Thursday 7 November 2013

All change around the hearthfire...

You could be forgiven for thinking that I just haven't blogged in a while, but in fact I have moved the blog over to my website.

Come on over and have a look! And if you happen to be a student or teacher of English, you may find other things of interest over there.

Monday 21 October 2013

Review: Witchfall by Victoria Lamb

More Tudor Witch romance, intrigue and danger 

If you enjoyed Witchstruck at all (as I definitely did), even the slightest bit, you must read Witchfall. Victoria Lamb has ramped things up for the second instalment of her YA Tudor Witch trilogy: more complexity to the romance, more shadowy danger to our beloved protagonist as well as more historical reference.

The settings in this novel are great and beautifully done. The politicised atmosphere at court and the more rustic country setting are both rendered clearly for the reader, as well as the dreadful vision which plagues poor Meg more and more through the novel. Dangers are definitely lurking everywhere, and this is a very tense read.

It's difficult to say much for a sequel without giving away spoilers, but you should know that the plotting in this novel is first rate. The tension is managed exquisitely, and even when you are sure you know what's going to happen next, there are surprises and twists in store. I am also enjoying the cast of characters created in this series and am very much looking forward to seeing how it is all tied together in the end.

I think the second book in a trilogy must be quite difficult to get right and I am always grumpy with a book which leaves too many loose ends. Witchfall skilfully draws together threads that were introduced in Witchstruck without them having felt like loose ends, and also weaves in (and ties off) new ones effectively. There is clearly mileage to explore and conclude in the next novel, but this is no irritating cliffhanger.

Overall, if you enjoy historical fiction and/or witchy books and/or YA romance, I would definitely recommend this series.

Goodreads Summary

London, 1554. At the court of Mary Tudor, life is safe for no one. The jealous, embittered queen sees enemies all around her, and the infamous Spanish Inquisition holds the court in its merciless grip. But Meg Lytton has more reason to be afraid than most - for Meg is a witch, and exposure would mean certain death. Even more perilous, Meg is secretly betrothed to the young priest Alejandro de Castillo; a relationship which they must hide at all costs.

In the service of the queen's sister, Princess Elizabeth, Meg tries to use her powers to foretell her mistress's future. But when a spell goes terribly wrong, and Meg begins to have horrifying dreams, she fears she has released a dark spirit into the world, intent on harming her and those around her.

Out now from Corgi Children's Books
Visit the author's website for more info or check out this blog tour interview from last year
My grateful thanks to the publisher for allowing me a review copy via NetGalley

Friday 11 October 2013

Booktrust Top 100 Children's Books: Which Have You Read?

Booktrust have compiled a list of the top 100 children's books, naming 25 each in 4 age categories. If you head over to their site, you can vote for one in each category and help them arrive at overall winners.

* = title I have read
Top Titles for 0-5 year olds
*Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet & Allan Ahlberg
*The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Gorilla by Anthony Browne
Would You Rather? by John Burningham
*Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
*Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
*Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox & Helen Oxenbury
Where's Spot? by Eric Hill
*Dogger by Shirley Hughes
*Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
*The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
*Not now, Bernard by David McKee
*Meg and Mog by Helen Nicholl & Jan Pienkowski
*We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury
*I Want My Potty! by Tony Ross
*Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
*The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
*The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont & Raymond Briggs
19/25 for the 0-5 category

Top titles for 6-8 year olds
*The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton
*Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
*A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
*The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley
*Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown
Clarice Bean, That's Me by Lauren Child
That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell
*The BFG by Roald Dahl
*The Story of Babar by Jean De Brunhoff
*My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards
Asterix the Gaul by René Goscinny
*Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman & Caroline Binch
Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
The Queen's Nose by Dick King-Smith
The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
*Winnie-the-Pooh by A A Milne
*The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy
*The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith
*Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon & Tony Ross
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
*Charlotte's Web by E B White
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
*Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake

15/25 for the 6-8 category

Top Titles for 9-11 year olds
*The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
*Skellig by David Almond
*Carrie's War by Nina Bawden
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce
*The Witches by Roald Dahl
*Matilda by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake
Flour Babies by Anne Fine
Once by Morris Gleitzman
The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé
*Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
*Stig of the Dump by Clive King
*The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis
*Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
*The Borrowers by Mary Norton
*Truckers by Terry Pratchett
*Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
*Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling
*Holes by Louis Sachar
*The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
*Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien
The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson

16/25 for the 9-11 category

Top Titles for 12-14 year olds and beyond
Watership Down by Richard Adams
*Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
*Forever by Judy Blume
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Junk by Melvin Burgess
Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
*The Owl Service by Alan Garner
Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin
*The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
*The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
Witch Child by Celia Rees
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Fellowship of The Ring by J R R Tolkien

5/25 for the 12-14+ category

Wow, I would not have predicted that the 12+ category would be the one I had read fewer of, but there we are! I think 55/100 isn't bad. I think it may be because quite a few of the titles on the list fall between the time I was in this age bracket and the time I started reading a lot of teen fiction as an adult.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Popping in to wave and give a quick update

I'm still in the midst of extreme busy-ness, and have been struggling somewhat, but I'll be back very soon. Next Friday, the 11th October, I'll be relaunching regular posts with reviews and teachery/readerly/writerly content.

Thanks for being patient with me. I think all bloggers hit a wall at some point and I've just not had the time for posting lately - much textbookish work as well as a new school post. Sometimes, something has to give and this time, it's the blog (better than my sanity, I hope you'll agree!)

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Hellloooo! (General update - plus dog pic)

I've been pretty absent online lately. Sorry about that. It's mostly due to starting a new job (yay!) and being pretty busy with writing projects (also yay!), leaving me little time for blogging (and tweeting, as it happens).

I just wanted to check in and say I am here, I'm ok and regular service will soon be resumed :)

Thanks for your patience. Here's a cheery picture of our dogs to make it all better.

Reviews coming up include:
Witchfall by Victoria Lamb (loved it - read Witchstruck first; both are ace)
Emily and Patch by Jessie Williams (a truly lovely read - definitely recommended)
Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs (great for Tempe Brennan fans)

Friday 13 September 2013

Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas

Breath-taking second instalment in YA fantasy series

With plenty of action as well as angsty emotional turmoil, this is a great read and is sure to be loved by all fans of the first novel, Throne of Glass. Sarah J Maas has ratcheted it all up a notch and introduced plenty of complications and nasty shocks. She must want to punish Celaena for something - just when I thought one thing in her life was stable and sorted, bam! No such luck for her. But I suppose ‘happy ever after’ doesn't really work before the end…

I loved Throne of Glass, and the prequel novellas, and this second novel continues in fine form, far surpassing my expectations (which were high enough that I was nervous to start reading in case book one was spoilt). If you've been thinking the same, hesitate no more!

The characters remain rich and textured, and it’s easy to ache for Celaena, while simultaneously wanting to shake her for her haughty arrogance and occasional immaturity (but then, she isn't yet an adult!). As a teen protagonist, she is complex and perfectly layered, and is surrounded by a cast of characters who are almost as textured. This world admits no caricatures or stock characters.

This is a fantasy world that I'm happy to spend plenty of time in. As I noticed in the first novel, the world is brilliantly realised and in this instalment we see further aspects of it, while the various dangers circle and hover, making it clear that Celaena will not find it easy to succeed in the mission that seems to have been chosen for her.

Ultimately, this is a classic sweeping fantasy, with themes of morality and power, greed and duty. I’d absolutely recommend the series for anyone who has ever enjoyed a ‘good versus evil’ fantasy story, be it Narnia, Harry Potter or Game or Thrones.

Goodreads summary:

An assassin’s loyalties are always in doubt.
But her heart never wavers.

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king's contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king's bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she's given a task that could jeopardize everything she's come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon -- forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice.

Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?

