Tuesday 31 July 2012

We Sat Down for a Chat with Patricia McCormick

Patricia McCormick is the author of Never Fall Down, a moving and honest novel that tells the tale of Cambodia's brutal Killing Fields from the perspective of a child soldier. Never Fall Down is inspired by and based on extensive research conducted with Arn Chorn Pond, a  survivor and ex-child soldier.


M: What inspired you to write Never Fall Down?

Patricia McCormick:
I heard Arn speak about his experiences as a survivor of the Khmer Rouge and as a child soldier and saw how much he still suffered when he spoke. It was as if he became that frightened child all over again; he would shake and weep, sometimes uncontrollably. I was very moved by his courage and honesty and thought that if I could capture that story safely between the pages of a book, he wouldn’t have to relive those experiences every time he spoke. He would be able to speak, as he does so eloquently, about the healing power of music and about his work as a peace activist.

And, indeed, I’ve seen a change in Arn since the book came out. It was very powerful for him to have readers bear witness to his experience and I think it has helped him move beyond his past and deepen his healing. He seems to me to be much more of a man, firmly rooted in the present, and less a terrified child.

M: How did you meet Arn?

Patricia McCormick:
A neighbor in my apartment building introduced us. I was living in a small building, full of artists and writers – it’s called Meade House because Margaret Meade once lived there – and we often had pot luck suppers or drinks together. Not your typical New York anonymity. My neighbor had been active in the peace movement for many years, knew Arn and knew Arn needed help recording his story.

M: What was one of the most memorable aspects of your trip to Cambodia with Arn?

Patricia McCormick:
One thing stands out: Our visit to Wat Aik, the prison camp where Arn was forced to witness the killings of hundreds, of innocent people and where his music was used to cover up the sounds of those killings. He had been able to locate a handful of fellow survivors, men who had played in the band with him. When we stepped onto the grounds of Wat Aik, it was as if the men were seeing ghosts. They pointed at various places – the path to the mango grove where the killings took place, for instance – as if the were seeing prisoners being marched to their deaths. Their memories which had been sort of freeze-dried for some 35 years suddenly came to life and they were overcome with fear, then sorrow and then a kind of peace. The peace, I think, came from the understanding that their experiences would not be forgotten because of the book.

We also had a lot of fun – as the men grew to trust me they played tricks on me, getting me to eat fried ants, for instance.

M: So much of this novel is based on true events. Arn and many of the key characters are based on real people. What aspects make it fiction?

Patricia McCormick:
Arn has a remarkable memory. And I cross-checked the veracity of his story with independent witnesses and archival material. But no one can remember, in a linear way, the events of 35 years ago, especially not a child who is in the midst of a genocide and is being manipulated by his captors. Death became so commonplace that Arn often had to dissociate – numb himself to all human feeling – just to survive.

And so, for instance, he can recall the eerie ‘click’ of a landmine being sprung. He can recall the stench of a gangrenous leg. But he has supressed the memories of his fellow child soldiers stepping on landmines, in part, because the experience was so commonplace, in part, because it was so terrifying. And so I created a character – a little girl who carried rice for the soldiers – and introduced her on, say, page 123. The reader grows to care for her as the chapters go by, so that when on page 157 or so, she steps on a landmine we care deeply about her. She is not a random, forgotten casualty or a statistic; she’s a person. And then, I would use Arn’s very distinctive voice to reflect on the experience: “Now, even the earth is our enemy.”

Whenever I had a fact, I used it. When I didn’t I made use of a pastiche of fact, fiction, memory and imagination to create a feeling of authenticity.

M: Music is a central thread in Never Fall Down. Can you tell us a bit more about the place of music in Arn’s tale?

Patricia McCormick:
Arn came from a family of opera singers and performers and he came from a town that had a very lively rock n roll scene in the early 70s. He grew up singing Beatles songs and dancing the Twist. The Khmer Rouge extinguished both the traditional music of Cambodia and everything ‘foreign’ because they saw self-expression as a threat.

Music also saved Arn’s life. By volunteering to play an instrument in what turned out to be a propaganda band, he was spared the grueling work in the rice fields, work that killed many children. But the Khmer Rouge also cruelly distorted music; they used Arn’s music to cover up the cries of the dying. And this participation in the killing, however unwitting it was, left Arn with enormous guilt.

