The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

This month’s Waterstones Book of the Month is an absolute joy of a début novel from a bright new talent, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, who has already made a name for herself through her work as a poet and playwright.

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The Girl of Ink & Stars is the tale of Isabella, the daughter of a cartographer forbidden to travel outside of the small island village Gromera, which she calls home. Through her father’s maps and stories, Isabella dreams of a world she’s never seen and yearns for a chance to follow in his footsteps; to map the island she lives on and to see the world across the sea. When her best friend, the Governor’s Daughter Lupe, goes missing into the forests that border the village, Isabella is determined that she is the only person equipped to find her – relying on her study of maps and stars to track Lupe accurately and swiftly. It’s outside of the safety of her home that she starts to understand why the rest of the island has always been out of bounds, and starts to realise that the stories and myths that she grew up with might be a lot closer to home than she first realised.

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Good lord do I love a good map in a book.

This book is traditional children’s storytelling at its very best. Isabella is shot through with powerful curiosity and courage, and Lupe is filled with confidence and determination, and the two of them are the perfect two sides of the coin to Philip Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua, and through them the story is given its sense of whimsy and wonder, as well as its pace and tension. The Governor is another highlight as a character too – his motives being shadowy and complex, morally grounded if muddier in their execution. The real main character of the book though, is the Isle of Joya itself – a beautifully tragic and richly imagined home filled with myth and folklore that pulls so much from ancient stories of warrior princesses, crazed demons and dizzying labyrinths. The way the island is described – its history, the lack of animals, the grey and ashen trees and strange empty villages – all create a real sense of age and melancholy that counteracts the story’s two main characters and creates a battle between hope and fate that weaves into words, underlying the narrative.

Kiran’s skill as a poet shines through the way the story is told too, filled with rich language and lyrical passages that make it seem as though the story and the setting are singing as your work through it, filling the whole plot with a sense of magic, wonder and beauty. Plus, the book is simply sublime as an object, with gorgeous pages dotted with golden illustration, a striking choice in font style & colour and an absolutely beautiful fold out map that serves as a jacket (which I actually squealed at upon first seeing) – it really reminded me of the first time I picked up a copy of The Hobbit, and the feeling of ancient, deep world building you get from looking at something so beautifully crafted.

The Girl of Ink & Stars is the magic of J.K. Rowling and Diana Wynne-Jones wearing the adventure pyjamas of Eva Ibbotson and Katherine Rundell. It’s exactly the fun and feel a future classic Children’s novel should have, and I utterly adored it.

Thanks for Reading,

D

P.S. You can pick up a copy at your local Waterstones, or on the website HERE.

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The Sleeping Prince by Melinda Salisbury

Melinda’s debut, The Sin Eater’s Daughter, was last year’s best selling UKYA debut – a tragic mix of dark fantasy and rich romance that I thoroughly enjoyed. Shot through with a twisted “princess in the tower” idea, but much more sinister, the book hinted at a larger, older and fully fleshed out universe that I was really eager to get more from, always bleeding into the edges of the story but not quiet showing itself. Yeah, well The Sleeping Prince steps it up a gear or five.

Another hypnotically beautiful cover.

Another hypnotically beautiful cover.

Following a new set of characters in a different part of the world, and shortly after the events of the first book, The Sleeping Prince is the story of impoverished apothecary Errin Vastel – the sister of the first book’s character Lief. She lives a meagre life, scraping together potions to sell on the black market to attempt to keep herself fed and with a roof over her head. With her father dead, and her brother away working to try and bring in some extra coin, Errin has to support not only herself, but also her mother, whose rapidly deteriorating mental health is starting to become more and more taxing – and dangerous. War in Lomere, with the mythical Sleeping Prince soon starts to spill across the border and threatens to shatter Errin’s already unstable world, and soon she finds she has no choice but to flee her home with her mother, relying on the help of one of her customers – the mysterious and enigmatic Silas, who she has been selling potions and poisons to. She’s never even seen his face, as he stays constantly cloaked and shrouded in darkness. But who else can she turn to? As the Sleeping Princes army starts to murder and burn its way across Tregellan she must flee, and if the officials found out about her mother’s conditions they’d lock her away in an asylum. Errin can’t lose the only member of family she has left.

ALL BOOKS NEED A MAP.

ALL BOOKS NEED A MAP.

If I ever had one thing that I struggled with in TSED, it was a heavy romantic plotline – it’s not my usual thing. The Sleeping Prince moves in a very different direction though, examining the rapidly unravelling threads of a family in complete crisis. Errin is a brilliant lead, resourceful and smart, she’s filled with fear and doubt, but she constantly pushes through with the weary determination of someone who has nowhere else to turn. Her world, and the underhanded desperate measures she takes to survive make her feel a much rougher and more worldly main character than Twylla, filled with shades of grey and a ruthlessness that fills her decisions and actions with a manic sense of drive.

