Thursday, 31 May 2012

Review - Saving June

Saving June by Hannah Harrington

Saving June by Hannah Harrington
June, the older, golden girl sister has committed suicide. Sounds really grim. But that happened before the book begins and now the story must move on. And that’s what sixteen year old Harper tries to do. Harper literally tries to pick up the pieces and move on.  She says she’s doing it for June but really she’s doing it for herself.

Saving June is Hannah Harrington's debut novel and winner of the 2011 Teen Moonbeam Award. It's a raw story, told by Harper.  Harper is a true rebel with a cause (and yes, James Dean is mentioned in the book!). There's also plenty of reference to music and American cultural icons throughout.

Harper finds a postcard from her dead sister June. She reads that June felt trapped and really wanted to live in California.  So Harper decides that she will move June there – and so she sets off on a roadtrip across America in order to do this.

Freedom from parents, sleeping out under the stars, anti-war protests, punk rock concerts, an American roadtrip with a mysterious boy, best friends, young romance, and a musical playlist. It’s all in there. Yes, the playlists are included at the back of the book so you could listen along with the characters if you really wanted to (and I bet some readers will). 

The big, big issues that older teens grapple with are also in there which might make it inappropriate for younger readers: grief, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, suicide, one-night stands, pregnancy, parents, and the state the world is in. At times, it feels like a rollercoaster free-for-all (but with the real life scary bits) but it also manages to slip in questions of responsibility and consequences too.
Harper narrates the story and the tone of the book is very raw. While some readers may really connect with Harper and feel her grief, I didn’t. She’s a bit Marmitey and very bristly. She’s strong-willed and fairly singleminded in the way she approaches the world.  However, Harrington brings her characters very much to life and they are far from perfect. Her portrayal of teen behaviour, relationships and friendships is believable. You really do feel like you’re going on the journey with them.  And it's a good one.  Although there are times where the characters really want to get off!
For me, the book’s strength is not in its portrayal of Harper's grieving over June but in exploring the rebellious nature that takes over so many teens (and extends for some into adulthood too).  This book is full of self-indulgence and teenage nostalgia - and I liked that.
I really enjoyed this book. I think Saving June is appropriate for older teens.
Saving June publishes in the UK (quite appropriately) in June 2012.  The blog tour will be stopping here on Sunday 10th June.  Come back and say hello.

Publication details:

2012, Mira Books, Surrey

This copy: Review copy from Mira

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Review - Emma Hearts LA

Emma Hearts LA by Keris Stainton

Emma Hearts LA by Keris Stainton
If ever there was a book that was meant for a beach read, this is one.  If you’re not already on the beach or haven’t got a trip imminently planned, this’ll have you aching for one.  Otherwise you’ll be left feeling just a tad….envious.

Emma Hearts LA is a teen love story.  Probably the first romance we’ve ever reviewed on We Sat Down. 

Emma’s parents have divorced and her mum is planning on moving the three of them (Emma, younger sister Becks and herself) to Los Angeles. Emma’s not too keen but Becks is – she wants to be a movie star. Within pages, they have moved to Venice in LA and the story is really about their first few days there as Oscar (one of Emma’s childhood friend’s who also lives in LA now!), shows them the ropes.

While this may be billed as a glamorous read, I was delighted that Emma sweats and has the occasional wardrobe hiccup. While lovely boys quickly become the main focus of the plot, Emma is also struggling to work out what she wants in life and readers who love flawed and ‘conflicted’ characters will love Emma. Bex seems like a really easygoing sister and their mom (an astronomist at UCLA) sounds pretty cool too.

For me, Oscar is the real star. On all accounts, he is adorable. I’d go to Wok the Boat just to get a pot of his noodles. But, I think he reminds me of a whole bunch of guys that I know - or knew at school. So if you don’t make it to LA don’t fret, they’re probably all around you if you take a really good look.

The novel is set in Venice, LA which sounds fabulous.  Lots of little canals and bridges. I’ll be sure to check it out if I ever head out that way. And forget yoga on the terrace, I want one of those kayaks!

Being a romance, there’s also quite a bit of kissing. And if toned abs are your thing, there’s some of that too. For readers who have any clue about what goes on with Hollywood TV, there’s plenty in this for you too – but I must admit most of that went over my head.

