Wednesday, 10 February 2016

More of Me by Kathryn Evans

Six months had flown by. Six months since I'd fought my way out of Fifteen's body and taken over as Teva. Six months since Fifteen had been trapped at home and I'd been free. It didn't take a maths genius to work out what that meant. I had just six short months until a new Teva tried to fight her way out of me. Only I wasn't going to let that happen. 

Published by Usborne in February 2016

Cover by Rekha Garten 

Summary
Teva seems normal. But at home she hides an impossible secret: 11 other Tevas. Because once a year, Teva splits into two, leaving a younger version of herself stuck at the same age, forced to watch the new Teva taking over her life. But at 16, Teva’s had enough. She’s going to fight for her future - even if that means fighting herself.
****
Reviewed by Vivienne Dacosta

I have to be honest and admit, Kathryn is a friend of mine. I'm not keen on reviewing books by friends but I love this book so much, I had to review it myself.  I knew about this book during the early drafts and my jaw actually dropped when Kathryn told me the idea behind it. I knew that there was no other book like it out in the YA world.  The concept behind this book is so unique, it's like pure gold. Imagine your body separating from itself, once every year and leaving a younger version behind that won't age - the idea blows my mind!

I've read three different versions of the book and each time it just gets better and better. 
The story is definitely sci fi, but the author has set it in the present day which gives it such a believable factor, adding in romance, a fast pace and comical interludes.  

I love Teva, I can't believe how strong a character she is. She desperately wants a future and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. You get caught up in her sense of urgency as she realises time is running out.  
I also have a soft spot for Fifteen and find it incredible how differently she stands out from Teva. She just wants to be with Ollie, the boy she loves and her anger and heartbreak at the situation really unfolds throughout the story.  All the different versions of Teva are easily identifiable from each other which really is an impressive writing skill. You recognise each distinctive age of growing up when they appear in the story. 

The ending is traumatic. So be prepared with a few tissues as you will definitely need them. 

I can't fault this debut at all. It really is quite outstanding. I wouldn't be surprised if this book is on a few award shortlists next year. Teens are going to love it and easily identify with the fears and pains of growing up.  I can't wait to see what Kathryn Evans writes next. I'm positive it will also be out of this world. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

'Before you agree to have Joseph come live with you,' Mrs Stroud said,' there are one or two thing you ought to understand.' She took out a State of Maine department of Health and Human Services folder and laid it on the kitchen table. 
Published December 2015 by Anderson Press. 

Summary
A heartbreaking story, narrated by twelve-year-old Jack, whose family is caring for fourteen-year-old Joseph. Joseph is misunderstood. He was incarcerated for trying to kill a teacher. Or so the rumours say. But Jack and his family see something others in town don’t want to.
What's more, Joseph has a daughter he’s never seen. The two boys go on a journey through the bitter Maine winter to help Joseph find his baby - no matter the cost.
****
Reviewed by Vivienne Dacosta

This is one of those books that creeps up on you and steals your heart. When you first hear about Joseph, you're worried for our sweet, gentle narrator, Jack. Joseph has a disturbing reputation. Why would Jack's parents put him in such danger? Jack feels like he is treading on egg shells as he lets Joseph into his life. Joseph isn't big on talking, so Jack can only judge him by the rumours he has heard. 

The longer Joseph stays at Jack's home the more Jack learns to love Joseph. He feels Joseph's pain, especially when it becomes clear what will happen to his daughter. Joseph knows he is too young to have a  child and look after her, but he is desperate to hold her and tell her she is loved. 

The ending simply broke my heart. You need tissues, lots and lots of tissues to get through the final couple of chapters, because your will be in bits after reading what happens and  then again with the fall out from the events months later.

 I would've liked the ending to be a little longer. It did feel slightly rushed. However this did not spoil my enjoyment of this quiet, yet emotional book.

If you loved Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood, you will really enjoy this book.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Extract from The Shadow Keeper by Abi Elphinstone


I am so excited to be sharing this with you today. Abi Elphinstone publishes the second book in her Dreamsnatcher  series, The Shadow Keeper on the 25th of February and the whole of the blogosphere can't wait to read it! Abi's first book was a huge success and I'm positive this one will be just as popular. 
Abi has kindly allowed us to share with you the first part of the prologue from The Shadow Keeper. I've read it and it is fabulous. I hope you enjoy it too. 

Prologue

The Crooked Cave

The sea breathes quietly tonight, a sprawled darkness

rolling in and out. It slips over beaches and laps at

harbour walls. But further along the coast, where

the cliffs turn ragged and shards of rock jut into the water,

strewn like broken gravestones, the current is stronger.

