenge hugely useful in motivating me to focus on things for at least a short period of time. I blogged about it myself, but really want to draw people's attention to this fabulous Dani Donovan post on it!

I loved Ellen Brickley's piece Do Not Attempt the Following Personal Essays.

Superb book recommendations from the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Book Riot with an outstanding list of books featuring queer girls coming this year.

They also have 20 must read SFF books coming this year.

Shondaland have 10 books you may have missed LAST year.

Electric Literature have 8 fantasy books by trans authors.

Read It, Daddy have part 2 of their graphic novel recommendations, this time for tweens, teens and YA.

Also on Read It, Daddy, a great piece about culling books.

ZORA have a superb list of the 100 greatest books by African American women.

ZORA also have Jennifer Baker with a hard-hitting piece on Black women in publishing.

Pop! Goes The Reader have 100 most anticipated YA novels of the next 6 months.

Great thread from the ever informative Secret Barrister on legal aid.

Gary Younge is leaving behind his weekly Guardian column to become a professor of sociology at Manchester University. A massive gain for their students, although a loss for readers of the paper. His last column is truly inspiring, a must-read.

Anne Thompson, who's one of my favourite people writing about children's books, has a great round-up post of news.

Excellent LA Times article on the book clubs founded in the wake of Nipsey Hussle's death.

Perpetual Page Turner's most-anticipated adult books of 2020 are an awesome list.

Loveboat, Taipei author Abigail Hing Wen has a superb post on Changing The Narrative.

LGBTQ Reads have a post about new releases this month.

Alyssa Cole wrote about Harry and Meghan for Washington Post.

Georgia, who's an incredible photographer based near London and Brighton, has an updated website with her awesome portfolio and details of her rates.

Finally, my friend Julia has a brilliant piece on Edinburgh bookshops.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Focusing More, and the #10for20Challenge

What do you do when there are so many things you WANT to do that the choice can become overwhelming, and settling down on one of them for any period of time can become difficult because there's always the thought "Oh, I could just quickly do this?"

It's something I've been struggling with for... not as long as I can remember, exactly. I definitely have memories of being able to lose myself in a book for ages as a child. But it has been an issue for years, and more and more frequently, I've found myself spending hours doing what amounts to dozens of things for a few minutes at a time without ever fully committing to any of them. (I think this is one reason I love the theatre and cinema so much; when I'm at a screening or a performance I HAVE to focus on it as there's no alternative things to do!) It's frustrating at times and it definitely stops me from being as efficient as I want to be, even though I can multi-task reasonably well at some things.

I read Dani Donovan's post about the #10for20challenge after seeing @willnapforbooks tweet about it the other day and decided this seemed like a good way to try and change things. The basic idea is that you choose 10 things which you really enjoy doing, want to do more of, or want to get better at doing, and you try to make sure you spend at least 20 minutes doing at least 1 of these 10 things every day. 20 minutes seems like a really good choice of time - it's short enough that despite my attention span, I can force myself to concentrate on something for that long, it's close to the average length of my weekday commute, and it's long enough that I can actually get a reasonable amount of something done.

So, what are the ten things I've chosen?

Read a book: Last year was my biggest reading slump for many, many years - certainly for over a decade. I read internet articles, I read fanfic (and lots of it was awesome!) and I read the occasional book, including a few amazing ones, but there were entire weeks going by when I didn't pick up a book (either a physical copy or an e-book) even once, and I think I'd prefer that not to happen this year. As a fast reader when I am focused, 20 minutes means I can get through a reasonable amount of something and it's definitely making my journey to work in the morning fly by!

Blog: If last year was a bad reading slump, the last two years were a horrific blogging slump. I met my wife in mid-February 2018 and had only written one blog post between then and the end of December 2019. (Not blaming her completely for this, just that whenever I referred to myself as a blogger she looked a little confused, and looking back I can see why!) I let blogging get on top of me, I got distracted by many other things, and I forgot just how much I enjoyed doing it. Writing a bunch of posts this week has really helped me remember what I love about it, and I definitely want to try and do this as much as possible.

