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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Tuesday Tidings: Three Exciting Bookish Things

An amazing competition for 9-12 readers, and a lot of love for two of this summer's big YA US fantasy releases.

The competition: Operation Diamond

Helen Moss's Adventure Island books are often likened to the Famous Five series, and with good reason. Although there are only four main characters, one is still a dog and they solve mysteries on an idyllic island off the Cornish shore. They're completely contemporary though, so they have the internet and mobile phones to help them in their quests, and there's none of that 'jolly old ginger beer' stuff that modern kids sadly now struggle to relate to. My 8 yr old loves them, and I really enjoy reading them with her.

The tenth Adventure Island book is out next month, and to celebrate this (and of course the Jubilee), Helen Moss and Orion have put together an amazing competition. There is a special Jubilee short story, featuring a Jubilee Diamond (and with a guest spot from the Olympic Flame). Naturally, the Jubilee Diamond is stolen and our child entrants have to figure out who the culprit is. They're given the profiles of six suspects and those correctly identifying the culprit have the chance to win a fantastic prize. The winner will be personally featured in a future Adventure Island book and will get a full set of signed books, as well as a set for their school. To help kids identity the thief, there is a blog trail that started on 21st May: each day, Helen Moss is posting a blog piece about one of the books and there is a question to answer at the end. These questions are multiple choice, and the letters of all the correct answers will be an anagram of the crook's name. The whole thing is ingeniously well done. The names are all very similar, so kids clearly will have to find every letter in order to select the right one. My 8 yr old is having a blast with it! She's got several notebook pages full of notes about the suspects and a careful note of the letters so far. Obviously, she wants to win the prize, but she really is having a great time just solving the mystery.

Want to join in the fun? Here's where you need to start, to read the story and find the links to all the blog pieces. And don't worry about coming to the party late - the competition doesn't close until 23rd July.

US YA Fantasy News: Cover of Throne of Glass

This is a big summer YA release for Bloomsbury, coming out simultaneously in the US and the UK in August. This week, the UK cover was revealed on the Hooked on Books Facebook page. Just how lovely is this?

Throne of Glass is an epic fantasy that was originally created on fictionpress.com. It grew out of Sarah Maas's musings on Cinderella - specifically, the Disney version.  She says:

I’m a huge Disney fan and movie soundtrack geek, and one night, I found myself listening to the Cinderella score. The music that accompanies Cinderella fleeing the ball is pretty dark and intense, and I wound up thinking that the music would be better suited if Cinderella had done something truly bad . . . like steal from the Prince. Or, worse: what if she was an assassin who had just tried to kill the Prince?

And from there, all the other questions arose—who was this Cinderella-assassin and where had she come from? Who sent her to kill the prince? Why did they send her? And what would happen to her now? Thus, Celaena Sardothien and Throne of Glass were born. Asking those questions made me realize there was a massive story to be told prior to that fateful ball—entire books, actually.

In the ten years that I’ve been working on the series, Throne of Glass has become more of an original epic fantasy than a Cinderella retelling, but you can still find a few nods to the legend here and there.


US YA Fantasy News: Trailer for The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo

This sweeping, glorious fantasy is out now from Orion in the UK. (In the US it is titled Shadow and Bone). Did you see my review? If you're a fantasy fan (or possibly even if you're not, like Kirsty from The Overflowing Library) - I strongly recommend this one. And isn't the trailer lovely?

Monday, 28 May 2012

Launch of Rebecca Emin's When Dreams Come True


Charlie is happiest when biking with Max and Toby, or watching films with Allie. But when Charlie reaches year nine (age 13), everything begins to change.

As her friends develop new interests, Charlie's dreams become more frequent and vivid, and a family crisis tears her away from her friends.

How will Charlie react when old family secrets are revealed? Will her life change completely when some of her dreams start to come true?

The above is the blurb for Rebecca Emin's new book for 10-14 yr olds, When Dreams Come True. I've just started reading it and it matches her first novel, New Beginnings for gentleness and a reassuring voice for this age group.

Rebecca is celebrating her launch with a host of internet activity, supported by a variety of bloggers and other writers. There are several opportunities around the net to get your hands on a free copy. Why not join in the fun and help Rebecca celebrate?

