Happy UKYA Day!

What is UKYA? I mean, what does that even mean – UKYA? Okay, I admit, the answer is kinda self evident. It’s Young Adult Books written by UK based authors. The end. BLOG OVER.

Well, I suppose the really important question is – why do I choose to read so much UKYA? I’m a 27 year old “man” who did a Crime Scene Sciences degree, and my other hobbies include video games and abrasive, angry and deliberately esoteric music.

With a stupid face.

With a stupid face.

There’s a few different answers to that question – a few different threads of happenstance that lead to the person I am today (not a great person, but I suppose I’m okay – if a bit wordy). I took on a Christmas Job as a bookseller for Waterstones, rediscovered my love of Children’s Fiction from my own childhood, & hit upon one of the only things I’ve ever felt like I’ve been good at – sharing a love of stories. It was from this little platform that I discovered Twitter, and fell headfirst into the UKYA community that was so brilliantly welcoming. But we’ll talk more about that in a moment. The real reason I grew such a infectious passion for UKYA novels comes down to a simple, straightforward & obvious answer – The books. Duh.

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I guess I couldn’t tell you what the very first UKYA novel was I read… I mean, technically it was probably something like Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, but when I finally started picking up the current wave of authors writing, I couldn’t help but devour as many books as my staff discount card could take. The first proof I requested was Will Hill‘s Department 19, and I think that’s a great example of where UKYA triumphs over the American equivalents. It was just after the real peak of Twilight fever, where vampire fiction was all Anne Rice love and soft, gentle sighs of longing into the lonely night, and here was a story of action, despair and teen angst, driven by a mix of high-octane, high-violence and classical horror overtones (it weaves the works of Stoker & Shelly into the narratives perfectly). It took the try-hard nature of the whole vampire phenomenon and went “Nah, vampires kill people. Let’s take this back to its horror roots.” and I loved it for that. After that, I tried anything I could get my hands on, contemporary, science fiction, horror, I’ll give anything a try. Still, though, the home-grown authors really stood head and shoulders above the rest. Is it because I find the settings, the characters and the voices much more familiar than their overseas counterparts? I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a great start when it comes to engaging with a story, but I think it comes down to more than that.

Such a GREAT series!

Such a GREAT series!

In the UK, we have a great sense of self-deprication. Something about the eternal, overcast, rainsoaked environment creates a sense of hopeful, but pessimistic reality. We knows things can get better, but they’ll get a lot worse and they’ll require a lot of work, pain and rain to make it happen. This is brilliantly reflected in the dark, gritty, but oddly wry and quirky stories by authors like Tanya Byrne (Follow Me Down is a superb crime-noir with twists of humour throughout) and Alice Oseman (her debut Solitaire is brilliantly despondent and hilarious all in the same page). UKYA can get seriously dark though, and I feel like it pulls less punches when it decides to get bleak and challenging than other YA out there – Carnegie Medal winning The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks is a stellar example of an unrelentingly bleak and powerful novel that never romanticises the horrific predicament of its characters.

One of the nest debuts of the last year.

One of the nest debuts of the last year.

I just feel like UKYA novels get realism and the down-to-Earth nature of teenagers down on paper much better than any other books. The honest, ugly and often uncomfortable When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan, or the heartfelt and emotionally articulate Being Billy by Phil Earle (an absolute shining star of the community, by the way) are testaments to how authors in the UK are willing to look at complex issues without a rose-tinted lens, and they’re so much more valuable for it. And it isn’t just mental health, either – with the global rise of the We Need Diverse Books mission, UKYA authors are moving forward leaps and bounds when it comes to minority representation in their novels. Malorie Blackman‘s Noughts & Crosses series was just the beginning (using Dystopia to examine racial segregation); Louise O’Neill‘s Only Ever Yours, winner of the UK’s first ever YA Book Award, examines the importance of gender equality by using a twisted dystopian universe, and the stunningly beautiful The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson makes the bold but vital move of tackling the difficult and underrepresented topic of Transgender in Teenagers. Even wonderful works by Patrick Ness drop gay characters into stories where their sexuality is simply a part of their character as opposed to the point of the story (More Than This), and Non Pratt who’s upcoming novel Remix has two racially diverse main characters without it being a big deal in the slightest. James Dawson‘s subtle use of characters, as well as his outspoken support of diversity in fiction is just one of the hundreds of UK based writers who are working hard to include minorities in their work. I don’t for a second think that there isn’t still work to do, but I feel a great sense of pride that our shores are producing such fantastic stories with such a concentrated effort towards letting all young people see characters like them int he books they’re reafing.

