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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.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Review: Acid by Emma Pass

Exciting new dystopia for the YA market 

This is a thrill ride of a book, which hooks the reader quickly and fully delivers on its promise of excitement.

I'm sure some of you who are YA readers are going "I've done the dystopian thing; I'm over it now" but I would urge you to give this one a go. Yes, there are elements which you'll have read before (but I would strongly argue that any story which works is constructed using familiar elements) - the main character against the system, dark forces moving against her, mystery and uncertainty about characters' motivations - but it's also tightly written and refreshingly different in some (to me) indefinable way. Perhaps it's in the way it's put together, perhaps it's the UK setting; I'm not sure, but it is an excellent novel, recommended even to the dystopia-weary. Those of you concerned about sameness in YA novels will definitely want to know that Acid is love-triangle-free.

Our protagonist, Jenna, is tough and smart - as the only female prisoner in a high-security facility for murderers, she's had to be. It's clear from the start that the crime which saw her incarcerated here is problematic, but we are drip-fed these details adding to the tension. The story starts on its feet, all action and  no pulled punches, and this is the pitch we operate at pretty much throughout. It helps that Emma Pass knows her world intimately and leads us through it effectively. We learn exactly what we need to, precisely when we need to with her perfectly judged world-building. I hate things being over-explained or the dreaded info-dump - there isn't a whiff of that here.

I warmed to Jenna quite quickly and found it easy to be on her side. The swift-moving first person present tense narration helps this along, of course - we're right in her perspective, so can't help but understand how she sees things. There are points in the story where things are clearer to the reader than they are to Jenna, which further adds to the tension as those twists and turns keep coming. She's established quickly as someone to admire and not as a victim, holding her own against male inmates.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this one as a pacy, tense read which is extremely difficult to put down.

From the Back Cover

ACID - the most brutal police force in history.
They rule with an iron fist.
They see everything. They know everything.
They locked me away for life.

My crime?
They say I murdered my parents. I was fifteen years old.
My name is Jenna Strong.

Published 14 May by Corgi Children's/Random House
Visit the author's website for more information
My grateful thanks to the publisher for a review e-arc via Netgalley 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Review: The Fate in the Box by Michelle Lovric

Exciting, highly original adventure for 8+ readers 

Michelle Lovric has created a truly bizarre and unsettling version of Venice under the dictatorship of the cruel and peculiar tyrant Fogfinger. In the best children's book tradition, he is unequivocally evil and the adults seem helpless and, in many cases, clueless that they are even in a bad situation. Michelle Lovric's child heroes are resourceful and brave, as well as being readily relatable for child readers.

The characters are definitely a strength in this novel (and in others I've read by the same author). These Venetian fantasies are peopled by a mixture of humans and creatures (some real, some fantastic) with strongly differentiated characteristics. I love the determination and tenacity of little Amneris, first seen in peril in the prologue as she climbs up into a tower where death may await her. From this opening, we jump back three months to see how this climax is reached, meeting Tockle, son of kaleidoscope makers, and Biri, Amneris's best friend, along the way. The child characters are realistic and recognisable and I'm sure many children will view them as friends and will recognise aspects of their friends (and of themselves) in them. The evil and magical characters are gloriously larger-than-life and inventive.

The novel is tightly and intricately plotted, with plenty of clues (and red herrings) as to how it will all fit together. I certainly wasn't able to predict the details of the story and there is more than enough to surprise and delight a child reader. Michelle Lovric uses magic and fantastic beasts to help the children, working within the quest and fairy tale traditions of magical helpers, but it is their own bravery which ultimately spurs them on, resulting in a satisfying tale for young readers.

Overall. I would readily recommend this for young readers of fantasy and adventure. It has all the characteristics of the best-loved children's stories, including larger-than-life characters alongside believable child heroes, magic and mystery and clear lines between good and evil.

From the publisher's website:

Fogfinger rules Venice. His Fog Squad and spies are everywhere. The Venetians fear him and obey him. Every year one of their children is lost in a grisly Lambing ceremony. The child must climb the bell tower and let the Fate in the Box decide their destiny. Most end their days in the jaws of the primeval Crocodile that lurks in the lagoon. Or so Fogfinger tells them. But a chance meeting by a green apricot tree between Amneris and Tockle may be the beginning of the end for Fogfinger.