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Thrilling Thursday Review: A Waste of Good Paper by Sean Taylor

This strong-voiced contemporary YA reminded me of Fifteen Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins, probably because both focus on family (and school) issues from a male teen perspective.

Author: Sean Taylor
Title: A Waste of Good Paper
Genre: Contemporary realism (YA)
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Published: May 2012

Source: won from the publisher in a Twitter giveaway

Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads


The blurb says:
Friday
Pete says this is a writing book he's only giving ME and it's PRIVATE and I can write what I want. But SORRY PETE there's nothing I want to write...

Wednesday
Pete's alright but it's a DUMB idea he's got about this book because the problem last year was what FATHEAD BARRY and the others were saying about my mum. And what happens if they start DISSING her again?

Saturday
I'm writing this because of what's happened. And that is my mum's ex-boyfriend JON SHOWED UP. And BOTH his arms were BROKEN...

A searingly honest, funny and totally brilliant debut novel

My verdict: A strong story made even better by its great voice. Recommended reading for teens (and teachers!)
The extracts given in the blurb are absolutely typical of the whole book. Jason's voice is strong and refreshing and sounds absolutely authentic for a teen boy in his situation. He's in some kind of special school for kids with behavioural problems and his teacher Pete tries to encourage him by giving him this book to enable him to express himself. There is gentle humour in that Jason uses the book to complain about how the book is a stupid idea and won't help him, and yet of course we do see him make progress as the story unfolds.

Jason is a brilliant character. He is, of course, not without his problems: he can be stubborn and surly and many other things that you might expect of a lad who is seen as too difficult for mainstream school. Pete is clearly a great teacher and he is right that writing will help Jason. We see Jason begin to admit and accept what his real problems are as we go through the book.

The author has worked as a visiting writer with schools of this type, and this experience shines out clearly through the text. It's obvious that Sean Taylor has real knowledge of what these institutions are like, and how adults in different roles interact with these kids. He also has done a fabulous job of conveying a complex story with a relatively limited narration style. Jason's voice feels very authentic - there are times when his writing seems quite childish and immature - and yet it isn't monotonous to read. 

Overall, I was very impressed with this and enjoyed it immensely. It's a fairly quick read that I think teens will relate to, but I do feel that adults (especially teachers) can also get a lot of it.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Review and Giveaway: The Treasure House by Linda Newbery

This lovely new book for children is contemporary and up-to-date but has a timeless feel to it, like a classic children's story. Win a copy (for yourself or a child) - details below.

Author: Linda Newbery
Title: The Treasure House
Genre: Mystery, adventure (children's)
Publisher: Orion children's
Published: May 2012
Source: kindly sent for review by the publisher

Find it at Goodreads or Amazon UK

The blurb says:
Nina's mother has disappeared.

She's left a message to say she'll be back, but nobody knows where she's gone or why.

Nina's father goes to look for her, leaving Nina with her aunts who run a charity shop. When Nina finds some of her mum's most treasured possessions on sale in the shop, she knows something must be wrong.

Soon she is caught up in an investigation of her own. But there are so many secrets to unravel. And once Nina knows the truth, will she wish she didn't?

A fascinating mystery, beautifully crafted by this award-winning author.

My verdict: a well-spun mystery, centred on the endlessly fascinating charity shop. Recommended for 8+ (and would make a lovely shared bedtime read)
Many of the ingredients of classic children's stories are here: a missing mother (because who can have an adventure with Mum around to check up?); endearingly mad older relatives; a mystery to solve; friends and less-than-friendly kids at school. Reading this had a nostalgic feel, probably because it is vaguely reminiscent of books I grew up with, although at the same time it is firmly set in the here-and-now with mobile phones and environmental worries.

Nina is a great character: grounded, caring and just trying to get on with things the best way she can. Children will relate to her with ease, and will be cheering her on as she works to unravel the mystery of Mum's disappearance. The aunts are fabulous creations and complement one another beautifully. The real star, of course, is the shop, and this is shown in the chapter headings which are all objects in the shop (many of which you can see around the edges of the gorgeous cover).

