Wednesday, 31 March 2010
Publisher: Chicken House
Released: March 1st, 2010
Grade rating: A
SIXTEEN-YEAR OLD TWINS IN CANDY-STORE CRIME SPREE. Twins, Paisley and Beau Argent are in the headlines again. Last time, they were the 'wonder twins', when as six-year-olds they were found alive in woods after three days missing following their mother's death - three days spent looking for their dad. Now at sixteen, life's not so wonderful. Out-cast and exploited by their money-grabbing grandmother they're still clueless about their dad's whereabouts. Until they discover an old letter from him. That's when they decide to hit the road - and make headlines again. Holding up fast-food joints in Las Vegas might seem extreme but if they can get on the news, and tell their dad they need him, they might get the dream reunion they never thought could happen.
When I first received a copy of Pretty Bad Things, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was what I'd learnt from the cover: it was something to do with siblings, Vegas and a gun. Quite a random mix, eh? Pretty Bad Things does feature two twins, it's set in Las Vegas and, yes, a firearm enters the equation. In addition to this, it's also about sacrifice and love, and the lengths people will go to to be reunited with those closest to them.
C. J. Skuse's writing is among the best I've read in the past few years, and her words are brimming with snark, wit and humour. I laughed out loud plenty of times, usually at something the ever observant Paisley came out with -- that girl can talk her way out of anything, whether it be a robbery or an arson attempt. She's the complete opposite to her brother, Beau, who is quiet for the most part, though he does step up and come out of his shell as the book progresses. Buddy is also an interesting character, and is one I'm hoping to see more of in the future. As a father, he's been pretty absent for most of Paisley and Beau's lives, but their bond is still there and, in true fatherly fashion, he'd do anything for them.
The Vegas backdrop is a brilliant setting, with lights and glamour par for the course on The Strip. I've never seen Vegas in real life, and I doubt I ever will (scared of flying), so I was fascinated to read about it in such detail. I came away feeling like I'd been living in a seedy hotel and walking down the dingy back alleys late at night, just like Paisley and Beau. Skuse definitely has a skill when it comes to scene setting, and I've been listening to The Killers all day in response. They're the best thing to come out of Vegas, in my opinion!
Pretty Bad Things is cool, edgy and daring. It's one of those books I couldn't put down, and it's one of those debuts that deserves a place on the YA map of fame. I'm so excited to see what this author writes next, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed it will feature Paisley and Beau. They are two rockin' dudes!
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Released: April 5th, 2010
Grade rating: B+
Tumtum and Nutmeg are leaving the confines of Nutmouse Hall and voyaging on their most challenging adventure yet...at the seaside! Arthur and Lucy are going to stay with their Uncle, and Nutmeg is determined to keep an eye on the children while they are away. But of course they won't be alone as General Marchmouse decides to join the fun. And soon The General gets his wish as the mice find that their new friend, Lord Seamouse, needs their help. Together they must set out on an adventure to regain his lost treasure and stop his enemy, Purple Claw, from getting to it first.
When I was younger, my mum used to read the Percy the Park Keeper picture book series to me, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We're both still fans now, and I'm sure that's why I like reading about little animals or creatures that can talk. Tumtum and Nutmeg is a similar series (more writing, less illustrations) about two little mice, who wander off and have fantastic adventures with other mice. I'm nowhere near the 7+ age range for this book, but I was so excited when I received a copy. Why? Because cute talking mice = FUN.
After I managed to stop chuckling at the map included at the beginning of the book, which is a guide to Mousewall-On-Sea (heehee), I discovered Bearn's fantastic writing for children. She certainly knows how to entertain, and even made me like the rogue mouse of the story, Purple Claw. Her characters are so cute and lovely, and I can absolutely see why children are so enchanted with these mice.
I haven't read the first three books in the series, so I was a bit lost when it occasionally referred to previous events and people. It didn't really make that much difference though, and I'm sure A Seaside Adventure can be read as a standalone story. Existing fans are sure to love it and, I must admit, I'm quite tempted to go back and read the first three stories. There's something about certain younger children's books that I still enjoy, and I think they call it nostalgia.
How did you end up with a publishing deal with one of the UK's best children's publishing houses?
I’d say it was a combination of perseverance and luck. It took three years to find an agent who wanted to take the book on for me. It was then submitted to eleven UK children’s publishers. Out of those eleven, three wanted to meet me. I met with Simon & Schuster on the 13th (I think some luck was involved there!) and they said they intended to make an offer for The Thirteen Treasures and a sequel. I instantly knew I wanted to publish the books with them as I felt they’d really ‘got’ it, and I knew from their list that they publish fairy books brilliantly.
Has your previous work as a bookseller had a positive impact on your writing career?
Definitely. Working as a bookseller gave me a really valuable overview of the children’s/YA market while I was writing. I could see what was available and what was popular, with both children and the adults buying for them. It also showed me what a difference it can make to a book if booksellers are behind it, creating a buzz.
The Thirteen Treasures won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2009. Did this change things for you, either in your personal or working life?
There were changes the award brought about in both. Personally, it gave me more confidence as a writer to know that my book had actually won a prize. It was such a boost to know that the prize was chosen by booksellers as well. In my working life (as an editorial assistant in children’s publishing) it also made an impact. At the time I was a new and relatively unknown employee. Then suddenly, everyone in the division seemed to know who I was. I was even getting congratulatory emails from people from other divisions, including overseas, who had heard about it.
Do you have a favourite fairy or creature from your books?
I think my favourite fairy has to be the drain-dweller. For some reason I really enjoyed writing about its smelliness and thieving ways!
Along with writing, you also illustrate the chapter heads yourself. Is illustration another career option?
It’s something I’d like to continue working on, although I tend to prefer illustrating my own work. I’ve had a couple of illustration commissions, but at the moment my focus is on my books because of the time involved. When The Thirteen Treasures was on submission, one of the publishers that rejected it commented that they really liked the chapter illustrations and asked if I had a portfolio to view, so I think it could be an option at some point.