If I picked a theme song for this novel, it’d have to be Gabrielle’s “Dreams” (or anything by S-Club 7 – Keris, what a pity the ed made you take it out! J).

It’s a quick and fun read that’s easily suitable for 12 years up.


Emma Hearts LA publishes in June 2012.  The blog tour will be stopping here on Monday 4 June.  Please come by to meet the lovely Keris Stainton.

Publication details:
Orchard, 2012, London, paperback

This copy: Uncorrected proof copy from Orchard

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Little M's Review - Dolphin Song

Dolphin Song by Lauren St John

PS. As this is the second book in Lauren St John's White Giraffe series, there might be spoilers for that book in this review.

Dolphin Song by Lauren St John

This book is about an eleven year old girl called Martine who lives near Cape Town in South Africa. Martine was chosen by the white giraffe to ride him. And only one person can do that. That person is given the power to heal an animal if touched. So Martine has this power.

Her class is going to follow the sardine run on a boat. It will take ten days. But whilst on the boat, a terrible storm happens and the railing on the boat falls off.  And seven of her classmates fall into the water, including Martine. She and her fellow classmates have to survive and try to save the dolphins. I’m not going into too much detail because it will spoil the story.

I really enjoyed this book.  It had some surprises that I didn’t guess. I’ve never really read a good castaway book before. It took me on an adventure that is heart-stopping because I thought they were going to die.

Some confusing bits in the book could be some African words like koeksisters (“twists of deep fried batter drenched in syrup”), rooibos (redbush tea), ja (it means ‘yes’) and rand (the South African currency). I got all excited when the book said Cape Town because I’ve been there. Koeksisters, believe me – best eaten when frozen because of the stickiness!

Some things in the book that are similar to other books I’ve read are that there is an orphan, castaways, bad guys, and animals that help them. Martine was my favourite character because she was the main character and you got to know her the most.

I’d recommend this book for people who have read Lauren St John’s Laura Marlin mysteries, animal lovers, people who like a good adventure, and probably age 9-12 and maybe a bit older.

Publication details:
Orion Children’s Books, 2008, London, paperback

Copy: mine, bought from British Heart Foundation charity shop.


Sunday, 27 May 2012

Take a look at the books we got #11

Welcome to our eleventh week of joining in with blogger memes like In My Mailbox (IMM) at The Story Siren  and the new British-based Letterbox Love. Here we all share the books that we recently bought, borrowed or received through the post.

This week it's been really sunny and a lot reading has been done outside.  so, we've taken the books to the grass!

Letterbox Love books on the grass!
We bought:

The One Dollar Horse by Lauren St John – what can we say.  The title just gives it away.  And of course, Little M is a die-hard Lauren St John fan too.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – we’ve both read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire and seen the movie – all this month. So, this one was inevitable….How great to be able to read the whole trilogy pretty much in one go!

We borrowed from our local public library:

Flip by Martyn Bedford - it's received lots of book award nominations and is about a boy who wakes up in somebody else's body.

Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace was a 2010 Costa winner. It's about schoolboys dealing with Zimbabwe's newly created independence in the 1980s.

We won:

Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed which takes on the heavy issue of forced marriages among teen girls. Thanks to Federation of Children's Book Groups and Puffin.

We received for review:

A Little, Aloud for Children edited by Angela Macmillan (from David Fickling Books - thanks!).  This is an anthology of extracts, poems and short pieces that are intended to be shared by reading aloud. It includes Neil Gaiman, Benjamin Zephaniah and Shakespeare. The idea is that all age groups can enjoy this book so in one sense, you could call it a real crossover title! Reading aloud is exactly what we’re planning on doing. It is being published in the UK on 7 June 2012 and all royalties will go to The Reader Organisation, a charity that works to connect both people and literature.

Hollow Pike by James Dawson (from Indigo/Fierce Fiction especially for Little M to review- thanks). It's about a teenage girl, witchcraft and the woods after dark.  Sounds scary to me. James Dawson has been nominated for the 2012 Queen of Teen award.

(the Letterbox Love logo was designed by Casey from Dark Readers)

Thursday, 24 May 2012

YA Yeah Yeah talks YA fiction

For the past five weeks, there's been me, M, and four other authors discussing their views on what YA fiction actually is. What are the boundaries, if any? This week, we're delighted to welcome blogger Jim Dean to the discussion. Jim runs the blog YA Yeah Yeah and is also a reviewer for The Bookbag.