The main plot thrust is of course Nina's Mum, but the novel also manages to deal with new school worries, threads about friendship and a lovely sub-plot relating to an upcycling fashion show, as well as an age-appropriate consideration of mental health. There is a real lightness of touch here that makes this a cheering reading experience, even while you're in the middle of it, not knowing where Nina's mother is or how things will turn out.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. In the best tradition of children's literature, it raises some difficult questions (e.g. what if Mum just walked out?) and encourages readers to think about less-than-pleasant things, without threatening their security.

Giveaway!

I have a copy of this lovely book to give away to someone out there (open internationally). If you would like to take part, just leave me a comment telling me either about your best charity or junk shop find, or about a lost treasure that you'd love to see reappear in a charity shop for you to reclaim. Each comment will get you one entry into my mystical selection pot. You can also tweet about your treasures on Twitter, using the hashtag #charityshoptreasure - again for one entry per tweet. I'll also pop an entry in for anyone tweeting a link to this giveaway (again, use the hashtag #charityshoptreasure to make sure I see it). I'll draw a winner on Friday 25th May at noon UK time. Note that this book is eligible for the British Books Challenge at the Overflowing Library.

For more about Linda Newbery, you might like to visit her website. Did you see her post on writing for different age groups here last Wednesday?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Letterbox Love 2



This British-themed meme came out of a Twitter conversation, is being hosted by Lynsey at Narratively Speaking and allows us to discuss books arriving through our letterboxes (or Kindle whispernet of course ...) every week or two. All links will take you to Goodreads or the publisher's info page.

So, here's what I've received recently:

Review copies

From Orchard Books

Emma Hearts LA by Keris Stainton. Having come late to the party and recently enjoyed Della Says: OMG!, I'm expecting to really enjoy this UKYA tale of Emma's family's move to LA.
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, which is coming out in paperback in July. I saw some of the reviews for the hardback version and it sounded great - a creepy ghost story, centred on a boy who "kills the dead" and meets a challenge in the form of Anna Dressed in Blood.


From Hodder Children's Books

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley. This is an Australian YA coming out this summer, which focuses on a girl's quest to find a graffiti artist. It sounds to me from the blurb like she effectively falls in love with him through his art - an intriguing idea.
The Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher. Coming out later this year, this UKYA sounds like a great fantasy read full of magic and mystery, combined with time travel. An obsidian mirror, used for 'experiments', becomes central in a boy's search for his father, while others are also trying to get their hands on it.


From Orion Children's Books

The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse (Western Mysteries 2) by Caroline Lawrence. In the second P K Pinkerton mystery, the 12-yr-old detective takes on an official case: finding a girl's murderer before he can get to the girl's maid who witnessed the whole thing.
The Mystery of the Smugglers' Wreck (Adventure Island 9) by Helen Moss. In this adventure, the three children (and, of course, Drift the dog) find a smugglers' wreck to explore and figure out. Bound to be great fun!
The Mystery of the Invisible Spy (Adventure Island 10) by Helen Moss. Our intrepid investigators suspect  a new resident on Castle Key Island (aka Adventure Island) to be a spy.

Adventure Island news

To celebrate the tenth Adventure Island release, there is a fabulous competition running from tomorrow. You can win the chance to appear in a future Adventure Island book! Plus a full signed set of the stories, and another set for your school or library. It's a quest-type competition with clues to unravel and a code to crack, requiring you to visit different blogs on particular days.  For full details, check out the link above.

Purchased
The Writer's Treasury of Ideas by Linda Lewis. I bought this on recommendation from Womag Writer's blog and, having had a quick flick, am sure it will be helpful. The writer has had many stories published in the competitive women's magazine market, so she certainly knows a thing or two about effective short stories.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Thrilling Thursday Review: Della Says: OMG! by Keris Stainton

This fab #UKYA novel made me laugh while saying OMG right along with poor Della.

Author: Keris Stainton
Title: Della Says: OMG!
Genre: contemporary realism (YA)
Publisher: Orchard
Published: May 2010
Source: purchased on my Kindle

Find it at Goodreads or Amazon UK

The blurb says:
Della's over the moon when she kisses her long-standing crush at a party - but then she discovers her diary has disappeared... 

When scans of embarrassing pages are sent to her mobile and appear on Facebook, Della's distraught - how can she enjoy her first proper romance when someone, somewhere, knows all her deepest, darkest secrets?

My verdict: hilarious and horrifying by turns, with one of the strongest teen voices I've read.
The premise, the title and the cover for this book promise a great fun read and it is certainly that, while at the same time exploring some crucial issues for teens about self-image and dealing with what others think of you.  Della's diary pages had me cringing along with her (and pondering the cruelty of the sender - what a thing to do to someone!).

Della is a realistic teen heroine: her lack of confidence in her appearance open the book with a scene about getting ready for a party and it is easy to empathise with her right from the start. This is no glossy US-style high school story with perfect teen specimens bitching despite their perfect lives. I'm sure most teens will find much to identify with in Keris Stainton's brilliantly-executed characters. I've already commented on the authentic nature of the voice and dialogue in this novel, as this is a key part of its realism. Della and the other teen characters sound like genuine contemporary UK teenagers (trust me, I teach 16-19 yr olds), and yet their behaviour, relationships and emotions were able to take me back to being a teenager with ease. Keris has definitely captured something timeless in that period of uncertainty and intensity expertly. I also feel that the treatment of teen sexuality in Della is superbly realistic and it's great to see teens thinking and talking about sex without it being a thinly-veiled morality message. The sweet awkwardness of early romance is also particularly well done here.

Overall, I would strongly recommend this to any fan of teen/YA fiction. This was Keris's debut novel; Jessie Hearts NYC is also available and Emma Hearts LA is coming out next month. If Della is anything to go by, these will be fab reads too.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Guest Post: Right to Roam by Linda Newbery

For this week's Words on Wednesday, we've got a real treat. Linda Newbery, author of many children's books (for many different kinds of children), is here to talk about writing for a range of ages. I'm reading her latest book, The Treasure House, at the moment and it's a gorgeous adventure with a truly classic feel (full review - and a giveaway of a copy - coming up on Monday). Without further ado, over to Linda...

One of the things I love about writing for young people is that there’s such freedom, or can be if you choose to take it. My first novels were for teenagers, but soon, wanting to diversify, I wrote a few first readers, short, illustrated books for children of about five or six, before moving into the core 9-12ish age group. My first book for Orion, At the Firefly Gate, was followed by five more, most recently The Treasure House; meanwhile I continued to write young adult fiction for David Fickling Books, along with Lob, for about 7+ (though I prefer to think of it as a book for everyone except teenagers) and have just completed an adult novel, to be published later this year. Oh yes, and there’s one picture-book, Posy, illustrated by the wonderful Catherine Rayner. So now I have books in every age-slot apart from board books for babies.

There are drawbacks to this from the marketing point of view. My books aren’t all shelved in one place; they come from different publishers and don’t share a “look”, so I’m not particularly known for any one thing. But I wouldn’t want to limit myself to one age-group or genre. After finishing a long and challenging older novel, it’s refreshing to turn to something shorter and lighter, such as a rhyming picture-book text or a little story about a dog and a narrowboat. And it gives a lovely variety to my school and library visits: I might be reading to five-year-olds one week, talking to year nine or sixth-form the next.

People sometimes ask about the practicalities of writing for different age-groups. Is it difficult? Confusing? Does it require a major switch of focus, or a preparatory period of immersion in picture-books or adult fiction? I’m not really aware of any great difference in approach. Writing is writing, and once I have an idea, it’s the story itself and the characters whose heads I’m inhabiting that determine how the story will develop, the pace, the language, the length. What I can’t do, though, is have two or three projects on the go at the same time. It’s essential to feel that I’m living in whatever story it is, so that my mind works away at it while I’m doing other things, like swimming or gardening, or even sleeping..

What next? Well, I do have something in mind – something I haven’t tried before … which brings me to another question I’ve often been asked. “Does it get easier now that you’ve written so many books?” No. It doesn’t and shouldn’t. Each book presents it own challenges, and if I ever start thinking it’s easy I’ll have to be very strict with myself and find a way of making it harder.

Thank you, Linda, for that insight into your work. I agree that Lob has the potential for a wide audience (I certainly enjoyed it!), and would certainly recommend The Treasure House. In fact, I'm off to read a bit more now...

Monday, 14 May 2012

Magical Monday Review: The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo

A gorgeous and complex fantasy novel about magic for this week's Magical Monday.

