Tuesday 31 December 2013

Books read in 2013

For our future benefit, here's a list of all the books we read in 2013.

Books Read in 2013 - by Little M

1. Half Brother - Kenneth Oppel (finished 3 Jan 2013)
2. Cosmic - John Cottrell Boyce (finished 4 Jan 2013)
3. The Magic Pony (Jinny at Finmory #7) - Patricia Leitch (finished 7 Jan 2013)
4. My Friend Flicka - Mary O'Hara (finished 18 Jan 2013)
5. Killchase (Codename Quicksilver #4) - Allan Jones (finished 19 Jan 2013)
6. Uglies - Scott Westerfeld (finished 25 Jan 2013)
7. Fractured (Slated #2) - Teri Terry (finished 26 Jan 2013)
8. Tempest - Julie Cross (finished 3 Feb 2013)
9. Vortex - Julie Cross (finished 9 Feb 2013)
10. Life of Pi - Yann Martel (adult, finished 19 Feb 2013)
11. Bluefish - Pat Schmatz (finished 20 Feb 2013)
12. A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness (finished 22 Feb 2013)
13. The Weight of Water - Sarah Crossan (finished 22 Feb 2013)
14. Love Ya Babe - Chris Higgins (finished +/- 23 Feb 2013)
15. Vortex (Insignia #2) - SJ Kincaid (finished 4 Mar 2013)
16. Hold On - Alan Gibbons (finished 21 Mar 2013)
17. Transparent - Natalie Whipple (finished 24 Mar 2013)
18. A Boy and a Bear in a Boat - Dave Shelton (finished 24 Mar 2013)
19. A World Between Us - Lydia Syson (finished 2 April 2013)
20. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein (finished 8 April 2013)
21. Moon Bear - Gill Lewis (finished 12 April 2013)
22. Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope - Anne Plichota & Cendrine Wolf (finished 19 April 2013)
23. Midwinterblood - Marcus Sedgwick (finished 21 April 2013)
24. Lost Worlds - Andrew Lane (finished 28 April 2013)
25. Race the Wind - Lauren St John (finished 29 April 2013)
26. In Darkness - Nick Lake (finished 10 May 2013)
27. Crown of Dreams (Pendragon Legacy #3) - Katherine Roberts
28. Noble Conflict - Malorie Blackman (finished 15 May 2013)
29. A Greyhound of a Girl - Roddy Doyle (finished 17 May 2013)
30. The Child's Elephant - Rachel Campbell-Johnson (finished 22 May 2013)
31. Maggot Moon - Sally Gardner (finished 29 May 2013)
32. The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness (finished 1 June 2013)
33. The Quietness - Alison Rattle (finished 2 June 2013)
34. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (finished 14 June 2013)
35. Itch - Simon Mayo (finished +/- 18 June 2013)
36. Pretties - Scott Westerfeld (finished 23 June 2013)
37. Specials - Scott Westerfeld (finished 24 June 2013)
38. Max - James Patterson (finished 28 June 2013)
39. Fang - James Patterson (finished 29 June 2013)
40. Angel - James Patterson (finished 29 June 2013)
41. All Our Yesterdays - Cristin Terrill (finished 5 July 2013)
42. The Elites - Natasha Ngan (finished 14 July 2013)
43. The Ask and the Answer - Patrick Ness (finished 9 August 2013)
44. Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness (finished 15 August 2013)
45. Fireweed - Jill Paton Walsh (finished 19 August 2013)
46. Rendezvous in Russia - Lauren St John (finished 20 Aug 2013)
47. The Rig - Joe Ducie (finished 31 Aug 2013)
48. Portal 24 - Meredith Stroud (finished 2 Sept 2013)
49. Ketchup Clouds - Annabel Pitcher (reread for book club; pb version though; fin 4 Sept 2013)
50. The Chocolate War - Robert Cormier (finished 8 Sept 2013)
51. Kill All Enemies - Melvin Burgess (finished +/- 22 Sept 2013)
52. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green (finished 2 Oct 2013)
53. Out of This World - Ali Sparkes (finished 5 Oct 2013)
54. Throne of Glass - Sarah J Maas (finished 13 Oct 2013)
55. This Dark Endeavour - Kenneth Oppel (finished 20 Oct 2013)
56. Such Wicked Intent - Kenneth Oppel (finished 29 Oct 2013)
57. Junk - Melvin Burgess (finished +/- 10 Dec 2013)

