Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Ten Books Read in 2014

It's been a great year for reading and me! I read way more books than I expected to, and (re)discovered some really fabulous authors. So without further preamble, I present:

My Top Ten Books Read in 2014 (in the order I read them)

1. The Worst Girlfriend in the World, by Sarra Manning

Sarra Manning is one of my favourite authors of all time so it was no surprise that I adored this. I loved it so much that when I finished reading it I wanted to start over again from the beginning! I think fans old and new will find plenty to love about this novel, which follows the (mis)adventures of would-be fashion designer Franny and her best friend Alice, from tiny seaside town to big city.

2. Adaptation, by Malinda Lo

Need the sequel, like, yesterday. Cool twist on the love triangle. And (redacted spoilery thing)!

3. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

I FINALLY got around to reading Fangirl, and I loved it. If you want to read a story about fanfic and university and first, incredibly awkward romantic adventures, you should definitely read Fangirl.

4. We Were Liars, by E Lockhart

This is actually my least favourite E Lockhart book. But that still makes it better than most other books. Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for YA, barely a day has gone by without someone gasping excitedly about it on Twitter.

5. Murder Most Unladylike, by Robin Stevens

Boarding school! MURDER! Friendship! Bunbreaks! MURDER!

6. The Diviners, by Libba Bray

This is so gorgeous I swooned over almost every page. I had mixed feelings about the Gemma Doyle trilogy by the end (although overall I loved it) but it looks like The Diviners will avoid all those issues. Thrilled that the sequel is coming out next year!

7. White Cat, by Holly Black

I love this series and this is one hell of an opener. The magic system is unique and the characters vivid and real. Very much recommended.

8. Through the Ever Night/Into the Still Blue, by Veronica Rossi

I loved both the second and the third books in this trilogy, which began with Under the Never Sky. Aria is one of my favourite protagonists ever.

9. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me, by Sarra Manning

This book was highly hyped and with good reason. It was published in 2011 but it took me this long to read it as I was hoping to find the *good cover* in a bookshop (I don't trust online shops to send me the right one!). Eventually I gave up and borrowed it from the library, and I'm very glad I did as I needed Neve, Max, Keith and all their family and friends in my life.

10. My True Love Gave To Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins

Finally a short story collection by novelists that isn't mediocre! A wonderful diverse seasonal anthology that stole my heart and wrapped it in tinsel.

Honorary mentions go to two non-fiction books (I didn't read enough non-fic for a proper non-fic list): The Bookshop Book, by Jen Campbell, though I still have a few pages to read, and Story, by Robert McKee - my god, I finally understand plotting thanks to this book!

Last year I did my top books list in a Bookish Brits video:

This year, we have done a series of videos talking about our favourite 2014 books in different categories. To watch, just press play below:

Did any of these books make it onto your top ten?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

An Interview with Jen Campbell, author of The Bookshop Book

The Bookshop Book, by Jen Campbell, is about weird and wonderful bookshops all over the world. It is the official book of the 2014 Books Are My Bag campaign, and I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in the blog tour and receive a copy of the book. It's a gorgeous hardback, full of great stories and characters, and I was delighted to interview Jen. I hope you enjoy reading my questions and her answers.

First up, I'd like to say how much I've enjoyed reading The Bookshop Book. I think it's made me love bookshops even more! I don't think I'll ever travel anywhere again without first checking The Bookshop Book to see if there's an amazing bookshop nearby that I could visit! The Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops books are definitely going on my Christmas list, I'd always planned to read them anyway, having heard a fair few weird things in my own time as a bookseller.

I was stunned by how many bookshops you managed to mention. How long did it take to research and write the book?

It took just over a year – I think I could have gone on and on, but I had a deadline (which was helpful, really, because it meant I had to prioritise!). It was a pretty intense year of research, whilst still working, and trying to travel to places in between work, too. But it was a lot of fun!

I saw in the guest post you did for A Daydreamer's Thoughts that you visited the bookshops in the UK and Europe, and talked to the owners of bookshops around the rest of the world via Skype. Which of the bookshops that you didn't get to visit would you most like to go on a trip to?
That's a tough one... I definitely want to get to El Ateneo in Buenos Aires; it's so beautiful! I'd also love to get to Jinbocho – Tokyo's Book Town, Librarie Papillion in the Mongolian Steppe, and Paju Book City – a purpose built bookish town in South Korea with over two hundred bookshops and publishing companies, founded on principles of peace. I mean, who wouldn't want to go there?
I would love to visit any (or all!) of those! On the subject of bookshops I can't wait to visit, as you know, I got very excited about the concept of a shop that sells both hats and books. If you could run a shop that sold books and just one other thing, what would that other thing be?
Ooh, that's an excellent question. There are some odd combination bookshops – a bookshop in Greece that's also a laundrette, a bookshop in the UK that's also an ice cream parlour, a bookshop in Kenya that also sells cows.... Perhaps I'd have a bookshop that also sold tea. I don't just mean that I'd have a cafe, I mean I'd have aisles of tea from all over the world. We could then pair up different tea bags with books that originated from, or are set in, the same place.
I love that idea! I would definitely visit a bookshop that matched tea with books. In The Bookshop Book, you feature short pieces by different authors, in which many of them describe their fantasy bookshops. What would your fantasy bookshop be like? And while we're on the subject of imaginary bookshops, do you have a favourite fictional bookshop from a book, film, TV show, or play? (I assume there must be a bookshop in a play somewhere!)
I'd love to have a bookshop in a forest – with treehouses to read in, and barns that each house a different genre. There'd be lots of fairy lights and Alice in Wonderland references. My favourite fictional bookshop is a toss up between the bookshop in You've Got Mail and Flourish and Blotts.
Some of the bookshops featured have long, rich histories dating back centuries, but I think we should take a moment to remember bookshops past. Do you have a favourite historical bookshop, or a bookshop now closed that you wish you could visit one last time? Or both!
I'd like to have gone to Walter Swan's bookshops – they closed when he past away a decade ago. He was a bit of a character, and I'd love to have met him. Here's the extract from The Bookshop Book with the (slightly ridiculous but excellent) tale of his bookshops.
Walter Swan was born in 1916 and grew up in an old mining town in Arizona. When he was young he enjoyed sharing stories and going on adventures with his big brother, Henry. Later on in life, Walter’s wife Deloris said he should start writing some of these stories down, so he did. Walter would recite them, and Deloris would record them, because Walter wasn’t very good at spelling.

