Archive for March, 2013

Wild Boy Blog Tour: No fun at the fair

Rob Lloyd Jones joins us today to share the inspiration behind the fairground setting of his middle grade book, Wild Boy.

wild boy coverLondon, 1841
A boy covered in hair, raised as a monster, condemned to life in a travelling freak show.
A boy with extraordinary powers of observation and detection.
A boy accused of murder; on the run; hungry for the truth.
BEHOLD THE SAVAGE SPECTACLE OF WILD BOY!!
Ladies and Gentlemen, take your seats. The show is about to begin.

Hello, and thanks for having me on Big Book Little Book!

So, fairgrounds eh? Whirling rides, whoops of laughter, nostrils flaring at the sickly sweet aroma of candyfloss. We all love them, right?

Not me. Not anymore.

I always wanted to write a mystery set around a fairground. I knew the hero would be a performer in a freak show; a boy covered in hair and confined to a showman’s caravan. He would dream of being different, sneaking through the fairground to spy on people he considered ‘normal’. But he would be tough, his character forged from years of standing up to bullies. That meant his world – the fairground – had to be a tough place too. Well, I thought, I could make that bit up. It’s a story after all.

Then I read Seventy Years a Showman – the memoirs of legendary Victorian showman Lord George Sanger – and I thought, ‘Yikes! I’m going to have to tone this down a little’.

Sanger’s tales of life on a travelling fair hold no punches. In fact they are filled with punches, and whippings and knife fights and scams and swindles. His was a mud-splattered world of rickety caravans and saggy-roofed tents, where ruffians marauded along paths picking fights, and cutthroats lurked in the shadows.

Sanger (who wasn’t a real lord, he just gave himself that title) packs his account with astonishing, gasp-inducing tales such as his run-in with a body snatcher, or the unbelievably rough justice – Showman’s Law – dealt to a gang of roughs that attacked the fairground. My favourite story, though, is the ‘Battle of Oxford Road’ – a bust up between rival fairs in which, “Even the freaks took part. The Fat Man made for the Living Skeleton with a door hook; the Living Skeleton battered at the Fat Man with a peg mallet.”

The more I read about Victorian fairgrounds the more I realised just how tough my hero – Wild Boy – had to be to survive, especially after he’s framed for murder. But I was determined that he would survive, and prove his innocence. It wouldn’t be easy – stalked by bounty hunters, a hooded killer, and a secret society with a sinister machine. But he wouldn’t face the terrors alone. He has a friend, a circus star called Clarissa, who’s as tough and foul-mouthed as anyone at the fair. And all those hours that Wild Boy spent spying on people at the fair, reading them for clues to their lives, also taught him a particular skill.

He is the greatest detective of his time.

Post by Robb Lloyd Jones

Wild Boy will be published on the 4th of April by Walker Books

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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: The Weight Of Water

Sarah Crossan

weight of water cover artArmed with a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother head for England. Life is lonely for Kasienka. At home her mother’s heart is breaking and at school friends are scarce. But when someone special swims into her life, Kasienka learns that there might be more than one way for her to stay afloat.

This is a book that is stunning in its simplicity. The writing, especially coming from a debut author is just exquisite. I originally bought this book for my school library as it was about a polish girl coming over to England and I work at a school with a large polish population. I thought it may be good for girls who had come over from Poland to relate to but really this book is so much more. I really didn’t know what to expect from this book. I’d already read ‘Breathe’ Sarah’s other book but not really realized that both were by the same author as the books are so incredibly different, both in subject matter and writing style. I’d enjoyed ‘Breathe’ but it hadn’t quite lived up to the hype for me, in contrast ‘The Weight of Water’ very definitely does.

This is a book written as poetry rather than prose. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t ‘get’ poetry and I normally avoid books like this like the plague, in fact the only time that I do read them is when they appear on the Carnegie Shortlist but this book was really a pleasant surprise. Telling the story of Kasienka, all from her point of view it covers, very sensitively, all sorts of issues that teens all over the world face. Family breakdown, isolation, bullying, first love and the building of new lives are all covered within the book. I did find the original premise a little unbelievable, that a mother would uproot their child from all that they knew to follow a man that had left without word with just a postmark to go on. But I think that may have been me reading the book as an adult rather than a child. I wanted to find out more about Kasienka’s parents, but that was not something that Kasienka would know and this was her story not theirs, that would be what a teen girl would have been interested in and rightly so.

