Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cover Reveal: My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O'Hara

In 2008 I met Mo O’Hara, the funniest person I know – even funnier than me, if you can imagine that! But, I was soon to discover that Mo wasn’t just funny. She was American too. And a bit macabre. She told me this story about her and her brother bringing their goldfish back to life using a battery. I was all “yeah, right” but no, she swore it was true. On the back of this story, she subsequently wrote a book to shut me up. That book is MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH and today, my friends, on Halloween, I’m supremely proud to be hosting the cover reveal of this fantastic book:

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo


The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfil her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?

Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance.

This book's been languishing on my Amazon wish list for ages - probably since I fell in love with the cover. Stupidly I didn't buy it until I'd read Sister Spooky's brilliant review. I picked up a copy in Foyles and then added it to my urgent pile of books. Finally, I got round to it this week and absolutely loved it. I haven't felt this way about a high fantasy book since Trudi Canavan's The Magicians' Guild. However, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit - first, some background. Alina and Mal are orphans brought up in a duke's rambling estate. As with all orphans in this world they're destined for the army or servitude unless they show Grisha potential. At eight they are tested and neither show anything of interest but from that moment on Alina becomes sickly, pale and weak. Fast forward ten years and they're both still friends and in the same unit but when they come under attack Alina shows that perhaps the Grisha missed something …

I was hooked from the beginning. I know we all make an image in our mind of the world that the author has created but the kingdom in The Gathering Dark is so richly imagined that I could picture it all: moutains, hills, snow and peasant villages, the Grisha palace. My head was full of breakneck journeys in carriages and the cut-throat court politics. Alina is a brilliant heroine - I was completely by her side from the first page. She has this outward vulnerability from her obvious physical weakness and, of course, her love for Mal. Mal and Alina's relationship is the gorgeous, awkward, unaware sort - he's unaware and she's totally trying to pretend she doesn't feel anything - I loved it. When Alina is whisked away to court I sort of forgot about Mal. It became all about the Darkling for me (and Alina). Court is seductive, she's given everything she never wanted; position, rich rooms and clothes, friendship. My favourite secondary character out of all the Grisha was Genya. She has this talent for tailoring faces, hell's bells - who wouldn't want a friend like that? Alina, of course, doesn't want to be made over but the two of them become close even though everyone else looks down on Genya because of her servant status and, well, other things too.

Just as I thought I couldn't love the book more it became more wonderful. The Darkling is the head of the Grisha - both unavailabe, powerful and mysterious. Except there's one thing he wants more than anything and that's Alina. As she grows more comfortable with herself and her powers grow she gets drawn into The Darkling's seductive power. But then there's Mal - it's just all too much for me! All the threads are drawn together for an amazing finale that both brought about everything I wanted but also left so many possibilities for the sequel, the Shadow Fold. The Gathering Dark is a potent mix. Not only does it have a gutsy storyline, it also delivers characters who aren't remotely simple. Even though bad (and good) characters do awful things I still want them to redeem themselves in book two - they are all complex and mysterious with ulterior motives that have yet to be explored.

Before I start rambling on about this book's brilliance I'll stop but please - just read it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook Guide to Getting Published by Harry Bingham

Written emphatically from the author's point of view, this is an expert guide to the process of getting published, from submitting your work and finding an agent, to working with a publishing house and understanding the book trade. 

Together with interviews from authors, agents and publishers (including the CEO of Harper Studio, and the Editorial Director of Macmillan New Writing) as well as buyers from Waterstones and Asda, it offers advice on: * finding an agent or publisher * successful approaches for covering letters and synopses * understanding contractual terms * working with publishers and the editorial process * your role in helping to publicise your work.

The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook Guide to Getting Published will enable you to market your work more professionally, understand the relationship you will have with both agent and publisher and offers a contemporary inside view of the publishing industry. Along with the essential contacts in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, this is a professional tool you will not want to be without.


I like to know stuff.  Hence too many reference books on random subjects that worry visitors to our house.  Why yes, I am very interested in how to raise ancient Babylonian demons! Aren't you?

I'm also a fan of how-to books when it comes to writing and screen writing and the writing craft in general.  This isn't a book that's going to tell you how to create better characters, how to write fun believable dialogue or how to churn out a thriller that will win awards.

This books is about a writer's job.  The stuff that leads up to becoming agented, published and what comes after.  A lot of general "how to" books touch on these subjects briefly towards the end of the books but none really delve very deep into the ins and outs of contracts, on percentages on self-promotion and marketing and such.

This book by Harry Bingham does.  It's written with humour and style and I chuckled a lot whilst reading it.  The language is low key and informal and very direct.  I spotted someone on Amazon in their review mentioning that it brought home several truths about the publishing industry - and they weren't really things the reader wanted to know.