After typing each one up, she’d put it in a box. Within several years the box was overflowing, and Walter decided to send the stories off to publishing companies all across the States. He got rejections from every single one.

In 1990, therefore, when Walter was seventy-four, he took out a loan so that he could pay a Tucson vanity publisher $650 to print 100 hardback copies of his book, Me ’n’ Henry. Not really nowing much about the bookselling industry, Walter then went around local bookshops to see if they would stock it, and was horrified to discover they would want 40% of the profits if they sold any.

So, what did Walter do? Let them take the profits?


Give up?


Walter's plan was to open his own bookshop. Not just any bookshop, but one called the One-Book Bookstore: a bookshop that only sold copies of his book, and nothing else. Walter and Deloris remortgaged their house, and opened their shop on Main Street in Bisbee.

How many copies did they manage to sell? Seven thousand!

Walter published three more books, and opened a bookshop next door called the Other Bookstore, so he could sell those there. He said he couldn’t possibly sell them in the One-Book Bookstore, because that was just for his first book.

By the time he passed away in 2004 he had sold more than 20,000 books.

Thank you Jen for agreeing to be interviewed! 

To read more interviews with authors, click here.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bookish Brits Vlog 22: On Swearing in YA

In this vlog I talk about the issue of swearing in YA and why I am pro-swearing in books.

One thing I didn't talk about much is the idea that teenagers will be encouraged to swear more by reading about characters that swear, and I can understand why parents and teachers want to disencourage swearing! Also, some people have since mentioned that YA books are often read by younger kids, who might not have come across much swearing before, and who won't necessarily understand that it is often not appropriate to swear. I would argue that books present an opportunity for parents and teachers to discuss appropriate language with their kids and pupils :)

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bookish Brits Vlog 21: The Would You Rather? Book Tag with Michelle

Michelle and I did the Would You Rather? book tag when we were both at the #picnicYA meetup in Green Park. This was so much fun, I want to do loads more videos with other people. At first we couldn't stop giggling (as you'll see in the outtake video) but once we got the laughter under control it went really smoothly and in fact was easier than making a video by myself!

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: Adaptation, by Malinda Lo

Reese remembers the birds. She remembers when they attacked. She remembers the plane crashes. She remembers right up until the accident, and then nothing after. A month has passed when she wakes up in a government facility. She knows that something has changed her. Something has changed the world. She has survived when she should have died, and so has her debate partner, David. And no-one has any answers to give her - or do they?

I enjoyed Adaptation a lot, possibly even more than Ash, despite my eternal love of fairy tales. They are very different books, but they both have a powerfully atmospheric quality to them. Adaptation is particularly interesting because it combines this atmosphere with a science-fiction story that has a massive mystery at its heart.

The world of Adaptation is verging on apocalyptic. After the birds, the public doesn't know what is going on. They are scared. They make up strange theories. Some of them try to investigate. Others trust the authorities, desperately hoping for protection. Reese doesn't know whether to cling to everything that she knows as normal, or to plunge headlong into this strange new chaos.

Of course, having read 'The Birds' by Daphne du Maurier, and watched Hitchcock's The Birds, I could not help but be reminded of them when reading Adaptation, which made it even creepier for me.

I loved the love triangle in Adaptation, despite not usually being a fan of them. Typically, they persist because the main character is trying to decide which love interest s/he is more attracted to or which would be the better choice, but in Adaptation the romantic options represent something more. They indicate two different sides of Reese; two different paths she could take. But at the same time, they are not just symbols, they are interesting characters in their own right who are just as entangled in the plot and the mysteries of the story as she is. I thought I knew which of the two I preferred, part way through the book, but by the end I was fascinated by both of them and I am looking forward to learning more in the sequel, Inheritance.

I also liked all the other characters, from the mysterious figures at the government facility to Reese's mother, who stands up for her daughter and Gets Things Done.

I think that this might be a bit of a Marmite book because of the pacing. From the synopsis you might expect a thriller, and this does have some exciting scenes where I was reading on the edge of my seat/bed, desperate to find out what was going to happen. However, it was also quite a slow burner. I liked this, because it built up the atmosphere and it kept me guessing, but other readers might not.

I am looking forward to reading the sequels - the novella, Natural Selection and the full-length novel, Inheritance. Many thanks to Hodder Children's Books for allowing me to read the ebook of Adaptation via NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

And Now, Some Nepotism: An Interview with Nick Bryan, author of The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf

My boyfriend, Nick Bryan, has published a book, The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf, and this has caused all kinds of ethical dilemmas to grow wings and flutter around my brain.
I had already decided a few years ago not to review books that I had been involved in at an earlier stage. The first of my friends to publish a book was Ali Luke, who I met when we were both doing the MA Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths. Her novel, Lycopolis, is about a group of roleplayers that sort-of-accidentally summon a demon. It's very good, I enjoyed it. I would love to be able to review it, but I just couldn't separate the-book-as-it-is-now from all the bits and pieces of earlier drafts in my head. When I review a book, I want to be sure that I am reviewing only what made it to the final pages.

