Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top Ten Books Read in 2015

What a year! I read 61 books this year, which is the most I've read in one year since 2009. I can hardly believe I managed to read so many books, what with taking on extra work and moving into my flat, but somehow I did and I am really pleased with myself.

I didn't do terribly well with most of my reading challenges but I finally, after years of trying, completed the British Books Challenge! I'll be posting again in the next few days about all the challenges I want to have a go at in 2016.

In the list below, books marked with an * were sent by the publisher for my consideration, this did not alter my opinion of any of these books.

Now, without any further ado...

My Top Ten Books Read in 2015 (in the order I read them)

1. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, by Eoin Colfer

This year I finally finished the Artemis Fowl series and, first book aside (and not qualifying, as it was a reread), this one is my favourite. Opal Koboi is a wonderful villain and this book is a rollercoaster of magical and technological delight. You can see me talk about all the Artemis Fowl books in the video above.

2. Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey

View on Instagram
I'm going to describe how good this book is via a quote from my sister, who almost never reads novels: "I think it's one of the best fictional books I've read. Made me teary at the end".

3. Remix, by Non Pratt*

View on Instagram
Friendship ups and downs at a music festival. I'm really pleased with how my review of this one came out, so rather than repeat myself, I'll tell you to go read it here.

4. I'll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson*

View on Instagram
I also read (and loved) The Sky is Everywhere this year but I think I'll Give You The Sun had more impact on me - I keep mulling over parts of it in my head. It's about twins who were once very close and how devastating events changed their relationship and the way they see the world.

5. Have a Little Faith, by Candy Harper (and the sequel, Keep the Faith)

This is so good! Funny, easy to read, addictive - as soon as I'd finished the first I had to grab the second, and I can't wait to read the third book, Leap of Faith, which actually comes out today! You can watch me talk about why I think Faith is the perfect comedy heroine in the video above.

6. Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

I read this book for my book club and also received a copy in my first Illumicrate box (watch the unboxing video above). It's a gripping blend of alternate history, fantasy and sci-fi, featuring a shapeshifting girl on a mission to kill Hitler.

7. Lair of Dreams, by Libba Bray*

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This is the sequel to The Diviners, which featured on last year's list. I loved returning to the glittering yet horrific world of this series, and the focus on different characters in this book - it made it more interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing what other intriguing - and gifted - individuals we get to meet in the next book.

8. Counting Stars, by Keris Stainton*

This is what I would categorise as New Adult - a story about a group of young people living in their first houseshare - and it's fabulous. Definitely my favourite of Keris' books. I spoke about Counting Stars and Lair of Dreams in my September Wrap-Up/British Books Challenge Vlog, above. Also, it's got most of my name in it.

9. Cookoo Song, by Frances Hardinge*

View on Instagram
This was just gorgeous. It's a beautifully-written, emotionally-involving, glorious, frightening, and marvellous adventure. I am definitely in love with changeling stories now and must find more. When I'm not devouring Frances Hardinge's other books, that is. Seriously, believe the hype, Frances Hardinge is as good as everyone says she is.

10. Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson

View on Instagram
I have a full-length review coming (I've written most of it), but to summarise, Suite Scarlett was a delight. Funny and charming, it follows the trouble Scarlett gets into when the newest guest in her parents' struggling hotel takes it upon herself to meddle in her life. I am really looking forward to reading the sequel!

That was HARD to write! I'm not sure it really is my definitive top ten - but it's as close as I can manage, having read so many great books this year. I hope you enjoyed reading it! Are any of these books on your list? Let me know!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Book Review: The Sin-Eater's Daughter, by Melinda Salisbury

I found this copy of The Sin-Eater's Daughter in one of the Little Free Libraries
of Walthamstow. I left it there, as I already had a copy, but I wanted to use this
photo as it's a lovely cover and my proof doesn't have the big central image.
Twylla used to be the Sin-Eater's daughter, trained by her mother to take over the role when she died, until she was chosen by the gods for a different path, and left that life behind. Now she is Daunen Embodied, the daughter of the gods, betrothed to the prince, living amongst the splendour of the royal court - and executing their enemies. For Twylla's skin is poisonous, and none who are not anointed by the gods may touch her without suffering a horrible death.

The Sin-Eater's Daughter was one of my most anticipated books of the year, and I really enjoyed it, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. The problem with trying your best to ignore the hype and avoid spoilers is that sometimes this leaves you without a clear idea of what a book is meant to be about! I was expecting an exciting new fantasy world to explore, but The Sin-Eater's Daughter is actually quite light on the fantasy. Other readers (now I'm free to read reviews without the threat of spoilers), have said that it's more of a fictional-setting medieval romance, and I agree. I haven't read the blurb, as I read a proof copy, but if I were writing one I would definitely place emphasis on the romantic elements.

I would also mention rituals. The Sin-Eater's Daughter is all about rituals. Twylla, in her struggle to understand her position, learns how rituals can give us strength, but also how they can keep us locked in to dangerous patterns. I loved all the details about the religious roles and ceremonies - they seem both strange and familar, despite belonging to a fictional society. This is what really hooked me when I was reading the book - I found it almost impossible to put down when I had to go to work or sleep, because I was absolutely fascinated by the setting and by Twylla's descriptions of the society she lives in and her duties as Daunen Embodied.

I also really enjoyed the politics and I'm looking forward to seeing more of that in the second in the series. In fact, I liked the political intrigue so much that it made me impatient for the romantic scenes to be over so that the drama could continue! Maybe I'm getting old?! There's a bit of a love triangle, and it's all tangled up with the politics, which made the romantic interests a bit less likeable than they might otherwise have been, but people are complicated. Twylla's whole life is complicated. And there's the epilogue. I can only say that I really liked the epilogue, because spoilers!

I would recommend The Sin-Eater's Daughter to people who like dramatic, life-and-death romances, and perhaps as a gateway drug for those who would like to dip their toes into the fantasy genre. If you feel intimidated by complex magical systems, weird and wonderful creatures, and imaginary cultures, The Sin-Eater's Daughter could help ease you in.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Wishes I'd Ask The Book Genie To Grant Me

Top Ten Wishes I'd Ask The Book Genie To Grant Me

Presumably I'd summon him via a spell in an old book...

1. Firstly I'd wish for a signed first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Obviously because I love Harry Potter and not because I could sell it at auction for tens of thousands of pounds...*innocent face*

2. Next I would wish for Libba Bray to be given the ability to write her brilliant books really quickly so that I don't have to wait long for the next two sequels to The Diviners.

3. See also Candy Harper so that I can have the third Faith book now!

Play this video to hear me talk about how amazing the Faith books are.

4. I would also wish for Robin McKinley to be given the overwhelming desire and inspiration to write a direct sequel to Sunshine in which EVERYTHING IS EXPLAINED.

5. I would wish to meet Angela Carter.

6. And Virginia Woolf.

7. And Shakespeare.

8. Actually I'd also like the Book Genie to transport me back in time so I could see one of Shakespeare's plays being performed for the very first time.

9. And tangentially, I'd like a TARDIS in my flat to serve as my library.

10. I'd also like the ability to finish writing my own books really quickly, and for me to get an agent, and a publisher, and for my books to be wonderful and successful, and the same for my boyfriend...

...oh wait, I'm out of wishes, and this isn't real, it's just a Top Ten Tuesday


Thanks to The Broke and the Bookish, as always. Let me know in the comments if you did this week's Top Ten, and if we have any of the same wishes! That way, if we are visited by the Book Genie, we can save wishes by wishing that both of us get to do x...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book Review: Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause

Vivian is loup-garou, a child of the Moon, a werewolf, and she loves it. She relishes the thrill of the change, delights in running through the forest in the dark, feeling powerful and beautiful. She used to love being part of the pack, as well, until one of them killed a human, and vigilantes burned down their home, killing Vivian's father, the leader of the pack.

Now they have moved to a town, leaving their old lives and hopefully their fears behind. Vivian feels isolated and lonely. She wants friends. So when she finds a poem about werewolves in the school magazine, she is intrigued. The writer is human, but could he be the one to truly understand her? Will they fall in love?

Blood and Chocolate was first published in 1997, but for the most part it doesn't feel that dated. The review quote from Publishers Weekly on the front of my copy calls it 'as addictive as chocolate' and I have to agree, I really struggled to put it down! Vivian is a teenage girl with no self-esteem problems at all - she's hot and she knows it. She's very aware of her own sexuality and desire, and she sets out to seduce Aiden, the poem's writer, rather than waiting to be approached. She also pays a lot of attention to the politics of the werewolf pack, and her own role in the group - her confidence is tempered by her fear that it was her fault that her father died.

Whenever she's rejected or anyone attempts to order her about, she's angry and defiant. On the other hand, she desperately wants peace and longs to be able to run free with the pack without worrying that there is a killer in their midst or that they will be hunted by humans. These internal conflicts drive the story and make Vivian a compelling and unusual protagonist.

This novel is by no means perfect. It's hard to know what the author is trying to say about the gender politics of the pack for most of the novel, and ultimately a lot of those issues are unresolved. I guessed who the killer was before it was revealed.  I strongly disliked the ending and the resolution to the romantic storyline.

But I loved the energy throughout, and Vivian's refreshing confidence. I would recommend Blood and Chocolate with the caveat that there may be aspects of it that you really hate, but that overall it's very interesting. Definitely a book I want to discuss with other people.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Book Review: Killing the Dead, by Marcus Sedgwick

I hadn't read a World Book Day book in ages. I may have only read one World Book Day book previously - Shop Dead by Kate Cann, which was one of the books in 2001. It's about a girl who is obsessed with shopping and the way she looks, told from the point of view of a guy who takes her on a date. Kate Cann is amazing at writing teenage boys. I remember my sister got it with her voucher (I invariably forgot to use mine). Shop Dead is pretty dark, as is Killing the Dead.

Apparently Killing the Dead has some relationship with The Ghosts of Heaven, one of Marcus Sedgwick's full length novels, or at least they both heavily feature spirals. I didn't want to look into it too much in case of spoilers. I did enjoy Killing the Dead so I'm very intrigued by this and will have to give The Ghosts of Heaven a go.

At first Killing the Dead seemed like an odd choice for a World Book Day book. It's historical fiction, set in an American all-girls boarding school in 1961. I've always thought of World Book Day books as being aimed at reluctant readers, and the setting and time period won't be familiar to most teenagers, as you learn almost nothing about the Sixties at school. But then it got really dark. If there is one thing I believe about teenagers' reading preferences, it's that they love it when things get dark. I did. I still do.

Killing the Dead is set during the aftermath of the death of a schoolgirl, Isobel, and in the run-up to the school's annual Procession Day. We see this time from the perspective of different characters, slowly building up a picture of what Isobel was like and what might have happened. Then there's a twist that contradicts this picture and our assumptions.

I thought that both the build-up and the twist were very well done. It's a very short book - 117 pages of quite large type - and Marcus Sedgwick doesn't have a lot of space for characterisation but I found almost all the characters well-drawn and easy to imagine. There were two exceptions. Isobel is a mystery. Even when we learn what happened, she maintains some mystery, but this seems appropriate - she is, after all, dead. Margot, another schoolgirl, the new Procession Queen, apparently haunted by Isobel's ghost, is also a mystery, but it felt less like she should be. Her personality isn't really detailed until her role in Isobel's death is explained, which works for preserving the mystery, but as I was reading the chapters in the run up to the reveal I felt like I should have more of a handle on her character than I did. I couldn't really imagine what kind of girl she was and why she did things. I was left trying to fill in those gaps for myself without much to go on.

I'd love to discuss Killing the Dead so please let me know what you thought in the comments or tweet me!

Monday, October 05, 2015

A Garden of One's Own, or, Book Review: Return to the Secret Garden (Return to the Secret Garden Blog Tour)

The Secret Garden is one of my favourite books of all time. It's certainly my most reread book, my copy boasts a heavily creased cover and spine as well as yellowed, torn pages. When I was a teenager I had a habit of reading just my favourite scenes in books over and over, so until quite recently it had a bookmark in it at the scene where Colin gives a lecture about Magic. When I reread it in preparation for Return for the Secret Garden, I was slightly underwhelmed by that scene - I'd mythologised it in my head, remembered it as longer, more dramatic.

That's what I do with my favourite parts of my favourite books and films and songs, especially when I haven't revisited them in a while. Those scenes or dramatic moments become bigger to me than they are, and I forget the rest of what made them so great. As I reread, or rewatch, or relisten, I reevaluate it, and the thing as a whole, and this often leads to surprising revelations. See my previous post about Harriet the Spy - in that case I thought I loved best the parts about sneaking around and spying on people, but it was the stuff about writing that really sunk in.

Anyway, remembering that scene so fondly, I thought what I loved most about The Secret Garden was the Magic. Wrong again! As an adult, reading it, I realised what actually I loved most is the secret garden! (And this isn't just because I've recently become obsessed with plants.) I love seeing private spaces. Photographs of lived-in houses. Scenes in films with carefully constructed and personalised rooms - the teenage bedroom, the shop the character owns and decorated themselves. At night, on the top deck of a bus, I look out for open curtains and gleefully stare into other people's houses.

Mary Lennox is a girl who doesn't have anything of her own, a space where she can be herself. Her bedroom is a place she is brought to and taken out of on the orders of others - but the garden she finds by herself. It's her sanctuary. On this reread, I was actually slightly disappointed when she starts letting other people in!

My much-loved copy of the original book. View on Instagram.
Return to the Secret Garden is set thirty years after the original, and follows another young girl's search for a place where she belongs. Emmie has never really had a proper space of her own. She lives at an orphanage, where she shares a dormitory with other girls. To snatch some privacy, she climbs through a window onto a rickety old fire escape. It's there she meets a stray cat, the first thing she has that's really hers (as much as a cat can be owned!). But then along comes the Second World War, and the orphanage is evacuated. Emmie has to leave her cat behind and travel a long way to a strange old house in Yorkshire, one Misselthwaite Manor.

I was a little apprehensive about reading a sequel to a book I love so much, but I found Return to the Secret Garden charming. It was great to see another little girl find a kind of home in the garden, even though it's no longer locked, and she has even less right to it than Mary, being an unconnected orphan, rather than the niece of the manor's owner.

Like Mary, she is grumpy and sometimes rude, but also very determined once she gets an idea in her head, and I loved all these characteristics in Mary. Many people prefer Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess to The Secret Garden, but I am a Secret Garden person through and through. It helped that I actually owned a copy of The Secret Garden. I read A Little Princess one time and returned the book to the library. I  saw the film once for my birthday. That was enough (though when I rewatched it as an adult, it did make me cry).

Sara, the 'little princess', is too good to be relatable, she's always kind and sweet, no matter what happens. Whereas Mary gave me hope - that even if I wasn't perfect, I could be likable, and I could try and improve. Emmie is the same. She's an orphan, but she is neither tediously pathetic or overly good. She seems realistic, as do all the children, who fight and fall out but ultimately help each other out.

My least favourite part was seeing the children of The Secret Garden as adults, but that might be only because I have never ever imagined them grown up! I think children reading this after the original won't find it jarring at all.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed reading Return to the Secret Garden as a child - it takes some of the best features of the original and puts them into a familiar yet strikingly altered setting. It's a cute, quick read. Many thanks to Scholastic for sending me a review copy (it's a particularly gorgeous little hardback) and to Faye Rogers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

Have you ever read a sequel to a children's classic that wasn't by the original author? What did you think? Don't forget to check out the other stops on the tour and enter the giveaway! Yes, Scholastic are giving away a copy of The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett and a copy of Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb to one lucky blog tour follower!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bookish Brits Vlog 28: A Guide to Book Swapping

I love this hat. I have never worn it outside. I have worn all my other hats out, but this one is blue and it doesn't go with much of my clothing.

Anyway, book swapping!

In this video I recommend Bookmooch (worldwide) and ReadItSwapIt (UK only). If you're in the US you can also try PaperBack Swap.

If you don't want to post books, look into BookCrossing. You may also want to see if there are any Little Free Libraries near you.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Quickly Save If My House Was Going To Be Abducted By Aliens (or any other natural disaster)

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is actually a freebie, which means that you get to make up your own topic or choose one of the past topics that you missed or want to redo.

When I scrolled through the list of past topics my eyes quickly lighted upon this one, which I felt I had to do for the title alone. I mean, abduction by aliens? I'm pretty sure that's an unnatural disaster if ever there was one...
View on Instagram.
Top Ten Books I'd Quickly Save If My House Was Going To Be Abducted By Aliens
(or any other unnatural disaster)

1. My signed hardback copy of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart. Because getting to meet E Lockhart after having loved her books for years, in a room full of people who also loved her books (and this after years of feeling like one of about three people in the UK who'd even read her books) was so cool and I'd want to have this book to remember it by.