Where the first story is the slow burning tale of political subterfuge, book two is an out and out war novel, and it pulls absolutely no punches. Melinda uses the plot to examine the true horrors of war in a fantasy setting, but she never lets it be viewed through a rose-tinted lens. The horrifically brutal war crimes of the Sleeping Prince are told through hushed, terrified rumour, and the painfully close-to-home treatment of Lomere’s refugees that Errin sees on her travels is a stark echo of current events. The whole book is driven forward with the frantic pace of an invasion, with the swirling out of control sense of being just one person swept up in something so huge and impossible to fight against that the whole book is beautifully chaotic.

I stole this photo from Mel's website but it's okay. She thinks I'm all right.

I stole this photo from Mel’s website but it’s okay. She thinks I’m all right.

The Sleeping Prince was everything that I wanted the next step in this saga to take – it builds on the rich mythology that clearly Salisbury has been developing for years, and it ramps everything up to eleven – the drama is more dramatic, the violence more visceral and animated, and the characters are more ambiguous, cut-throat and determined. This is a world at war, with characters desperate for survival and success, and a story filled with so many twists and dead drops that it’s breathlessly compelling.

Well done, Melinda, you terrible, beautiful Queen.

All hail!

D

P.S. You can follow Melinda on Twitter here, and you should because she’s a wonderful human.

UKMG Interview with SF Said – Author of Varjak Paw & Pheonix

This year, after the massive success of last year’s UKYA Extravaganza, is the very first EVER UKMG Extravaganza! For those of you who maybe don’t know, MG refers to Middle Grade fiction, more commonly in the UK known as 9-12, but it can straddle the line into Teen Fiction too, so more the 11-14 bracket in many cases. The UK has a wonderful history of books for this age – maybe even the best of all time, Harry Potter, and much like the UKYA community has picked up momentum in the last few years, the UKMG movement is just starting up right now online and through small events. For this blog tour, I’ve been locked in a steel cage deep underwater with SF Said, author of two Varjak Paw novels, as well as the Superhero-esque Phoenix. (Watch the book trailer HERE)

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Bonjour, Hola, Konichiwa and welcome! Thanks ever so much for coming and letting me fire off questions at you with all the intensity of a million stars. Why don’t you tell us a bit about your books?

Thank you! I’m looking forward to questions with all the intensity of stars, because Phoenix is all about the stars!

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The main characters in Phoenix are a human boy who has the power of a star inside him, and an alien girl who is the most brilliant fighter in the galaxy. It begins with the boy dreaming that the stars are singing to him, and it ends with the two of them facing the end of all worlds. So it’s a great big space epic, on the scale of something like Star Wars.

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The Varjak Paw books are built on a smaller scale, but I think they also have a superheroic element. They’re about a cat wants to become a great warrior. In his dreams, he learns a secret martial art known only to cats. And this helps him to survive on his own in a dark and dangerous city.

What made you first start to write books for younger readers? Was that something you actively went for?

I always knew I wanted to be some kind of writer, but I never found literary fiction very satisfying. Then at university, I read and re-read lots of books for young readers, like Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, and the mythic stories written by Alan Garner and Susan Cooper.

These were exactly the kinds of books I wanted to write: hugely powerful page-turning stories with brilliant characters, richly-imagined worlds, and big questions about life and how it should be lived. Books with a lot of depth and levels, which could be read at different ages in different ways. Modern myths, really. So that was what I set out to write.

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Varjak Paw is such a phenomenal character! Where did you dream up this idea of a martial artist cat?

Thank you! I have to admit, Varjak Paw didn’t begin with the idea of a cat doing martial arts. It began with me watching my own cat as he went outside for the first time, as a kitten. I started to write a story about a kitten going out on his own into a dangerous city. What was he going to need, to survive? The idea of a martial arts for cats evolved from there.

This martial art is called the Way of Jalal. There are seven skills: skills for hunting, skills for fighting, skills for stealth, and so on. They have names like Shadow-Walking, Slow-Time, and Moving Circles. They developed as the story developed, in response to the story’s needs. Story generally drives everything in my books.

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How was working with the massively talented Dave McKean? Did you have ideas for his illustrations in the book, or was it all his own work based on your words?

Dave McKean is one of my heroes, and has been ever since I read the comics he made in the 1990s. So on Varjak Paw, I was a bit in awe of him, and couldn’t quite believe he was working on my story. I just gave him the text, and it came back looking like it does in the finished book. All the incredible things he does – not just with pictures, but with design, typography, even the use of white space – all came from him.