It moves with a strength all of its own here, heaving and

churning, smashing and pounding. This is a place few men

or women brave, and none on a night as dark as this.

And yet there is a light moving between the shards of

rock, a lantern fixed to the front of a rowing boat, and,

though the waves swell and suck and crash, the boat 

weaves a way through. The moon slides out from the clouds

 for a moment, scattering silver on the sea, and then it is 

gone. But the lantern still shines, splaying light on the 

snakeskin mask of the figure in the boat. 

He wears a cloak, the hood pulled

high, and only his tongue moves – forked and flickering. His

arms stay folded in his lap – he has no use for oars to propel

the boat forward. It moves of its own accord, drawn by 

magic towards the opening in the cliff face.

***
Wow! I definitely need to read more of this book! How about you? 

How would you like to win both books in the series? Just leave a comment for Abi  below, along with your email address to be in with a chance of winning Dreamsnatcher and The Shadow Keeper. The competition will run until the 13th of February and is open to UK & Eire residents only. Only one entry per person please. The winner will receive the books directly from the publisher. 

To find out more about Abi Elphinstone:

Saturday, 6 February 2016

#6Degrees of Separation: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to ...

Jim (@YAYeahYeah) contacted me earlier this week about a meme he is  launching today over at Tales of Moon Lane and asked me if I would like to take part. Well, I jumped at the chance of taking part. I LOVE this idea of a meme!

Annabel Smith and Emma Chapman run a version of #6degrees on their blogs and have kindly allowed Jim to take the rein and bring us a YA/MG focused version, where people  can create a chain of links, each starting from the same book, and form connections in any way they like. As I understand it, you start with the first book and then use six links in order to get to the last book. However, I have seen others do it as six books rather than six links. I've gone for the former style rather than the latter. 

The book chosen to start the chain is Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone.  Here are my chosen books for #6degrees. 

I thought this would be a toughie. Where do I go from greatness? I mulled over the storyline and ended up thinking about the actors involved in the films. Instantly I thought of how amazing an actor Daniel Radcliffe is. How he has grown up with the films and now is doing so well in so many others. Which led me to my first book, Woman in Black by Susan Hill, where Daniel played the main lead character.

This is one of the scariest books I've ever read and it reminded me of a conversation I had on Twitter  with Middle Grade author, Michelle Harrison a few years ago. I'm sure she told me she had visited Osea Island where the book is set. At the time Michelle was publicising her own rather scary novel, Unrest. 

Unrest was Michelle first venture into YA novels. Normally she is better known for her Middle Grade fae novels, which brings me to 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison.

I loved 13 Treasures, but then I love fae novels. I went through a phase when they were the only books I would read. My favourite fae novel of all time is Tithe by Holly Black.

But then Holly Black is basically one of my favourite authors. And everyone knows that Holly Black is best friends with Cassandra Clare, which leads us to another brilliant novel, City of Bones. 

City of Bones, leads me nicely to my last link in the chain. After reading Banished by Liz De Jager, I stated that we had discovered our very own British Cassandra Clare!
So my #6degrees has led me from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by Harry Potter to Banished by Liz De Jager.  

I can't wait to see where everybody ends up.
 Thanks to Jim for hosting!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Book Cycle: Electrigirl by Jo Cotterill


Today is publication day for Jo Cotterill and Cathy Brett. I am so excited about their collaboration, Electrigirl and I can't wait to get my hands on it. Jo has written a fabulous post about how the process in bringing this book to the world. 

I can’t remember exactly when I had the idea for ELECTRIGIRL. It was one of those ideas that, once I’d had it, was so very obvious to me that it seemed absurd that no one else had already written it!

I think pretty much everyone has at some point in their life dreamed of having superpowers. Whether it’s flying or invisibility, or the ability to fast-forward time so we don’t have to take an exam or do the chores, superpowers have always appealed. There’s been a huge boom in interest in superheroes recently, thanks to a whole raft of films from Marvel and DC, and also an explosion in the graphic novel industry, with loads more superheroes being invented.
I love a good superhero film as much as anyone. But over the years, I’ve become increasingly annoyed at the dearth of female superheroes. Yep, the ones we’ve got are great (mostly), and thank goodness recently they have been less likely to be wearing leotards or bikinis – but they’re massively outnumbered by the men. Given that women make up 51% of the global population and more than half of the cinema-goers, this just seems like really bad maths and a nasty extension of ingrained sexism all round.

I’ve got two daughters and they adore dressing up. I want them to have female heroes they can dress up as (Thank you, by the way, to Star Wars, for the awesome creation that is Rey). So at some point I decided it would be a lot of fun to write a story about a new female superhero. And almost as soon as I’d had the idea, it occurred to me that some of the story – the parts where she’s being a superhero – should be told through comic strip. 