Kasienka is a strong central protagonist. Whilst we get a look into others lives this is her story not theirs. This works really well in adding to the feeling of alienation and isolation within the book, a very common feeling for many teens. That Kasienka comes from a different country and doesn’t speak the language means that she finds understanding her peers very hard. These misunderstandings come from both language and cultural barriers, but again although they may be more pronounced in this case they work very well at showing the confusion of teens as they start to try to understand the world around them and their place within it.
‘The Weight of Water’ is an incredibly quick read, it only took me about 40 minutes to read, although running to over 200 pages the way the book is written mean that pages aren’t filled. Yet what amazed me was the depth and range of feelings that the book provoked in me in that time, just because it is a quick read does make it shallow or superficial in any way. It is quite the opposite and I think that this is why the choice to write the book in poetry format really works.

Verdict: A beautifully written coming of age story, told in a very strong, very believable voice.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Genre: Coming of age
Age: Young Adult
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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This Is What Happy Looks Like

Jennifer E. Smith

happy cover artIn This is What Happy Looks Like, Jennifer E. Smith’s new YA novel, perfect strangers Graham Larkin and Ellie O’Neill meet—albeit virtually—when Graham accidentally sends Ellie an email about his pet pig, Wilbur. In the tradition of romantic movies like “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” the two 17-year-olds strike up an email relationship, even though they live on opposite sides of the country and don’t even know each other’s first names.
Through a series of funny and poignant messages, Graham and Ellie make a true connection, sharing intimate details about their lives, hopes and fears. But they don’t tell each other everything; Graham doesn’t know the major secret hidden in Ellie’s family tree, and Ellie is innocently unaware that Graham is actually a world-famous teen actor living in Los Angeles.
When the location for the shoot of Graham’s new film falls through, he sees an opportunity to take their relationship from online to in-person, managing to get the production relocated to picturesque Henley, Maine, where Ellie lives. But can a star as famous as Graham have a real relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie’s mom want her to avoid the media’s spotlight at all costs?
Just as they did in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, the hands of fate intervene in wondrous ways in this YA novel that delivers on high concept romance in lush and thoughtful prose.

I really enjoyed Jennifer E Smith’s last book, The Statical Probability Of Love At First Sight (TSPOLAFs), so I was very excited to see what she was going to write next. When I came across the blurb for This Is What Happy Looks Like, a contemporary YA, romance about two teens living worlds (not to mention a country) apart who meet through a twist of fate and an email typo, I knew that it was right up my street and I immediately pre-ordered it in hardback.

If you want to know what happy looks like you simple had to take a glance at my face, when one of my blogging friends, Kerrie ( read her awesome book review blog here) nominated me to receive an Advance Reader Copy via the #WhatHappyLooksLike twitter campaign. Or perhaps a glance at my face at anytime during the single sitting it took to consume, this sweet, romantic book.

Told in third person, we are treated to the alternating perspective of both Ellie and Graham as they consolidate the depth of connection they have shared for months, with the stranger stood before them.

I absolutely adored the fun, flirty and funny email exchanges, which make up the prologue and punctuate the main body of the book. The chemistry was instantaneous, and I quickly felt invested in their relationship. If Jennifer E Smith is reading this and looking to create “extra’s” for her readership, I’d love to read more of Ellie and Graham’s correspondence.

What I love about Jennifer’s work is the inclusion of relatable issues, without sensationalizing or over dramatizing them. So ok, not many teens are international movie stars, but like Graham, we all have a desire to belong, and to be accepted for who we truly are.

Both this book and Jennifer’s previous book (TSPOLAFS) take a refreshing look at family, and changing family dynamics as the “child” approaches adulthood. Recognizing your parents as the individual they are, with their own insecurities, mistakes and problems is one of the inevitable markers of adulthood. While constructing an emotionally supportive relationship with your parents in the light of growing physical and financial independence is one of the more painful and rewarding challenges of adulthood.