The Thirteen Treasures and The Thirteen Curses are two of the most magical books I've ever read. Have you always had a keen interest in the fey?
Thank you. I was quite interested in fairies and fey creatures as a child. I remember a story my older sister told me about a fairy that had been killed by a witch and buried in our back garden. Being the kind of child that needed evidence, I went and dug in the garden. Never did find anything but I never forgot the story! I became more strongly interested in real, proper faeries (the kind that usually come with an ‘a’) when my tutor introduced me to the work of artists such as Brian Froud, Arthur Rackham and Alan Lee when I did my illustration degree. It completely changed my perception of fairies and got me interested in the darker side of things. After that, I was hooked.
What is your opinion on your book covers, both UK and US?
I think they’re both fantastic, and count myself extremely lucky. The UK cover by Chris Gibbs makes for quite an intriguing and arresting image. I think it’s more likely to have boy appeal than the US cover. But the US cover I find really magical, and it’s much closer to how I always imagined it to look when I was writing the book.
Have you ever considered writing an illustrated companion to the series?
I would love to do something like that! It would be a dream project, and a brilliant way round off the series.
What's next for Tanya, Red and the fairies of Tickey End?
Their fate is being determined right now in The Thirteen Wards, currently planned to be the last in the series. One of the themes in the first two books is how past events affect the present, and so this book is to be no exception. Red is trying to put her baby-stealing past behind her, but finds it’s more complicated than she hoped. Tanya is intent on finding out why Red is being so cagey and secretive. When she does, it propels them both into another adventure, along with Fabian, of course!
Are there any other teen books or authors you'd highly recommend?
Lots! Kate Cann, Anne Cassidy, Marcus Sedgwick and Sarah Singleton are all part of my staple book diet. I think they’re all amazing writers. Julie Hearn is another – her book The Merrybegot is an all-time favourite, a book that I recommend to everyone. More recently I really enjoyed Numbers by Rachel Ward, and have its sequel on order. I could probably go on all day but I’ll stop there!
Monday, 29 March 2010
Publisher: Harper Collins
Released: February 4th, 2010
Grade rating: B
Welcome to Weirdsville! Woodsville is not like other towns. Night falls a little earlier there, the shadows are darker and denser, and everyone knows it's a place where strange things happen. Even if they won't admit it. Bethan would prefer to be anywhere but here. Jay has his theories, but isn't ready to share. Hashim sees more than he'll say, while Kelly's demons are all too flesh and blood. But Emily's freak-out brings them out of denial and face to face with the supernatural. Anywhere else, Friday night would be date night. But not in Weirdsville!
I don't seem to come across many YA ghost stories, as there doesn't appear to be that many around. It's a shame, because they're a welcome change from vampires and werewolves, and explore a different side of the paranormal world.
Nearly Departed is a creeptastic novel that sent shivers up my spine a couple of times, and even made me check over my shoulder every now and then. I was reading it in the early hours of the morning though, so perhaps that's my own fault. Either way, it was an atmospheric book to be reading in the dead of night, and I enjoyed being a bit spooked.
If you took the characters from UK TV show Skins and threw them into a haunted house, you'd get Nearly Departed. Each character reminded me of someone from that show, although they weren't quite as hardcore when it came to rebelling. Hashim and Jay particularly stood out for me, with Hashim being a smart-mouthed popular football player and Jay the quiet loner with an interest in weird goings on. They all pull together as a team to help Emily, and with the assistance of Kelly and Bethan, end up as a Ghostbusting unit of support.
The twist at the end of the story eluded me (as always), and I was left pretty surprised at the revelations uncovered. The ghost gang put everything together too quickly and easily for my liking, making it seem forced rather than a natural discovery. The ending could have been drawn out for a couple more chapters, allowing for a more believable time frame to figure everything out, and adding a bit more realism to the turn in events.
I'm looking forward to reading the next book in this series, and enjoyed my first trip to Weirdsville. Next time, I'll be reading in the daytime, and I urge you all to do the same!
Sunday, 28 March 2010
I had a great week this week, thanks to the Headline event and visiting Foyles in London (best YA section ever!). I am so excited to read all of these, but I must admit that White Crow is at the top of my list. I'm currently reading a book I got this week, but that I can't mention just yet. Rest assured it is really good!
- The Alchemist and the Angel by Joanne Owen (UK proof/ARC)
- Blue Bloods: Masquerade by Melissa de la Cruz
- Adam and the Arkonauts by Dominic Barker
- Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide by William Hussey
- White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick (UK proof/ARC)
From Headline event:
- It's Now or Never by Carole Matthews (signed)
- Hell's Belles by Paul Magrs (signed)
- Lucky by Rachel Vail (Thanks H!)
- Hourglass by Claudia Gray
- Vampire Kisses: The Beginning by Ellen Schreiber
- The Snowball Effect by Holly Nicole Hoxter
- Dark Guardian: Shadow of the Moon by Rachel Hawthorne
- Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer
- Wuthering High by Cara Lockwood
Happy reading everyone, and have a great week!
Friday, 26 March 2010
The Headline offices were lovely, as was the board room on the 16th floor. We definitely got a great view out of that window! I finally got to catch up with blogger friends, as well as meet some for the first time. In attendance was Carolyn (Book Chick City), Sophie (So Many Books, So Little Time - so good to finally meet you!), Jo (Once Upon a Bookcase), Carla (The Crooked Shelf), Liz (My Favourite Books), Gav (NextRead), Sammee (I Want to Read That), Rhys (Thirst For Fiction), Amanda (Floor to Ceiling Books), Becky (The Bookette) and Dot (Dot Scribbles). I also got to meet Headline editors and publicists I've been email chatting to for ages (2+ years in one case), which was brilliant. They're all so lovely!
I was really excited to meet Dan Wells, as again I've been chatting to him for almost a year, and he's lovely. Funny too, and he has the BEST hat. Sadly I didn't get a picture of it, but it's very cool, eh, Dan?