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While I was writing Phoenix, though, we were having all sorts of adventures in Hollywood, trying to make a Varjak Paw movie. (Which still hasn’t happened, but if anyone out there has $15 million to spare, we can find a good use for it!) Anyway, we became friends and collaborators while doing this, so the process of making Phoenix was different.

This time I gave him all sorts of stuff to work with. Everything from space photography made by the Hubble Telescope, because Phoenix is set in space, to images of gods and goddesses, because the story makes connections between astral science and ancient myth. He told me later that the most useful thing I gave him was a CD of Sigur Ros music. I thought it sounded like the stars singing, and I told him if he could make illustrations that looked like the music sounded, they’d be perfect. Incredibly, he did – and they are!

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Phoenix is a bit of a change, and a bit of an older piece of fiction, where did that stem from?

I don’t think about ages when I write. I like the idea of books for everyone: stories that anyone can enjoy, whoever they are, however old they are, whatever gender they are. I’m aiming to write modern myths, as I say, and I think myths are ageless and timeless. They transcend all categories.

But I was definitely setting out to do something bigger and more ambitious with Phoenix; I wanted to take a step up in my writing. Because the story is all about the stars, the scale had to be huge. So it ended up three times the length of Varjak Paw.

That might make people think it’s older. But I’ve met 9 year olds who read Phoenix in a day, and teenagers who’ve done the same. It’s a big story, but I hope it’s a page-turning, thrilling story too.

Was it a challenge to create this alien universe to try and work within, or was it all fully formed in your brain tank?

It was a huge challenge, and it took me a long time! It took seven years to get Phoenix as good as I possibly could, which is always my aim with each book.

The hardest part was the mythic background to the story. The aliens in Phoenix believe that all the mythological gods and goddesses are really stars who come down from the sky. They take different forms in different times, but they’re always the same immortal beings, returning again and again through history. They call them the Twelve Astraeus.

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Originally, I wrote lots of material about the Twelve Astraeus, to explain this background. But it was impossible to write prose powerful enough to describe them. After all, gods and stars should be mysterious and awe-inspiring beyond words! Then I decided to describe them through illustrations. I gave Dave a list of the Twelve Astraeus, with their names and attributes in different mythologies (Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian, Mesopotamian etc.) The images he created have exactly the sense of mystery and awe that I wanted.

I also wrote song fragments to go with the pictures, which give you hints about them. So when readers encounter the Astraeus Of The Sea, for example, they can work out for themselves that this is the being who’s been called Poseidon, Neptune, and so on. Even if they don’t, they’ll feel who he is, without being told. I find that much more powerful and evocative than ordinary prose – but it took me a long time to work out the best way to do it!

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How do you decide what things you can tackle in MG, and what’s best left for the YA sphere?

I’m probably not the best person to ask, because as I say, I don’t think about ages. I just try to write books that everyone can read.

I personally don’t see a vast difference between different categories of fiction. A great story is a great story. I read across all categories myself, and did when I was a kid. As soon as I could read on my own, I wanted to read EVERYTHING. And so now as a writer, I put everything I care about and everything I love into my books. And anyone who wants to read them is welcome.

Why is MG such an important age bracket of young readers? Why do you think it’s such a vital part of a child’s reading evolution?

I think the books we read when we’re young shape us and stay with us forever. So while I’m not a big fan of categories, I do think those books are the most important books of all.

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Watership Down is a book that changed my life. I read it when I was 8, and thought it was the best book I’d ever read. I remember thinking that one day, I wanted to try and write something even half as good as it. I re-read it when I was 35, and I thought it was even better! At 8, I’d seen a thrilling adventure story about rabbits; now I saw politics, philosophy, mythology, all working together on different levels.

It was amazing to realise how deeply it had shaped my own imagination. I can see the roots of everything I want to do as a writer in that book. So it changed my life, and I think most of us have had similar experiences in childhood. What could be more important than that?!

For the love of all that is pure, WHAT ARE YOU WRITING NEXT?!

I’m writing a book called TYGER. I can’t say too much about it, as my books always change a lot as I work on them. But I can tell you that it’s partly inspired by William Blake’s amazing poem The Tyger!

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If they made a film of any of your books, would you try and cast yourself in them?

Good heavens, no! I don’t even have pictures of myself on my books. I’d rather people engaged with the story without the writer getting in the way.

Tell us about your ideal writing environment. Is writing a full time deal for you?

Writing is very much a full time deal for me. I write in my local library. There are no distractions there, and everyone else is working, so I just get down to work. If I try to write at home, the temptation to look at the internet is just too big. Especially Twitter. I can always justify it as ‘research’. But if you really want to write, you need to immerse yourself in writing, and not do anything else.