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Title: The Gathering Dark
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Series: The Grisha Trilogy #1
Publisher: Indigo
Published: May 17 2012
Source: kindly sent for review by the publisher

Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says:
Sweeping, glorious fantasy romance about an orphan who must save her kingdom from the seductive and terrifying Darkling.

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

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

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

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

Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance.

My verdict: Beautiful and satisfying fantasy for teens and up.
First, let me say that I might not have gone for this had I noticed that it was being billed as a romance above all else, but I'm really glad I did. Yes, there is a romance thread, but I would say that this gorgeous novel is much more about identity and finding yourself than it is about love. So if, like me, the romance being centred in the blurb makes you think again, I'd urge you to consider the book's many other fine qualities: fabulous world-building, complex characters, a twisty plot (which concludes in a satisfactory way even though it's the first in a trilogy).

Following a brief prelude (simply labelled 'before'), in which we see Alina and Mal as children, the story is related in the first person by Alina, ensuring we see everything from her perspective. Her status as an orphan, and therefore effectively an outsider, allows for a lot of explanation and description without it feeling like info-dump. Of course, the orphan of indeterminate origin with inexplicable gifts is also a great fantasy trope, which is used well here. I expect that Alina's curiosity about her background could take us into this territory in subsequent novels in the series. I certainly hope so, and am convinced enough of Leigh Bardugo's skill as a storyteller that I doubt very much she'd leave this angle unexploited.

The world created here is fascinating. I believe that it uses ideas and/or themes from Russian folktale, about which I know nothing, so to me it all feels very original and intriguing. The ideas of magic being a part of some people and not others, and of gifts being simultaneously revered, envied and limiting (for the gifted) are well-handled and thought-provoking. I also appreciated that Leigh Bardugo doesn't treat her reader like an idiot, or leave us confused. There are times in the novel that we are dropped into situations that are not fully explained up front, but enough detail is drip-fed through the story that it does make sense - again, without that annoying info-dump feeling. This is skilled fantasy writing.

There is a romance plot here, which develops throughout the novel. Although there are some familiar concepts from the world of YA, there is no hint of annoying insta-love and it all seems realistic to me. I feel that the romance angle is really all part of the identity theme, which is certainly appropriate for the YA age bracket.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed being lost in this world for a couple of days and would strongly recommend this to fantasy readers - teen and up.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Family Friday Review: The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon

Fab mythic fantasy drawing on the Norse sagas for kids 8+.

Author: Francesca Simon
Title: The Sleeping Army
Genre: Fantasy (children's)
Publisher: Profile Books
Published: Oct 2011
Source: purchased on my Kindle

Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says:
Freya is an ordinary girl living in modern Britain, but with a twist: people still worship the Viking gods. She's caught in her parents' divorce, and shuttling between bickering adults is no fun. One evening, stuck with her dad on his night shift at the British Museum, she is drawn to the Lewis Chessmen and Heimdall's Horn. Unable to resist, she blows the horn, waking three chess pieces from their enchantment; the slaves Roskva and Alfi, and Snot the Berserk. They are all summoned to Asgard, land of the Viking gods, and told they must go on a perilous journey to restore the gods to youth. If Freya refuses she will be turned into an ivory chess piece but, if she accepts her destiny and fails, the same terrible fate awaits her. Brilliantly funny, original and a wholly new take on the Norse myths - and the travails of contemporary family life.

My verdict: Flawless world-building in this marvellous fantasy. Highly recommended for myth and adventure fans of 8+
This was a bedtime read with my 8 yr old which we both greatly enjoyed. The world of the novel is exactly like ours, but with the small detail that Christianity never caught on and the established religion is Norse. This shift was accomplished thoroughly and seemingly effortlessly with little details like the days being called 'Wodensday' and 'Thorsday' etc and people saying things like "oh my gods". The story begins in the British Museum, which (as well as being integral to the story of course) allows Francesca Simon to integrate details comparing the two religious systems without it ever feeling dry or lecturing. My sleepy 8 yr old happily accepted this world and learnt loads about Norse myth without getting bogged down, confused or losing sight of the story. I particularly enjoyed the idea that the Norse religion had reached the point that modern Christianity in Britain has with relatively few actual believers, but being embedded into the culture. The idea of Viking gods being seen as part of some dry, dull institution is somehow especially amusing!