But that's the thing - you have to know.  You have to know what to look at when you are handed a contract by an editor or agent.  You have to be able to figure out who will look after you the best if you have multiple agents interested in representing you.  How do you handle edits from an editor - all these things are important and not a lot of it gets covered in the average how-to book.

The Guide to Getting Published, as I mentioned, doesn't beat around the bush.  Harry includes several opinion pieces from people within the industry, he cites his own examples from his long career and he also has snippets of information from other contributors.  I like that he gives advice on various things and yet fully expect you to be wearing your big person pants and make informed decisions.

Subjects covered are all pertinent - some more pertinent to me now than before and together with a copy From Pitch to Publication newbie writers should pretty much be set to be able to handle all kinds of stuff the industry throws at them.

Subjects covered: writing a synopsis and submission letter to an agent / editor (things to do and not to do), deciding if your manuscript is ready to be sent out (it usually isn't, I was guilty of this too oh so many years ago now).  The pros and cons of having an agent, what an agent actually does, decoding a bit of language and terms which is always helpful.  Looking at a standard agency contract...What happens when you get a book deal, what does it mean to you / your agent / the publisher etc.  What happens after that, about second books, and your career? How do you sort out tax and a lot of very grown up business-related stuff.

I'd recommend a copy of this wholeheartedly to writers who would like to know more, apologies if it sounds like I'm a voice-over from Starship Troopers, about the industry, how things fit together, how they work.  It's a book that is of interest, I suppose, to writers who are looking to, I don't know: "level up" before taking a bigger, further step.  It's always good to know stuff and GTGP is packed full of usual (and funny) information and advice.  A good buy, for sure.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

This is the cover I have

I will tell you a story of magic and love, of daring and death, and one to comfort your heart. It will be the truest story I have ever told. Now listen, and tell me if it is not so.
Keturah follows a legendary hart deep into the forest, where she becomes hopelessly lost. Her strength diminishes until, finally, she realizes that death is near--and learns then that death is a young lord, melancholy and stern. Renowned for her storytelling, Keturah is able to charm Lord Death with a story and gain a reprieve--but he grants her only a day, and within that day she must find true love. Martine Leavitt offers a spellbinding story, interweaving elements of classic fantasy and romance.

When two authors, renowned for their world-building and mad storytelling skills tell you over cocktails: "You have to read this book, it is gorgeous" you sort of have to listen.

I did.  The two authors in question who spoke eloquently and beautifully about the magic contained in Keturah and Lord Death are Kaz Mahoney and Tessa Gratton.  Now these are two writers whose work I enjoy reading, whose careers are built on solid storytelling and research.  So I trusted them when they told me these things about this book I've never heard anything of.  And I wasn't disappointed.

Buying in Keturah and Lord Death I was struck by the beautiful cover - a bit Goth, a bit fantasy, a bit...everything I like basically.  I was told it would read like a fairy tale, or a fable, and that it would seem like an older story, retold, but it's not. It is all the hand-crafted wordsmithing by Marine Leavitt.

And the girls were right.  The story held strains of something...I couldn't quite put my finger on.  There was a European-ness to the story that's not something I get to read very often, not unless I'm reading Cat Valente's books. And to be fair, the story does hold faint echoes of Scheherazade putting off her execution by telling cliff-hanger endings to each story which is what Keturah does too, to Lord Death to prevent him from taking her that first night.

As her own death grows eminent, Keturah looks around her small village and realises how much humanity and beauty there is contained within the hearts and souls of her friends and neighbours.  Not all of them are lovely, some are quite sharp and odd towards her as the story progresses but we know come to know why and it's told beautifully.  She does everything within her power to keep them safe, even if it means being seen as a peculiar young woman, a witch, an undesirable person.

In an attempt to stave off becoming Death's bride, Keturah desperately tries to find her one true love but in her quest, she becomes a catalyst for bigger things within the village which in turn has larger repercussions in the grander scheme of things. 

The story is told from Keturah's point of view and it is wonderfully written using beautiful haunting language that has echoes of melancholy fraying the edges of the story.

We know how the story ends, but it's how Keturah makes her decision ultimately, that is the story here, what drives her to do what she does and how her friends and villagers react and how she makes peace within herself - a genuinely strong piece of character driven development which had me in tears.

It's rare to find a novel aimed at the YA market that, when you look at it, is very self-contained, set within it's own world so completely, that you are only peripherally aware of the greater world outside of it that's alluded to.

The author's writing reminded me of Malinda Lo's in Huntress (also Ash, but more in Huntress) and Cat Valente's beautiful prose in her The Orphan's Tales novels and also Deathless.  This is a book you pick and read for the atmosphere and sadness and heartache and beauty - it took me a few days to pull away from it, and it haunts me still, several weeks after I've read it.  Like Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey,  Keturah and Lord Death will stay with you, for a long time after you've put it down.