Have you always wanted to write?

Yes. I’ve always loved books and stories, and I’ve always wanted to make my own.

What does the UKMG community mean to you? Is it exciting to be there to watch it as it takes its tiny first baby steps?

I think it’s a wonderful thing. I’m so excited about UKMG Extravaganza, and I would be even if I wasn’t taking part! When I started out, being a children’s writer was quite a solitary thing. Sometimes I’d meet other writers at publishing events, but that was about it. In everyday life, I didn’t meet many other people who loved children’s books or even took them seriously.

Now, I’m in constant conversation with them. I love the fact that people who love children’s books are talking to each other in events like UKMG Extravaganza, and on places like Twitter, through hashtag chats like #ukmgchat. And this isn’t just writers, but readers, bloggers, vloggers, booksellers, librarians, teachers – there’s no end to it. It’s brilliant being connected to such a thing, because it makes you feel like you’re not alone. There are thousands of other people who love books just as much as you do!

What UKMG authors make you happy? Who’s books should we all be rushing out to grab from shelves right this second?

So many! In terms of classics, I love Rudyard Kipling, E Nesbit, CS Lewis, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper…

More recently, I’d have to mention Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, Peter Dickinson’s The Kin – an epic sequence about human origins that I think deserves to be as well known as widely read as Michelle Paver’s Outcast books – which I also love! I think Jonathan Stroud is a fantastic writer. Francesca Simon’s The Lost Gods and Kate Saunders’s Five Children On The Western Front are two books that I think of as classics already. I could go on. And on…

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What books did you read growing up that inspired you as a writer and as a reader and as a human being?

Ursula Le Guin’s books inspire me in every possible way. The Earthsea books showed me that children’s literature could be great literature. The Dispossessed became a key book for me; I still re-read it every few years. Its portrayal of a society built on anarchist principles inspires me, as does its depiction of relationships built on equality. So it doesn’t just inspire me as a writer; it’s a book I aspire to live by.

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Do you get much fan mail? What’s your best response you’ve had from one of your readers?

I love hearing from readers. I’m a lot better at replying to comments on my website than I am to actual letters, for some reason. But any time anyone tells me that one of my books meant something to them – that’s amazing.

When I hear from people who say they didn’t like books before, but then they read one of mine and now they can’t stop reading – that’s just mind-blowing.

And when I hear from people who read one of my books as a child, kept it through their whole childhood, and now still enjoy it as adults – well, I don’t have words for that.

One of the nice things about MG is how engaging and excitable children are at that age – do you get out to many events with kids? Is that something you enjoy getting involved in?

I visit a lot of schools; about one a week on average at the moment. I visit both primaries and secondaries. I do enjoy it – it’s always good to meet readers, and see what they’re interested in. I always ask for book recommendations, and have found some great reads that way.

What would your Patronus be?

A librarian?

If they made an SF Said action figure, what accessories would it come with?

Portable tea mug to take to the library. Vellum paper and fountain pen with Havana ink for first draft. Laptop and printer for subsequent drafts. Headphones and iPod for all-important writing music. (The Cure for Varjak Paw; Sigur Ros for Phoenix; Godspeed You Black Emperor for Tyger!)

If you could be ANY mythical creature, what would you want to be?

A writer who can write a great book in just one go. Because that is a TOTALLY mythical creature!

Would you rather fight one-hundred duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?

I like the idea of tiny horses. I would want to be friends with them. Whereas I find the idea of a horse sized duck a bit threatening. That’s a very big duck.

What’s on your To-Be-Read pile?

There isn’t a To-Be-Read pile. There’s a To-Be-Read mountain. There are so many books I need to read, and I’m a slow reader, so realistically, I know I’m never going to read them all. I could never even list them all!

But some books currently in the mountain were written by other authors taking part in UKMG Extravaganza: Allan Buroughs’s Ironheart, Emma Carroll’s In Darkling Wood, Jo Cotterill’s Looking At The Stars, Abi Elphinstone’s The Dreamsnatcher, Candy Gourlay’s Shine, Julia Lee’s The Mysterious Misadventures Of Clemency Wrigglesworth, Helen Peters’s The Farm Beneath The Water, and many many more!


 

Thanks for being on the blog SF Said! Don’t forget to check out the #ukmgchat for more great recommendations and discussions about Children’s Literature.

And thanks for reading,

D

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

I’ve never read any Frances Hardinge before, which is odd – her books are huge critical successes and always seem to wrapped in a subtle darkness and a quiet, wry sense of humour that would be just my sort of thing. But I’ve just never got round to them, so I thought I’d start with The Lie Tree… and let’s just say that I’ll be picking up her backlist pretty soon.

