Sunday, June 19, 2016

Five Contemporary YA Books to Read before YALC

As host of the 2016 YALC Readathon Challenge I've been thinking a lot about what books I would recommend by authors attending YALC. Hopefully I'll do several posts in this series, but I thought I'd start with five contemporary YA books, as that is my favourite genre!
1. Girl Out of Water, by Nat Luurtsema

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This is the first book I read for the YALC Readathon Challenge (go on, join me!) and it was a great way to *PUN ALERT* dive in - Girl Out of Water follows Lou Brown's attempts to find new friends and a new place in the world following her failure to get into Olympic swimming school.
It's funny (Nat is on the Funny YA panel), heartwarming, and deals with an issue I think is underexplored in fiction - coping with failure. Not everyone is going to succeed against all the odds. Sometimes the odds are never in your favour - and you keep going, like Lou learns to do.

2. Love Song, by Sophia Bennett

I have read some amazing books so far this year and plan to read many more - but I'm sure whatever happens this will be in my top five. I was not expecting to fall in love with a story about a girl who goes on tour with a boyband, but reader, I fell HARD.
I am really looking forward to the Music in YA panel!

3. London Belongs to Us, by Sarra Manning

Both Sarra Manning's 2016 releases. View on Instagram

If you've never read any books by Sarra before this is a great place to start - though if you're spoiler-averse you may want to read Guitar Girl and Adorkable first. An enormously entertaining love letter to London filled with snappy one-liners, it follows Sunny's pursuit of her wayward boyfriend (or is he ex-boyfriend?) over one night and features pastries, parties, perilous road journeys, dramatic confrontations and hairspray. There are also several girls you'll wish you could be friends with - highly appropriate as Sarra is on the #SquadGoals panel.

4. Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
Look at my beautiful hardback. Just look at it.

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If just gazing at the cover isn't enough to make you pick it up, this is an LGBT classic. It's a pretty straightfoward romance story with the usual tropes but it's set at a school where there isn't really any homophobia - it's a utopian vision of what school should be like, and although it's not realistic, it's lovely to disappear into a world where things are a little more as they should be.

5. My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend, by Eleanor Wood

From my 'Music March'. View on Instagram

This is a funny and surprisingly realistic story about Tuesday Cooper, a music blogger who starts getting comments from her favourite rockstar. One thing leads to another and he becomes the secret boyfriend of the title, getting her into trouble with friends and family alike. It's really interesting seeing how she deals with the mess she's in and moves towards adulthood.
What books by YALC authors do you recommend? Would you choose different books by these authors? Let me know! And don't forget to vote for your favourites!

Friday, June 03, 2016

The YALC Readathon Challenge 2016

There are two inspirations behind this bookish bonanza - traditional reading challenges, which I don't think have been done before for YALC, and the YALC Readathon, which was previously run by Jess Hearts Books (the creator), Michelle from Fluttering Butterflies, Vicky from Books, Biscuits and Tea, and Carly from Writing from the Tub.

I originally planned to start a YALC Reading Challenge months ago, because of the sheer number of authors who are going to be at YALC (the Young Adult Literature Convention) this year. I have a LOT of reading to do. And so have you! There are some amazing people on the list with fantastic titles under their belt.

However, I then got the flu. I could barely use my computer for the best part of three weeks thanks to muscle pain and fatigue that my doctor insisted was completely normal! Sure enough, I did eventually get better, but now I've lost so much time I decided to combine both ideas, and host the first Readathon Challenge!
Enough about me, onto the rules:

The books that you read for the 2016 YALC Readathon Challenge must be by authors who are appearing at YALC this year. You can see the list of authors who have been confirmed so far here. I also run the annual YALC Goodreads list, where you can vote for your favourite reads.

If you're unable to attend YALC this year, you can still take part in the challenge - there will be a lot of livetweeting during the convention! If you're not in the UK, why not sign up and sample some of the finest authors the British Isles have to offer, as well as some internationally successful reads?

This Readathon Challenge is open from today (3 June 2016) until the final day of YALC (31 July 2016).