Silk and sewing, a magical glass kaleidoscope, mermaids and misunderstood Sea-Saurs, talking statues and winged cats, blue glass sea-horses, a spoiled rich girl and a secret society are just some of the ingredients in Michelle Lovric's exquisitely imagined and superbly plotted fourth fantasy set in Venice.

Published May 2nd by Orion Children's Books
Find more information on the publisher's website
My grateful thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a proof copy for review

Friday, 24 May 2013

Review: The Great Ice Cream Heist by Elen Caldecott

Great fun kids' adventure from a skilled writer of family drama

Elen Caldecott is one of the best writers of kids' contemporary adventures. She excels at writing sympathetically and not patronisingly about kids in non-traditional family situations, giving them interesting adventures so that the point of the story is not "look, here's a kid from a non-traditional family", but rather "here's a kid doing X".

I especially like the anti-judgmental message in this novel, in which our main character, Eva, has new neighbours whom everyone knows are trouble. Eva's view is different - she finds their loud and chaotic family intriguing, in contrast to her own very quiet and calm family: just her and her very protective Dad.

The plot is engaging, mostly because Eva and Jamie and those around them are entirely convincing and interesting characters. We can't help but feel sorry for Eva, keen to please her Dad but also to have a life of her own. And Jamie, seen through Eva's eyes as he escapes by lying on shed roof, is endearing and engaging in his own right. There are some genuinely funny moments, and plenty of points where we're worried for the characters and all seems doomed. The chase scene alluded to in the title and on the cover, is a fabulous climax.

Overall, I would absolutely recommend this for 9-12s, especially those who enjoy character-led adventures.

From the Back Cover

'Those McIntyres are nothing but trouble!' When the McIntyre family moves in next door, Eva is intrigued - it is the first interesting thing to happen for ages. But her ever protective Dad - even more protective since Eva's mum died - does not agree. And the McIntyres are certainly noisy! But Eva is curious about Jamie, who she often sees on the roof of his garden shed, escaping the family chaos.

Then Eva gets to know Jamie a bit better. And when he is accused of vandalising the local park, Eva is sure he didn't do it. It is up to Eva to stick up for him - but then Jamie disappears. Eva is now in a race against time, which snowballs into a helterskelter race with a 'borrowed' ice cream van, lots of irate keep-fit enthusiasts and lashings of ice-cream!

A warm, funny adventure about sticking up for your friends.

Publishing 6 June by Bloomsbury
My grateful thanks go to the publishers for providing me with a review copy via Netgalley

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Joining in: the online teaching community

There is a thriving online teaching community, a lively collection of educators with a host of ideas and tips. I was going to say that I've learnt more through Twitter in the last twelve months than in the last three years of whole inset-type provision, but that's probably not fair. I'm thinking of the whole-school/whole-college inset stuff whereas of course the material I see on Twitter is already filtered according to the particular teachers and experts I choose to follow. And that's the point, really. There are so many tweeting and blogging teachers and education leaders that it's relatively easy to find people with ideas that appeal to you.

Anyway, for anyone interested in finding their niche in the online teaching community, here are some of the people whose words I generally appreciate:

Geoff Barton (@RealGeoffBarton) - a model of good sense and grounded views

Joe Kirby http://back2thewhiteboard.wordpress.com/ - some interesting and practical ideas (his suggestions for speed-marking books in a meaningful way are brilliant)

Christopher Waugh (@Edutronic_net) - founder of the fabulous blogsync project, bringing teacher bloggers together

Michael Rosen (@MichaelRosenYes) - interesting and outspoken views on education

Alan Gibbons (@mygibbo) - libraries campaigning and sensible discussion about reading and literacy

Isabella Wallace (@WallaceIsabella) - author of 'pimp my lesson' - some quick and dirty ideas for livening things up

Calderstones English Dept (@CaldiesEnglish@LucyD1237 - author of the fabulous GCSE persuasive writing 'Boxing to argue' resource)

TES English (@TESEnglish)

Guardian Education (@GuardianEdu; @GuardianTeach)

This is just a small selection to get you started. Feel free to check who I follow - don't feel you have to follow me! (I'm @BethKemp)

Monday, 20 May 2013

Review: Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

Richly-imagined and fully-realised urban fantasy adventure

I greatly enjoyed my first visit to the Split Worlds and am looking forward to the second novel in the series. I loved the settings, the characters and the plot carried through this fascinating world beautifully.