Watch Neighbours: Neighbours has my heart when it comes to TV programmes. For me, long-running soap operas are fascinating because you can see so much happen to characters, and while I'd never claim Neighbours was perfect, for me it's a must-watch with a ton of characters I really enjoy, a great approach to nostalgia - regularly bringing back old characters or introducing new ones with connections to former Ramsay Street residents - and I think it's generally very good at handling LGBTQ storylines and characters. (I'm a few weeks behind so HOPING I can still say that when I'm caught up, but in particular I think trans actress Georgie Stone has been fabulous as teenager Mackenzie Hargreaves and loved her romance storyline with Richie in spin-off Neighbours: Erinsborough High. Despite loving it so much, if I'm not careful I find it easy to get distracted by too many other things and not actually sit down and watch an episode. Again, I really want this to stop.

Write 'well done' comments for students: The system we use for leaving comments for students means you can write them for an entire class at once very easily, but I'm never particularly keen to do this because it doesn't feel as genuine as if I'm actually leaving a specific comment praising someone by name. I'm better than a lot of people at writing 'well done' comments - I have the good luck to teach a huge amount of really fabulous students and try to make sure I let them, their parents and their tutors know how well they're doing - but it's really easy to get distracted from writing comments like this because I notice someone has attendance issues, or an e-mail comes in, or something. Every so often, I want to block off 20 minutes for JUST writing 'well done' comments and see how many I can get through.

Do a cryptic crossword: I've always been fascinated by cryptics and, despite reading numerous interesting books and trying them at various times, have never been very good at them until fairly recently. A combination of a patient colleague who's really superb at explaining them and managing to get my wife hooked on them has got me doing them more regularly and getting much better at them, but again they're still something I quite often dip into when doing something else. I'm trying to spend 20 minutes once every few days focusing completely on them so that I get into the habit of concentrating hard on difficult clues rather than changing to something else.

Go through e-mails: One thing that stresses me out massively at times is seeing the amount of e-mails I have in my inbox (work and personal.) If, once a week or so, I can go through everything and archive - in addition to being better about dealing with them as I go - I think it'll hopefully stop them from overwhelming me.

Write fiction: I haven't written anything seriously for ages, started some fanfic for NaNoWriMo and got through 10,000 words in a few days, only to burn out and flake quickly. I'm hoping to get back to stuff this year so it definitely count as something I'd like to do more of.

Plan stuff: I read Libbie Hawker's Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing a few days ago and found it really fascinating, and my first attempt at outlining using her method went surprisingly well. (No idea if it'll be any use when it comes to WRITING the damn thing, but you never know.) Definitely want to do more of that.

Play TEW2016/TEW2020: I don't generally talk about this much in public as I'm not sure there's much, if any, overlap between YA fans and wrestling fans, but my favourite ever game series is Adam Ryland's Total Extreme Wrestling (where you play as the 'booker' of a wrestling federation, hiring and firing people and putting show together), which I started playing as a uni student back when it was still a freeware game called Extreme Warfare Deluxe and have gone back to time and time again since then. Despite it being by far the game I play most, as with most other things on this list, I have a habit of loading it up, starting to book a show, and getting distracted. With the next in the series out in 3 months time, and looking better than ever from reading Adam's fascinating developer's journal, the series definitely deserves my undivided attention more often than it currently gets it!

Tidy the flat: We're moving to the US in less than 8 months, if all goes according to plan, and I'm getting increasingly aware of just how much stuff I have! I want to spend 20-30 minutes a few times a week going through stuff, ruthlessly getting rid of what I can bear to lose, and figuring out what to do with the rest.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Book Review: With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo



With The Fire On High follows Emoni Santiago, a 17-year-old girl with a young daughter she's raising along with her grandmother, as she takes a culinary arts course and tries to channel her natural talent with food into something which will help her build a future for herself. As she goes through the year, she'll learn not just about food, but about family, falling in love again, and using her skills in the kitchen to help others.