This is another cover - still lovely but not as lovely as mine. 
As Ms. Leavitt doesn't have an active website at the moment, I'm instead linking to a great interview Cynthia Leitich Smith did with her over at her blog about her writing etc.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson


Amy Curry is having a terrible year. Her mother has decided to move all the way across the country and needs Amy to drive their car from California to the East Coast. There's just one problem: since the death of her father, Amy hasn't been able to get behind the wheel of a car. Enter Roger, the son of an old family friend, who turns out to be unexpectedly cute… and dealing with some baggage of his own.Meeting new people and coming to terms with her father's death were not part of Amy's plans for the road trip. But then neither was driving on the Loneliest Road in America, seeing the Colorado Mountains, visiting diners, dingy motels and Graceland. But as they drive, and she grows closer to Roger, Amy finds that the people you least expected are the ones you need the most ­ - and that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find your way home.

I'm on a massive YA contemporary roll at the moment and, unwilling to stop, picked this from my tbr pile. I bought it on a whim earlier this year when book shopping with Liz and when I took it to the counter the bookseller enthused about it - it was her favourite book of last year. Last week I mentioned YA books that contain characters with bone-deep regrets were hard to come by. Just to prove me wrong in walks Amy Curry - she's living alone in California and her family home is on the market. Her mum is in Connecticut where's she's got a new house for Amy and her brother, Charlie (when he's free to travel). Now it's time for Amy to head there too but she can't drive anymore after an accident that killed her dad. Roger is brought in to do the driving but he's not too happy about the rigid itinerary that's been set for them so they decide to take a bit of a detour …

What I love about this book is that it isn't just the main character that has a journey to go on. Roger has his own difficulties to overcome - they both have baggage. His is in the form of Hadley, his college ex-girlfriend whom he thought he loved. She won't return his calls and Roger has to decide how to come to terms with the break up. Amy is struggling under a burden of crippling guilt and grief. The author cleverly sets Amy against an imaginary ideal version of herself (Amy! - yes, with an exclamation mark) - the perfect girl who knows what to do in every situation. Amy! is impossible to live up to - especially when normal Amy's just a shell of the person she was before her father died. Ever since the accident her mum has been distant and they've all had to face up to the problem with Charlie. Everywhere she turns there's conflict and sorrow - it's a lot to sort out on a short road trip.

But here's the beauty of Epic Detour. It doesn't promise that Amy will be all shiny and new by the end of the book - how could that be? Her life experiences have changed her unalterably but she's unable to allow herself to grieve or even take comfort from anyone. So, when two damaged people take to the road their journey is touching and there are miracles in small things such as bright starlit nights and the healing power of good take-aways. I know the latter sounds shallow but it really isn't if you've been eating nothing but cold pizza for a month and your hair is falling out. Along the way they meet interesting, life-changing people - the sort who don't realise how much they've meant to you at a certain stage in your life, the ones you never forget.

I haven't even mentioned the cute playlists, state information and receipts that make up this book. I now have a new favourite genre - the YA Contemporary Road Trip.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mini Review - Alexandra Sokoloff's Screenwriting Tricks For Authors (and Screenwriters!)

Product Description:

Are you finally committed to writing that novel but have no idea how to get started? Or are you a published author - but know you need some plotting help to move your books and career up to that next level?

Screenwriting is a compressed and dynamic storytelling form and the techniques of screenwriting are easily adaptable to novel writing. You can jump-start your plot and bring your characters and scenes vibrantly alive on the page - by watching your favorite movies and learning from the storytelling tricks of great filmmakers.

With this workbook, based on award-winning author/ screenwriter Alexandra Sokoloff’s internationally acclaimed Screenwriting Tricks For Authors blog and workshops, you'll learn how to use techniques of film writing such as:

- the High Concept Premise
- the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure
- the Storyboard Grid
- the Index Card Method of Plotting

- as well as tricks of film pacing and suspense, character arc and drive, visual storytelling, and building image systems - to structure and color your novel for maximum emotional impact, unbearable suspense and riveting pacing, no matter what genre you're writing in.

You'll create your own personalized workbook of genre tricks based on your favorite books and movies and tailored to your own brand of storytelling, and a collage book to build visual image systems. And the emphasis on premise is invaluable for crafting that all-important query and pitch.

In this rapidly changing world of publishing, more and more agents and editors are looking for novels that have the pacing, emotional excitement, and big, unique, "high concept" premises of Hollywood movies (and the potential for that movie or TV sale!).

Whether you're just starting to develop a book or script, or rewriting for maximum impact, this workbook will guide you through an easy, effective and fun process to help you make your book or script the best it can be.

Includes detailed film breakdowns and analysis as well as chapters and resources on how to get a literary agent, writing a query letter, professional networking, and screenwriting contests.

My mini-review:

With Nanowrimo around the corner I've decided to do mini-reviews of "how to" titles that I have at home, aimed at writers and creatives, for the next few weeks - and these mini-reviews will be put up on either Thursdays/Fridays, depending on our scheduled planning.

This little beauty by Ms. Sokoloff is one of my favourites - it's available for your kindle via Amazon and it's competitively priced and in my mind, worth at least twenty times that.

Written in a conversational style, Ms. Sokoloff's managed to put together a "how to" that will benefit new writers and more established writers.  Personally, when writing, I am always concerned about structure.  She spends some time here explaining structure and how instead of it being a confining item, we should see it as a skeleton on which to hang the story.  This made me sit up and take notice - it made sense to me.  Key to all the tasks she sets you here is that you have to work within your own comfort zone, yet challenge yourself - she asks you to draw up lists of favourite movies and books and to work with her to analyse them for theme, character and structure.  A refrain throughout the book is: whatever works for you.

I can definitely recommend Screenwriting Tricks for Authors without reserve - it's concise, it's to the point and it manages without apparent trouble, to encourage, tease and cajole you into seeing your writing as worthy, fun but hard work.  She makes use of a lot of personal examples in her writing career but puts it in context so it's not all just "me me me" here.  In fact, I've just had a look at some of the Amazon reviews for this and swooned a little as one of my favourite writers Vicki Petterson also put up a review and part of it reads thusly:  Sokoloff is a generous mentor with the gifted ability to address a storyteller's practical concerns while encouraging artistic integrity and every author's unique voice. 

I can't argue with that! Oh, and in complete self-interest, here's our review of Alexandra's novel The Harrowing we reviewed back in 2009. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan

''What's the first thing you think of when I say 'angel'?'' asked Mallory. 

Alice shrugged. ''I don t know... guns?'' 

Alice isn't having the best of days: she got rained on, missed her bus, was late for work. When two angels arrive, claiming her life so far is a lie, it turns epic, grand-scale worse. The war between the angels and the Fallen is escalating; an age-old balance is tipping, and innocent civilians are getting caught in the cross-fire. the angels must act to restore the balance - or risk the Fallen taking control. Forever.

Hunted by the Fallen and guided by Mallory - a disgraced angel with a drinking problem - alice will learn the truth about her own history... and why the angels want to send her to hell. What do the Fallen want from her? How does Mallory know so much about her past? What is it the angels are hiding and can she trust either side? Caught between the power plays of the angels and Lucifer himself, it isn't just hell's demons that Alice will have to defeat...

Uch, I enjoyed Blood and Feathers a lot. It's a debut novel and it reads fast and confident, twisty and turney and I'm so looking forward to seeing what Ms. Morgan comes up with in Book 2.

Alice is an average girl - or she thinks she is.  At the beginning of the novel we meet her at a very bad time.  Enter two odd blokes who stand by and watch when the ceiling in her house opens and hands rip her father into who knows where...and well, you know Alice isn't in Kansas any more.  See what I did there?

Talking from a mythology and angel lore point of view here, Ms. Morgan has really done her research.  I know this because we've touched on it in the past via twitter and I've read some interviews she's done and we've fan-girled about Milton and other esoterica when we happened across one another at an event.  It's easy - for me - to see her influences and to understand the bigger picture she's painting here with Alice's story.  And even though I knew, at the back of my head, what was going on, I totally fell for Alice, for Mallory and the story as a whole.  Here are characters I'd like to spend time getting to know better.

The themes are big - good vs evil but it isn't as easy as that.  It would make for a dull read.  Lines are blurred here and being good doesn't always mean it's a good thing.  Key to the story though is Alice finding out about herself.  Her character development is handled deftly and I felt, after the opening sequence, that I am in safe hands here and really shouldn't worry about this journey I'm undertaking with Alice.

We are introduced to a cast of characters and the concepts of choirs within the angel realm. These aren't the cupid type angels either - they aren't actually nice guys, really.  They are warriors and get the job done, come what may.  But then, they have allegiances, and there are things we don't know yet or understand going on in the background.  It's all rather good fun to figure it out as the story moves along at a very fast pace.

I'm loathe to say more as it will get spoilerific which I refuse to do but genuinely, if you're in the mood for rather grown up urban fantasy, where the author clearly loves and knows what she's doing, then you can't go wrong buying yourself a copy of Blood & Feathers.