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The Lie Tree tells the story of Faith Sunderly and her family, headed by the eminent natural scientist and eternally stoic Reverend Sunderly, who are heading to the remote island of Vane, chased from mainland England by a scandal that has accused her father of faking fossil discoveries. Faith idolises her father, in a society where woman are never able to study sciences or be taken seriously in academia. She longs to win his approval, but she will only ever be the disappointment of not being a son, despite her natural curiosity and fierce intelligence. The rumours from the mainland have reached the island town of Vane though, and the family are treated with distrust and outright hatred by the islanders. Faith is sure that the accusations are false, but how can she prove it if she can never be taken as anything more than a silly, emotional woman? Then she learns of The Lie Tree – a strange botanical curiosity that feeds on whispered lies, and bears fruit that gives hidden truths when eaten. The wider a lie is believed, the bigger the tree will grow, and the more potent the fruit it can bare. Faith may not be able to fight the rumbles of her Father’s fakery in the open, but she certainly can use her hidden position afforded by her gender to create a web of lies to feed the tree and uncover the truth.

Hardinge's début won awards and huge acclaim.

Hardinge’s début won awards and huge acclaim.

Layers and layers of The Lie Tree are beautifully woven, hinging off the complex plot and wonderfully diverse characters. Faith is beautiful in her flawed nature, so hopeful and positive, but as the plot develops, she becomes ruthlessly cunning, letting her natural intelligence burn through. I loved her absolutely, because of how often she made bad choices, or actively chose to do bad things because of her convictions. It was also absolutely heart breaking to see how quickly and easily she’s dismissed throughout the story because she’s a woman – reflecting the awful beliefs inherent in the society around her. The way her obsession builds and whirls chaotically is a reflection of her powerful nature, expertly hidden beneath a mask of demure ladylike composure. The characters around her are startlingly well rounded as well, The Reverend Sunderly being a stoic and composed man on the surface, but churning underneath with bitterness and obsession that rivals his daughter, and Faith’s mother being a phenomenally pragmatic, driven and cunning woman who has learned over years and years of being the invisible woman behind a well-respected man, how to use what society lets her have to her best advantage.

The plot of The Lie Tree is slow, but has an inevitable force that drives it forward. It spins and twists like a lazy autumn storm, dropping sudden plot falls and pulling the story around in all sorts of leaps and unexpected directions. It grows, much like the eponymous tree, with startlingly dark power creeping underneath every single sentence, and touches upon some dark and uncomfortable subjects based around the entrenched sexism and downright dismissal of woman as anything but inferior to men that were (and continue to be) so entrenched in Academia and Sciences (the idea that women have smaller skulls, and are therefore not as intelligent as men is sickening).

This was my first experience with Hardinge’s writing style, and it’s painfully brilliant and evocative and descriptive and ace. The way she describes the sea in particular is so wonderfully haunting and wild that I fell in love with her whole style of writing at once – I do have such a fondness for the sea. She uses metaphors in such a twistingly unique way that it makes the words crackle with potential and menace as the story unfolds.

I loved this line so very much.

I loved this line so very much.

The Lie Tree is a wonderfully dark tale of pain, anguish and revenge with a stunning tinge of magical realism that brings it into a historical-dream-like reality. I loved every second of it, as it whipped me into its tragic, powerful and desperate narrative.

Thanks for Reading, if you did.

D

The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner

Sally Gardner is one of our greatest, most intelligent writers, and everything I’ve read by her has been bright and textured and gripping, and when Maggot Moon won the 2012 Carnegie Medal for Children’s Fiction, it cemented her talents as a brilliantly original YA writer. The Door That Led to Where is another look at time travel and the past, which The Double Shadow handled subtly in a wonderfully addictive style, so YOU BET I WAS EXCITED.

It's a Beautiful Jacket...

It’s a Beautiful Jacket…

AJ never knew his father. In fact, he barely knows his mum either. He’s got one GCSE to his name, and virtually no prospects, living with his bitter mum and whichever new bloke she’s with that month in a pokey little highrise flat in London, so life is looking far from sweet. His best friends, Slim and Leon are always in one scrape or another, but AJ just wants to settle in to a proper job – not working on the markets and ripping off drug dealers. He wants to escape his mum’s flat and make something of himself. When a job opens for a junior clerk at a local law firm, AJ knows he’s got virtually no chance of getting it, but he’s really got nowhere else to go. But it seems like the name Aiden Jobey has some sway at Baldwin Groat, and he manages against all odds to land a job. Life is fast paced at the law firm, and AJ soon throws himself into the work in an attempt to distract himself from his home life, and it’s in the archives that he finds an ornate looking antique key, inscribed with his name. The key leads him to a strange, dangerous world that straddles the present day London, and the cutthroat world of the 18th Century – mysteries that span 200 years, and the secret history of his family that he’s never known.

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Another brilliant Sally Gardner novel! And as always, a complete unique and fresh story and change of direction. AJ is a brilliant lead character, full of directionless passion and fuel to be better, and his love of books and reading shows that while he’s academically challenged, he’s an emotionally articulate and bright young man. He’s full of compassion too, and is always thinking of what’s best for those around him before he thinks of himself. The relationship between him, Slim and Leon is superb and full of heart, and the one between him and his mum is excellently fraught, following a beautiful series of twists.

One of my favourite things about Sally’s novels is the distinct, individual voice that seeps through in each one. The Door That Led to Where is no exception, and AJ and his friend’s dialogue crackles with energy and life that makes it so easy to read, and makes the characters feel grounded, real and fun. She also creates two wonderful visions of London with a heartful of love for the city both as it is, bleak and loud, and as it was in the 1800s, dark and silent. The city is as much a character in the story as any of the humans are, and it pulses with energy and power in both timeframes.

The plot itself is full of twists and turns, keeping you gripped in both the past and the present, and in true Gardner style, it stands perfectly alone and strong from her other books, using her signature way of metaphors and lyrical writing style, but in a totally new direction, creating another brilliantly intelligent, witty and accessible YA novel.

Thanks for Reading, Always.

D

The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley Doyle

I mentioned this in my Things to Look Out For in 2015 post… This book absolutely burned through me. It ate up my insides and lived in my heart until it was all I could think about. I’m still thinking about it, days later. Seriously beautiful fiction…

The jacket fits perfectly.

The jacket fits perfectly.

The Accident Season arrives every October. Cara and her entire family suddenly become accident prone for 31 days – cuts and bruises, broken bones… Even deaths. Cara’s best friend Bea reads her tarot cards and tells her that this year might be the worst in years. But Cara’s world is confused, crazed and swirling – A girl has gone missing, a classmate called Elsie, who inexplicably shows up in every single one of Cara’s photographs, and Cara is determined that she holds the key to the Accident Season. Her older sister Alice doesn’t even believe in the whole thing, despite her own injuries. And her ex-step-brother Sam (still a part of the Accident Season despite his lack of blood relation) is an enigma that she cannot fathom.

I think The Accident Season might be the best book I’ve read this year so far? Certainly the best debut so far this year. All of Moïra’s characters are wonderfully melancholy and dramatic, full of messy flaws and simmering with youthful angst. Cara is a whirlwind of chaos and confusion, determined to understand the world around her, even when it seems to make no sense. Her confused feelings towards the accidents, to her own memories and her family are beautifully dreamlike and frustratingly just out of reach. Bea in particular is one of my favourite characters in the book, her tongue in cheek wildchild nature is intoxicating, and her powerful, fiery heart is brilliant – her passion for her friends is tenacious and unquenchable. Alice’s dark, angry energy permeates the novel as well, adding a storm-like quality to everything that goes on and creates a sense of desperate secrecy. Sam is angry too, but his is a quiet, simmering rage that counterbalances Alice’s destructive perfectly. Their mother is wonderfully melancholy as well, a constant fear for her children and a permanent sadness wraps her up in a distracted and tragic aura.

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What really made me fall so madly, insatiably in love with The Accident Season was the style with which Moïra writes though. This book is beyond lyrical, it’s perfectly poetic, and every word, every slight metaphor has a hundred meanings that radiate throughout the book, coming together stunningly at the end, as the secrets that each character finally spill out into the atmosphere. The way she weaves a dreamy, partly real, partly theatrical narrative is absolutely mind blowing, twisting the reader’s perceptions about the very fabric of reality until we’re just as confused as the characters, but even more invested in their struggle. The wildness to the characters, their reckless and driven desire to live like there truly is no tomorrow is hypnotic and made my pulse race, gluing me to each tragic, frantic page.

I don’t think I’ve read a book that deals with such complex, dark and powerful themes as this in a very long time. The secrets that it holds are painful and difficult, and the way it touches upon such delicate ideas is perfect, powerful and filled with respect. It shows the reader that lies and secrets are our own undoing, and it does so with grace and beautiful prose. If you enjoyed We Were Liars, this is a whole step up in terms of twisting deception and dramatic, extravagant writing style. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece of dark, borderline fantasy and I recommend everyone picks it up as soon as it’s on sale. It’s going to remembered forever, I hope.

Thanks for reading,

D

You can pre-order the book Here.

Things to look out for in 2015!

Greetings! I was recently flicking through The Bookseller’s rather fantastic feature on upcoming Children’s & YA books over the Summer and into the back end of this year, and there’s some very exciting releases! So, I thought I’d compile a little snapshot of books that you should keep an eye out for in the next EIGHT MONTHS. Now, some of these I’ve been lucky enough to have read already, such is the life of a Bookseller. However, I’ve plonked them on this list ANYWAY, because they’re fabulous books that you should definitely pick up when they go on sale. Originally this post was going to be 15 Books in 2015! But, yeah. Too many books. Sorry. I got lost.

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (12th of May, Andersen Press)

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When Phil Earle recommends me a book, it’s always a corker (see The Art of Being Normal), and he’s super passionate about this debut Middle Grade/Younger Teen title which can only mean it’s a mixture of heart and passion that will make waves. I’ve got a copy somewhere on my TBR pile, but other bookselling pals of mine are already raving about the sweet, heartfelt and touching plot, reminiscent of RJ Palacio’s Wonder.

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In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll (2nd of July, Faber & Faber) 

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Already the author of two phenomenal MG titles (the creepsome Frost Hollow Hall & beautiful The Girl Who Walked on Air), Emma Carroll is returning this Summer with what sounds like another fantastic blend of magic and realism. It seems set to capture the quirky, folklorish environment that makes brilliant fairy stories like Michelle Harrison’s Thirteen Treasures so perfect. I’m expecting a brilliantly entertaining and gripping read for those long Summer evenings!

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The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (18th of August, Corgi)

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Already being hailed as this year’s We Were Liars, The Accident Season is another book that I have a proof of in my TBR pile that I’ve yet to get to, but again I’m very intrigued by the idea behind it. It seems like it’s going to bring in a painfully beautiful, melancholy narrative that will cause some pretty hard emotional reactions (especially from me, I cry at everything!). The jacket is beautiful, and early feelings seem to be overwhelmingly positive. It should be a great read!

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Way Down Dark by J.P. Smythe (2nd of July, Hodder & Stoughton) 

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Very intrigued by this one, the first YA title from a hugely well respected Sci-Fi author. Normally I’m hesitant of adult authors hopping on the Teen Fiction bandwagon, but this book, the first in a planned trilogy, promises a claustrophobic spaceship setting that definitely ticks a big box for me, combined with murder and obsessive cults, so I’ll certainly be giving it a go as soon as possible. Love the jacket too… Might it feed my love of Sci-Fi Horror? Here’s hoping!

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The Marvels by Brian Selznick (15th of September, Scholastic Press) 

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Brian Selznick is a stunningly creative writer, and I’d add him to this list without even knowing a synopsis of his next book. The author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Selznick is unrivaled when it comes to fusing haunting, gorgeous illustrations with emotionally articulate and powerful stories. All I know about The Marvels is that it’s set in 18th Century London, and it weaves two seemingly separate stories together using 400 pages of what I’m sure will be astounding illustration and 200 pages of text.

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Demon Road by Derek Landy (7th of August, Harpercollins) 

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I’ve always been a massive fan of Landy’s twisted, witty and downright explosive Skulduggery Pleasant series, which came to an end last year. His new series, planned as a trilogy, sees him up his writing to a YA level (which makes sense, since a huge part of his fanbase will have grown up with Skulduggery and are now teenagers and young adults). It looks like it’s set to be full of supernatural horror, twists and vibrant lead characters, all wrapped up in the dark sense of humour we’ve all come to know and love from Mr. Landy.

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Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne (1st of August, Usbourne) 

After the brilliant success in the Paranormal Romance of Soulmates, followed by the brilliantly sharp contemporary The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting, it seems Holly Bourne is an author who can give any genre a good go. I’m already sold on the title, and the contemporary plot line is going to tackle anxiety and other mental health issues that I would love to see approached intelligently and with respect within the YA sphere. I’m expecting a strong, strident voice, with heart and humour.

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The Tattooed Heart by Michael Grant (22nd of September, Electric Monkey) 

The second book in Grant’s brilliant, dark and shocking Messenger of Fear series, which managed to utterly captivate me in book one. If his GONE series proved one thing, it’s that he’s so superbly talented when it comes to developing creeping, unfurling mythologies and sudden, brutal and visceral shocks and twists. I’m sure we’re going to have some truly grotesque descriptive sequences and a bigger peak into the world and history of the Messengers.

The Unbecoming by Jenny Downham (3rd of September, David Fickling Books) 

It’s hard to believe that it’s been FIVE YEARS since Jenny Downham’s award winning You Against Me, so I’m very excited about a new novel from her. Very well known for her debut Before I Die (aka Now Is Good), Downham is a skilled writer at unfolding complex and beautiful emotions. The Unbecoming is going to be epic, covering 50 years and following three generations of the same family. I think we can look forward to seeing some heartbreak, some uplifting chapters and some painfully grounded tragedy, all with her trademark heart and hope.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill (3rd of September, Quercus)

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The sophomore novel from the author of the YA Book Prize winner Only Ever Yours, this looks set to be just a dark, powerful and important. It looks like it’s going to be discussing and working with the ideas of rape, consent and victim blaming, so I’m expecting this to be pretty controversial, but also probably very necessary in today’s culture and political atmosphere. Louise has already proved that she’s not afraid of going after emotional and visceral subjects, and that’s going to continue.

Remix by Non Pratt (4th of June, Walker)

I reviewed this the other week right here, but I’ll reiterate what I said then – Non is one of the brightest shining stars of UKYA, and Remix is the perfect showcase of her talents for messy, realistic teenagers and perfectly formed, believable dialogue that snaps and crackles with youthful energy. Much like her debut, Trouble, Non is so brilliant at creating characters that I love and feel invested in, and this time she weaves in the energy and hopefulness of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, all within the gloriously chaotic world of a Music Festival.

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All of the Above by James Dawson (3rd of September, Hot Key Books)

This is set to be James Dawson’s first contemporary novel, but in his work in the YA horror sphere with Say Her Name and Under My Skinhe’s already proven he has a sharp talent for witty characters and brilliant, hilarious dialogue. All of the Above promises to be his rudest and most mature to date, but it looks like it’ll be examining anxiety and peer pressure, which I can only imagine will be portrayed beautifully and sensitively.

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Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher (1st of October, Orion)

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Both My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece and Ketchup Clouds have been contemporary YA novels that have both completely absorbed me and emotionally wrecked me in different ways, showing that Award Winner Annabel Pitcher is a versatile and powerful writer. Silence is Goldfish is a brilliant title, and it looks like the book is going to be another great examination of growing up, and loss of innocence and the way our views towards family and adults change as we get older.

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Darkest Night by Will Hill (4th of June, Harpercollins)

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Will Hill’s Department 19 series is one of my favourite YA series, and it’s finally coming to a close. Compulsive, gloriously gore-splattered Vampire fiction, I would recommend this to anyone who’s a fan of fast, intelligent horror and action. Will has already promised death and emotional turmoil in this final installment, where he carries on his combination of classical horror literature and pulse-pounding action.

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The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (10th of September, Bloomsbury)

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The award winner of future Children’s classic Rooftoppers has turned to a snowy atmosphere for her next adventure, set in the harsh, cold Russian forests. Rundell is a masterful writer with a lyrical, beautiful writing style, and I can see her capturing this tale of harsh environments and loyalty, the story of a young girl and her mother against a murderous force in the woods, absolutely brilliantly. I’m sure it’s going to be uplifting and captivating and I cannot wait.

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (27th of August, Walker)

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If you missed my glowing review the other day, let me tell you that Patrick Ness’ next novel is a phenomenal character examination that’s full of pain, emotion, hope and melancholy. Another stellar example of why he’s such a brilliant YA writer, his characters in The Rest of Us are so perfectly messy and realistic, and he approaches mental health and the uncertainty of growing up with intelligence and respect. He also plays on standard YA tropes and themes to perfect effect, mocking with just the right amount of adoration.

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First Class Murder by Robin Stevens (30th of July, Random House) 

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Golly! Time for another caper from the fantastic detective duo that is Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, this time taking on a Murder on the Orient Express twist. The first two novels, A Murder Most Unladylike and Arsenic for Tea, have been roaringly good fun to date, and I can’t wait to see where Robin’s vibrant, intelligent detectives end up next! More hilarious use of Blyton-esque language and genuinely gripping and well formed mysteries will make this another gem of a children’s novel.

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Another Day by David Levithan (30th July, Electric Monkey)

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Every Day is getting a sequel! Of sorts, at least. Another Day revisits the events of Levithan’s phenomenal novel, but retelling the story from the perspective of Rhiannon. Where the first book looked at the nature of the self, and what it meant to be you when things like race, gender and sexuality are stripped away, Another Day will look at what it is like to love someone who is always different. I’m expecting an emotionally electric and intelligent plot, using Levithan’s characteristic beautiful writing style to uncover some difficult truths and create some diverse and heartfelt characters.

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This is just a handful of the brilliant YA and MG titles due put this year, but there’s loads more! Feel free to grab me on Twitter for more recommendations or book chat – @ShinraAlpha

Thanks for reading!

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