Too often in YA fiction, family, particularly parents are a simply blockade to the developing romance or awaiting adventure, a hurdle to climb, a jailer to sneak by. In Jennifer’s books the characters don’t hide from their family problems within their developing romances, but confront them face on. Rather than the family dynamic being a hurdle to the romance, the romance and ensuing personal development, is often the catalyst to confronting the longstanding family issue.

Verdict: A summer read as sweet and refreshing as a scoop of sorbet on a hot day.

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Headline
Publication Date: April 2013
Format: ARC
Pages: 224
Genre: Contemporary romance
Age: YA
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: None
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The Worst Princess

Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie (illustrator)

the worst princessBored of your run of the mill princess?
Tired of the traditional princess-finds-her-prince tale?
Looking for a princess with a bit more bite?
Then this is the book for you.
Forget about pretty dresses, fairytale weddings and grand balls, Princess Sue is all about adventure, mischief, and making unusual friends.
She really is the worst princess!

I have a daughter. A dress wearing, pink loving, cover everything in glitter, girlie girl whose ambition she when she grows up is to be a princess. As a former tree climbing, den-building , tomboy (with the scars to prove it), I have to admit that at times her choices in bedtime literature are a little trying. Princesses, colourful fairies, ballet dancers and kittens have featured in all of her recent selections. So when I first laid eyes on The Worst Princess, I rejoiced silently that I might just have found something we could both enjoy.

High top wearing Sue knows the score. If she hangs around her tower, enduring the loneliness and boredom, and grows her hair long enough, her prince will come. Then she can say bye bye to her tower prison and HELLO to a life of action and adventure.

Unfortunately for our modern princess, her Prince is not so clued-up, informing Sue that “Dragon-bashing’s not for girls”. Well, there is no way that our feisty red head is going to swap her tower for another kind of prison. She has a life to live and she is going to enjoy it!

Teaming up with the afore mentioned dragon, Sue rejects the life of a pampered clothes horse and sets about creating her own adventures and finding her own happily ever after.

Told in clever, humorous rhyme, with complementary illustrations, the characters voices and mannerisms are so distinctive that, rather than be read aloud, The Worst Princess begs to be performed.

Verdict: A little bit of mischief and spice to counteract all of the sugar and niceness of traditional princesses. It will be enjoyed by future princesses and grown up tomboys alike.

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: April 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture book
Age: Early reader
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: British book
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Self Published Sunday: Interview with Erica Dakin

This week we welcome Erica Dakin.

Erica ProfileI was born in the Netherlands and lived there until age 25, when I moved to England to live with my then boyfriend, who has been my husband since 2006. I have always been a linguist at heart, and while I only speak two languages fluently (Dutch and English), I know a little about a lot of other languages and will always be passionate about language in general and how to use it.
My sister taught me how to read at age four because I showed interest, and since then reading has been one of my main hobbies. I love curling up with a good book, and always feel a sense of loss when it finishes and I have to resurface from the world that I have been so absorbed in until then.
To pay the bills I work in the Human Resources department of a Government agency, but I dream of being a bestselling author someday. My home life is spent with my husband and four cats (which might possibly put me in the crazy cat lady category, but the simple truth is that I cannot look at two kittens and only choose one).
There have been many writers who have given me many hours of enjoyment through their imagination, and I can think of no greater compliment than other people telling me that I did the same for them.

What do you do when you are not writing?

At the moment that doesn’t seem to happen very often, but I enjoy playing strategy-based computer games, going to the cinema, embroidery and tabletop roleplay. I also occasionally play the piano and I am, of course, an avid reader.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I don’t think I had a particular epiphany that made me start writing, it’s just something that happened. I learned to read when I was four and in my childhood I did very little else but read, so to then start writing was simply a natural extension of that. As to when I began to write, I have recently been trying to figure that out, and the earliest thing I can remember writing was around twenty years ago. I’m not saying I didn’t write anything before then, but if I did I cannot remember what it was.

What was your inspiration for The Ritual?

In its very first incarnation it started as a story to accompany a tabletop roleplaying campaign I had just started, but the campaign never really got off the ground for various reasons, and as such the story was shelved as well. I dug it out again when a friend drew my attention to a competition to get a novel published, and the novel I was working on at the time was unpublishable due to copyright issues.

Tell us more about your book.