My role in the production of The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf was more minor, all I did was proofread it, but still, the idea of reviewing it makes me uncomfortable. He's my boyfriend. It would Just Be Weird. But I wanted to do something to celebrate the book's publication. After a bit of thought I hit upon the idea of doing an interview. Nick and I talk quite frequently about the craft of writing, but I'd never really asked him about where his ideas came from before, so I started typing up questions and emailing them to him.

Does it count as nepotism when all you're doing is interviewing your boyfriend for your own relatively minor book blog? He has more Twitter followers than me, hell, he has more Twitter followers than the shared Bookish Brits account at this point. So maybe this is actually sneaky nepotism on his part, because he'll be promoting my blog by tweeting about this interview?

In any case, whoever is the nepotist, here is the interview. I hope you enjoy it.

Let's start with a pretty basic question. How did you come up with the idea?

I watched a lot of odd-couple detective shows and thought "Y'know, if one of them is going to act like a teenager, they might as well be one." After that, a lot of the dynamic, from the way both of them cover up their real selves for silly reasons to their on-off infantile bickering, came pretty naturally.

Like many things I write, it originally had more of a fantasy element - the wolf they're chasing in The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf was basically the Big Bad Wolf, straight out of a fairy story. But as I read Fables and watched Once Upon a Time, it became clear that was well raked ground, and I came up with this crime-drenched modernity instead. Like the old gangster days where every business is a front for criminal activity, except with more contemporary enterprises. And still a Wolf, because making it fit without the Big Bad aspect was almost more fun.

Which part of the writing process did you find the most difficult?

The hardest part of the writing process by far is actually having an idea. The typing and editing takes longer - and self-publishing does admittedly contain some quite monotonous tasks - but it's nowhere near as stressful as getting my thoughts together.

A short story by Nick Bryan will generally have involved half a day of drumming my fingers trying to work out what to do for every one day spent actually writing it. This is one reason I like novels and serialisation - I get much more use out of the ideas.

Oh, ideas. If only they arrived fully formed rather than full of gaps that require a lot of hard thinking to fill in. Which part of the writing process did you find the easiest?

For me, the part where you sprint away into a first draft, no longer chained down by the leaden chains of having an idea and before the sudden stop of having to bring the story into a sensible shape in order to finish your first draft and edit it into something socially acceptable.

Finishing later, more arduous edits is more satisfying, but pattering out first draft is definitely the easiest bit for me.

Oh, except for the part where you sit down the pub with your mates, talking about how you're going to write a book but never actually doing it. That's also kinda straightforward.

Yeah that is not something I've found a particular struggle, though when progress is slow I find it kind of embarrassing to talk about. Back to The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf, which character is your favourite? Is it hard to choose?

Hobson and Choi, probably jointly. Hobson is more fun to write, but Angelina is more like me. Turns out, channelling my inner teenage girl comes pretty easily.

Outside of the heroes, probably The Left Hand, the evil discount pub. It's not a character, obviously, but it's just such a ridiculously OTT concept. And in the broader context of the entire Hobson & Choi series, I think The Left Hand probably did the most to set up and establish where it'll all end up going. It was such fun, I decided to go harder in that direction.

That's set up a nice segue into my next question, thanks. The Hobson & Choi series is set in London, and there's quite a lot of travelling to different locations. What area is your favourite to write about? Is there a location that you haven't featured but would like to write about in the future?

Outside The Left Hand, I enjoy writing about South London a lot, actually. It's easy and fun to make it into a character. So look for more Peckham and Brixton stuff in future books.

In the future: I may have to bite the bullet and take the team into Central London, properly in town with all the tourist attractions. Don't know if I can put it off any longer. They gotta meet the Queen.

Do you think you could have written the book, albeit under a different title, if Twitter had never been invented? The Girl Who Facebooked Wolf? The Girl Who Put A Wolf in her Myspace Top Friends?

Without social media, I imagine they'd just have read about it in the paper. Or maybe someone would've come into the office and hired them, like all the classic detective storylines, and I'd have needed a different terrible wolf pun.

Of course, Twitter could become redundant in the future, but the beauty of self-publishing is I could just go back and update it into The Girl Who ZapKibbled Wolf or whatever replaces it.

Probably won't really do that, but do all remember to friend me on ZapKibble. I really think it could be the next big thing.

Back in 2014, you can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMB, or visit his website to find out more about The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf and his other writing.

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview! If you're a book blogger, have any of your friends or family members published books? Do you review their work or have you found other ways to support them?

Monday, September 08, 2014

Book Review: Boys Don't Knit by T. S. Easton

Ben Fletcher is on probation - the criminal variety. Following a certain incident with a stolen bottle of Martini Rosso and a lollipop lady, he has been ordered to keep a journal, Give Something Back (to the community), and attend an extracurricular class. The options are pretty dire (worst of all being car maintenance with his Dad), so he decides to go for knitting, without telling anyone. But how long will he be able to keep his new hobby a secret, especially after finding out that he's actually quite good at it?

I started reading Boys Don't Knit while I was volunteering at the London Short Story Festival. I'd already giggled several times on the way to the events, but didn't get to read very much until my lunch break. The restaurant at Waterstone's Piccadilly, 5th Story, is quite fancy looking. There's a bar and a view and the jacket potato costs about twice as much as it should (though it is delicious). It's filled with the sorts of classy-looking people that you'd imagine would go for lunch at Waterstone's Piccadilly.

And there I was, cackling at Boys Don't Knit for half an hour. I must have really lowered the ambience.