Books Read in 2013 - by M

1. In Darkness - Nick Lake (YA, finished 9 Jan 2013)
2. The Last Minute - Eleanor Updale (YA, finished 10 Jan 2013)
3. Bluefish - Pat Schmatz (YA, finished 11 Jan 2013)
4. State of Wonder - Ann Patchett (adult; finished 19 Jan 2013; ok, but preferred Bel Canto)
5. The Tragedy Paper - Elizabeth Laban (YA, finished 25 Jan 2013)
6. The Edible Woman - Margaret Atwood (adult; finished 30 Jan 2013)
7. The Quietness - Alison Rattle (YA, finished 3 Feb 2013)
8. Red Ink - Julie Mayhew (YA, finished 6 Feb 2013)
9. Friday Brown - Vikki Wakefield (YA, finished 19 Feb 2013)
10. Life of Pi - Yann Martel (adult; finished 3 March 2013)
11. If You Find Me - Emily Murdoch (YA, finished 4 March 2013)
12. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee (adult; re-read, finished 11 Mar 2013)
13. Midwinterblood - Marcus Sedgwick (YA, finished 14 Mar 2013)
14. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 - Sue Townsend (finished 23 Mar 2013)
15. The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker (finished 24 Mar 2013; v. disappointing)
16. Blame My Brain - Nicola Morgan (teen; non-fiction; finished 2 April 2013)
17. The Night She Disappeared - April Henry (YA, finished 5 April 2013)
18. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (finished 7 April 2013)
19. Boonie - Richard Masson (children's, finished 8 April 2013)
20. Snapper - Brian Kimberling (adult; finished 11 April 2013)
21. Moral Disorder - Margaret Atwood (adult; finished 13 April 2013)
22. The Dog Stars - Peter Heller (adult; finished 18 April 2013)
23. Instructions For a Heatwave - Maggie O'Farrell (adult; finished 22 April 2013; not my fave)
24. Paper Aeroplanes - Dawn O'Porter (YA; finished 26 April 2013)
25. Half Lives - Sara Grant (YA; finished 29 April 2013)
26. Railsea - China Mieville (YA; finished 14 May 2013)
27. The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (finished 21 May 2013; re-read)
28. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume (children's; finished 22 May 2013; re-read)
29. The Humans - Matt Haig (adult; finished 26 May 2013)
30. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner (adult; finished 31 May 2013)
31. We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo (adult; finished 8 June 2013)
32. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe (adult; finished 13 June 2013; re-read)
33. Liar & Spy - Rebecca Stead (children's; finished 16 June 2013)
34. When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead (children's; finished 28 June 2013)
35. Blood Family - Anne Fine (YA; finished 29 June 2013)
36. Yellowcake - Margo Lanagan (finished 5 July 2013)
37. Fortunately, the Milk - Neil Gaiman (children's, finished 11 July 2013)
38. Fireweed - Jill Paton Walsh (finished, 22 July 2013)
39. The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion (finished 29 July 2013)
40. That Burning Summer - Lydia Syson (finished 1 Aug 2013)
41. Ghost Hawk - Susan Cooper (finished 4 August 2013)
42. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock - Matthew Quick (finished 9 Aug 2013)
43. Phoenix - SF Said (finished 20 Aug 2013)
44. MaddAddam - Margaret Atwood (finished 24 August 2013)
45. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood (finished 21 September 2013)
46. Stoner - John Williams (finished 3 Oct 2013)
47. The Testament of Mary - Colm Toibin (finished 11 Oct 2013)
48. Freedom - Jonathan Franzen (finished 27 Oct 2013)
49. All the Truth That's in Me - Julie Berry (finished +/- 7 Nov 2013)
50. The Midnight Dress - Karen Foxlee (finished - 14 Nov 2013)
51. Charm and Strange - Stephanie Kuehn (finished 21 Nov 2013)
52. She Is Not Invisible - Marcus Sedgwick (finished 2 Dec 2013)
53. Brock - Anthony McGowan (finished 3 Dec 2013)
54. Rooftoppers - Katherine Rundell (finished 4 Dec 2013)
55. A Tale For the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki (finished 6 Dec 2013)
56. Leopold Blue - Rosie Rowell (finished 11 Dec 2013)
57. Dead Ends - Erin Lange (finished 19 Dec 2013)

