Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Perfect Presents For ... All About Mia

As part of the All About Mia blog tour, I'm so pleased to welcome author, Lisa Williamson, onto the blog to tell us which what would be the perfect presents for the characters in her latest book, All About Mia. 
I love buying presents so when I was tasked with doing a spot of fantasy shopping for the characters in my latest novel All About Mia, I was raring to go. 

All About Mia tells the story of sixteen year-old Mia and her sisters. There may be a family resemblance but stuck in the middle of academically gifted Grace and talented swimmer Audrey, Mia constantly feels like the odd one out. As you might be able to tell from the gift selections below, here are three sisters with not a whole lot in common…

These trainers are totally bonkers but I have the feeling Mia might be just the girl to pull them off. They’re her in signature hot pink and would look amazing with bare legs, denim shorts, slogan t-shirt and slouchy bomber jacket: 
I like to think she’d team them with these socks:
Mia doesn’t apologise if she help it. This cap should help get the message across:
Mia isn’t much of a reader but I reckon she’d love Girl Up by Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates. Frank, funny and bold, this myth-busting manifesto has been described as ‘a bracing love letter to teenage girls’. I can picture Mia quoting it to the boys at school:

Grace has dreamed of attending Cambridge University since she was tiny. Now she has a place to study Classics in the autumn, this official hoodie is a must-have:
Grace is incredibly neat and organised so a bullet journal would be right up her street. I imagine Grace’s would be utterly immaculate and have a very complicated colour-coding system:
Grace adores books and reading. With dominant notes of paper, vanilla and leather, this candle apparently captures the smell of aged books (a vital component of Grace’s ‘signature scent’ ­– ­­see page 1 of All About Mia!):
Grace is hugely ambitious and has her life carefully mapped out. She desperately wants to make a difference one day so I think What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20:
A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World by Tina Seelig should be top of her reading list. It covers the tricky transition from academic environment to professional world, complete with fascinating examples, inspiring advice and lots of humour. Grace’s copy would be highlighted and expertly annotated in no time:

Every morning Audrey gets up at the crack of dawn for swimming practice, throwing her dinosaur onesie over her swimsuit. I think it might just be time for a snazzy update:
Audrey is devoted to her guinea pig Beyoncé, so what better gift than this super cute cushion:
Audrey’s favourite film of all-time is Mary Poppins so I was really excited to find this drawstring bag for her keep her swimming gear in:
With school and her full-on swimming schedule, Audrey doesn’t get much time to read. Her dream is the 2020 Olympics so I reckon she’d perhaps carve out the time to read Relentless Spirit: The Unconventional Raising of a Champion, a memoir by US gold medalist Missy Franklin. Co-written with Missy’s parents, it describes the highs and lows of the life of a teenage athlete, something Audrey can definitely relate to: 
All About Mia is published by David Fickling Books in February 2017
One family, three sisters.
GRACE, the oldest: straight-A student. 
AUDREY, the youngest: future Olympic swimming champion. 
And MIA, the mess in the middle. 
Mia is wild and daring, great with hair and selfies, and the undisputed leader of her friends – not attributes appreciated by her parents or teachers. 
When Grace makes a shock announcement, Mia hopes that her now-not-so-perfect sister will get into the trouble she deserves. 
But instead, it is Mia whose life spirals out of control – boozing, boys and bad behaviour – and she starts to realise that her attempts to make it All About Mia might put at risk the very things she loves the most.
To find out more about Lisa Williamson: 

To check out all the stops on the blog tour:

Monday, 20 February 2017

#ReviewMonday with KM Lockwood - Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman

“Grayling, come. Attend me now!” It was her mother’s voice. The calling mingled with the croaking of frogs in the pond and the ting-tang of dew drops, and it sounded to Grayling like music.