Decided to take part?

Step One
Choose how long you want to readathon for - a weekend, a week, a fortnight, a month, from now until the 31st July, a single evening - it's up to you!

Step Two
Choose your level:
Convention Intention - read 1-4 books by authors who are appearing at YALC
Convention Attention - read 5-15 books by authors who are appearing at YALC
Convention Affection - read 16-25 books by authors who are appearing at YALC
Convention Perfection - read 26+ books by authors who are appearing at YALC

You can increase your level if you find yourself reading faster than you expected!

Step Three (optional)
Choose a Bonus Challenge, if you'd like, or more than one if you're feeling brave:

Happy Historian - previously, at YALC... read two or more books by an author who has appeared at YALC in the past and won't be there this year
Brilliant Bookswapper - read two or more books that you want to give away to another blogger or donate to the YALC bookswap
Radiant Reviewer - review two or more books by authors who are appearing at YALC

Step Four
Submit your link below!

If you have a blog, please link to a post that says what level and bonus challenge you have chosen, or update your reading challenges list, if like me, you keep them all in one place. You don't have to be a blogger to take part - if you don't have a blog, you can link to your Twitter or Goodreads instead. You can use the banner above if you wish :)

Personally, I am going to choose the Convention Attention level, and I'm hoping to read the following:

It's going well, I'm already part-way through Girl Out of Water and loving it!

After YALC I will do a post and link to my favourite reviews by people taking part in the challenge. You can also tweet about the challenge and share your progress by using the hashtag #yalcread

I hope you decide to take part in the YALC Readathon Challenge and have an amazing time!

Edited to add, here's a quick video in which I talk about the challenge:

Please note that the YALC Readathon Challenge is unofficial - I have no professional connection with Showmasters or Booktrust.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Limerbooks #1

I have written some limerickesque lines of dubious quality about books I have enjoyed. Can you guess which books they are about?

Don't go trawling through my Goodreads, that's cheating!

Also, I know some of these lines don't exactly scan, you don't have to tell me...


There once was a woman called Linda
Who lived in a time before Tinder
She married and divorced
A small scandal it caused
Then with a French duke she did linger


There once was a girl called Cia
Who studied hard without fear
But her father's bad dreams
Tore life apart at the seams
And death became suddenly nearer


There was a brave orphan named Laura
Her long-lost uncle adored her
He lied about his job
But let her get a dog
Things were never the same as before


There once was a girl who couldn't stop eating
Her sister accused her of lying and cheating
She found out one day
That she wasn't meant to stay
But she refused to let her strange life be fleeting


There once was a princess who didn't know
That into a monarch she would one day grow
She just wanted to be cool
And do okay at school
And for the popular boy to be her beau

Let me know your answers in the comments or tweet me!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Review: The Wolf Wilder, by Katherine Rundell

From The British Library
In pre-revolutionary Russia, the pampered aristocrats often keep wolves as pets. But wolves are not happy to sit on velvet cushions in gilded rooms their whole lives long and eventually they snap, and a pampered aristocrat, or a servant, loses a finger or a toe. The aristocracy believe that if you kill a wolf, you will be cursed, so the wolves are sent away to the wolf wilder, who will teach them how to survive in the wild - how to hunt and howl and be as fierce as they should be. The wolf wilder is Feo's mother, and she has been teaching Feo everything she knows.

Trouble arrives one night in the form of the Russian army, who are not happy to have wolves released in the forests nearby, where they hunt and kill elks and birds. Feo and her mother are ordered to shoot the wolves or be arrested. But Feo has grown up tough and strong and brave - after all, wolves are her only friends - and she is determined not to give in.

This was such a lovely book! Full of charm and adventure and very real peril. I loved the idea of wolf wilders, the opposite of animal tamers. It's a concept that is both cute and scary, much like the book itself. The wolves are realistically unpredictable, sometimes they help Feo, sometimes they create more trouble.

