Book Review

July and August 2015 Reads – Part 3.

The third and final part of my July and August reading catch up.

The Last Summer of Us by Maggie Harcourt. Usborne Books
There is not enough YA fiction set in Wales. Or fiction as a whole for that matter. This is a lovely, contemporary YA story set in Wales that includes some main characters who speak fluent Welsh – it was already onto a good thing with me before I got reading. This is a road trip story, the three main characters are close friends but all struggling with something at the moment. They escape the realities of their lives for a few days and get back to basics, road tripping and camping.

One of the central themes of this is the realisation that the adults in your life are flawed, fallible beings. All three of the main characters have difficulties in the relationships with their parents and this is dealt with really well within the book.

There is a romantic element to this book, I wasn’t sure about it to begin with but ended up really enjoying it. This is an excellent debut, another author to add to my watch out for list.

Counting Stars by Keris Stainton. Hot Key Books.
When I first heard Keris mention this book I knew it was something I wanted to read – I’ve long bemoaned the lack of decent stories set post sixth form and the wave of New Adult that promised to fill that gap certainly did not deliver. This is a great story filled with warmth about Anna as she moves to Liverpool to take up a role in a theatre. She’d been on the university path like her friends but a work placement made her realise that maybe this wasn’t the right path for her at this time. This in itself was something I loved, I think it’s really good to see narratives that involve alternatives to university for young adults.

Anna’s story has a secondary thread to it, she is a vlogger and we see her tell her story to her subscribers, and their comments to each video. This storytelling technique is really interesting, seeing telling her viewers what’s been going on rather than experiencing it alongside her works really well. There’s also a nice reflection on privacy and social media that clearly illustrates a point without coming off as prescriptive.

I enjoyed this book immensely and hope it brings along more books set in this time of life – there’s so much potential for stories about this life transition so let’s see more of them!

Elspeth Hart and the Perilous Voyage by Sarah Forbes. Stripes Publishing.
I read and reviewed the first Elspeth Hart book earlier this year over at Middle Grade Strikes Back. I loved it, and particularly liked that the ending was setting up the next story. I’m very glad to say that this, that next story, picks up the action straight away and continues it brilliantly. The characters have left the school that provided the setting for book 1 and spend much of this book on board a luxury liner. These close quarters again make for plenty of near misses and tense moments, I couldn’t read fast enough. This is an excellent second instalment to Elspeth’s story – I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football by Dave Cousins. Oxford University Press.
I always enjoy Dave Cousins’ books, they never fail to entertain and make me laugh. Charlie Merrick’s Misfits is no exception to this. Pitched at a slightly younger audience than Cousins’ previous books this is an illustrated tale of a football team made up less than stellar players. It has a lot to say about friendship, about teamwork and about learning what the important things in life are. I enjoyed it hugely, it made me laugh, it made me wince as I could see characters make bad decisions, and it made me really root for this team of misfits. There’s already a second book in this series, I expect to be reading it sooner rather than later!

The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell. Random House Children’s Publishing.
When this book was published I remember reading lots of reviews and thinking it was a book I really wanted to read. Then, at NineWorlds I had the fortune of meeting Sarah and immediately bought my copy of the book. It took me a few days to read, something which is quite unusual with how fast I read, but I found myself wanting to savour every word (plus I got too emotionally invested to continue reading it in public on my commute!)

This book tells the story of Sora, a Japanese teenager who has been diagnosed with the progressive neurological disease Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Sora is dying, his condition is progressing faster than he or anyone wants and this book is him telling his story. We get to know his family, see him trying to make sense of his ever changing new normal, and see him make new friends. This book is a challenging read, but I know I feel like I’m a better person for having read it. I’m going to be recommending this book far and wide.

Demon Road by Derek Landy. HarperCollins Children’s Books
I haven’t read anything by Derek Landy before (yes I do intend to catch up with Skullduggery Pleasant, even more so since I enjoyed this book so much) so I went into this book knowing nothing more than the synopsis. The idea of a teen girl suddenly discovering her demon heritage and having to go on the run sounded good to me and the book really didn’t disappoint.

This is a fast witty book with a good share of action and gore. It’s tone and style is evocative of many of the tv shows I love, both those showing now (things like Supernatural) and those no longer on our screens (Buffy seems like the obvious link to make). I think this book would be an easy sell to many teen readers and probably many grown up ones too. The characters are brilliant, I fell in love with main character Amber pretty much straight away and am thrilled that this is only the first part of her adventures.