“Grayling, come at once or I shall turn you into a toad,” her mother shouted again, much louder. Belike she would if she could, Grayling thought. But, by borage and bryony, I can do but one thing at a time. Why can she not do whatever it is herself and leave me be? Grayling could think such things, hidden as she was in the mist in the herb garden, even though she could not imagine saying them.

Published by Clarion Books, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in June 2017
224 pages in hardback (including Author Notes)
Cover by Jaime Zollars

Summary and extract from author’s own website
It’s time for Grayling to be a hero. Her mother, a “wise woman”—a sort of witch—has been turned into a tree by evil forces. Tangles and toadstools!
Lacking confidence after years of being called “Feeble Wits” by her mother, Grayling heads off dubiously into the wilds in search of help, where she finds a weather witch, an aromatic enchantress, a cheese soothsayer, a slyly foolish apprentice, and a shape-shifting mouse named Pook!
In the morning, mist again sheltered the valley. Grayling sat cross-legged on the edge of the pond, humming as she scoured the kettle. She thought about dinner --they still had parsnips and carrots in the ground and perhaps there were even enough apples left for an apple tart.
With cream, if they only had cream. She licked her lips.
I know I go on about covers quite a lot – but this is delightful and so true to the spirit of the book. (You can read about Jaime Zollars’ process for creating the cover here – it’s fascinating.) We see Grayling and Pook setting out on their adventures in a wood – all part of the story. The style is detailed yet gentle in tone, and there’s a touch of medieval European fantasy in her appearance which is exactly right.

Yet she has a touch of determination – no frilly-gowned princesses here – and there’s a hint of menace in the dark trees she’s entering. There will be threat and magic used for horrible purposes, and it will be down to Grayling to do something about it.

As you can see from the extract, she doesn’t have the best of relationships with her wise-woman mother. Matter get much worse, of course, and she learns a great deal about resilience and self-belief. One of the most appealing aspects of the story is the odd assortment of colleagues she picks up along the way – and the message that you don’t have to totally like someone to get along. 

You can also see there’s a strong flavour of bygone language which some readers will love, and some will find off-putting. Karen Cushman is known and celebrated for her historical novels (this is her first fantasy) and there’s a wealth of detail, including notes at the back, which the right sort of reader will absolutely love.
I would say Grayling’s Song is ideal for those who already enjoy witchy books and fancy something a little different. Because of its hopeful tone, it is suitable for experienced young readers who need a challenge. Despite some peril along the way, the humour (not least from a shape-changing enchanted mouse) means there’s nothing here to upset someone in a UK primary school.
In summary, a gentle historical fantasy with plenty of heart and enchantment.

K. M. Lockwood lives by the sea in Sussex - see the pics on Instagram. She fills jars with sea-glass, writes on a very old desk and reads way past her bedtime. Her tiny bed-and-breakfast is stuffed full of books - and even the breakfasts are named after writers. You're always welcome to chat stories with @lockwoodwriter on Twitter.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

You have to be quick, 
none of this pretending to be browsing business
that some shoplifters go for. 

It's in
grab what you want
and out again. 