M: Your blog’s name and slogan says a lot: YA Yeah Yeah: "You say Young Adult fiction, I say YEAH!"  What do you think characterises YA fiction? How do you see it as different from Middle Grade or Adult fiction?


YA deals with teen characters and has coming of age elements. Except when it doesn't.

Clear as mud, huh? It's a really interesting, and difficult, question. I would definitely say that most YA books have main characters aged between 13 and 18, and that most of them feature these characters growing as people throughout the novel. That doesn't mean they always do, and it doesn't mean that any book with these features is YA. For example, I recently read Rosalie Warren's Charity's Child, which features some great character development for the main narrator, a teenage girl whose best friend falls pregnant. However, it didn't strike me as a YA novel, perhaps because there's additional narration from the diary of an adult, the pastor at the girls' church.

MG books are generally shorter, and feature younger main characters, who are more limited in what they can do - parents will usually have more of an influence/restraint on them, for example.

I appear to have skimmed the surface of that question at best, but it's taken me a week to get to that level of clarity, so I'll move on...

M: What is it about YA fiction that makes you say YEAH?

Perhaps because teenagers are often thought of as having a rather short attention span, authors seem much more willing to get to the point quickly! You rarely get pages of writing - however beautiful - that don't advance the plot or develop characters, and since teens are some of the most interesting people in the world, it's great to see them change over the course of a novel or series.

M: Do you think that content guidance on YA book covers is useful (e.g. age guidance)?


I'm not overly keen, to be honest. Partly it's because the 'parental advisory' sticker seems to get slapped on as a way of trying to raise sales by looking 'edgy' some of the time, and partly it's because what's suitable for one teen at the age of 13 may not be remotely suitable for another teen until a few years down the road. I think reviewers giving some idea of what content may be unsuitable for younger teens is more useful, personally.

M: What are your top book recommendations suitable for readers age 11-14?


Anything by Karen McCombie is wonderful, with her new one Life According To... Alice B Lovely standing out as perhaps her best!

Cathy Hopkins and Cathy Cassidy are two other authors who are really consistent when it comes to producing excellent books - my favourites for each are the Mates, Dates... books by Hopkins and Cassidy's current series, The Chocolate Box Girls.

Without wanting to be sexist, boys are more likely to find stuff they're interested in if they turn to Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series - gory but perfect for this age group, Will Hill's epic Department 19 series, Jon Mayhew's loosely linked Mortlock novels or Darren Shan's many books.

One book which I think both boys and girls will love if they're looking for a cosy read with wonderful characters and a fabulous location is Ellie Irving's For The Record, which sees a young boy try to save his village from demolition by getting the residents to break 50 world records in a week. It's sweet, touching, and one of the most underrated books of the last few years.

M: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to contribute to this topic?


Just that it's fabulous to be part of a wonderful community and I think if we'd had this amount of book blogs and so on available when I was a teen (which couldn't really have happened as no-one I knew had the internet!) I don't think I'd ever have stopped reading YA books! I'm sure that they would have helped me find the best of the stuff out there, and am very jealous of teens today who have so many ways to learn about great books.


Thanks so much for taking part in this, Jim.  And you always manage to come up with some slightly angles and different book suggestions to everybody else.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Review - Wonder

Wonder by RJ Palacio

Wonder - RJ Palacio
My goodness, Wonder is RJ Palacio’s debut novel and it rocks!  But somehow this book has ended up on Little M’s bookshelf.  I wonder if she’ll miss it if I move it to a prominent position on my bookshelf??!!! Wonder is simply beautiful and it deserves a special spot on a bookshelf so that when someone comes into the house I can casually say, “Oh yeah, that’s a really good book for anyone to read”.

Auggie is 10 years old and suffers from a horrible face defect that makes him look beastly. People shy away when they see his face. It is a miracle that he survived birth, he has had numerous surgeries, and he has never attended a school. Contrary to the jacket image, he does have two eyes but he doesn’t really have ears, he has a snouty mouth like a tortoise, and eating and hearing are difficult for him. He has had a really, really rough start to life and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier just yet. But now, his mother thinks it’s a good idea for him to start middle school. Just great.