(It was also partly through popular music that Arn learned to speak English when he came to the United States  - Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, etc.)

Mindful of the role that music had played in his life, he returned to Cambodia to find the few master musicians who’d survived the genocide. (The Khmer Rouge had targeted artists and intellectuals, killing 90% of the musicians.) He paired these musicians with young street kids so they could learn the classical music of Cambodia – music that would have died out with that generation.

Arn’s vision of peace and healing through music will come full circle next year when those musicians and their students perform at Lincoln Center in New York.

M: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Patricia McCormick:
One of the biggest challenges with the book was finding the right voice and perspective. After several false starts, I went back and listened to my taped interviews with Arn and realized that what was missing from my earlier attempts was his voice – his unique, quirky, improvised English. It is that voice – that of a child who is at turns mischievous, bewildered, terrified, canny and kind – that makes the horrendous experience endurable.


Never Fall Down is published in the UK on 2 August 2012 by Random House Children's Publishers. You can read M's review of Never Fall Down here.

You can visit Patricia McCormick at her website here.

Sunday 29 July 2012

What's going on? #5

New books for us:

Yes, we have nibbled on the Bluebell Jones rock!!!
The Fault In Our Stars - John Green
It’s been on our wishlist for a while and it’s highly recommended by people who know what we like.  But, our local library doesn’t have it in yet. So thank you lovely Zac the librarian all the way down there in Christchurch, New Zealand; you’ve come to our rescue by sending us a copy of. This is a highly acclaimed teen story about love, life and cancer.

My Brother Simple – Marie-Aude Murail.
Critically acclaimed in mainland Europe, it’s an alternative coming-of-age story involving flatsharing with a brother who has learning difficulties and girls. Publishing in the UK on 2 August 2012 (received for review, Bloomsbury).

The Night Sky In My Head – Sarah Hammond.
Mikey is damaged after an accident and can go backwards in time to see things in the shadows. Disappearances and murder might be involved (received for review, Oxford University Press).

The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones – Susie Day. Blue is turning thirteen and she thinks she’ll need some help. So (obviously!), she calls upon Red, her fourteen year old self from the future, to help her have the summer of her life. We’re both very keen to read this. And the rock is such a sweet touch too! (received for review, Marion Lloyd, August 2012)

Breathe – Sarah Crossan Lottery-style winners get to live inside the Pod when the earth’s oxygen levels are able to plummet. Life inside the Pod becomes oppressive and stratified and threat of ejection from the Pod acts as a social regulator. This is the first title in a new dystopian trilogy. Publishing in October 2012 (proof received for review, Bloomsbury).

Fast forward, Rewind and Play

Here’s a heads up on some forthcoming time travel novels that have dollops of romance in them too:

-          The Twice Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones – Susie Day (August 2012, Marion Lloyd)
-          Time Between Us – Tamara Ireland Stone (25 October 2012, Doubleday)
-          When the World Was Flat (and We Were In Love) – Ingrid Jonach (late 2013 from Strange Chemistry).

Friday 27 July 2012

Author Interview - SJ Kincaid

Today we have the very playful SJ Kincaid on the blog. Poltergeists are revealed!
SJ Kincaid is the author of the electrifying teen sci-fi  novel, Insignia, which publishes in the UK on 2 August (see M's review).

Insignia by SJ Kincaid
Some Insignia book related questions:

M: If you were a plebe at the Pentagonal Spire, what would your Achievements profile say?

SJ Kincaid: LOL, probably, 'Three book contract with Katherine Tegen Books'. ;-)

M: Is your answer to that question true?

SJ Kincaid: No. I'm not getting published. Is my answer to that question true? Total lie.)

M: What Division would you like to have been placed in for training?

SJ Kincaid: Well, the Divisions are basically like dorm names, not significant apart from the theme of guys who are big in military history (and they're all guys with cool names, too - hence 'Hannibal' rather than someone like 'Caesar'). If I just went purely by the awesome names, though, I'd definitely pick 'Machiavelli'. There's something just too awesome about that name.

M: The Combatants go by call signs like Enigma and Medusa. What call sign would you use?

SJ Kincaid: Ooh, tricky. See, when I think of an awesome call sign, I tend to give it to a character. Hmm. How about 'Boris'? I just think it would be funny.

