Thursday, 29 September 2016

Haunt Me by Liz Kessler

"What the hell-" 
A sound like gunshot pierces my dream and I'm bolt upright, shaking, wide awake. 
I look down my body. I seem to be intact. No blood. 
Published by Orion Children's Books in October 2016
Pages - 400
Joe wakes up from a deep sleep to see his family leave in a removals van. Where they've gone, he has no idea. Erin moves house and instantly feels at home in her new room. Even if it appears she isn't the only one living in it. Bit by bit, Erin and Joe discover that they have somehow found a way across the ultimate divide - life and death. Bound by their backgrounds, a love of poetry and their growing feelings for each other, they are determined to find a way to be together.
Joe's brother, Olly, never cared much for poetry. He was always too busy being king of the school - but that all changed when Joe died. And when an encounter in the school corridor brings him face to face with Erin, he realises how different things really are - including the kind of girl he falls for.
Two brothers. Two choices. Will Erin's decision destroy her completely, or can she save herself before she is lost forever?
Firstly I have to say Liz is a friend of mine. However I try really hard not to let that affect my reviews of her books and she always requests that I'm honest. So here goes. 
My honest opinion is that that is the best book she has ever written. I don't know how she can top this one. I'm not sure if it's because I love ghost stories, in fact I love anything involving ghosts and I'm convinced there is more to the spiritual world than we truly see, but this book really grabbed me. 

It's like a revival of the early YA books, such as Evermore, Unearthly, I Heart You, You Haunt Me and A Certain Slant of Light, which were the books that made me want to read YA in the first place. In fact it made me realise  that I've lost my direction with YA, as I've moved into reading so many more contemporary when really fantasy and paranormal are my first genre loves. 

The book is told from three points of view. Erin, a troubled teen hoping for a new start. Jo, who doesn't realise he is dead to begin with and hides a dark secret and Olly, his brother who still struggles with Jo's death. I love how the plot unfolds and brings these characters together. 
At the plot moved forward, I was convinced that someone would end up with a broken heart. Once the relationship between Jo and Erin is established and Olly turns up, the story really picks up in pace and I found myself whizzing through the pages. 
If you think this book is just a paranormal love story, then you would be wrong. It deals with some very gritty and realistic subjects that affect many teenagers of today. From bullying to self harming and drug taking to bereavement, the book really takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. 
If you loved Ghost or Truly, Madly, Deeply, you will fall in love with this book too. I'm really hoping that with the release of this book, it means that paranormal YA is making a comeback. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Yellow Room by Jess Valance

It's about half past seven on Tuesday morning and it's freezing in my bedroom so I'm doing my usual trick of gathering all of my uniform together in one quick sweep, dragging it into bed with me and getting dressed completely under the duvet.
Paperback, 263 pages
Published July 28th 2016 by Hot Key Books

Sixteen-year-old Anna receives a letter from her father's girlfriend telling her he has died and asking to meet. Anna is drawn to Edie: her warmth, her character, her ability to rustle up delicious meals, all of which her own mother is seemingly incapable of... and the way she can tell Edie the secret that is buried inside her.
A tautly told, compelling tale about mothers and daughters and the lengths that some will go to, to make their dreams come true.
As you head into this book, you quickly realise that all is not rosy in Anna's life. On the outside things look normal but there is something Anna is not telling us and it involves the super creepy, stalkerish Leon. I wasn't sure what he was up to in the beginning, but he creeped me out as soon as he stepped into the book. I swear he made me shiver with uncomfortableness. He takes manipulation and bullying to whole new level.  

Anna has a secret which is consuming her life. It's one of those secrets that perhaps shared with another wouldn't seem so bad, but as Anna is lacking in having someone to turn to for advice, it's eating away at her.  She comes from a one parent family and her mum really doesn't have a lot of time for her, in fact let's be honest, she gives her no time at all, even bailing on one of the most important days of her life. 
So when Edie appears on the scene, all warm, caring and willing to listen, it's not surprising Anna likes her and wants to spend more time with her. 

I really liked Edie. And I don't think I'm supposed to. She is the most mixed up, screw loose character in the book who goes to some extreme lengths to show her allegiance, but her heart is warm and she will do anything to protect Anna. 

The book gets creepier as the story progresses and you hope that Anna will see through the sugar glaze before it's too late. 

Having met Jess and followed her on Twitter, I am so pleased to see her wicked sense of humour is revealed in her writing. At times I was giggling when I'm not sure I was supposed to. It's like Jess slipped the jokes in under her editor's nose. 

I really enjoyed The Yellow Room and I will definitely be reading Jess Valance's first book, Birdy in the near future. 

A realistic look at the deteriorating relationship between a mother and daughter. Be careful who you trust with your secrets, because they might just use to bring you down. 
If you're looking for a super creepy page turning contemporary, then this is the one for you. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Setting The Scene with Kerry Drewery

I'm so pleased to welcome author, Kerry Drewery, onto the blog to talk about the fascinating settings for her latest YA novel, Cell 7.
Thanks so much to Serendipity Reviews for having me over on the blog, and giving me the opportunity to talk about settings in Cell 7. 

Cell 7 is set in a society where the death penalty hasn’t been abolished but has evolved into a system where guilt is decided by public internet and phone votes over the course of seven days. There are seven cells on death row, one for each day of the week, until the accused reaches the Cell 7 where their fate is finally decided. 

There are a few key settings within the novel, but one of the most important is death row itself, and the cells within it. 

I wanted the cells to be very basic, and had a look around the internet for ideas and inspiration and found these – 

I also spent the day at the old Victorian prison in Lincoln. 

The old Victorian prison in Lincoln 

My death row needed some specifics though; it needed to have a room for the counselling sessions close-by, it needed a larger cell at the end for the (potential) executions, and this needed to have space for an audience, and the audience needed to be able to access this without coming through the ‘cell’ building. I’m not very good at drawing but I do find it helps to map something out, so in my head, this is what death row looks like in Cell 7. 
Rough sketch of how I saw the layout of death row 

Another key setting within the book, is the area called The Rises. The people with money, power and influence live in the City or the surrounding Avenues, but those at the other end of society live in the Rises, a poverty-striken place, it’s made up of high rise flats, unkempt parks, and boarded up shops. 

There are areas like this in most towns, so I took a trip to a town close to me and took some photos of the high rise flats, some of the public spaces and some of the boarded up shops (see above). 

I took this in Grimsby - some old flats are being demolished. 

It was very interesting to watch the people, the general comings on goings and remember that although this section of society is often looked down on, and assumptions are made about 

their lifestyles, most are just people trying to survive and do the best for their families. It reminded me that criminals exist in all sections of societies – just a different type.
Inspiration for the underpass in Cell 7 

The most fun setting to create was those for the TV sections. The show, Death is Justice, ended up with a couple of different studios depending on the show for that day. For the usual ‘news’ show I wanted something very glitzy and glam and looked at American news shows like Fox News. 

Still c/o Fox News website 

Another setting was a ‘talking heads’ section called ‘Judge Sunday’ and the inspiration for this came from a visit I made to the Old Bailey the summer before I started writing it. I found out that the public are allowed to sit in on trials within the Old Bailey (there’s information here), and I went and spent a couple of hours watching a trial and drawing the layout of the space. For security reasons, you’re not allowed to take in any electronic devices, but armed with some paper and a pencil I made a rough sketch. 

Rough sketch of a court room in the Old Bailey 

I realised that in the society I had created in Cell 7, the Old Bailey wouldn’t be used for its original purpose, but I thought that as it’s such an iconic building with such a rich history, it would be a perfect location to use as the story developed, and so it became a key setting within the series. 

 I hope you’ve enjoyed my mini tour of settings, and I hope if, or when!, you read Cell 7 you can see the influences of these real-life places.

Published by Hot Key Books in September 2016
An adored celebrity has been killed. Sixteen-year-old Martha Honeydew was found holding a gun, standing over the body.
Now Justice must prevail.
The general public will decide whether Martha is innocent or guilty by viewing daily episodes of the hugely popular TV show Death is Justice, the only TV show that gives the power of life and death decisions - all for the price of a phone call.
Martha has admitted to the crime. But is she guilty? Or is reality sometimes more complicated than the images we are shown on TV?

To find out more about Kerry Drewery:

Monday, 26 September 2016

#ReviewMonday with KM Lockwood: The Rising written by Tom Moorhouse, with illustrations by Simon Mendez

We are River Singers, Water Folk, children of Sinethis. We live by her ways. She takes our old and gives us young. She stirs our hunger; feeds us with grasses She shelters us in her waters and burrows. She rises and dashes us. She sings with us a song as soft as thistles, hard as roots, deep as shadows, old as stones. We singer her a song as quick as thinking, sweet as apples, brief as day. We are River Singers, and we are hers. 
‘This,’ said Strife loudly, as she followed her sister through the tunnels,’ is just typical, isn’t it? Just as we’re old enough to be out on our own, Mother limits us to mornings and evenings. Don’t you think it’s typical? I do.’ 
Ivy ignored her. Kale, walking behind, also said nothing. But in his case that was not unusual. 
‘I mean,’ Strife continued, ‘I know Mother doesn’t want us out in the middle of the day, what with the rain and everything but it’s not like we’re pups anymore, is it? I’m sure I could cope with a bit of drizzle now and again.’ 
Published by Oxford University Press July 2015 
256 pages in paperback with 100+ black and white illustrations 
Summary from author’s own website 
When their uncle Sylvan pays an unexpected visit, young water voles Kale and Strife know something exciting must be about to happen. Little do they know that soon they'll be running for their lives, as a new danger threatens to destroy everything and everyone they care about. 
Kale and Strife will need all their strength and courage to survive their journey into the unknown. But the shadows are full of enemies, and still more surprises lie in wait . . . will they ever make it back home again? 
I’ve given you two contrasting mini-extracts from The Rising to suggest the range of flavours in this delightful story. At one end of the spectrum, it is lyrical and touched with subtle fantasy. Indeed, as the prologue excerpt shows, it has a delicate hint of the spiritual about it. 

But on the other hand, there’s character-led humour and easy-to-read adventure. It’s a fine balance which author Tom Moorhouse carries off well. 

If you want something with the charm of The Wind in the Willows, but without either the sexism or snobbery, then this is a cracking choice. True, there are no anthropomorphic toads driving cars, but that strong sense of a beloved countryside animates both. There’s definite peril – which can be a little frightening at times – and some sadness. But the moments of beauty, courage and joy will outweigh any anxiety on the behalf of younger readers or listeners. 

It could certainly be read aloud to young listeners at primary school – Tom Moorhouse’s love and knowledge of his subject shines through without spoiling the story. I should like to add that the detailed illustrations by Simone Mendez really make this a lovely book to share. 

The Rising would make a brilliant choice for child readers not quite ready for the length, complexity and epic scope of Watership Down, but who love wildlife. I would recommend they read The River Singers first (I wish I had) as this is the sequel – but it’s not absolutely necessary. A good read for lovers of nature – whatever their age.

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, 23 September 2016

Writing Words - September is the new January.

Am I the only person who sets new goals in September? 
I think I might be as I don't really see anyone else talking about it on Twitter. 
It probably boils down to my inner student that has never left me, or maybe it's because I have kids who are going back to school, but I always see September as the start of the new year.  The time to look at the past and plan for the future. To decide where I want to be by Summer 2017. To me, September is the new January. 
I've given up on setting goals in January. They just don't work for me. Having a houseful of kids, August tends to be the month everything grinds to a halt. The kids are off and in and out of the house and we usually go on holiday which takes a lot of organising, so I never really achieve anything throughout  August. It has taken me years to accept this situation but now I feel quite comfortable with it. Yet by the end of August, I'm itching to get back to writing. My mind is whirring with plots and characters and all the new school stationary appears in the shops, luring me to buy it for the new projects juggling in my head. 
This summer has been longer than ever, because the girls finished school back in June after their GSCE's, which surprisingly they aced. So I've been preoccupied with them and their lives, longer than usual. But now it's my time again and things need to drastically change this year. Maybe it needs to be a make or break year. How long can I keep reaching for the dream of being a published writer? 
So this year, it's about kicking butt. It's about finishing those half edited drafts and getting them out there. 
So here I am, sitting at my desk, in the middle of September, planning my writing for the next year. I'm auditing all the unfinished projects I have and plotting in my calendar to see when I can take them to the next stage. I am planning regular editing times into my day. 
I really want to look into all the different courses that are available to start next September. I've been dreaming about doing an MA in Creative Writing for a long time, but I always seem to forget to investigate it, so this year, I am going to look closely at all the courses available. And if I don't get an agent by next Summer, then I can be prepared to start a course to help me over that final hurdle. 
So what about you? Do you plan your goals in January? Or is September, the new January for you too? 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Fox and the Wild By Clive McFarland

This is Fred.
He was born in the middle of a big city.
Fred finds life in the city hard. It's smoky. It's noisy, and it's very, very fast.

Published by Templar in June 2016
Pages - 40 

Summary From Templar Publishing
Fred is a city fox. The city is a scary place for a fox like Fred. It's noisy, it's smoky and it's often dangerous.

One day Fred sees a flock of birds flying away over the city roofs. "Where do they go?" he wonders. And so he sets off to find the wild. All the other city animals say that there is no such place, but Fred know better or does he?

The Fox and the Wild is a new picture book from Clive McFarland, writer and illustrator of A Bed for Bear (HarperCollins). Illustrated in bold, collage-based graphic style, this is an animal adventure with an environmental message.

This picture book tells the simple story of Fred, an urban fox, who wants to find his way to the countryside. He searches and searches and finally finds himself in a wonderful place of greenery, soft ground and fresh air. Hooray for Fred! Not only that, but there's a brand new foxy friend waiting for him…

The book is illustrated in a bold, modern style and there are lots of things to talk about in the pictures, including the ways in which Fred looks different from his cousins and his new friend. The language is simple, making it perfect for young children. 

For those about to embark on a move from town to countryside, this book is an absolute winner as it paints the city as bad and the 'wild' as good. If you're planning a move in the opposite direction though, I'd advise you to give this book a miss! 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Electrigirl written by Jo Cotterill and illustrated by Cathy Brett

If I hadn't argued with my best friend, I'd never have been struck by lightening. But if I hadn't been struck by lightening, I'd never have got my superpowers. 
Published in February 2016 by Oxford University Press
Pages - 208
I used to be plain old ordinary Holly . . . but now I've become EXTRAordinary Holly!
Being struck by lightning and getting an amazing superpower wasn't how Holly thought that her day would go. But now it's happened, she might as well make the most of it . . . if only she could work out how to stop blowing everything up!
Wow! So this is what happens when you combine a book with a comic. You get an explosive adventure that is so easy to read, you can easily finish it in a couple of hours.  This is perfect for reluctant readers and I think the covers will make it appeal to boys and girls. I want to see more books like this! I really think more Middle Grade books should have pictures in. In fact, I'd happily read an adult book with illustrations. Just because I can read, doesn't mean I don't appreciate excellent drawings too. 
Although aimed at the Middle Grade audience, it deals with the role of technology  and social media in today's society and shows how it is filtering quite quickly down to the next age group. We've seen a rise of social media appearing in Young Adult books, so it's not surprising  and quite refreshing to see it reaching the 9 to 12 year old bracket, who are already using it as well. 
I love the main character, Holly. She is the most unlikely super hero, yet with the help of her super hero mad younger brother, Joe, she   gets to grips with her new power. I'm so pleased to see a girl as the superhero and taking the main role in the book and Macavity makes a superb essential villain too. 
Electrigirl is electrifyingly brilliant!
Jo Cotterill and Cathy Brett make the perfect team as they both bring Holly's story to life. I really hope this is a long running series.