Firstly, the settings. The Split Worlds has three distinct worlds: the fae realm, which is bright and harsh and dangerous; Mundanus (contemporary UK reality) and the Nether - a glorious vaguely Victorian/Regency world focused on class, etiquette and social status. The clash between this oddly fossilised world and our contemporary reality is fabulous and offers plenty to confuse or delight the characters, depending on their worldview.

The characters are also brilliant - quirky and inventive. I loved Cathy, the main character and also really enjoyed the scenes with Max and the Gargoyle. Cathy's predicament highlights the clash between Mundanus and the Nether, as a girl who has assimilated perfectly to our modern London but is then expected to follow her family's traditions, including a marriage arranged for the social benefit of the family.

The world building is the real strength of this book. Before the novels, Emma Newman had written many short stories set in this world and her grasp on it is clear. You can tell that world building's great when you aren't able to explain the world effectively yourself without confusing people, and yet reading the book wasn't a confusing experience for one moment! The complexity of the world is expertly revealed without overloading the reader.

Overall, this is strongly recommended for contemporary fantasy lovers. Its UK setting and well-thought-out systems of magic lend it originality and charm, while its use of a contemporary setting and matching attitudes results in a quirky and sometimes funny tale that doesn't take itself too seriously.

The blurb says...

Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.

The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.

There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.

But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?

Published Feb 2013 by Angry Robot
For more information, check out the author's site

Friday, 17 May 2013

Review: Hagwitch by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Mystery and folklore in a theatrical setting for readers of 10+

This novel snagged my attention quickly and kept me entranced. It's spot on for the older child/younger teen reader and offers them a thrilling story, with enough challenge in the structure to keep them interested without turning them off, and brilliant characters to engage with.

Using a dual narrative to present the weird and creepy hagwitch lore in two separate timeframes, the structure has plenty of interest of its own. With just the right amount of danger and creepiness for the target age group, the novel also explores identity and being an outsider in a gentle and subtle way. I loved both Lally and Flea, each slightly awkward in their own ways. Both are trying to figure out where they belong, while also battling with the knowledge that something isn't right and the adults around them need their help to first notice and then solve the problem. Lally, living on a canal boat in an unconventional family, is modern and yet isolated - she doesn't go to school, have friends her own age or use the internet. Flea, a sixteenth-century apprentice is a country boy in London, often out of place and somewhat naive.

The settings are fabulous. London is a well-used setting, but offering a sixteenth century theatre-based setting to contrast with a contemporary timeline featuring a canal barge running a marionette theatre made it fresh and exciting. I'm sure many child readers would recognise some of the details about sixteenth century theatre from learning about Shakespeare (who does get a mention) and the Tudors, and that this would enhance their enjoyment. The puppet barge (based apparently on a real Puppet Theatre Barge) gives a quirky twist to the contemporary plotline.

The core mystery of the hagwitch, drawing on folklore around the hawthorn and bird lore (crows and jackdaws especially), is inventive and enticing. The story as a whole feels highly original and exciting, skilfully weaving folklore elements into both a historical and a contemporary plot.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this for many types of reader, successfully combining historical, fantasy and contemporary elements as this novel does.

From the publisher's website:

Gothic thriller for 10+ by Irish author Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. Celtic legend, a malevolent faery queen and the dark underbelly of the theatreworld come to life as two stories of 16th-century London and the modern day interweave in this gripping tale full of dark secrets and magic.

16th-century London, Flea Nettleworth, apprentice to a playwright, watches as his struggling master's fortunes turn, and all of a sudden London is in his thrall. But soon Flea's master can no longer tell where the imagined world ends and the real one begins. Could the arrival of a mysterious Faery Elder trunk hold the answer?

Modern day, Lally lives on a barge, roaming the canalways and performing shows with her puppeteer father. Then, after Lally's father pulls an ancient piece of wood from the canal and fashions it into a puppet, his success seems unstoppable. As her father's obsession with his puppet grows and his plays become darker, Lally begins to wonder if there is something rather sinister, dangerous even, about the wooden doll.

Published March 2013 by Orion Children's
for more info, visit the publisher's website
My grateful thanks to the publishers for providing a beautiful review copy

Monday, 13 May 2013

Review: Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

A thrilling ride! Slick assassin novel for the YA market

This was a great read, gobbled up quickly. I found myself drawn in, holding my breath at various key points.
The narration has a breathless quality, being first person present tense and quite spare in style. There are no superfluous descriptions. There is nothing flowery or ornate about the writing. It's just matter of fact, precise, cool - which gels perfectly with the character of a trained assassin. Interestingly, although there is a certain coolness and distance to the voice, it's easy to engage with him and root for him.

Boy Nobody is a teen assassin, working for a shadowy agency. Through the course of the novel, via flashbacks, we learn something of his past: his appointment, his training, but there is still clearly a lot we don't know about him (perhaps in future books we'll learn more?). The novel introduces us to his life and submerses us into the experience of a particular engagement. The more I learnt of his background, the more he had my sympathy, despite his morally questionable way of life. The novel makes clear that, for all the black and white thinking - and lack of questioning - he's trained for, life is all about the greys and I think the novel would make a great class reader for some interesting debates on morality and responsibility.

That said, it's first and foremost a great read, and teens will enjoy it. Although it's about the life of an assassin, it isn't gory and it does prompt moral debate, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to teens of all ages.

From the author's website:


They needed the perfect soldier: one who could function in every situation without fear, sympathy or anger; who could assassinate strangers and then walk away emotionally unscathed. So they made Boy Nobody-a teen with no name or history. The perfect soldier.

Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school, in a new town, under a new name, makes few friends and doesn't stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend's family to die — of "natural causes." Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, and moves on to the next target.

But when he's assigned to the mayor of New York City, things change. The daughter seems so much like him; the mayor reminds him of his father. And when memories and questions surface, the Program is watching. Because somewhere, deep inside Boy Nobody, is somebody: the kid he once was, the teen who wants normal things like a real home and parents, a young man who wants out. And who just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program's mission.

Published 23 May by Orchard
Find more info at Goodreads
My grateful thanks to the publishers for the amazing proof pack they sent me (note: this has not influenced my review, despite its undeniable fabulosity)

Friday, 10 May 2013

Review: Mariella Mystery Investigates the Ghostly Guinea Pig by Kate Pankhurst

Brilliant new mystery series for young readers

This is a gorgeously presented story, quirkily illustrated by the author, which makes it an engaging package for 'emerging readers' as the text is broken up and isn't intimidating. At the same time, it would easily sustain the interest of more confident readers looking for something fun. I know my avid reader 9 year old will love this series! I genuinely enjoyed reading it and it would easily serve as a shared read for less confident readers (and the story could probably be enjoyed by 6 yr olds as a read-aloud).

Mariella Mystery is a fabulous creation and her voice shines through the novel beautifully. She's what you might call a 'take charge' kind of girl (we won't say bossy...) and tells her story in a very no nonsense way. The book is presented as her "young super sleuth's journal", with occasional highly entertaining extracts from "The Young Super Sleuth's Handbook", and 'case reports' from her investigations [teacher-mode aside: I could imagine using this book with an upper primary group to talk about fiction and non-fiction and simply to enjoy the story!]. Mariella is clearly the leader of her little gang, the Mystery Girls, although her friends Poppy and Violet are not mere passive sidekicks. Little girls will love this book and there is plenty of good role model stuff here; it's definitely a weak-female-character-free zone!

The plot is ever so slightly mad in the best possible way. The ghostly guinea pigs are never genuinely portrayed as threatening or scary, and the conclusion leaves the reader with nothing to be afraid of, in the best Scooby Doo tradition.

Overall, this is a great package for the target age range, and I would absolutely recommend it. I'll be reviewing the second in the series, Mariella Mystery Investigates a Cupcake Conundrum, soon.

From the publisher's website:

Meet Mariella Mystery - no mystery too mysterious, no problem too perplexing. The first title in a debut series perfect for 7+ girls and fans of Clarice Bean.

Mariella Mystery (That's me!) - totally amazing girl detective, aged 9 and a bit. Able to solve the most mysterious mysteries and perplexing problems, even before breakfast.

When their teacher Miss Crumble spots the ghost of her pet guinea pig, Mr Darcy, in her back garden, she doesn't know what to think. But Mariella knows it's up to her and her fellow Mystery Girls to get to the bottom of The Case of the Ghostly Guinea Pig.

Published 4 April by Orion Children's Books
Find more info on the author's website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Words on Wednesday: Gender Representation and Children's Picture Books

I'm lazily rerunning a post from just over a year ago, as gender representation is still something that concerns me (I'm certain it's getting worse, and more and more convinced that Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale has somehow shaped its own future, but that's a whole other topic...)

As a feminist who learned about feminism from literature, I tend to notice how books contribute to and stretch gender stereotypes. I notice it in other fields too, of course. Have you seen Shannon Hale's brilliant post about gender balance in animation? Horrifying (to me), if only for the comments claiming it's not significant. Media imagery and representation in the stories we hear are clearly part of our socialisation and it absolutely matters if girls only ever see girls acting as supporting roles to boys, or only ever see nurturing carried out by female characters. 

Anyway, I'm in danger of ranting here when what I really want to do is share some of the excellent titles that we've enjoyed with our girls. I'm focusing on the early years here, looking at picture books in particular.


For young picture book readers, Kes Gray's Daisy is a fabulous character. She could just as easily have been a boy, and that is the point here. Unfortunately, it's rare to find female characters acting in gender-neutral ways (possibly because we sort of mean 'male' when we say 'gender-netural', but that's probably an argument for another day...). Imagine my delight when Kes Gray began publishing Daisy chapter books just as my youngest was about ready to start reading chapter books? We'll be talking more about those on Sunday, in the context of funny series. [edited to add link]

Picture books that play with sterotypical and fairy tale representations are also very welcome when encouraging children to think about and beyond gender. Here are four of our favourites:

Prince Cinders by Babette Cole reverses the genders for Cinderella beautifully. Both my girls found it hilarious that this Cinders wished to be big and hairy like his brothers, rather than beautifully dressed like the more traditional version. It retains the marriage plot, so has Princess Lovelypenny as the Prince Charming character seeking a husband, although there are still some more typical representations (Princess Lovelypenny thinks Prince Cinders saved her and therefore wants to marry him). It's a suitable story for both genders, with its anarchic humour.

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole is a far freer reversal than Prince Cinders, being based on various fairytale tropes rather than one specific tale. Princess Smartypants does not want to get married and creates impossible tasks for her suitors so that she can retain her freedom. Children recognise this as being different from standard tales and enjoy the anarchy of this, without having any sense that it is tied up with gender as a concept.

Julia Donaldson's The Princess and the Wizard (illustrated by Lydia Monks) stays considerably closer to traditional tales, but shows a sparkly princess outwitting the evil wizard by herself and not relying on outside (male) help to save her. This one will appeal to girly girls with its gorgeous glittery pages, whilst offering a capable and competent girl as main character.

Beware of Girls by Tony Blundell is a hilarious subversion of the Red Riding Hood story, featuring a very stupid wolf (whose mixed up and muddled lines never fail to make my youngest giggle) and a very bright little girl. This is a joyful triumph over an easily-confused wolf that will be enjoyed by both genders and clearly represents this little girl as more than capable of looking out for herself.

Clearly, there are others that I could have mentioned, and many picture books in particular get around steretypical gendered assumptions by using animal characters. Which picture books do you think offer particularly positive gender messages?

Monday, 6 May 2013

Review: The Disgrace of Kitty Grey by Mary Hooper

Thrilling YA Historical: my heart was breaking for Kitty several times! 

Chronicling the fall from grace of a Regency dairymaid, this is a brilliant read. I always love a well-researched historical novel and you can absolutely rely on Mary Hooper to give you that. Here, her narrator is the eponymous Kitty Grey, dairymaid in a large Devonshire country house.

The narration is first person and past tense, showing us Kitty's lively and charming voice and giving us access to her thoughts, hopes and fears. She is young and naive, hardworking and reliable. She's a good and conscientious dairymaid who cares deeply for her cows and takes pride in her work. She worries so much about getting things right and not being thought badly of, and it's soon clear why, when we see how easily a working-class girl can come to harm. Her naivety leads her to trust where perhaps she shouldn't and there are several points where we can see she's about to come a cropper, but it doesn't occur to her.

Although the title and blurb give us cues that bad things are in store for Kitty, it's not always clear exactly what those are going to be, and there were certainly several twists that I couldn't have predicted, although often there was a generally ominous feeling, thanks to Mary Hooper's skilful ratcheting-up of the tension.

This is definitely a book to savour, and there were points where it was possible just to luxuriate in the period detail, while at other times, I was reading furiously to see what poor Kitty was going to face next or how she would ever get out of the mess she was in. It would definitely serve as a real eye opener for many readers on the period. I found it interesting that the main themes were around contrasts: rich and poor, country and city, good and evil.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable read with emotional depth and plenty of historical interest. There is a fabulous section giving historical context and information at the end, which will be much more meaningful to teen readers after they've enjoyed the story and seen this history brought to life.

From the book description:

Kitty is living a happy, carefree life as a dairymaid in the countryside. The grand family she is employed by looks after her well, and she loves her trade, caring for the gentle cows and working in the cool, calm dairy. And then, of course, there is Will, the river man who she thinks is very fond of her, and indeed she is of him. Surely he will ask her to marry him soon?

Then one day disaster strikes: Will disappears. Kitty is first worried and then furious. She fears that Will has only been leading her on all this time, and has now gone to London to make his fortune, forgetting about her completely. So when Kitty is asked to go to London to pick up a copy of Pride and Prejudice, the latest novel by the very fashionable Jane Austen, Kitty leaps at the chance to track down Will. But Kitty has no idea how vast London is, and how careful she must be. It is barely a moment before eagle-eyed pickpockets have spotted the country-born-and-bred Kitty and relieved her of her money and belongings. Dauntingly fast, she has lost her only means of returning home and must face the terrifying prospect of stealing in order to survive - and of being named a thief . . .

Publishing 9 May by Bloomsbury Children's
Find more info about Mary Hooper's historical novels on her website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via Netgalley

Friday, 3 May 2013

What makes a great historical novel - my views

When I read historical fiction, there are two key things I'm after. I want to learn something as I read (although like any reader, I resent being lectured to when I'm trying to read for pleasure); I also want to be carried away in a good story (just as with any other book).

I've read a couple of good historicals for the YA market recently, and a good (if a little worthy) adult historical too. For YA historicals, you can't beat Mary Hoffman, Mary Hooper and Michelle Lovric.

[does your name have to begin with M to write YA historical fiction? :) Oh wait, I also love Katherine Roberts',  Katherine Langrish's and Gillian Philips' historical fantasies and Catherine Lawrence's Western Mysteries so the answer is no, it doesn't. There are just many M-names in the field - not to mention a disproportionate number of Catherine/Katherines.]

Finally, last week, I read Mary Hoffman's Troubadour, which I'd won in a giveaway on the wonderful History Girls blog, er, quite some time ago. (If you're at all interested in historical fiction - for adults, kids or teens - you should definitely visit the History Girls, by the way). I loved it, and was happy to discover that it featured the Cathars, which I'd learnt something about from Kate Mosse's Labyrinth cycle. It was such a joy to find some familiar names and ideas! And, of course, the writing was superb and I was fully engrossed in the story, even while dipping out occasionally to think about the history in a geeky way.

After that, I read Mary Hooper's latest, The Disgrace of Kitty Grey (out next week! proper review on Monday!), which is set in the English Regency period and also taught me a lot. It's not a period I know a lot about, or have read many books from. I'm not an Austen fan, I'm afraid (please don't hate me - society and manners just aren't my thing).

Both of these lovely books (and, in fact, all of those I've read by the three mistresses of historical writing named above) feature historical notes, explaining where history and fiction converge and part company, and contextualising the stories beautifully. I always look forward to reading these, and have been saddened several times when reading a historical novel (usually written for adults) which has no such notes. That last little bit of reading, where the writer situates their story precisely in the past for you, pointing out the snippets of information that they'd embedded in the narrative, is part of the overall experience to the point where not getting it feels a bit like being short-changed.

Oddly enough, that's not the case with novels which are set in the past (and therefore historical, technically) but also belong to another genre. And of course, if it's High Fantasy or Steampunk, set in a vaguely historical but not actually real time frame, then that's different again. Interestingly, with those blended or hyphenated genres, I do still really enjoy any details which feel (or which I know to be) historically accurate and genuine, but I just don't have those same expectations of being given all the facts at the end. Hmm.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Trailer: Boy Nobody

The trailer for Allen Zadoff's brilliant new YA thriller was released yesterday, and it's very nearly as brilliant as the novel itself.

The book comes out from Orchard Books on the 23rd May, and is bound to be a big hit.
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