M: Are you any good at computer programming?

SJ Kincaid: I am TERRIBLE at computer programming. I have taken four classes in it. In high school, I did HTML - got an 'A', it was great. JavaScript was harder, but then I got an 'A-' or so. And then I got into real programming and took C++. The first week, I was doing fine. The second week, I showed up at class and suddenly it was everyone else had learned some exotic foreign language and they were all speaking in it. I had no idea what was going on! I had to drop the class.

So, in college, I looked back on that and decided, "I obviously wasn't studying enough, that's all." I took another programming class focused on a language called 'Scheme'. First few weeks, I was feeling pretty smug, and then one day in class, it happened all over again. I suddenly didn't know what was going on. We had this assignment where I had no idea how to even do the most basic level of programming we had to write, and this kid in my dorm (also in the class) had basically responded to the same assignment by writing this elaborate program, just from stuff he'd learned in the last few weeks.

So, yeah. Not my strong point.

M: You have a playlist for the Insignia series.  What are your favourite tunes on it?

SJ Kincaid: Well, the playlist is kind of old in that I've listened to all the songs so often, I'm dreadfully sick of them all-- but I did love most all of them quite a bit for a while. If I singled some out, it would be 'Running to the Edge of the World', 'Forever Yours', 'Tear You Apart', 'Tiny Tears', 'Written in the Stars' and 'Unwell'.

And now for something a bit more scary:

M: You lived beside a haunted graveyard in Scotland! How do you know it was haunted?

SJ Kincaid: LOL, I don't know for sure, but it's a graveyard widely reputed to be haunted, and there was one spooky thing that happened. My friend and I were on this tour of that place, and there's a place called the 'Black Mausoleum' there that's supposed to be very haunted by the 'Mackenzie Poltergeist'. Anyway, my friend was standing next to me, and we were at the edge of the group, and she told me to stop poking her back. I wasn't doing that, and no one else could've been doing it. Then next day, we look, and there was this scratch mark across her back there. Kinda creepy, right?

M: What does SJ stand for?

SJ Kincaid: Shelley Jessica.  Thanks for the interview questions! I'm so glad you enjoyed the book.


Thank you very much, SJ.  That Mackenzie Poltergeist revelation!

Here is our review of Insignia. Insignia is one of the titles that launches Bonnier's brand new publishing arm, Hot Key Books.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Review - Muddle and Win: The Battle of Sally Jones

Muddle and Win: The Battle of Sally Jones by John Dickinson

Muddle and Win is a curious book. It’s also good (or maybe bad) fun. And there are muffins.

I’ve never read anything like it before so this is not a comparative review at all because I don’t have anything previous to draw upon. What I do know is it was originally planned as a graphic novel, so there may well be overlaps with that (but I’ve never read a graphic novel either so I don’t know).

Anyway, what hooked me was the first chapter which leads you down a trapdoor in the back of your head taking you into the dark depths of your mind leading all the way down to Pandemonium. And the second thing was the idea of a Lifetime Deeds Counter (LDC): everything you do may be counted as either a good or bad deed. I really wanted to see how this would play out.  I had a feeling it might be fun.

Muddlespot is from Pandemonium – which is…down there (tucked right away in the dark depths of your head)! There’s a castle with a fire and a devil called Corozin.  Ghastly things happen to people who’re dragged there. Muddlespot is chosen as the Mission Alpha agent. Basically he has to go UP THERE (heavens forbid) and take out the biggest threat to Pandemonium.

But there’s a catch: Sally Jones. Fourteen year old Sally Jones is angelic. She truly is Miss Perfect. Everyone, yes everyone, likes Sally Jones.  She’s just so nice and thoughtful to everyone. To help keep it this way, she has a whole army of Guardian Angels protecting her mind whereas most people only have one. They’re protecting her from the devil’s agents – like Muddlespot. And so the battle begins. And, it is an actual battle with weapons and action, WHACKS! and SPLATS, and a whole lot of squelchy, gristly bits!

This is one of those books that takes figurative meaning literally.  And you end up with a whole lot of light-hearted silly good fun. But parallel to this, Muddle and Win also explores concepts of good, evil, truth, and ideas (just some of life’s itsy-bitsy philosophical questions).

At times, I thought the storyline was aimed at 10 years or younger, but the language structure (and maybe some of the ideas) is aimed at an older reader.  There are bits for everyone in there.

And remember….muffins!

Publication details:
David Fickling Books, Oxford, 30 August 2012

This copy: Proof received for review from the publisher

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Review - Never Fall Down

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Never Fall Down is based on real events that took place in the 1970s. In Cambodia, nearly two million people were killed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime. Arn Chorn Pond survived and this novel is based on his story.

It starts in 1975. The Khmer Rouge have designated it Year Zero in Cambodia because everything is going to start afresh. Arn is eleven and this story tells the tale of how a young boy took his aunt’s advice and learned how to bend like grass in the wind.

Amidst the manure piles, mango groves, rice, shit, cannibalism, and music that masks death, the reader follows Arn’s story as he learns that some people will do anything to stay alive. The question is, will he? And can he trust anybody – Kha, Siv, Sambo? And Mek - who treats him like a son? And can Runty trust Arn? Whatever happens, many of these characters will become very dear to you.

Have you ever had that feeling when you’ve walked for so long that you don’t think you can go any further? If you have, you might have some mental preparation for this novel.  If you haven’t, prepare yourself first.  Go for a long walk ‘til your feet hurt and you just want to collapse.  But! Never fall down.  Now, steel yourself and you might be ready for this novel….

This is not a happy story but reading it could make you a better person. If it wasn’t for the fact that Arn survives (which you know from the start), this would not be a YA book. The sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in gritty YA novels doesn’t even compare to scenes in this story. Of course, the distress caused to any reader will not match the distress and deaths suffered by the characters or real people whose history informs this novel.

The language in the book is a bit unusual (Arn probably wasn't a native English speaker) and the narrative and plot is also fairly monotonous for the first half.  And then, chillingly, it changes. I was on tenterhooks the whole way through. There are also moments of light relief. You'll probably even have the occasional chuckle.

A truly absorbing and heartwrenching read, if Never Fall Down makes you burst out with convulsive sobs when you’re standing and waiting on a train platform, don’t blame me for recommending it. Blame the Khmer Rouge.

Publication details:
Random House Children's Publishers, London, 2 August 2012

This copy: manuscript from Random House Children’s Publishers


Author, Patricia McCormick will be answering some of We Sat Down's questions about Never Fall Down on Tuesday 31st July.  Her answers made me cry so I thoroughly recommend you come back to read them.

Sunday 22 July 2012

What's going on? #4

To start with, it's the summer school holidays. Yay! And here's our roundup:

Firstly, a big thanks to Hot Key Books who provided copies of Angel Dust by Sarah Mussi (which is out in August) for We Sat Down's first impromptu reading group. We'll be reporting back on how that went. Hot Key Books' first books will be published on 2 August 2012.

Latest additions to our bookshelves:

For review:

Katya's World by Jonathan L Howard. This is a science fiction title coming from Angry Robot's new YA imprint, Strange Chemsitry in November 2012. It's set in Russalka, a colony that has sea but no land, where the people live beneath the waves. Katya is heading off on a submarine journey but of course, it's not going to go quite to plan.

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by Johne Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Barnabay is normal - except that he defies one baisc rule: gravity. (I've read this already, and it's a delight; review coming soon). It will be published in the UK on 2 August 2012 by Doubleday.

Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Goes Abroad, and Pippi In the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren (Oxford University Press). We have something wonderfully Scandinavian planned for these!


Flip by Martyn Bedford  - given to us from Martyn at a interview we did with him. We've both read Flip from the library before and loved it.  So we're very pleased to have a  signed copy all of our own now. Watch out for our review and interview with him coming up in September.

Codename Quicksilver giveaway winner

The winner of our Codename Quicksilver books giveaway is:  jb116094. Please contact us with your details. Thank you to Orion Children's Books for providing these books.

Competitions from Bloomsbury

A fabulous competition  - both for what you have to do and also for what you could win - is Elen's Awesome Adventures Award. Basically, you have to put together a collage of your own adventure. And you stand to win a set of all her books, Topshop vouchers, and an iPod touch. UK resident children aged 7+ may enter by 31st October 2012.

And of course, there's the big Harry Potter one which if you don't know about by now!......

Thursday 19 July 2012

Little M's review - Tiger Wars

Tiger Wars: The Falcon Chronicles by Steve Backshall

Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall
Tiger Wars is about a boy called Saker and a girl called Sinter. They meet when Saker is on the run from a clan that he was part of until he thought what they were doing was wrong. Each clan member was given a name by the way they move and act so Saker got given Saker which is a kind of eagle. The clan are trained to fight, steal and hunt. They grow up like that from before they could remember. But when the clan are asked to deliver a rich man some tigers, either dead or alive, Saker thinks it is so wrong to kill such a rare animal. So then he goes on strike (stops helping them).
As Saker runs away from the dogs and the clan he bumps into Sinter, an Asian girl who is forced to marry a horrid man. Because Saker is on the run he grabs her and then they run off together. They are going to get the tiger cubs back from the clan before it is too late.
It takes them from India to the Himalayas and then to China. Half way through Sinter gets captured by one of the clan. Are Saker and Sinter ever going to meet again and are they going to save the cubs before it is too late?     
I liked this book, but it was not my favourite because the author didn’t describe the surroundings very well and you could almost have been anywhere. Apart from the fact that it lacked the description, it was a pretty good book. I loved the idea where each member of the clan is given a name based on how they move and how they go about doing stuff.
I’m not quite sure what age this book is suitable for but I definitely know people who like adventure might enjoy this book.
Publication details:
Orion Children’s Books, June 2012, London, hardback
This copy: received for review from the publisher

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Review - Insignia

Insignia by SJ Kincaid

Insignia by SJ Kincaid
Fast forward to World War III. Alliances have formed between regions and corporations rather than national state governments. Fighting in this war takes place mainly in outer space and is fought remotely by Combatants with chips in the back of their heads. Enter Tom Raines.

Tom Raines doesn’t think he’s good at much – except games.  So it comes as a bit of a shock when he’s asked to join the military. Only promising young people are recruited by the military to become Combatants for the Intrasolar Forces in World War III. These trainee combatants live and train at the Pentagonal Spire. And Tom thinks this could be his route to becoming somebody.

Much like any school story, there is a broad cast of characters and the plot in Insignia is littered with gamers, golden boys and girls, traitors, spies, geeky programmers, duplicitous beauties, torturous military staff, a whole lot of avatars and some deepdown ordinary folk too. If you like strong characters, there are quite a few in here, both boys and girls. I found myself really rooting for many of them. Wyatt is one. And Medusa.  And even Elliot. I shan’t tell you why because that would give too much away!  Read the book yourself and see who you root for…..

For me, an underlying theme of the book is body image.  The overall message on this front is that looks shouldn’t really count. When looks are taken out of the picture, this story shows that they don’t count. But, it also shows how many of the characters battle with their own thoughts about body image. Can looking ‘good’ really make you somebody? And be warned….things aren’t all that they seem! All kinds of boundaries are crossed.

Insignia will appeal to any reader who enjoys the tussles of boarding school life and the mind games involved in working out who your friends really are. There’s plenty of that in there especially when dangerous and perplexing computer challenges are set. There is also plenty of page-turning action and puzzles to keep you guessing. The ending is electrifying, and you will want to read the next book. Insignia is the first book in a planned trilogy.

I think this book will appeal to both boys and girls and is easily suitable for readers aged 11 plus. I can think of a good few adults who will like it too.

Hot Key Ring for Insignia
Instead of age ratings or warnings, Hot Key Books put a 'Hot Key Ring' on the back cover of their books. This aims to show readers what sort of things are in the book. I think I'd agree with their ring for Insignia. 
Publication details:
Hot Key Books, August 2012, London

This copy: uncorrected proof copy from Hot Key Books.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Review - Noughts & Crosses

 Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Noughts & Crosses - Malorie Blackman
Noughts & Crosses is a critically acclaimed alternate history that tackles racism, oppression and rebellion. But it tastes like Marmite. You’ll either love it or hate it.

Noughts & Crosses tells the story of Callum and Sephy who live in a society that is cruelly ruled by the dark-skinned Crosses at the expense of the almost-enslaved light-skinned noughts. Callum is a nought and Sephy is a Cross. Once childhood friends, an event happens that tears their families apart. From all parts of the community, brakes are harshly applied to their continued and blossoming relationship. Noughts & Crosses is Callum and Sephy’s tale.