Published by Bloomsbury in January 2017
Pages - 324

Authors Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan have joined forces to tell the story of Nicu and Jess, two troubled teens whose paths cross in the unlikeliest of places.
Nicu has emigrated from Romania and is struggling to find his place in his new home. Meanwhile, Jess's home life is overshadowed by violence. When Nicu and Jess meet, what starts out as friendship grows into romance as the two bond over their painful pasts and hopeful futures. But will they be able to save each other, let alone themselves?
For fans of Una LaMarche’s Like No Other, this illuminating story told in dual points of view through vibrant verse will stay with readers long after they've turned the last page. 
I read this book about a month ago and it has taken me this long to decide how I feel about it and be able to put it in words. 
It's obvious from the first poem that every word has been meticulously chosen to create the atmosphere and tone of the story. This is something I've grown to expect from Sarah Crossan and it's refreshing to see it still works when in collaboration with Costa Award winning author, Brian Conaghan. 
The voices of Nicu and Jess are very distinct that I convinced that they were written individually be each author, with Sarah taking on Jess's voice and Brian taking on Nicu's.  Since hearing the two authors discussing the book at Waterstones in Brighton, I've discovered that this is not the case and there were times within the writing and editing stages that each author wrote for the other character, showing just how strongly in sync these authors were with the characters they were writing about. This verse novel is seamless. Both voices blend easily together, each pushing forward with the story, but with such distinct voices. 
Jess and Nicu both come from very different backgrounds. Each of them have struggles and their meeting creates a pivotal point in their lives. At times the poems were extremely emotional and very hard to read. Jess's voice especially hits hard when she describes events from home. Nicu has an innocence in his voice, which comes from his uncertainty and hope about the foreign country that is now his home. 
The ending killed me. It wouldn't have been an ending I would choose, but I tend to be full of hope and belief. However, I understand that the ending was right for the story. Real life doesn't always play out the way we would like it too and this book represents reality in it's harshest form. 
The verse novel is really growing on me and I wonder if these authors are opening the gates to more stories like this coming through. For reluctant readers, they are so easy to read. You find yourself half way through the book before you even realise. 
This is  a book that I will definitely be recommending. A heartbreaking rite of passage that changes two lives forever. 
I'd be really surprised if this book doesn't win awards in the future. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

#ReviewMonday with @lockwoodwriter : Night Shift written and illustrated by Debi Gliori

A groundbreaking picture book on depression with stunning illustrations. 
With stunning black and white illustration and deceptively simple text, author and illustrator Debi Gliori examines how depression affects one's whole outlook upon life, and shows that there can be an escape - it may not be easy to find, but it is there. Drawn from Debi's own experiences and with a moving testimony at the end of the book explaining how depression has affected her and how she continues to cope, Debi hopes that by sharing her own experience she can help others who suffer from depression, and to find that subtle shift that will show the way out.

Published by Hot Key books in January 2017 
32 pages in hardback – illustrated throughout 
I don’t usually do personal in reviews. I believe reviewing is about suiting the right book with the right reader – and therefore it’s not about me. But I am going to make an exception. 

This beautiful book is about fighting depression – which is something both Debi and I suffer from. Her artwork has expressed sensations that words often fail to convey. Her prose simply yet thoughtfully works with the moving images to deepen the experience. It works whether you know the ‘Black Dog’ or not. 

Despite the subject matter, it is fundamentally a hopeful book that I will treasure. Please get hold of a copy for anyone you know who has to deal with depression themselves or in their family. Brilliant for discussion with all ages. It would make a great companion piece with Horatio Clare’s Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot. 

Highly recommended for individuals, families and schools. 

(I do hope Hot Key bring it out as a Big Book for PSHE.)

K. M. Lockwood lives by the sea in Sussex - see the pics on Instagram. She fills jars with sea-glass, writes on a very old desk and reads way past her bedtime. Her tiny bed and breakfast is stuffed full of books - and even the breakfasts are named after writers. You'd be welcome to chat stories with @lockwoodwriter on Twitter

Friday, 10 February 2017

Rebecca Denton - From New Zealand to Austria

Today on the blog, I'm so pleased to welcome debut author, Rebecca Denton, as she tells us how she went from living in a town in New Zealand, to a tiny village in Austria. 

Dreaming big in the place Mick Jagger & Keith Richards famously described to as the ‘Arsehole of the world.’

Okay, that was our unfortunate neighbours, Invercargill, but honestly Dunedin in the early nineties wasn’t that much better. Buried on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand, this mid-sized student town had little to offer but a dirty rock ‘n’ roll scene – and that was no good to you really, if you were under 18. 

And it was cold. But not in that glorious snowy way, where powdered mountains of snow softly collapse underfoot and low winter sun bounces brightly off shimmering marshmallow fields; no, this was a wet, sleety, blistering, Antarctic cold that tore layers of skin from your cheeks. 
So as you can imagine, at 18 all I could think of doing was leaving. I wanted bright lights & big city. 

I enrolled in radio school, after essentially flunking out of high school (with 54 outstanding detentions, no less) and off I went to chase my then-dream of working in radio and/or television and hopefully meeting famous people. ☺

Fast forward 10 years and I was working at Cartoon Network by day, and MTV and Channel 4 making music TV in my spare time. IN LONDON! And all the travelling – Japan, Iceland, Costa Rica, New York City… I saw so much of the world, and so many awesome bands. 

I loved every minute of it. 

But it’s really hard to keep up that lifestyle when you have kids. I mean it’s possible, and some super women do it, but I couldn’t. And so, I pulled back from my old career and started to write. 

Writing is the best job for me at this time in my life. I get to be with my kids and travel around and work when there’s time - and when my daughter demands it, I can watch Frozen on repeat. 

And now - I’ve moved to somewhere smaller and colder than Dunedin. In fact, this village in Austria I now call home only has one shop - a corner store that’s also a cafĂ© and a pub - oh and a car fixer place. And it’s minus 17 degrees right now. 

NB: I now see Dunedin differently. It’s picturesque university, glorious beaches, and spectacular surroundings – from the wilderness of the Catlin’s, to the short drive central towards the Southern Alps. You should totally visit. 
Amelie Ayres has impeccable taste in music. Bowie. Bush. Bob. So when she finds herself backstage at The Keep’s only UK gig she expects to hate it; after all they are world’s most tragic band. In fact she feels a grudging respect – not (obviously) for their music, but for the work that goes in to making them megastars. And when lead singer, ‘Maxx’, is not dressed up as a cross between Elvis and a My Little Pony, he is actually rather normal, talented and has creative struggles not too dissimilar to her own. 
But the next morning she wakes up rolls over and discovers a million new @’s on social media. Overnight a photo of her backstage has made her a subject of global speculation. Suddenly the world needs to know #Who’sThatGirl? – but for all the wrong reasons.
All Amelie wants is to play her music. She’s got the guitar, the songs, the soul and, in the safety of her bedroom, she’s got the voice. But when it comes to getting up on stage, she struggles with self-doubt.
Immaculate’s a concept. Flawless is fake. But just sometimes music – and hearts – can rock a perfect beat. 

To find out more about Rebecca Denton:

To follow the rest of the blog tour, please check out the dates and blog below. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

#ReviewMonday with @lockwoodwriter - The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

During the first three weeks of seventh grade, I’d learned one thing above all else: A person can become invisible simply by staying quiet.

I’d always thought that being seen was about what people perceived with their eyes. But by the time the Eugene Field Memorial Middle School made the fall trip to the aquarium, I, Suzy Swanson, had disappeared entirely. Being seen is more about the ears than the eyes, it turns out.

Published by Macmillan Children's Books 2015
352 pages in paperback including illustrations by Terry Fan & Eric Fan

Summary from author’s own website*
Suzy Swanson is pretty sure she knows the real reason Franny Jackson died. Everyone says that there’s no way to be certain…that sometimes things just happen. But Suzy knows there must be a better explanation—a scientific one. Haunted by the loss of her former best friend — and by a final, terrible moment that passed between them — she retreats into a silent world of her own imagination. Convinced that Franny’s death was the result of a freak jellyfish sting, she crafts a plan to prove the truth, even if it means traveling around the globe… alone. As she prepares, she learns astonishing things about the universe around her… and discovers the potential for love and hope in her own backyard.

*Please note she is an American author so the spelling is a little different.

The strange creatures of the ocean are fascinating – and few are more weird and wonderful than jellyfish. I’ve been a scuba diver and I still love rock-pooling and snorkelling, so it’s not surprising this quirky title caught my eye. Such an attractive cover by Terry and Eric Fan - which cleverly gets across the mix of sorrow and lightness in this moving book.

