Sunday, July 31, 2011

Goodbye Under 14's Only - See you in 2012

July has been an amazing month on MFB.  We got the chance to review a great many great books, we twittered and facebooked about them, we showcased other bloggers, we spoke to librarians and random people about these titles, we handhold books in Foyles to unsuspecting customers and told them about Under 14's Only and we are so proud to have brought less-shouted about books to everyone's attention.

Shockingly, both Sarah and I have still got a truckload of books left over for review that we have not had the chance to get to.  Mark has a stack of reviews saved up as well.  We could easily have double-posted reviews but that defeats the purpose of showcasing a book / author a day, so what we've decided to do is continue reading these titles until they are done, all through August and reviewing them on the site on Saturday/Sunday as the month progresses.

I know in my original blogpost introducing Under 14's Only, I was going to give a box of the books away in a competition.  I lied.  Instead, I am packing all the books reviewed on the site in July, in a box and we are donating it to my friend, Matt Imrie's new library at the new school that's just employed him.  We were all super worried about Matt being made redundant at his local library so when he got this job, we all cheered very loudly.

This is one way for us, as readers and friends, to actually give back to a friend who has such passion for books and getting kids reading.

It is with sadness in our hearts that we say an official goodbye to Under 14's Only for 2011 but we are already planning ahead for July 2012, if the powers of the bloggerverse is with us.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this month - too many to mention - and thank you to my MFB Crew who are always so willing to follow me into insanity.  We'll be back next year with more reviews and interviews highlighting books for younger readers.

Bookzone 4 Boys Recommends: Five Books for Boys

Thank you Liz for asking me to write this, although I have been cursing you over the past week and my list of books has changed almost hourly. I completely agree with what Becky (of The Bookette fame) wrote for MFB the other day when she argued that there are so many great books for the under 14s out there but they can be easily overlooked amidst the constant buzz that goes on for YA titles. These five books are amongst my favourites for the younger age group, although no doubt I will think of five different ones tomorrow. I have tried to go for less obvious choices rather than the series titles I bang on about on The Book Zone whenever a new instalment is released

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

I read this one some time ago, before I started The Book Zone, and it has stuck in my mind ever since. “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities” reads the news paper ad that catches the eye of orphan Reynie Muldoon. His interest suitably piqued Reynie turns up at the time stated and finds himself being set a number of unusual tasks, tests that only he and three other children will pass. These four talented (and decidedly quirky) children soon find themselves going undercover for their recruiter, the Mr Benedict of the book's titles, on a mission to prevent a criminal mastermind from taking over the world. It is easy to say that this story is Dahl-esque, but the comparison can't be helped: it is funny, clever, and as a beedtime reader will have younger readers captivated as they follow the adventures of Reynie and his new friends. Similarly, as with much of Roald Dahl's greatest works this is all about kids versus adults, although at 450+ pages it is a more challenging read than these. Readers just entering their teens will find it a long but ultimately very funny and rewarding read.

Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London by Keith Mansfield

If your boy likes space and science fiction then this is a definite must-read, especially as books for younger readers in this genre seem to be few and far between. Interestingly, when independent publisher Nosy Crow did a survey asking 6-9 year old boys what sort of things they really like, 'Outer Space' came third in the list, which leaves me asking why there aren't more books like Johnny Mackintosh around? This books follows the adventures of, yes you guessed it, Johnny Mackintosh. Johnny's life is not a particularly happy one at the beginning of the story as his mother lies in a deep coma in St Catherine's Hospital for the Criminally Insane and his father is locked away in a high security prison. Despite all of this Johnny is a pretty well-balanced boy, both sporty and intelligent enough to build his own computer, a device that he has programmed to search for signals from outer space. The detection of one such signal soon sees Johnny on the run from aliens, and journeying across the galaxies to strange worlds in search of answers to questions he never dreamed would involve him. This is a superbly written action/adventure story which I really believe could do for space stories what Harry Potter did for tales involving wizards and magic, if only it could find itself into the hands of more young people. If your son likes this book then rejoice as there is a sequel, titled Star Blaze,and the third book in the series, Battle For Earth, is due out at the end of the summer.

Justin Thyme: The Tartan of Thyme by Panama Oxridge

This is a book that I think is pretty darn special, and as with Johnny Mackintosh, I believe it is a book whose popularity would snowball if more kids got their hands on it. I first read it back in 2006, when it was self-published by the enigmatically named Panama Oxridge. For a number of years it was only available to buy second hand, often at silly prices, until newish publisher Inside Pocket released it last year. I still vividly remember the first time I read this book, wowed by its gorgeous packaging and illustrations within, and how I read well into the night, not wanting to put it down until I had finished it. Several readings later and it still hasn't lost its wow factor, and finally a sequel is due in October. Set in a Scottish castle, the story revolves around the titular character Justin Thyme, and his quest to solve a complex whodunit mystery. Littered throughout the story are a plethora of clues, both in the text and the illustrations, placed there by the author to help the reader solve the mystery. Although if, like me, you get so sucked into the story that you forget to look for clues, you may just find yourself reading again more carefully as soon as you have finished it for the first time. To give you an idea of how devious Panama can be, when he did an interview for The Book Zone the first letters of each of his replies to my 15 interview questions spelled "THYME RUNNING OUT", the title of that long awaited sequel. Naturally I spotted this immediately..... NOT! This is a book that will have boys (and girls) entranced for hours, and if you hear them giggling away to themselves they are probably reading about Eliza, a super-intelligent, computer literate gorilla who finds it amusing to go online to chat up boys!

Casper Candlewacks in Death by Pigeon by Ivan Brett

I know I said I would go for less obvious choices, and yes I did review this on The Book Zone earlier this year, but I still want to shout about it, as it is such a hilarious read and several months on it is still one of my favourite reads of 2011. It follows the adventures of Casper Candlewacks, the only person with any amount of intelligence or common sense in the village of Corne-on-the-Cobb. If you son has read and loved the likes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The BFG then I guarantee that he will love this book as well. Whilst not yet as skilled in story-writing as Roald Dahl, this d├ębut offering from Ivan Brett shows so much promise that it is hardly surprising that so many reviewers mention the late, great RD in their reviews of this book. I was going through a somewhat worrying period of blogger-burnout earlier this year, struggling to 'get in to' most books and this was one of two books that cured me and lifted me from that dreadful malaise.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I bet this choice took you by surprise, yet why ignore the classics when choosing books for young people? After all, I have mentioned Roald Dahl more than once in this post but how many young people these days haven't read (or had read to them) his work? Surprising though it may seem I am sure there are many. Treasure Island is one of my all-time favourite books, both as a child reader and now as an adult. It has almost everything a child could ask for in a book: adventure, a quest for buried treasure, fantastic villains, and a boy hero who every child can relate to and would want to be. Hell, I know I wanted to be Jim Hawkins when I first read this book! Word of caution though – this is a book for confident readers as the language can at times be a little difficult, especially during lengthy passages involving lots of dialogue. However, for a book read by an adult to a child there aren't many others that would get my recommendation over this one. This is one of the books that created my life-long love of reading, and it is a book that I will probably read many, many more times throughout my life. I have recently received an e-book called Booksurfers: Treasure Island by David Gatward for my Kindle in which the author has crafted a brand new story that includes hyper-links that take the reader into the original RL Stevenson text – I am intrigued as to how this will work, but if it brings the classic story to the attention of a new generation of readers it can only be a good thing.

