Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door by Julia Donaldson

Title: Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door
Author: Julia Donaldson
Published by: Barrington Stoke
Publication date: 6th July 2016
Pages: 77
Genres: Children's
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Monkeys! Tigers! Bird-eating spiders!

Elmo and his sister love to play in the jungle house next door.

But then mean old Mr Birdsnest moves in.

Will the jungle house be Out of Bounds forever?

Every now and then, I like to review a book outside of my usual YA comfort zone. Today, that book is Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door, otherwise known as one of the cutest books I've read this year. Aimed at younger children, it's full of engaging illustrations and funny dialogue, and there is never a dull moment.

Elmo's Granny is moving in, which means they need to buy a bigger house. They find the perfect one, with jungle wallpaper, a lion-shaped door knocker, and a wildly overgrown garden. Their parents, however, pick the much more boring house next door. In an act of adventurous rebellion, Elmo and his sister play in the jungle house while no one is living there, but then Mr Birdsnest moves in...

I love this book not only because it's a delightful read, but also because it is specifically designed for reluctant readers and children with Dyslexia. Barrington Stoke uses a special font and alters the colour of the paper to make it easier to read, which I think is AMAZING. Lately, I've been doing a few bits and pieces for Dyslexia Awareness Week which is 3rd-9th October, and I've found it so interesting. I love that people in authority, like publishers, are starting to change the game to make reading more accessible.

Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door also has jokes and a drawing tutorial under the cover flaps, so, y'know - it's pretty awesome.

This is one of those books that I want to press into the hands of every child. The way it's written and presented is going to make so many children feel more confident, and that's a wonderful thing. Plus, it's beautiful, funny and diverse, and was written by literature royalty, Julia Donaldson! 5 stars to you, Mr Birdsnest. 5 stars to you.

GUEST POST: Cheerleaders by Sue Wallman

Today, I'm happy to introduce Sue Wallman to the blog. Author of hugely popular Lying About Last Summer, you might think Wallman found the process easy - but she didn't. Here are her thoughts on writing, and cheerleaders on tour...

Before I had a book deal, I often found being asked "How's your writing going?" a painful question. When I first started writing fiction seriously I didn't broadcast it too widely, but then as it took up more of my time and mental energy I thought why wouldn't I tell people what I'm doing if it's so important to me?

There were some highlights in pursuit of publication such as being given good feedback by people I really rated, securing an agent, winning a big writing competition and becoming a writer in residence. There were also difficult times, such as endless rejections, losing my first agent, accepting that four of my young adult novels weren't going to make it and failing two acquisition meetings.

It was embarrassing talking about my writing sometimes, other times it was boring or it was too personal. Sometimes I thought people were asking me the question out of habit or they were trying to make me feel bad about my lack of progress.

In retrospect I think it was me who felt bad about my lack of progress. I had cheerleaders but I didn't properly appreciate them. When I received news of my book deal, my mum cried from happiness. My sister whooped down the phone. My brother swore with his special-occasion expletives. My other half sagged with relief. When the news was official I received cards and messages. Even champagne. People who I thought couldn't care less were happy for me.

A friend came all the way from Newcastle to London for my book launch with her daughter who'd been given an authorised day off school. My cousin came from Devon. A Russian colleague of my husband's turned up (though I think he might just have been lonely in London). I had writing group friends, friends from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), friends I knew through my children who'd made the effort on a rainy May evening. These supportive people bought Lying About Last Summer, they listened to my speech, and the huggers hugged me, then everyone went off into the rain again.

Since publication there have been lovely cheerleaders on social media. Book bloggers and people I've never met. I've had emails through my website from teenagers who've taken the trouble to let me know they liked the book.

My daughters have recommended it to their friends. My kind neighbour across the road bought loads of copies including one for her builder. My sister walked into the school at the end of her road with a copy for the English department.

At a SCBWI conference I met fellow debut author Olivia Levez who wrote The Island. She suggested a group of us teamed up to do some events. A group to cheerlead for each other. There are five of us: Olivia, me, Kathryn Evans (More of Me), Patrice Lawrence (Orangeboy) and Eugene Lambert (The Sign of One). We (actually it was Olivia) came up with a group name of Lost and Found because although our books are very different they all fit into that category.

By going on a tour of bookshops around the country we are hopefully spreading the word about our books and supporting each other through the debut experience (because being a new author can be strange). It's a new chapter. Our first panel is on 1st October in Birmingham at 2pm. Other tour dates are listed below. All events are free and we would love it if you could join us if we swing by your neck of the woods. Click here to buy tickets.

Sue Wallman is a former magazine journalist who lives near Kingston-upon-Thames. Her debut book, Lying About Last Summer, was published in May, and her second book, See How They Lie, will be published in May 2017. She likes swimming, eavesdropping and watching First Dates with her three teenage daughters.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

7 Reasons You Need to Read The 100 by Kass Morgan

Title: The 100
Author: Kass Morgan
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 29th August 2013
Pages: 323
Genres: Young Adult/Sci-fi
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought.

No one has set foot on Earth in centuries - until now.

Ever since a devastating nuclear war, humanity has lived on spaceships far above Earth's radioactive surface. Now, one hundred juvenile delinquents - considered expendable by society - are being sent on a dangerous mission: to re-colonise the planet. It could be their second chance at life... or it could be a suicide mission.

Clarke was arrested for treason, though she's haunted by the memory of what she really did. Wells, the chancellor's son, came to Earth for the girl he loves - but will she ever forgive him? Reckless Bellamy fought his way onto the transport pod to protect his sister, the other half of the only siblings in the universe. And Glass managed to escape back onto the ship, only to find that life there is just as dangerous as she feared it would be on Earth.

Confronted with a savage land and haunted by secrets from their pasts, the hundred must fight to survive. They were never meant to be heroes, but they may be mankind's last hope.

1. It's set in space and on Earth. It's the best of both worlds, literally.

2. This trilogy is a space-age Titanic with hints of Divergent and Monument 14. I mean, really, what more could you want?

3. The world-building is absolutely believable, especially at the rate we're destroying our world... (I'm a cheerful little soul)

4. I flew through the entire trilogy in a weekend. NO REGRETS.

5. Usually with books that have alternating POVs, there's one character's POV that you really don't care about and you always want to skip it, but - in my opinion - that's not the case with The 100. I was interested in each of them, and the pacing was spot-on.

6. The TV series looks pretty cool, but if you're a stickler for reading before watching, then, well... you'll just have to read them, won't you.

7. It's original, clever, and suspenseful. I wish there was a fourth book because, damn, that ending...

Have you read/watched The 100?

Friday, 16 September 2016

Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

Title: Holding Up The Universe
Author: Jennifer Niven
Published by: Penguin Random House UK
Publication date: 6th October 2016
Pages: 388
Genres: YA Contemporary
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout. But no one's taken the time to look past her weight to see who she really is. Since her mum's death, she's been picking up the pieces at home, but now Libby's ready for high school.

I want to be the girl who can do anything.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin too. Yes, he's got swagger, but he's also mastered the art of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack can't recognise faces, a secret he must keep at all costs.

Be charming. Be hilarious. Don't get too close to anyone.

Then Jack meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game, they're both angry, and then surprised. Because sometimes when you meet someone it changes the world - theirs and yours.

At the beginning of last year, my blog was consumed by all things Jennifer Niven - and so was everyone else's. All The Bright Places was the new and exciting debut that everyone was talking about, and since then, readers have been eagerly but nervously awaiting Niven's second novel.

Holding Up The Universe didn't have the most graceful of reveals. Nine months ago when the book was announced, the online world was once again freaking out over one of Jennifer Niven's books - but not in a good way. "This sounds so horribly offensive" and "no no no no" are just some of the early comments that you can see on Goodreads, next to a billion one-star ratings based on the synopsis alone. Here's an extract from a review I found on Goodreads, which pretty much sums up all the rest from that time (before anyone had even read the book, I should add.)

[sic] "'She had to be lifted from her house by a crane' WHO THE FUCK WROTE THAT SYNOPSIS. THATS NOT OKAY. JUST DON'T SAY SHIT LIKE THAT. YA is so inclusive to the tiny, skinny pretty girls that when we get a fat character, she's viewed as the butt of a joke. And that is not diversty. 

And the boy, who most likely will be seen as some odd feature of society whose mental illness is viewed as a quirk that can be changed with love and a relationship. NO THANKS.

As someone with mental illness and is also fat (and proud af about it), I can say for 100% certain that I will NOT read this book."

I'm just going to address a few things. Okay, first: there are people in the world who have had to be lifted from their house with a crane. That's a thing that people deal with. Why shouldn't they be included? The girl in the book who is lifted with a crane is confident, badass and proud of her size. She is definitely not the butt of a joke.

As for the boy, Jack? He doesn't even have a mental illness. Prosopagnosia is a neurological condition that can lead to mental illness but isn't one itself, and it's not a quirk that can be changed with love. Prosopagnosia doesn't have treatment or even a cure, and isn't a changeable condition.

So... yeah. I'm not overweight and I don't have Prosopagnosia, so I might not be the best person to say this, but I couldn't see anything offensive. I actually thought everything was handled very well. I loved Libby's confidence in herself and admired her courage to start living again after her mother's death. Jack fascinated me, and I actually learned a lot from this book. Like, did you know that one in 50 people can't recognise faces? And that Brad Pitt is one of them? Or that the part of your brain that recognises faces is above your right ear? Me neither. I'd never even heard of Prosopagnosia before reading Holding Up The Universe. It was clear to me that a ridiculous amount of research had been done, and it lists in the acknowledgements the amount of experts Niven spoke to to ensure the novel's authenticity. 

I liked All The Bright Places, Niven's debut, but this is miles better and I loved it. If you're one of the people who saw the old synopsis (that I don't think Niven herself even wrote, but I could be wrong?) and decided against reading this: I recommend giving this book another chance. It's brilliant, hopeful, exhilarating and, frankly, very interesting; I could hardly tear my eyes away from the page. 
Monday, 12 September 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
Published by: Little Brown
Publication date: 31st July 2016
Pages: 337
Genres: Script/Fantasy
Format: Hardback
Source: Bought.

The eighth story, nineteen years later...

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play by Jack Thorne. It is the eighth Harry Potter story and the first to be officially presented on stage. This Special Rehearsal Edition of the script brings the continued journey of Harry Potter and his friends and family to readers everywhere, immediately following the play's world premiere in London's West End on 30 July 2016.

I recently had the pleasure of watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on stage, my review of which you can see here. When I saw the play, the script hadn't been released, so the only people with opinions on it were those who had been part of the wonderful experience at Palace Theatre. Now the script has been released and everyone's reading it, meaning opinions have become much more varied, and some might even say controversial.

It's a performance that demands to be seen more than once and I think its inaccessibility does it a disservice, which is why I think the release of the script is a great idea. However, I have seen so many complaints about this script: it's boring, half-formed, it doesn't make sense, it's not the same as the rest of the series. And... I know I speak from a place of privilege in that I live fairly close to London so I was able to see the play with no problem, unlike the millions of fans spread out across the globe, but this script is intended to be seen performed on stage. It's not a book. If you go into it expecting the same level of detail and world-building the series provided, you're going to be disappointed. A script can't give you the awe-inspiring experience of dementors flying over your head, or the pyrotechnics, or the actors whizzing around on wires, high up above the stage. You can't see the beautiful set, nor can you hear the amazingly talented actors whose job it is to bring the characters to life.

And you shouldn't expect this.

Scripts aren't intended to give you a full experience and, even when released to the public, they're never meant to just be read. The script is simply a foundation which the play builds upon for five whole hours. I know not everyone is able to go and see the play, but if you can, I highly recommend you do so. Ultimately, it's a two-part play and a two-part experience: you need to read it and see it to get the most out of it - and the play is phenomenal. Insane. Seriously.

Having seen the play, I might be a little biased, but I think it's a genius script made even better when performed. It's emotional, surprisingly funny, and a gorgeous addition to my shelves. But this isn't the eighth book, rather it's the eighth story, and if you go into this expecting the whole theatre experience, you're going to be very disappointed.

Me? I loved it. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is everything I didn't realise I wanted from the final piece of the Potter universe.
Thursday, 8 September 2016

Pokémon Go Book Tag

I've seen this on various blogs since the release of Pokémon Go, and I'm not surprised, because this is literally the best tag I have ever seen. My life pretty much exclusively consists of catching Pokémon these days, but I thought I'd take a break from the gym (Pokémon Gym, guys, not a real one; I thought you knew me better than that) to answer these rather excellent questions...
I swear I actually worked out which book sparked my love of reading, once, and I'm fairly sure I blogged it. What isn't helpful is that I can't remember the book, nor can I remember in which post I put that exciting info, so... I'm just going to go with the books I remember most from my childhood: the Rainbow Magic books by Daisy Meadows (pseudonym, anyone?), all of the books by Qwyneth Rees, and of course I devoured everything written by Roald Dahl. I also loved Goosebumps, Charlie and Lola... I could go on, but I'm not going to, because I've already written a post about my childhood favourites here!
Harry Potter, obviously. It's nearly twenty years old, so it's a classic, right? (Also, that means I'm nearly twenty. WHAT.)
This is a hard question, because my tastes mostly do correspond with what's popular. If everyone's talking about a certain book and urging you to read it, it's probably going to be good. However... I have very much lost interest in the trend of adult colouring books. Firstly, why does something already freely available to everyone of any age need the word 'adult' in front of it for an adult to feel comfortable buying it? It's weird. I don't know. I enjoy making colouring videos like this one, but I've never actually filled a whole colouring book. I can't be bothered and, even though they're using the whole mindfulness thing as a selling point, I don't find them calming. They're a bit tedious, actually. *shrug*
Obviously, books like Divergent and The Hunger Games are all very similar, and I recently enjoyed The 100 series by Kass Morgan, but I felt it was hugely similar to Matched by Ally Condie. Some of my favourite books, though, like Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout are similar, yet I love them anyway. When I like something, I tend to want more of it, so similar books don't reeeeaaally bother me unless they're crap.
Don't yell at me, but I don't think I've ever read anything by Maggie Stiefvater, Leigh Bardugo, Laini Taylor, V.E. Schwab or Sarah J. Maas. Each of them have written so many books that I don't know where to start and, like I said in this post, it's daunting, time-consuming and more than a little financially-crippling to get into several massive series at once.
Fish Out of Water by Natalie Whipple. I remember reading and reading and reading, and then looking at my phone and discovering it was 5am and I hadn't slept. I was so confused because it really didn't feel like it had been that long.
SO. MANY. Draco and Harry (Harry Potter), Scorpius and Albus (Cursed Child), Clary and Jace (The Mortal Instruments), Emma and Julian (The Dark Artifices), Simon and Baz (Carry On), Charlie and Gabriel (Songs About a Girl), Allie and Carter (Night School), Eden and Tyler (Did I Mention I Love You?)... there are more. Lots more.
I'm going to go with Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I lost a whole Christmas Eve to this book.
I know a lot of people get annoyed when authors keep adding to worlds they've created, but I love it. They're clearly passionate about their series, and more books means more detail, realism and familiarity. I've seen even the biggest fans be put off because they think the authors are milking it for more money, but I personally don't think that's the case - and I'm the most cynical person ever. So, I LOVE Cursed Child (J.K. Rowling) and all the new Shadowhunter books (Cassandra Clare.) Let's be honest, neither of them are desperate for money...
When I found out I'd be studying Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, I was like... why/how are we supposed to study something that isn't even English/ugh/hating life. The usual. But after we'd studied it in depth and I understood what it was about, I actually quite enjoyed it. I wouldn't re-read it, but it wasn't as horrific as I'd originally thought. The same thing is happening again, this time with Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë - although it's taking a bloody long time to get through.

I'm excited to get stuck into Sarah J Maas's books one day, as they seem to be on the same level of awesome as Cassandra Clare's books, and you know how much I love her. Hopefully I'll enjoy them as much as everyone else!
I'm not overly bothered about collector's editions, but my Harry Potter books came from the charity shop, so they're all battered and... well-loved, shall we say. It looks messy on my shelves, too, because some of the books are little paperbacks, and others are huge hardbacks. It would be lovely to have one of the pretty new box-sets.
I'm ashamed to admit that I'm not hugely up-to-date on the latest debuts, but I'm looking forward to Rachael Lucas's 2017 release, The State of Grace, which isn't her overall debut but is her first foray into YA. I believe it's an #ownvoices novel about Asperger's Syndrome, which should be interesting as some of my family and friends have this. She's also been really cool whenever we've spoken on Twitter. (Authors, if you don't have Twitter, you really should get it. I promise it'll make a difference!)
Cassandra Clare and C.J. Daugherty. If you didn't see that coming, I'm a bit concerned. Maybe you should read my blog more often.

Last year I read and adored the first book in a new trilogy by C.J. Daugherty and Carina Rozenfeld, and I've been waiting for the next instalment for OVER A YEAR. I don't know how I've done it, to be honest.

That was so fun to answer, and whoever came up with this tag is a genius! If you're reading this, then I tag YOU. I'd love to see what answers you come up with!

Do you play Pokémon Go? What team are you in? Mystic FTW.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

A Weekend Away in Photos

On Friday, we set off for a quick weekend away before the craziness of a new school year (and potential new job...?) could begin. Here is the weekend in photos.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

DISCUSSION: Are ARCs Really That Important?

ARCs, otherwise known as advanced review copies, are books sent early to bloggers, journalists, authors and other influencers in order to create a buzz pre-publication. They're usually not as high quality as finished editions, but they mean you don't have to wait until the book is in shops to read it. Recently, lots of bloggers have been discussing 'ARC culture' - in other words, are ARCs really that important?

(Side note: I have written and re-written this post so many times. Turns out ARC culture is a complicated topic. Who knew?)
Friday, 2 September 2016

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Title: Under Rose-Tainted Skies
Author: Louise Gornall
Published by: Chicken House
Publication date: 7th July 2016
Pages: 271
Genres: YA Contemporary/Mental Health
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought.

I'm Norah, and my life happens within the walls of my house, where I live with my mom, and this evil overlord called Agoraphobia.

Everything's under control. It's not rosy - I'm not going to win any prizes for Most Exciting Life or anything, but at least I'm safe from the outside world, right?

Wrong. This new boy, Luke, just moved in next door, and suddenly staying safe isn't enough. If I don't take risks, how will I ever get out - or let anyone in?

As a lot of you know, I have Chronic Anxiety, and Agoraphobia was a huge part of that for a long time. When Under Rose-Tainted Skies crashed into the book blogosphere with a bang (seriously, it seems like every blogger and their cat has read it) I was ecstatic. How many YA books can you name that contain a theme of Agoraphobia, not including Under Rose-Tainted Skies? I can name one: Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella. That's it. Agoraphobia is such a huge problem, especially during adolescence when everyone you know is getting their first job and their first car, going to parties and going travelling - and you can't stand outside of your own house for more than 20 seconds without having a panic attack. It needs representation. Even more importantly, it needs accurate representation - and, seeing as Gornall is Agoraphobic herself, you won't be surprised to hear that she got it spot-on.

Our wonderful protagonist, Norah, has OCD. Not having it myself, I wasn't able to relate to this book as much as I thought I would, although I definitely have experience of worrying about thirty different things in the space of a minute... What I could relate to most, as I've already said, was the Agoraphobia aspect. It was interesting to read this book having come out the other side; I still have anxiety, clearly, but going out rarely fazes me these days. And yet there was Norah, still unable to sunbathe in her own garden. I just wanted to hug her and tell her that things get better, that all those dreams she has - from being able to smell the flowers in her own garden, to learning to drive and going to France - will happen. Maybe not soon, but one day. Towards the end, she was craving the sun on her skin and showing signs of wanting to do things that are outside of her comfort zone, and - from personal experience, anyway - that's when things start to change.

This was, partly, down to Luke, Norah's new neighbour. Don't worry, it's not one of those books where the sick girl is instantly cured by the sight of a six-pack. Luke's part in it was more along the lines of acting as a motivator, something to work towards. I loved how understanding he was and I reckon they're going to be just fine. I'd love to know for definite, though... second book, anyone?

Under Rose-Tainted Skies, in conclusion, is witty, hopeful, and an accurate portrayal of Agoraphobia and how debilitating an illness you can't see can be. Perfect for fans of Holly Bourne and Alyssa Sheinmel.