Archive for April, 2013

The Long Earth

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

the long earthNormally, when there was nothing to do, he listened to the Silence.
The Silence was very faint here. Almost drowned out by the sounds of the mundane world. Did people in this polished building understand how noisy it was? The roar of air conditioners and computer fans, the susurration of many voices heard but not decipherable … this was the office of the transEarth Institute, an arm of the Black Corporation. The faceless office, all plasterboard and chrome, was dominated by a huge logo, a chesspiece knight. This wasn’t Joshua’s world. None of it was his world. In fact when you got right down to it, he didn’t have a world; he had all of them.
All of the Long Earth.

The premise of this book is that the Earth is just one link in a long chain of Earths, each different. Plans are leaked onto the internet of a box, known as a “Stepper”, built from simple electronic parts and powered by a potato, with a three way switch on the top. Operating the switch allows a person, along with anything they are carrying, to “step” one link along the chain, either “East” or “West” as the two directions have been dubbed. Collectively, the whole chain is known as The Long Earth.

Most people can step using these boxes, though they experience severe nausea each time, so they tend to only move a few steps away from our Earth. A few people, such as Joshua are natural steppers, and can do so without the aid of the stepper box and with no ill effects; others cannot step at all. The tension between these groups is a constant undercurrent throughout the book.

It appears that humans have only evolved on our Earth (the Datum as it is called), so the Earths East and West of us are ripe for colonisation and solve overcrowding. The only snag is that objects made out of iron cannot be taken, though no-one knows why. Any steel has to be mined and forged on the planet it originated on.

The majority of the book follows Joshua, a recluse who, after some persuasion, foregoes his usual solitary lifestyle to go on an adventure. He beging exploring deep into The Long Earth with Lobsang, an AI who claims to have once been human (Lobsang seems to be a name that crops up a lot in Pratchett’s work!). Lobsang has built an airship called The Mark Twain that is capable of stepping much faster than any human can – worlds flick past in the blink of an eye, and they only stop when they find something interesting. They choose to travel West, in a choice I can only assume is meant to mirror the Westward exploration and colonisation of North America.
Unfortunately, Lobsang is a bit of a throwaway character – He’s quite quirky and funny, but I get the feeling he only exists to explain things to Joshua (and through him to the reader), and seems to spend the majority of his time being smug each time he does something new.

However, there are other groups of characters who offer alternative viewpoints to The Long Earth and its consequences, a group of settlers on their way to colonise an Earth ideal for their desired agricultural small town lifestyle; the police force in Madison, Wisconsin who have to make sense of everything that’s happened, and maintain law and order across several versions of their town; various groups of politicians bickering about who owns the other Earths, how to tax the people; other natural steppers who are hiding out a long way from Earth Zero; the nuns who brought Joshua up in the orphanage, etc.

It’s a fascinating novel that never gets dull as the book progresses, though I get the feeling that Pratchett and Baxter were struggling to find a good ending for this book – after all, if there are an infinite number of Earths on the chain, where do you stop? There’s a “shock” ending when the non-steppers have set off a nuclear bomb in Madison, the town where Joshua grew up, though the reasoning behind this is suspect. Why would the non-steppers want to destroy the only planet they have?

Verdict: A great start to the series, which feels more like a Baxter novel than a Pratchett. I can’t wait to read The Long War later in the year, which should hopefully answer some of the questions raised.

Reviewed by Keith

Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: June 2012
Format: Hardback
Pages: 344
Genre: Science Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Keith
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: British book
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A Day In The Life Of Ned Vizzini

house of secretsWhen Brendan, Cordelia and Nell move to Kristoff House they have no idea that they are about to unleash the dark magic locked within.
Now the Walker kids must battle against deadly pirates, bloodthirsty warriors and a bone-crunching giant. If they fail they will never see their parents again and a crazed witch will take over the world.
No pressure then…
House of Secrets is the first book in a major new series.
It’s going to be epic.