Such an IMPORTANT BOOK.

Such an IMPORTANT BOOK.

The final thing I want to talk about when it comes to UKYA books though, is their dialogue, their narrative voice and the way their characters interact. One of the biggest reasons I’ve struggled with falling totally in love with John Green novels is because to me, lines like – “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations…” – sounds nothing at all like me and my friends did as teenagers. That smooth, poetic writing works in points, but I think it alienates me from the characters in a story. I’m pretty much an idiot, and I prefer the characters I read about to stumble over their words and say the wrong things. Non Pratt‘s debut novel, Trouble, uses such realistic, honest back and forth between characters that I laughed and cried constantly, and connected with the main characters on a very fundamental level. Matthew Crow‘s In Bloom managed to be full of sudden bursts of humour and stupidity whilst also containing one of the most powerfully moving sentences I’ve ever read in a book. Dawn O’Porter with Paper Aeroplanes (and its sequel Goose), James Dawson‘s Under My Skin, Tape by Steve Camden, Geekhood by Andy Robb and Geek Girl by Holly Smale – all these books have characters who willfully make bad choices, or make stupid decisions. They make mistakes and they say the wrong things. Unlike any other country, I feel like the UK’s YA is full of less than perfect characters, and for teenagers growing up and discovering their own faults, flaws and quirks, making their own mistakes and becoming their own diverse people, that’s such an important thing to see. UKYA lets its readers know that it’s okay to be less than perfect. It’s okay to try something stupid. It’s okay to mess it up.

Hilarious & Heartbreaking.

Hilarious & Heartbreaking.

The UKYA online community (search #UKYA, #ukyachat and @ProjectUKYA on Twitter) is the passion and the brainchild of the hugely talented and driven Lucy Powrie, herself a teenage blogger, and she’s managed to create a fun, inviting atmosphere through which I’ve met some wonderful people and made some amazing friends with whom I can share my excitement and joy about these wonderfully accessible books. The wonder of social media also means that I can have conversations with the authors I’m enjoying right now – If 14 year old Darran could’ve chatted with Philip Pullman about His Dark Materials, I’d’ve exploded with excitement, and yet now I often chat back and forth with people I have huge amounts of awe and respect for. For someone so far in the North of the country, away from the world of publishing (which is all frustratingly London based), the UKYA community has become a way for me to be involved in the spreading the love of great books and keeping up to date with new authors and debuts that I might otherwise have missed, and the sense of welcome belonging is really important to me.

With initiatives like YALC returning for a second year at London Film & Comic-con, The YA Book Prize and so much more, I honestly feel like we’re just stepping into a golden age for UKYA literature, and I’m glad to be able to say I’ve been involved in a little way.

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God, sorry for rambling on for so so long. I did say I was wordy though, up there at the beginning. If you bothered reading all of this… Then erm… THANK YOU AND I AM SORRY.

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The Liebster Award? I don’t know. It’s a thing, apparently.

I have no idea what I’m doing. Honestly. I mean, beyond my usual directionless meandering through day to day life. The other day, the absolutely splendid Mr. Andy Robb nominated me for a thing called the Liebster Award… And normally I wouldn’t do one of these Copy/Paste tell me about your life thingys, but Andy once let me wear his hat and pretend to be an author at YALC, so I kind of owe him. SO HERE GOES!

Hemingway and Capote.

Hemingway and Capote.

11 Facts About Me

1) I am terrified of moths and butterflies. I’m fully aware how irrational a fear it is.

STUPID MOTHRA.

STUPID MOTHRA.

2) I never learned to ride a bike, and at this point, I just don’t care. I’m never going to learn at over 27.

3) I’ve got three tattoos, and plans for at least another five or six…

My most recent addition. IT HURT.

My most recent addition. IT HURT.

4) I’ve been playing bass now for about fourteen years. I think I reached my plateau when I learned The Trees by Rush around eight years ago.

5)  I’ve got a degree in Crime Scene & Forensic Scienes, which is utterly useless, and very seldom comes in handy in my role as a Children’s Bookseller.

6) Everything I know about life came from excessive, obsessive overwatching of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a TV Show which will never be equalled again. Stuff your Game of Thrones.

I'm a lot like Willow. Only a boy, and nowhere near as cute.

I’m a lot like Willow. Only a boy, and nowhere near as cute.

7) I grew up on a collection of RAF bases, staying still for only a little while. As a result of this, my brother and I became very close, and are best friends still.

8) I am generally always anxious or worried about something. Telling me not to doesn’t in anyway make it better.