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Carnegie Advent...'twas the day before

'Twas the night before Christmas and time for a recap of our final Carnegie Advent Calendar books (22-24 Dec).

The War Zone
Different aspects of war are covered in these novels. Each one of these titles holds curiosity for either Little M or me although.So far we've only read A World Between Us (Lydia Syson, Hot Key Books), which explores the Spanish Civil War in a thrilling and passionate political romance.

Rose Under Fire (Elizabeth Wein, Electric Monkey) takes us into the world of women pilots in World War II; Eleven Eleven (Paul Dowswell) is about the final hours of World War I; One Day in Oradour (Helen Watts, A&C Black) is based on the true story of a French village that was wiped out in 1944; and The Wall (William Sutcliffe, Bloomsbury) is a story inspired by life on the West Bank, a territory whose troubled history has been shaped by the politics of war. 

Marley's Ghost?

'Twas the night before Christmas. Are all good little children excitedly tucked up in bed? Perhaps not, but these books are all about the ghosts...or anything else that comes after!  

For the younger ones (and perhaps the not-so-young too), there's still time for a scary laugh. We think you might get that from Gareth P Jones Constable & Toop (Hot Key Books) or Jonathan Stroud's  Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase (Doubleday).

And we think for the not-so-young, there could be that strange mix of romance and the afterlife (and other things which I don't know much about) in:

  • The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (Hot Key Books) - beautiful, atmospheric writing;
  • Ferryman by Claire McFall (Templar)
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic).

So, it's sweet dreams from us - but not before you've worked our festive message out!
Your final 11 advent letters
E  L  O  R
T  B  U W
E  G  S

We've had fun. We hope you have. Tell us if you think you've worked our Carnegie Christmas message out!


Sunday 22 December 2013

Carnegie Advent - 3rd week

Third week of our Carnegie Advent Calendar (15-21 Dec) and this is what we found:

Secrets, stories and family....

  • Red Ink by Julie Mayhew (Hot Key Books) is gorgeous and highly recommended by me (but probably better for KS4 readers). It's one of my favourites on the nominations list although it'll be interesting to see how this year's judges define 'children's' literature;
  • Anthem for Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce (Bloomsbury): young teens on a cancer ward; the first few pages didn't strike a chord with me but they might for you;
  • By Any Other Name. Actually, this one is by Laura Jarratt (Electric Monkey): a witness protection type story; sounds interesting;
  • Listening For Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur (Puffin) - secrets from the past and unusual abilities, plus some mutism. Mute - there are quite a few books on this list which explore this theme;
  • Infinite Sky (CJ Flood) - what did I say about trees on covers.....:)

Trees and woods. Are you heading down the right path?

I've read all of these.

  • All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry (Templar) is another one that explores mutism and, for now, it's knocked Ghost Hawk off my personal favourites top spot;
  • Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (Indigo) is a clever, gripping and thoughtful thriller;
  • The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan (Doubleday) is thrilling but a bit disappointing for me;
  • If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch (Indigo) has a wonderful ring to the voice (for the most part) and is recommended - by me - for mature readers (I'd put it in a similar pocket to Red Ink).
White. Snow. Eco. Dystopian/Apocalyptic

You get the picture. If you don't, you'd best start thinking about it.

That's the gist for these books and one that both of us find highly appealing.