Boys Don't Knit is very very funny. Basically, it is a sports movie, in book form, with knitting instead of sports and with most of the earnestness switched for comedy. It has all the right ingredients. Seriously, if you've read Boys Don't Knit, look up Sports Story on TV Tropes. It's all there. It's a Billy Elliot Plot in which a teenager who is dealing with difficult life situations tries to get out of an Awkward Father/Son Bonding Activity, becoming an Accidental (knitting) Athlete, and in the end, everything rides on the outcome of the Big Game (knitting championship). There are more, but they would be spoilers.

Because it is essentially a sports movie, Boys Don't Knit didn't have the most unpredictable plot of all time, but I don't think that matters. Firstly, it is not a thriller, it is a comedy. The humour is the point. Secondly, I don't think every story needs to have an entirely unpredictable plot. Most don't. Once you've consumed enough stories in their varied and wonderful forms, you are usually able to make a reasonable guess at what will happen in the end when you're only halfway through. I think it's more important for the plot to be coherent than surprising.

So I love that Boys Don't Knit is a sports-free book version of a sports movie. I know next to nothing about most sports, but I do know about knitting, so all I got all the references to the craft and could imagine Ben's struggles and successes easily. It's also very British. There are lots of references that people from outside the UK might not get. However, I don't think you need to know anything about yarn, needles, or British politics to enjoy it, again, because of the humour.

The characters are daft but loveable, and quickly I found myself cheering on Ben and enjoying the downfall of his enemies. I won't tell you any more, because I want you to discover all the weird and wonderful people in Ben's life for yourself!

I would recommend Boys Don't Knit to those who love comedy, especially if you've read The Hunger Games! I am really looking forward to reading the sequel, An English Boy in New York.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Book Blogger UKYA Awards: Voting Open Now!

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Today I am here with VERY exciting news! The shortlist of the Book Blogger UKYA Awards is now ready! This is the time for YOU to vote for your favourite from the list!

Voting is open until 21st September. Make sure you don’t miss out! Voting will also be happening a little differently than the nominations. On this blog you will be voting for: Best Self-Published, Most Social Author (Online), Most Social Author (Offline), and Author Whose Mind You Wish Was Yours and then you will hop along to the next blog to vote for more awards! There are five different awards to jump to, and five/six bloggers hosting each group, but you only need to visit five blogs! This means that you don't have to vote all at once, and you can vote at your leisure – but make sure you do so before 21st September.


Jump To (choose which blog for each category you want to visit!)  

Best Contemporary, Best Historical, Best Crime/Mystery, and Best LGBT
Big Book Little Book
Fabulous Book Fiend
Feeling Fictional
It Takes A Woman
The YA’s Nightstand

Funniest Book, Most Heartbreaking Book, Best First Sentence, Best Ending
Ya Yeah Yeah
Cicely Loves Books
Queen of Contemporary
Luna’s Little Library 

Best Horror, Best Sci-fi/Fantasy, Best Paranormal, Best Adventure
Winged Reviews
K – Books
To Another World
Bookish Outsider

Best Protagonist, Best Couple, Best Friendship, Best Villain
Snuggling on the Sofa
Much Loved Books
Hush Hush Revealings
The Pewter Wolf
The Little Munchkin Reader

Again, make sure to vote before the 21st September!

Friday, August 22, 2014

YALC Day One and Bookish Brits Vlog 18

It's the 22nd August, over a month after the event, and I think I am finally recovering from the whirlwind of bookish wonder that was the first Young Adult Literature Convention! Yes, it's taken that long. It was just so inspiring and interesting and exhausting...but wait - I'll start at the beginning.

I packed up my bag on the Friday night with our pretty new Bookish Brits business cards:

And I went to bed at what I thought would be an early enough time, setting my alarm for what I thought would be an early enough time. In the morning I put on my hipster dress and a blue hair thing. I took photos on the train so people from Twitter would recognise me.

Also on the train I read a lot of tweets about the length of the queue. I had a copy of Red Glove by Holly Black with me, so I wasn't too concerned about it. But I was not prepared for this (video by Tim Wood):

It felt like I had to walk forever just to find the end of the queue. I thought I'd reached it several times before I finally got to the end. At one point one of the LFCC staff asked me and two girls nearby if it was the queue for Early Bird ticketholders. "I hope so!" was my incredulous response. On the plus side, I managed to read quite a lot of Red Glove as I walked. I also got to see some amazing cosplay that I might not have been able to get such a good view of while inside the convention, as it was so busy.

Finally I got inside and headed for the Book Zone as quickly as I could. But I was stuck in a massive crowd for a few minutes. It was somewhere between moshpit and the Crystal Palace Fireworks for crowdedness. Not great. Eventually I managed to push my way through and marched through stalls and autograph areas until I could get to a) the loos and b) the Book Zone!

The Book Zone was a much calmer, more relaxed area. People were hanging around picking up flyers and posters and badges, chatting, and admiring the fabulous book wall.

I queued up with the simple dream of collecting a ticket for every panel discussion. I LOVE panel discussions. I may be the number one fan of the concept of panel discussions. Unfortunately I had arrived too late (it was now about quarter to eleven, I arrived at Earl's Court at about 9:30) to get a ticket for the first panel, It's the end of the world as we know it: the ongoing appeal of dystopia (with Malorie Blackman, Sarah Crossan, Patrick Ness and James Smythe), but all the others were up for grabs. On the plus side, if you didn't have a ticket, you were still allowed to stand at the back and watch, which is what I did. The microphones were a bit dodgy during the first panel, so I didn't hear everything. I did hear most of what Malorie Blackman said, though, and I loved that she had come in costume!

The second panel was Going graphic: from novels to graphic novels with Ian Edginton, Marcus Sedgwick and Emma Vieceli, and chaired by Sarah McIntyre. I sat quite near the front for this one. It was really interesting, all about the process of adapting novels to graphic novels, and how it is different from creating a new story from scratch. I'm currently deciding whether I should write up my notes from the panels and make a post about each one. Let me know if this is something you would be interested in reading.