It tells the story of identical twin sisters, half human and half elf, trying to make their way in a world where their half-breed race is considered little more than vermin. Most half-elves are slaves, and those that aren’t live on the edge of society. They meet two half-elf men, also identical twins, and are drawn into their dangerous scheme until they’re in so deep that there is no way of backing out again. Added to that there is an almost irresistible mutual attraction coupled with very solid reasons for not being able to trust each other, even though the four of them have no choice but to rely on each other. The book is an equal blend of Fantasy, Romance and Adventure with some saucy bits thrown in for added spice.

What research did you do for this book?

If I’m honest, very little. The beauty of a Fantasy setting is that it gives you a lot of freedom to make things up on the spot without needing too much hard science to back it up. I have on the whole relied on my vast reading experience, my own innate desire to eliminate any possible plot holes and on my editor and beta readers for pointing out anything that didn’t sound plausible.

Are any elements of your book based on real life experiences/people?

Not consciously, although a friend has said that he recognised a lot of my own characteristics in Chiarin, the main character in The Ritual. Whether this is true I’m not sure, especially since he is the only one to have said so, but I guess it’s unavoidable to put a little bit of yourself in your main character.

What are you currently working on?

The Ritual is the first book in a trilogy. Each book will stand as a story on its own, but the books are interlinked. The second part of this trilogy, The Conspiracy, is currently in the beta-reading stage. Once I have the feedback from my beta readers I will need to make some final adjustments, but I hope to have it ready for publishing in April or at the very last May 2013. The feedback has so far been very positive, so the adjustments probably won’t need to be extensive. In the meantime I have just started the first draft of the third book, tentatively titled The Coup. This book is little more than a very basic plot in my head at this stage, so I doubt I will have it ready before 2014, but it should keep me busy for a while to come! Apart from that I am very close to finalising the files to make The Ritual available as a print-on-demand book, which will hopefully expand my potential reader pool again.

What is your writing process?

I mostly write on my computer, and depending on how strong the urge is, it could be something I do from the moment I come home from the day job until I go to bed, with nothing but a break for dinner. I have also been known to write on a netbook or even in a paper notebook while on holiday. The beauty of pen and paper is that it will never run out of battery power, and it means that when it comes to typing it up later, you can make amendments and adjustments as you type.

Do you use anything to sustain you during the writing process?

Nothing I couldn’t live without. I will always have music playing in the background while at my computer, but if I’m out on holiday with my pen and paper I don’t miss it. Similarly I will gladly accept a cup of tea if my husband offers to make one, but it isn’t essential to the writing process.

What prompted you to self publish The Ritual?

Impatience more than anything else. The book was ready, as far as I was concerned, and although I approached an agent to try and go through the traditional publishing route, it would have taken months to approach all the ones that looked to cover the right kind of genre, and I was fully expecting to get nothing but rejections, since everyone agrees that it is fiendishly difficult to get published if you’re a beginning writer. By self-publishing I hope that in or three years time I can approach an agent with sales figures, decent reviews and other proof that my book has merit and deserves attention.

Can you tell us about the challenges in writing and publishing your first novel?

In all honesty, I haven’t faced that many challenges. Writing the book happened all by itself, and although it needed severe editing, I am lucky enough to have a good friend who is also a very good editor to take care of that side of it. Apart from that the self-publishing process is pretty easy, since the various sites I’ve used take you through the process step by step. I’ve made a few beginner’s errors, such as forgetting to list myself as the author of the book (I foolishly assumed that since I was logged on as me, it would do that automatically), but apart from that the process has been pleasantly smooth.

Do you ever experience writers block? How do you overcome it?

I have not yet experienced it, other than in the sense that I have written about characters and reached a point where there was nothing left to tell. Once I got to that stage I knew that it was time to move on to something else, so I did. At the very most I can get stuck on individual sentences, where I need half an hour to find the right words to describe something, but I wouldn’t consider that writers block.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Get yourself a good editor. No matter how many times you read through something yourself, there will always be something that you missed, be it spelling mistakes, gaping plot holes or simply bad writing. It is also very important that your editor isn’t afraid to tell it like it is – if something needs major work then they need to be able to tell you so, and you need to be able to accept that criticism. I had what I considered to be a publishable book until my editor told me that it needed so much work that I would be better off doing a complete side-by-side rewrite, and in hindsight it was the best advice she ever gave me. Sure, it was a bit of a shock when she first said it, but the book has turned out much better in the end.