Aside from these above mentioned books, if parents were to ask me what they should get their reluctant reader boys as summer reads I would always advise them to buy (or get out from the libary) a few “first in series” books initially, as if they love one they will desperately want to read more. I did this a couple of years ago, buying my godson the first few Percy Jackson books – he devoured them whilst they were on holiday (as did his younger brother and his mother, each waiting patiently in turn) and now he totally loves reading. Series that I would highly recommend are the H.I.V.E. books by Mark Walden (fast-paced, exciting stories following the adventures of the pupils at a school for young super-villains); The Invisible Fiends books by Barry Hutchison (for 9+ boys who prefer their reading to be full of grisly horror you don't get much better than this series); and this may see me accused of stating the obvious, but if you are struggling to get your boys to read and you have not yet tried the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz then get down to your local library now!


Thank you to Liz for asking me to write this for My Favourite Books, I really hope you find some of my ramblings useful in choosing books for your boys to read this summer.


I am just about to retire to my couch with my copy of Treasure Island because I've not read it for the longest time.  Thanks, Darren, for this awesome list of titles!  I am new to almost all of these you've mentioned and am feeling horrified and a bit ill - well, except for Percy Jackson and Alex Rider books, that is. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Barrington Stoke - My Heroes

**warning: long blog post, may require two cups of tea at least**

I am a fan of the Barrington Stoke books.  Barrington Stoke, for those readers who don't know, is a specialised publisher who focusses publishing some fantastic fiction for reluctant readers.

I only came to know of them a little while ago when James Lovegrove emailed me to tell me about this series of books he's been writing for them.  It was called The 5 Lords of Pain and each book, though shorter than the usual published books we get to review, was to be for that elusive demographic, the reluctant reader.  And because I know James, having met him several times, and because I am a fan of his adult military science fiction novels, I said yes, let's give this new thing a try.

And I fell in love. Not just with James' story, that was a given, but also with the whole concept of what Barrington Stoke were doing.

I took some titles with me when I went to visit one of my local primary schools on World Book Day.  I spoke to the kids there about the books and had a lot of interest shown.  Not just by the keen readers, but also from one of the boys who was dyslexic and who hated reading.  In fact, this boy was so charmed by the books I showed them, that when I asked them to write descriptions and stories from the covers they'd seen, and from looking at the story cards from Templar, he came up to read out what he had written.

His teacher was staring at him with open-mouthed amazement and only later told me what a strop he threw earlier that morning when I came in, when he saw that the whole day would be dedicated to writing, storytelling and reading.  These were the things he hated the most and she expected him and his table of friends to give me a lot of hassle.  And strangely, these were the boys who were the most engaged, who fought to read out their stories.  I would like to think it had nothing to do with me, but everything with the fact that they realised that stories and reading was not just the provenance of the clever kids, that there were books and stories out there for them too.  And that there was an entire publisher who focussed on books only for them.

So, back to the books themselves.  I love the look and feel of these books.  I love how tight and vivid the writing has to be and how strong the story lines are. The covers are superbly vibrant and it draws you in.  The stories themselves run the gamut from action adventure in contemporary settings with a twist of fantasy, to gritty realistic stories with very real troubled teens and recognisable moral dilemmas.  Looking at their list of titles online, they have a bit of everything for everyone, with some superb authors writing for them:

Anthony McGowan
Jim Eldridge
James Lovegrove
Bali Rai
EE Richardson
Theresa Breslin
Kevin Brooks name but a few.  The overall list is long and extensive and honestly, I want them all. But the best part is, although I am concentrating on books for kids in this blogpost, Barrington Stoke also does books for adults.  And that is something I think that sets them apart from other publishers.  I will definitely be looking in on these adult titles too and report back, for sure!

In the meantime I'm focussing on the handful of titles Barrington Stoke sent me for review for Under 14s Only month.

Here they are:

Aren't they just gorgeous looking?

As I am a new fan of Bali Rai's (I know, I am behind the times) I read The Gun first.

When Jonas finds a gun on the estate, something makes him keep it.  Worse still, he shows his friends. Big mistake. 

Binny's OK, but Kamal's a bit crazy.  Once he starts flashing the gun around the estate, it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.  And it's Jonas who'll have to pay. 

The Gun is a short, sharp stab in your heart.  Taking no shortcuts, not dollying it up, it tells the story over a handful of days, of how Jonas' life goes from relatively okay to something awful  It opens up in a police station, with the policeman asking Jonas to tell them everything that happened.  And Jonas does, right through from how they were standing outside the local kebab shop when they heard gunshots, to him picking up the backpack with the gun in it, that the shooters tried to hide away, to how he stupidly tells his friends Binny and Kamal and the trouble they have with the kids from the other estate and how things go completely wild.

Super short chapters set the scene with spare prose and strong dialogue.  Jonas is a boy we all recognise, and so is his family life, with a mum always working and a sweet but mouthy sister who is far too clever for her own good.

The story doesn't pull any punches, showing the brutality of life on an estate run by gangs and how one choice can completely mess up your life.  A great, sharp vivid story, accompanied by a note from the author, telling us how he came up with the story and why he chose the characters he chose and why it panned out the way it did.

The book itself, as an object, feels good in the hands - matte cream paper with a larger than average font, shorter than usual chapters, I sped through the story with easy, liking the spacing of the words on the page. The story made me feel like I watched a rather excellent tv-show that wasn't preachy, but stark in its reality.  A great read.

The Fall by Anthony McGowan 

Two's company.  Three's a crowd.  One has got to go. 

Mog might be a loser, but he's not as much of a loser as Duffy.  So when Duffy tries to get in with Mog's best mate, Mog decides to take action.  But when he lands Duffy in The Beck, the rancid stream behind the school, Mog has no idea how far the ripples will spread. 

The Fall is told retrospectively from Mog's point of view as an older man.  He introduces us to his best mate, Chris Rush, who was a cool kid, a bit dangerous to know, but one of those charismatic characters we all knew or know in school.  Mog enjoyed hanging around with Chris but when Chris started paying attention to the loser, Duffy, Mog decides the best way to take care of it is to embarrass Duffy so much that he'd not want to be their mate any more.  Mog gets away with it, treating Duffy really badly and that is the turning point in his and Chris' relationship.  Things become edgier, angrier and when they steal Chris's brother's crossbow things get out of hand and Mog acts in a truly reprehensible way.

I enjoyed the story, but I reacted negatively to it the most as I couldn't quite wrap my mind around what Mog does in the end.  I understand why it was written the way it was, but I felt that Mog's character does nothing to redeem himself and it left me feeling sad.

Like The Gun, The Fall has short, punchy chapters and is printed on creamy off-white paper.  There is lots of space on the page, which is great as it didn't feel like an intimidating read at all. I liked that there was a sticker on the cover to indicate "dyslexia friendly" and that the sticker could be pulled off with ease by the reader or giver.

Bomb by Jim Eldridge (I only read my first Jim Eldridge earlier this year, which was a Western for kids, and LOVED it.  I love his prose and think he does some great writing for younger readers)

The clock is ticking...

Rob's a top bomb disposal expert.  He has to defuse a bomb in a school before it's too late.  Can he do it? 

Holy smokes! This one was tense.  The story starts with a Top Secret memo telling us what's going on - who Rob is, what the situation is (where the bomb was placed within a local school and that the terrorist had demanded a ransom which, if not met, would cause the bomb to explode) and who Rob was.

