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.

Blog Tour · General

Guest Post: Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-Offs by Sarah Forbes.

I’m thrilled today to be welcoming Sarah Forbes, author of the excellent Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs, to the blog as the last stop on her tour. When I was asked what I would like Sarah to write about for me I knew instantly, the book is filled with wonderfully awful characters so I wanted to hear more about them and how Sarah created them.
Elspeth Hart cover

Writing baddies:
The awful characters in Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs

I don’t know about you, but I love a good villain. Sometimes we love rooting for a protagonist who so obviously deserves to have things work out for them. Other times it’s sheer joy to lounge about reading stories about vile people doing things we would never dream of doing.

I was channel-surfing one evening and saw a remake of Fame the movie on TV. Watching it, I thought about how, as a quiet person, that would be my worst nightmare – being in a school where performing all the time was key to success. That might have sparked off some ideas for the awful show-offs in the school where Elspeth’s story is set! I wanted to have an incredibly vain ringleader character (Tatiana Firensky) and for her to have a couple of sidekicks (dim-witted Octavia Ornamento and gymnastic star Esmerelda Higginsbot). What was really fun for me was seeing how James Brown, the illustrator, interpreted my character descriptions when I’d finished writing the story. He absolutely nailed it and often draws little extra details that I’d never have thought of, really making the books come alive.

The teachers in the book area bit awful too: there’s Madame Chi-chi, who used to star in Italian soap operas and has an awful temper, Madame Stringy, who is small and fragile and cries easily, and Professor Bombast, who isn’t a professor at all but just bought a certificate off the internet saying he was. I think the idea of things (and people) being fake is a driving force in quite a lot of the story!

As for the REALLY awful characters, Miss Crabb and Gladys Goulash: I think they just seemed to appear in my mind as soon as I thought about having evil dinner ladies as the baddies in the book. They’re pretty disgusting – always burping, farting, scratching their armpits or putting slugs and cockroaches in the school dinners. I have to admit, though, they are really fun to write!

One thing I’ve learned from writing illustrated children’s books is just how useful it is to have a clear idea of how your characters look and move around. My top tip for anyone writing young fiction would be to write a really detailed character brief for each of your characters. Even if you’re not working with an illustrator, it can really help to know exactly what your characters look like, as you plot their adventures!

Thanks so much for having me on the blog! x