2. My signed copy of Kiss and Make-Up, by Sarra Manning, which contains my favourite bits of the Diary of a Crush trilogy. I met Sarra and had it signed back in 2010, at a Chicklish event at Dulwich Library. I was unbelievably excited because a) it was the first YA book event I'd been to b) I got to meet some bloggers for the first time c) as well as Sarra Manning, who had been my hero when I was 14, I got to meet Keris Stainton, Luisa Plaja, and Simmone Howell. It still remains the only multi-author event I've ever been to where I'd read at least one book by every author!

3. My copy of Burning Your Boats, by Angela Carter
4. My copy of The Curious Room, by Angela Carter
5. My copy of The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter
6. My copy of Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales...because they're all fancy hardbacks and the first two are definitely out of print and the bottom two might be.

7. My hardback copy of The Diviners, by Libba Bray, because it's a way nicer cover than on the paperbacks and I want to get it signed one day.

View on Instagram.
8. My childhood copy of The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, because I read it so many times it's all battered and worn-in and a new copy would never be the same.

9. My childhood copy of Matilda, by Roald Dahl, for the same reason.

10. My first edition, second printing, of The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, by Emilie Autumn, because even if I don't decide to keep it I could sell it on eBay for monies. Ditto for all of my digipak CDs.

What books would you save? Have you met any authors and had any books signed? If you did Top Ten Tuesday this week, which topic did you choose?

Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Tour of Little Free Libraries: The Sky is Everywhere is Everywhere

Earlier in the year, I was staying over at Nick's old house in Walthamstow. It was a bright, sunny weekend, just perfect for a little local adventure.
 Stop one on our Little Free Libraries E17 tour was Cleveland Park Avenue.
It’s purple with bears, hares, and pears. View on Instagram.
I'd recently been sent a box full of copies of Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere, as part of Walker Books' campaign to spread The Sky is Everywhere, well, everywhere, and Nick had some books he had decided not to keep (as well as one copy of The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf). So, we decided to explore the local area and visit the Little Free Libraries to leave some of our books and hopefully find some to take away. I posted a video about this a couple of weeks later, but I always planned to write it up for this blog as well, so here goes.

Stop two, Eastfield Road. View on Instagram.
The book I picked up at Eastfield Road.
Little Free Libraries are a concept that's been brought over from the US in recent years - tiny huts containing bookshelves, designed to stand in front gardens and school playgrounds, or inside caf├ęs and pubs. They're intended to encourage people to read more and to participate in their local community.

Cairo Road, stop three. I love the purple, naturally. View on Instagram.
I believe the Walthamstow LFLs were the first in the UK, but Little Free Libraries UK have now brought the idea and the boxes to people in other parts of the country, including Swindon, Birmingham, Bath, and Essex.

Howard Road's foxy Little Free Library. View on Instagram.
I wandered lonely as a another Little Free Library,
this time in Aubrey Road. View on Instagram.
Of course they are by no means a replacement for public libraries, but I like to think of them as a gateway drug. Many Little Free Libraries are outside and therefore open 24/7, unlike most public libraries. They're also very pretty and enticing. People will pass them on their way to and from work and be intrigued. They can pick up a book in a spare couple of minutes.

A double-decker Little Free Library at Garner Road. View on Instagram.
A close up after I'd made my donation. View on Instagram.
If someone catches the reading bug, they'll be reading far more books than the Little Free Library can provide, or want to find more books in specific genres, and that will draw them towards their local public library. I hope so, anyway.

This is Brettenham Road, where Nick left a copy of The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf. View on Instagram.
I picked up The Rosie Effect for my sister, who had recently finished
reading The Rosie Project. She's a former reluctant reader who is
currently working her way through an impressive amount of books!
View on Instagram.
Brettenham Road also features a friendly cat!
View on Instagram.
If people start to feel included in their local community, thanks to LFLs, that can also draw them towards their local public library to take part in activities and events.

Our final stop - Ruby Road. View on Instagram.
UKYA alert! View on Instagram. 
I had a great time visiting these Little Free Libraries - they're all so beautifully designed, and it was really nice to walk around parts of Walthamstow that we hadn't been to before.

When I went back home I felt a bit jealous of the people of Walthamstow and their LFLs - though Beckenham has a wonderful public library that I have loved for as long as I can remember.

I wasn't to stay jealous for long...but that's another blog post! Have you read any of the books I found? Is there a Little Free Library near you? Would you like to have one in your front garden? I'd need to acquire a house with a front garden and the salary to be able to afford one first, but I can dream...

If you want to watch my video of the Little Free Library tour, here it is:

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Bookish Brits Vlog 26: Why I Think Reading Fads Are Amazing

I am so behind on cross-posting these over here! If you want to catch up now you can click here to open this video on YouTube and watch the rest of the playlist.

In this video I wear too much eyeliner and tell you why I think going through reading fads is lots of fun!
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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Fairytale Retellings I've Read

Fairytale retellings are my jam. Actually, I'm not a big fan of jam. So maybe not. Anyway. Fairytale retellings! I am absolutely obsessed with fairytale retellings and have been since my first year of university. I adore them. I haven't read any for a while, despite having several on my TBR, but there are far more than ten with a place in my heart, so writing this was tricky...

1. 'The Bloody Chamber', by Angela Carter, from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories - Beautiful, beautiful story from the queen of fairytale retellings. It's Bluebeard, deliciously told and with a feminist twist.

2. 'Puss in Boots', by Angela Carter, from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories - 'The Bloody Chamber' is gorgeous but it's actually 'Puss in Boots' that is my favourite. It's narrated BY THE CAT! There's lust, there's love, it's masses of fun! I LOVE IT.