I bought this after Elizabeth Acevedo's The Poet X, which deservedly won the Carnegie, blew me away when I read it. After my ridiculously long reading slump I finally got around to reading it this week and I'm so glad I did. I was expecting another verse novel, probably a sign of just how out of the loop I've been for a year or two, but Acevedo is as wonderfully gifted at prose as she is at poetry; her lyrical language makes the book a delight to read.

I mentioned in a previous review (Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen) that I really love characters with a particular passion in their life and Emoni, with her delight in preparing food, definitely fits the bill there. It was fascinating to read about her making various meals for family and friends, and others, and the effect which her food had on them, and the descriptions were enough to make my mouth water. On that note, as much as I enjoyed reading about her natural aptitude for choosing flavours which would go well together, I also really liked the fact that the chef teaching her culinary arts class was a hard-ass about doing things properly and following recipes, stressing the importance of knowing when to experiment and telling her why it could be vital to do things as instructed. The relationship between Emoni and love interest Malachi is a beautifully written slow burn romance but it's perhaps the growing mutual respect between Emoni and the chef, and the changing relationship between Emoni and her grandmother as Emoni realises that her grandmother has other things in her life as well as her family, which really made the novel special for me. As well as the Emoni/Malachi romance, I really loved the romance between Emoni's best friend Angelica and her girlfriend Laura, with Angelica in particular being a really warm, fun and supportive character.

Speaking of family, I thought this was a nuanced and touching portrayal of the trials and the joys of a teenage mother. Emoni's situation is never glossed over as being easy; we see just how hard she and her grandmother have to work to take care of Emma, and the judgment she faces from other people - even Emma's father's family - but we also see how much her love for the girl she refers to as Babygirl keeps her going through tough times. I also thought the portrayal of Emoni's own father - who flits in and out of her life, and isn't a particularly good parent but in many ways is a caring, compassionate person who always strives to do what's best for his community, even at the expense of his family, was a really interesting one.

I was rooting for Emoni to succeed while reading the book despite not really knowing what success would look like for her - as she doesn't, for much of the novel. She clearly has an outstanding natural talent for food but she's unsure whether studying further is the best way to make use of that talent. I was hugely invested in what decision she'd make and Acevedo's ending to the story definitely didn't let me down here.

Overall this is a massive recommendation to anyone wanting a truly gorgeously-written YA contemporary novel packed with memorable characters.

With The Fire On High is published in the UK by Hot Key Books. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books Of First Half Of 2020

Okay, first Top Ten Tuesday post for... wow, two years! Since I last did it, it's moved to The Artsy Reader Girl - huge thanks to her for hosting.

Thanks to everyone shouting out about the awesome books below, but especially Hux, who's done an incredible job of getting stuff onto the spreadsheet that me and Debbie started years ago but are rarely able to find time to update any more. Much appreciated, Hux!

Ten Books I'm Most Excited For In The First Half Of 2020

Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn (Zephyr) - These aren't really in any order, apart from this one, because seeing this hit shelves is something I've been desperate for for TWO YEARS. At Christmas 2017 I offered to beta-read Kat's book and was quickly drawn into her magical world of 18th century Paris, a wonderful found family, and a mysterious girl who the Royalists and the Revolutionaries are both desperate to get their hands on. I'm excited to see what's changed since that early version (even if I'm kinda hoping the answer is "NOTHING", given my feedback was "OMG HURRY UP AND GET THIS PUBLISHED NOW IT IS INCREDIBLE I LOVE EVERYONE!!!) It's been awesome seeing my Twitter timeline fill up with early readers who are praising it to the hilt, and I'm definitely reading my proof very soon, but I'm thrilled at the thought of readers in all bookshops being able to get their hands on this outstanding novel.

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland (Titan) - Dread Nation is one of my favourite series starers in years, introducing the wonderful characters of Jane McKeene - successful student at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls where she trains to fight against the zombie hordes and Katherine Deveraux, her rival turned ally. The duo are outstanding, as is Justina's world-building, and I'm so excited for the next instalment in the series to arrive next month!

The Love Hypothesis by Laura Steven (Electric Monkey) - LGBT romcom from the author of The Exact Opposite Of Okay, which was breathtakingly good, sounds incredible! It's about a girl who discovers a questionable scientific breakthrough which will make everyone around her want her, and sounds like hilarious zany fun.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar (Page Street Kids) - F/F romance between two childhood friends who've just reconnected when their school starts a business competition which sees both of them want to showcase their skills as henna artists sounds like a completely original and gorgeous read. Early reviews from a couple of people I know who've read it are really positive. 

Every Little Piece Of My Heart by Non Pratt (Walker) - (Dammit I wrote this then just checked and found it's August 2020. I'm using 'First Half of 2020' more loosely than a maths teacher should, okay?) As far as genres go, YA contemporary is my absolute favourite. As far as YA contemporary authors go, Non Pratt is one of the most reliably excellent around. This novel about a girl receiving letters from the best friend who left town unexpectedly, addressed not to her but to people on the periphery of her life, sounds intriguing!

Find Your Truth by Angie Thomas (Walker) - One of my ambitions for the year is to try and get back into writing fiction, so a creative writing journal definitely sounds like it would be helpful. A guided journal written by the author of The Hate U Give, one of my favourite books of the last decade and almost certainly the most important YA of that time period? SUPER-excited for this! 

The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein (Bloomsbury) - Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein was one of my favourite books of the last decade, as mentioned in last week's post. I also adored her recent prequel, The Pearl Thief. So this story, which brings in Jamie Beaufort-Stuart from those two books and Ellen McEwen from The Pearl Thief, has my attention just from the characters involved. The plot - an orphan of mixed-race heritage takes a job looking after an old lady with a dark past, while traveler Ellen is held hostage by a German pilot with a terrible secret, as Jamie's squadron is posted to a nearby airfield - also sounds incredible, though.

Mina and the Mansion of the Macabre by Amy McCaw (Uclan Publishing)  - I'm also not 100% sure on release date for this, but it sounds INCREDIBLE and Amy is a friend of mine and super knowledgeable about YA so I have extremely high hopes for it. It's a Nineties-set novel about a girl entangled in a murder mystery during a vampire festival, which sounds so up my street it could practically be my next-door neighbour.

Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman (Ink Road) - This novel about an aspiring trapeze artist who runs away FROM the circus her parents own to join a rival troupe sounds fantastic and I love things set in the world of the performing arts. I thought Akemi Dawn Bowman's Starfish was gorgeously lyrical, and am excited to read more by her.

We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia (HarperTeen) - Rahul Kanakia's Enter Title Here, about a girl trying to write a YA novel about the type of popular kid that she's never actually been, is one of my favourite ever contemporaries with an enthrallingly unlikeable protagonist. We Are Totally Normal, billed as perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli (one of my favourite YA writers) sounds like another fantastic read. It's about a guy falling for another boy for the first time, and the resulting anxiety he has about his sexuality and what his friends will think about it. It sounds like a difficult topic to do justice to but in the hands of someone as incredibly talented as Rahul Kanakia I'm confident it will be done brilliantly.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Book Review: Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen

(Thanks to Simon and Schuster for providing me with a proof for review consideration at the Blogger Brunch last month.)




Loveboat, Taipei follows aspiring dancer Ever Wong as she's sent to Taipei by her strict family to learn Mandarin, rather than dance in the parade she's been looking forward to taking part in. But once Ever gets to the summer program she's enrolled in, she finds that it's an infamous free-for-all nicknamed Loveboat where for many participants, language learning and calligraphy take a backseat to hook ups and clubbing. Ever sets out to break the Wong Rules, assisted by some new friends including potential love interests.