The story begins with Auggie narrating and you heart just wants to break for him.You can probably imagine how awful it must be for him with everyone staring, whispering, avoiding him; and you think things couldn’t get worse. But then on page 77, about a quarter of the way through, they do.  I’m sure my heart stopped for a very long second.  It was as if time froze and all the life in me dropped right down to my toes and everything went cold. Oh Auggie….

And with your heart in your toes, the story continues…. but from the perspective of other characters – Via, Summer, Jack, Justin, Miranda. It occasionally returns to Auggie’s perspective and it ends with his voice, a voice that is so different from the moment you first met him at the beginning of the story. Interestingly, none of these narrators are adults so the whole book is from children’s points of view.

Wonder brings two other recent reads to mind. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon which has a much older central character. But he too has a disability which causes problems with social interactions. There are also echoes of Annabel Pitcher’s My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece which come through in the main characters' voices. For me, what stands out in Wonder particularly in comparison to these two novels is the portrayal of the adult characters.  None of these novels include an adult narrator but most of the adult characters in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and in My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece are portrayed as quite vile. In contrast, most of the adults in Wonder are kind, loving and supportive. And what is remarkable about this is how it affects the overall tone of the novel.  There are no magic fixes but Wonder is honest, it is humbling and incredibly uplifting. 

What is so special about Wonder too, is that it is a book for every reader.  Anyone who has the technical ability to read it could enjoy it immensely. Wonder is definitely on my list of best books ever.  It’s sitting there snugly next to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (which I definitely would not recommend to younger readers!).

Wonder will make you do a double take about the way you look at the world and treat people.  Wonder is simply wonderful.

Publication details:
2012, Bodley Head, London, hardback

This copy: Bought by us

Monday, 21 May 2012

Review - After the Snow

After the Snow by S D Crockett

After the Snow - SD Crockett
Suddenly, Willo’s family are gone.  He doesn't know why but he realises that he is all alone on the snowy rural mountains of Snowdonia to fend for himself. He’s alone – except for dog, the companion he keeps in his head. Willo heads off on a treacherous journey and quickly discovers that there are dangers all around him: the snowy harsh mountain terrain, the wolves, good dog, mad dog, stealers, stragglers, Mary, and a whole lot of children. And that is just a start!  Not to mention a whole lot of secrets too.

Willo is a wonderful teen narrator.  So, so brutally honest, imperfect and ordinary in his own way.  I think he surprises himself more than the reader by how much he discovers throughout the novel!

The novel is an exciting but also dark and very cold adventure. Set in the future after the temperatures had warmed to melt the snowcaps, the world has returned to a cold and barren ice age. It’s a time where everyone is battling to survive. Set in the Rhinog mountains and nearby surroundings in Wales, the novel was inspired by S D Crockett’s experiences in Russia right after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While the different visions that people and governments have in dealing with the fallout from climate change is a central thread of the story, the main plot is Willo’s adventure. And really, it is Willo (and perhaps Mary) who makes this story come very much alive.  While the state of the world is important, what I really cared about most in this book was Willo.

After the Snow starts off slowly – if this is an issue for you, please bear with it – you will be rewarded. Also, Willo’s unusual use of tense was difficult to read for a good few pages but then I became accustomed to it.  There are some harsh and graphic scenes of violence and cruelty that might not be suitable for younger or sensitive readers.  I certainly skipped over the details in more than a couple of paragraphs.  But, this violence fits within the harsh reality and story that this book tells.

I was hoping to enjoy After the Snow but was surprised by how good I thought it was. It is a very haunting but beautiful read. And to top it off, I loved the ending.  A well-deserved and proper ending.

Publication details:
Macmillan, 2012, London, hardback

This copy: received for review from Macmillan Children’s Books

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Take a look at the books we've got #10

Weekly memes are a great way to share the books you're reading and to find out what books other people are reading too. We love taking part in them and there are two on Sundays that we particularly like: In My Mailbox and a 4 week old UK based Letterbox Love.

We have a first this week! 2 copies of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins in the house this week and they're already both being read at the same time (1 copy was bought for Little M as a gift and 1 copy was borrowed from a friend).  For those who don't know, it's the second title in The Hunger Games trilogy.

And we won a copy of All Fall Down by Sally Nicholls  (thanks to History Girls blog and Marion Lloyd Books); it came with a postcard too.It's a real-life dystopian of sorts as it is based in the historical setting of 1349 and The Black Death in England.  This was on our wishlist so we're delighted.