Anyway, after coffee with a few bloggers and Alex Bell, we went to the event, for some quick mingling and a Headline video presentation. It went through most of their major books and authors, including Gossip Girl, Adele Parks, Ember Fury, and upcoming title Wintercraft by Jenna Burtenshaw (it looks amazing - add it to your wishlists!). There were lots more books and authors mentioned, but I can't remember them all, and hadn't heard of a lot as they were adult fiction. Still, all looked good!
After the presentation, it was time for food, drink and more chatting before a very cool quiz. We were divided into teams, and I was team pink (diamond), which was the same team as Carole Matthews (we got second place in the quiz!). She's a funny lady, and we had a good talk about Twilight and New Moon. Unfortunately, I end up talking about it everywhere I go, to anyone, so sorry about that. The quiz was fun, and was divided into rounds. There was a YA round (phew!) and I'm glad to report that I got all 5 questions right. I would have been ashamed of myself if I hadn't!
Then we mingled some more, before heading off to a local pub. Dan Wells chatted for a bit longer, about US/UK differences, and whatever other random stuff we got talking about. What an entertaining man he is, and also very knowledgeable when it comes to serial killers! (IANASK is released in the US next week.. hint hint). I was tired by this point, so Carla and I went to get food and find our hotel, ready for a day of book shopping on Thursday (you can read more about that on Carla's blog).
The Headline event was a great success, and I'm glad this publisher is doing so well, as they're one of my favourites. If you haven't read any of their stuff, check them out. They publish a wide range of YA (as well as adult fiction), and have some very exciting stuff coming up. Big thanks and hello's to H, Maura, Sam and Helena - thanks for inviting me guys, and hopefully see you all sometime soon!
And signed books...
Released: March 1st, 2010
Grade rating: A
Kat and Emily have grown up without their mother for almost as long as they can remember. And now Dad is with Cassy and they all muddle along together well enough - even though they are living in a cramped caravan while their new house is being renovated. Then Cassy and Dad tell them that Cassy is pregnant, and everything seems to shift. Emily feels a new urge to find her own mother. How could she have left them the way she did? Never writing to them? Not communicating with them? And as Emily begins her search, not knowing what she will find, she is at the same time embarking on a new relationship of her own, that of her romance with Seb.
Drawing with Light is a beautifully written story about a girl, a family and a first love. It's poignant and thought-provoking, and instantly captured my full attention.
Emily is still struggling to come to terms with the realisation that her mother left her, never once contacting her or visiting. Her dad and sister have seemingly moved on, and Emily faces change in every direction. Meeting local boy Seb is a turning point for her, and gives her the strength to make some important decisions for herself, ones that will change her life completely.
Green writes these characters as if she's writing a biography of her own family. Nothing seems too far-fetched, and she draws on emotions so deep I often wondered if she was writing from experience. By the end of the book, I really felt like I knew Emily and sister, Kat, inside out, and I didn't want to turn the final page. I do have one niggle though, and that's how quickly Emily and Seb's relationship progresses to love. I know it can happen in less than a year, but I would have preferred it to take longer for those three little words to come into the picture.
Green continues to remind me of Sarah Dessen which, to me, is the highest compliment I can think of. Her characters are layered, her stories are realistic, and she always leaves me with a feel-good feeling. I didn't think she could top her last novel, Breathing Underwater, but she has. I for one can't wait to see what she writes next!
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Grace by Elizabeth Scott
* Published by: Dutton Juvenile (US)
* Format: Hardcover (US)
* Release Date: September 16th, 2010 (US)
* On Amazon: here
Summary from Elizabeth Scott's site: A fable of a terrifying near future. Grace was raised to be an Angel, a herald of death by suicide bomb. But she refuses to die for the cause, and now Grace is on the run, daring to dream of freedom. In search of a border she may never reach, she travels among malevolent soldiers on a decrepit train crawling through the desert. Accompanied by the mysterious Kerr, Grace struggles to be invisible, but the fear of discovery looms large as she recalls the history and events that delivered her uncertain fate.
I can't even explain how excited I am about this book. Does it not sound amazing?! I love the premise, the cover, Elizabeth Scott... all of it. I'm so glad it's a 2010 release, because I don't think I could have waited much longer!
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Before I Fall has a very unusual premise that I haven't come across before. What was the inspiration behind the story?
The idea came from a bunch of different places. The idea of the 24-hour “redo” came from an old childhood habit: When I was younger and having trouble sleeping, I would try to imagine in as much detail as possible the “perfect day”: the kind of day I wouldn’t mind reliving again and again.
In terms of themes, the book is predominantly about change. Sam grows substantially from the first page to the last; the idea of change, and whether it’s possible, and how, and under what circumstances, is always something I’ve been interested in. There were other issues I wanted to explore—like the the interrelatedness of people—and from all of those rough ideas came Before I Fall.
Sam starts off as a highly unlikeable character. Did you ever worry that your readers wouldn't be able to look past her initial behaviour?
Um, did I? Yes. I still do. It actually keeps me up at night. Fortunately nearly everyone addresses this in reviews, and usually people really come to care about Sam by the end of the book, so hopefully there is some level of awareness about her character’s development. And also, I mean, not everyone is nice in high school. She may be unlikeable at the beginning, but you know what? There are, unfortunately, lots of unlikeable people in the world; I thinks she’s also recognizable.
Are any of Before I Fall's social observations based on real-life experiences?
Oh, yeah, sure. I don’t think it would be a very good book if I hadn’t based its characterizations on observations and real life. People were not in general as mean in my high school as the characters depicted in Before I Fall, but there was a certain amount of casual cruelty that is just endemic to that time. And all of the needs and wishes and frailties and insecurities of the characters—that’s all “based” on real life stuff. It has to be, in order to feel real. That doesn’t mean it’s based on real people, however—but it is based on my understanding of how real people behave.
If you were in Sam's shoes, and had to relive your last day over and over, how do you think you'd cope?
Pretty poorly, I imagine. I throw a tantrum when my favorite bagel place is out of sesame bagels, so I’m not really sure I’d have the mental fortitude for it! :) I think I’d have the most fun doing all of the “crazy” stuff you’re not allowed to do in real life—speaking your mind completely, one hundred percent honestly, and making out with (snogging?? Is that the British word??) unsuitable people, stuff like that.