Oh, just a note if you think this is yet another "angel" paranormal romance book - it honestly isn't.  This isn't what you'd expect, at all, and it sits so neatly on the shelf next to authors like Mike Carey / Mike Shevdon / Katie Griffin / Ben Aaronovich and Suzanne McLeod.  Blood and Feathers is Supernatural/The Prophecy/Fallen/Priest all rolled into one with added crack and kickassedness and genuine humour.

Find Lou Morgan's website here.  Blood and Feathers is out now with the second book out next year.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler


Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life, and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances... a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been.

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life... and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done.

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last..

I'm embarrassed that I've never read Twenty Boy Summer (I will put that right!), it just got swept away by my tbr pile. I basically  made room for Bittersweet though on the strength of the synopsis - and the promise of cupcake talk. The book opens with a snippet from three years previously where Hudson makes a discovery that blows her family apart and ends what she thought were her dreams. Back to the present day and Hudson's turned her back on her old life. She's no longer training to be an Olympic figure skater but making cupcakes in her mum's diner. Hudson is seriously good at making cupcakes, I mean - she's Watonka's Queen of Cupcakes according to her local paper. However, all isn't well at the diner; waitresses regularly quit, money is tight and Hudson is being lined up to be the next owner even though she's pretty sure that isn't what she wants.

 In amongst all of this angst is a sliver of hope though that comes in the form of a letter. What with that and Hudson's secret trips to a patch of desolate ice by the coast it's obvious that she still has big dreams despite her penchant for hiding out in the kitchen. Hotness is added to the mix in the form of Will and Josh, boys on the ice hockey team who both seem interested in Hudson. Bittersweet is full of wonderful secondary characters. There's Hudson's mum who's desperately trying to keep the diner and her life on track. She's become pretty single-minded in the last few years. There's Dani who became Hudson's best friend after her life fell apart and she's loyal, smart and no push-over. Even little brother Bug is completely adorable - watching him adapting to his new life is both touching and heartbreaking.

Bittersweet is a masterclass in how to build tension in a novel. Seriously, Hudson starts of with a dream and a few obstacles but the author piles up the pressure and problems until it's almost impossible to see a way out. The ending was not at all what I expected but that's definitely not a bad thing. After racing through the book so I could see what happened I took a few days to think about the ending before writing this review. I've decided that, for me, Bittersweet is more about coming to terms with the past, grieving over things that need to be grieved and taking stock of what's good in life. It's not often you read a YA novel about serious life-choice regrets that are bone deep - the sort that haunt your every living moment for years. Bittersweet grabs that subject and deals with it with both sensitivity and realism.

Friday, October 12, 2012

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini


Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan's Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life--which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job--Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That's when things start to get crazy. 
At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn't brilliant compared to the other kids; he's just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable and Craig stops eating and sleeping--until, one night, he nearly kills himself. 
Craig's suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, isolated from the crushing pressures of school and friends, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety. 
Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness. For a novel about depression, it's definitely a funny story.

I was looking for something to read after The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I can't review Perks as it's one of the most poignant, beautiful books and quite possibly in my all-time favourites list so I would just burble on and then cry and no one wants that. So, on Amazon this book kept popping up in the, "People who bought this ..," section and it sounded interesting. It was a good buy.  As the synopsis says, Craig was desperate to get into Executive Pre-Professional High School. It's so important to him that for a year he does nothing but study. Pretty much all of his friends except one fade away in his single-minded quest. Guess what? He got in as did his best and only friend Aaron. Except that Craig didn't look any further ahead than the day he got his acceptance letter. The realities of being in a high-achieving school make Craig question himself. 

Craig's voice is both honest, raw and funny. The author (who has experience of being a patient in a psychiatric hospital) is able to document the unravelling of Craig's mind with such scary honesty that at times I felt anxious just reading it. Although depression is never easy to either talk about or treat I was caught up in the way that Craig had explained it to himself. He describes the many things that he needs to do to keep on top as, "tentacles," that are never ending, ever-reaching. As he thinks about all his tasks; emails, homework, extra credits, reading - the tentacles grown and a cycling builds up in his stomach. He finds it impossible to eat, sleep or function. All around him people ask if he's okay - but these are just empty words that fall around him. I wanted to be able to reach into the pages and make it all better for him but, of course, there is no quick fix where depression and anxiety are concerned.