The dual narration by Callum and Sephy works really well and, for me, is flawed only by the similarity of the two voices.  I didn't think they were distinct enough and I had to keep flipping back to the header to see whose tale was being told.

There is a lot of plot movement.  Too much for me but perhaps this is what many Young Adult audiences relish. And more importantly, a busy plot signifies the multiple difficulties that many people deal with on a daily basis - especially in societies that set out to destroy the very fabric of your souls.

It’s certainly not an enjoyable read but I don’t think it was meant to be. What I usually love about alternate realities is the hope they provide for the future.  Sadly, Noughts & Crosses lacked this for me and by the end it really felt like a punch in the stomach. On Malorie Blackman’s own website, she admits that there is mixed feeling over the ending. As a result, some readers may find it unsatisfactory.  I know I’m one of them. But there are plenty of readers who don't feel this way.

Perhaps the thing that stands out for me most in the novel is the issue of choices, consequences and individual action. So many characters make really bad choices and the unexpected (and sometimes unintended) consequences are very painful – and far reaching. After the punch that this novel delivered, which left me feeling cold inside (as Callum felt too), I’m starting to find peace with the novel. I see it now as an indictment against forms of violent action – and a call for people to think their choices through.

Noughts & Crosses is the first in a series of books (all of which are published so available to buy or borrow from libraries).

The copy I read has a warning printed on the back cover: Not suitable for younger readers.  I think anyone recommending this to a young teen should do so believing that the child has the mental maturity to evaluate the actions characters take in this novel.

Publication details:
Corgi (Random House), 2006, London, paperback (special edition including An Eye For an Eye)

This copy: our own


Tuesday 10 July 2012

Codename Quicksilver - Little M's Review, Gadgets & Book Giveaways

Codename Quicksilver by Allan Jones, a new spy series.
We have Little M's review, an author guest post on spy gadgets and a giveaway (closes 20 July 2012 at 3pm):  
 3 lucky winners will each win a set of 2 Codename Quicksilver books!

Little M's Review: Codename Quicksilver 1 & 2

Codename Quicksilver: In the Zone
Codename Quicksilver: In the Zone is about a boy named Zac who lives in a children’s home in London. Zac is a pretty normal kid, apart from the fact that he has no parents. One day he witnesses a murder; the murder of a friend of his at the children’s home. His name was Spizz.
Zac wants to find out what happened to Spizz, but is his curiosity going to get him killed? When walking back to his children’s home a girl named Rina kidnaps him and says it is for his own safety. She claims she is a spy for MI5 but does Zac believe her?  She says she’s been framed as a traitor to MI5 and that if she can get back a memory stick with some vital information she will be able to go back into MI5...
I liked the look of this book but then I wasn’t so keen on it.  But once I started the book I said, “I’m not coming away, I love this book.” So that is how much I now love this book (an awful lot). When I finished this book, I got the second book and started to read it straight away (we got given the 1st and 2nd in the series).
I love spy books and this book was right up my street. I’m not quite sure why I love spy books so much. It might be the fact that each member gets given cool gadgets or it might be because I love the action in them too.
I would recommend this book to people who watch MI High which is a TV program on CBBC.  I would also recommend it to people who love spy books or spy films e.g. James Bond or Johnny English.  Age category -  I don’t really know. 
In this book there is a tiny bit death at the beginning, action, adventure, gadgets and, of course, spy fiction.
The second book, Codename Quicksilver: The Tyrant King….I can’t say what it’s about because it gives away the end of the first book but in one of the paragraphs it made me think of pancakes (I’m not quite sure why): “A host of competing scents wafted on the breeze. The tang of fresh fish, and ripe fruit from the open market stalls. The smell of hot tyre rubber on tarmac, and food being cooked in the seafront restaurants and cafes” (p.98). Then I had the craving for pancakes so I went and made some……
I absolutely loved this book too.