Freya is a great character. A normal modern girl dragged into an adventure with children from the Dark Ages and a berserk, she's really out of her depth and seen as slightly pathetic by her co-adventurers. The narration focuses on her perspective, although it is third-person, allowing us insight into her thoughts and feelings as she undertakes the extremely daunting challenge set her by Woden.

Aspects of myth are used and incorporated extremely well - even to the point where it is clear which parts of the story deviate from the canon of Norse myth. This is where the set-up of a world based on Norse belief that has become fairly stagnant works best, as Freya is able to question the myths she's been brought up with and compare them to the reality that she is now experiencing. As the blurb above indicates, Freya's quest is all about restoring the gods to youth, but her knowledge of mythology tells her that they don't age. Effectively, the established myths have been PR for the gods. This detail ensures that any readers who aren't greatly familiar with Norse tales will clearly know 'real' myth from what has been added for this story. This demonstrates the respect with which the novel treats the myths and, like so many other aspects of this book, is very clever indeed.

Overall, this adventure is a great addition to a child's library. Although the main character is a girl, there is nothing in the story (or the cover) to spoil boys' enjoyment of it. I would heartily recommend this to lovers of fantasy adventure stories and those who enjoy mythic tales.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Words on Wednesday: Teen Talk in #UKYA

Dialogue is one of the things I notice most when I read: unrealistic conversation will turn me off a book quite rapidly. And, as it's one of the'English Language' things I teach, I really notice when dialogue doesn't quite square with characters' age, or regional or socio-economic background.

I thought today I'd share a few examples of recent UK YA novels which are particularly authentic in their use of teen-speak. For any other Eng Lang teachers out there, extracts from these are good ENGA3 analysis practice - and might just encourage the odd student to pick up a novel...


Hollow Pike by James Dawson (my review) may contain fantasy elements (witchcraft), but the characters sound exactly like many of my sixth form students. Since a key theme is bullying, bitchy comments and witty comebacks feature particularly highly in the carefully crafted dialogue of this third-person voiced novel.

When I Was Joe by Keren David (my review) is a first-person novel which demonstrates a keen ear for teen talk. Interestingly, both this and Hollow Pike feature a character who's moved to a new area, so there are some characters whose relationships are very well established and others who are relative strangers.

Della Says: OMG! by Keris Stainton is a realistic contemporary novel (my review is coming soon, but short version: a great read) which captures the teen voice beautifully. This is another good choice for first person narration with a realistic teen feel, as well as sharp dialogue between characters.

I think one of the things that is really interesting about these (and other) novels that are successful in their depiction of teen language is the relative lack of up-to-the-moment slang. Of course, there is quite a lag between writing a book and its publication, but also slang can date really quickly. Authenticity is achieved via things like speech tags (... so he's like 'I'm leaving' and she's like 'fine'...), qualifiers (it's well good), alongside realistic depictions of teen life such as social hierarchies shown through labels (freak; ginge etc). All these things are likely to still signify teen culture and speech for the next few years, whereas more specific slang (maybe "reem", for example...) is likely to firmly place any novel using it in 2011-12.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Letterbox Love 1


For those of you that aren't familiar with the goings-on of the book blogging world, this is a new UK-based meme to replace In My Mailbox, as there has been a lot of unpleasant drama associated with the latter meme. This British-themed alternative came out of a Twitter conversation, is being hosted by Lynsey at Narratively Speaking and it will allow us to discuss books arriving through our letterboxes (or Kindle whispernet of course ...) every week or two without the drama.

So, here's what I've received recently:

Review copies (care of the lovely Orion ladies):

The Treasure House by Linda Newbery

Nina's mother has disappeared.

She's left a message to say she'll be back, but nobody knows where she's gone or why.

Nina's father goes to look for her, leaving Nina with her aunts who run a charity shop. When Nina finds some of her mum's most treasured possessions on sale in the shop, she knows something must be wrong.

Soon she is caught up in an investigation of her own. But there are so many secrets to unravel. And once Nina knows the truth, will she wish she didn't?

A fascinating mystery, beautifully crafted by this award-winning author.