After the, "suicidal episode," (which I won't describe but his thought processes broke my heart) Craig finds himself in a psychiatric ward where he has nothing to do except address his problems. He's not encouraged to make lasting friendships as these could hinder his recovery but in his time on the ward the people he meets shape the way he views his future. I'm aware that this all sounds pretty heavy and desperately sad but Craig's voice is what sucked me in. There was no way I could stop reading until I found out how it ended. The secondary characters are all fascinating in there own way. I spent most of the book furious with half of them and worried for the others. Huge questions are asked too about medicating teenagers, burn-out, the causes of stress and what happens to you if you get caught up in the mental health cycle. I found this story fascinating yet sad but also funny and hopeful. If you ever wanted to find out more about what goes on inside the head of a depressed person then this is the book. Also, if you ever wanted reassurance that what happens inside your head isn't unique to you - that you're not alone and things can get better then please read this. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender

When Alexis’s little sister Kasey becomes obsessed with an antique doll, Alexis thinks nothing of it. Kasey is a weird kid. Period. Alexis is considered weird, too, by the kids in her high school, by her parents, even by her own Goth friends. Things get weirder, though, when the old house they live in starts changing. Doors open and close by themselves; water boils on the unlit stove; and an unplugged air conditioner turns the house cold enough to see their breath in. Kasey is changing, too. Her blue eyes go green and she speaks in old-fashioned language, then forgets chunks of time.

Most disturbing of all is the dangerous new chip on Kasey’s shoulder. The formerly gentle, doll-loving child is gone, and the new Kasey is angry. Alexis is the only one who can stop her sister — but what if that green-eyed girl isn’t even Kasey anymore?

I don't recall a lot of very atmospheric ghost stories aimed at teens.  I'm not talking Chris Priestley's books either, which are creepy and eerie and freak me out but they are aimed at younger readers.  I'm not talking about the Ghostbumps books or the Point Horror books either but something older and freakier.

Bad Girls Don't Die is that book.  We spend quite a while with Alexis at the beginning of the story, having the scene set, the family life explained, Kasey's peculiarities explained and showed, Alexis own weirdness explained and shown.

Once that's out of the way, Ms. Alender wastes no time in upping the creep factor and really, what is creepier than a haunted doll? As the story develops she doesn't really hold our hand - we are left asking quite often: is Alexis losing her mind? Is she going mad?  This unreliability really heightens the "omg what the hell is going on" factor here.  At the back of your mind you can't help but think and wonder partly what is the author playing at, making us wonder and doubt like this.  But that's part of the fun and the bond we form with Alexis is so crucial.

You completely manage to suspend your disbelief and when you do that and trust the author knows what she's doing, you are rewarded with a great twist and some unexpected shenanigans.

The way she contrasts the normal Kasey and the haunted Kasey is superb and reads great.  I want to see this in either graphic novel form or as a movie.  I also think what helped tremendously is the house - from the description it is an eclectic building in various architectural styles which means it offers a great Gothicness to the story.

Bad Girls Don't Die is a deliciously creepy novel and one I'd recommend to readers who are in the mood for something contemporary and a bit dark with a hint of the paranormal.  The resolution to the story is very clear and quite sad, really.  And it's only now that I'm sitting down to write this review that I spotted that it's the first in a series, which I'm quite excited about.  There's also a trailer!


Monday, October 08, 2012

Guest Review: The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic (Author), Olivier Tallec (Illustrator)

When the boy in this story wakes to find that his mother has died, he is overwhelmed with sadness, anger, and fear that he will forget her. He shuts all the windows to keep in his mother’s familiar smell and scratches open the cut on his knee to remember her comforting voice. He doesn’t know how to speak to his dad anymore, and when Grandma visits and throws open the windows, it’s more than the boy can take—until his grandmother shows him another way to feel that his mom’s love is near. With tenderness, touches of humor, and unflinching emotional truth, Charlotte Moundlic captures the loneliness of grief through the eyes of a child, rendered with sympathy and charm in Olivier Tallec’s expressive illustrations.

I first heard of this book when I was reading about picture books for older children. It sounded quite interesting but I didn’t think any more of it until I was exploring the children’s library in a newly opened library and found the book hidden in one of the many cubby holes waiting to be found. I opened it to read the first couple of pages and that was enough for me to bring it home for a proper read. It is a beautiful book that packs a very real emotional punch.

The book is narrated by a little boy whose mother has just died, he tells the story from waking up to find that she has succumbed to the illness that she has been suffering from for some time. He talks about how he feels straight away and about how he feels and what he does in the weeks to come. Told by him the story feels genuine and honest, and unfiltered in that way young children have, Tallec captures his voice very well. The book is an emotional and sometimes difficult read, I’m sure most readers will be able to identify to some extent with how he feels and acts.

The illustrations in the book are beautiful and simple, the use of a restricted range of colours works really well - it feels like the yellows add warmth and the strong reliance on red adds to the emotional punch of the book. I loved the little details included in the drawings, little birds and toys appear on many of the pages.