Superfans unite! was the third panel and one of the most popular panels of the whole weekend, thanks to the presence of the one and only Rainbow Rowell. I actually didn't take any notes during this panel because it was more of a fun, celebratory Q&A-based event. The audience asked loads of funny, thoughtful questions. The other panelists were Tim O'Rourke and Lucy Saxon, and it was chaired by Andy Robb. Lucy Saxon was dressed as Captain America and she looked AMAZING.

After that panel finished most people went off to queue to get Rainbow Rowell to sign their books but I'd borrowed Fangirl from the library so instead I went to join a very different kind of queue, the almost-as-long queue for the loos. At this point I was also really thirsty and had drunk most of my water, but the queue for the only food and drink outlet was even longer. This was a real problem. I think it was very irresponsible of the LFCC to have only one place where attendees could get water, especially on such a hot day. The queue was still terrible when I left the toilets so I decided to ration out the rest of the water I'd brought with me, and went to sit back down in the panel area.

Thanks to the loo queue I missed at least half of the fourth panel, Regenerating the Doctor: reimagining famous characters, so when I sat down it took me a while to catch on to what the speakers were discussing. What I did manage to hear was really interesting so it was a shame I couldn't get to listen to the whole thing. It was great that the YALC organisers managed to squeeze so many wonderful panels into two days, but after going to Nine Worlds recently, where there was a half hour gap inbetween panels, rather than the 15 minutes allowed by YALC, I have started to think that maybe it would be better to have maybe one less panel and longer breaks, for the comfort of the people attending.

The last panel I went to was Bring me my dragons: writing fantasy today with Frances Hardinge, Amy McCulloch, Jonathan Stroud and Ruth Warburton, chaired by Marc Aplin. I was sitting next to Imogen Russell Williams during this panel (as I was during most of the panels, because I have great taste when it comes to choosing who to sit next to) and she was telling me before it started how amazing Frances Hardinge's books are, and I have to say that thanks to that and Frances' own description of her books I am convinced that I must read them all now! I was too awestruck to even attempt to write down how Frances Hardinge described her work. It was that good a description. She was also really interesting and amusing during the panel. To the library!

I ended YALC day one by going to the Getting started with graphic novels workshop with Emma Vieceli. I wasn't expecting to learn very much in 45 minutes but it was fabulous and it made me want to draw. The only problem was not with the workshop content but with the fact that the workshops took place in a area off to one side in the Book Zone. It was very difficult to hear the workshop leaders talk because they didn't have microphones and we were surrounded by all the general convention noise. If there had even been some of those temporary walls around it that might have helped shield it a little. Alternatively they could give the workshop leaders microphones and then people who weren't taking part could listen in too, which I know a lot of people wanted to do.

After the workshop I joined some other bloggers who were waiting for the last panel to end and for the signings to be over so that we could head for the YALC Fringe event in a nearby pub! I was so excited to drink this.

That's just cranberry juice but I drank it with such delight that it could have been the best prosecco in all the land. I also had several pints of water and a much-appreciated burger. I talked to both bloggers and authors, though not nearly enough of them. I was having a really good time and there were more people I wanted to say hello to but I was suddenly so incredibly tired.

And I knew that the next day, I was going to have to get up earlier and try to get there a lot earlier so that I could be sure of getting a ticket for every panel this time. There was no way I was going to miss out on tickets for the I'm too sexy for this book! panel, or the Sisters doing it for themselves panel, or for Holly Black & Sally Gardner in conversation...

I decided to say goodbye to as many people as I could and sneak out before I could fall asleep at a table and drool on somebody's raffle prize (books, natch). I went home, set my alarm for quarter to six (!!!), and went to bed.

I'll leave you for today with my eighteenth Bookish Brits video. It's a bit long, but it summarises (errr..sort of) everything I could possibly have to say about YALC! Good, bad, and hopeful :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot

Mia Thermapolis thinks she's just an ordinary girl with a couple of big problems - her mum is dating one of her teachers, and she can't get the boy she likes to notice her. Then her dad reveals that he's the Crown Prince of Genovia and everything gets a lot more complicated. Mia falls out with her friends, starts getting followed by paparazzi, and perhaps worst of all, has to endure princess lessons with her grandmother...

I'd say that the film of The Princess Diaries is one of my guilty pleasures, except that I don't feel guilty at all. I just love it. I'd always intended to read the book series at some point, but didn't get around to starting it until it was chosen as one of the Bookish Brits book club reads.

It's quite different from the film - Mia's dad is still alive, and her grandmother is a lot less likeable as person, but a lot funnier as a character! Although Grand-mère is one of my favourite characters in the book, she annoys Mia almost constantly. The plot develops at a slower pace so I think that the film must contain material from other books.

It's a sweet and funny book and Mia is a great narrator. I think this is regarded as a teenage classic and with good reason -  many little girls dream of becoming a princess, but as teenagers most of us come to realise that it wouldn't be such a good thing! The whole cast of characters is fab, from Mia's best friend Lilly to her driver/bodyguard Lars. I liked the romantic elements, but most of all I loved the different friendships and how they develop.

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the series and finding out more about Mia, her family and friends. Have you read this series? What did you think?

We read The Princess Diaries for the very first Bookish Brits Book Club! You can watch the results below:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Blogger UKYA Awards: Nominations Open Now!

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Today I am delighted to announce that the Book Blogger UKYA Award Nominations are open! This is a really exciting new project to celebrate UKYA authors and books.

Use the form below to nominate the books and authors that you love. You can nominate up to three books and authors per category, so choose wisely!

Nominations will stay open for two weeks, until 24th August. Then the shortlist will be sorted and voting will begin on the 1st September.

Good luck to all the lovely books and authors!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bookish Brits Vlog 17: Tips for Getting the Most Out of YALC and Other Conventions/Events

Come one, come all. Learn from my mistakes. Prepare yourself for YALC. Hear me do an impression of the Family Fortunes incorrect-answer noise.

Let me know what your top tips are in the comments below or tweet @BookishBrits and then I'll retweet them!

A few weeks ago I made a list on Goodreads for the YA books by YALC-attending authors. 

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Bookish Brits Vlog 16: More Characters That Should Get Their Own Books

Ever since I pressed 'stop' after filming Characters That Should Get Their Own Books, I've been coming up with more for the list! In this video I share some of them. I'd love to find out what secondary characters other people think should get their own books, let me know in the comments - and if you film a video or write a post, leave me the link :)

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Monday, July 07, 2014

What Makes A Book YA? Plus Bookish Brits Vlog 16: Teenage Characters Outside YA

There is a lot of debate about what makes a book YA or teen fiction. I have been deliberately reading 'adult' or 'literary' fiction about teenaged characters in a bid to work it out for myself.

I think a lot of the time the difference is just marketing, but in other cases, the book has been written in a way that doesn't fit the conventions of YA. Below, I will go through each of the books mentioned in the above video and explain whether I think it could have been published as YA or not.

I insist very passionately that YA is an age category, not a genre, but nonetheless, books that are sold as YA tend to follow certain conventions. The main one is that the protagonist(s) must be teenagers. If there are shifts in point of view, at no point will we experience the point of view of an adult. I think another convention is that the story must feel grounded in teenage reality. The teenage experience is not a metaphor for something else or a flashback from an adult's point of view. If you replace 'teenagers' with 'children' and 'teenage' with 'childhood', you'll be describing children's fiction.

People often say that plot is critical to YA. Teenagers like a clear plot that grabs them and keeps them turning the pages. But so does everyone else. Plot is critical to the successful reception of almost every genre of literature, whether it's written for children, teenagers, or adults. One notable exception is literary fiction...

Swallowing Grandma, by Kate Long - Could have been YA

This is written in first person - the narrator is a teenager. It is a coming of age novel set in the time that it was written. This could definitely have been marketed as YA, however, none of the author's other books are YA. Her first novel The Bad Mother's Handbook was a number-one bestseller, so obviously her publishers wanted to market Swallowing Grandma as adult fiction in order to appeal to previous readers.

The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter - Couldn't have been YA

This deals with many of the same themes as a lot of YA books - coming of age, sexuality, relationships - but it's by an author whose entire output is classified as literary fiction. It's full of poetic language and literary allusions and metaphor. It's magical realism so it's set in a world that is a bit dreamlike and fantastic, the plot isn't clear, and the point of view shifts from character to character. In short, it doesn't really have anything in common with most YA except for the age of the protagonist. I'm not saying that YA fiction can't contain poetic language and evoke a dreamlike atmosphere but it's not very common - an example is Ash, by Malinda Lo. I loved Ash but a lot of other readers disliked it, and I think this is because when someone picks up a book that is marketed as YA they expect something that is quite down to earth. Even if it's set in a fantasy world, it will usually feel very grounded. The reader will be able to relate to the situations that the protagonist(s) gets into and the decisions they have to make. The Magic Toyshop is not realistic and only vaguely relatable!

Five Miles From Outer Hope, by Nicola Barker - Couldn't have been YA without major editing

First person, narrator is a teenager, very weird. Not quite as weird as Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory but heading along those lines for a while. Tangent: people I know keep wondering aloud about whether The Wasp Factory could have been marketed as YA - I would say yes, it could have been, it's got a teenage narrator - but much like with Swallowing Grandma it wouldn't have fitted the author's career trajectory. It's the same with Five Miles From Outer Hope - the author is a literary fiction writer. Also, there's a time jump at the end, so we see the narrator as an adult, and the whole thing makes more sense from the point of view of an adult. Without that chapter from the adult's point of view the book isn't as good. It pulls the whole thing together because there isn't really much of a plot. It gets away without a clear plot as is because it is literary fiction.

Bonjour Tristesse, by Françoise Sagan - Could have been YA

Bonjour Tristesse was published in 1954, long before the term "Young Adult" was coined. The narrator is a teenager, but at times she seems to be looking back from an older perspective, although the author was only 18 herself when the book was published. I actually read Bonjour Tristesse because Sarra Manning recommended it years ago. I think that if it was being published for the first time today, it could have been YA, if it weren't for the author's career path.

The New Girl, by Emily Perkins - Couldn't have been YA

This is a book with an ensemble cast and only one of them is a teenager. It is a coming of age story but it is also a story about older people and the choices they have made throughout their lives, so it could not be YA.

Let me know what you think - how would you define Young Adult literature? Which adult or literary novels do you think could be published as YA, today? If you're a writer who writes what might be considered Young Adult fiction, how do you feel about it?

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Book Review: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Going to university means almost nothing but anxiety for Cath. She was comfortable with the way things were at home with her dad and twin sister Wren. Her only comfort is that Wren is going to the same university, but Wren doesn't want to be her roommate - she wants to make new friends and go to all the parties she can.

Cath isn't interested in parties, or making new friends. She is devoted to the fanfic she's been working on for two years, Carry On, Simon, featuring the stars of the Simon Snow books. The last book in the series is going to come out soon, and Cath is determined to finish her version first. But can she manage that and complete her assignments for her creative writing class? Is her dad going to be alright at home by himself? Is Wren going to too many parties? Does Cath's roommate Reagan hate her? And what is up with Reagan's boyfriend Levi?

Usually I reserve judgement on a book until I'm at least halfway through but I decided that I loved this whilst only a few chapters in. I love books set at universities and I love books with a strong focus on relationships and social interaction. There so much going on in Fangirl. There are plots and subplots and the cast of characters is fantastic.

I'll start with Cath, who is the main character and the fangirl of the title. I could relate really strongly to Cath - it was like I used to be her! Cath is very anxious about having to interact with anybody new, but this doesn't make her shy and sweet, it makes her grumpy and reclusive, which I think is far more realistic. She is mostly happy working by herself on her fanfic and studying, and I could definitely relate to that. I have gone through periods in the past when all I wanted to do was be left alone to read and write.

Cath's anxiety puts her in some quite difficult situations. As you'll hear if you watch the video above, I used to avoid the dining area at university but I coped by going home or eating in the loos or the library. Cath doesn't have the luxury of a shared kitchen so she can't eat proper meals at all! Fangirl has to be one of the most fun books that I've ever read that deals with mental health issues.

The other characters are brilliant too. I forgot to mention him in the video but I adored Cath's dad, as difficult as he makes her life sometimes. I'm not going to list anyone else or I'll end up spoiling half the book.

I also loved all the snippets from the Simon Snow books and Cath's fanfic pieces. I was shocked to hear that some people don't like them! I really want to read the Simon Snow books now, it's such a shame they're not real!

There were a few chapters which were a bit light on plot and character development, but I didn't really mind.

I would recommend Fangirl to everyone, pretty much! Fangirl was the Bookish Brits Book Club choice for May 2014, and in the video I recommended Adorkable by Sarra Manning to and I would do the same the other way around - they deal with similar issues but the protagonists are very different.

Find out what the Bookish Brits thought of Fangirl by watching the video below:

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Bookish Brits Vlog 13: Book of Feels Nomination for If I Stay

I am extremely behind on blogging about my Bookish Brits videos! I will be posting about them all in the next couple of weeks, but if you want to make sure you don't miss anything, go to YouTube and subscribe to Bookish Brits.

This video is actually about an event we ran in April - the Bookish Brits Book of Feels poll. To find out more about it, just press play, and I think you can still vote!

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Book Review: She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgwick

Last time Laureth Peak spoke to her father, he was researching his book in Amsterdam. But he hasn't called or texted her in several days. And then she gets an email from a stranger, saying that he's found her father's notebook in New York. Laureth is alarmed - he's not supposed to be in New York. She's even more concerned by the fact that her mother doesn't seem to care about the notebook turning up in the wrong place. So she decides to go to New York and find her father - or discover what has happened to him.

The only problem is, she can't go alone. Laureth is blind, so she has to take someone with her, to help her navigate the new city and the only person she can trust is her seven year old brother, Benjamin...

(Note on Laureth's blindness - at my book club, we discussed whether we thought that the blindness was supposed to be a surprise. It is written like it is, but if you're reading this review you've probably read a synopsis which mentions it somewhere - I saw the one on Goodreads before reading the book!)

She Is Not Invisible is a book that grabbed me right from the start. I loved the characters. It was amazing to read a book told from the point of view of a blind character, something I've never done before. I loved Laureth's relationship with her little brother Benjamin. I loved Stan, and the stories behind their names. I loved Mr Walker. I was really intrigued by Laureth's parents and their relationship.

I didn't love the plot so much, or more precisely, the ending. Most of the book feels like set up time. We are told about various coincidences and given philosophical background information but it all just kind of fizzles out and I was left wondering what exactly the point was meant to be. Maybe the point is that there is no pointt, or maybe the point is supposed to be the feelings we feel when the book ends. I don't know, but in either case, it wasn't quite enough for me.

I really enjoyed meeting Laureth and the other characters, and I would still recommend this book. It's really interesting and clever and even funny in places. But I didn't feel like it all got the ending that it deserved.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review: The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau

Watch this video to find out what the other Bookish Brits thought of The Testing!

Malencia Vale has dreamed of being selected for The Testing for as long as she can remember. She desperately wants to follow in her father's footsteps, go to the University, and help her world. When Cia is chosen, she wants her parents to be proud., but instead her father tells her about some grisly truths about what the Testing involves. No one is supposed to know what The Testing involves, because all candidates have their memories wiped when the process is over, but he has retained a few snippets of memory, and what he tells Cia chills her to the bone.

There is no escape. Participation is compulsory. So now Cia must go to the city, terrified of what she might encounter, what she will have to do - and the memory wipe that she will go through, if she survives.

I'm not going to lie. The Testing is a lot like The Hunger Games. The opening situation is almost identical - a girl from a minor colony takes part in a ceremony and is selected to go to the big city to compete against others her own age, in order to stay alive.

So honestly, I think this book will be best enjoyed by those who haven't read very many dystopias. I have pretty much only read The Hunger Games trilogy, and that was a couple of years ago, so I read The Testing with somewhat fresh eyes. I expect that readers who have read, say, five Hunger Games-a-likes in the last year will have less patience with The Testing. Not because it's a bad book, but because the ideas and character types and twists that these books rely on will inevitably seem less fresh and exciting, even if the writing is good, when you've seen them multiple times.

And I think the writing is good. The protagonist, Cia, is a sensible, science-minded but not unemotional, enthusiastic young woman who hopes to make her country, which is struggling to rebuild itself following a war that devastated the world, a better place. There is a backstory to the whole situation that we get to see in small doses as Cia completes her exams. The City, and the Testing officials, are much more ambiguous than the Capitol is in The Hunger Games. Cia is not a child being punished for the sins of her ancestors - she is trying to complete a test that the officials believe, or are led to believe, will help them pick out the future rulers and designers of their nation.

I really enjoyed meeting the other characters - family, friends, and Testing candidates. Cia's main romantic interest is a boy from her home colony, Tomas, but we never know how much she should trust him. I have to admit that I wasn't the biggest fan of their romance - I was more intrigued by Will and Stacia, and by Cia's elder brother, who perhaps should have been Tested himself.

The Testing is (of course) the first in a trilogy, and I think that its ending sets the scene for the second book really well. I think it will start to lose its similarities to The Hunger Games from here on out, so I am really looking forward to reading Independent Study.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Review: Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

One night Rae feels like she needs to get away from everyone, including her family and boyfriend, and have some space to think, so she goes out for a drive by the lake. There she is kidnapped by a group of vampires. They take her to a heavily guarded house by the lake and put her in a room with another vampire, who is chained to the wall, yet able to reach her. Rae is clearly meant to be food, so she is surprised when the vampire doesn't devour her immediately, and instead asks her to talk to him. But he isn't like other vampires, and, it turns out, Rae isn't like other humans either.
Sunshine is a very strange book to review. I enjoyed it immensely but was also really annoyed by it! The plot is quite an unusual one as the bulk of the story takes place after Rae escapes the vampires and explores the effect this has on her life. Though she claims that she can't remember anything, and tries to convince herself that life will continue as normal, supernatural law enforcement officials that she has known all her life start turning their attention to her, eager to find out what happened that night. Her mother starts leaving protection charms around. And the vampire that she was held prisoner with hasn't disappeared either.

There's a lot of detail in this book. Rae goes off on a lot of tangents, which some readers don't like, but I loved it. I really enjoyed all the different elements that were brought into the story. The world building and characterisation was excellent and I was desperate to find out what Rae would do and what would be revealed about each character in the end.

And then it just stops.

And not in the first-book-in-a-series cliffhanger kind of way.

At The End of the story, almost nothing has been explained, let alone resolved. The one major relationship has developed, but that's it.

It's extremely frustrating. It seems like there is so much interesting material left to explore, but to the author, the most interesting part, that relationship, has developed, so that's the end of the book. To her it's a love story, but to me, it could have been a lot of other things as well. It could have been an epic about the end of the world. It could have been the best urban fantasy series I'd ever had the privilege of reading.

I respect the right of the author, who is extremely talented, to tell the story she wants to tell. But at the same time I can emphasise with all those people who find Sunshine annoyingly long-winded. I loved the detail, but when most of it turns out to have no bearing on the ending, it seems unnecessary. 

Would I recommend Sunshine? Yes, if you love urban fantasy and like vampires to be properly terrifying, and if you want to see some really interesting ideas, or if you enjoy reading about unusual romantic relationships. But if you like to have mysteries explained, don't get your hopes up about the ending.

I would more broadly recommend Robin McKinley's Spindle's End, which is also full of interesting characters but has a much tighter ending. I've also read Beauty, which is extremely popular, but I didn't like it as much as Spindle's End.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Book Review: Jessie Hearts NYC, by Keris Stainton

Yes, this maple syrup is super-Canadian, but maple syrup features in the book. So nyah.

Jessie desperately wants to get over her ex-boyfriend, and can't think of any way better than spending her summer in her mother's New York City apartment with her best friend Emma. There's even a potential new love interest on the horizon for her, Ben, one of the actors in her mum's play. The only thing that seems to stand in the way of her happiness is her relationship with her mother, which has always been difficult.

Finn has two major problems. One, he is in love with Sam, his best friend's girlfriend, and two, he doesn't know how to tell his dad that he finds the idea of working in insurance utterly boring.

Coincidence after coincidence has Jessie and Finn sharing scenes - but it seems like they will never properly meet!

It took me a while to get into Jessie Hearts NYC, because it's quite succintly written and I prefer a bit more detail to draw me in, but after I got to know all the characters I was hooked. I loved that Jessie and Finn keep bumping into each other. It might be a tad unrealistic, but it's so much fun (in a frustrating kind of way) to keep seeing them come so close to talking only to go their separate ways!

I was also really interested in Jessie's complicated relationship with her mum. They don't relate to each other very well and this has caused problems throughout Jessie's life. Emma, Jessie's best friend, was a bit of an enigma, but I'm not too bothered because she has her own book!

I finished reading Jessie Hearts NYC over a month ago and it's really stuck with me, partly because of the relationship between Jessie and her mum, but also because it's full of vividly memorable scenes, like a good film (which it could be). New York plays a really important role in the story, providing a vibrant backdrop for all of the emotional drama, and even though I've never been there, it was easy for me to imagine the locations.

I would recommend Jessie Hearts NYC to those who would like a quick, romantic read, but also to those who love reading about difficult mother/daughter relationships. I loved Della Says: OMG! so I will definitely be reading Keris' other books, and to be honest, I'm ashamed it took me so long to read this one!

Monday, May 05, 2014

Monday Amusements 32

My local Oxfam has a lot of paranormal romance and original Virago Modern Classics.

I love this tablet case tutorial at Take Courage.

I'm really looking forward to #PicnicYA, a UKYA-themed meetup on Sunday 18th March! Let's hope the sun shines!

Michelle at Fluttering Butterflies is hosting a giveaway for Don't Even Think About It and Ten Things We Shouldn't Have Done by Sarah Mlynowski. I've just finished reading Don't Even Think About It and I can't really talk about it yet because it's one of the books that my book club will be discussing next month, but I will say that when I got to the end and saw the ad for the upcoming sequel, I was THRILLED.

On the subject of book clubs, Daisy at The Broke and the Bookish wants your recommendations for book club reads! If you'd like to join a book club, try your local library, but if there isn't one near you, the internet is your friend. You can read along with the Bookish Brits Book Club or join one of the groups on Goodreads. I would also recommend the ReadItSwapIt reading group.


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