3. Valiant, by Holly Black - Val goes through hell and kicks butt and it's 'Beauty and the Beast' without the nasty stink of Stockholm Syndrome.

4. 'Snow', by Francesca Lia Block, from The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold - it hits on a lot of standard FLB tropes but it's a perfect retelling of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves'.

5. Spindle's End, by Robin McKinley - a retelling of 'Sleeping Beauty' that managed to be both epic and down to earth, being from the point of view of both the cursed princess and the fairy that's trying to save her life and the kingdom.

6. Jack, the Giant Killer, by Charles de Lint - Jack is actually Jacky, and Jack is also a job description. I keep meaning to read more Charles de Lint but his books are not well stocked by libraries.

7. Ash, by Malinda Lo - a quietly beautiful retelling of Cinderella.

8. 'The Kith of the Elf-Folk' by Lord Dunsany (out of copyright, so click to read) - 'The Little Mermaid' except the Little Mermaid realises that being human is actually kind of rubbish compared to being a mermaid...

9. 'Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf', by Roald Dahl, from Revolting Rhymes - "The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers..." perfect.

10. Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones - possibly the only retelling ever to make me cry!

If you enjoyed this you'll probably also like to read my previous post, Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Characters in Modern Fairy Tales and Fairy Tale Retellings.

Let me know in a comment if you did this week's topic, and please leave recommendations for fairytale retellings you think I should read! Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I've Read So Far in 2015

I have only read 28 books so far this year, so it was quite hard to pick out a top ten - there were some clear winners but I was wracked with indecision over some of the others. Therefore I wouldn't call this a definitive list - I'm prone to changing my mind and revising star ratings! I also haven't ranked these - if I tried to do that it would have taken me all day - they're in the order in which I read them.

Click the book titles/authors for full reviews.

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far in 2015

Trouble, by Non Pratt - I finally got around to reading the much-acclaimed Trouble and really enjoyed it, but not as much as Remix, which appears later on my list.

The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson - it took me a while to get into this one but by the end I felt like I was the narrator, which is the number one sign of a good book.

Artemis Fowl and The Opal Deception, by Eoin Colfer - SUCH PERIL. SO PLOT. VERY AHHHH! My favourite Artemis Fowl book so far apart from the first.

The Bookshop Book, by Jen Campbell - I want to use this as a travel guide for the rest of my life.

Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey - I had a few mixed feelings about this but it was well-written and I enjoyed it.

Remix, by Non Pratt - friendship, festivals, and whimsical vests, wonderful.

Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett - I'm still thinking about the witches and I read this in May.

Being Emily, by Rachel Gold - quick, easy to read trans coming-out story, with some unusual elements.

I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson - I didn't love this as much as The Sky is Everywhere, it took me even longer to get into it but it was still a memorable, powerful read in the end.

How to Be Bad, by E Lockhart, Lauren Myracle, and Sarah Mlynowski - friendship and life troubles on a three-day road trip. Now I have read all of E Lockhart's books! Wayhey!

Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. If you've done your own version of this list let me know! Do we have any books in common?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My TBR For Summer 2015

As I said in the above video, I am a seasonal reader. In summer, I crave contemporaries like they're going out of fashion. Which they might be - it certainly seems that way, especially when you look at the YALC lineup. Discuss.

Anyway, regardless of current publishing trends or fan furore, in my mind, contemporary settings in books and summer belong together. It's not compulsory for the books be set during a summer, but I do find myself drawn to summery books because summer is my favourite season, as I rambled in another video, last year, and I want to make the most of it!

So most of the books on today's Top Ten Tuesday are contemporary, or contemporary with supernatural elements.. I might not get to them all, because I'm moving, and have to spend a lot of time going round furniture shops (Zzzzzzz...). Or I might devour all of them, because I don't have internet for weeks. Who knows!

Yeah, as if I have the space for a dedicated table for my TBR, a pair of sunglasses and a wrist cuff. 

Top Ten Books On My TBR For Summer 2015

1. Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian, by Eoin Colfer - I am FINALLY going to finish #FinishItFeb. In June.

2. This Is Not A Love Story, by Keren David - everyone seems really thrilled about this, so I can't wait to give it a go.

3. The Lost and Found, by Cat Clarke - this is an upcoming Bookish Brits Book Club selection. Lots of people I know absolutely rave about Cat Clarke but I've never read any of her books before so I'm excited to give it a go.

4. Subway Love, by Nora Raleigh Baskin - because I'm probably not going to go on holiday abroad this year, I figured I might as well go on a journey in my head to NYC. Also this is quite a short book, so it can be a little self-esteem booster in-between longer reads.

5. How To Be Bad, by E Lockhart, Lauren Myracle, and Sarah Mlynowski - because this is the only E Lockhart book I haven't read yet, and I just got this copy. I'm hoping to start it as soon as I finish my current read (The Girl on the Train).

6. Second Chance Summer, by Morgan Matson - another book that everyone seems to love, plus, it's set during a summer.

7. Rules of Summer, by Joanna Philbin - I got sent this unsolicited review copy a year or two ago, and I hadn't heard anything about it, so it languished on my TBR until Stacey at prettybooks recommended it.

8. Have a Little Faith, by Candy Harper, and

9. Dare You To, by Katie McGarry, because I should really start working on my List of Shame. We're more than halfway through the year, after all.

10. Under My Skin, by James Dawson, because the hot pink on the cover and the edges of the colour is such a summery colour. I mean, I'm looking forward to the story as well, but maintaining a summer aesthetic is important business...