Some of the best parts of Ali Benjamin’s novel are the facts – they’re fascinating and they do help the story along. You so get to know Suzy’s character and empathise with her way of coping with her loss. You don’t just feel pity, but grow in understanding.

As an aside, the inclusion of biology through Suzy’s investigations and the 7th Grade Life Science teacher, Mrs Turton, is a great feature. Young readers know the difference between fact and fiction – but their minds are open enough to run them alongside each other. More of this, please publishers.

I was actually surprised to learn it’s 352 pages in paperback. I raced through it on my Kindle – it certainly didn’t feel long. Perhaps the unusual structure (with the extracts from Mrs Turton’s advice) and illustrations take up the space. At any rate, it’s suitable for any reasonably competent reader from ten or so onwards. Elective mutism and a drowned friend might not sound like a bundle of laughs, but there’s quite a bit of humour and a good deal of heart and hope in this book.

Highly recommended for any family dealing with grief, regardless of their beliefs – and good read for anyone, unless you truly hate jellyfish.

K. M. Lockwood lives by the sea in Sussex - see the pics on Instagram. She fills jars with sea-glass, writes on a very old desk and reads way past her bedtime. Her tiny bed-and-breakfast is stuffed full of books - and even the breakfasts are named after writers. You're always welcome to chat stories with @lockwoodwriter on Twitter.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Perfect Present For ... by Maz Evans

As part of the Who Let the Gods Out blog tour, I am so please to welcome author Maz Evans onto the blog. Maz is taking part in my brand new feature Perfect Presents For... where she has to pick the perfect presents for the characters in her book, Who Let the Gods Out. 
Elliot Hooper – Elliot is a 12-year-old boy, so the first thing that springs to mind is some kind of digital device. That said, I need him to save the world, so if my parental insight is any judge, Minecraft could prove a fatal distraction for mortalkind. Like his creator, Elliot is chronically averse to early mornings, so an alarm clock – preferably one of those cartoon ones containing a mallet – would be handy. 
Virgo – Virgo, a constellation from the Zodiac Council, is struggling to get her head around mortal existence, so perhaps some guidance from a great philosopher? A Complete Collection of Winnie the Pooh could offer her some much-needed wisdom. I shall ignore Elliot’s suggestion of “a muzzle”. 
Zeus – What do you buy the God who has everything? Zeus is an omnipotent ruler with mighty powers… but after several hundred divorces, perhaps Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus could provide the insight that several millennia haven’t given him into women. Unless there’s a divorce lawyer who does gift vouchers? 
Athene & Aphrodite – These bickering sisters can’t agree on anything, so it would make sense to get them the same gift. A Frozen DVD might remind them of the importance of sisterly love. Although condemning someone with immortality to Let it Go for the rest of their endless days doesn’t feel like much of a present…
Hermes – The self-confessed God of Fashion likes to stay in shape, so I’d sign him up to The Body Coach’s Lean in 15 plan. Is it cheating to lift weights when you can fly?
Thanatos – The Daemon of Death has been imprisoned beneath Stonehenge for 2000 years, so he’s missed out on a great deal. A boxed set of The Gilmore Girls would not only catch him up on millennial pop culture, but the hours spent in Stars Hollow might chill his maniacal ambitions out a bit. So long as he doesn’t watch A Year in the Life…

Elliot's mum is ill and his home is under threat, but a shooting star crashes to earth and changes his life forever. The star is Virgo - a young Zodiac goddess on a mission. But the pair accidentally release Thanatos, a wicked death daemon imprisoned beneath Stonehenge, and must then turn to the old Olympian gods for help. After centuries of cushy retirement on earth, are Zeus and his crew up to the task of saving the world - and solving Elliot's problems too?

Published by Chicken House in January 2017
Waterstones Children's Book of the Month. 

To find out more about Maz Evans: