Monday, 29 February 2016

Books And Their Theme Songs - Volume 32

LEAP YEAR!!! And this is gonna be a busy few days on the blog. So, let's get this week off with a bang and share some of my reading music for January and February. And yes, there isn't that many as was listening to audiobook so... yeah... moving on!

REBEL OF THE SANDS by Alwyn Hamilton
"Devil Side" by Foxes

"Heal" by Ellie Goulding

I did warn you that there wasn't that many songs these last 2 months...

Friday, 26 February 2016

Book Review - The Fox and the Star

I won a contest, hosting by the lovely Beth from The Reader's Corner, to win any book (to the cost of £10 or roundabout) from Wordery. There was a few that caught my eye so I gave Beth the list and said "Surprise me! I trust you". This was the book she picked for me and, because of that, thank you Beth.

Once upon a time, there was a Fox that lived in deep forest. His only friend was Star that shone high in the sky and shone on forest paths for Fox to use. But one night, Star isn't there, leaving Fox alone in the dark forest... 

This is a beautiful book that children will love. It's short and uses very simple language that children and family members can read together, and express the message of love, loss and learning to accept change beautifully. And the illustrations in this are beautiful! I shall put a few of them below so you can see for yourselves. 

I adore this simple yet beautiful book, and can't wait to read Coralie Pickford-Smith's next book. Or just stare at one of her illustrations!

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Press Release - Scarlett Johansson Reads Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

I have a press release for you guys. Now, don't groan. I think you might like this. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is getting a new audiobook. Read by Scarlett Johansson. Yes, THAT Scarlett Johansson.

Audible has been very busy in the past few months, have they? Because of this, and I am quite curious over this, I'm going to just pop this press release here (thank you Midas for the press release!).



February 24, 2016 – Audible Studios, a production arm of, today announced the release of Golden Globe nominee and Tony Award-Winning actress Scarlett Johansson’s audio interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This vivacious performance of the famously fanciful tale by the star of Lost in Translation, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Girl with a Pearl Earring is now available for download at

Scarlett Johansson was joined in the recording studio by her sister, actress and accomplished audiobook narrator Vanessa Johansson, who served as director of this production. Vanessa has narrated dozens of audiobooks in her own right, and brought her own experience and unique perspective on the art form to the recording process.

"It was a great pleasure to work alongside my sister, Vanessa, to read aloud the great works of Lewis Carroll,” said Scarlett, who won a Tony Award in 2010 for her performance in A View from the Bridge on Broadway. “Having grown up loving the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and reading many books aloud with Vanessa, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to share my love for Alice with an audience. I hope that this recording is enjoyed by not only those who are existing fans of the material, but also by new and curious readers, who may just be discovering Carroll’s work for the first time.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is such a deliciously whimsical and curious story,” added Vanessa, whose audiobook credits span a variety of categories including children’s books, history, fantasy, biography, fiction, self-development and more. “We had such a blast dialoguing during the recording process, thinking about the characters, and creating an audio world for this book. I hope the joy that we experienced together comes across to listeners.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a delightfully peculiar story that really comes alive when performed,” said Audible EVP and Publisher Beth Anderson. “We knew that Scarlett’s distinctive voice and exuberant characterization combined with the vision for the performance she shared with her sister Vanessa would create a recording of surpassing artistry, as befits this magical story. This is a delectable treat for listeners of all ages.”

In addition to Johansson, among the acclaimed performers who have narrated works of literature for Audible are Rosamund Pike, Dan Stevens, James Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kate Winslet and Tim Robbins. In 2013, Audible Studios won its first Grammy Award, for its production of Janis Ian’s memoir Society’s Child, and also won the Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year, for Colin Firth’s performance of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair

Audible, the world’s largest seller and producer of downloadable audiobooks and other spoken-word content, invented and commercialized the first digital audio player in 1997, and has since been at the forefront of the explosively growing audiobook download segment. In 2015, listeners around the world downloaded 1.6 billion hours of audio from Audible; Audible members downloaded an average of more than 17 books over the course of the year. Two thirds of new Audible members are first-time audiobook buyers.

Audiobook Review - The Danish Girl

When Leanne from Midas PR asked last month if there were any new audiobooks that catch my eye, I discovered that The Danish Girl (the movie stars Eddie Redmayne) is based on a book, I asked if I could listen to this. Plus, I like challenging myself with audiobooks. I like trying to take risks with audiobooks and the stories they tell.

Based very loosely on the lives of danish artists, Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. It looks at a marriage and the story of Lili, pioneer in transgender history.

Now, I am going to admit that I struggled while writing this write-up. Its hard to put into words my feelings over this as, while I believe the story is interesting and important, I have equal feeling towards it that it annoyed me and the story missed the point.

I have read other reviews and I know I am one of the few int he minority, but I am going to be honest about my thoughts and feelings about this.

There were elements of the writing that reminded me of The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I can't put my finger on why I kept drawing comparisons between the two, but my mind kept going there. And there were moments where words and lines just flowed.

However, I struggled with this at times too. There were times, I found the writing and the way the narrator read the story hard work and, on two or three occasions, I considered quitting. It felt like hard work to like the characters when the story was doing no favours for them.

But my biggest issue, the thing I had the most problems over, was how the issue of transgender was handled. I completely understand why the author wrote Lili and Einar as separate characters - but I fear some readers will struggle with this. But my biggest things was how this was handled. It was written in a way that, I fear, would make the reader feel that, instead of reading a book about a person who is transgender, they are reading a character who is suffering from a mental health issue, such a split personality disorder.

And I say this because there was one or two times, I felt like I wasn't reading someone who was transgender and I was going "Nononono!" over how this was handled. I wasn't happy over it!

I do want to watch the movie when it comes out on DVD so my opinion might change. But I wasn't a fan of this story, and I believe the movie might tell this story better.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Why #CoverKidsBooks?

Today, I want to welcome Imogen Russell Williams onto the blog. Imogen is an editorial consultant and is an art journalist, writing reviews for children and YA books. Imogen has very kindly written a guest blog post about #CoverKidsBooks (a hashtag, created by SF Said, that you might have seen circling on Twitter) and why it is important that children and YA books should be covered in mainstream media.

For more information on this, check Middle Grade Strikes Back for more info! And if you want to chat to Imogen about this, check out her twitter at @ImogenRW and she will be very kind and helpful. I must say thank you to Imogen for writing this - I know she has been very busy so to find time to write this is awesome!

And now, over to Imogen!

Why #CoverKidsBooks?

As a journalist who specialises in children’s and YA literature, every day is Christmas for me. I’m on first-name terms with the postman, the DHL driver and the good-natured neighbours two doors down who sign for parcels – and I still never get tired of opening a Jiffy bag with a publisher’s name on it.

So far this year, I’ve read picture books about knitting cats, toothless alligators, odd socks and gender dysphoria; 5-7 titles about pint-sized pirates, teacup pigs, and ghost tigers;  middle grade tales of coleoptera, lepidoptera, and aliens in bobble-hats; and YAs about friendship, feminism, rape, mental illness, teen fatherhood – and Alaska. Books teeter on every flat (or flattish) surface, and I read whenever the opportunity arises between deadlines, supervising small children (bless you, CBeebies), and eating things (though I maintain that simultaneous reading and eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures.) But I’m barely scratching the surface – and still the beauties keep coming.

I’m not talking about mediocre, middle-of-the-road titles, either – or the TV/gaming tie-ins that often excite kids, but tend to leave me cold – although, with the children’s book market growing as it is, there’s inevitably a fair amount of that. I’m talking about the sort of quality that prompts three- and four-book binges when I should be sound asleep, feeling the fabric of my brain being warped and yanked and challenged; the sort of books that change the reader, freshening the way they see the world.

But this breadth of wonders just can’t be adequately covered in seasonal round-ups, or a 2cm once-a-week review that will all too often go to a famous first-timer or big name, rather than an exciting debut or even a ‘quiet’, but compelling, slow-working story. The downside to the sheer number of brilliant kids’ books being published is that it’s all too easy for an author’s work to sink undeservedly, never finding the readers with whom it was written to resonate and chime. And nothing gives me the same satisfaction as putting the right book into the hands of the right reader at the right time – and I think that goes double for every reviewer, blogger, critic, kidlit aficionado and, of course, librarian out there.

#CoverKidsBooks is all about maximising the chances of that happening.  Many book-buying parents, godparents, aunts, grandparents and teachers are still dependent on the memories of their own childhood greats; or on lists and polls which, time and again, favour the classic over the contemporary. (Honourable mention here to Time Out for consulting children’s authors and experts in compiling its recent list, and producing a Top 100 nicely balanced between different genres and ages, as well as between old and new.) Otherwise, it’s the big names and lead titles which get the lion’s share of publicity and sales – but these don’t suit every young reader, just as The Wind in the Willows, for all its brilliance, would challenge many new-ish readers now, beautiful as it looks in a gift edition on a child’s bookshelf.

In calling for print reviews to keep pace with the buoyant, brilliant state of the kids’ book market, we hope to make it more likely that heartfelt work will meet tingling fingertips, just at the right time for both.

Friday, 12 February 2016

#re3 - The Miserable Mill

As you guys are probably aware, I am not the biggest fan of this book. To me, it's repeats what the first three books in the series. And for me to maybe reread/read this series, I have to power through this - which is what I did last Sunday. That's right, I read this throughout the course of one day.

The Baudelaire orphans have been moved to yet another guardian. This time, they are moved to Paltryville to live with Sir, a man who smokes so much, no one ever sees his face. They expected to be safe. Shame that's going to be the case. Soon, Violet, Klaus and Sunny are forced to work at the lumber mill Sir owns, only have chewing gum for lunch and the fear. The fear that Count Olaf, a man who is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. But Count Olaf is nowhere to be seen...

I already admitted that out of the books I have read within this series (the first 4, the tenth and the final), this is my least. But rereading The Miserable Mill was interesting because, while I am still not a fan of this book, there were things in the book that caught my eye.

Through the series (well... the books I've read), the children fit certain roles. Violet is the inventor, Klaus the reader and Sunny is the baby so is often put in helpless situations. But in this book, the roles are switched. Violet has to be the reader, Klaus has to be the inventor and Sunny become a fighter.

Another interesting is Count Olaf. In the previous novels, Count Olaf appears very early in the story. Within the first 3 or four chapters. But in The Miserable Mill, Count Olaf came very late in the game. It was more his shadow being casted over this story and heightened the fear of him.

This book repeats the format of the previous novels, but it's trying to flip the pattern on its head.

Am still not a huge fan of this book, but it's nice not to dislike it as much as I did before. And now, into the books that I haven't read, starting with The Austere Academy...

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Book Review - The Serpent King

You can blame Ryan at Empire of Books for making me read this. No, that's a lie. I was curious over this book but when I saw it on NetGalley, I asked if anyone else had read it and Ryan was so positive over this book, I requested it purely on his energy on this book (his review for The Serpent King is here). If you're on Twitter, go give him a hug.

Set in the deep South of the USA, Dill's father is the prison for an unspeakable crime and with everything and everyone judging him over it, Dill finds comfort in his friends, Lydia and Travis. Travis who is obsessed with the Bloodfall series and Lydia who is planning to leave for New York as soon as she can. Dill fears if she leaves, the darkness within his family will consume him completely.

But Dill's not the only one with worries. Lydia is worried about her friends once she leaves and Travis is hiding a secret about his family. All three need to confront their demons, but will they have the strength to do it?

Even though this sounds and looks like an urban fantasy novel, it is very much a contemporary coming of age novel and this is a strong debut. I love the writing style that Jeff showed - and to discover he is a songwriter, the lyrical style makes sense. There are some sentences and paragraphs that were just glorious! Plus, this book felt Southern. When you read a book that is set in Southern USA, I always find it discover feel right. It feels off somehow. But with Serpent King, it felt just right. The way characters acted, spoke about religion, and (from some characters), the narrow-mindedness and the landscape. It felt right, somehow.

With chapters changing POV between Dill, Lydia and Travis, it was good to see each character and fall in love with each of them separately and together. Each has their story and, because the writing was solid, I felt bored with any character and their stories. Which, in one or two cases, was parents who believed that if their lives after bad, so must their kids - yeah, there were times I got angry at the parents.

Religion is a part of this story and, as someone who isn't very religious, I did worry that it might be overwhelming and possibly forced down my throat. And while it is there and it didn't feel overwhelming.

Some people will feel that this book is predictable but I was sucked into this to noticed. This is one strong debut and I can't wait to read the next book from this author (and to annoy him over maybe getting a Bloodfall novella...)

I will leave this review with a quote that ran throughout the book, spoken by Dolly Parton: "If you don't like the road you're walking, start paving another one."

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Headaches of Time Travel

Today, I welcome Meaghan McIssac onto the blog. Meaghan is the author of Urgle and her latest,  Movers. Movers is a sci-fi novel where some people are born with powers to move people throughout time, even though doing this is very illegal. 

In this post, Meaghan talks about how she kept everything time-travel straight in her head while writing Movers. Not only in her first draft, but during her edits as well. As always, my thanks goes to Meaghan (@MeaghanMcIsaac on Twitter) for writing this post for us today and to Harriet (@HarrietDunlea) for setting this all up! Now, over to Meaghan!

So, you want to travel through time on a word scribbling endeavor, do you? If jet lag is a problem for you, you wouldn't believe the headaches that come your way when you try to move through the space-time continuum. But never mind, I can see you are determined to make your way to another day, another time, forwards or backwards. So all I can do, fearless traveller, is my best to prepare you for the rough journey ahead. Strap in.
If you're going to travel through time, the first thing you need is a map — a road plan for the whole trip, a timeline. Whether going forwards or backwards, map out the years from NOW, or whatever your now happens to be, to your year of destination. Be it yesterday, the Jurassic era, next week or the year 2383, there's a lot of space between now and then, and a lot that can happen. You have to know what occurred between these two points, because those events affect EVERYTHING that happens in the NOW and happens in the THEN. Believe me, you'll need to reference the timeline A LOT. Unfortunately, you won't have a navigator and you'll be trying to focus on driving, but still, if you can tear your eyes from the wheel long enough to glance at the timeline roadmap, it really helps keep things on track. If I hadn't had a timeline while working on Movers, I'd probably still be floating somewhere between page 160 and 161. The timeline showed me the way. If you don't have one packed, I suggest you do that. Now. RIGHT NOW.
Even with your timeline roadmap, you'll have to go back and retrace your steps...again and again...and again...and probably again. I rewrote Movers — wait, let me count the drafts — six times. That's the same journey, six times. Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. Just enough to memorize the route so that eventually, you can avoid the wrong turns and detours. And in those first drafts, there will be many, many wrong turns. Fear not, fearless time journey person! Wrong turns are just a part of traveling through time! Embrace them! But then fix them. Over and over and over again.
Time Travel claims a lot of lives. Like a lot a lot. Somewhere between draft 2 and draft 5 of Movers, a great many of Pat and Gabby's friends didn't make it. The body count, last I checked, was at five. I may be forgetting some people. We laughed, we cried, we travelled far together, as a group. But in the end, these darlings had to go. If you find your journey is weighed down by the deadweight of superfluous characters, pitch 'em overboard, shove 'em out the hatch, leave 'em behind and never look back. Time travel demands you pack light — that includes the people you take with you. It's a harsh reality, fearless traveller, so ask yourself: do you have the heart?
The grandfather paradox will eat your brain. What is the grandfather paradox? OK, crash course: the grandfather paradox asks basically (and I mean very basically because this is as far as I understand it), if you travelled back in time to kill your grandfather before he met your grandmother, then your dad would never be born, then you would never be born in the future, and therefore you could never go back in time in the first place to kill him. Take a second, digest that. Dizzy yet? Try to fix it all you want, this sucker is gonna pop up again and again in one form or another. At some point, you just have to say...whatever. If the world explodes, then the world explodes. But for the sake of the journey, you just gotta carry on. So carry on, fearless traveller. Try your best to swerve away from the paradox potholes, but if you plow through a little one every now and then, don't beat yourself up. You may come away battered and bruised, but you'll survive, gosh darnit!
So, worthy adventurer, knowing all that I've just told you, I wish you all the luck in the universe on your time travel journey. It's a hard beast to wrangle, but if you have the guts, it's a journey you'll enjoy from start to finish. 

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Building the World of the Sin Eater

I am thrilled to welcome Melinda Salisbury onto the blog today! Melinda is the author of the books The Sin Eater's Daughter and her most recent novel, The Sleeping Prince, came out a few weeks ago.  After chatting to the lovely Faye asked if I wanted to be involved in a tour to celebrate The Sleeping Prince, I desperately wanted to. But I felt it would be unfair to without reading The Sin Eater's Daughter. But Faye and Melinda chatted and said I could have a tiny post before asking if there was anything I was curious over and wanted to know more about. I love world-building and how author can create worlds. Hence, this wonderful post. 

My thanks goes to Melinda (@AHintofMystery on Twitter) for having time to write this and to Faye (@FayeRogersUK) for asking if I wanted to do something to celebrate! Now, am going to hand it over to Melinda and we can talk world-building! 

“Lormere is fertile, but the altitude means a lot of the land is best used for livestock. We can grow our own potatoes, turnips, parsnips, rye and beans, but grain doesn’t thrive here. We have to import it from the north of Tregellan, where they have abundant farmland next to the river that separates Tregellan from Tallith. All of the fish and seafood for our table comes from Tregellan too, fished from the river or brought upstream by the fishermen who brave the Tallithi Sea.”

For me, the only way to build a world is from the ground up, quite literally. I start by thinking broadly about the outside setting as I imagine it; are there rivers, mountains, forests, etc. Once I have that picture in my mind of how the landscape looks, I start to get technical. 

This means thinking about the soil, which determines the plants and trees that grow there, and therefore the wildlife that feeds from them. And that affects the daily lives of the people who live there. The kind of produce the people can grow and farm decides what they eat, what they wear, even what they do for a living. You have to know what the seasons are like, what the climate is like, because that influences the kinds of clothes people need to wear, and the kinds of shelters they live in. 

Once you have all of the physical attributes of your world, you should explore the spiritual ones; what do the majority people of believe in, if anything? Have they always believed in it? This has a huge impact on how a country operates. Countries in our world that don’t separate faith and state are often (though not always) considered fundamentalist by the west. Where the governance is secular, the west sees it as more progressive, and usually democratic (state atheist – as opposed to state secularist - countries are often seen as fundamentalist and repressive too). 

Though a subjective perspective, this is a great starting point for figuring out the internal politics and economics of a place; even as far as its attitudes towards education, healthcare, science and citizens’ rights. 

For example, my first novel, The Sin Eater’s Daughter, exists in a place called Lormere, a country I completely made up, by a) cherry-picking bits from history and smashing them together, and b) finally putting my A* in GCSE Geography to good use (see, Mr Dale. I wasn’t just messing about with Rachael Cox at the back. I was learning too). 

In real terms Lormere is a very small country, around the size of Luxembourg. If it were on our planet it would be roughly where Sweden is, high above sea level, in a mountainous region. Winters (though we don’t see them in Sin Eater) are very harsh, summers comparatively mild and warm. The climate and landscape doesn’t lend itself too well to most types of arable farming, and limited pastoral; game, goats and sheep thrive, but cows and pigs don’t. 

Lormere, a country that doesn’t separate church from state, (and also practices the Cult of Personality) is a relatively poor country, with little import and export potential due to a lack of developing industries, and also opportunities. Financially it’s quite dependant on the tithes it receives from Tregellan as part of the peace treaty between them, as well as the taxes earned from citizens.

Tregellan, on the other hand, has thriving industry exporting grain, meat, fish and luxury goods to Lormere. It is a self-sufficient country. Because Tregellan isn’t as high above sea-level as Lormere, it has more arable farmland and pasture for livestock, and also has accessible coastline for fishing. The climate is close to our maritime climate, making it warmer and wetter than Lormere, though still cold in winter. Possibly most importantly, it’s also a democratic country, governed by an elected council, who took over after the dethroning (and executing) of the former monarchy. Power in Tregellan is handled at local level, with each town having a Justice who carries out district judgement in accordance with countrywide law, but with the ability to use their discretion and local knowledge. In just one hundred years it’s gone from being a country very like Lormere, to being progressive, liberal and very concerned with learning and development. In Lormere the Gods’ word is all, in Tregellan the religious are looked upon with scorn, even pity, by most citizens.

It might seem like an awful lot to have to figure out, especially when, as in The Sin Eater’s Daughter, you see very little of the external world, but in terms of writing The Sleeping Prince, and book three, it’s been invaluable to know the terrain of the world I’m working in. The contrasts and differences between the two countries are very important in terms of how they both respond to the threat of the Sleeping Prince, and the ultimate outcome of the trilogy. 

But that’s very much another story, for another time.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Book Review - Rebel in the Sands

This is Faber's YA big hitter for 2016. They have been building up for this debut for over a year now. That is how sure they are that this book is going to be everything we readers want to read.

But will it live up to the buzz that has slowly been growing since early 2015?

Amani is desperate to escape Dustwalk. The desert is in her bones, more comfortable holding a gun in her hand and shooting straight, that escape is beyond a want. It's a need.

When a stranger with no name turns up at a shooting range and saves her life, she is given the chance to run. Run and not look back. She takes it. But the desert is full of dangers, blood and magic. Soon, Amani is going to find herself in the middle in the rebellion and discover something about herself that might change her from being the gun who taught herself how to fire a gun...

So, this book. My reactions? I really liked it. I think fans of Zoe Marriott, Garth Nix and Laini Taylor will enjoy this mashed-up Arabian Nights Western.

While this world, the dangers and characters were fantastical, they all felt grounded and rooted. There was an element of realness that I hugely liked and made me keep reading. Plus, the world building and character development was subtle and very clever, which is a good sign that these will continue to grow. over the trilogy.

There is a hint of a romance storyline, but this is very subtle and isn't overwhelming, which is refreshing. There are books out there that make the romance quite overpowering.

What was also refreshing about the book was the mythology. I can only think of one book that uses djinn, and that is an adult literary novel. Seeing it here was an interesting twist within in YA fantasy.

Because of everything that happened in my real, non-blog life (work, family, Bagheera, boyfriend, possible holiday planning, the What Makes Us Human tour, etc), I found the first half of reading this book a little tricky as I couldn't sit down long enough to get into the story. Because of this, at times, I was a little overwhelmed with the world and mythology being giving to us, but once I got to the halfway mark, I found my stride and became to speed through.

This might be everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed myself quite a bit and am very eager to read the next book in the series.