How did you choose the genre you write in? What inspired you to write in it?

Simply said, the books I have read throughout my life. I have always loved Fantasy as a genre, and had dreams of writing the next big epic Fantasy novel. The problem was that my second great love is all things Romance, and whatever I wrote always ended up having a very heavy romantic side to it. Eventually I accepted that I was clearly incapable of writing anything without it being a Romance, and embraced it instead.

How did you get interested in Fantasy and Romance?

For the Fantasy side it must have been the books I read as a child. My favourite author until about age 15 was a Dutch writer called Paul Biegel, whose books were Fantasy for children. I then progressed onto The Lord of the Rings, and from there the path was pretty much set. As for the Romance side, my mother and aunts always had a number of Mills & Boons scattered around, and I have always found them to be wonderful if you’re after some light reading that doesn’t require much thought.

What books have inspired you?

Oh, so many… The Lord of the Rings, the Assassin trilogy by Robin Hobb, the Sunrunner books by Melanie Rawn, to name but a few. Apart from that there are writers whose work I greatly admire for various reasons, and their work will inevitably have left a mark on my own writing. Tanith Lee, Jack Vance for his rich vocabulary, Terry Pratchett for his sense of humour, Nora Roberts, George RR Martin; the list goes on.

What was your favourite book as a child/teenager?

I read too many books at the time to have just one favourite, but if I absolutely had to pick one I suppose it’ll have to be The Lord of the Rings, even if these days I admire it more for its story than for the writing.

What are you currently reading?

I usually have at least two books on the go, one for in bed and one for reading on the bus as I go to work. The book on the bus is Terry Pratchett’s Snuff and the book in bed is Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James.

What was the last book you recommended to a friend?

The Assassin trilogy by Robin Hobb.

Just For Fun!
If The Ritual was made into a film, which actors do you envision in the lead role?

I believe The Ritual would actually make a good film, but I’m not fussed about actors provided they’re good. Complete unknowns don’t bring in the baggage of previous films, so they might even work better – the Lord of the Rings films have proven that you don’t need a cast of A-list actors to make a brilliant film. That said, in looks Zashter is pretty much based on Michael Praed from the 1985 TV series Robin of Sherwood.

If your book had a soundtrack, which artists would feature on it?

My musical taste veers into the obscure, so I doubt many people will have heard of them, but I would say Värttinä, VNV Nation, Rotersand, Assemblage 23 and Hedningarna.

Paper, Audio or eBook?

Paper, although I love my e-reader and couldn’t do without it anymore.

Tea or coffee?

Depends on the time of day. First thing in the morning I need my cup of tea though, or I’ll bite people’s heads off.

Slippers or barefoot?

Slippers in winter, barefoot in summer.

Shower or bath?

Shower, without a doubt.

Marmite: love it or hate it?

Hate it.

E-mail or postcard?

Probably e-mail, though I still try to send postcards when on holiday.

To learn more about Erica and her work visit her Goodreads author’s page (here), her Amazon author’s page (here) or her blog(here).

Theft and Sorcery 1 - The Ritual V2Chiarin is a stubborn, hot-blooded young half-elf whose only goal is to keep herself and her twin sister alive in a land that considers her disposable because of her race. Yet when she meets fellow thief Zashter, she finds herself drawn into his dangerous undertaking, and into an adventure she could not have anticipated.
Attracted to him despite his brooding nature, and determined to learn from him despite knowing she cannot trust him, she soon realises that there is no going back, and she must help Zashter fulfil the wish of his sinister employer, even if dragons, elves and magic stand in their way.
As their fiery love-affair intensifies, Chiarin faces a choice: run and leave Zashter to his own devices, or stay and sacrifice everything? After all, her sister’s life hinges on this as well…

Ritual is available to by for your ereader on Amazon (click here) and and Smashwords.It is also available on such sites as Kobobooks, Barnes & Noble and the Apple store. Erica hopes to have a printed version available through Amazon within the next couple of weeks.

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Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes

Sue Watson

fat girlsTV Producer Stella Weston is over worked, overweight and under fire. Having battled uphill for years to balance her career with her family life, she is repaid by being put out to pasture on a religious gardening programme – complete with a nervous vicar, his nymphomaniac wife, and 22 stone Britney wannabe gardener, Gerald.
In the past, comfort has always been found at the bottom of her mixing bowl, but when even the most delicious lemon sponge with zesty frosting cannot save the day, Stella decides enough is enough.
However, finding the courage to quit is sometimes the easy part. Can you really turn a passion into a profession? Does more time at home actually give you a happier family life? Are men truly from Mars or another universe altogether?
Stella has to roll up her sleeves and find out – when the going gets tough, the tough get baking….

Well, if you are up for an escapist read of sheer enjoyment and pleasure, then this is the one for you. Poor Stella has worked so hard all her life to get where she is, living that awful life of guilt for either not feeling committed enough at work because she has to get away for the babysitter or staying on for a meeting at work feeling terrible for not being at home for dinner with the family and to make matters worse her horrible boss MJ is breathing down her neck just waiting for her to fail.

After being given the job of producing a religious gardening programme which manages to go spectacularly wrong – but provides a good deal of hilarity, she finds herself at home with no job, her relationship with her husband hanging by a thread and a daughter who has changed alot during Stella’s absences. Thank goodness for a welcoming kitchen, a cupboard full of ingredients and Stella’s amazing knack of being able to knock up a ‘honey-scented chocolate cake with a gooey frosted topping worthy of Delia’.

Stella’s fabulous friends step up and offer her the support she needs by way of take away evenings, nights out, a holiday away and she finally begins to let her hair down a bit and have some fun as well as figure out what she wants from life.

Stella is a very likeable character – she does not ‘have it all together’ in any way at all and is honest about her failings and weaknesses. I like that she she was still an attractive and desirable woman even though she is clearly not a size 8!

So many comedy events happen during this story and there were plenty of laugh out loud moments. It was wonderful to see her and her friends all pulling together to support each other through the various trials and tribulations of their lives and I personally was very happy to see that CAKE was very much central to the proceedings!

Happily, things work out well for Stella in the end, despite all odds and it was great seeing a certain character get their very well deserved comeuppance at the end.

Verdict:This is lovely, fun read. I very much enjoyed it and for all those budding bakers, or just for those that love cake, like me, there are some fabulous looking recipes at the end of the book. Yum!

Reviewed by Lesley

Publisher: Rickshaw Publishing
Publication Date: Sept 2011
Format: eBook
Pages: 367
Genre: Chick Lit, Baking
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Lesley
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: British book
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Carnegie and Greenaway Award: Code Name Verity

code name verityI have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.
That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.
We are a sensational team.

Code Name Verity is set during the Second World. Split into two parts the first section is ‘written’ by one of two friends, though we don’t find out her name until the end of her section. Captured by the Gestapo whilst in Nazi occupied France, she tells the story of her friend Maddie, and through this the story of their friendship. The second part of the book is told by Maddie herself as she tells her own story in the aftermath of her friend’s capture.

Now I mentioned last week that I had tried to read this book some time ago, but had not managed to finish it. It wasn’t that I hated the book, leaving it wasn’t even intentional, I just put it down one day and then never picked it up again. Since then I have seen countless bloggers and librarians rave about the book, where I was left a little underwhelmed. So expecting the book to be on the shortlist I started it again with a completely open mind, hoping that I could see in the book what everybody else has loved so much. I did find the second reading so much easier, I was drawn into the book to a much greater extent than before. In the writing and the storyline I can see what everybody else has loved, but I still don’t think it’s the book for me.

Code Name Verity is undeniably a well written book, telling a beautiful story of an unlikely friendship set against the hardship of the Second World War. I am left wondering why I just don’t connect with the book. Although I have an interest in history, modern world history has never been my favourite period so that could possibly be an issue for me. I think the main issue for me the first time round was that the book was just not what I was expecting.

The dual narrative of the book works very well. The ‘voices’ of the characters are very different, but entirely consistent with the way that the other friend sees them. It is the relationship between Maddie and her friend that really makes the book. Two girls that would have been very unlikely to meet at any time other than war, just ‘click’ and quickly become very important to each other. They don’t need to see each other every day or know everything about the other’s life; they are just there for each other. The age group that the book is aimed at often struggle with forming friendships, doubts about their own identities come to the surface which affect their relationships with others and this is a really positive relationship that girls can use as an example. Though towards the end of the book something pretty shocking happens, it is completely in line with the friendship that the two young women have.