Book Review

Book Review: Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton.

StarringKittySometimes the greatest love stories happen behind the scenes…

Kitty’s keeping secrets. Like how she’s struggling to cope with her mum’s illness. And how she’s falling for the girl with the purpley-red hair… A fun film competition with her friends Sunny and Hannah seems like the perfect distraction. But then Dylan wants to be more than Kitty’s secret. Is Kitty ready to let her two worlds meet or will she risk losing Dylan forever?

Starring Kitty is the first in a new series about first love and friendship by much-loved teen author Keris Stainton.

I have known Keris for a long time now, quite a while before her debut novel Della Says OMG! was published. I’ve read and enjoyed each book that she has written, you can see my review of Jessie Hearts NYC. When I heard about her new series for Catnip Publishing, focusing on three friends who enter a film making competition, I thought it sounded wonderful. Starring Kitty is the first book in this series, and it completely lived up to my expectations.

Kitty, the star of this book, is 14. It’s hard enough being a teenager but she has other things to worry about. Firstly there’s her mum, she has Multiple Sclerosis and Kitty is trying to cope with how this has changed her family life. I thought the way this subject was covered was excellent, having a close family member with a chronic, disabling illness has such an impact and this was explored thoroughly and thoughtfully. I particularly liked that Kitty’s feelings are negative at times, I think this is really important.

The other major thing in Kitty’s life is her first, fledgling romance. We learn at the very beginning of the book that she has feelings for someone, but that someone is a girl not a boy. This aspect of the story is just lovely, it’s tentative and cute and everything first love should be. Kitty is still becoming confident in her own self and her own identity, this leads her to make some decisions about her relationship that we the reader can see are not for the best, but they feel entirely understandable.

Kitty is an excellent main character, I really loved her friendship with Sunny and Hannah. I’m very glad that this is a beginning of a series and that the subsequent books will be from their perspectives – I really want to get to know them even better. One of my favourite relationships in the book only features a couple of times, it’s between Kitty and her brother Tom who is away at university in London. I loved well written sibling relationships and theirs is wonderful.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is growing stronger and stronger at the moment. This is a great example of a diverse book, some of the characters happen to fall in to minority groups but they are never defined by these characteristics, instead being fully rounded and allowed to just be.

The next book in the series Spotlight on Sunny comes out next Spring, I can’t wait to read it!

Starring Kitty is published by Catnip Publishing in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Stuff

Authors for the Philippines.

imageFollowing the news of the terrible events in the Philippines author Keris Stainton has set up the Authors for the Philippines auction to raise money for the Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan Appeal. Back in 2011 she was behind the highly successful Authors for Japan appeal raising £13,000 following the tsunami, so hopes to repeat the feat.

There are already some amazing lots on offer, with more to be added. Bidding opened at 8am and will close again at 8pm on Wednesday 20th November.

If you are an author who would like to donate an item for auction, please email

Blog Tour

Guest Post : Keris Stainton’s New York Playlist.

I’m thrilled today to be hosting the very lovely Keris Stainton, author of YA titles Della Says: OMG! and the recently released Jessie Hearts NYC. She’s popping up on various blogs at the moment talking about Jessie and she’s here today to talk about the music that helped to inspire the book and share the playlist. Over to Keris.

Obviously when I set a book in New York I knew I’d need a playlist to go with it – some of my favourite songs are New York songs. A friend had recommended Alicia Keys’ version of Empire State of Mind (Part II) to me and I absolutely loved it. When I was writing Jessie Hearts NYC, putting that song on was always the first thing I did and it would immediately get me in the writing mood. Once I’d heard it – and Paloma Faith’s New York – I was good to go. (I’ve just put them on to see if it still works and it really does.)

Next was Jason Mraz’s If It Kills Me, which is the song that inspired the character of Finn:

Hello, tell me you know
Yeah, you figured me out
Something gave it away
It would be such a beautiful moment
To see the look on your face
To know that I know that you know now

And baby that’s a case of my wishful thinking
You know nothing
Well you and I
Why, we go carrying on for hours on end
We get along much better
Than you and your boyfriend

I LOVED the idea of a boy in love with his best friend’s girlfriend and secretly thinking he’d be better for her than his friend would. And hoping that she’d guess, but also being terrified that she would because what would that mean for his friendship? Finn came to me pretty much fully-formed (hailing a taxi, holding a bunch of flowers) just from listening to this song. I love Jason Mraz.

Now don’t judge me, but there are two Barry Manilow songs on there: New York City Rhythm and Give My Regards to Broadway. (I would also have liked to have another of his songs, Brooklyn Blues, on there, but I figured two was plenty. Brooklyn Blues has my favourite line from a New York song: “You know the river looks a hundred miles wide when all your dreams are on the other side.”) New York City Rhythm is a New York mood song, but Give My Regards to Broadway is just fabulous for singing at the top of your voice. If I was disheartened with writing, I’d put it on and just bellow the “Sing me a tune by Bernstein, Gershwin, Lerner, Loewe or Lane, with words that rhyme by Rogers, Hart or Hammerstein…” which of course also fits in with Jessie’s mum having a play on Broadway.

I absolutely love New York Minute by Don Henley so that had to be on there. Plus it reminds me of The West Wing – there’s an episode called Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail, which is a line from this song – and I found a reminder of the brilliance of my all-time favourite TV show inspiring.

While I was writing Jessie, I asked on Twitter for some more New York song suggestions and the rest came from there. (Mainly from @annemariet123 and @wurdsmyth I think, so thank you to them!). New York State of Mind by Billy Joel is a classic, but I didn’t know New York, New York by Ryan Adams at all. Native New Yorker by Odyssey doesn’t really fit with the book at all, but it makes me happy so I left it on there.

I wasn’t familiar with New York City by They Might Be Giants and as soon as I heard it I knew it was PERFECT for the book:

We kissed on the subway in the middle of the night
I held your hand, you held mine, it was the best night of my life
‘Cause everyone’s your friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you’re young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there’s just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is you and me

Says it all really. 🙂

What a lovely lot of New York music! I’ve been listening to the playlist since Keris sent it to me and it has certainly left me wanting to visit the city again.

You can find Keris blogging here, tweeting as @Keris and on Facebook here.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for my review of Jessie Hearts NYC

Blog News

Authors for Japan – An Update.

The auction over at Authors for Japan is going brilliantly, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to point you in the direction of some cool things over there.

You can see my top picks from the many many lots here. It was really hard to pick 5, there really are some brilliant items to bid on.

There are so many items to browse through that it’s easy to miss some gems. Keris and Anne Marie have both listed some you may have missed here and here, and Keris has also pulled together some really interesting fiction titles here.

Bidding is continuing until 8pm GMT on Sunday, so there’s still plenty of time to go and bid on a fabulous item

Blog News

Authors for Japan.

No book review today, instead I’m giving the post over to a far better purpose, telling you about Authors for Japan.

The brainchild of author Keris Stainton, Authors for Japan is a massive auction to raise money to help the people devastated by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. After an appeal on Saturday for items to auction the publishing world has donated in droves, there are some fantastic things to bid for including; signed copies of books, book dedications, naming characters in authors’ next books, illustrations, book cover designs and a whole host of coaching and mentoring packages for writers.

Bidding opens at 8am GMT tomorrow (that’s Tuesday 15th March 2011) and ends at 8pm GMT on Sunday 20th March. Please do head over and consider bidding on one of the amazing posts.

Days Out · Photography

I Spy Something Beginning With E.

At the weekend I ventured down to London for Keris’ book launch party for “Della Says OMG!” (I feel a review post coming shortly for the book). After getting off the tube at Charing Cross ready to meet Gemma I started walking down The Strand and was thrilled to see this in the window of Coutts:

I’d heard about Elephant Parade 2010 on Twitter, and after visiting the website bemoaned the fact I wouldn’t get to see it before it finishes in early July. It was a real surprise to stumble across one and I spent quite a while waiting to get a photo of the other side:

I would have taken this picture sooner, and better, if it hadn’t been for the entirely oblivious family who decided to set themselves up between me and the window to take what seemed like a hundred or so pictures. I was running early so I had the time to wait, and laugh at the lack of cooperation they were getting from their toddler.

I doubt I shall see any more of the elephants in real life, but I’m hoping I will see more via my London based friends like this one and this one by Anne-Marie.