This is probably a cliché, but there is no ordinary day in the life of a writer.

The advantages of being a writer are many:

  1. you get to make your own hours
  2. you get messages from people who appreciate what you do, or hate it — both should be a source of pride
  3. people think you are interesting, unless those people are also writers
  4. almost anything you do can be justified as research
  5. as long as you have a pen and paper, you can do what you need to do

The disadvantage of being a writer is that there is no ordinary day.

For example, today, I am flying to New York City. HarperCollins just published a book that I co-wrote called House of Secrets.

My co-author is the filmmaker Chris Columbus. You might know him from The Goonies, which he wrote, or the first two Harry Potter movies, which he directed. The book is the first in a planned trilogy; we have been working on it for two years and now it’s out! So this isn’t an ordinary day.

Then again, what about yesterday? Yesterday I had a meeting to go to. I work in Los Angeles in television so I go to a lot of meetings. These meetings are like job interviews where you have to prove your compatibility as a human to people who like you as a writer. So that’s not ordinary.

And tomorrow, I’ll be speaking with Chris at Barnes & Noble in New York City. So that’s not normal.

The only normal thing I can do is make myself write.

I find it works best in the morning. 05:00am is ideal. Then the world is still asleep and I can get started without checking my email. I wrap up in a blanket and write on the couch, or I make myself sit at my chair in my office. I drink coffee. Time goes slow when you’re actually writing. I try to get seven pages done before my family wakes up.

So when you talk about a day in the life of a writer, the only thing it really needs to include is writing. And today I was busy telling people that House of Secrets is out, so didn’t even get that done.

But that’s another advantage of being a writer. You break rules.

Guest Post by Ned Vizzini

Ned Vizzini is the bestselling author of the acclaimed young-adult books The Other Normals, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. In television, he has written for ABC’s Last Resort and MTV’s Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast,and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles.

House Of Secrets is published in the UK on the 25th of April by Harper Collins Children’s Books.
House of secrets is available in ebook, paper and hardback formats from
For US purchasing links click on the book titles in the bio above.

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The Sweetest Dark

Shana Abe

the sweetest dark cover art“With every fiber of my being, I yearned to be normal. To glide through my days at Iverson without incident. But I’d have to face the fact that my life was about to unfold in a very, very different way than I’d ever envisioned. Normal would become forever out of reach.”
Lora Jones has always known that she’s different. On the outside, she appears to be an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl. Yet Lora’s been keeping a heart full of secrets: she hears songs that no one else can hear, dreams vividly of smoke and flight, and lives with a mysterious voice inside her that insists she’s far more than what she seems.
England, 1915. Raised in an orphanage in a rough corner of London, Lora quickly learns to hide her unique abilities and avoid attention. Then, much to her surprise, she is selected as the new charity student at Iverson, an elite boarding school on England’s southern coast. Iverson’s eerie, gothic castle is like nothing Lora has ever seen. And the two boys she meets there will open her eyes and forever change her destiny.
Jesse is the school’s groundskeeper—a beautiful boy who recognizes Lora for who and what she truly is. Armand is a darkly handsome and arrogant aristocrat who harbours a few closely guarded secrets of his own. Both hold the answers to her past. One is the key to her future and both will aim to win her heart. As danger descends upon Iverson, Lora must harness the powers she’s only just begun to understand, or else lose everything she dearly loves.
Filled with lush atmosphere, thrilling romance, and ancient magic, The Sweetest Dark brilliantly captures a rich historical era while unfolding an enchanting love story that defies time.

The first thing that drew my attention to The Sweetest Dark was the stunning cover. A beautiful girl in a gorgeous dress is a common occurrence in the YA book cover world. But in this incidence, it was the mysterious sweep of smoke, appearing to form the dress itself, which added an intriguing and original element to the cover, tempting me to investigate the synopsis.