At only 19, Rob was one of the youngest bomb disposal squad members but he has a great track record.  MI5 sent him as he was young enough to be a cleaner, a disguise in order to fool the bomber should he be watching the school.  Rob finds the bomb in the basement and quickly realises that this is the same style of bomb that had killed a good friend of his...but Rob couldn't for the life of him remember the sequence his friend had gone through, when cutting the wires.  Illustrated by Dylan Gibson, we are shown what Rob looks like, what the bomb looks like and how fast the time is running out.

I liked that Rob was an older boy, that he had advance so far in his young life and that he was this competent.  And although I am a big Jim Eldridge fan, I did find a few of the paragraphs to be a bit too short and choppy, but, having said that, it did serve to drive the tension higher.

The Mountain's Blood by Lari Don 

Inanna's bored of being the goddess of love - how dull! When a volcano begins to make her people's lives a misery she decides to take it on. None of her brothers will help her so she faces it single-handedly, and her victory inspires her to become the goddess of war. Thrilling re-telling of an ancient Sumerian myth.

I laughed so much when I opened this one to read.  Inanna is such a great character - deeply spoiled, stubborn and a born hero.  When she is landed with the title of Goddess of Love, she goes off in a huff, riding her chariot across the sky, pulled by her blue bulls.  She's in a huff because she thinks being the Goddess of Love means she can't use her mad weapon skills and especially her axe.  A girl after my own heart.  Yet, as she travels the skies she sees how the people love her, how they are prospering and her heart grows warm with love, until she spots the disagreeable mountain that's sprung up from nowhere.  She demands that it obey her and leave the area, but the mountain refuses to budge.

Angered by its insolence, she decides to plead with it in a suitably goddess-like way, but no joy.  She resorts to pleading with all the other gods but gets nowhere.  No one is keen to help her out.  Inanna dons her armour and all her weapons and decides to fight the mountain until it submits.  Perfect!

The story is a retailing of an age-old Summerian myth and at the back of the book there is a brief write-up from Inanna herself, about the story, giving some information about Summeria.

The Mountain's Blood is beautifully illustrated by Paul Duffield.

Next up is The Jaws of Death by Malachy Doyle

Kwang-su must embark on a perilous journey so that he can marry Ling-Ling. He must cross monster-infested rivers and outwit the powerful genii that live on the mountain-top. With a little help from some magic gifts, he manages to return home in time to save Ling-Ling from marrying an old mandarin. Action packed re-telling of an ancient Chinese myth.

This is the first time I've read this myth and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Beautifully illustrated by Nana Li, The Jaws of Death gives us a strong and intelligent young hero, Kwang-su, who is given a series of tasks to perform by an old woman, the mother of the young girl he's fallen in love with.  As with all these myths of strength, intelligence and riddles, the hero overcomes the obstacles in his way to cleverly win the day.  It is very well written with some great descriptions and the hero uses not only his martial arts skills, but also his intelligence to succeed in completing his tasks, showing us how he matures from boy with some martial skills, to that of a young man who thinks and plans to overcome his enemies and obstacles.

I've left the larger The Lord of Fire by James Lovegrove for last.  This is the last book in The 5 Lords of Pain sequence and it is a humdinger.

Tom Yamada must fight the demon Lords of Pain in a series of duels called the Contest - with the whole world at stake. Tom's defeated four powerful demons. Now he must face the ultimate test. The Lord of Fire - the most powerful demon of them all. If Tom loses, the world will burn...

Fifth and final book in a brand new Barrington Stoke series.

Cleverly, because this is the fifth book in the series, when you open TLoF, the first thing you find is the link to the official Five Lords of Pain website, but also a "The Story so Far" catch-up which is a mere 2 pages long.

Written in a concise way, we are shown how much Tom's grown through the progress of the five books.  He is no longer the very young innocent and inexperienced boy.  He is older, sturdier, tougher and an a far more experienced fighter.  We know he has to face up to fighting the final Lord of Pain and the summons to the combat comes far sooner than anticipated.  It also turns out that the final battle will be against someone whom he thought he could trust, who taught him his martial skills and who acted as a father towards him.

The battle lines are drawn when the place of battle is revealed: Canterbury Cathedral.  As the story progresses and Tom realises he needs help, we are treated to some great introspective moments.  He's come such a long way and takes great care in preparing himself for the battle to come.  He turns to his family for support and he comes to realise that the battle is not to be a battle of revenge, but by finishing this contest, and winning, he will literally save the world.

The 5 Lords of Pain books are so much fun.  They are written with great skill by a fantastic storyteller who loves these yarns.  Sometimes you can just tell when you read something that the author is having an absolute blast writing the story.  I'd say that out of the six books reviewed here, The Lord of Fire would be aimed at the slightly more advanced reader and it may be for someone who likes to be challenged, especially as the pay-off at the end of the book is so great.  There are Japanese words and terms dotted throughout the novel, but at the end of the book, there is a section where these are explained.  I found that they didn't hinder my understand of the story, but enhanced it, making me feel very much part of the story.


These titles are all a mixture of old and new titles from Barrington Stoke.  I honestly cannot recommend them enough.  Fun, entertaining and well written reads that are told for entertainment sake, is rare enough.  But books aimed at getting reluctant readers reading is even more valuable, especially when they are reading for fun.  And let's not forget that yes, we have to read for work and school, but reading for fun is even more important. 

A massive thanks to Barrington Stoke for allowing me to gab on about a handful of their titles only.  These books are very special to me as reader and reviewer as I feel a kinship with those reluctant readers these books are aimed at.  I had a nephew who was a reluctant reader, due to dyslexia, and I think that had these books been around at school at the time he was growing up, they could have changed his world.  I now have a very sweet but reluctant reader grand-nephew who is a bit hyperactive, yet will sit down and listen to books read to him and his baby sister Michaela, who will be getting a stack of these for Christmas back in South Africa. Who knows, I may make readers and writers out them both! 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Top tips for young writers by Jack Heath

I've not had a chance to write up my review for Jack Heath's novel Money Run (we've run out of days in July).  So I've checked out Bookzone's blog and there is a superb review which I'm linking here, to give you an idea of who Jack is and why he's written this blogpost for MFB.

I am a big fan of writing advice - I have a lot of books on them and so make sure that whenever I talk to published writers and do Q&A's with them, I make sure to ask that question: what is your advice for aspiring writers?  When Liz, a freelance PR person asked me to be part of Jack's blogtour with Usborne, I said yes, on one condition; he tells us about his writing and the subsequent article is the result.  I am such a slave driver!

I started writing my first book at the age of thirteen, mostly to impress a girl. I discovered two things – one: that doesn't work. Two: writing is addictive. Four years later I was shoving a complete manuscript into an envelope, scrawling the address of a publisher on the front, and pushing the package through the slot of a mailbox. Eighteen months after that, I was wearing a borrowed suit, watching the girl's father (himself a well-known writer and academic) give a speech at my first book launch.

In the weeks that followed, I was often asked what advice I would give to young writers. I rarely knew what to say. But now, five books later, I think I have the necessary distance to see the things I did right – and the things I did wrong.

Tip 1: Start ASAP
Literally hundreds of people have told me that they want to write a book someday. But if you're the sort of person who puts “someday” into that sentence, chances are you'll never get around to it. If you want to be a musician, you need an instrument, if you want to be a film-maker, you need a camera. These people have an excuse not to start right away. Writers don't – because all you need is a pen, some paper, and an idea. (Bonus tip: Any of those things can be stolen.)