[Jenny: Yes, snogging is the word! ;) ]
Before I Fall has a beautiful cover. Did you have any say in the design?
I didn’t, but I agree: It’s absolutely stunning. The first time I saw it, it literally took my breath away.
Since writing Before I Fall and getting your publishing deal, how has your life changed?
Oh, man. My life has changed so drastically. When I got my publishing deal I was totally broke; I loved in a kind of run-down apartment with three girls. I was a full-time assistant editor at Penguin; I was also a full-time graduate student and in addition worked at a club three nights a week (until 4 in the morning!) to help support myself. (Publishing isn’t the most lucrative job…). On nights I bartended I had to sleep over at my mom’s house because cabs wouldn’t drive me all the way back to Brooklyn at that hour, and she used to wake me up in the mornings, and I would literally wake up crying. That’s how tired I was. (Not to sound all “poor me,” but it’s true!)
Now I am a full-time writer and I get to travel and sleep eight hours a night and do what I love for a living. And I moved around the corner from my old apartment, but I live by myself now, in a beautiful and peaceful space. In other words, I am much happier, and very grateful.
How important do you think bloggers are when it comes to promoting debut authors and novels?
Oh my gosh. Immensely important! I’ve found so much unexpected support from bloggers; it has been truly incredible. I’m not naturally great at self-promotion, and so having a community of people get behind my book and help me figure out ways to get the word out there has been so critical. I’m still blown away by how kind and helpful and, yeah, just supportive the blogging community has been.
What's next on your writing agenda?
My second book, DELIRIUM, comes out in early 2011. It’s very different from Before I Fall but I am so excited about it. It’s basically a dystopian Romeo-and-Juliet story…but you’ll have to read it to get any more details! :)
Monday, 22 March 2010
Released: March 2nd, 2010
Grade rating: B/B+
Meet Mary: She's beautiful, she's nice, and her ski star boyfriend is cheating on her. Meet Crystal: She's a townie, she works at Mod Jeans, and she's cheating with Mary's boyfriend. Meet Sylvia: She's nasty, she's rich, and she's got something up her Prada-designed sleeve. Meet Amber: She's a flake, she's the barista at the hottest coffee shop in Aspen, and she serves up gossip even hotter than grande skim lattes. Meet Peggy: She's Mary's best friend, she's a snowboarder and aspiring chef, and she has no idea how to cope with all these girls.
The Girls reminded me of a series like Gossip Girl, only a tamer version. It has less swearing, no sex, and an equal amount of backstabbing bitchiness. I love books like this, so it'll come as no surprise to hear that I devoured The Girls in one sitting. It's a modern retelling of The Women, a play by Clare Booth Luce, and although I haven't ever read the source material, I had no problems getting to grips with the story.
Tucker Shaw has an excellent grasp on the lives of rich teen girls; how they speak, what they think and the way they act around each other. They're competitive, outspoken, and date all the wrong boys. Take Sylvia, for example: she could have a great circle of friends at Maroon Bells School for Girls, but instead she chooses to be a calculating mean girl intent on upsetting as many of her "friends" as possible. Peggy and Mary's friendship is the only real constant in the book, with their seemingly unbreakable bond being the root of the story.
The Girls is a boy-free zone, with no inclusion of male characters except for mentions of short phone conversations. It doesn't suffer because of this, though I would have liked to learn more about the various boyfriends and the motivations behind their actions. Each girl's boyfriend is inexplicably linked to someone else, making the relationships in The Girls a tangled web of lies, deceit and betrayal.
If you're a fan of series like Gossip Girl, It Girl and Private, then The Girls is definitely one for you. It's a quick and easy read, and is written in a style that makes it very hard to put down. I can't wait to read more by Tucker Shaw, and I hope he writes more books like this.
Sunday, 21 March 2010
This week was a great week! It was very Meyer themed, which is what I like. :) I've included my New Moon DVD in the above pic because, well, it's amazing, and it arrived 2 days early. I was doing a happy dance all day! Now onto the books... (click above for a bigger pic!)
- The Prophecy by Gill James
- The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco Stork (UK proof/ARC. Can't wait to read this!)
- Philippa Fisher and the Stone Fairy's Promise by Liz Kessler (UK proof/ARC)
- Lottie Biggs is Not Desperate by Hayley Long (Yay!)
- Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn
- The Maze Runner by James Dashner (UK proof/ARC)
- YLF: Kiss & Break Up by Kate Kingsley
- The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
- Extras by Scott Westerfeld (I'm still in love with these new covers!)
- The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong
- Twilight: the Graphic Novel Vol. 1 by Stephenie Meyer & Young Kim (Amaaaaazing!!)
- Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison
- The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott
- The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
- The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
Saturday, 20 March 2010
You can read more about Clockwork Angel over at EW's Shelf Life. And for us UK'ers, good news - Torment's cover will be the same over here!
Friday, 19 March 2010
Released: March 1st, 2010
Grade rating: B+/A-
Lou Bertignac has an IQ of 160 and a good friend called Lucas who gets her through the school day. At home her father cries in secret in the bathroom and her mother hasn't been out of the house properly for years. But Lou is about to change her life - and that of her parents - for good, all because of a school project she decides to do about the homeless. Through the project Lou meets No, a teenage girl living on the streets. As their friendship grows, Lou cannot bear that No is still on the streets when she goes back home - even if it is to a home that is saddened and desolate. So she asks her parents if No can come to live with them. To her astonishment, her parents - eventually - agree. No's presence forces Lou and her parents to finally face the sadness that has enveloped them. But No has disruptive as well as positive effects. Can this shaky, newfound family continue to live together?
No and Me is a touching story about friendship, and what it means to stand by someone when they have no-one else to turn to. It's well written and easy to get caught up in, making it a must-read novel for 2010.