Publication details:
Orion Children’s Books, 2012, London, paperback
Our copies: received for review from the publisher
And here's Allan Jones, telling us all about the gadgets in Codename Quicksilver series:

"The teenaged secret agents of Project 17 who appear in the new spy series Codename Quicksilver get sent out on some pretty tricky missions. They are asked to track down and confront the kind of people that us ordinary folk would do anything to avoid. Bad people. Dangerous people. Murderous people. They have to locate and defeat people with guns and bombs, and sometimes people with far more dangerous weapons – lethal devices that can kill thousands of people at the press of a red button or the click of a mouse.

Being super-fit and highly-skilled in martial arts such as Brazilian jiu jitsu, win chung and crav maga are vital, but there are times when even the most determined and expert spy needs a little something extra to call on in moments of particular peril.

The scientists who work in the Research and Development branch of the specialist and elite MI5 department known as Project 17 have come up with some handy gadgets to help their agents out when all else has failed. Some are defensive, some are offensive – but they have all been specifically designed to be portable and easy to operate in the field, whether that field happens to be the roof of a high-rise building in a big city, the roof of a speeding train, the middle of the ocean or a tunnel leading to a terrorist mastermind’s secret headquarters dug out under a mountain.

The scientists (‘white-coats’) at Project 17 give their creations official names such as the SGD706/EO3. But who’s going to remember that in a moment of crisis? “Hand me the SGD706/EO3, please?” I don’t think so. The young field agents have given the gadgets nicknames that are far easier to remember. Tags such as Snakescope, Whizzer, Flash, Chewing-gum and Fluze.
The Zipper. This is a smallish grey metal box, about 20cm x 15cm x 8cm. It’s lightweight and fits easily into a backpack. It has heavy-duty clamps at one end that can be used to attach the Zipper onto almost any fixed object – the lip of a rooftop, the frame of a window – a metal gantry. Two flexible and micro-thin steel cables come out of the other end. A webbing strap can be attached to the cables to act as a harness – because the Zipper is a quick way of getting up and down vertical surfaces. It works on a powerful xenon fluoride battery and can winch two people at a time up or down a ten-metre drop. Handy for making a quick exit if you’re in trouble.

Then there’s the Whizzer – a black ball about the size of a table tennis ball. The Whizzer is made from two halves that lock together. It is armed by twisting the two halves. Then you need to throw it really quickly, because ten seconds after it has been armed, it splits apart and emits a blast of thick white smoke as well as some really loud cracks and bangs and electronic screeching noises that will blind, deafen and disorientate anyone within five metres of it. A handy thing to have in your pocket in a tight spot.

Then there’s the Hotscope and the Kiss and the Ret-Det – not to mention probably the most important device of all: the standard issue Project 17 Mob. But if you want to know what these gadgets can do for an agent in the field, you’re going to have to read the books.

What kind of gadget would you like to invent? What would it be used for?"

UK Book Giveaways! Giveaways

Orion Children's Books are offering 3 lucky readers the first two books in the Codename Quicksilver series, In the Zone and The Tyrant King.

 To enter, simply leave a comment.

Entries close on Friday 20 July 2012 at 12pm.

3 winners will be chosen by random and announced on this blog on Sunday 22 July 2012. Please check back to see if you have won (in case we can't contact you).

This giveaway is UK only. If you are younger than 13, please get a parent's permission to enter - or ask them to enter for you. The books will be sent direct from Orion Children's Books.

Good Luck!

Saturday 7 July 2012

What's going on? #3

What's Going On? - our news update. It includes books we've received, giveaway winners, events and anything yummy we think you'd like to know about.  Or that we want to shout about. So.....

Randomeater choosing winners - Briddles' feet in background!
3 Giveaway Winners

Winners of A Stallion Called Midnight by Victoria Eveleigh, our first giveaway, are:

 Miss Adkins
Ann Wright.

Please can you e-mail or DM (Twitter) us with your postal address. This will be given to Orion Children's Books who will post your book to you directly. 

Review copies
A little bit of Letterbox Love came In My Mailbox:

Now Is the Time For Running – Michael Williams (Tamarind)
- A story about escpaing from the war in Zimbabwe; very interested to read this.

These next 5 titles are all part of the new Vintage Children's Classics range that is launching in November and we're excited to be doing a special feature with these books throughout August. We have a few very distinguished guests coming to surprise us all on this one too:
- Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome (Vintage Classics)
- I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith (Vintage Classics)
- The Silver Sword - Ian Serraillier(Vintage Classics)
- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken (Vintage Classics)
- Emil and the Detectives - Erich Kastner (Vintage Classics)

Party Disaster – Sue Limb (Bloomsbury)
- This one was a surprise; the author is compared to Louise Rennison (whom we've never read) and it looks like it's funny and about boys, girls, chocolate and parties. 

Blog of the Month
We're very pleased to be featured as the Blog of the Month for July by Sunshine Smile Publications - a children's publishing resource.

To Annabel Pitcher who won the Brandford Boase award for her debut novel My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece.

Next week
We're heading off for We Sat Down's first ever face-to-face author interview.  Rain, rain, go away......

Friday 6 July 2012

We stole..... a chat with Ally Carter (and threw in a review & a giveaway)

Today, it's all about Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter.
We have Little M's review, an interview with Ally Carter and a giveaway!!!

Little M's Review - Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

I thought this book was extremely interesting because I've never read a book like this before where a 'thief' is asked to retrieve something. I really liked the baseline of this story. Kat has been asked to steal the Cleopatra Emerald so it can be given back to the rightful owners. In Uncommon Criminals there are all sorts of things going on, e.g. mystery, adventure, tracking down who Constance Miller is, a teeny-weeny-weeny bit of romance but I'm not going to say when or what because it will ruin the book.

I would read another book by Ally Carter because I really, really liked this book so I think I might like some of her others.  The book could get a little confusing at times if you haven't read the first one - Heist Society - because Uncommon Criminals talks about things that might have been in Heist Society.

I'd recommend this for Year 7 (ages 11/12) and upwards.

Publication details: Orchard, 2012, London, paperback
This copy: received for review from the publisher

And here's Ally Carter herself!

M: Have you ever pulled a con (of any sort)?

Ally: Well, I still think that I’m totally conning my way into writing books for a living and any day now people are going to figure out I’m a fraud.  A farce.  An imposter!  So yes.  I con my readers every day.

M: Have you travelled to any of the places that your character, Kat, has visited?

Ally: I don’t get to travel everywhere that Kat goes (I wish!), but I have been all over the UK and to Italy and most of the places she has visited in the United States.  Someday very soon I hope to go to Monte Carlo which, as you know, is where a good deal of UNCOMMON CRIMINALS takes place.

M: Do you like art?

Ally: I do, though I must admit to having only a very rudimentary knowledge of it.  One of my big regrets is that I didn’t at least take a class or two on the subject when I was at university.  It would have certainly come in handy this last year or two, that’s for certain!

M: Which fictional characters (other than your own) would you invite to an arty party?

Ally: Oh, the Darcys, of course!  And perhaps the entire cast of DOWNTON ABBEY.

M: Do you have any pets?

Ally: No, I don’t.  I’m afraid I travel far too much and that wouldn’t be fair to them.

M: What student organisations did you join at high school?

Ally: I was very active in a lot of things—almost every thing.  I attended a relatively small school, so almost all the students had to take place in a variety of organizations just to have enough people to keep them going.  I did speech and drama, student government, and was very involved in an organization that we have in the States to teach young people about agriculture.

M: You’ve previously won an Amelia Bloomer Book Award which honours children’s books with a feminist theme. Do you think your books send out any strong messages for teen girls today?

Ally: I certainly hope so!  I really pride myself in writing about strong girls, FOR smart girls.  That doesn’t mean never making mistakes.  It doesn’t mean not wearing pink or wondering if a boy likes you.  What it does mean is standing up for yourself and what you think is right, and trying to be someone who makes a positive difference in the world.


Thank you very much, Ally. I'm sure you're not conning anyone!

UK Giveaway! Giveaway! Giveaway
(15 July 2012: The winner of this giveaway is: Reading 'n' Reviewing)

The publishers, Orchard Books, have offered a copy of Ally Carter's Uncommon Criminals to one of our lovely readers!

To be in with a chance, simply leave a comment below.

The competition closes on Friday 13 July 2012 at 3pm (spooky!!).
Winners will be chosen by random and announced on Sunday 15 July 2012. Please check back here to see if you have won (in case we are unable to contact you).

This competition is UK only. Anyone under 13 years, please get your parent's permission to enter as we will need to contact the winner for their postal address. Or get someone older to enter for you!

Good luck!