I also loved the other human characters. Feo's mother was fascinating and I wish she had been in the book more. Rakov is a terrifyingly heartless villain, keeping the stakes high. The friends Feo makes while on her journey are so wonderful I can't bear to describe them - I think you should get all the fun of meeting them with a fresh mind. The descriptions of Feo's environment are wonderful too - I could easily imagine Feo's warm and much-loved home, and the harsh, snow-filled world outside.

I would very much recommend The Wolf Wilder to readers who want to lose themselves in a story that blends history and fairytale.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

On Choosing to Read Books that Sound Similar to the Book You're Writing, and Book Review: Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson

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Many writers say that, out of fear of being influenced, they don't read books that may be similar to the book they are writing until they have finished writing it. This has never made much sense to me.

Firstly, it is highly unlikely that what you're writing is that similar to what other people are writing. Neil Gaiman summarises this very well in the intro to The Good Fairies of New York, a book that he avoided reading for five years because he was afraid it would be too similar to American Gods, and that of course was totally different to American Gods.

Secondly, how are you going to know if it is similar unless you read it? How can you accidentally be influenced by something you are reading and paying deliberate critical attention to? I have never had much patience for the 'writing comes from somewhere outside of me, it's not something I do so deliberately' idea. I think it is an excuse. It's often trotted out to explain a lack of diversity in books. 'It's not my fault all the characters are white and middle-class! The story and the characters just came to me'. No it didn't. You made it up. You continued to make it up as you were building it from the germ of an idea into a full-length novel. It's your job, as the writer, to turn a critical eye on your work and correct the unconscious biases that you expressed through it. It's not a sacred gift from outer space/the gods/the muse that you may not alter once it arrives.

Similarly, I think that writers should read books that sound like they might be similar to their own current projects - with the resolution to learn from it and then change the book they are writing if necessary so that they are more distinct. If you go in with this attitude, how can you be influenced by accident?

That said, I can understand why a writer might not want to change their ideas in response to another book - if they really love the idea as it is. It does kind of make sense, although that's not how I feel - I know complete originality is impossible, but I can give it a good go! And maybe that's why I haven't finished writing my novel yet!

I first heard about Suite Scarlett on the blog Reading With Tequila (No link as it's long gone), and wanted to read it because it's about a girl whose parents' business is failing and the YA novel I've been working on is about a girl whose parents' business is failing. I wanted to check for similarities, maybe pick up some pacing guidelines, that sort of thing.

Nuh-uh. Foiled. Suite Scarlett is completely different from my novel in almost every way. It was obvious from less than a chapter in. So I got to put the writing part of my brain on hold and just enjoy it, which is always good.

Scarlett Martin lives in the Hopewell, a formerly glamorous, but now faded and decrepit, New York hotel with her parents, elder sister Lola, brother Spencer, and younger sister Marlene. Although they still just about own the hotel, they've had very few guests in recent years, which means that Lola and Spencer have had to get jobs in addition to helping out at the hotel. They each hold a key to one of the suites, and it is their responsibility to clean and maintain it and look after the guests. On Scarlett's fifteenth birthday, she is presented with two very exciting gifts: a mobile phone, and the key to the Empire Suite - the biggest, most luxurious, and most commonly-empty suite at the Hopewell.

It should be an easy job, allowing Scarlett plenty of time to enjoy her summer, but all too soon she has a guest, the eccentric, demanding, and extremely meddlesome Mrs Amberson...

I absolutely loved Suite Scarlett. I'm a complete sucker for books in which teen characters have to deal with money problems (which is why I'm writing one) and I love weird and wonderful families, difficult siblings, and above all, secret plots! Mrs Amberson is a complete busybody and is delightfully frustrating - just when you desperately want her to stop sticking her oar in, she'll redeem herself. Scarlett's relationship with witty, obstinate Spencer is lovely, and I found Lola and her rich-but-dull boyfriend fascinating. It's a very easy read, one for when you want to relax and be charmed by a book, and I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on the sequel, Scarlett Fever.

I'm hoping that the novel I'm currently editing will be less cute and have a bit more grit to it, but if any reader likes it as much as I like Suite Scarlett, I'll be very pleased with myself.


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