Tip 2: Experiment
This is something I wish I'd done more when I had the chance. Once you're published, it's hard to try new things because you don't want to stray too far from the expectations of your audience. So as a young, unpublished writer, you should seize the opportunity. Come up with as many similes as you can, and see which ones you like. Try out weird voices, like second-person and future-tense. Switch the gender of every character and see how it changes the story. (I guarantee that the men will react differently to the discovery that they're pregnant.)

Tip 3: Don't fantasise
It's tempting to give your protagonist money, fame, looks – everything you've ever wanted. But that's not the makings of a good book. In fact, the happier the life of your hero, the less conflict there is in the story. Instead, focus on taking away the things people depend upon, like safety, or love. And if you do give your protagonist advantages, make sure they come at a terrible cost. Remember, Harry Potter was only rich because his parents were murdered. Dorian Gray was only handsome because of the portrait in his attic.

Tip 4: Put yourself in the character's shoes
Nothing alienates readers faster than characters who make decisions which don't make sense. So with every action your protagonist takes and every word which comes out of her mouth, ask yourself this: If you were in her position, and had her upbringing, would you have done that? If not, you'll have to change the action, or change her back story, or both.

This applies to the villains, too. You probably wouldn't strangle a bunch of puppies, but in order to write a convincing character who does, you'll have to imagine the circumstances under which you might. (Bonus tip: If there's any maniacal laughter in your book, you probably haven't thought enough about the villain's motivations.)

Tip 5: You are your own target audience
To write well, you have to love writing. To write really well, you have to love reading too. The tricky part is separating the two desires. Work out what your favourite books are, and why. Think about your least favourite books, and what you didn't like about them. When you've finished a draft, do a bit of role-playing. Print it out, put it on a bookshelf, and pretend you're in a bookshop. Pick it up and read the blurb – see if the premise grabs your interest. Read the first page and decide if you want to know what happens next enough to make a purchase. After you've paid your imaginary money, sit down on the couch and read it. Make a note of every time you get bored, because that bit needs work.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't write the book you want to write. Write the book you'd want to read.

These are such great - honest and heartfelt - bits of advice.  Thanks so much, Jack. I feel super inspired to plot and plan my new novel after I've edited my current one into shape.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst


It's Lulu's birthday and she's decided she'd like a pet brontosaurus as a present. But when Lulu's parents tell her that's not possible, Lulu gets very upset. She does not like it when things don't go her way. So taking matters into her own hands Lulu storms off into the forest to find herself a new pet, all the way singing:
I'm gonna, I'm gonna, I'm gonna, gonna, get
a bronto-bronto-bronto-bronto-saurus for a pet!

In the forest Lulu encounters a number of animals: a snake, a tiger, a bear, all of whom don't particularly impress her. And then she finds him... a beautiful, long-necked, gentle, graceful brontosaurus. And he completely agrees with Lulu that having a pet would be a wonderful thing indeed! Lulu thinks she's finally got her birthday wish. Until she realises that Mr Brontosaurus thinks that she would make an ideal pet for him!

How will Lulu ever get out of this sticky situation without throwing a fit (Mr B does not respond well to those), or using force (Mr B is much too tall to bonk on the head with her suitcase), or smushing her sandwich?

This book was begging to be read. Slightly taller than a regular sized book it literally stands out from the rest. Packed with wonderful illustrations by Lane Smith this chapter book for ages five and up would encourage even the reluctant reader. Lulu is introduced to us as a little girl who gets her own way by kicking and screaming until her parents relent. They give way on everything until Lulu decides that for her birthday she'd like a brontosaurus for a pet. For the first time her parents say no - and keep on saying it. When Lulu realises that she can't change their minds she heads off into the forest to find one for herself. Her parents put the kettle on for a cup of tea and forget all about her.

This is what I loved about this book - it's quite irreverent. Lulu's parents, rather than tearing out their hair at the loss of Lulu, have tea and biscuits whilst enjoying the quiet. And who can blame them? Prior to this Lulu's favourite comment to her parents when she didn't get her way is, "Foo on you," which is so brilliant I may start using it in everyday conversation. As Lulu makes her way through the forest she meets all kinds of animals that want to eat her, or squash her for making so much noise. Her response is to, "bonk," them on the head with her suitcase or stomp on their feet.

When she finally meets her Brontosaurus they have a difference of opinion and Lulu begins to understand how awful she's been to her parents. But the best part of the book is the alternate endings. The narrator speaks directly to the reader throughout the book (or breaks the fourth wall, depending on what you prefer) which I enjoyed and didn't find obtrusive. This technique came into its own during the alternate endings part as the reasons for each is explained. The reader is encourage to choose their favourite ending which range from bitter sweet to hilarious. Such a funny and beautiful little book.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Review - Milo and the Restart Button by Alan Silberberg

I knew right away that Milo and the Restart Button by Alan Silberberg would make me cry and it did. But it's also funny and fun and entertaining and I enjoyed every single page and illustration! While it did contain a rather sad storyline, the novel doesn't ever feel weighed down by it or depressing. Told from Milo's perspective, it also could have been a lot more emotionally manipulative and drawn-out, but instead it's very sweet and sad and a really gentle story of friendship and memory and of loss.

Milo is such a wonderful character. Nearly 13, and he's starting out at a new school in a new house. He think he's got a weird name and he can be a bit awkward around girls and his other classmates. Telling his story, he includes all these fantastic little drawings to help better explain how he's feeling or showing us the different houses he's lived in and this cool alter-ego, Dabney St. Clare, that he's created for himself. They vary from qutie small to full-page illustrations and really break up the text and possibly to maintain interest (as well as laughs!) for any reluctant readers.

I think what struck me the most from Milo's story (besides his great sense of humour) is that of accepting both the good along with the bad. Because when Milo's mother died, a restart button was pushed, one that helped to erase some of the sadness and the grief that Milo and his dad and sister were all feeling. They've gotten rid of photos and mementoes that remind them all of her and as a family they never speak of her. It's a fresh start in all things. But with the help of some new friends and a rather eccentric neighbour, Milo begins to question the wisdom of that restart button and finally comes to terms with how different his life is and what he'd like to remember of life before.

Honestly, there are some bits to the story that really made my heart ache for poor Milo. The book covers a year in his life and especially at each major holiday, Christmas for example, we can see how broken his family has become, how they've drifted apart in their grief. But while acknowledging these things, Milo, being a not-quite teenage boy, also has other things to focus on, like his obsessive crush on a popular and unattainable girl at school and hanging out with his best friends watching movies and eating pizza. I do find the balance between the sad and funny as well as the grieving and moving forward was done really well.

Alan Silberberg wrote a really touching and emotional story here and I am really glad to have read it.


The above review was brought to MFB via Fluttering Butterflies.  Fluttering Butterflies is run by "Clover" (Michelle to her non-online friends) whom I met for the first time, face to face, this year at the Penguin press event.  We hit it off and I check in on Fluttering Butterflies regularly as there is always interesting content and booky blogs about pretty shiny books we all want.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Guest Review - Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones

Recurring visitor, friend and all-round cool guy, Darren from Bookzone for Boys and I share a love for all things action and adventure and thrillers.  We also have a deep shared fondness of Diana Wynne Jones so when in turn offered to review her most recent boo, we jumped at the chance.  Here is Darren, as part of Under 14's Only, chatting to us about Earwig and the Witch.