For review we received two titles that have been published by Oxford University Press this month (thanks OUP Children's!):

1) White Dolphin by Gill Lewis (author of the acclaimed Sky Hawk which Little M really enjoyed).  Lewis' stories have animals at their heart but are all about people, friendships and adventure too. 

2) Under the Cherry Blossom by Maya Healy which is set in Kai Province, Japan in 1216 and tells a story of two sisters whose family has been murdered and they have to disguise themselves as servants. This is the first book in a quartet. Book 2 in this quartet looks like it has been published simultaneously.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Booklist for ages 11-14 by Miriam Halahmy

Author, Miriam Halahmy, makes her personal book recommendations for readers aged 11-14.
My choices will focus on my personal interests of social and political themes.
a)   Do take a look at my novels, Hidden,Illegal,and Stuffed as they are fast paced teen novels, dealing with edgy subjects and include extreme sports such as motorbike riding and rock climbing.
b)   Saving Rafael by Leslie Wilson. A brilliantly written book about a mother and daughter who save a Jewish boy in Nazi Berlin.
c)   Being Billy by Phil Earle. Very revealing book about the modern experience of being a teen in care.
d)   After the snow by S.D. Crockett. Although this seems dystopian the author suggests it could just be a contemporary struggle to survive in a hostile regime and in a climate of snow and sub-zero temperatures.
e)   Dirty Work by Julia Bell, about trafficking girls into the UK and the terrible circumstances they face.
f)    A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly. One of the first modern Y.A. novels I read and still one of my favourites. A lovely coming of age novel set in the first part of the twentieth century in North America and reflecting the harsh realities of growing up in a very poor and struggling family.


Thank you Miriam, a very useful book list!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Boundaries in YA fiction....with Miriam Halahmy

We're delighted to welcome edgy author, Miriam Halahmy to the fifth week of our discussion series on Boundaries in YA Fiction. We're chatting about writing for a teen audience, edgy and age appropriate book content. Welcome and thank you, Miriam!

To catch up on the series, take a look at Week 1 (M's intro , Week 2 (Sita Brahmachari) , Week 3 (Savita Kalhan) and Week 4 (Bryony Pearce).


Miriam Halahmy on Hayling Island
M: Did you set out to write for a teen audience in your Hayling Cycle of novels?

MH: No, the cycle grew organically and when I started Hidden I thought I was writing for 8-12 year olds. But friends said this is a book for teens. I then started to read and read into the Y.A. market which was really beginning to take off in the UK. It was then I realised how exciting and broad this field was and so Hidden became a Y.A. novel.
M: Do you think Y.A. novels have essential ingredients?
MH: There are two elements that come to mind:
a)   The main characters need to be teens and steer the action through the book. Adults remain very much in the background.
b)   Y.A. fiction tends to be less reflective than adult literature, moving at a faster pace and keeping the reader turning the page. Action, dialogue, pace. Not pages of long descriptions and meandering thought. This is why I think that Y.A. fiction is so popular with adults.

M: Do you see Y.A. as a bridge between children’s literature (up to 12) and adult fiction?
MH: I don’t think I have ever considered Y.A. as a bridge, although it is an interesting idea. Certainly Y.A. deals with young people in their teenage years, with their own particular concerns, interests and journeys which separate them from both childhood and adulthood. And yet many of the things which I deal with as a Y.A. writer are things that are of huge interest to children of 10 years and adults in their 80s. Ultimately I write books. Publishers and booksellers like to pigeon-hole literature and so the Y.A. brand provides a useful marker. But my novels appeal to all ages and provoke a wide range of comment and reaction.

Carneig nominated Hidden by Miriam Halahmy
M: Do books need male lead characters to attract boys as readers?
MH: I don’t see this as my problem as a writer. My problem is to write the best book I can. My three Hayling books evolved organically and instinctively with girls in the lead and boys in the supporting role. However boys certainly read my books and there are comments from both boys and girls on my website responding to the novels. In my opinion both boys and girls will read books which are well written and appeal to their particular interests. Boys read Jacqueline Wilson and she always has female leads.