While I found the earlier part of Lora’s life interesting, providing essential background to her strength of character and realism to the world building- how would society react to a sensitive child with an ambiguous past with unusual abilities and no social filter? -It wasn’t until Lora arrived at Iverson collage, with its impressive façade, secret passages, snobbish inhabitants and of course two very different, but equally compelling boys, that I truly got sucked in to the story.

Don’t be mistaken to believing that this is another frustrating love triangle to survive (I have complicated love-hate feelings toward s love triangles), there is no battle between “Team Jesse” and “Team Armand” to capture the fair maidens heart. It is very clear from the start where Lora’s affections lie. However, both Jesse, the golden haired, selfless, self assured and wise, groundskeeper, and snarky Lord Armand, who’s contrasting darkness isn’t only due to his hair color, have equally important roles to play in Lora’s acceptance of her true nature and her other than normal life.

I really enjoyed the early 20th century setting. Not only did the time period became even more significant as the story unfolded, but I also found it really interesting to explore the additional challenges a non-contemporary setting provided. Lora has to hide her unusual abilities and fledgling relationship from everyone while coming to terms with the life altering discovery of her true nature and she has to do so in an environment divided by social class and gender inequality, on the cusp of medical advances in psychiatry, while the ominous cloud of WWI provides an underlying tension.

Abe’s writing is beautiful. Lyrical prose and lush descriptions combined with the characters’ unique sensory perspective combine together to create an absorbing world. The romance was sweet and intense. While I will happily read steamy, descriptive adult scenes, I also love when an author has the ability wrap me so entirely within a romance, that they are able to induce exquisite, butterfly in stomach, heart racing tension from a simple brush of fingertips .

Verdict: Once caught in it’s clutches, I found myself racing through the pages of The Sweetest Dark and as soon as I had finished I found myself online investigating the sequel. Scheduled for publication in August, The Deepest Night is high up on my wish list.

Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: April 2013
Format: eARC
Pages: 352
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance, WWI
Age: Young Adult
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Netgalley
Challenge: Debut (YA)
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Carnegie and Greenaway: In Darkness

Nick Lake

in darknessListen. You’re the voices in the dark so the world can’t all be gone. There must be people left.
I’m going to tell you how I got here and how I got this bullet in my arm. I’m going to tell you about my sister who was taken from me by the gangsters.
Maybe, maybe if I tell you my story then you’ll understand me better and the things I’ve done. Maybe you’ll forgive me…. Maybe she will.
Alone and in darkness, trapped in the rubble after the Hatian earthquake, one terrified teenager holds on to life.

Told in the voices of a black slave from Haiti’s past and a gangster teenager from Haiti’s near past, ‘In Darkness’ walks us through two of the most important parts of Haiti’s history, in a very personal way. We have the story of Toussaint, an illiterate slave who becomes literate during a Voudon ceremony and then leads the slaves to their freedom. We also follow Shorty, a teenager who has grown up in the slums. The story starts in Shorty’s voice, just after the Haitian earthquake that destroyed the country. Shorty was in hospital with a gunshot wound and is now trapped under the rubble. In alternating chapters they tell their story until we get to the point where their stories combine.

I will hold my hands up and say that I wasn’t sure about ‘In Darkness’. In spite of some absolutely fantastic reviews I just didn’t know what to expect from it. It’s one of those books that seem very ‘worthy’ (and yes it is) and on the hole that tends to put me off (bad librarian!). I’ve read in other books that it’s not a book that you enjoy and that is completely right. It is however a book that evokes a lot of emotion. Incredibly dark, sometimes disturbing the book does include a lot of violence. But the story is about very violent places and times and is therefore fitting and never feels gratuitous. Because of this some librarians have questioned its place on the shortlist as they have doubts about giving the book to Year 7’s to read. Whilst I understand their doubts I don’t think that this book could have been written any other way, yet the writing and the characterisation means that it deserves its place. I think that children of their age tend to self censor when it comes to their reading and will either skirt over the bits they can’t cope with or leave the book unread. Despite the darkness present in the book it does end with a glimmer of hope.