My first attempt at telling the story was called ‘Miss Awesome’ but my agent wasn’t sure it was working. I threw it out and tried again – and in the meantime, I approached Cathy Brett, whose work I already knew and loved through Girls Heart Books, the multi-author blog site I run. You can see how many versions there were, even in the early stages.
And back then, the story opened like this:

I always had in mind a 12-year-old girl who was going to gain electrical powers somehow. Initially, I’d thought she might get them by trespassing in an electrical substation after running away from bullies. She’d receive a massive electrical shock, stopping her heart, but before the paramedics could charge up their defibrillator, her heart would magically restart by itself. Cathy even drew this section!
But then I went to look round my local substation, courtesy of the brilliant people at Southern Electric, and my friendly engineer was TOTALLY against that idea. He didn’t want any readers to think they could go wandering about in highly dangerous areas and gain superpowers!

So I changed the way in which Holly got her powers. This time, the bullies lured her into a field where a lightning strike was about to happen – and a ball of lightning would appear before her. Ball lightning really is a thing – very rare and quite magical. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?) it doesn’t give you superpowers, and it doesn’t hang around for long, but it is definitely cool and I knew I wanted it in my story. Cathy drew this version too!
I invented an evil nemesis too, because every superhero needs a nemesis. She’s named Professor Macavity, after the Mystery Cat in TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (most of which I can quote off by heart, thanks to a childhood obsession with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical) and in the early versions, she had a secret HQ in the mountains of Snowdonia, guarded by female ninjas:
But our agent (we shared the same agent) felt that the story as a whole still wasn’t quite working, and so I ditched about 95% of it yet (including the way Holly would get her powers) again, and started over. I’m still sad I lost the ninjas. Maybe I can bring them back one day! We did all manage to come up with a title we all liked though – ELECTRIGIRL.

Some elements have stayed the same all the way through: Holly herself (who loves being outside and hates being cooped up in a class room), her brother Joe (a comics obsessive who makes amateur superhero films using his toy figures), Holly’s best friend Imogen, and the evil professor Macavity. Other characters have been severely downgraded: in the early versions, Holly was being bullied by three girls at school. They’re still there, but only in minor roles now. Macavity herself was problematic for me: how does one create a realistic super-villain? Is world domination still actually a thing? And why would anyone want it? Maybe that says more about me and my inability to see the attraction of overwhelming power…! When Cathy drew Macavity for the submission package though, I loved it:
Most importantly, my initial idea of dividing the book into text (for the bits where Holly is being ‘ordinary girl’) and comic strip (for the bits where she’s using her powers) has remained. It took a very long time for the proposal package to be ready. My agent was very hard on me as regards the text. She thought it had great commercial potential, but she admitted she wasn’t really into the superhero genre, so she and I had some fairly fundamental disagreements along the way! In the end, the proposal went out to five or six publishers – and OUP, who I’d been hankering after all along, made an offer, along with a truly wonderful comic-strip pitch, which made my YEAR!
Of course, once a contract was in place, there was yet more rewriting to be done – at least another three drafts. It was difficult to know how best to start the story, and I wrestled for a long time with a crucial part involving the logistics of finding of a kidnapped girl. Along the way though, I got to go to design meetings, which were so much fun – the author doesn’t usually get a look in on these! Cathy’s drawings are AMAZING.
I’ve never worked collaboratively before, and I have to say I’d definitely do it again. It’s so nice to have someone with whom to share the angst and joy of writing a book – and to bounce ideas off too. Cathy and I have got into the spirit of dressing up, because really, a superhero book kind of demands it!
So here we are, finally at publication, after three years of ideas, brainstorming and rewriting. And I am REALLY thrilled with the final version, and I hope so much that everyone will love it. A sequel, ELECTRIGIRL AND THE DEADLY SWARM, will be out in August, and has been SO much fun to write. Most importantly, the kids so far who have seen it have been excited by it, including the boys, which was always the idea. Because superheroes are cool – and girls can be cool. And it’s OK for boys to want to read about girls. And that’s a soapbox for another time…!

Thank you to Jo for such a fabulous post! I think everyone will want to read it now.

Electrigirl is published today by OUP.

To find out more about Jo Cotterill:

To find out more about Cathy Brett:





Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker


I stand at the edge of the crowded square, watching the executioners light the pyres. The two men, dressed for work in dark red cloaks and charred leather gloves, circle the narrow wooden platforms, their lit torches held high. At the top of each pyre, four witches and three wizards stand chained to a stake, bundles of wood heaped around their feet. They stare into the crowd, determined looks on their faces.

I don’t know what they did; they weren’t my captures. But I do know there will be no apologies from them. No last-minute pleas for mercy, no scaffold-step promises to repent.

Published by Orchard in UK. Little Brown in US
Published September 2015
Cover design by Thy Bui

Summary from Orchard Books website
Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Grey doesn't look dangerous. A tiny, blonde, wisp of a girl shouldn't know how to poison a wizard and make it look like an accident. Or take out ten necromancers with a single sword and a bag of salt. Or kill a man using only her thumb. But things are not always as they appear. Elizabeth is one of the best witch hunters in Anglia and a member of the king's elite guard, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and bringing those who practise it to justice. And in Anglia, the price of justice is high: death by burning.

When Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself, she's arrested and thrown in prison. The king declares her a traitor and her life is all but forfeit. With just hours before she's to die at the stake, Elizabeth gets a visitor - Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in Anglia. He offers her a deal: he will free her from prison and save her from execution if she will track down the wizard who laid a deadly curse on him.

As Elizabeth uncovers the horrifying facts about Nicholas's curse and the unwitting role she played in its creation, she is forced to redefine the differences between right and wrong, friends and enemies, love and hate... and life and death.
*****

This is an entertaining and fast-paced story of medieval witchcraft ideal for the mass market. It has an unusual take on reasons for the suppression of magic and presents the sexist double-standards of the time convincingly. It is however not the for the purist: it freestyles history like the film ‘A Knight’s Tale’.

If you just go with the pseudo- Tudor world of Anglia, you’ll enjoy the humour and action. Fun comes from the verbal exchanges of the characters with the odd bit of almost slapstick thrown in. It is a bit ghoulish – but in a stylised rather than over-graphic way for 13+ readers. It feels right to show the barbarity of this parallel 16th century world. Happily, it passes the Bechdel test with a brave heroine and her friends. There is a pleasing love interest – which will no doubt develop in the next books of the series.

As you can tell from the bold cover, there’s dark magic and peril involved. Curl up with chocolates and a candle to keep the spooks at bay when you read it.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Top 5 - Most Anticipated Novels for February.


I don't like to single books out, but things are a changing! I've decided to look at the books being published each month and give you a list of the five books that I'm looking forward to reading the most. It isn't easy to pick out books from all the wondrous titles being published, but I think it's time I started giving my seal of approval. As you can see, I've made a snazzy seal above, which will be awarded to the winning books.

So the following five books in no particular order are the ones I'm most excited to read this February.


Electrigirl by Jo Cotterill and illustrated by Cathy Brett
Published by OUP

OMG! The idea behind this book blows my mind! Imagine being struck by lighting and being left with a superpower. It's almost worth standing outside in a storm just to see whether it really happens. I actually can't wait to get my hands on this book. Not only is Jo Cotterill a first class author, but combining her writing with the amazing illustration talents of Cathy Brett just catapults this book into the must have status. 


More of Me by Kathryn Evans
Published by Usborne

Many of you know that Kathy is a friend of mine, but that doesn't influence my decision in picking her as part of my five. I read this book before it was published. I nagged Kathy to keep editing and believing in it because I knew for a fact that there wasn't anything else out on the market like this story. I've since read it during edits and I'm now on my final read. This book has just improved with every edit and I can't rave about it enough. 
Imagine twelve girls all from the same mould. Once a year, Teva separates from her own body, creating a brand new older Teva, and leaving the younger one trapped at home. The concept behind this story is unique and I can assure you that you will love it. 

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Published by Faber and Faber

I've been so eager to read this book ever since I got the first chapter sample at YALC. I was sucked into this story straightaway. 
Set in the desert, Amani, is a gun welding butt kicking heroine and I can't wait to find out more. When I read the first chapter, I instantly thought of Maria V. Snyder. I can't wait to read the rest.

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard
Published by Macmillan Children's Books

This is being hailed as a bit of a heartbreaker. Dealing with realistic teenagers and taking UKYA to new heights. I can't wait to follow Caddie, Rosie and Suzanne on their journey. 

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Puffin

From the author of Between Shades of Grey, comes another classic. Heading back to World War II, the author draws light on one of the most devastating yet relatively little known tragedies.  I think I'd better get the tissues ready now.

So those are my five most anticipated novels for February. Which ones would you like to read? Or have you picked something else out  that you desperately want to read?
***
At the end of every month, I will award one book this.
The Star of Excellence - this will go to the book that I loved the most that month. There can be only one winner! Make sure you keep an eye out at the end of the month for the winner.