9) My parents live in Dubai, and I rent their house in the UK. It’s a sweet deal.

10) I once asked a girl to the leaver’s ball (prom) at High School. We were good friends, but she said no, and then went by herself anyway.

11) I’m gluten intolerant. It won’t kill me if I eat wheat/gluten products, but the after effects will kill friendships. I still do it.

The Questions

Why did you start blogging?

I’d been working at Waterstones for a while, and had discovered this amazing network of Children’s Booksellers on Twitter and found that my strength as a Bookseller is my recommendations and passion for books. I’ll never draw a chalkboard that’ll bring grown men to tears, but by golly I’ll talk your ear off about books. So, I thought I’d do it online and see how it was received. Quietly, but I’m still plugging away.

Which is your favourite book?

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Technically three books, but shut up. Rich, layered, intelligent, anti-establishment, fantasy, with beautiful prose and a captivating set of universes.

Stop reading My Blog and go read this.

Stop reading My Blog and go read this.

Which is your favourite film?

It varies quite wildly. Pan’s Labyrinth is a firm favourite, but so is Ghostbusters. Also The Shining. Oh, and Silence of the Lambs. And The Thing, and Alien, and Edward Scissorhands…

Which documentary would you recommend and why?

Cosmos with Carl Sagan, which is a stunningly down-to-earth, beautifully well explained collection of science documentaries on subjects from evolution to the big bang, perfect for amateur science enthusiasts.

Also, What Happens in Aldershot Stays in Aldershot, a documentary about my favourite ever band in the world – Reuben. They never had a top forty smash, and they broke up after just three albums, but this film is a great glimpse into the passion of three young guys making music with love and enthusiasm.

What has been your favourite vacation destination ever and why?

Erm. I don’t know? I’m not sure I’ve been anywhere that’s completely blown me away. I normally have a pretty good time in London.

 If you had an open ticket to wherever you wanted in the world, where would you go?

Norway, to see the Northern Lights and hunt some trolls, or Southend so I could build sandcastles and read stories.

What would be your dream job?

I’ve always wanted to be a member of the Watcher’s Council of England. Or play bass for a living. Or write – I would kill to have an attention span long enough.

Still kind wish I could be an astronaut.

 Who is your biggest blog inspiration?

I think Laura at SisterSpooky Blog gave me my first real feeling of how blogs should work. Hers feels really organic, a mix of genres and ages. It works really well.

Which other hobbies do you have aside from blogging?

I play an awful lot of X-Box. Me and my friends have been playing X-Box live for years now, and it’s one of my favourite ways to catch up and have fun.

I also binge on TV Shows and get emotionally attached to characters, build lego, play music, read (obviously) and sleep. Sleeping is a hobby, right?

 Who is your biggest life inspiration?

My brother, Robert.

It's Beardfacé, damnit!

It’s Beardfacé, damnit!

And Willow Rosenberg.

I Nominate

I’m sure some of these people have been nominated already, but HEY, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. I won’t force you at gun point. I don’t even own a gun, so…

Laura at SisterSpooky Blogs

Lucy Powrie at Queen of Contemporary

Nicole “Othergirl” Burstein

Teen Book Reviewer

Jim at YaYeahYeah

George Lester

Laura of WriteattheKitchenSink

Elly at AbsoBookingLutely

Eve at VulpisLibris

Gemma Laws

The Rules

  • Link back to me in the blog post
  • Tell us 11 facts about yourself
  • Answer the questions above
  • Nominate 10 other bloggers or authors
  • Let those you’ve nominated know
  • Let me know you’ve taken part so I can see your answers

YALC: Books, Authors, Warmth and Joy. – DAY 1

So, this weekend, I happened across that most rare and elusive beasts when working in retail – A Weekend OFF! And because I’m a painfully disorganised human being, I decided last Monday that I would grab a train down to London for a chance to drop in at YALC, the UK’s very FIRST Young Adult Literature Convention, and a smaller subset of the London Film & Comic Con. I was super excited (as I often am when it comes to YA books), and in a hectic rush to get down there, so I grabbed the first train to London on Saturday morning (5:29am, a sickening time of day to be a functioning human being), burdened with a holdall filled with books, clothes and the bare minimum of essentials. In total, I took 16 books, with the intention of getting as many signed as physically possible.

Because I had decided to attend at such short notice, I was forced to buy tickets for the event on the door, which required standing in a queue of Wookies, Judge Dredds and Vulcans for two or so hours, under a punishingly cruel sun, with no water or food (I’d like to thank the random lady I shared the queue time with, she stopped me losing my sanity), before I managed to even step foot into the gargantuan Earl’s Court 2. Once I made my way in, I navigated the staggering crowds, past some stunningly elaborate (and just plain awful) cosplays, to the back where YALC was taking place. The very first thing I did was head over to the Waterstones stand to check in on the super shiny Teresa and Jenn, who had kindly offered to look after my bag of books (I couldn’t check in to my hotel, so I had ALL of my books with me for the weekend), a kindness that I don’t think I could ever repay – that bag was SERIOUSLY heavy, I think I dislocated both shoulders by Sunday night. With that dealt with, I wandered around for a little while, briefly bumping into Patrick Ness (literally bumping), and his lovely publicist Paul Black, who I’d previously met when I interviewed Mr. Ness in Waterstones York. Much to my shock, both remembered me, and even introduced me to Department 19 author Will Hill as “ShinraAlpha” from Twitter. That was pretty shiny.

We Were Liars Board.

We Were Liars Board.

After that brief brush with authordom, I took myself over to the first talk of the day, “It’s the end of the world as we know it: the ongoing appeal of dystopia”, with a panel of Malorie Blackman, Patrick Ness and Sarah Crossan, chaired by James Smythe. As a massive fan of the dystopian genre, I was really excited to hear the authors take on why it’s so successful, and on how dark is too dark for teen fiction. Some brilliant discussion was generated, about how dystopia reflects the world teenagers feel they live in sometimes, and how the tension and drama of dystopia lends itself to gripping storytelling and paced writing that immediately catches attentions. It was while I was stood at this talk (all the seats had been nabbed) that I was ushered to one side slightly, and as I glanced across to my left to see what was happening in the queue for one of the photo events, I was stood level with the legendary STAN LEE, who was on his way to sign photos with fans all day. It was pretty startling, I didn’t process it until he was already whisked away to do his days work, but I’m never going to forget that. The panel was superb, with the passion of Malorie Blackman being a superb highlight, and all the authors taking their time to answer questions from the audience with intelligent, direct and satisfying answers. I stuck around for the following panel talk (managing, thankfully, to grab a seat) – “Going Graphic: From novels to graphic novels” with Ian Edginton, Marcus Sedgewick & Emma Vineceli, chaired by the wonderfully eclectic Sarah McIntyre, which was a fascinating insight into the struggles and freedoms that the change in medium allows a writer, something I’d not really considered before. Ian also revealed he was working on a graphic novel adaptation of Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, which I’m looking forward to!

The Dystopia panel!

The Dystopia panel!

After the first two panels, I swanned off for a bit, with the intention of getting some books signed. I joined the queue to meet Jonathan Stroud, who signed my copy of Lockwood & Co, and we had a great chat about horror and how much we loved anything creepy as kids. He was absolutely lovely, passionate and engaging, and we discussed the idea of doing some events in the North – so watch this space! After that, the queue for Malorie Blackman was far too intimidating, and the crowd for the next talk, “Superfans Unite” featuring Rainbow Rowell prevented me from seeing or hearing anything – the queue for her signing afterwards was a mindboggling snake of human beings that went on for what felt like hours, so I never did get a signed Fangirl for a prize at work… I got chance during this lull to meet the lovely people on the Hot Key desk once again (I’ve been annoying Hot Key ever since they started up), and managed to get my copy of Fearsome Dreamer signed by the fantastic Laure Eve, AND bought the sequel, The Illusionists. She was a total delight, despite clearly being so busy.

Laure says I'm AWESOME! I'm not.

Laure says I’m AWESOME! I’m not.

I can't wait to start reading.

I can’t wait to start reading.

Once the Superfans panel dissolved, with no real interest in the next panel (“Regenerating the Doctor”), I made a beeline for the signing for Andy Robb, the author of Geekhood, and a long time lovely Twitter friend of mine, who I always seemed to miss at events in London. After he encouraged me to hop the signing desk, I was sat chatting away to him for about an hour, while he signed books. At one point, a lady took my picture, clearly assuming I was an author myself… So if I show up tagged as Andy at some point, I’ll take that. I also caught up with Laura of SisterSpooky blog, who gave me what was left of her Sprite, making her a complete legend. It was the best thing I’ve ever drank. After Andy, I popped to the next panel, “Bring Me My Dragons: Writing fantasy today” and enjoyed a great discussion chaired by Marc Aplin with authors Frances Hardinge, Amy McCulloch, Jonathan Stroud & Ruth Warburton, about the difficulties of creating a brand new universe from scratch, as well as the freedoms that come with it.

Andy and Darran: A Discussion of the Universe.