M: What is it about your books that makes them edgy?
MH: I have always been interested in social and political issues, right from childhood. I had a strong sense of fairness and justice and became involved as a teenager in work with homeless people. As a teacher for 25 years in London I worked with many young people from difficult backgrounds, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking teenagers, like Samir in my book, Hidden. I have continued to work with asylum seekers as a writer, working with the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture and English PEN, helping asylum seekers and refugees to record their stories.
In my personal reading, I have always been drawn to fiction and non-fiction which deals with challenging themes, from the great nineteenth century writers of social conditions such as Emil Zola and Dickens, to the political writers of the twentieth century such as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. It is therefore inevitable I think that I would be interested in writing books which reflect some of the most challenging and controversial issues of our time, such as human rights, immigration and the problems of drug-taking. My books are very edgy therefore.
 But it is my characters which sweep the reader along, not the issues. The characters have to be convincing three dimensional characters which stand up and stand out on the page and carry the story along, otherwise the reader can feel as though they are wading through mud. Humour helps a lot as well when dealing with edgy issues.

M: Are your novels suitable for Year 7 upwards and why?
MH: I would say that my novels are not suitable for children under ten, i.e. below Year 6, which is a big watershed in child development in itself. Otherwise my books are suitable for children, teens and adults. As my books deal with quite gritty subjects such as torture and drugs, I would steer the under tens away. However, we know that ultimately kids will read whatever they choose and if they pick up my books then that is their choice.
 Although there are huge differences between young people aged 10 and young people aged 16, the similarity is that they are all beginning to move away from the narrow world of childhood and consider their place in the world. They develop their growing awareness of the world outside themselves at different rates. But fiction can help them to make the journey into adulthood, just as fiction can help adults to cope with challenges in their lives. I hope that my books will open up the world ahead for all my readers and give them food for thought.
Thank you, Miriam.  Find out more about Miriam Halahmy's books here.
We'll also be posting Miriam's personal book recommendations for readers aged 11 -14 on Saturday.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Little M's Review - Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

“That morning, my brother’s life was worth a pocket watch…”
Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

I chose this book because it looked interesting and I love to read books based on wars. I know that this book is based on history because I saw a book trailer with the author (Ruta Sepetys) talking about her family and their past.

This book is about a 15 year old girl called Lina who lives in Lithuania. This book is set in 1941. She and her brother and mother got taken one night from their house and shoved into a lorry. Then they have to survive hunger, stenches, stuffy train carts, and treacherous weathers and the Russian army. Most of this book is about Lina trying to find her father and leaving trails for him.

This book is in memory of Jonas Sepetys.  Lina’s brother is called Jonas and I think the name might have come from Jonas Sepetys.

I enjoyed this book because I never knew that Russia started taking people out of Lithuania for no reason.

My favourite character was Lina because she is arty like me and so determined to stay alive. I know she is arty because in the book she draws pictures of people and of places in her sketchbook.  She does that so that one day someone might find them and can help the people who’ve been taken from Lithuania. And she also does it to leave trails for her father.

There’s nothing I really disliked about the book. It was better than I was hoping for because I thought it was going to be completely different. I thought it was going to be just about a girl getting taken to Siberia and trying to survive but it wasn’t just that.  There were other bits in it – I can’t tell you any more otherwise it will give some spoilers.

The book made me feel sad because the Russian army did terrible things to people. But there are some very happy moments.

I would recommend this book to any readers who like war books based on World War II, and for ages 12 or 13 and up. Not for younger readers because there are bits in the book that they may not understand like why Lina did drawings of things and kept them hidden. And some of the violence might not be good for them – the violence wasn’t really that good for me.

I loved this book.

Publication details:
Puffin, 2011, London, paperback

This copy: mine

Official book trailer for Between Sahdes of Gray (Ruta Sepetys) from Puffin:

Monday, 14 May 2012

Review - Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Code Name Verity is about two young women who make a “sensational team” during World War II. It is a bittersweet tale of friendship and a wonderful salutation to the women’s war efforts. A wonderfully crafted novel, the humour in the narration gives more than a nod to the horrendous ironies of war.

The novel takes the form of two journals. The first journal is narrated by Verity. She has been captured by the Germans in occupied France and her journal is written under the watchful and brutal eye of her German captors. She has agreed to collaborate with them and divulge British military aviation secrets through her story. She writes “I have two weeks.  You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.” And so she tells the story of an unlikely friendship formed between Maddie (a pilot) and Queenie (an aristocrat) during the war…..

And the rest, well that would be telling!