Lou is a charming narrator, and is one of the best I've come across in recent teen fiction. She's far too old for her age, yet innocent when it comes to boys, kissing and other parts of growing up that inevitably play on the teenage mind. She has a kind heart and good intentions, and though she has family problems of her own, she never lets them detract her attention away from No. She really is the best friend you could have, and I loved her.
No, on the other hand, took me a bit longer to warm to. I couldn't figure out what her intentions were, and whether she was just exploiting Lou's kindness. It turns out she wasn't, and by the end of the book, I was rooting for her like you wouldn't believe. Being homeless sounds like hell, and the fact that she coped with it is an achievement in itself. Of course, she had help in the form of Lou and her friend Lucas, and I dread to think where she'd have ended up without them.
Delphine de Vigan's story really appealed to me, with its portrayal of a family in crisis, life in Paris and one girl's unwavering determination to set a stranger's life back on track. It's heartbreaking and hopeful, and leaves you with the knowledge that there are still exceptional people in the world. You just have to be in the right place at the right time to find them.
Thursday, 18 March 2010
The UK cover is my favourite here, hands down. It's so magical and pretty, and even nicer in person -- it's all shiny and reflective. I do like the US cover, but I think it looks too dark. The title font is lovely though, and I would be intrigued if I saw it in a bookshop.
Well done to Hodder UK for this cover, it's one of my top covers of 2010 so far!
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Format: Trade paperback
Released: March 4th, 2010
Grade rating: A+
They say that when you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that's not how it happened for me. Sam Kingston is dead. Except she isn't. On a rainy February night, eighteen-year-old Sam is killed in a horrific car crash. But then the impossible happens: she wakes up in her own bed, on the morning of the day that she died. Forced to live over and over the last day of her life the drive to school, skipping class, the fateful party she desperately struggles to alter the outcome, but every morning she wakes up on the day of the crash. This is a story of a girl who dies young, but in the process learns how to live. And who falls in love... a little too late.
I've been trying to write this review for weeks, but have had a hard time putting my thoughts into words. I could just say that Before I Fall is amazing, fantastic, a groundbreaking debut. It's all of these things, yet so much more. You know when you read a book, and you're left speechless at the end, like you're in sensory overload? That was what happened to me when I read Before I Fall. I was a complete mess, left reeling like Sam's end had been my end, like her thoughts and feelings had been my own. It's a powerful feeling, though completely unprecedented.
Before I Fall made me wish I was a writer. It made me wish I could arrange sentences that would mean something to people, and maybe even change how they live their life. Not many books do that for me, but when they do, they cast their spell on me and stay in my head forever. Sam's story did more than that -- it made me realise that life is precious, and that every single choice we make has an effect. We might not see it, but it's there. Our decisions have the ability to alter someone's path, or someone's self perception. We have to think about what we do, how we treat others and what one wrong turn can lead to.
Sam's whole journey is filled with regrets and what ifs. Her story is tragic, yes, but it's also redeeming. How many of us wish we could relive a day, maybe do something differently, or take something back? It's a dream we'll never experience, but for Sam it's her reality, even her nightmare. She has a second chance, and she has to use it to fix the trouble she caused, and the people she hurt along the way. I didn't like Sam at first; I thought she was horrible, stuck-up, and not someone I'd ever want to know. Lauren Oliver warned me of this before I started the book, so I was prepared to hate her. What I wasn't prepared for was how much she'd change, and how much she'd speak to me and my way of life.
I'm a naturally shy, quiet person: I don't take risks, I don't try many new things, and I worry about situations I have no control over. Lauren has shown me that life's too short to worry about what might happen in the future, and that once it's gone, it's gone. I've made a conscious effort to live a little, and not focus on the negatives of everything. For that I owe her a huge thanks, because it's something I've struggled with for a long time. On a personal level, this book is everything I've needed, and I hope sharing my thoughts can make someone like me open their eyes to new experiences.
To put it simply, just buy this book. Meet Sam, cry with Sam, and live with Sam. Then go out and do something new. Even if you only say hi to someone outside your circle, or drive a different way to work, it's a step in the right direction.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
When did you first decide you wanted to write for a teenage audience?
I was keen to write for younger children (as I have two of those!) but my publishers twisted my arm slightly to think about a teen audience. Once I started delving into all those repressed memories I found it was very enjoyable getting in touch with my inner teen. I really love the four St Jude’s girls and hope readers will enjoy their ups, downs and adventures just as much as I do.
Is the St Jude's series based on any of your own boarding school experiences?
Yes lots! The school is very like the one I went to – all girls and quite old-fashioned, with girls straining to rebel at all times. Many of the stories are based on things that happened, or were said to have happened or could have happened! But what goes on in a St Jude’s book is a lot more exciting that real boarding school, where there might only be one interesting event in a whole term. Also, I spent four years at boarding school and I never had a close group of friends until my final year, so maybe I’m creating the gang of friends I’d like to have had.
Do you have any embarrassing school stories you can share with us?
Oh so many: the outfits, the terrible haircuts for starters! I remember a group of us boarders going out to see an 18 film when we were about 14. We got caught because a few days later, the housemistress grilled one of the group about the film we said we’d gone to see. It was deep trouble and deep humiliation all round. Everyone in the whole house knew about it and it was just so embarrassing. So whenever Tom Cruise or Risky Business crops up, my toes still curl. It’s an awful film by the way!
The St Jude's series often reminds me of a modern day Mallory Towers. Were you a fan of these books when you were younger?
Thank you! Lots of people have very fond memories of Mallory Towers. Funnily enough, I didn’t read the series when I was young, but I was a huge Famous Five fan. I found six well-read Chalet School books lurking in my old bedroom, but I can hardly remember anything about them, except that everyone had to speak French on certain days of the week!
Did you base any of the St Jude's characters on yourself?
I think all the girls have some of my traits. I was very swotty like Min; grew up in the countryside with parents swinging from one money worry to the next, like Niff; I had a brilliant boyfriend, like Gina, and I currently live in Glasgow, like Amy! When you’re breathing life into characters, you can’t help but draw on your own experiences.
Do you have a preference when it comes to writing for adults or teenagers?
Oooooh. Good question! To be honest, I really enjoy all my writing. Switching between the two audiences and the two styles keeps life very interesting for me.
Can you tell us anything about book four, Rebel Girl?
The two big storylines for Rebel Girl concern Dermot and Gina (will they or won’t they break up? Ouch!) and Amy and her Dad. Niffy’s going to have a terrible, soul-destroying haircut (I’ve been there!) and Min... wait a minute! I’ve already given away more than I meant to. You’ll have to wait till July to find out more!
If the St Jude's series was ever made into a film, which actors would you like to see bring your characters to life?
Now this question is just impossible! If St Jude’s is ever made into a film, I will be too busy dancing on the rooftops to worry too much about who is going to land the parts. It would probably be best for some young, unknown people to step in and shine. Years ago, I remember watching Bend It Like Beckham and thinking ‘wow, those two girls are so fantastic, they are going to be really famous.’ And yes, Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra are now mega-stars!
Monday, 15 March 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Released: April 1st, 2010
Grade rating: A
In the wake of a love spell gone horribly wrong, Sophie Mercer, a sixteen-year-old witch, is shipped off to Hecate Hall, a boarding school for witches, shapeshifters and faeries. The traumas of mortal high school are nothing compared to the goings on at "Freak High." It's bad enough that she has to deal with a trio of mean girls led by the glamorous Elodie, but it's even worse when she begins to fall for Elodie's gorgeous boyfriend, Archer Cross, and frankly terrifying that the trio are an extremely powerful coven of dark witches. But when Sophie begins to learn the disturbing truth about her father, she is forced to face demons both metaphorical and real, and come to terms with her own growing power as a witch.
I've been looking forward to Hex Hall for months, ever since I first heard about it. I don't know why, but I just had a feeling it would be good. And wow, is it good!
Rachel Hawkins does a fantastic job of bringing her incredibly likeable characters to life, and even makes you feel sorry for those not-so likeable ones. After all, it's not their fault they're the bitchy clique on campus, hell-bent on making Sophie's life a living nightmare. Every school has girls like Elodie, Anna and Chaston, and if you've seen Mean Girls, you'll know what I'm talking about!
Witch Sophie and vampire Jenna are a great duo, and I loved getting to be part of their lives at Hecate 'Hex' Hall, a big old school for witches, shapeshifters and faeries. They get to meet different types of people, make new friends and live with others who understand exactly what their life is like. Everything should run smoothly, right? Wrong!
As if it's not enough to be a teenager and different, they're also being hunted by several different organisations, all of which are out for blood. Add to that a strange ghost in a green dress, several student casualties, and a crush on the resident warlock hottie, and things for Sophie get very complicated. On the subject of Mr. Warlock, AKA. Archer Cross [insert *swoon* here], I'm going to have to own up and admit that he completely hooked me. He's a no-nonsense bad boy who can raise one eyebrow -- by the first frown, I was a goner.
Hawkins has a brilliant story on her hands here, not to mention a selection of characters to envy and a setting reminiscent of Harry Potter. Hex Hall will appeal to so many readers, I can't even begin to list them, or I'll be here all day. It's a debut novel with style and attitude, and I was sad when I finished it. Lucky for me, there's a sequel on the way, so let's all form an orderly queue!
Sunday, 14 March 2010
This week was ace! I got some great books, met Charlaine Harris, and watched the new Eclipse trailer a ridiculous amount of times. Enough said! :)
- The New Brighton Archeological Society: The Castle of Galomar by Mark Andrew Smith & Matthew Weldon (Thanks Mark!)
- The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees
- Captivate by Carrie Jones
- Demon Strike by Andrew Newbound (Signed - thanks Andrew!)
- Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (Read it and LOVED it!)
- Inside My Head by Jim Carrington
- The Island by Sarah Singleton
- Rich and Mad by William Nicholson
- Ondine by Ebony McKenna
- Tumtum and Nutmeg: A Seaside Adventure by Emily Bearn
- The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan
- Major Crush by Jennifer Echols
- The Thief/Walking the Walls World Book Day book by Sophie McKenzie/Chris Higgins
Gifts: (From Carla - big thanks matey!)
- A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker
- Boys, Girls & Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman
- Ash by Malinda Lo
Saturday, 13 March 2010
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Released: May 20th, 2008
Grade rating: A-
Sometimes you don't wake up. But if you happen to, you know things will never be the same. Three lives, three different paths to the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted the ultimate act -- suicide. Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets keep her answering the call of the blade. Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills. And Conner, outwardly, has the perfect life. But dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, himself.
In one instant each of these young people decided enough was enough. They grabbed the blade, the bottle, the gun -- and tried to end it all. Now they have a second chance, and just maybe, with each other's help, they can find their way to a better life -- but only if they're strong and can fight the demons that brought them here in the first place.Review:
I love Ellen Hopkins. LOVE her. I've never met her, and I doubt I ever will, but her writing speaks to me in a way that not many other books have. Her raw honesty and poetic talent never fails to amaze me, and I become completely enthralled in her stories. I end up blocking everything out until I've finished the whole book, because I just can't bear to put it down, even for five minutes.
Impulse hooked me, shocked me and frustrated me. I wanted to know the characters myself, so I could talk to them, and try to make things better. The more I learnt about them, the more I realised they couldn't all be helped, and that some lives are, thanks to past traumas, ultimately irreparable. The ending left me reeling, and I admit, I didn't like it. I mean, I liked it, but I didn't want it. Not like that.
Although I've never ever experienced anything like Conner, Tony and Vanessa have, I still understood them and all their thought processes. They're very different people, but all have one commonality: the desire to die. For various reasons they all tried, and failed, to commit suicide, which led to their meeting at the Aspen Springs psychiatric hospital. They formed unlikely bonds, some of which will last for life, and found comfort in each other's tragic stories and backgrounds.
To me, Impulse isn't about suicide. It's about love, hope and overcoming a lifetime of unavoidable guilt and self-doubt. The outcome of these character's stories may not be what you want, or need, but it's real. Ellen Hopkins tells the truth, and in doing so she gives teenagers everywhere a voice, along with a reason to ask for help.
Friday, 12 March 2010
Publisher: Walker Books
Released: February 2010
Grade rating: B/B+
Gracie and Savannah are best friends - despite being totally different. Savannah is beautiful, outrageous and irresistible to the opposite sex. Gracie is shy, smart and would rather be learning about lizards than meeting boys. Together they make a great if surprising team and it seems like nothing could come between them - but over a long summer Gracie begins to question Savannah's reliance on lies and manipulation to get her own way and wonder whether her friend is quite as confident as she seems. When Gracie meets a boy she really likes, and Savannah comes between them, Gracie realizes that maybe it's time she started thinking for herself. The two friends may never be as close as they were but they've learned a great deal from each other.
My Worst Best Friend is an accurate depiction of high school friendships, and how they can easily fall to the wayside when a boy is involved. It's brilliantly written, and is a quick, easy read that I really enjoyed.
I never warmed to Savannah, even though I wanted to. I really didn't like her, or the way she treated Gracie -- it's just not the done thing. It's fine to get wrapped up in a new boyfriend, but leaving your best friend behind isn't something to be proud of. I couldn't help thinking that Gracie was more of a convenience friend for Savannah, and at times Gracie's dedication frustrated me. I wanted her to stand up for herself a lot sooner, and realise that Savannah wasn't all she was cracked up to be.
Gracie was too nice for her own good, and always helped Savannah when she suddenly called, even if it meant breaking plans of her own. I've been in this situation myself, as I'm sure many people have, and faced with it again, I'd do things differently. Some friendships are worth saving, but others aren't worth the stress. Realising that is an unpleasant revelation, but in the end it's usually the right decision.
Sheldon's writing is spot-on when it comes to how 15-year-olds speak, and her high school observations are realistic. High school is a hard place, and without your best friend by your side, it can be somewhat of a nightmare. Luckily, Gracie starts to branch out and meet new people, including a boy, Cooper, who is perfect for her. Their relationship progresses slowly but surely and, in the end, he's the much needed person she can count on.
My strong dislike of Savannah did lessen my enjoyment of this book, as clingy, demanding people tend to annoy me. However, that's just me, and If you're a fan of realism and social commentary, My Worst Best Friend is a great book to get lost in. The characters are well rounded and real, and Sheldon doesn't bypass anything for the sake of giving them a happy ending.
Thursday, 11 March 2010
Chicken House are publishing The Maze Runner in the UK in August,and have just released the cover. I love it! I do like the US cover too, but I think the UK one makes it look more exciting, and I like the 'Remember. Survive. Run.' tagline.
I love the contrast between these covers. Light/dark, intrigue/danger... it's interesting to see how they're being marketed differently. I can't wait to read it!
*If you've stopped by my blog today for the Ron Koertge tour, my post can be found here*.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
This event was a straightforward signing, with no talk or anything, as I don't think there would have been time! It was a great event, with a brilliant turnout and a lot of excited fans in attendance.
I asked Charlaine if this was her first time in England, and if she was enjoying herself, and she said that she'd vacationed here a few times with her husband, and was having a good time. I also asked what she thought of True Blood, and she said she really admired Alan Ball (creator) and everything he's done, she loves the cast and the whole direction of the show.
Here are some pics... (the second one is Charlaine, me, and Carla behind me on the right).
Thanks to Gollancz for organinsing a tour with this lovely lady!
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Released: March 4th, 2010
Grade rating: B+
Dr Proctor is an ageing inventor just waiting for his big break. And when he teams up with his next-door neighbour Lise and her peculiar friend Nilly in making the world's most powerful fart powder, it seems his dream may be coming true. But the ruthless twins Truls and Trym Thrane are lurking in the background just waiting to spoil their plans. The drama that follows has repercussions that stretch beyond the imagination, inolving a wild chase through the sewer system of Oslo, anacondas and NASA.
Sometimes what every reader needs is a book that will make them laugh uncontrollably. Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder did just that for me, and I'm so glad I was given the opportunity to read it, as it's not something I would have bought myself.
Nesbo's story of an eccentric inventor and a boy with a very small head was originally published in his native Norway in 2007, and has finally been flawlessly translated into English. It's stylishly illustrated by Mike Lowery, with the drawings being quite simple, but very effective. Nilly really does look like the world's smallest boy when compared to bullies Truls and Trym, and his shock of red hair on the cover image gives you a fantastic idea of what this little inventor-in-waiting looks like.
The plot is funny and random, with a hint of the weird thrown in when a giant anaconda turns up in the Norwegian sewer system. It has big teeth, and a name and everything (Anna Conda, heehee!) -- scary or what? Thankfully, Nilly isn't scared of what's lying in wait underground and, after much deliberation and a brush with death, he finds himself well on the way to saving the day. It just shows that small people can be just as brave as others, and Nilly is a great way to prove that point.
I really enjoyed Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder, much to my (and everyone else's) surprise. I chuckled my way through it, wished someone near me would invent something so fun, and am now looking forward to reading the future adventures of Doctor Proctor, Nilly and Lisa. I wonder what they'll come up with next?!
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Mixing vampires and pirates is such an unusual premise, and isn't something I've encountered before. What was your inspiration for this unlikely pairing?
It all began with the word VAMPIRATES literally dropping into my head one day. A veritable "Eureka!" moment. I had shivers up my spine as I knew that, in many ways, this was "the big idea" I'd been waiting for as a writer. It was also quite scary though because I knew very little about vampires and absolute zilch about pirates and I knew I'd have to get up to speed on both to find out the right way to blend them together. It was intimidating, but exhilarating, dealing with these challenges as a fairly new author.
Why did you choose to set the story in the future?
For several reasons. One was that I thought that I could make a subtle point about global warming and sea-level rise and that this would provide a certain logic to a new dawn of piracy. Another was to enable me to have strong female protagonists on the pirate side of the story (there aren't too many famous female pirates in history). I also wanted to confound expectation and I guess everyone would expect a story like this to be set in the past. Finally, I guess I thought it would give me an element of control over the world - rather than feeling that I had to tie it into a specific historic era. In the latter case, that was possibly evidence of my inexperience as a writer. Creating this new world was one of the more challenging aspects of the sequence; although now it is up and running, I'm very comfortable with it.
In some ancient lore, vampires can't cross natural running water. Did you always intend to create your own contemporary mythology?
I think that the wealth and diversity of vampire myths encourages, indeed compels, you to take the elements that call to you and weave them into something fresh. Remember too, that as I say I didn't come at this idea from being a complete vampire afficionado. I did spend a good amount of time ahead of the first book sifting through various myths and working out which I wanted to play more strongly on than others. I think a very key element of VAMPIRATES is that it is often unclear who are the "goodies" and who are the "baddies". I like this uncertainty. It's certainly not the case in my books that if you are a pirate, you are good and if you are a vampire, you're bad. It comes down to what you will do to satisfy your appetite (whether that appetite is for riches, fame, violence or blood itself) and I suppose how you treat those around you.
Do you have a favourite character from the Vampirates series?
I'm pretty fond of them all really. They're kind of like family to me now. For a long time, my favourite was Sidorio but I think he may just have been eclipsed by Lola because she is so wicked in such a delicious way. I'm also very keen on Johnny and Stukeley. I think Johnny has a hard time of it from fans because Lorcan is so popular with them - I'm on a mission to get them to like Johnny more. And I think Stukeley is a really intriguing character because he's crossed from the pirate side of the story to the Vampirate realm and has allegiances to characters on "both sides". He was originally supposed to come into the story, die in a duel and stay dead but he's definitely lasted the distance. Then again, as I've said before, you couldn't wish for a more trustworthy mate than Bart. This question is too hard. More importantly, I want to know who is YOUR favourite?
[Jenny: Lorcan, of course! :) ]
I love the sea shanty featured in Demons of the Ocean, and often find myself singing it. Was it easy to come up with?
Actually it was. Which is surprising as I am completely unmusical. The shanty really kind of wrote itself in my head while I was immersed in research about pirates and vampires. You may have noticed that there are some other songs and verses in the books. I'm particularly pleased with The Pirate's Prayer which first appears in TIDE OF TERROR - at Jez's funeral - and then again in EMPIRE OF NIGHT. I also like the Vampirate Incantation in the new book. I generally perform the shanty at events (and indeed on my website) but, contrary to rumours, I NEVER sing it. So i'd like to know what tune you've set it to.
Do you have to a lot of research in order to write a Vampirates book, or do you use your own existing knowledge?
I do a steady stream of research. In the early days, it was about getting the big picture stuff right, setting up the architecture of the story and these futuristic (but rather post-apocalyptic) worlds of pirates and Vampirates. That research also helped to shape some of the key characters. For instance, I found out that Julius Caesar was once kidnapped by pirates but escaped and had his captors killed. I plundered this for Sidorio's "origin" story. Similarly, I found out about a Chinese pirate called Cheng I Sao and borrowed some elements of her for Cheng Li. When I came to create Johnny, I initially had in mind a stereotypical blonde-haired, blue-eyed cowboy but my research into cowboys drew me to change him into a vacquero. This, I think, has made him a far more interesting character and much more likely to intrigue Grace who, like me - like all of us I suspect - is intrigued by outsider figures. Aside from developing characters, I generally have Wikipedia on the go, whether I'm researching unusual weaponry, palomino horses, famous chefs or painters - all of which feature in the new book.
Thanks to two very feisty characters, the series appeals to both boys and girls of all ages. Have you had a positive reaction from female readers?
Absolutely and I'm delighted about that. I completely set out to do the girls, as well as the boys, justice. I haven't set out consciously to create role-models but I'm satisfied that it isn't just Grace but Jasmine, Bo Yin, Cate, Cheng Li, Sugar Pie, Trofie, Lola and many others who demonstrate girl-power in the books. I'm also really pleased that the preponderence of strong female characters hasn't proved a turn-off for boy readers. My mail suggests that there's a pretty even split amongst my readers.
Do you have any say in your US/UK cover designs, and do you have a personal preference?
Honest answer is that I have very minimal say and so I tend to just let the publishers get on with it and do what they feel is right for the books in their market. That said, the VAMPIRATES books are published in 34 countries and 24 languages and there are only one or two jackets I'm not keen on. Right now, my favourite three jackets are the UK and US editions of EMPIRE OF NIGHT and the Japanese edition of BLOOD CAPTAIN Volume One. This one has Trofie Wrathe's golden hand emblazoned on it and reminds me of a retro James Bond jacket. It rocks. I think both the UK and US covers for EMPIRE OF NIGHT are suitably dark and brooding which is in complete sympathy with the story inside.
Which books did you like to read as a child?
A very wide range of books including classics like THE SECRET GARDEN (you may have noticed it pops up in BLOOD CAPTAIN), anything by Roald Dahl but especially CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, the NARNIA stories, lashings of Enid Blyton (my fave is called THE BOY NEXT DOOR) and THE HARDY BOYS mysteries. Also a very funny series of books by Helen Cresswell called THE BAGTHORPES SAGA. This deserves a renaissance.
Can you tell us anything about book #6, and what's in store for Grace and Connor?
I can't tell you very much, I'm afraid as I'm really conscious of not spoiling readers' enjoyment before they finish EMPIRE OF NIGHT. I'm currently quite far on in the plotting process and, behind me, my office floor is knee deep in graph paper and coloured post-its as I'm working on my chapter grids. I have tried to make each book in the sequence more exciting and tightly plotted than the one before. So far, I think I've succeeded. Book 6 is going to be a really important one for me as it will tie up a lot of loose ends in the story. It's a bit scary but I have a good feeling about it.
If you could sail the seas with one fictional vampire and one pirate from any form of media, who would you choose and why?
Clearly, I have to stay loyal to my own characters so I'm going to choose Cheng Li as the pirate (not least because I really like her state-of-the-art ship, The Tiger). And, for vampires, I'm going to choose Sidorio. I have a sneaking feeling he and I would get on very well.