I am very keen to read this one, having greatly enjoyed Linda Newbery's Lob last year, written for a slightly younger readership.


A bored bird is a dangerous bird.

Following a family outing to the circus, Minty falls under the spell of a dodgy fortune-teller, Castle Otherhand is overrun by furry white bunnies, a mucky duck and a hamster called Mr Whiskers, and Valevine creates a strangely lethal cabbage-counting contraption. Rark! 

The Castle is in mayhem. With Solstice's help, and a little magic, Edgar rescues his family from the greenest and fluffiest mayhem ever.

This series is hilarious! Light goth for kids, narrated by the family raven - how great is that?! I reviewed the first in this series last year.


Utterly wicked. Totally brilliant. The Queen is coming to Horrid Henry's school. The real live Queen! Henry can't believe it.
But when Miss Battle-Axe makes him stand at the back, Henry is furious. How on earth is he going to get himself noticed now?

'Horrid Henry Meets The Queen' was originally published in the collection of that title, but appears here for the first time in a single volume with brand-new full colour illustrations.


What could be a greater recipe for disaster than Horrid Henry meeting the Queen? It's nice to see this one given the 'early reader' treatment with new illustrations.


It's night-time at the Perfect Pet Shop and a naughty puppy is making lots of noise! Will the other animals EVER get to sleep?

These Early Readers are great for kids who haven't been reading long, and there is a good varied selection available. The last Vivian French one I read was lovely and this looks like another sweet, fun story.

Gifted:
Advent by James Treadwell from the lovely Sister Spooky

For centuries it has been locked away 
Lost beneath the sea
Warded from earth, air, water, fire, spirits, thought and sight.

But now magic is rising to the world once more.

And a boy called Gavin, who thinks only that he is a city kid with parents who hate him, and knows only that he sees things no one else will believe, is boarding a train, alone, to Cornwall.

No one will be there to meet him.


I've wanted to read this since I saw it compared to the fabulous Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and duly added it to my wish list. I was so chuffed to see this on Sister Spooky's giveaway list. Watch this space - I'm already pretty sure I'll love this one!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Family Friday Review: Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

This hilarious book satirising TV survivalists will delight kids from 8 or so.

Author: Carl Hiaasen
Title: Chomp
Genre: comedy/adventure (kids/teen)
Publisher: Orion Children's
Published: 5 Apr 2012
Source: kindly provided for review by the publisher

Find it at Amazon UK  

The blurb says:
The Everglades at night are a tangle of waterways and slithering things. A place of moonlight, mystery and menace. Wahoo's dad is an animal wrangler (who's not quite feeling himself, after an unfortunate incident with a frozen iguana) so his boy has grown up with a menagerie, including an alligator named Alice, in the backyard. Even so Wahoo doesn't want to be here - lost in the Everglades - especially with the slightly crazed Derek Badger, self-styled star of the Expedition Survival TV show, on the loose along with 'gators, snakes, bats and a gun-toting father out looking for his runaway daughter. It's anyone's guess who will survive . . . and who will get chomped!

My verdict: crazy and hilarious fun for kids, teens and adults.
I believe this book will have very wide appeal. It is silly in a crazy-fun way and had me laughing out loud (which isn't great on the bus ...). It also doesn't have any elements which are unsuitable for the tween crowd, whilst also being likely to amuse teens as well. At the same time, it is thought-provoking about more serious themes including environmentalism and media responsibility.

Wahoo is a great character, and the story is mostly focused on him and his interactions with the world. Responsible and cautious, he takes care of his father who is not really functioning after having had a frozen iguana fall on his head. This is one of those stories where the grown ups can be less sensible and more problematic than the kids, and chaos naturally ensues.

The writing is drily witty, achieving hilarity without overdoing the silliness (I write as one who didn't enjoy Mr Gum - please no hate mail). Catastrophes are piled up with no regard to the bounds of realism, but the writing is strong enough that it really doesn't matter. Although several situations in the book are patently unlikely, I remained completely lost in its world, simply enjoying the ride.

Having been cheered up enormously losing myself in Wahoo and co's misadventures, I would urge you to read this. Boys and girls, kids and grown ups: there's definitely something for everyone to enjoy here.
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