Just the UKYA, chilling on my bed.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Let me know in the comments if you have read any of these and if you have any recommendations, and if you've done your own version of this list please share the link. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Book Review: Remix, by Non Pratt

I can't overstate how much I was looking forward to reading Remix. I really enjoyed Non Pratt's debut, Trouble, but it was about teenage pregnancy, so it was never going to make it to my best books of all time, just because it's not one of my favourite subjects. However, if I was to pick a favourite theme for fictional stories, the one theme to rule them all, it would be friendship. So I was thinking - if Non could make me enjoy a book about (ew) teenage pregnancy, she would be able to work wonders when writing about friendship.

I was not disappointed.

Ruby and Kaz love being best friends. They want to tell each other everything, to rely on each other and support each other. And they want to be exclusive. They're possessive, and jealous, and they worry that they'll do something wrong and the friendship will dissolve. Their relationship is wonderfully realistic - at the beginning of the novel their relationship is going strong, but they both have secrets that they are afraid to share with the other. Kaz doesn't want to confess that her ex-boyfriend is coming to Remix, the titular music festival, because she knows that Ruby will judge her for still being into him. Ruby, on the other hand, isn't expecting to see her ex all weekend. He cheated on her, so she hates him, or so everyone, including Kaz, believes. Ruby is too proud to admit to anyone that things aren't that simple.

Another issue simmering under the surface, as they pack (Kaz) or neglect to pack (Ruby) is that of their impending separation. Ruby has not done well in her exams and won't be joining Kaz in the next year of school. Both of them worry about how they and their friendship will survive this.

The music festival provides the perfect setting for all the anticipated drama to play out. Old friends cause trouble, new friends get in the way, secrets are shared and mistakes are made as they weave and out of stalls, sing around campfires, and see bands they love.

Music plays a really important role in Remix - Kaz and Ruby have differing tastes but are united by their love of one particular band, like many friends are. Kaz is a musician herself, while Ruby loves to listen or throw herself around a mosh pit. Reading Remix made me feel completely desperate to go to a festival again, or a gig - unfortunately I had to settle for finding some new bands to listen to on Spotify!

If you love contemporary YA, I think you will really enjoy Remix. I thought it was fantastic and I can't wait to see what Non Pratt writes about next!

Many thanks to Walker Books for sending me a proof copy of Remix.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Book Reviews: A Month with April-May, and 100 Days of April-May, by Edyth Bulbring

Note: A Month with April May is actually the first one...but to get the similar picture I'd have to show you the backs!
I decided to review these books together because that's how I think they're best enjoyed - and besides, they look so gorgeous side-by-side! A Month with April-May introduces April-May February and her dad Fluffy, aka July, who live together in South Africa and want to stay together. But in order to do this, April-May must keep her mother happy by doing well at the school she has just joined as a bursary student.

The spanner in the works is Mrs Ho, a fearsomely prolific teacher determined to keep an eye on April-May, who just wants to be left alone to read Twilight, wear stripy socks, and hang out with her own Edward, trouble-making Sebastian. So April-May comes up with a plan or three to get rid of Mrs Ho, but she's not easily removed, and she's also got Fluffy's finances and her mouth-breathing new friend Melly to worry about…

I generally prefer reading books aimed at older teens to those aimed at younger teens, which is why I think it took me a while to warm to A Month with April-May. Also, I think that, in comedy, the better we know the characters, the more we laugh at and with them. I liked the setup in the first book - there's a diverse and interesting range of characters introduced, but by the time I'd gotten to know all of them properly the book was over! Both books are very short for modern YA, which is one of those things that appeals to some people and not to others - I would definitely have preferred them to be longer and for the story to be more fleshed-out, but other readers will love how quick they are to read.

April-May has a strong voice as a narrator – she is opinionated, nosy, greedy, and self-assured. It's always refreshing to read about a young girl who knows that she is smarter than most of those around her. April-May February is no Frankie Landau-Banks, she is much too nice, even though she tries not to be, and her schemes don't always work out the way she hopes, but she has a similar level of confidence and respect for her own values.

April-May's family and friends are a gently quirky bunch of people who are alternately her allies and enemies, and I found that I wanted to know more about every single one.

I laughed a lot more at the second book, 100 Days of April-May, and would probably find a third even funnier. I hope there is a third, because it's really great to see more YA books from outside the UK and the US being published here and I think April-May and her friends have many more schemes to attempt!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review: Being Emily, by Rachel Gold (#LGBTReadathon)

Being Emily is the story of Chris/Emily, who has never told anyone before that she identifies as a girl, At the start of the book she decides to come out for the first time, to her girlfriend Claire, and this short novel follows her progress from that point on.

It took me a while to get into Being Emily at first, because there was quite a bit of info-dumping near the start. There are a couple of scenes in which the characters research gender and transsexualism online, featuring several paragraphs that do nothing more than detail what they learned. I already knew pretty much all of the info they find, so I found them a bit dry, and I hoped that the book wasn't going to continue along the same lines.

Happily, it didn't, and once those early chapters were out of the way I found myself getting really emotionally involved with the story, which has two points of view. Chris/Emily narrates the bulk of the chapters, but there are several from Claire's point of view, in third person. I did find this a bit jarring, but I enjoyed both, and I think it was great that they were both included.

Chris/Emily's loneliness, frustration, determination, and happiness all come across really clearly in her chapters. I felt her excitement as she explored her identity with her friends and therapist and rooted for her as she dealt with her parents and the various setbacks. I was absolutely desperate for things to work out for her and for others to accept her the way she had accepted herself.

I think Claire's chapters are a realistic portrayal of someone coming to terms with such a big revelation from someone close to them, but what was really interesting about Claire is that she is religious. Rachel Gold, the author, has a degree in English and Religious Studies, and Being Emily does not shy away from the subject of gender and Christianity at all, which was fascinating. Most of the characters that bring up Christianity in reference to gender believe that God condemns trans people, but Claire, who has a strong interest in early Christianity, finds that Bible studies and her personal relationship with God help her understand, come to terms with, and even defend Chris/Emily's identity. There were some quotes from the Bible in Claire's sections and some interpretations she provides that I had never heard before.