As said above I can’t say that I enjoyed ‘In Darkness’, it’s not that type of book, but I do feel that I gained something in reading it. I know very little about Haiti and its history and the historian in me was interested in learning about its past. A lack of knowledge also meant that I could enjoy the story instead of thinking about how accurate it was. This is a book that also concentrates on relationships between people, between Mother and Son, Father and Son, between gang member and between siblings. This gives the book a human element that is one of its greatest strengths. It makes the focus of the book become the human cost of the events concentrating on the injustices of the times.

Another interesting factor of the book is the way it deals with the Voodoo practices of the characters. There is a such a matter of factness about it the it is obvious that this is just the beliefs of the characters. Whether there is any truth to the power of voodoo is left to the reader.

Although this is an incredibly strong book I’m not sure that it is likely to win Carnegie. I think that it probably lacks the wider appeal that the winner should have.

Verdict: Dark, violent and sometimes unsettling but still a very interesting read.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Genre: Historical, Supernatural
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: Debut Author
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Captain Disaster

Del Shannon

Captain Disaster front coverKevin Tobin is a relatively ordinary twelve-year old dealing with the aftermath of his father’s tragic death in a mountain biking accident near their home in Boulder, Colorado. To escape from his emotional turmoil, Kevin has developed his imagination into a dangerous foil and a powerful ally. While he antagonizes his sister through his superhero antics, his ability to escape inside his character’s (Captain Disaster) head becomes critical to his survival after his life is once-again turned upside down a year after his father s death. A mysterious package arrives in the mail, Kevin and his best friend are hunted down by a ruthless villain set upon world domination, and after enlisting Kevin s teenage sister and her pizza-delivery boyfriend in a battle for control over time itself, the secret of Kevin s whole existence is revealed to him by a source we never expected. Del Shannon’s imaginative story telling and his appreciation for the powers of family and the desire of young boys to both escape reality and prove themselves within it make this a book with wide appeal for readers of all ages.

Back in the start of 2012 Jack reviewed a self published book called, Kevin’s Point Of View which he loved. Well Kevin has undergone a bit of a make over, with a new cover, new illustrations and a new title, Captain Disaster.
Read Jack’s original review below

Kevin’s point of view is a really great book that is about a normal 12 year boy still suffering from the quick, and suspicious, death of his father a year ago, who he loved so very much. He deals with this by wondering deeply into the depths of his talented imagination – separating himself from the rest of the world. A few days before he goes on his school field trip to the Rockies, a strange package arrives mysteriously for him at his home in Colorado. This package was meant to arrive at the home of Devin Talon but since when does anything ever go right in adventure books?!

The content of this important package is something called the I.N.F.L.U.X.I.T.R.O.N. With his friend Toby and his sister along with her boyfriend, a pizza delivery man, they work tirelessly to keep the I.N.F.L.U.X.I.T.R.O.N out of Devin’s desperate hands. But also Kevin has his own needs for this machine: to bring back his dad. They are able to do amazing things all around Colorado with the help of the “Shroom wagon” on their side.

I really enjoyed this book as it was full of danger and suspense all strung together cleverly by Del Shannon. At first I did actually struggle to get into the book as I found it a little confusing, but I persevered and found that this was a really exciting book that would keep me quiet for hours (much to my parents’ pleasure!).

Verdict: I would suggest this book to people who love books which include exciting, full-on action with plenty of fun and easy to understand humour.

Reviewed by Jack (11)

Publisher: Story Arts Media
Publication Date: April 2013 ( originally Oct ’10)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 515/559KB
Genre: Humour, Action, Adventure
Age: Middle grade
Reviewer: Jack
Source: Provided by author
Challenge: none
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Self Published Sunday: Excerpt From Arabelle’s Shadows

Please welcome Fleur Gaskin as she shares an excerpt of her book, Arabelle’s Shadows.