Andy and Darran: A Discussion of the Universe.

Me being a pretender to the Robb.

Me being a pretender to the Robb.

After the Fantasy panel, I shuffled forward for one of the panels of the weekend I was most excited for – “Heroes of Horror”, featuring Charlie Higson, Will Hill, Derek Landy & Darren Shan (chaired by Rosie Fletcher). I was treated to a very excitable, engaging and hilarious panel of authors, discussing with relish the gore and violence they weave, and how much fun they have doing it. All of them shared a love for the genre that stemmed from leaping from Children’s Books straight into Adult Horror books, which I can completely relate with myself. Derek Landy was a particular delight, giggling with glee about the characters he’d killed in increasingly violent ways, and at one point telling a fan “Everyone you know will die – Your parents, your friends. I’m just preparing you for the worst” in his singsong Irish accent, which was much funnier than it sounds written down…

WHAT a panel!

WHAT a panel!

Afterwards, I managed to catch Will Hill, who was more than happy to chat about Vampires as they should be, and sign my copy of Department 19 – The first proof I ever got in bookselling!

GREAT book.

GREAT book.

The day was exhausting, and after finally grabbing some food with some old Uni friends, I crashed into a hotel bed and was asleep before I even saw 10pm.

– D

LieToMeLieToMeLieToMe

LieToMeLieToMeLieToMe

My 10 Favourite 2013 Reads!

So once again, Christmas is over & we stare down the barrel of a brand new year. I’ve never done one of these round ups of my reading before, but 2013 has been an absolutely storming year for YA, Teen & Children’s Fiction, hitting comedy, fantasy, sci-fi & contemporary with some exciting & passionate authors. So without further yammering by yours truly, lets get one with it!

10. Fearsome Dreamer by Laure Eve

FEARSOME-DREAMER-WIP

A stunning début from one of the hottest new publishers of YA literature at the moment (Hot Key Books), Fearsome Dreamer is a brilliantly paced fusion of Science Fiction & Fantasy, focusing around individuals with the ability to teleport. Laure’s novel is gloriously well written, with a deep, textured world & layers of mystery waiting to be unfolded. It’s set for big things.

9. Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The UK Hardback Jacket

The UK Hardback Jacket

Part one of a brand new series from the Bartimaeus author, Lockwood & Co takes the classic ensemble style of Percy Jackson or Harry Potter, but with a delightfully gothic twist, replacing gods with ghosts. A book I just know I would’ve become obsessed with as a 9 year old obsessed with all things dark & spooky, The Screaming Staircase isn’t light on laughter though, & with a very Doctor Who/Sherlock style lead – It’s sure to capture imaginations as the series goes on.

8. Heroic by Phil Earle

9780141346274

Phil is a charming author with a deep understanding of troubled youth. Heroic is a harrowing story of war, told not just from the front, but from home, allowing the story to examine the effects tension & stress have under combat situations, as well as in the helpless environment of an East London council estate. Heroic also looks deep into the bonds of family & friendship, & has a powerful message behind it, lending it a serious emotional punch, as well as bringing attention to the very misunderstood subject of Post-Traumatic Stress in Young Adults. All in all, Phil has done a wonderful job at a moving story once more.

7. ACID by Emma Pass

ACID's jacket features protagonist Jenna, & tells you all you need to know.

A one-off kick-ass Dystopian novel set in a United Kingdom taken over by a harsh, totalitarian police force, ACID is an adrenaline fuelled ride full of action, mystery & plot twists, all topped off with a strong, direct heroine with a real edge to her. Blending Orwellian surveillance  & social commentary with pulse-pounding action, ACID grips the reader from the outset & doesn’t let go until the very last page. Perfect for people who’ve been devouring Hunger Games & Divergent series, Emma Pass is great at keeping the reader engrossed with high tension drama.

6. Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti

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One of the books I’ve yet to do a full review of, Monkey Wars is a unique story of gang warfare between two tribes of Monkey’s on the streets of India. Despite sounding like a lovely animal tale, Monkey Wars is smart, sharp & brutal, soaked in gore & betrayal. It’s a classic story in one way, very reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet, but with an energy that literally crackles off the page. Constantly high stakes, with emotional turmoil & political rivalry, this is a visceral book that would be ideal for fans of fantasy & war novels alike.

5. Geekhood: Mission Improbable by Andy Robb

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Archie the Geek is back, in Andy’s follow-up to Close Encounters of the Girl Kind – And the laughs are strong with this one. Crammed to bursting with references to nerd culture, & a big feature on Live Action Roleplaying, Andy fully throws his passion for all things Geek into his writing, & that honesty & passion makes the book feel so much more personal to him. Geek culture is big business write now, with shows like Big Bang Theory written by non-Geeks for non-Geeks, so it’s refreshingly satisfying to have someone doing it from the fan side of things. Also, as with the first Geekhood novel, Andy works in the true emotional sweetness & turmoil of being an adolescent teenage boy, & all the embarrassing scenarios that go with it, in naked, cringesome honesty – Helpful to every young adult struggling through not being the strongest, fastest, toughest kid in school.

4. The Last Wild by Piers Torday

9781780878300

A modern day Animals of Farthing Wood, with a post-apocalyptic twist, The Last Wild was funny, touching & engaging, blending environmental issues with a bold main character, determined to do the right thing. The world of The Last Wild is wrapped up in layers of mystery begging to be unfolded, but with a bleak beauty that admires the determined power of nature, & rather than taking the usual stance of man vs nature, it shows how greed can overcome humanities normal moral compass. It’s a book of passion, power & with a real message to get across, a must read.

3. Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne

follow-me-down

A dark, beautiful story of friendship, young love & loss, Follow Me Down is surprisingly witty & even brings up a several chuckles despite the bleak tale of murder that weaves its way through this classic English boarding school tale. Tanya has a beautiful way with words, & her passages almost slide into your brain like poetry, creating a melancholy beauty to her writing that haunts your very core, yet makes you smile all the while. A rare talent to make something so horrifying still be so life-affirming.

2. Every Day by David Levithan

every day

Possibly the most unique book I’ve read in my life, David Levithan’s Every Day is a superb examination of life & humanity, a window into understanding the struggles & troubles that make us all different. From another superb YA publisher (Electric Monkey), Levithan brings his quirky style of modern language & pop-culture knowledge with an emotional punch & a dark, realistic & heart-wrenchingly bleak conclusion. With his examination of our differences & similarities, Every Day is one of the most important novels in years for promoting acceptance & understanding, & is perfect for fans of bittersweet romance.

1. More Than This by Patrick Ness 

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Beautiful, compelling, shocking & lingering. Patrick Ness is possibly the best writer working in Teen fiction today, & More Than This is a true testament to that fact. Dark & thoughtful, the plot is constantly shifting, keeping the reader on edge throughout, with each chapter dropping a cliffhanger onto your head & blowing your mind. It examines life, death, survival, love & friendship with a soft eye, before ramping up the action & tension, turning a haunting mystery into a full blown thriller in the second half. This book left me unable to read anything for a week afterwards, & still makes me think about its themes even now.

That’s the lot! Well, the top ten anyway. There’s been dozens of fantastic books published in 2013, which is truly inspiring, flying in the face of people who say books are struggling. They’re not. You just need to know where to look.

Here’s to many more in 2014!

Thanks for Reading!

D

Geekhood: Mission Improbable by Andy Robb

A few weeks ago now, I was amazingly lucky. I was asked to be a member of the judging panel who pick the winner for Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, which involved arguing over books for 5 hours in an office in London, & then a few weeks later, attending an author laden soiree known as the Prize Announcement. There was free wine, I think I managed to maintain composure quite well considering. I managed to meet some wonderful booksellers, publisher types, and, of course, authors. There was one author in particular I was very anxious to meet though, after his nominated first book Geekhood had practically lifted entire passages out of my own teenage years in eerie familiarity: Andy Robb, whom I’ve bantered back & forth with on Twitter for some time now. And meet him I did, very early on in the evening, he came straight up to me, stuck out his hand, & became lodged in my brain as one of the nicest, most genuine & modest individuals I have ever met. Seriously, if he does an event near you, GO. He’s got a great mix of enthusiasm & genuine passion for what he writes about, it’s brilliantly infectious! (Hi Andy, are you blushing yet?)

Geekhood: Mission Improbable's cover

Geekhood: Mission Improbable’s cover

Geekhood: Mission Improbable picks up two weeks after the ending to Geekhood (Spoilers for the first book will be in here), after Archie’s doomed, tear-soaked attempt to win Goth Girl Sarah’s heart. The gang are back in full force, Beggsy, Ravi, Matt, Sarah, Jason Humphries, Tony & of course, Archie’s beloved IM. The story follows Archie’s attempts to coolly brush off what happened between him & Sarah, but cool quickly turns into running-and-hiding, much to the disappointment of his Geek herd, who desperately want him to move on, so they can have Sarah as part of the group again. However, Archie & his witty Inner Monologue have other things to worry about, as the first weekend away to York to stay with his Dad & Jane, as well as her kids, is rapidly approaching. To add insult to the social stresses required in such a trek, Archie is going to be missing out on the biggest party event of his Geeky little life: An Actual Party. With girls. And everyone is going except him. Spirits are lifted on Archie’s train journey North though, where we meet the first new character of the book, the dark and mysterious Clare. She’s strong, she’s confident, she’s SIXTEEN, and she’s *ahem* developed. Despite her assets, Archie finds himself strangely not overly attracted to her, but he does find her a comforting target for venting his feelings about Sarah. But when Clare suggests a treacherous entangled web of lies to help her & Archie get what their respective desires, Archie’s not sure what strange Underdark his life has turned into…

The first book's jacket.

The first book’s jacket.

Geekhood made me laugh my pants off. Not literally, but pretty close. Geekhood: Mission Improbable delivered YET AGAIN a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek blend of childish humour, self deprecation, cringe-tastic embarrassment, and also heartfelt warmth & emotional growth. These characters have really started to develop into rounded, passionate human beings, & more importantly, they’re realising that Geeks can be part of normal society too. The first thing that really breaks the mould in this book is the introduction of LARPing, which for the uninitiated, I should explain. Live Action Roleplaying (LARP) is a lot like Dungeons & Dragons, only you play it in a field, in full dress armour & foam weapons, & fully taking on your character’s persona. I’ve never played it myself, but it sure does sound pretty cool. Our Geeky core, along with Sarah & her friend Caitlyn obviously think so too, & in Mission Improbable, they take a weekend away to bask in glorious Geekdom.

The existing characters from Geekhood are all back, & character development is well under way, & their growth has helped me warm to them even more than I already had. Matt has found a potential pairing in new character, & secret Geek Caitlyn, helping boil off some of his bitter sarcasm, helping him to become a much sweeter, albeit still hesitant, character. One of the major character arcs in the second book though is from Archie’s hyperactive, overly excitable mate Beggsy. Normally expressing himself through vulgar euphemisms & various pitches of “Dude!”, in Mission Improbable Beggsy really starts to develop emotionally, proving himself a deeply moral and thoughtful character with a strong sense of friendship & loyalty. I really enjoyed that. Archie’s Stepdad is also taking a good direction, dropping the trademark “Tony the Tosser” from book one, & starting not to try so hard, he’s become a much more relatable character for Archie. Except for the “Ferret Socks” sequence, which had me cringing so hard I thought I might turn inside out. Sarah has also built up considerably as a rounded individual, especially as Archie gets to know her better, & starts to see sides to her that in the first book had remained hidden. Archie is, of course, still on top Geeky form, his IM working hilarious overtime. Andy still seems to have stolen aspects of my own teen years into making up Archie’s personality in a terrifying way (HECK, I even had a crush on a girl named Sarah whilst I was at school. She’s unlikely to be reading this. If she is, hi Sarah.), particularly his lack of confrontational skills, a problem that has plagued me most of my life, and which in Mission Improbable really helped me connect with the character’s decisions right away.

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My own Dark Knight bookmark in my copy of the book…

So yet again, Andy has managed to deliver laughs ‘till you cry, serious emotional sections (Archie & his Dad in York was heartbreaking), all sprinkled with a healthy dose of teen angst & of course GEEK CULTURE. The references are all crisp, & unlike shows like The Big Bang Theory (I am not a fan), the writer is clearly familiar with his source material, and has a deep amount of respect and passion for the subject matter he’s dealing with. Once again, as with Geekhood, he also manages to nail the demeanour of adolescent boys, particularly the more sensitive Geeky types. OH, And the Dark Knight Returns is featured prominently, which just can’t be a bad thing, as its Frank Miller Batman joy at its finest. Also, Andy if you’re reading, I went into that Games Workshop in York many many times, which makes you some sort of Illithid psychic beastie. And good job on the Drow, they’re my favourites & I got a bit over excited at the mention of Lolth.

For those of you who aren’t Andy: STOP READING ME & GO READ GEEKHOOD.

Same Bat Place, Same Bat Time…

D

P.S. There’s a great interview with Andy over at the delightfully talented blog of Sister Spooky.

Geekhood by Andy Robb

HELLO WORLD! I’m actually tearing through books now, which is a welcome change from the last few months. HOWEVER, I’m a massive gamer, and this weekend saw the release of the amazing Gearbox sequel Borderlands 2, and I would be lying if I said it has not been taking up a lot of my time (19 hours since Friday at 11am…), but I’m still hammering some books, and today I’ll be reviewing the wonderful Geekhood by Andy Robb. Like the title said. Obviously.

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The Nerdtastic cover for Geekhood.

Archie is a Geek. A massive one. In fact, as Geeks go, our 14 year old hero is a textbook as they go: Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of The Rings and all. He lives with his Mum and her new boyfriend Tony (The Tosser), whilst trying to host perfect tabletop gaming nights in his new bedroom (see: LAIR), avoid facing his parents separation and generally avoid life in general. And Archie is happy in his little world, in which he talks to himself incessantly in sarcastic inner-monologue, whilst presenting the perfect, socially detached outer self to the world. Then of course, the inevitable happens, Archie meets a girl. Not just any girl, but Sarah, the new Goth girl in school, and not only does she notice Archie, but she’s also the singularly most beautiful creature he’s ever seen, like a Unicorn crossed with a Mermaid by way of a Siren. Or something. Geekhood follows Archie’s story, his journey… NO, his quest, to shed his Geekdom, settle in to an adult life, sort his parents out AND win fair maiden’s heart. Of course, it doesn’t all quite work as simply as that. Turns out a Dragon and rapidly falling hit points aren’t the worst thing to face in the dead of night, it’s inner turmoil and a very irate Gargoyle…

I am a Geek. No need to rush to comfort me, I’ve been a Geek since I first started searching the RAF base I grew up on for UFO’s, through Star Wars, Star Trek, The X-Files, R.A. Salvatore and beyond, and I’m happy in the person I am. One thing that first concerned me about Geekhood is that I hate it when Geek culture is played out wrong, that drives me nuts, and I’m always worried Geeks might be patronised and made to look stupid (SEE: The Big Bang Theory). However, after a conversation with authour Andy Robb on Twitter (@ThatAndyBloke fyi) about painting Warhammer models, I thought to myself I bet this guy gets it. Of course, he’s dressed as Frodo in his profile picture, which lends comfort too.

Geekhood is hilarious, touching, sweet, painful and brilliant. I once heard it described as being like The Big Bang Theory, but it’s so much more emotionally mature than that, and it’s filled with such a dose of British wit and self-deprecation that it could never be like that. I like TBBT, but this is what that show would be like if it was written by the people from the Inbetweeners, it’s so quintessentially British. I found myself reminded of all of my school chums, our afternoons discussing whether we thought Artemis Entrei would be a fighter and rogue multiclass (that’s D&D by the by, and ACE Fantasy novels to boot). Archie and his sense for pushing anything serious aside struck quite a chord with me, I’ve never really enjoyed facing the tough stuff in life, and I sympathise with Archie about it all effects your sleeping and dreams, because it really does. All in all, Andy is clearly a Geek at heart, and all the gaming culture is spot on, the film references are perfectly placed to the point where I was laughing out loud in the staff room at work. Archie’s Inner Monologue is scathing and sarcastic, and his external self is a brilliant mix of wanting to do what’s best and self-doubt in what people think about him.

I suppose what it all comes down to is a great coming-of-age story, it’s like Louise Rennison for Geeky boys, like Adrian Mole for the Star Wars generation. It’s about how a socially inept group of boys deal with meeting and dealing with the fairer sex, how they discover all sorts of new hormonal responses (with guffaw-inducing consequences – BRAS!) & also come to terms with who they are themselves. Just because something you’re passionate about isn’t “cool” doesn’t mean it’s wrong, so accept your quirks, hold confidence in what you love, and people will see that, and they won’t care what kind of demons you can summon. NOTE: Always cast protection from evil prior to summoning Demons, they can be tricky little fellas.

The dialogue snaps and crackles with wit, sarcasm and genuinely sweet passages, bucket loads of film/book/TV references and a healthy dose of tea, which is a staple diet of Archie’s household. It deals with some really complex themes about growing up, and about family discord in a down to Earth, non-patronising and funny way, so I think it’s an important book for young boys to realise that it’s OK to feel their feelings, and to talk about them, before they end up exploding like the Death Star. It deals with things in a way that will appeal to boys, using humour as a good balance to the embarrassment. 

If you’re a proud Geek, read it. If you’re a closet Geek, get yourself out and read it. If you’re not a Geek, read it and learn to appreciate the differences in people. It’s ace! If Archie had loved Green Day and Alkaline Trio, with an older brother endlessly feeding him new great Sci-Fi and Fantasy, then I’d be suspicious Andy Robb was doing a Truman Show on my whole life. I really hope there’s more to look forward to. Andy, if you do read this: Set d20’s to stun.

‘Till next time lords and ladies, I’ll be playing lots of tasty Video Games!

D