Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Snow Sister by Emma Carroll

Christmas Eve morning wasn't the best time for a telling-off, yet Pearl Granger was about to get one. She had been outside in the snow for all of two minutes, when above her head a window opened and her mother's voice rang out. 

Published by Faber and Faber in October 2015
Pages - 100
Illustrations by Julian de Narvaez

Ever since her sister, Agnes, died, Pearl has a tradition every time it snows. She makes a person out of snow. A snow sister. It makes Christmas feel a little less lonely.
On Christmas Eve, her father receives a letter about a long-lost relative's will. Is their luck about to change? In anticipation of a better Christmas, Pearl goes to beg credit at Mr Noble's grocery to get ingredients for a Christmas pudding. But she is refused, and chased down the street where she is hit by a hansom cab. The snow is falling so hard that they can't take her home. She'll have to stay at Flintfield Manor overnight, in a haunted room... Will Pearl make it home for Christmas?
Reviewed by Vivienne Dacosta

I've been excited about reading this book, since I saw the cover reveal a few months ago. Not only is it by Emma Carroll, who is fast becoming one of my favourite UKMG authors, but it's also set during the Christmas period, one of my favorite times of the year. It's also set during the Victorian period, which always wins the best Christmas stories era with me.
It's beautifully written from start to finish and you quickly find yourself transported to Victorian times. Carroll's descriptive passages actually make you shiver as you feel the coldness of the season. Pearl is a delightful character who really only wants to see her family happy again and able to put food on the table. Her family have suffered enough since her sister's death and she feels its time for a change. 
Carroll shows us that without the love of our families, we have nothing. Money won't buy you happiness, but love will. 
You can't talk about this book without discussing the illustrations, which have a real Victorian feel to them. They reminded me of the tales of my childhood, like The Little Match Girl. 
My only niggle with this book, it that it wasn't long enough for me. This is a novella, which is gorgeous, but perhaps because of my love of Emma's writing, I would have loved for the book to be longer. I felt it had the potential to be a full novel, rather than just a novella. 
I'm not sure I can even call that a niggle as it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book at all. I really enjoyed reading it. A beautiful tale which will make a gorgeous stocking filler for any child that loves Christmas and still believes in the magic of Christmas. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Inspire Me with Andy Mulligan

To celebrate the publication of Liquidator, I am pleased to welcome the author, Andy Mulligan onto the blog, to talk about what inspired him to write this book.
Books pop up out of the day-to-day cut and thrust of meeting, talking and laughing. The one I’m working on right now was inspired by a ten year-old boy who was telling me about his pet dog. “I think he wants to be a cat, really,” he said – and the surrealism of that locked onto me. My school series, Ribblestrop, emerged when I was walking past a ruined stately-home in Cornwall. It was for sale and my companion said, “Come on, Andy – let’s buy it. We’ll call it a school, and you can be the headmaster.” LIQUIDATOR, however – and it’s out this month – started off as a joke.

The joke surrounded the concept of work-experience, which every child does and is all too often a predictable disappointment. The child usually looks forward to it. Perhaps he or she has secured a placement at a hospital, and is hoping to be useful, active, creative and essential. Alas, when I was a teacher the kids would invariably come back to school having experienced only that sad stranglehold of health and safety concerns – they hadn’t been allowed to do anything. “I made the coffee on the first day, but then they said I might burn myself, and they weren’t insured…”

I always hoped that one day, a would-be teenage surgeon would come rushing back to class, shouting “It was great! I opened a rib-cage! The midwife was late - I delivered the baby!” It never happened in life, so that was the gag I’ve put into fiction: seven children set off on their work-experience week, and each child is launched into the most amazing experience. It’s a thrill, of course – I love a good page-turning adventure where the heroes dice with death – and I wanted a good villain. Good villains aren’t easy to come by, because people don’t tend to walk around rubbing their hands thinking, “What bad thing can I do today?” Villains are all too often people who have convinced themselves they have no choices, and have been told for too long that their behavior is acceptable. In LIQUIDATOR the villain is a drinks company that wants to do what all too many companies do: maximize profit at the expense of anything noble, decent, moral or right – (sorry, Volkwagon, if you’re reading this). The company I’ve created doesn’t make cars, though. It’s spent millions circumventing health legislation to create a highly addictive kids’ energy drink. They’ve trialed it on poor children in Africa – one of whom is dying, slowly and painfully as a result - and now they’re ready to flood the market. Our heroes discover this, and have to pit their wits against rich, powerful, deadly people.

I like to think it’s exciting, frightening and funny. It took a long time to write – two and half years, in all – because the plot is wildly complicated, and to weave in that many characters is a kind of choreography that takes a lot of thought. It’s not an ISSUES book – I’m never inspired by the challenge of ‘raising an issue’, though people often assume that is a motivation. I’m inspired by characters, and the sheer thrill of telling a good story. When I was at school I was enthralled by a tale well told, and I don’t find it easy to analyse how our imaginations and emotions commit to something we know to be invented. I saw ‘Jurassic World’ last month, which is two hours long. For me, it was two hours of wonder…I screamed, I cried, I had my hands over my eyes – I was there in the Perspex pod as the monster tried to prize it open. The storyteller can’t be cynical: he has to believe that his audience is ready to go on that journey, and feel. I suppose that is the most inspiring thought of all: that as you sit at the laptop, tapping out the sentences, you’re conjuring something that will be more real - for a short time – than reality.
Liquidator by Andy Mulligan was published by David Fickling Books on the 1st October 2015

LIQUIDATOR! The brand-new, delicious and wildly popular energy drink. "For those who wanna win!" The company that makes it is set to earn a fortune, with its global launch climaxing at an international rock concert that will SHAKE the planet. The only problem?An innocent child is dying. Meet Vicky and her class-mates - their work experience is about to spin totally out of control as they uncover a secret that could change the world. And put them all in mortal danger ...From the award-winning author of TRASH comes an action-packed thriller full of danger, hilarity and - above all - friendship.

To find out more about Andy Mulligan:

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Have you heard about Hogarth Shakespeare?

Have you heard about Hogarth Shakespeare? No. Well let me tell you about it, because it is super exciting!

The Hogarth Shakespeare series is a selection of Shakespeare's plays that are being retold by some of the UK's finest authors. The series was launched earlier this month, with The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson. This book is a retelling of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. I've been lucky enough to receive a copy and I'm very excited about reading it.
To whet your appetite, here is a summary of the novel from Amazon. 
The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s “late plays.” It tells the story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his beautiful wife. His daughter is found and brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast, but through a series of extraordinary events, father and daughter, and eventually mother too, are reunited. 
In The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson’s cover version of The Winter’s Tale, we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crisis, to a storm-ravaged American city called New Bohemia. Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a story of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other.
Three more novels in the series will be published s during the 400th anniversary year of Shakespeare’s death in 2016: Howard Jacobson’s The Merchant of Venice in February, Anne Tyler’s The Taming of the Shrew in June and Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest in October. 
These four books will later be joined by Tracy Chevalier’s Othello, Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet, Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth and Edward St Aubyn’s King Lear.
Now here is the good part. How would you like to win a copy of The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson? 
All you have to do is enter your details in Rafflecopter below. This is a UK & Ireland competition only. 

Friday, 2 October 2015

The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In An Armchair by Lara Williamson

My name is Becket Rumsey and there are lots of important people in my life who I talk to every day. For starters: my seven-year-old bug-collecting brother, Billy, is one of them (although he talks nonsense ninety-nine percent of the time - and the other one percent? Utter nonsense). Dad, who delivers fish from The Godfather van, is another.

Published by Usborne in October 2015
Pages - 322
Book Cover by Katherine Millichope

Becket has no idea why his dad takes him and his brother Billy to a new home in the middle of the night. But he's determined to find out.
So Becket sets out on a journey of discovery with Billy, a snail called Brian and a Jedi Knight. It's not plain sailing but then what journeys ever are?
Reviewed by Vivienne Dacosta

Lara Williamson writes quiet stories with a BIG VOICE! Her main characters are so unique they practically explode out of the book. In this book we meet Becket Rumsey, whose voice is heartwarming, poignant at times, yet also extremely funny. His brother, Billy and his pet snail, are brilliantly written characters too. You find yourself wanting to hug them all. 
 I absolutely adore the way that Lara writes. In fact, her comical voice is so unique, from now on I shall refer to her turns of phrase as Laraisms! 'Sweet Baby Cheeses' has already become an addition to my conversations. And let's not forget Williamson's hilarious choice of  business names - Crops and Bobbers, the hairdressers, Burger She Wrote, the burger bar and  The Codfather, Dad's fish delivery service. Where does she get her ideas from?
Lara excels at writing stories that walk a fine line between humour and sadness. One minute, you are wiping a sad tear away, the next you're crying with laughter.
This story has a surprising twist, which I didn't see coming. You'll discover the story doesn't go the way you think it will.
Being a big fan of magical realism, it was fantastic to find it within this story. I loved the story about the origami cranes and how it was weaved into the main story. I also love the idea of butterflies being loved ones who come back to us. 
I really think Lara Williamson has outdone herself with her second novel and I can't wait for more from her in the future. This will be a firm favourite within the Middle Grade market and an ideal book for children who are grieving for a loved one. Don't be surprised if this book wins awards over the next year. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Secret Serendipity Seven with Lara Williamson

I'm jumping around excitedly today as I have one of my favourite people on the blog - Lara Williamson. Lara's second book. The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In An Armchair is published today and you will love it. I will be reviewing the book on the blog tomorrow, but for today, Lara is telling us some exclusive secrets.

Oh, I love a good secret. Even the word suggests some sort of magic is afoot. A secret is something special, something you keep to yourself or something someone else shares with you. If that’s the case you are the chosen one and have to guard that secret with your life. I’d like to think that I’m a very good secret-keeper but I’m also very good at sharing my own. So come closer and I will reveal seven secrets. But remember this, you are the chosen one and will need to guard these with your life.*

*Okay, I’m making that bit up.
  • I’ve always been a bit obsessed with glitter and often wonder if it was sparked by my love of Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz movie. In the absence of being able to own those slippers for myself I surround myself in glitter, sequins or rhinestones. Life is too short not to sparkle. 
  • In A Boy Called Hope the dog, Charles Scallybones, chewed on everything he could get his canines on. Once I had this beautiful glittery (yes, glittery) super-bouncy super-ball and our real life dog, Ben, chewed it to bits. Although I wasn’t best pleased at the time, I look back now and smile thinking Ben and his chewing exploits have made it into a book. If you check out the acknowledgements in my first book, Ben gets his own mention. 
  • Despite wishing I could swim, I can’t. However, I have this really strong pull to the water and used a watery-seaside-fish theme throughout The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair. Sometimes I look into the sea and it’s so beautiful, so sparkly and inviting that I feel like jumping in and then I think, ‘Hey, are you crazy, girl? You can’t swim!’ 
  • I go through life with my own little belief system. If I see a white feather I immediately think angels. I used this in A Boy Called Hope. In The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair I have used butterflies in much the same way and also one thousand paper cranes because if you fold one thousand you get a wish. Part of me thinks these beliefs are the real magic in the books. 
  • If I see a lone magpie I will salute. It doesn’t matter where I am or how many people are around me or how crazy I might look. In fact, it is in my plans to get a magpie into one of my books. Oh, and a robin at some point too. 
  • At school I worked hard, particularly at exam time. In fact, I was so busy giving it my all in my Latin exam that I ignored the fact that I felt sick and in the end I threw up on my actual exam paper. It was completely ruined, a diced carrot disaster. Oh, and the horror on everyone else’s face is hard to forget. Anyway, I needed a mark of some sort so the teacher gave me 60%. That’s 60% for my sick, my friends. (If Becket had been there he would have probably explained the medical facts behind vomit.) 
  • In my first book, Dan lived in a town called Paradise and in the second Becket lives in Eden. I chose those names because I always knew that no matter how far Dan and Becket might travel their home was their real Paradise. I was actually born in a town called Eden and the very thought of this makes me smile.
I love these secrets! Thank you Lara for sharing them with us. We cross our hearts and swear never to tell another soul... Only a few thousand people on the internet. 
The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In An Armchair is published today by Usborne.
Becket has no idea why his dad takes him and his brother Billy to a new home in the middle of the night. But he's determined to find out.
So Becket sets out on a journey of discovery with Billy, a snail called Brian and a Jedi Knight. It's not plain sailing but then what journeys ever are?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Wolf wilders are almost impossible to spot.
A wolf wilder is not like a lion tamer nor a circus ringmaster: wolf wilders can go their whole lives without laying eyes on a sequin. They look, more or less, like ordinary people. 

Published in September 2015 by Bloomsbury Books
Pages - 317

Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora's mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.
When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.
Reviewed by Vivienne Dacosta

This book is astoundingly beautiful. From the characters through to the story, not forgetting the magical setting. It's the type of book that you will want to keep and reread on a yearly basis.
From the first chapter, I held my heart in my hands and I couldn't let it go until the very end of the book. Such an emotional journey. No one has made me cry as much as this, since Patrick Ness's Manchee in The Knife of Never Letting Go. 
I really enjoyed the Russian setting. I love reading about other countries and cultures and Rundell really brings it too life. I'd never head of a wolf wilder before and now I find myself wanting to learn more about them.
I loved Feo like she was one of my own. She was strong and feisty. There were elements within her that I could see in myself. Just like Feo, I like the quietness, the space and time alone and I felt Feo's happiness when she was with the animals she loved best. 
But Feo's life isn't happy for long and it felt like life was continually shooting bullets for her to dodge.
The setting for this book is written in such detail, you can almost feel the ice and snow under your fingertips. 
I loved Rundell's writing style. There is a magical quality to her voice. It is brimming with passion and fire as Feo strives to save her mother and her beloved wolves. 
A passionate book that shows you how strong the love of an animal can truly be. Definitely one I will be recommending widely. 

Monday, 28 September 2015

A Letter To My Younger Self by Dinah Jefferies

Something a little different today. I got talking to a wonderful author on Twitter and I liked her so much, I invited her onto the blog. Normally my blog is filled with YA, but Dinah Jefferies, is writes adult books and she's a damn fine writer. Her latest novel, The Tea Planter's Wife has recently been chosen for the Richard and Judy Autumn Book Club. The book is presently at No 2 in The Sunday Times Bestseller List.
Dinah has chosen to write an extremely moving letter to her younger self. I feel honoured that Dinah is sharing this with us.
It’s September 21st 1985. The worst day of your life. You’re thirty-seven and an hour ago your beautiful fourteen-year-old son climbed on to a friend’s motorbike. It went out of control, and he is dead. Tomorrow you’ll see his body in the mortuary and you will know pain so deep there are no words. You will feel that your world has ended, and in a way it has, because you can NEVER be the same again. I don’t want to depress you, but you will live under a shadow for many years. Not everyone will see it. Pay no attention to other people’s judgements on your grieving process. It’s yours not theirs. It’s in your genes to adopt the face of courage and you will cope for the sake of your daughter. But you won’t feel alive: you will mourn your son and your heart will be broken. Truly. Broken.
Believe me when I say you will work your way through the intolerable grief. Forget day by day, it’s minute by minute that you must learn to survive. You will hold on to the furniture because at times you will feel so unstable that you fear you’ll be blown away. You will be tempted to take part in an Elizabeth Kubler Ross Life, Death & Transition workshop. Do it. You will try to find meaning in what has happened and will come to know there is none. You will flirt with religion, with spirituality, and you will grasp at straws. None of that can speed the process, for the loss of a child is cellular. You will want to rush it, but honestly it can’t be rushed. My best advice is to allow the feelings to come, cry, do whatever you need, and the darkness will pass. Every time say to yourself: this too shall pass. Because it does. I know it won’t feel like it, but if you resist the emotions and try to bottle up the pain you only prolong it. The only way is through.
Gradually you will begin to work again. There will be moments when you feel the weight of the loss has lessened. And I promise that slowly you’ll feel more human. Above all keep your heart open. Try never to feel bitter, for bitterness kills. There is a beautiful world out there with beautiful people in it and, though at times you will wish you were dead too, stay alive. Please stay alive. There are people who love you and your daughter needs you. It will be worth it.
Now here comes the good bit. If you can just keep going, keep living, keep caring, you will find your heart does ease. You will marry again and you will have the two most precious people you can ever imagine in your life. Your grandchildren. Your love for your son will never die because he is in your heart, your bones and your soul.
You want to know the icing on the cake? You will bring your deeply felt experience of losing your child to your new life as a writer. Penguin will publish your books and at age 67 you will have a bestseller on your hands. When you think of your son you will picture him smiling his beautiful, blond, laser beam smile and though it will be bitter-sweet, you will feel joy. In your mind’s eye he will proudly hug you and call you his “beautiful little mother” as he used to do, and though you’ll need to swallow the lump in your throat, the tears will not be painful ones. Your life will be marked by heartache but the love will be stronger. At the darkest of times remember that.

Thank you Dinah, for sharing this with my readers.
Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past - a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds - that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can't stay buried forever.

To find out more about Dinah Jefferies: