Visiting the fantastic Cogheart window in Canterbury Waterstones

Visiting the fantastic Cogheart window in Canterbury Waterstones

I made a day trip to Canterbury yesterday – mainly just to see this cogtastic Cogheart window in the Rose Lane Waterstones, which was so beautiful, and really made me smile!! But I also signed lots of books there and at Waterstones on St Margarets Street too – there’s tons of signed copies in Canterbury now. Then we had a walk in the countryside, and spotted this giant waterwheel cog and a bull made of rusted iron! Also had a look around the town, which is so gorgeous, and went in the Cathedral – I think I last visited on a school trip many years ago. It was a fun day out especially seeing the superb window!

SEED – Review

SEED – Review

SeedSeed by Lisa Heathfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pearl is a naive and dreamy girl who has lived all her life in the cult of SEED. SEED is a commune and farm made up of a few families, who are cut off from technology and the outside world. It is run by the the enigmatic and sinister Papa S. When newcomers arrive – in the form of Linda and her teenage son Ellis and daughter Sophie – Pearls feelings for Ellis, and the things he tells her about the outside world, plus all the secrets that she gradually discovers about the cult, start to make her question everything she has believed in, and her whole way of life…

SEED reminded me of so many other great cult stories, both cinematic and written. Drop City, Sons of Perdition, Louis Theroux and his visits to the Fred Phelps Cult. I find cults are a fascinating subject, because they are a microcosm of the worst human behaviour. They are the most extreme example of the fearful and delusional stories that societies and families and religions create to control people, and they can be startling in the way people buy into them in order to survive, or perhaps because they know no different. This book takes all that cult craziness and builds it to a thrilling crescendo as the characters struggle to free first their minds and then themselves.

Lisa’s writing is so beautiful and elegiacal, and locates us so strongly with Pearl and her joyful, upbeat unquestioning character voice, and yet she still manages to make clear to the reader that there are dark motivations behind everything going on at SEED. It’s a fine balancing act and it works to add an extra layer of fear and revulsion to what it already a strange and engrossing story.

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Never Evers – Review

Never Evers – Review

Never EversNever Evers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the opening with Mouse sitting in the bath – it reminded me of the opening of I Capture The Castle – ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’. Lucy and Tom’s books feel like modern updates of those classic romantic comedy stories, both literary and filmic.

There’s a such a good depiction of the bitchiness of girl gangs, and lots of stewing animosity between Mouse and her ex-best friend Lauren, who are both after the same guy, the clueless, somewhat dorky Jack. He and the boys gang of Max and Flynn, get up to a lot of gross-out or stupid inbetweeners antics, but it’s clear that Jack is the one with the good heart. Jack and Mouse meet the effortlessly cool French popstar and Bieber-alike Roland, will he be a possible love-rival to Jack or a new found friend to them both? I love the way all the character’s attempts to get it on – i.e. get a snog – end in disaster and all their social interactions come off as disjointed. None of them can read situations at all and everything requires a lot of thought and second guessing. The boys are especially clueless and are constantly putting their feet in their mouths.

This is a hilarious book for young teenagers, full of great gags and real relatable characters. It didn’t quite reach the heights of Lobsters for me, I think because the mystery of whether Jack and Mouse will kiss in the end doesn’t quite have the tension of the older storyline that Hannah and Sam have in Lobsters – navigating your first time, and what may be a deeper connection. So it felt like a lighter book, for a younger crowd, which it most definitely is, but still a lot of fun to read, with many more of Lucy and Tom’s trademark laugh-out-loud moments.

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The Girl of Ink and Stars – Review

The Girl of Ink and Stars – Review

The Girl of Ink and StarsThe Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book and its beautiful poetic writing. It’s a fantastic island setting, where you can practically feel the muggy tropical heat, and where local folk tales and superstitions are bubbling to the surface once more. I loved the central friendship between the narrator Isabelle and her friend Lupe both come across as strong hearted individuals. I loved how they work together in so many scenes and in their own way both become the rescuers and heroes of the story. The book made me think of the Earthsea quartet in some parts but has a strong flavour of South American magic realist literature also and a classic fairytale feel. Overall an exciting and lyrical adventure with two strong girls at its centre.

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Abi Elphinstone’s #ShadowKeeper book launch

Abi Elphinstone’s #ShadowKeeper book launch

Last night I went to the fab book launch for Abi Elphinstone’s The Shadow Keeper, which is the sequel to her excellent debut The Dream Snatcher. I read The Shadow Keeper prologue online a couple of weeks ago and it’s even more creepy than the scary opening to The Dream Snatcher. The book has another incredible map by Thomas Flintham – who designed the gorgeous cover.

It was a great fun launch, and very inspiring because I got to hang out with lots of middle grade / children’s writers and bloggers and talk loads about books! Also got a chance to meet co-agenteers Andy and Tamsyn, and another MG Usborne author: Lara Williamson, who wrote the amazing A Boy Called Hope. Plus, I was given a copy of Yellow by Yü Kops Chow. He’s nine years old and wrote this amazing looking book -pictured next to Abi’s -in fact he was only seven when he wrote it. It’s designed by his dad with superb illustrations by his mum. Abi and Yü both signed their book for me, though Yü’s pen had nearly run out!

I’m very much looking forward to reading both books but especially The Shadow Keeper – to finally catch up with Moll, Siddy, Alfie and Gryff on their new adventures.

 

 

Author Pictures

Author Pictures

The other week a photographer friend Thomas Butler came round to take some author photos for the jacket of my book. It was all super-professional, apart from the fact that Mike had to hold the flash/lamp because Tom had forgotten to bring the lamp stand! And then another friend Susie gatecrashed the session with her gorgeous baby Zeph and did a bit of photobombing. Here are a few of the amazing pictures Tom took:

 

The Art of Being Normal – Review

The Art of Being Normal – Review

The Art of Being NormalThe Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although I have read quite a few adult books with young trans protagonists I have never before seen a YA book with a trans lead, and so I was really intrigued by The Art of Being Normal as it seemed to be, potentially, a totally unique book. Even more so after seeing the stunning cover artwork, reading the synopsis, and flicking through a few random excerpts.

I loved the opening hook of the book where David reveals that he has always wanted to be a girl. It’s funny and authentic, but also sad and marks him as an outsider, so really sets the tone for the rest of the story. The book has 2 narrators: David and Leo, whose POVs are distinguished by slightly different fonts – a great design idea – and their differing teenage voices, David, nervous but optimistic, Leo, hard nosed, with an edge of cynical humour. Both voices feel engaging and authentic from the outset. The first half of the book focuses more on Leo and the writing is characterful and intriguing. As the story moved into the world of teenage parties and romances I felt it might become a typical YA tale about outsiders who become friends, with less focus on the trans stuff. How wrong I was, near the middle, the story takes a suprising turn that made it much deeper and more interesting. And, as David and Leo’s characters get to know each other, it becomes a personal and heartfelt piece and our understanding of them really deepens. I found their conversation at the derelict swimming pool very moving and beautifully done, really erring on the side of subtlety in what could have been an overplayed moment. There were many scenes like this during the second half of the story, where I worried things could get too dramatic, but Lisa WIlliamson does a fantastic job, creating quiet intense moments with a light touch and mixing bittersweet or dark events with the lighter funnier YA material about friendship, so that everything feels balanced just right.

It is a brillaintly plotted book with lots of fun details and I enjoyed the little nods to Twelfth Night and Mermaids etc and loved the Cinderella elements of the ending. I really think young trans and queer readers need their share of these type of YA stories, and more of them, so this books is a brilliant and unique addition to that genre.

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