Diana Wynne Jones

Since I started The Book Zone I have been incredibly fortunate to meet some fantastic authors whose work I have loved. It is always wonderful to see how passionate they are bout their work and about encouraging kids to read. However, for me there will always be a few regrets in my world of reading, mostly related to the authors I have loved but because they are no longer with us I will never get to meet and tell them how much I loved their work. Roald Dahl is the most obvious example, but on 26 March 2011 another much loved author also joined this list, much to the great sadness of her legions of fans worldwide. I am of course talking about the legendary Diana Wynne Jones, whose Howl's Moving Castle and Castle In The Air both rank amongst my all-time favourite fantasy stories. I therefore jumped at the chance when I was contacted by Tiffany at HarperCollins asking if I would like to review Earwig and the Witch, the last book Diana wrote before passing away.

The blurb:

Everyone knows that orphanages are horrible places. But Earwig has a surprising amount of power over everyone else at St Morwald’s Home for Children, and loves it there. So the last thing she wants is to be sent to live with the very strange Bella Yaga…

Earwig was left at St Morwald's as a baby. Unlike the other children, she loves it there, mostly because she has the run of the place and seems to be able to persuade people to do as she wants. Then one day Earwig is chosen to live with a very strange couple: Bella Yaga, her new 'mother', is actually a horrible witch. Earwig will need all her ingenuity (and some help from a talking cat) to survive…

Earwig and the Witch is classic Diana Wynne Jones, although it is written for a younger audience than the two books I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Compared to these it is a short story (140 pages with largish text and line spacing) that would have great appeal to the 7+ age range as a self-reader who for slightly younger children as a bedtime book read by a parent. Short though it may be it is still nothing short of wonderful and it still contains many of the DWJ traits we have come to know and love: a clever, resourceful protagonist; quirky, interesting characters; lashings of mystery and magic; and humour that will make you and your child giggle incessantly. The story is also accompanied by the beautiful (and equally quirky) illustrations of Marion Lindsay, images that in my opinion capture that tone of the story perfectly.

Earwig has lived in St Morwald's Home for Children ever since she was left on its doorstep as a baby, with the following rather unusual note to explain her abandonment:

“Got the other twelve witches all chasing me. I'll be back for her when I've shook them off. It may take years. Her name is Earwig.”

Differing from many orphanages in children's fiction, St Morwald's has been a very happy place for Earwig to grow up in, although this is in no small part to her seeming ability to get the people around her to do exactly as she says. She likes it so much there that whenever it was the day when people who wanted to be foster parents came to visit the orphanage Earwig would somehow manage to make herself very “unlovable”, and avoid being chosen for fostering. Until the day that Bella Yaga the witch, and her creepy companion Mandrake come calling, and without any hesitation decide to take Earwig home with them. So begins the greatest challenge of Earwig's life so far as she must find a way of exerting her control over this sinister and darkly magical couple.

I would not be surprised if this helps book helps to create a new generation of Diana Wynne Jones fans as those who read it grow up and seek out more of her classic works.

I feel a little mean in that I have one small criticism of this book though, and that is simply that it is that the ending comes around far too soon, and seems a little rushed. I am left wondering whether it was originally intended to be a series or part of a volume of short stories featuring Earwig, especially as that note that was attached to her when she was left on the steps of the orphanage seems to suggest that there could have been a wonderful back-story for Earwig to discover in the future. That one small (and admittedly selfish) gripe aside, this book would make a wonderful present for a child, both because of its story and its beautiful cover and illustrations.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Guest Review - Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Viv da Costa is the owner of Serendipity Reviews.  She pretends to be a badass but she's not really.  Instead she is lovely and kind and knows me far too well.  When I asked her to review something from her bookshelf for Under 14s Only she got a twinkle in her eye and offered me Ella Enchanted as she knows how much I love fairytale reworkings.  I have my own copy of Ella Enchanted and I know a movie was made out of the book, but I've not read it or watched the movie.  Which I will do, especially now that I've read Viv's review of the book.

Opening lines

That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant to bestow a gift. When I cried inconsolably through my first hour of life, my tears were her inspiration. Shaking her head sympathetically at Mother, the fairy touched my nose. ‘My gift is obedience. Ella will always be obedient. Now stop crying, child.’

I stopped.

If only Lucinda had not been so foolish, Ella would not be cursed with continuous obedience. Ella tries so hard to stop the curse from taking hold of her and attempts such defiance it makes her ill with each attempt. As more people surrounding her begin to realise she will do anything she is told to do, life becomes unbearable for Ella. Ella must find a way to break the curse so that she can lead a normal life again.

Ella Enchanted is a humorous and entertaining retelling of Cinderella. I almost felt like the old fairy tale and had been whipped up into a whirlwind with hilarious scenes being sucked into it, producing an adorable new version of the story to entertain the modern children of today.

Oh how I loved Ella. She is just such a wonderfully warm hearted character with the greatest sense of humour ever. Anyone else afflicted with such a curse would be fleeing to the forest in search of a new life as a recluse, yet Ella just keeps attempting to fight the curse, even though with each attempt life becomes just that little bit more unbearable. You can see straight away why the Prince would be interested in Ella, as she such a breath of fresh air, in comparison to the other girls in the court. She almost glimmers on the page with her spirited sense of adventure.

Lucinda’s continuous path of destruction had me in hysterics. She is so unaware of all the damage she causes with all her so called ‘gifts’ that it isn’t until she experiences them herself that she realises how damaging her own goodness really is.

The humorous scenes just keep on flowing throughout the story and you find yourself sniggering away at the daft incidents that occur. The quirky secondary characters make the book so entertaining. I am not sure who I loved the most – the ogres or the ugly step sisters!

Normally I don’t like to see the film version before I have read the book, however this is one of my daughter’s favourite films, so I didn’t have a choice. Though on reading the book, I found I loved the printed version of the story so much more and I wished they had not changed it so drastically for the film.

I loved this book and would highly recommend it to adults and children to read. By the end of the book, I can guarantee that you come away feeling so happy and contended at such an adorable read. This book definitely brightened my day. This book is a comfort read that will be enjoyed over and over again for years to come.

I would recommend this to readers aged 9+.

What a fab write-up! I also realised that I've got a copy of Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine...I feel a fairy tale readathon coming on.  Thanks Viv for visiting us at MFB.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Five Titles for 14+ Girls and Boys Wanting to Move onto Adult Genre Fiction

Thanks so much to our friend Amanda from Floor to Ceiling Books Blog who agreed to write this article for MFB about books she'd recommend to readers who would like to move into adult genre fiction - specifically science fiction and fantasy:


So... You’ve exhausted the YA section. You’re looking for a new challenge and to spread your wings into the world of adult fiction. You want something that is exciting and fresh and introduces you to the wider world of books available. Let’s see what I can do for you!

1) Spellwright – Blake Charlton

Blake Charlton’s novel Spellwright is a neat little fantasy story, concerning Nicodemus Weal. Here is a brief description: Imagine a world in which you could peel written words off a page and make them physically real. You might pick your teeth with a sentence fragment, protect yourself with defensive paragraphs, or thrust a sharply-worded sentence at an enemy’s throat.

Such a world is home to Nicodemus Weal, an apprentice at the wizardly academy of Starhaven. Because of how fast he can forge the magical runes that create spells, Nicodemus was thought to be the Halcyon, a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent an event called the War of Disjunction, which would destroy all human language. There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn’t spell.

Runes must be placed in the correct order to create a spell. Deviation results in a “misspell”—a flawed text that behaves in an erratic, sometimes lethal, manner. And Nicodemus has a disability, called cacography, that causes him to misspell texts simply by touching them.

Charlton writes a protagonist that is warm and believable – with a disability that will feel incredibly familiar to anyone with dyslexia (something that the author, himself, suffers from). The story itself is intense and exciting, and is perfect for anyone who has read such authors as J K Rowling, Cornelia Funke and C S Lewis. It’s a great step into adult fantasy.

2) Birds of Prey – Wilbur Smith

Birds of Prey is a novel crackling with excitement, pirates, sea battles and filled with an extraordinary cast of characters. It is an adventure story that showcases the period of the 17th Century, when the mighty naval war between the English and the Dutch was still raging. This would be an ideal step forward for anyone who had enjoyed historical YA, or picked up Justin Somper’s Vampirates trilogy.

3) Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Now, you might already have tackled some Neil Gaiman novels – perhaps Coraline, or Anansi Boys, or The Graveyard Book. Neverwhere is one of his imaginative adult books – telling a tale about a London that lies beneath the Underground, a place of magic and dreams and nightmares. Check out this blurb: Richard Mayhew is a young businessman who is about to find out more than he bargained for about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his safe and predictable life and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and yet utterly bizarre. There's a girl named Door, an Angel called Islington, an Earl who holds Court on the carriage of a Tube train, a Beast in a labyrinth, and dangers and delights beyond imagining ... And Richard, who only wants to go home, is to find a strange destiny waiting for him below the streets of his native city. Does that not make you desperate to run out and buy the book and start reading immediately? It’s a sort of adult The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – a person who finds another world and become immersed in adventures within it.

4) Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

Here you have a science fiction suggestion. This novel might be old (published in 1985!) but it is very, very good. It won a heap of awards, but, more importantly, it told a fantastic story about war beliefs and using computer networks to forge anonymity. The youthful protagonists are incredibly easy to relate to, and you will marvel at the events that overcome them. This one is great for those who adored Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, and are looking for something with a more adult flavour.

5) The Little Country – Charles de Lint

This is pretty much my favourite novel of all time – and I picked it up to read on the first occasion when I was just fourteen. It is a virtually perfect book; someone described it as the equivalent of a “literary hug” and I think that is the best description I have heard! It tells the story of folk musician Janey Little, who finds a mysterious manuscript in an old trunk in her grandfather's cottage, and is swept into a dangerous realm both strange and familiar. Her tale is interspersed with that of Jodi, who is exploring the world of the Smalls – do they really exist? Charles de Lint writes modern fairytales – if you’ve loved the 13 Treasures trilogy by Michelle Harrison, then you will adore The Little Country.

This is a superb list from Amanda - thanks so much!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Timeriders by Alex Scarrow - And Overview

I managed to bully fellow thriller and crime and historical fan, Kate Atherton, into writing an overview of Alex Scarrow's TimeRiders for our Under 14's Only feature.  Apart from Darren, over at Bookzone 4 Boys, I have not yet met another more utter rabid fan of Mr. Scarrow's books than Kate;  to the extent where Kate's sheer force of will and love for these books, makes me want to stop reading everything I'm reading to indulge in these.  That is the power of word of mouth and good imaginative writing!  I suspect August will be the month I tackle these titles.

Three teens are given a choice in the seconds before their death – choose life and become a member of an agency so secret no-one knows its name or die for sure. But this is no normal life that they’re offered. All three will live locked within a time bubble, lodged under an arch in New York City during the two days of 10 and 11 September 2001. Their job is to watch for timewaves and ripples; evidence that something has happened to alter the past and so change the present. When that occurs, they must go back in time and fix it. So Liam (Titanic 1912), Maddy (plane crash 2010) and Sal (fire 2029) are recruited by the old man Foster and joined by a seven-foot support unit, Bob, an artificial intelligence and a killing machine that they have grown in a tube within their bubble.

Those are the bare bones of Alex Scarrow’s TimeRiders series. Four books have now been published (the last, The Eternal War, just a few days ago) but there are five more to come and each is mapped out, just as Scarrow knows exactly how long each book in the series will take. He charts the percentage of the book done as he writes. There is no limit to what Scarrow can do with this series of adventures. The world is literally his oyster. No allowance is made for a teen readership other than less swearing. No punches are pulled in the subject either. Terrorism, Nazis, gruesome time travelling mutations, executions, zombies, Stalin gulags, grotesque monsters and brutal robots are all hurled at our young heroes as they try to unpick time and put it right, with no certainty that they will ever make it home. Perhaps more frighteningly, sometimes the worst threat they face comes from their fellow human beings.

What makes these stories particularly compelling is not just the action and the pace, and each novel races along, but that many of the ‘baddies’ believe they are doing the right thing by the human race by shifting time from its present course. The world of the mid 21st century, with its piles of abandoned cars in Time Square and the flooding cities, is far from perfect.

The four novels develop the characters of Liam, Maddy, Sal and Bob – and Bob’s female equivalent Becks created for the second novel Day of the Predator – and it is each of these people who draw you in. It’s impossible not to feel for these youngsters, ripped in most cases from their families, and thrown into new times out of the most terrifying circumstances. They feel an excitement and thrill at each immersion in a time or place so far removed from their 2001 bubble but it’s always clear that their task not only ages them but it can also come very close to killing them. Once any of them have been immersed in a water tank and sent into the past, it is difficult to get them back. Windows open and close until, finally, if they miss the last opportunity six months down the line, the agent is instructed to kill Bob or Becks and retrieve their core of knowledge – their heads.

This six month period feels like a few hours to those in the 2001 time bubble trying to bring them back, but, for those lost in time, it means many days of trying to survive. Liam experiences weeks, even months in prison camps (Book 1), in prehistory stalked by dinosaurs (Book 2), fighting noble and bandit in the medieval forests of Nottingham (Book 3, The Doomsday Code) and, in the latest novel, battling to end the interminable American Civil War. And when they do finally make it back, they must watch the 9/11 disaster unfold every other day, relentlessly.

The characters that the teens encounter as they travel through time are wonderfully realised in their own right, whether they’re dinosaurs realising the possibility of their intelligence, medieval princes who are caught in a situation they cannot control and are aware that history will curse them or just everyday people who are caught out of their own time and have to be put back.

There are clues that connect the stories together and there are things to look out for (keep an eye on the shop where the heroes buy their clothes for their time travels). Other names pop up more than once and with them dire warnings of ‘The End’. It’s clear that as the books progress we will learn more about what that means.

What is the agency? Who is Foster? What is the significance of the teddy bear? What is the secret message trapped in Becks’ head? These questions and many others, along with the people who ask them, make Alex Scarrows’ TimeRiders a fascinating and riveting series of novels. The action never lets up and neither does the insight into the characters. Truly horrifying worlds are presented and yet the affection we feel for our teen warriors lightens the darkest moments and keeps us reading page after page and book after book.

This is the link to the superb TimeRiders website.  And this is Kate's (you star, thanks for the review) website where she reviews a great selection of books.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

David by Mary Hoffman - Blog Tour

When I met up with Mary last year at a book launch, I had the chance to talk to her about her "next book" and was super excited when I heard about her writing the story of the boy/man behind Michelangelo's David. 

I love Mary's historical novels and I know Sarah is always very excited about Mary's Stravaganza novels, so we are definite fans of the author. 

But I had my doubts before tackling David.  I was wondering if the statue which I do love, which had always seemed so distant, so aloof, needed to have its story told.   Of course I needn't have worried and trusted in Mary's very capable hands.

We meet Gabriele, milkbrother to Michelangelo, when he moves from his small village to the larger more prosperous, Florence. He travels there to become a stone-cutter but on his first night, he is robbed and welcomed into the arms of Clarice, an aristocratic lady of means.  Gabriele left behind his sweetheart Rosalia and we see that he is perhaps a bit fickle and easily led astray by how easily he succumbs to Clarice's charms. 

It is only when Michelangelo returns from a trip away, that Gabriele leaves Clarice's arms and goes to live with the artist. Through Gabriele we are introduced to the artist he calls Angelo.  Angelo's character is intense, obsessive and a bit paranoid and possessive about his creative work.  He takes this large piece of marble and works on it with a wild energy, carving this vision of the young David, having conquered Goliath. 

Angelo works on the statue's carving for two years and during these two years, Gabriele, the face of David, goes through this tremendous character arc, changing from a rather backwards young man who becomes comfortable with his good looks, he finds a cause and he becomes a thoughtful young man who learns far more about himself than he probably thought he ever would. 

I found that the novel was written, as always with Mary, with a great sense of style and grace.  Her attention to detail is incredible.  It feels like, should you rub your hands or you face you will come away with a dusting of marble powder.  If you walk down the road, you will come across a well dressed young noble dressed in elegant clothes, who may give you a sly and cheeky smile.  

I hesitate to recommend this for younger readers as the themes are quite mature, so I think it is definitely appropriate for the upper and older age range of our Under 14's Only age group and older.   And it is a must read for anyone who has an interest in art. 

Find Mary's website here. 

Edited to add: Apologies to Mary and Bloomsbury for this - Blogger ate the review and refused to set it live.  I had to copy it across, delete it twice and resave it ... it was a nightmare, BUT I hope the MFB blogtour stop was worth it. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Gorilla Adventure by Willard Price

Hal and Roger Hunt head off for another challenging mission- this time to search for gorillas deep in the Congo jungle. But when the boys stumble across the evil trade in baby gorillas, someone seems determined to silence them once and for all..

While Gorilla Adventure is part of the Adventure series, it's essentially a standalone story that can be read either on it's own or as part of the series. First published in 1969, Gorilla Adventure is part of a classic tradition of stories from the golden age of adventure, before the world and the magic of uncharted territories was googled into extinction.

The story sees brothers Hal and Roger Hunt being sent on a mission into the Congo by their wildlife collecting father. Their purpose? To capture a series of rare and exotic animals and bring them home to be sold to zoos and conservatories, with the prize specimen on their list being a highland gorilla from the deepest jungle, a concept which in today's eco-conscious world seems utterly bizarre and quite shocking. But, written in the era that it was, no great fuss is made on this point, and while Hal and Roger's attitude seems disconcertingly mercenary at first, as the story progresses and the come up against the ugly truth of the impact of poaching a distinctly pro-conservation message comes through which makes them far more sympathetic and likeable.

The story itself is a rolling catalogue of the stars of the African jungle interspersed with a cast of supporting characters drawn in broad brush strokes, who are really only there to support Hal and Roger as they stumble across a increasingly fantastic array of the rarest animals. Price, however, presents his menagerie in a way that makes you want to plan a safari, or at least a day trip out to a decent zoo, which more than makes up for it.

An unfortunate by-product of portraying the brothers as cool headed, larger than life adventurers though is that they come across as too cool, that the wondrous animals that seem to be all but throwing themselves at their feet are all a a bit ho-hum and to be expected. This persists with some of challenges thrown at them, and while I could live with this, the one example of this that jarred me from the story was when Roger is hit in the eyes by a spitting cobra. Rather than be incapacitated by this, he proceeds to first suck the venom from a colleague's snake bite, administer an anti-venom serum to the hapless man, and then capture said cobra in a sack before deciding to succumb to its venom!

That said, the book is still fun to read- don't overthink it, and just let yourself go along for the ride. For all its idiosyncrasies, the sudden ending and the years that have passed it has a quaint innocence and manages to conjure the sheer wonder and magic of Africa, and to bring home the unexpected fragility of some of its mightiest denizens.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Five Fabulous Books for Girls by The Bookette

When we decided to host another Under 14's Only Month, I sent the "call" out to some of our blogging mates for guest blogs as I know the majority of my blogging chums are ace and enthusiastic readers of books for all ages.  But, not only are they readers, a lot of them are teachers and librarians too, (as well as parents) and I trust them implicitly as I think their brilliance is sort of underscored by being "professionals" - and yes, I count being a parent as being a professional!  I am very pleased and flattered that Becky, The Bookette, said yes to a blogpost and she decided she'd put together a list of five titles for younger girl readers. And because I love her blog and I knew she'd come from a completely different direction, I knew that we'd be offered a host of great and unique titles that many readers, including myself, may have overlooked.

Over to:


Liz, thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of fiction for the under 14s. Young Adult fiction seems to have a momentum all of its own in the book industry right now. So younger children’s fiction isn’t getting the attention it deserves. As a school librarian who works with children aged 3 – 13, I am always interested in finding titles that will appeal to my students. Here are some of my favourite novels for girls under 14.

1) I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend by Cora Harrison – recommended for readers 10+

This book is a charming historical novel which will appeal to girls who are looking to read an innocent romance. It takes the character of Jenny and explores her friendship with the well-known literary figure Jane Austen. Cora Harrison somehow manages to give this historical book a contemporary feel and yet also charms the reader with her characterisation of Jane Austen. It is a truly adorable ‘Will they, won’t they?’ romance. Beautiful gowns, dazzling balls, witty dialogue and handsome chaps... this book will appeal to girls who love fashion and dancing and Disney endings.

2) The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison – recommended for readers 9+

This story is full of the dark side of magic and those fey creatures who like to meddle in the lives of humans. The heroine is Tanya who is gifted with the second sight. She is sent to stay with her Grandmother for the summer after causing yet more trouble at home. Except that it isn’t Tanya who is causing the trouble, it is the faeries who are meddling in her life. My students had been raving about this book long before I had read it. The dialogue is great, every character an individual and when you add that to the sinister woods, tight plot and genuine character journey you get an absolutely satisfying read. The Thirteen Treasures is a real page-turner.

3) Knife by R J Anderson – recommended for readers 10+

This novel is incredibly well-written. It is fairytale unlike any other. Knife is not your magic wand or sparkly dust fairy. She is a warrior and a rather savage character and determined to protect the faeries’ colony against the mysterious disease that is killing their kind. R J Anderson wonderfully conveys the faery viewpoint and so the reader can see the human world in an entirely new perspective. Girls will love Knife’s rebellious and disobedient nature. But there is also depth in this novel as the author explores the themes of duty, creativity and self-esteem.

4) Ingo by Helen Dunmore – recommended for readers 10+

I absolutely adore this series and so will girls who love holidaying on the English coast and imagining the mysterious Mer who live in the ocean. Sapphire lives in Cornwall. Her life is turned upside down one night when her father takes his boat out on to the sea and never returns. Sapphire can’t move on from the loss of her dad because his body is never discovered. Her mum is starting a new relationship and Sadie finds this difficult to come to terms with. Her solace is the Cornish cove where she and her brother Connor while away the days. But there is a voice calling Sapphire to the sea and she can’t stop listening. Ingo is the perfect summer holiday read. Girls will enjoy the fantastical elements of the story as well as the emotional challenges which Sapphire faces. Oh and let us not forget her adorable dog!

5) Paradise Barn by Victor Watson – recommended for readers 9+

This is a wartime murder mystery which will appeal to both girls and boys. Mysteries are a genre that my students are increasingly keen on and this book was a complete hit with our Year 6 book group. There are two girls in this story – Molly and Abigail. Both have incredibly distinctive and believable voices; they really could have been my students. The story is set in the rural town of Great Deeping; the lives of the girls are shook up by the arrival of an evacuee, Adam. The year is 1940, war is raging and Adam is forced to leave his family and London behind. Together the trio set out to solve the murder of mysterious man who might have been a spy. It is twisting tale, full of clues, red-herrings and is vividly evocative of the historical setting.

Read all of the above?

Other titles that are popular with girls in my library right now are:

Dork Diaries by Renee Russell
Spy Girl by Carol Hedges
Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls series by Meg Cabot
Silk Sisters series by Fiona Dunbar
Dead Man’s Cove by Lauren St John 
Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner

Thanks for having me spot by MFB and do share if you have other recommendations for books that will appeal to ‘Under 14’ girls.

Thanks so much for these fantastic reccommendations.  My Amazon Wishlist just exploded with a handful more titles.  Thank you, Becky, for being an enabler.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gollancz announces SF Gateway - Press Release

Gollancz, the SF and Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, announces the launch of the world’s largest digital SFF library, the SF Gateway, which will make thousands of out-of-print titles by classic genre authors available as eBooks.

Building on the remarkable success of Gollancz’s Masterworks series, the SF Gateway will launch this Autumn with more than a thousand titles by close to a hundred authors.

It will build to 3,000 titles by the end of 2012, and 5,000 or more by 2014. Gollancz’s Digital Publisher Darren Nash, who joined the company in September 2010 to spearhead the project said, “The Masterworks series has been extraordinarily successful in republishing one or two key titles by a wide range of authors, but most of those authors had long careers in which they wrote dozens of novels which had fallen out of print. It seemed to us that eBooks would offer the ideal way to make them available again. This realization was the starting point for the SF Gateway.” Wherever possible, the SF Gateway will offer the complete backlist of the authors included.

The SF Gateway will be closely integrated with the recently announced new online edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which provides an independent and definitive reference source of information on the authors and books included. Direct links between the Encyclopedia and the Gateway will provide easy access to eBook editions, for sale through all major online retailers.

The Gateway site will also act as a major community hub and social network for SF readers across the world, allowing them to interact with each other and recommend titles and authors. The site is planned to include forums, blogs, regular promotions, and is envisaged to become the natural home on the net for anyone with an interest in classic SFF.

Authors featured in the launch include such names as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Alice B. Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr), Robert Silverberg, Kate Wilhelm and Connie Willis. A full list of authors so far under contract is appended to this announcement; negotiations are in an advanced state for many more.

The SF Gateway was conceived by Orion Deputy CEO and Publisher Malcolm Edwards, who commented: “It’s clear that publishers need to show that they can respond to the challenges and opportunities of the digital revolution imaginatively, particularly when it comes to backlist. The SF Gateway is just such a response, creating what we hope will become a destination website which will promote the books and authors it features in an active way. We hope it will not only be a success in its own right, but that it will provide a model for future developments in backlist publishing.”

Built to the latest standards of HTML5 and CSS3, the SF Gateway site will use responsive web design to ensure a rewarding user experience across a range of mobile and desktop platforms and operating systems. Both the SF Gateway and the previously announced Encyclopedia of Science Fiction are being developed by STEEL, a London-based full service digital agency with over 15 years experience, whose clients include AOL, BBC Worldwide, Debenhams,, Greggs and TalkTalk.

The project has been praised by authors for connecting new generations of readers with classic stories they may not, until now, have been able to enjoy.

British Science Fiction Award-winner Alastair Reynolds said: “When I first started reading SF seriously, as a teenager growing up in Wales, one of the first walls I hit was the realisation that many classic and influential works of the field were either out of print or so hard to obtain that they may as well have been. SF is a forward-looking genre but its past has always been as fascinating as its future, and for that reason the SF Gateway is an exciting and groundbreaking venture, which should prove an enormous asset to the field.”

Double Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner Pat Cadigan added: “This is exactly what I've been hoping for now that the digital book is becoming more widespread. I have always said that the eBook will not be the death of the physical book – the eBook will save so many wonderful books from being lost. We have to remember that what we read is the book – what we read it on, whether ink and paper or pixels on a screen, is just the interface. I'm honestly thrilled about this new project and delighted to be on the list.”

The SF Gateway will be officially launched by Gollancz in September as part of the celebrations to mark the 50anniversary of its SF list.

For more information, please go to, where updates on the project will also appear.

SF Gateway is on Twitter at and on Facebook at

as at 20July 2011

Poul Anderson
Barrington J. Bayley
Gregory Benford
Michael Bishop
James P. Blaylock
James Blish
Marion Zimmer Bradley
John Brosnan
Fredric Brown
John Brunner
Algis Budrys
Kenneth Bulmer
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Pat Cadigan
John W. Campbell, Jr
Terry Carr
Arthur C. Clarke
Hal Clement
D.G. Compton
Michael G. Coney
Edmund Cooper
Richard Cowper
John Crowley
L. Sprague de Camp
Samuel R. Delany
Philip K. Dick
Gordon R. Dickson
Christopher Evans
Philip Jose Farmer
John Russell Fearn
Alan Dean Foster
Mary Gentle
Mark S. Geston
Joseph L. Green
Colin Greenland
Nicola Griffith
Joe Haldeman
Harry Harrison
Frank Herbert
Philip E. High
Robert Holdstock
Cecelia Holland
Robert E. Howard
Raymond F. Jones
Leigh Kennedy
Garry Kilworth
Damon Knight
Henry Kuttner
Tanith Lee
Murray Leinster
H.P. Lovecraft
Katherine MacLean
Barry N. Malzberg
Phillip Mann
David I. Masson
C.L. Moore
Ward Moore
Edgar Pangborn
Frederik Pohl
Rachel Pollack
Tim Powers
Mack Reynolds
Keith Roberts
Eric Frank Russell
Josephine Saxton
Bob Shaw
Robert Silverberg
Clifford D. Simak
Dan Simmons
John Sladek
Cordwainer Smith
E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith
Norman Spinrad
Olaf Stapledon
Theodore Sturgeon
William Tenn
Sheri S. Tepper
James Tiptree, Jr
E.C. Tubb
George Turner
Harry Turtledove
Jack Vance
Ian Watson
Ted White
Kate Wilhelm
Connie Willis
Robert Charles Wilson
Gene Wolfe

I am genuinely excited about this.  There are so many great authors on this expansive list, all of whom I'd like to try and read, but don't have space for on my shelves, so they make complete sense to be part of the e-book revolution.  Suddenly I love my Kindle even more than before!