Online communities and gaming also play an important role in Chris/Emily and Claire's lives, and that's always great to see to in books.

I know that a lot of readers are a bit bored with coming-out stories, but Being Emily has some unique aspects that I think will make it a worthwhile read, especially for readers that don't know very much about trans issues.

My main caveat is that Being Emily has not been published in the UK, so it's a bit on the expensive side - over £10 for the paperback edition, though the ebook is cheaper and I was lucky enough to find it in my library's ebook catalogue.

Some other reviews of Being Emily that I found interesting:
My Life in Neon
erica, ascendant
Lambda Literary
The Lesbrary
Gay YA

I read Being Emily as part of the #LGBTReadathon, organised by the fabulous Faye at A Daydreamer's Thoughts. Next up: I'll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Book Review: Wintersmith, by Terry Prachett (Farewell Terry Prachett Blog Tour)

Tiffany Aching's witch training is going pretty well until she is taken to watch the Dark Morris, the opposite of the better-known spring time morris dance, performed to bring the winter to the land. Bored and distracted, she finds herself giving into temptation and joining the dance, where she comes to the attention of the Wintersmith, an elemental, and he falls in love with her, threatening to plunge the world into eternal winter if she cannot work out how to stop him.

But this isn't all Tiffany has to worry about - her current mentor, Miss Treason, is a witch feared by many, a woman shrouded by legend - skulls and spiderwebs decorate her house, there's allegedly a demon in her basement, and she has a clock instead of a heart. And of course the Nac Mac Feegles are still protecting her, stealing food, and reading her diary...

It has been a few years since I read the previous Tiffany Aching book - A Hat Full of Sky - and I found that I remembered characters better than plot details, so I did have to read the Wikipedia summaries of the previous two books. However, I wouldn't worry about having to do this as there aren't that many references to the previous two books - the most important thing you need to do to enjoy Wintersmith is to remember who everyone is!

With characters this memorable, it's not a struggle at all, and for me Wintersmith was all about the characters. If I remember the other books correctly, I preferred the plots of the last two, but Wintersmith would be well worth reading just to learn more about the witches and see more of the Feegles! I loved all the little details that are thrown in because they're funny, even if they have nothing to do with the plot - like Horace the living cheese.

I hope you enjoyed this review - do check out the other #terryprachettblogtour posts. Now, I really must read I Shall Wear Midnight soon...

Friday, April 24, 2015

An Interview with Kathryn James, author of Gypsy Girl (Countdown to 7th May)

Hello! Today I am thrilled to share with you an interview with Kathryn James, as part of the Countdown to 7th May multi-author multi-blog tour, which celebrates the great new books that will be released on 7th May 2015.

I think Kathryn gave some really interesting answers, so without any further ado...

When I began reading Gypsy Girl, I was drawn immediately into Sammy-Jo's world. It was very easy to imagine her life - there's a lot of detail about her family and their history. Even the wedding planning parts were fascinating - and they led to some great group scenes. Your bio says that you have worked with Gypsy and Traveller children. How much of this experience fed into the book? Did you have to do any additional research before you wrote it?

Yes, I worked for eighteen years with Gypsies and travellers here in Leicester, firstly organising play schemes on the sites and then later doing classes in photography, video, literacy and Driving Theory for the teenagers and adults, and nursery classes for the little ones. We also had a mobile classroom in the shape of an old Leicester City Bus which had been repainted with a rainbow painted on the side. We loved this work, and the days spent with the traveller girls were always filled with lots of excitement and laughter. We didn’t only teach them, we also joined in with their celebrations – they are very big on Weddings and Christenings and first communions – in fact they celebrate most things!

I didn’t do any additional research for Gypsy Girl, because we’d worked alongside girls like Sammy-Jo and her family. Of course Sammy-Jo isn’t based on any one girl, but I met many like her, with the same spirit and strength and love of family. I also saw the prejudices on both sides when a Gypsy falls for a non-Gypsy and wanted to illustrate these problems through Sammy-Jo’s relationship with Gregory.

The video classes led on to us videoing some of the weddings. Features from all of them went into Sammy-Jo’s sister’s wedding in the book. But the last wedding we videoed a couple of summers ago was probably the biggest influence. It was a really big, full-on Gypsy wedding.

Here’s the bridesmaid that inspired Sammy-Jo’s dress!

I loved the Smith family - there are a lot of them but you have given the members distinct personalities. My favourites were probably Sammy-Jo's aunts, Beryl and Queenie. Which of the secondary/background characters is your favourite? (I'm a bit obsessed with this question - I've made two Bookish Brits videos about secondary characters!)

I loved Beryl and Queenie, they were such fun to write! They were based on women we met whilst working with the travellers, but also I think there’s a bit of me and my best friend in there as well! Like Beryl and Queenie, Mandy and I like to know everything that’s going on, and we’re always in the middle of things plotting and planning and giving our opinions. Mandy hasn’t read the book yet, but when she does she’ll really enjoy Beryl and Queenie. I do have a soft spot for bride-to-be Sabrina as well, I think she knows she’s being spoilt and demanding but she can’t seem to stop. I put it down to wedding nerves :)

Like you, I also have a fascination with secondary characters. In some books I’m almost more interested in them than the main heroes. When I was at school we read Jane Eyre and I always remember wondering and worrying about the mad woman in the attic and wanting to know how she got there. Years later I found out that another author had exactly the same thought and had written a book all about her – Wide Sargasso Sea.