I think this book would be a really useful addition to most libraries, it could be used both with children who have experienced the death of a loved one themselves and with other children e.g. in the class of a bereaved child to help them to understand how their classmate might be feeling. I would recommend that any adult planning on reading it with a child reads it first themselves to judge whether it is appropriate for the individual child.


This guest review is from our friend Jenni Nock, who can be found on Twitter as @juniperjungle. Find out about Jenni here! A few more reviews will be coming from Jenni in the next few weeks and they will be, like our usual reads, quite random choices.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Liz! in Adventures with Bookcases and some important news

I've not blogged about the madness that is my bookshelves for the longest time.

This Sunday past we had a "let's tidy the house" day which invariably means in Mark-speak: "Liz, you get to tackle the bookcases in the dining room and I'll clean the rest of the house and I'll be done before you".

I accepted the challenge.  I've known for some time now that I need to tidy the shelves - they've become a health and safety risk, along with the piles on the floor and the piles ontop of the piles on the floor.

I've tidied.  I "got rid" of around 200 titles.  These will either go to the charity shops down the road or to one of my blogger pals - both of whom look after libraries.   You can't actually see a that I've made a dent on the shelves, at all, which is both frightening and (I think) pretty damn cool.  Here are photos my "tidied" shelves.  There is no rhyme or reason to them - some authors are put together, but not always.  Some are by publisher, but not always. Some are literally just put together because they fit together by size - again, not always.  These shelves are all double shelved.  And these photos are only the four book cases in the dining room.  I've not yet touched the two bookcases upstairs or the three in lounge.  Please don't think I need an intervention.

Because I will fight you.

Here we go: (the text between the photos refer to the photos above the text)

The first bookcase only has two double stacked shelves on it as it also contains our glasses and music and all my creatures which don't feature in any of these pics.

This is the second large fully stacked bookcase - a lot of hardbacks are hidden away on this behind the smaller paperbacks on the front.

This is the bookcase that I tend to use and peruse the most - it is because (very deep this) it is directly in my line of sight when I sit at my spot at the dining room table.  Some of my favourite titles tend to migrate to this bookcase as I like looking at them.  Told you I was deep and complex.

This is the higgledy piggledy bookcase - this is the one next to me so I very rarely get to see what awful state it's in.  But it's the one Mark sees from his side of the dining room table.  When this bookcase gets too much is when we have the "Liz, we need to tidy the house" talk.

That's not too bad, is it?  I don't think so either.

Now, for a change of pace and the news:

My Favourite Books will be closing its blogging doors on 31st December 2012.

It's been a long time coming.   Mark, Sarah and I have been talking about this for some time and we decided that this would be our final year of posting reviews on MFB.  It's probably one of the hardest decisions we've had to make, yet also one of the easiest.

I've been running MFB since 2005/2006 - Mark joined later (I say "joined" but he was coerced and bribed with books) and then we met Sarah, and we got her to write some reviews, the bug bit and hey presto: Team MFB was born.

We've had possibly the best time running MFB.  We read widely, wildly and fell in love with a variety of characters, genres and authors.  We met a vast amount of truly great people and became good friends with all of them.  But this year, is definitely our last year of being online as Team MFB.

All three of us are fledgling writers.  I recently nabbed an agent which I'm ecstatic about.  I hope we get to sell my books.  Both Mark and Sarah are working hard at their respective manuscripts and building their craft.

As our lives are getting busier and our priorities are changing, we've decided that continuing with MFB would mean something will suffer - either the blog or our writing and everyday lives.  It wouldn't be fair on us or to the publishers and the authors whom we love for entertaining us.   You can't do something like blogging and reviewing half-heartedly.  Your readers can tell and if it's one thing we're super proud of, it is the integrity that's kept MFB afloat and our mad-love for well written stories by talented writers.

The three of us are girding our loins for the last reviewing stretch to the end of the year - as the shelves above show there are some fantastic books out there that we want to review and we hope we get to scratch the surface.

Hang out with us till the end of 2012 and we'll reward you with reviews, interviews and the occasional give-away.  I reckon this year we'll end up doing a big old Christmas give-away too as there will be a lot of books to go to new homes.