Out now from Bloomsbury
Find out more at the series facebook page
My thanks to the publisher for allowing me a review copy via Netgalley

Monday 9 September 2013

Review: Siege by Sarah Mussi

Shocking, raw and powerful - a fab YA thriller 

Reposting as this fab novel came out last week in paperback.

I know that some people have found this to be too violent. It is certainly not suitable for the younger end of the YA spectrum. However, the violence is not gratuitous and the novel is thought-provoking and challenging enough to justify its shock value (think Clockwork Orange, perhaps).

Written in a strong first person, present tense voice, and set in 2020, Siege introduces us to Leah Jackson at the precise moment a group of boys open fire in assembly. But since she was late to school and is in detention, she doesn't immediately realise what is happening. The novel then follows her as she works to avoid being shot, to escape and raise the alarm, travelling through air vents and crawling across ceiling tiles. Twists and turns abound as Leah runs into difficulty after difficulty in this tightly-plotted thriller that will have you holding your breath. Die Hard in a school is an appropriate description of this book, with the themes of containment and against-the-odds battle to protect the innocent and stop the guilty.

hardback cover
Her escape is hampered by the nature of her school. In this version of the near future, society has fractured even further and the schools are more obviously streamed by social class. Leah's school is built to contain and restrain, founded on the assumption that lower-class kids are Trouble. This means that once the school goes into Lock Down, escape is not a simple matter.

I loved the character of Leah. Loved her speech patterns ("That don't sound right."), her bravery and her resourcefulness. She's been used to looking after the family, and I found it easy to sympathise with her and her nagging worry that her brother, Connor, may be one of the boys at the centre of all this. Could she have prevented it? Should she have done more to help him? This additional personal layer of sickening guilt is just enough to rack up the tension even higher.

I found this to be an excellent read, right on the money for our times. Sarah Mussi has something to say about social deprivation, violence and responsibility and she conveys it in terms that are both accessible and enjoyable to read. Yes, there is violence and some scenes are graphic, but many kids are seeing worse on games consoles and tv screens every day - and in a purely 'entertaining' way without the subtle social analysis that is present here.

From the Publisher's Website:

Leah escapes the siege in her school, but she can't avoid wrestling with impossible choices in this topical, terrifying new novel that's essential reading for teens everywhere.

Leah Jackson - in detention. Then armed Year 9s burst in, shooting. She escapes, just. But the new Lock Down system for keeping intruders out is now locking everyone in. She takes to the ceilings and air vents with another student, Anton, and manages to use her mobile to call out to the world.

First: survive the gang - the so-called 'Eternal Knights'.
Second: rescue other kids taken hostage, and one urgently needing medical help.
Outside, parents gather, the army want intelligence, television cameras roll, psychologists give opinions, sociologists rationalise, doctors advise - and they all want a piece of Leah. Soon her phone battery is running out; the SAS want her to reconnoitre the hostage area ... 
But she is guarding a terrifying conviction. Her brother, Connor, is at the centre of this horror. Is he with the Eternal Knights or just a pawn? 
She remembers. All those times Connor reached out for help ... If she'd listened, voiced her fears about him earlier, would things be different now? Should she give up her brother?

With only Anton for company, surviving by wits alone, Leah wrestles with the terrible choices ...

Published in paperback 5 September 2013 from Hodder
Find more info at the publisher's website
My grateful thanks go to the publisher for sending a proof to review

Friday 30 August 2013

Review: Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

Weird water creatures and mad explorers combine in a dazzlingly original children's fantasy adventure story 

I so enjoyed this madcap romp through the oceans, and so will the target audience of 7+. Really, I'm not convinced there's an upper age limit on this kind of fun.

The book represents a brilliant combination of text and image, being beautifully illustrated throughout. Philip Reeve's delightfully zany creations are brought to life through Sarah McIntyre's energetic and witty drawings.