Are you going to write any more stories about Gypsies/Travellers? I have to admit that when I first saw the title, I didn’t like it, because I thought 'It sounds a bit like this is The Book about characters with this lifestyle, and I think there should be loads'! As I read the book, I changed my mind - it makes sense as 'Gypsy Girl' is Sammy-Jo's fight-club name, and because it is an identity that she is proud of, but that can lead to problems for her and her family, because of the assumptions other people make about them. It's central to the book.

I’d love to write more about Gypsies and travellers. The girls and boys in our classes very rarely see themselves in fiction. When we were doing the nursery classes we made photo books for the children, showing them leaving caravans rather than houses when going to school, and playing around a site rather than in a garden. They loved them, I think it was the first time they’d seen their surroundings and way of life in a book.

I’ve just finished writing Gypsy Girl 2, which carries on with Sammy-Jo’s story and her fight to make her family safe again. Before Gypsy Girl I wrote a couple of books called Mist and Frost, about the Elven that live secretly amongst us. Although the Elven were a fantasy based on the Scandinavian tales of elvish people, I actually based some of their characteristics on the gypsy children I worked with – their toughness and liveliness, the fact that they live secretly amongst us and that people fear and mistrust them, even thought they don’t mean any harm. But after writing those two books I wanted to write a book that was based in the real world, about some of the girls we’d worked with. I wanted a feisty heroine who would fight for her life and her family against great odds – and there’s no girl better equipped to do that than a Gypsy girl, even if she’s wearing her heels. And by showing Sammy-Jo’s life I hope my readers will enjoy learning about these secretive people and their lives, loves, hopes and families.

The word 'Gypsy' and derivatives are sometimes used as insults, yet 'Gypsy' is a word used in law and by community organisations to describe themselves, for example, the Gypsy Council. Sammy-Jo describes herself as a Traveller and as a Gypsy, and as I said above, she is very proud of who she is, but is very concerned about how other people see her and her family and friends, because of the stereotypes and myths about Gypsies. Could you explain a little about the history of the term 'Gypsy', and how it is used today?

The term Gypsy apparently comes from the word ‘Egyptian’ because people used to think they came from Egypt but that’s incorrect. Most historians believe they are a lost and wandering tribe from India, who left that country after persecution hundreds of years ago, and gradually wandered right across Asia and Europe. Imagine how exotic and foreign they must have seemed all those centuries ago, when most people didn’t move far from where they were born, to suddenly see the Gypsy wagons pulling into their village!

Nowadays Gypsies and Travellers often live on council or private sites, or own their own land. Most still travel but some stay put and live in houses.  But even those who live in houses now would still consider themselves Gypsies or travellers.

The girls and boys we worked with were a mix of Gypsies and Travellers. The Gypsies were mainly English, and proudly call themselves Gypsies. If I asked a girl to describe herself, she would say, ‘I’m a Gypsy Girl’, so the title of my book reflects this love of their lifestyle. They name they hate being called is gypo, this is the insulting term for them and is considered offensive.  The travellers we worked with were mainly Irish, (but there are Welsh and Scottish travellers as well) and they didn’t refer to themselves as Gypsies, only travellers. If you’ve every watched the programme My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, then the families normally shown on it are actually travellers not Gypsies, so people still get it wrong. Perhaps the programme makers thought Gypsy had a bigger impact than travellers!

Finally, how are you going to celebrate on 7 May?

Well it’s the day of the election so I will go and vote. But after that there will be champagne I’m sure!

Thanks for some very interesting questions!

Thank you for taking the time to answer them, Kathryn!

Kathryn also sent us some photos taken when she used to work with Gypsies and Travellers:

If you enjoyed this post, please do go to to find out more. You can also follow @CountdownYA and #CountdownYA on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books for Readers Who Like Teenagers Effing Up The Patriarchy

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a pick-your-own-topic: 'Books for Readers Who Like ______'. I wasn't planning to take part, but then Ming suggested that 'Books for Readers Who Like Teenagers Effing Up The Patriarchy' as an idea. I loved it, and told her so, and after a little bit of discussion we agreed to make this a collab. I'm going to list five books below, and once you've read this post you can pop on over to Rare Medium Well Done for the rest of the list.

So without any further ado:

Top Five Books for Readers Who Like Teenagers Effing Up The Patriarchy

My feminist badge collection from my teenage years

1. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, by Libba Bray - Victorian girls with powers not only have to save the world, but also have to work out how to improve their own lives, which is possibly more difficult, living in the era that they do and being supposed to go straight from finishing school to marriage/drudgery.

2. Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, by Kirsten Miller - a gang of delinquent Girl Scouts, led by the mysterious mastermind Kiki Strike, explore a hidden city below New York. At the end of every chapter there are useful lists, such as 'How To Take Advantage of Being a Girl' and 'How To Kick Some Butt'.

3. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart - Frankie finds out that her boyfriend is in a secret all-male society at their school. He won't even admit that it exists. Bored by this lying and shameless sexism, she decides to infiltrate it. Fun ensues.

4. The Forestwife Trilogy, by Theresa Tomlinson - Medieval teenager Mary de Holt doesn't fancy getting married off to some old guy, so she runs off into the forest with her wet nurse Agnes, where they help heal the sick and rescue people from the patriarchy. Along the way she changes her name to Marian, learns archery, and spends a bit of romantic time with a dude called Robert who wears a hood. Also there are AWESOME NUNS.

5. Valiant, by Holly Black - this is more incidental patriarchy-effing but Val a) learns how to fight with a really cool sword and b) has to use these skills to save her love interest. Goodbye stereotypical fairy tale!

Now, please leave a comment and recommend me some of your own favourite books about teenagers who, when confronted with tedious stereotypes and boringly gender-conventional lives, refuse to put up with it. Or people in general!


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