The reader becomes the sleuth in this novel, always trying to read between and beyond the lines.  What is Verity really saying? And of course, how reliable is she as a narrator?  As well as a meaningful story, there is also plenty to keep you guessing right up until the end in this novel. The journal entries include lots of dialogue and action as well as personal reflection. Humour, anguish, regret, friendship, cruelty, war, secrets, truth, lies and a good deal about planes. It’s all in there.

Although a fiction, this historical novel also has a bibliography. What a wonderful addition. Not only does it show the amount of research and author’s passion that went into this story, it is also an extended resource for those readers who are more deeply absorbed by the subject matter and the time period of this novel.

The writing style, and perhaps some of the attention to detail, probably make this a read for an older teen and most definitely adults.  If this novel had not been marketed as a teen novel, I wouldn’t have known otherwise.  I think this will be a hugely popular crossover title.

This must be one of my best reads this year, and I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t receive book award nominations. I loved it.

Publication details:
Electric Monkey, 2012, London, paperback

This copy: review copy received from Electric Monkey

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Take a the books we've got #9

Weekly memes are a great way to share the books you're reading and to find out what books other people are reading too. We love taking part in them and there are two on Sundays that we particularly like: In My Mailbox and a 3 week old UK based Letterbox Love.

This week, we're heading into new reading territory. And both books take us westward ho to California!  A coincidence or what?!

Both books received for review:

Emma Hearts LA by Keris Stainton (Orchard): Emma's mum is moving them to LA.  Emma's not too keen but her aspiring-actress sister Bex is all up for it. A love story, not our usual sort of read, but Keris Stainton's honest humour have made me curious about reading this.

 Saving June by Hannah Harrington (Mira Ink): teenagers, a dead sister, an urn of ashes, mysterious boys, a road trip, political protests, and a soundtrack too. The kind of book I've not read for years, this'll be interesting!

Thanks Orchard and Mira Ink.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Booklist for ages 11-14 by Bryony Pearce

Bryony Pearce, author of Angel's Fury (longlisted for Branford Boase 2012), makes her personal book recommendations for readers aged 11-14:

Technically my book is aged 15+, but I have lots of younger readers so of course I’d recommend my own J

Really I just love reading and I think KS3 readers should be reading what makes them love literature.  Whether it’s Michael Morpugo or Michael Grant. 

My personal favourite books for teens are:
  • Chaos Walking trilogy - Patrick Ness. I think the second book in particular gives an incredible insight into how one group can be controlled by another.  Any teen wanting to gain insight into Nazi Germany or other dictatorships should read this book.
  • Skin Hunger  - Kathleen Duey
  • Sacred Scars - Kathleen Duey 
  • Firebrand - Gillian Philip
  • Discworld series - Terry Pratchett. It  is very clever, comedic and hugely satirical with an inclusion of a huge range of educational sources, from Shakespeare to science.  Again, for a comment on the pointlessness of war, read Jingo.
  • Brain and Brawn series - Anne Macaffrey. I loved this when I was a teenager.  Her characterisation is amazing and I reread those books time and time again – crying each time.
  • Ash Mistry - Sarwat Chadda
For ‘younger’ readers, I enjoy:
  • Eoin Colfer
  • Terry Pratchett again (The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents is a favourite)
  • a version of Tales of King Arthur

Thank you Bryony, we haven't read any of those (other than Michael Morpurgo)! So we'll be having a good look.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Boundaries in YA fiction...with Bryony Pearce

For the fourth week of our Boundaries in YA fiction series, we're happy to welcome Bryony Pearce, author of Angel's Fury, to the blog.  Bryony chats about her own writing and fiction....for the inbetweeners!

M: On the difference between YA and Adult fiction you’ve saidthat YA tends to have a teenage protagonist, less swearing, less sex (if any) and more action. It tends to get straight to the point.” How would you say your books stack up against your own criteria?

B: I still believe that the vast majority of YA literature does fit those criteria, my own work included.

There is a pervasive opinion throughout publishing that while an adult will struggle through a turgid tome for at least a few chapters, if not till the end (‘I’ve started so I must finish’ syndrome), teens, if they find a book boring, will put it down. 

Bryony Pearce (pic courtesy of Strange Chemistry website)
I really enjoy teen literature (I’ve just finished reading Cinder and Legend) and one of the reasons for this is that the books are so fast paced they fit in with my lifestyle.  I’m a busy mum (and writer) and if I’m reading a book I need it to be something I want to devour.  If I have to put it down to deal with the kids, I need to really want to pick it back up again.  Perhaps I’ve become more ‘teen-aged’ in my ‘old-age’ because if I put a book down and don’t feel that desperate to find out what happens next, I no longer ‘make myself’ pick it back up again.  I do go and find something else.

As for the sex and swearing, not only do gatekeepers object to it (in my opinion, rightly), I’m not sure I could write a proper sex scene if it was actually called for.  I happily read them, but my single attempt at writing a sex scene was a cringe-worthy mess.

Readers have told me that Angel’s Fury is unputdownable.  So yes, I feel that my books stack up against my own criteria – no sex, very little swearing, teen hero/ines and lots of action.   
M: Did you set out to write for a teen audience?

B: I’ll admit that when I started out writing my first novel I didn’t know that I was writing for teens.  It was only after I’d written Windrunner’s Daughter (the book that made me a winner of Undiscovered Voices 2008) that I realised I had written a teen novel.  It was an action packed adventure with a young heroine, no swearing and no sex.  Of course it was teen.  I guess I just write what I want to read. Or perhaps my inner author is a teenager. 

M: What is it about your novels that make them ‘edgy’? And are your edges bloody sharp or kindly blunt?

B: I think there are two key things that make Angel’s Fury‘edgy’.  There are some of the issues I deal with (self-awareness, good vs. evil, how man can do terrible things to his fellow man), and there is the method I choose to deal with them. 

After I had written Angel’s Fury my editor warned me that my book could be quite controversial, mainly because I had chosen to use the holocaust as a ‘tool’.  She said that my book was unique in doing that; that all other books that dealt with the holocaust were about the holocaust.  It is such an emotionally loaded period, so serious and horrifying that no other author has dared to use it as a tool or motif because this risks taking it lightly.

The past lives of at least three of my characters are set during the second world war, but the book is not about the second world war, it is about the character’s modern day conflict (internal and external). 

I hope that I convey some of the horror of that period without being gratuitous and I hope that by using it ‘as a tool’ I can reacquaint teens with the history (which to most now seems very far in the past) without shoving it down their throats like a history lesson. 

M: From Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew straight to Stephen King and a whole lot of mucky stuff. That’s a similar reading history to mine! Do we really need a bridge between Children’s and Adult fiction? Or are we just being censorial?

B: Teens should definitely read adult books, to only read YA would be to miss out on a hugely important literary history.  I’d be the last person in the world to prevent a teen reading Jane Eyre because it doesn’t have the literary equivalent of a ‘13’ certificate.

Yet the popularity of YA literature speaks for itself.  If it wasn’t needed, or wanted, it wouldn’t be such a huge growth market.  So many things are aimed at teens –clothes, music, even food – why shouldn’t they have their own literature that fulfils their specific needs and deals with issues that are close to their hearts?

Perhaps as we get older we do become more censorial because I’d be uncomfortable with my little girl reading what I did at 13 and while my 13 year old self sits in my head waving her well thumbed copy of The Stand at me in horrified approbation, my mummy self is worried that it would give my daughter nightmares! 

As adults I think perhaps we no longer remember how much our teen selves understood and enjoyed adult books.  At the same time I do remember encountering some erotic fiction (which was written in the guise of heroic fantasy) and really not being ready for it.  In fact scenes from that book are still indelibly printed on my frontal lobe (and not in a good way!).

YA is there for kids who have been brought up to want action and adventure (from Nancy Drew to Beast Quest – it’s what we have always craved), who want romance without pornography.  Who want books that are fast-paced and that deal with the issues that consume them; whether that’s global warming, or first love.  YA is written for the inbetweeners.
And the inbetweeners do exist, they are the people who are waiting to cross that bridge between childhood and adulthood and if that is the case, then surely bridges should be built to help carry them there. And who says I’m not still an inbetweener myself? 

Thank you Bryony, a lot of food for thought. And hurrah for the inbetweeners. Visit Bryony Pearce's website to find out more.

We'll also be posting Bryony's personal book recommendations for the inbetweeners this Saturday. Next Thursday, we'll be chatting with author, Miriam Halahmy.

To catch up on the previous discussions, have a look at Week 1 (intro by M), Week 2 (Sita Brahmachari) and Week 3 (Savita Kalhan).