The book also deals with some very sensitive situations that go hand in hand with war such as death and torture, but these are handled well enough that reading the book is not an issue for younger secondary school students. They may however struggle with the writing style, which in a lot of ways is quite grown up. The Carnegie judges gave the book an age rating of 13+ and I would probably agree with this assessment, though there will of course be many exceptions!

Verdict: A beautifully written story of friendship set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Egmont Press
Publication Date: February 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 339
Genre: WW2, Historical fiction
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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In The Shadow Of Blackbirds

Cat Winters

shadow of backbirdsDoes proof of the spirit world exist?
It’s 1918. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, the government ships young men overseas to the front lines, and neighbor accuses neighbor of spying for the enemy. In this stew of fear and confusion, sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and “spirit photographers” for comfort. She has never believed in ghosts, but during her bleakest moment she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love – a boy who died in battle – returns to her as a spirit. Why has he returned? And what does he want from Mary Shelley?
Illustrated with haunting early-twentieth century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a time eerily like our own.

The story begins with a long train journey from Portland to San Diego. Mary Shelley is moving to live with her aunt because her father was arrested and her mother had passed away some time ago. The train stinks of onions (widely believed at the time to prevent flu), and everyone is hiding behind their masks, mortally afraid of every cough and sneeze. Mary Shelley passes the time reading letters from her sweetheart Stephen, who has gone to war in Europe. As an opening chapter, it’s a well thought out way to set the scene and atmosphere of paranoia without heavy exposition.

As the book continues, we meet her Aunt Eva, who lives with her pet magpie, Oberon, works in the local shipyard and seems to spend the rest of her time making onion soup to ward off the flu. Eva likes Stephen’s older brother Julius, a spirit photographer who Mary Shelley already clearly dislikes and believes is a fraud. Mary Shelley meets Mr Darning, another local photographer who specialises in debunking spirit photography, though has so far failed to find any trickery in Julius’ studio.

After getting to meet the characters, we learn that Stephen has been killed in battle, and this is where the book really gets started. As the back cover says, Stephen starts to appear as a ghost to Mary Shelley, seemingly terrified of birds. The rest of the book depicts Mary Shelley becoming increasingly more determined and desperate to help Stephen to rest in peace, with some decent twists and turns along the way. A lot of the characters turn out to be not who they seem at first, and the final revelations are not ones I could have guessed.

When I first read the back cover, I half expected this book to be a silly romance between a young girl and the ghost of her boyfriend, but I’m happy to report that it’s far more interesting and worth reading than that. It draws interesting parallels with modern life – the irrational beliefs people have in placebo remedies for fatal illnesses; how shellshock, or post-traumatic stress disorder as it is now called, is seen as something to be ashamed of, rather than a mental illness that needs proper treatment and support.

One thing that isn’t so convincing in the book is the ages of Mary Shelley and Aunt Eva. Mary Shelley seems far too mature for her age of sixteen, whereas Eva reminds me of my Nan, not a woman in her mid-twenties as the text states. Perhaps people become more mature in desperate times of war and illness, but I’m not completely convinced by the book’s portrayal. That’s not to say they’re bad characters though.

The novel is apparently aimed at ages 12 and up, though I’d say it’s a little too gruesome for that age. It feels more like an adult novel to me than what would normally be in the YA category.

Reviewed by Keith

Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: April 2013
Format: ARC
Pages: 416
Genre:Historical fiction, Mystery
Age: YA
Reviewer: Keith
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: Debut Author
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It’s here!

It’s here,

It’s finally here!

The date Cassandra Clare fans have been waiting for since the moment they turned the last page of Clockwork prince. Or, perhaps like me, since they turned the first page of Clockwork Angel back in 2010.
The third and final instalment in The Infernal Devices series, Clockwork Princess, is released in to the world today.

clockwork Princess (walker)Danger intensifies for the Shadowhunters as the New York Times bestselling Infernal Devices trilogy comes to a close.
If the only way to save the world was to destroy what you loved most, would you do it?
The clock is ticking. Everyone must choose.
Passion. Power. Secrets. Enchantment.
Danger closes in around the Shadowhunters in the final installment of the bestselling Infernal Devices trilogy.

I write this post with red rimmed, puffy eyes and a stuffy nose.

The cause of my condition? An opportunistic cold virus? An episode of early hay fever? Or perhaps i’ve been chopping onions?

Oh no.

The cause of my distress can be laid firmly at the feet (or more fittingly, the mind and pen) of Cassandra Clare.

Despite a strict embargo, I was lucky enough to received my preordered copy of Clockwork Princess three days early *puts amazon on the naughty step*.

At first the excitement grabbed me and I could see no wrong in this situation. After all, I had no intention of releasing spoilers and after months, and months, and months (lets not talk about the agony caused by the change in release date) of waiting I was finally able to dive back in to Victorian London and the lives of Will, Jem and Tess.

I can’t even put in to words how much I Love this book. I’ve laughed and cried, been amazed and surprised, I’ve had my heart broken and re-built. I feel rung out. The Infernal Devices was already one of my favourite book series but the publication of Clockwork Princess, has cemented it’s place in my mind and engraved the characters names on my heart *rubs chest*

Now, having finished this remarkable book, I see the flaw in my haste.

I. Have. So. Many. Feelings. and No One to talk to about them!

SO, I implore you, Please get hold of a copy, read it quickly, and get in touch, before I explode from all of the feels.

Incoherent, fan girl, rambling by Caroline

Those lovely people at Walker books have kindly offered to ease some of my suffering by providing a UK paperback of Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Princess to one lucky reader.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy

Lynley Dodd

Hairy Mc ClaryHairy Maclary goes off for a walk in town, followed by a few friends. All is uneventful until they meet Scarface Claw, the toughest tom in town, and run for home.

I can remember this Hairy Maclary book from when I was very small, so as I am determined my little monkey WILL relive my literary childhood this was on the must have list!

Hairy Maclary is a cheeky little black Scottie dog who Lynley Dodd introduces us to using the most rhythmic rhymes! In 256 deliciously selected words we are sung the tale of how Hairy Maclary goes for a stroll and collects his friends; Hercules Morse (the Great Dane) as big as horse, Bottomley Potts (the Dalmatian) covered in spots, Muffin McLay (the old English Sheepdog) like a bundle of hay, Bitzer Maloney (the grey Whippet or Greyhound – I really need to pay attention to Crufts this year!) all skinny and bony, Schnitzel von Krumm (the brown dashund/sausage dog) with a very low tum. After walking through town this proud pack of poochy pals are startled by Scarface Claw, the toughest tom(cat) in town whose scary yowl sends them all back home sharpish with their hairy tails between their legs!

My two year old loves rhyming books and this was no exception. His favourite part is the excitement of the confrontational yowl “EEEEEOWWWFFTZ!” of Scarface Claw! Also the way the names of the doggy friends are repeated throughout like a endearing canine version of ‘In my bag I packed’, gives the familiarity he likes from a story/board book and also sets a fun challenge for us parents to try and learn off by heart too!

In addition to this delightful story there are 17 beautiful pictures also created by the author which accompany a few short lines. Seeing my son’s eyes light up when we flip the page to see which character is coming up is so heartwarming, especially that glint of delight and excitement when Scarface Claw appears and he is fully anticipating the menacing cat yowl on the next page!

I can see this being a favourite the older he gets and is even more engaged with the books as he’ll quite happily leaf through the pages now without the story being read, which is behaviour I just love and fully encourage! And the detail in the pictures could easily lead a discussion about the characters in the story, pointing out the numbers of the houses, colours of doors, letter boxes and gates etc. Also as the number of dogs increase I can see the fun of spotting the tails sneaking onto the edge of each picture also being a great source of fun!

Verdict: An excellent board picture book and a must have for your nursery collection. It has retained the ability to encourage toddlers into reading and is a pleasure for all adults to read to them. Quite often this story is read in stereo by Mummy and Daddy at bedtime as they are die hard Hairy Maclary fans! (we’re also pretty sure our family dog Freddie enjoys it too!)

Reviewed by Sam

Publisher: Puffin
Publication Date: July 2002 (originally 1983)
Format: Board book
Pages: 36
Genre: Picture book, Animals
Age: Picture book
Reviewer: Sam
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: None
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