Here's to the next 88 days!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

No Easy Day by Mark Owen

For the first time anywhere, a first-person account of the planning and execution of the Bin Laden raid from inside the US Navy SEAL team who carried out the extraordinary mission to kill the terrorist mastermind.
From the streets of Iraq to the successful rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from pirates in the Indian Ocean; from the mountaintops of Afghanistan to the third floor of Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, operator Mark Owen of the US Naval Special Warfare Development Group - commonly known as SEAL Team Six - has been a part of some of the most memorable special operations in history, as well as countless missions that never made headlines.
I like reading first hand accounts of battles and wars. It feeds my inner armchair warrior and, besides the side-effect of being great background and research for characters who may one day populate my own writing, it's also humbling and a reminder that for some people out there, war is more than a genre and patriotism about more than waving a flag. 
I'd also like to think that I've read enough of them of them to be able to catch the whiff of self aggrandisement that threatens to creep in when someone's writing about themselves. No Easy Day is pleasantly whiffless. By the time he was brought in for the operation that lies at the heart of the book, Mark Owen had served on active, operational duty for over 10 years. 10 years of actual shit-hitting-the-fan deployments. That's plenty of time for reality to filter out any ego stoking bullshit, and it comes through in the writing. 
The first thing is that it's very readable. This isn't about blocks of dates and a dull treatises about this-general-did-that and so-and-so-lobbied-for-this; it's a reader friendly account that is meant to set the record straight about what it means to be a SEAL and the truth behind what happened on the raid that saw Osama reaping his personal whirlwind. It's about the men, not the man, and the vehicle that Owen uses to put that it across is by sharing some of his own experiences. It's through these that we're shown the level of dedication, the level of professionalism and the particular mindset that is required to go out there and do what needs to be done, time and time again. By building this foundation into the book before he sets out the background and preparation for the raid on Osama's compound you can understand how their professional detachment from the scale of what they were attempting and exactly why he decided to write the book.
It's well written, very engaging, and while it doesn't breach any official secrets, there's enough in there to make you reconsider a few familiar headlines from the war in Afghanistan (and think about more than the next unlock next time you fire up Call of Duty). Thought provoking without melodrama, No Easy Day is a welcome addition to my non fiction shelves and I would recommend it without hesitation whether you have any particular interest in the military or not. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Press Release: JK Rowling Webcast

Just in from Bloomsbury:

J.K. Rowling will be taking part in a webcast on Thursday 11th October at 5pm. The webcast will be streamed live via the Bloomsbury website and will be available to view after the event.

This is a wonderful opportunity to see the bestselling author talking about Harry Potter, Pottermore and all things Hogwarts. Children from schools around the world will be asking questions as well. 

At the moment there is a holding page with a countdown but anybody who would like to see the webcast should go to the link above at 5pm on 11th October where they should be able to view the webcast. This is the first interview about Harry Potter that the author has done in some years and will be of interest to fans of all ages.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver


One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not. In fact, he was quite, quite different.

When Liza's brother, Patrick, changes overnight, Liza knows exactly what has happened: The spindlers have gotten to him and stolen his soul.

She knows, too, that she is the only one who can save him.

To rescue Patrick, Liza must go Below, armed with little more than her wits and a broom. There, she uncovers a vast world populated with talking rats, music-loving moles, greedy troglods, and overexcitable nids . . . as well as terrible dangers. But she will face her greatest challenge at the spindlers' nests, where she encounters the evil queen and must pass a series of deadly tests--or else her soul, too, will remain Below forever.

It's been a while since I've read a book for younger readers so decided to read The Spindlers for a change of pace. Firstly, the picture really doesn't do the cover justice. This is a gorgeous book: hardback and beautifully bound with illustrations at the start of each chapter. Seriously, this is the sort of book that makes me want to push my Kindle under the bed and let it gather dust. It also reminds me of the books I loved when I was little both in looks and content.

The Spindlers is a quest story. Liza's brother Patrick isn't right one morning. He looks the same but Liza can tell that the spindlers came in the night and took his soul away - he just isn't acting like the brother she loves. Liza's alone; her parent's are having money worries and don't have time for her. Added to that Liza's beloved babysitter Anna has gone away to college. Everyone that Liza could depend on is otherwise occupied forcing her to head down to the cellar alone and visit the land Down Below. If there's something I love in fantasy books it's the moment when the main character passes from our world to the other. My favourite of all time is The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones when the main character is simply nudged into the other world. The Spindlers is up there with the best - Liza heads into the basement crawl space and finds a hole into which she tumbles. However the character gets there it's the world itself which decides for me if the book is a keeper or not.

The World Below is a dark and dangerous place. Liza lands on Mirabella - a rat with an inferiority complex. Once they've sorted out their differences she agrees to guide Liza to the Spindlers so she can get Patrick's soul back. Their journey is all kinds of epic. They meet a myriad of creatures my favourite being the Nocturni - shadowy hummingbird-like creatures who, en-masse, remind Liza of, "black snow." How beautiful is that? Each person has their own Nocturni which is responsible for your dreams every night. There are also scary woods and intriguing beings that made the whole book a real joy. It reads like an instant classic, there's nothing in the pages that would age it. Liza's quest is suitably high-stakes and I loved the secondary issues of missing friends and being aware that something isn't right with her parents. 

I'm going to see if we can get this book ordered for our library as I think it's one that will stick with you, whatever age you read it.