The characters are deliciously quirky, with the mythical and magical elements showing an inventiveness worthy of Eva Ibbotson. There is an anarchic feel to this book, which is perhaps some of the reason it put me in mind of her work. The plot is equally strange and wonderful, featuring the most bizarre competition I've ever had the pleasure of reading about, islands that wander around the seas, mermaids, sea monkeys and a dastardly villain.

I've really emphasised the humour here, because it is one of the defining features of the book. Let me just say, though, that I tend not to enjoy the slightly-too-silly-for-me humour sometimes found in 'boys' books'. This is not in that category. Brilliantly bonkers yes, but not pants-and-bums silly.

In short, if you enjoy slightly mad humour, magic and/or adventure, this is a book you will love.

Book Description

Along with his friends, a grumpy old albatross, a short-sighted mermaid, and a friendly island called Cliff, Oliver sets out to rescue his missing parents. On their perilous journey the friends meet evil islands, a boy called Stacey (not a girl's name) and more sea monkeys than you can wave some seaweed at.

Publishing 5 September 2013 by Oxford University Press
For more info visit the publisher's web page
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy

Monday 26 August 2013

Review: Museum Mayhem by Sara Grant (Magic Trix 4)

More delightful witchery from the Magic Trix series for young readers 

This series is really just lovely. If it's new to you, don't despair, there's time to catch up. Here are my reviews for the earlier titles: The Witching Hour, Flying High, Birthday Wishes.

In this instalment, Trix gets witching cough, which leads to all manner of mayhem on a trip to the Natural History Museum with her family and Holly. As ever, Sara Grant's gentle storytelling emphasises the traits Trix will need to be a good Fairy Godmother one day, offering sound messages about friendship and kindness to her young readers.

I was happy to see Jinx - Trix's magical kitten familiar - getting a good portion of the action in this story. I always enjoy the portions of the story told from his perspective, and it was great to see him more actively involved in the plot.

I really can't recommend this series enough. It will definitely appeal to little girls, offering them funny stories, magic and the chance to see girl characters doing things and having an impact. Great stuff!

From the Back Cover

The three signs that you may be a witch . . .
  • You occasionally see witches flying across the midnight sky on their broomsticks.
  • Rhyming spells pop into your head at the drop of a (witch's) hat!
  • You love planning magical surprises for your friends.
When you're a witch, coughs and sneezes can have surprising special effects - as Trix finds out when a trip to the museum leads to spotty mammoths and lively dinosaurs! Can Jinx the magic kitten help Trix find a cure before her witchy secret is revealed?

Published 4 July by Orion Children's Books
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy (which seems to have migrated to my daughter's shelves...)

Friday 23 August 2013

Blog Tour: Student Bodies by Sean Cummings - I'm All About the Ass-Kicking (plus GIVEAWAY!)

I'm really excited to have Sean Cummings here at the Hearthfire today, having loved both Poltergeeks and Student Bodies (links to my reviews).

Click here for more tour links

I’m All About The Ass-Kicking

My thanks to Beth Kemp for inviting me to do a guest posting today.

I write urban fantasy – it’s kind of my passion because there’s something liberating about the entire genre. Yes, there are similar kinds of characters with similar kinds of story arcs, but what I really love more than anything is the serious ass-kicking that goes on.

Because slamming evildoers is really something we all might like to do deep down inside. So I tend to live vicariously through the heroes and heroines in books by Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Nancy Holzner … I could list all the UF titles I’ve read and probably pick out the best ass-kicking scenes in each one. So when I set about to write a young adult urban fantasy, I really wanted to create a character who epitomizes the kinds of qualities that I’ve found in protagonists by my favorite authors. I also wanted to write a book that was starkly different from what’s currently on the YA shelves at your local bookseller.

In POLTERGEEKS, teen witch Julie Richardson has something to prove to her mother. She’s cocky, snarky, independent and utterly fearless. Unfortunately for her, Mom winds up on the receiving end of a dark spell that rips her soul out of her body and leaves her in a coma. Voila! A hero’s journey. And what kind of hero would you be if you didn’t have a “chosen one” aspect to your life. Julie isn’t really chosen in the sense that she’s messianic – but she does have a magical heritage and part of her journey is to discover what it all means.

In STUDENT BODIES, I’ve really ramped up the tension and raised the stakes. Julie now knows what her place in the world is supposed to be and there’s a threat to every person at her school. She must also balance our the normal teenage mother-daughter conflict in a way that doesn’t make her come off sounding like she’s a petulant teen. Because Julie, like it or not, needs her mother. Mom is her anchor and in this second book, she still has a lot to prove. Her mother also has to begin to let her daughter figure things out for herself – Mom’s challenge is every parent’s challenge: letting go.

Did I mention there’s a lot of ass-kicking going on in book two? Because, you know, there is. We’ve got new friendships – Twyla Standingready, an aboriginal magic slinger in her own right. If Julie’s going to solve the threat to everyone at her school, she’s going to need allies because the danger is very real, very dark and it gets very big very fast.

Marcus is still there, but even he’s not safe. Julie has to deal with the fact that her newfound role places her boyfriend in danger. She’s learning that even with her great power, she can’t always protect those who are closest to her, no matter how much she tries.

STUDENT BODIES is a dark, book. Where POLTERGEEKS was light, fluffy and thrilling, STUDENT BODIES deals with some very dark themes that make all the characters much more believable. There’s a ton of magic being thrown around throughout the book and an ending that I promise you simply won’t see coming.

Well, there you go. An ass-kicking teen witch, a threat to basically everyone at her school and the clock is ticking. Do get a kick out of STUDENT BODIES, won’t you?

About the Author:

Sean Cummings is a fantasy author with a penchant for writing quirky, humorous and dark novels featuring characters that are larger than life. His debut was the gritty urban fantasy SHADE FRIGHT published in 2010. He followed up later in the year with the sequel FUNERAL PALLOR. His urban fantasy/superhero thriller UNSEEN WORLD was published in 2011.

2012 saw the publication of Sean’s first urban fantasy for young adults. POLTERGEEKS is a rollicking story about teen witch Julie Richards, her dorky boyfriend and race against time to save her mother’s life. The first sequel, STUDENT BODIES is due for publication in September 2013.

Sean Cummings lives in Saskatoon Canada.
*Author Links*
 photo iconwebsite-32x32_zps1f477f69.png  photo icongoodreads32_zps60f83491.png  photo icontwitter-32x32_zpsae13e2b2.png

About the Book:

Student Bodies (Poltergeeks #2)
Release Date: 5 September 2013

Summary from Goodreads:
Whoever said being a teenage witch would be easy? For fifteen-year-old Julie Richardson and the city’s resident protector from supernatural evil, the Left Hand Path doesn't give a damn if you've found true love for the first time in your life. There’s someone lurking the halls of Crescent Ridge High School with enough malice to unleash an epidemic of Soul Worms – supernatural larvae that feed on the very fabric of a victim’s humanity.

After witnessing the death of one of the most popular kids at school, Julie and über genius boyfriend Marcus are in a race against time to find out who is behind the attacks. All the evidence points to a horrifying plot at the City Weir during the Winter Solstice; the place where icy waters of the Bow River and a thunderous spillway will mean the deaths of more than a hundred of Julie’s classmates.

If she has any hope of saving their lives, she’ll need a little help from a coven of white witches and an Aboriginal mage whose snarky attitude is matched only by her magical prowess.

UK Prize Pack
1 Signed Copy of STUDENT BODIES
1 Signed Copy of POLTERGEEKS
1 Signed Copy of FUNERAL PALLOR
1 Signed Copy of SHADE FRIGHT
1 Amazon Kindle

CANADA/US Prize Pack:
1 Signed Copy of STUDENT BODIES
1 Signed Copy of POLTERGEEKS
1 Signed Copy of FUNERAL PALLOR
1 Signed Copy of SHADE FRIGHT
1 Amazon Kindle

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