This was given to me at the recent Simon & Schuster Bloggers Brunch and sounded super interesting. I'm really glad I moved it to the top of my TBR pile; it's a very strong debut and the setting is a unique one for books I've read. The theme of family expectations vs personal desires, as shown in Ever's desperation to dance vs her parents' desire for her to study medicine, and fellow student Rick Woo's relationship with long-distance girlfriend Jenna despite his family's disapproval of the romance, is a strong one and I appreciated the strong depiction of Ever's parents. Clearly, they have very different plans for her than she does for herself, and as desperate as I was to see her get her own way, I thought they were both well-written characters whose reasons for wanting her to take the security of medicine rather than the risk of dance were put across well.

I love characters who are passionate about things and there's no question that Ever's love for dance is an integral part of her character. From the first moment she arrives in Taiwan, she's desperate to find a place to dance and, despite setbacks, constantly keeps this as one of her main goals. This really made me cheer for her and I was definitely hoping she'd succeed. Her other goal is to break as many as possible of 'the Wong Rules', behaving in a way she knows her parents wouldn't approve of, which definitely puts her in some interesting situations. The speed at which she built up friendships felt relatable given the context of the teens being shoved together in a program which is very intense (although not for the reasons Ever's parents think it will be!), with my only quibble about her character being that she forgives something which, to me, felt REALLY unforgiveable surprisingly quickly.

In addition to her parents, the supporting cast has numerous strong characters, chiefly the two boys who are the potential love interests who have clear hopes, fears and dreams of their own. Both of the relationships Ever develops here felt really realistic and were built up very well. I also particularly liked Mei-Hwa, one of the assistants running the program, who starts off as a distant character but gradually reveals more of herself to Ever. 

Other than Ever's quickness to forgive, as mentioned above, my only other issue with the book is that it feels slightly long for a contemporary, with my proof running just over 400 pages. The early part took me a while to get completely invested in and I thought could be pacier. That said, once we reached the build-up to the climax, I was completely drawn in and ended up staying up until 2 am to finish as I was so interested in finding out what would happen. It's also got a deeply satisfying climax and resolution, bringing together the love dilemma and Ever's desire to dance really well.

Definitely a recommendation and I'm excited to read more from Abigail Hing Wen.


Sunday, 5 January 2020

Things I've Read/Watched This Week

This is something I used to do; let's give it another go. Some links to my favourite things I've read/seen this week.

Ways to help people suffering from the horrific fires in Australia.

My outstandingly talented friend Christy Ku shot a brilliant video for BBC Bitesize. 

Series of superb articles by Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O'Connor "Beyond The Secret Garden" - looking at BAME rep in children's books. (I have no idea how I haven't seen these before; I haven't been on Twitter much for the past 2 years since meeting my wife!)

Runalong The Shelves has a look back at 2019.

The #40for2020 Reading Challenge looks really interesting!  

LA Review of Books on the mid-life crisis of the restaurant review

Booktrust's best new books

Read It, Daddy have a fantastic list of graphic novel recs for younger kids. 

Whores of Yore have a great thread on the homosexual subtext of the novel Dracula

Preeti Chhibber has an awesome database of upcoming books by South Asian authors.

Fantastic thread from the wonderful Scott Pack about his 'Tips From A Publisher' book, which sounds superb.

Cover reveal for Zara Hossain Is Here, by Sabina Khan - her Love And Lies Of Ruksana Ali was great, so I'm super-excited for her new book.

Fascinating thread by Kiera O'Brien on BookScan data for 2019.

Despite barely knowing anything about Malayam cinema - something I want to rectify when I get a chance - I found this deep dive into the industry by Omkar Poojari a really interesting read.

Looking at stuff I'm more familiar with, Manish Mathur's outstanding piece on Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga - one of my two favourite films of last year, along with Blue Story - is incredibly good; a must read.

Teacher Scott Evans has fantastic tweets with 100 books of the year for both children's fiction AND children's non-fiction/poetry - so many brilliant-looking books here! 

Friday, 3 January 2020

Cryptic Crosswords and YA/MG Clues

I decided to try and write a set of blog posts combining two of my favourite things, YA/MG novels and cryptic crosswords.

For the uninitiated, cryptic crosswords are crosswords where each clue generally has two parts, a definition, sometimes called a straight clue, and wordplay. Wordplay can consist of anagrams, definitions of different parts of the word (called 'charades'), words being put inside other words (called 'containers'), double definitions, and several more.

As an example, the title of my favourite book about crosswords, Sandy Balfour's Pretty Girl In Crimson Rose (8) gives the answer 'Rebelled'. (Pretty girl = Belle, Crimson = Red, so you put 'Belle' into 'Red' to get Rebelled, which can also mean rose.) That's a container clue, as it involved Belle being put inside Red.

For a full list of types of clue, check out the Wikipedia page on the topic, but I'm going to write a couple of YA/MG-themed ones here to give examples of a few.

Double definitions

Double definitions simply involve two definitions for the same word or phrase.

So for example, 'colour of eyes of John Green heroine (5)' gives Hazel, of the Fault In Our Stars.

(Note: questions are often intentionally misleading in their surface readings; I have no idea of the ACTUAL eye colour of any of JG's leads because my memory is terrible and it's a while since I read any!)

Two for you to try, answers below:

West End show about a fantasy author (8)
You'd be lucky to win this one of Nic Stone's books! (7)


Anagrams

Anagram clues have three parts - a definition, anagram fodder (letters to be arranged) and an anagram indicator to show there's an anagram. There are a huge amount of indicators available but they're generally something to do with change, rearrangement, or mixing things up.

Cryptipedia has lots but a few fairly common ones are things like 'awkwardly', 'acrobatically', 'mixed up', 'in a mix', 'all over the place' and 'eccentric'.

So for example 'Archer, asked, intervenes awkwardly (7, 8)' gives Katniss Everdeen - 'Archer' is a definition of Katniss, 'asked intervenes' is the anagram fodder, and 'awkwardly' shows it's an anagram. Note: punctuation is usually best ignored when solving cryptics, it's there to make the surface phrase read better.

Two more clues:

Prince hunts dorm acrobatically (9)
Prize-winning author is eccentric killer underneath! (9, 7)


Charade

A charade has a straight clue and wordplay consisting of clues to give parts of the word, or words. They can be shorter words, or abbreviations. Common abbreviations include 'N', 'E', 'S' and 'W' for 'compass point', 'p' for quiet - from pianissimo - and 'f' for loud - from forte, 'mp' for politician, 'o' for old, and many more.

Inspired by a clue she loved in a 'say what you see' round at Gary Wigglesworth's fabulous quiz at The Betsey, my wife wrote one which I adapted slightly to give 'Book about Jacques Cousteau and Bertie Wooster. (9)' The answer here is Divergent (Costeau being a diver, Wooster being a gentleman.)

Two for you:

Persistantly harrass quiet animal? Wizard! (5,6)
The wife is irritated by Dahl's book. (3,7)

I'm going to try and do another post next week with a few other types of clues, possibly building up to writing a small crossword myself at some point soon! If you read this, I hope you enjoyed it, and scroll down for the all-important answers...












Answers

Double cryptics:

West End show about a fantasy author (8) - Hamilton ('West end show' and 'a fantasy author', referring to Alwyn Hamilton)
You'd be lucky to win this one of Nic Stone's books! (7) - Jackpot ('You'd be lucky to win this' and 'One of Nic Stone's books')


Anagrams:

Prince hunts dorm acrobatically (9) - Sturmhond, from Leigh Bardugo's books. 'Prince' is the definition, 'hunts dorm' the fodder, 'acrobatically' the indicator.
Prize-winning author is eccentric killer underneath! (9, 7) - Katherine Rundell. 'Prize-winning author' is the definition, 'killer underneath' the fodder, 'eccentric' the indicator.


Charades:

Persistantly harrass quiet animal? Wizard! (5,6) - Harry Potter ('Harry' from persistently harass, 'p' from quiet - pianissimo in music, as mentioned above, 'otter' from animal, and of course 'wizard' is the definition.)
The wife is irritated by Dahl's book. (3,7) - The Witches ('The' stays the same, 'w' from 'wife', 'itches' from 'is irritated by', and 'Dahl's book' gives the straight clue.)

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Top Ten Stand-Alone Books Of The 2010s

*Taps imaginary microphone*

Is this thing on?

Yup, looks like.

So, my domain name was about to expire a few days ago, and given it's over a year since I posted, part of me was really tempted to just let it. But for much of the last decade, this blog was a HUGE part of my life. Through it, I ended up reading a ton of fantastic books, meeting a huge amount of even more fantastic people, and generally changing my world completely. (Seriously, 2010 me - stuck in a job I hated, in a place I had few friends, and with no real plans for the future - doesn't RECOGNISE myself. I think the wedding ring might be the main thing confusing him, but everything else has changed incredibly too.)

So I thought I'd give it one last go. Maybe just a couple of posts - favourite 10 stand-alone books of the 2010's today, favourite 10 series to follow at some point (hopefully before 2021). Maybe something more, we'll see.

These are in no order, by the way. Also stand-alone is slightly loosely used as two books have several companion novels.


Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Stunningly powerful WWII story about two girls - a pilot and a spy - one of whom is captured and agrees to give up information in exchange for a quick and merciful death. It’s a gripping tale of friendship, courage, patriotism, love, and family, where nothing is quite as it seems. Maddy and Verity are possibly my favourite ever central pairing in a YA novel, the plot here constantly caught me by surprise, and it's one of the most emotional books I've ever read. Verity's narration veers between heartbreaking, brutal, gorgeous, and surprisingly funny. And "Kiss me, Hardy" is still enough to bring me to the verge of tears even now. Sensationally good.


The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

This novel about a girl dealing with her sister's death and being drawn to two boys, her sister's ex and a new guy in town, is breathtakingly, incredibly, heartbreakingly beautiful. Jandy Nelson creates a cast of compelling characters and manages to make Toby and Lennie so sympathetic that what seemed to be a rather unlikely love triangle works surprisingly well.

I loved the setting of the book in Clover, a town where Lennie’s Gram, before Bailey’s death, used to walk around with shears pruning people’s flowers, and Uncle Big routinely has women climbing up trees to spend time with him, and a music teacher will march his band out into the woods to play. This could have been really jarring with the overall themes of loss and grief but instead provides a welcome gentle touch in comparison with the heavier parts of the book.

And then there’s the poems! At either the start or end of nearly every chapter, Nelson provides us with a poem written by Lennie. Written on paper cups, on scraps of paper, or carved into trees or benches, they are presented beautifully and make this a book that’s not just gorgeously written but absolutely breathtaking to look at. Amazing.


The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

This is the only one on my top 10 books list that I'm not 100% sure should be there, simply because I'm limiting it to one per author and it's HARD to decide if I love this more than my other favourites of Rundell's, The Good Thieves and The Explorer. (To make a point, here, when I finished Katherine's Rooftoppers I'm not sure I'd have believed you if you'd told me I'd read 3 better MG books this decade. Three FROM THE SAME AUTHOR which I prefer to it is pretty much showing off on her part. Rooftoppers, I still love you though!)

I think KR is the best MG author around, although given how many incredibly talented people are writing it, it's close. For me, her marriage of breathtakingly good prose with outstanding characters and clever plots has her beating the field, though. In The Wolf Wilder, fabulous MC Feo - a 'dark and stormy girl' sets out, along with other children and the three wolves who she and her mother have been trying to re-introduce to the wild, to rescue her mother. An incredible adventure ensues.


Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

After her sister is caught in an accident, Fidge and her annoying cousin Graham are trapped in a bizarre world of children's toys. Definitely the strangest, absolutely the most imaginative, and almost certainly one of the very best children's books of recent years. The story of Fidge and Graham's desperate attempt to escape the tywanny of Wed Wabbit is simultaneously hilarious and moving, with great character arcs for both of them. An amazing set of supporting characters adds to the fun, while Lissa Evans's world-building is A+. Utterly spectacular, an absolute must-read. I also love this a lot because it's (for someone who's read a lot of children's books, admittedly) a really predictable read but it's predictable because the ending is the only one that completes the arcs perfectly.


All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

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 (how can you miss a world that never existed!) 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.


Mama Can't Raise No Man by Robyn Travis

This is a breathtaking debut novel told in letters between a young Black man in prison and his friends and family (with a few court transcripts.) The voice of every character is stunning, while the book is an entertaining, sometimes heartbreaking, and always deeply thought-provoking story of Black masculinity, injustice, life in prison and on the streets, and of being the child of a single mother. It builds to an incredible climax - a truly superb read.


Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I adore this story of a gay teen blackmailed into trying to set someone he knows up with his friend so that the blackmailer will keep his internet romance with the mysterious Blue a secret, parlty because it's far lighter and more fun than that summary makes it sound. Simon is an amazing character - with a great group of friends, a love of Harry Potter, and an absolutely fantastic voice. The chemistry between Simon and Blue just via e-mails is superb, and the reveal of Blue's identity is a scene which has made my heart skip a beat every time I've read it (and that's quite a few!); it's so beautifully handled. I really liked that Simon's confident in his sexuality, as well - he's certain he's gay, and he's okay with that, with the conflict here coming from the thought of him being forced out rather than being able to come out at a time of his own choosing.  In addition, Albertalli's writing style is so fun and easy to read that it's a perfect book for rereading.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A compelling and heartbreaking story of courage, standing up for what's right, fighting prejudice and the power of community. I fell hard for MC Starr, who becomes involved in protesting the shooting of her childhood best friend by a police officer, her brother and father, and the rest of the characters. There's an intense, justified, anger here - particularly on a devastating final page - but also moments of joy, and an optimism that things CAN get better if enough people use their voice. I hope readers are inspired to follow Starr's lead. One of the very best books I've ever read and a massively important read. The success of both this book, and the film, haven't been remotely surprising but they HAVE been incredible to see.


Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

In the story of 12-year-old Jerome, shot by a police officer as he waves a toy gun around, and Emmett Till, who he meets as a ghost and who shows him how racism has affected Black boys through the years, Jewell Parker Rhodes gives us a middle grade novel which is both heartbreaking and deeply educational. This is super-powerful, perhaps because it's aimed at an even younger audience than the similar books I've read, which for me heightens the tragedy. The author does an incredible job of making such a tough subject accessible to younger readers without ever sugarcoating the horror of both Jerome's death in particular, and the racism in general which has led to so many of these horrible instances. Outstanding.


Bone Jack by Sara Crowe

When growing up a lot of my favourite reads were books like The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo and its sequels, and The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. I adored the way they mixed fantasy plots with a contemporary setting, but for me, Bone Jack - in the way it throws in modern problems like foot and mouth and PTSD - does an even better job of it. It also has two incredibly strong central relationships, with the central portrayal of main character Ash and his mum trying to ease his soldier father back into his old life and avoid stressing him out being excellent, while the antagonistic way Mark and Ash interact feels incredibly realistic for two people once so close.