ArabelleShadows-1Everything in Arabelle’s life is coming together. She has confidence, great friends, she’s even dating Naak, a wealthy Thai socialite. But there are too many models in Bangkok. Arabelle’s broke, she can’t find an agent in New York, and Naak isn’t as wonderful as he first appears. Slowly the Shadows creep back into Arabelle’s mind, bringing with them thoughts of hopelessness and despair. The vile Shadows know something Arabelle’s refusing to remember and, if she’s not careful, they’ll use it to destroy her. Based on a true story, Arabelle’s Shadows takes us on a journey through the struggles of growing up, not quite making it as an international model, and attempting to overcome a crushing depression.

My day started off okay. I had a casting at Emporium, a shopping centre near Rompo. I’ve always loved being in Emporium. Outside it’s all hot, dirty and crowded but as soon as you walk through the entrance everything’s cool, spacious and sparkly. And it’s welcoming, even though it’s full of lavish designer stores. It’s not like other stuffy malls for the wealthy, which always make me feel uncomfortable like, since I don’t have a platinum credit card, I shouldn’t be there.

After the casting I saw my friend Ying Thompson walking towards the escalator. She broke off from the group she was with and came over to give me a hug. “Hey Arabelle, what are you doing? Come sit with me while I get my makeup done.”

“Are you doing a fashion show?” I asked her thinking of all the models that’d been with her. “Nope. The others are, I’m hosting the event. Come on!” Without waiting for me to reply she linked her arm through mine and led me downstairs towards a backstage area in the basement. Ying’s a very popular singer in Thailand. As we walked through the mall you could hear people saying her name and giggling. Ying paid no attention to all the turning heads. She was on the phone, in the middle of a fierce monetary negotiation with a client. They want her to become the face of their rice crackers.

The concrete room we entered was full of people bustling around getting ready for the fashion show. We found an empty space and sat down amongst everyone else’s handbags, shawls and bottles of water.

“So what’s been happening?” She asked in a strong Kiwi accent (her Dad’s from New Zealand, her Mum’s Thai-Chinese). “I think I…” I was bursting to tell her about Naak but Ying’s assistant interrupted and started asking a lot of questions in Thai. “Sorry,” Ying said focusing her attention back to me, “what were you going to say?”

“I was out at Bed the other week and… well… I think I’m dating Naak!”

Ying pursed her lips together in a frown, not the look of excitement I’d been expecting. “No you’re not.” Ying said flatly, “Naak has a girlfriend. She left to study in the States a couple of weeks ago.”

Looking away from Ying I caught sight of my reflection in the makeup mirror opposite me. My face was stuck in the smile I’d worn when I was telling her I had a boyfriend. Except now the lines around my mouth were strained. With bulging eyes my smile looked more like a grimace.

“I think they’re dating because her family owns a lot of the property on Sukumvit Road,” Ying continued. “You know, she’s only eighteen!” Naak’s thirty.

“Okay,” I murmured. I searched desperately for something else to say in response. Luckily the brand new mobile on Ying’s lap began to vibrate. With her perfectly manicured fingers, a tiny crystal heart in the centre of each nail, Ying set about replying to the text message. Ying hates all unpleasantness and it appeared that, as far as she was concerned, the issue was settled.

I’ve had plenty of experience detaching myself from my wretched weeping soul and by the time Ying put her phone down I’d rearranged my face into neutral. My robot body looked at my mobile and told Ying, “Sorry, I’ve got to go see the agency now,” it hugged her goodbye. It smiled and acted like Arabelle didn’t care that Naak had a girlfriend.

My insides died and disintegrated the whole journey home. I paused the tears right up until I exited the elevator. When I found no one in my shared room I blinked, allowing them trickle down the sides of my face and jump to the floor.

05Fleur Gaskin is from New Zealand. She was an international model for six years, working in over ten countries, mainly in Asia and Europe. She has been in TV commercials, walked on runways and done many print jobs including Elle, Marie Claire and Vogue magazines.
She presently lives in Shanghai, China with her fiancé.

To learn more about fleur and her work you can visit her at her website (here), on her Facebook page (here) or visit her Goodreads page

Arabelle’s Shadows is available to buy now from (here), Barnes and Noble (here),
Smashwords (here),iTunes (here) and from Kobo Books (here).

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The Secret Keeper

Kate Morton

secret keeperDuring a party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the road and sees her mother speak to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy.
Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions she has not thought about for decades. From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, discover the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined.
The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams, the lengths people go to fulfill them, and the consequences they can have. It is a story of lovers, friends, dreamers, and schemers told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

I love Kate Morton’s books so I was really pleased to see she had a new novel out. I have just finished reading it and now I’m in that place where you are satisfied but a little bereft that it’s all over.

This story, like her others, focuses on families, histories and hidden secrets. At the centre of the story is Laurel, now in her sixties and concerned about her dying mother. Her concern is not just at the illness Dorothy has and the thought of losing her, but also about the lack of resolution Laurel has for an incident she witnessed her mother commit when Laurel was just a teenager. Laurel can’t accept that she will never get the answers to her questions and embarks on a journey to discover the truth behind what happened.

The story is unfolded by both following Laurel on her quest and by flashbacks to the past, told through Dorothy’s eyes and subsequently that of some of the other main characters. I enjoy this method of story telling, keeping suspense going as you hop from one time to another alongside collecting snippets of information to gradually piece together the complete picture.

I also liked the way that all the characters are fully three dimensional people with flaws and positive attributes. It was fascinating to get to know them, as with real people, layer by layer and discover what is really underneath. In this light I was interested all the way through in Dorothy’s story as she seemed so different in the wartime (and before) to how Laurel remembers her as a mother. It was interesting to see if this was Laurel’s perception of her mother or if something had really happened to change Dorothy so much.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story, suffice to say I was gripped and couldn’t put it down. Kate’s writing is as gripping and atmospheric as ever and the images she creates of the wartime life, of Australia shimmering in heat, of misunderstandings between friends, of life seen through the eyes of both children and adults are as evocative as ever.

Verdict: I will be recommending this to everyone I talk about books with that’s for sure.

Reviewed by Helen

Publication Date: October 2012
Format: eBook
Pages: 483
Genre: Historical fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: None
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Amity and Sorrow Blog Tour: Try It. You’ll Love It

We are delighted to welcome Charlotte Mendelson, editor extraordinaire, as she shares the excitement of discovering and buying Peggy Riley’s emotive debut, Amity and Sorrow.

amity and sorrow coverIn the wake of a suspicious fire, Amaranth gathers her children and flees from the fundamentalist cult in which her children were born and raised. Now she is on the run with only her barely aged teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow, neither of whom have seen the outside world, to help her. After four days of driving Amaranth crashes the car, leaving the family stranded at a gas station, hungry and terrified.
Rescue comes in the unlikely form of a downtrodden farmer, a man who offers sanctuary when the women need it most. However while Amity blossoms in this new world, free from her father’s tyranny, Sorrow will do anything to get back home. Although Amaranth herself is beginning to understand the nature of the man she has left, she needs the answer to one question; what happened to the other wives and children.

Publishers are sent an awful lot of manuscripts. Many are terrible, some are fine, a few are interesting and fewer still are absolute knock-outs. And, although we’re not supposed to have favourites, if one actually manages to buy one of these knock-outs, particularly if it was in a tricky auction, one tends to feel a certain amount of passion; ferocity, even. You know those rare glorious moments when you discover something – a book, a film, a restaurant – so fantastic that you find yourself virtually mugging your friends and relations to GO AND TRY IT! YOU’LL LOVE IT! NOW! Well, that’s us, every day, when it comes to Amity & Sorrow.

The morning after we all first read it, I had a queue of colleagues wanting to emote about their love for it, to be counselled about the final traumatic scenes and to beg, no, command me to buy the mysterious Peggy Riley’s debut if I could. What choice did I have? I offered; so did other publishers. It turned into an auction. But so great was my love for the novel, so determined were we all to win it, that I started harassing the US rights director until, poor lamb, she reached the point where she had to surrender.

That in itself is rare. Rarer still – unique, for me – was the experience I had some months later, when I was rereading Amity and briefly forgot that I was merely looking for a particular passage; I found myself loving the characters and the writing as if for the first time, envying the publishers of this incredible novel – and then I remembered that we are the publishers.

Try it. You’ll love it. NOW.

Post by Charlotte Mendelson

Executive Editor, Headline Review

Thanks to Headline Publishing we have one signed hardback copy of Amity and Sorrow and one #GodSexFarming badge to giveaway to one lucky INTERNATIONAL reader. Simply complete the Rafflecopter form below to enter.
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Carnegie and Greenaway: Maggot Moon

Sally Gardner

Maggot MoonWhat if the football hadn’t gone over the wall. On the other side of the wall there is a dark secret. And the devil. And the Moon Man. And the Motherland doesn’t want anyone to know. But Standish Treadwell — who has different-coloured eyes, who can’t read, can’t write, Standish Treadwell isn’t bright — sees things differently than the rest of the “train-track thinkers.” So when Standish and his only friend and neighbour, Hector, make their way to the other side of the wall, they see what the Motherland has been hiding. And it’s big…

Maggot Moon won this year’s Costa Coffee Children’s book Award and is probably the one to beat when it comes to Carnegie. Incredibly original Maggot Moon tells the story of Standish Treadwell, a dyslexic boy, who struggles to read and write, and therefore everybody has decided that he is stupid. The book is set in a dystopian world, but in this case a historical one. The book has the feel of 1950’s Britain, but one that is a totalitarian state of the likes of Hitler’s Germany or Stalinist Russia. The country is now a satellite of the Motherland and every aspect of life is closely monitored.

I read this around the time that my daughter was taking the initial screening for dyslexia, which was both a good and a bad thing. It meant that I got distracted by that element of the storyline a little too much, but at the same time was incredibly reassuring. Sally Gardener, the author, is also severely dyslexic and this really shows in how Standish appears to feel about his difficulties with reading and writing. That a dyslexic author has written such an extraordinary book, a book that would be so extraordinary no matter who had written it, really does highlight that dyslexia has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of intelligence and that everybody really can achieve anything, as long as they put their minds to it.

It is probably the most heart wrenching book that I have read so far from the shortlist. I defy anybody to have completely dry eyes when they finish the book. The characters of the book are constantly watched; have to guard every word and action, this atmosphere of close oppression just serves to make the emotion feel all the more intense. This is not a book that gives you hope, but then it tells of a world where there is very little hope. It is because of this atmosphere that Standish’s voice is so important. Standish is different, because he thinks outside the box and this is not a regime that is tolerant of differences. That Standish has managed so far is testament to his grandfather. Their relationship highlights the positive side of human nature, in a book that concentrates so heavily on the negative. It highlights the good that people can do even when everything is against them.

The writing is just beautiful, whilst at the same time being brutal. The story is told in short chapters, giving the story a stop, start feel that just seems to highlight uncertainty present in the world in which it is set.

The short chapters make the book look like it is intended for younger readers, when it probably isn’t. It is a true crossover book in that adults will enjoy it too, but I wouldn’t give it to a child younger than secondary age, the content is quite dark and they wouldn’t necessarily understand some of the complexities of the plot. It is however a book that should be read, not for light hearted enjoyment, but just to experience the incredible writing.

Verdict: Beautifully written, if a little brutal at times, a book that just cries out to be read.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Genre: Historical, Dystopian
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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