Although I haven't finished it yet, I think Winter Damage by Natasha Carthew (Bloomsbury) shows the most promise: the writing/voice is strongly differentiated (in a similar way to how SD Crockett's After the Snow was last year). Interestingly, One Crow Alone by SD Crockett (Macmillan), the prequel to After the Snow, abandons Willo's voice and that's a pity for me. After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross (Oxford University Press) looks like an interesting eco-emigration-dystopian (though we've both struggled with the opening pages) and Breathe by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury) is a niceish-eco-teen-dystopian but it doesn't have the zing of last year's The Weight of Water.

Hints of red

 Our guess: action packed sci-fi/speculative fiction? 

Noble Conflict (Malorie Blackman) and ACID (Emma Pass) suggest dystopian-military. Our teen group had mixed responses to Noble Conflict so my guess is it's not likely to be on the shorter lists.
Silver (Chris Wooding, Scholastic) looks like sci-fi but the robotic type bug on the cover is scary!
The 5th Wave (Rick Yancey), sci-fi invasion?

An uncertain mix

We'd hadn't read any of these at the time of drafting and from their covers and a brief glimpse at the blurbs (we're afraid of spoilers), we've grouped them together. 

In the top row, there's bound to be some action. Action's really not my thing but Hostage Three is by Nick Lake (remember how much I loved his In Darkness?) and there's a hint of psychological thriller so it's near the top of my list to read. Action is Little M's thing and she's attracted to Chris Bradford's Bodyguard: Hostage

Further down, we're getting very blue and there's more than a hint of weird and strange. Nowhere (Jon Robinson) and The Bunker Diary (Kevin Brooks) look like they've both something to do with psychological thrillers and captivity. Keen, but maybe also scared, to read them.
I've since read Charm and Strange (Stephanie Kuehn) and it's a very dark thriller: it's psychological, it's physical and it tackles a very tough issue. It's one of those very dark ones that is pulled off really well. Definitely worth considering. For mature readers.

You've had 43. Here are 22 more advent letter tiles....

E  E  L  E
N  T  A I
N  A  E  N
N  R  R  D
R  S  A  I
T  V 
....which makes it 65 so far.


Have you been listening to any jingles lately?

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Noble Conflict - Teen Book Group's creative response!

This year has been a Malorie Blackman year for We Sat Down. Little M was Booktrust's young reporter for the day when Blackman was announced as the new Children's Laureate and Little M's English class studied the screenplay of Noughts & Crosses.

Little M had already read, enjoyed and reviewed Noble Conflict, so our teen book group jumped at the opportunity to get reading group copies from the Reading Agency. They all read the novel and then devoted a long Friday evening to creating a video inspired by the novel.

Artwork by Catherine appears in the video but we thought you might like to see the 'stills' of them:

Art by Catherine
Art by Catherine
And here is the We Sat Down teen book group's video for Noble Conflict:
This video appears on the Reading Agency's Reading Groups For Everyone website along with some other inspirational ways teens respond to books.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Carnegie Advent - 2nd week

This is what we found in the second week of our Carnegie Advent Calendar (8-14 Dec). There are a few here that will make my personal shorter lists. For those of you collecting the anagram letters, they're gathered at the end of this post.

Pic 'n' mix

These three books are all illustrated and are also nominated for the Kate Greenaway medal.
It sounds like a cliche, but SF Said's Phoenix really soars. It's an absolute delight to read and Dave McKean's illustrations add a special something that lifts the story off the page. A great unexpected read for me.

There's also David Almond's (of Skellig fame) Mouse Bird Snake Wolf, also illustrated by Dave McKean. You should take the dust jacket off this one because what lies beneath is a colourful masterpiece. Then there's some non-fiction in the crowdfunded Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute? by Elke Barber and her son, Alex, which deals sensitively with the traumatic death of a parent experienced by a young boy.

Fantastical cogs and wheels

Fantasy adventure with a hint of darkness (the blue ones) and a hint of raucous fun perhaps (the red ones)? Expect cogs and wheels, and steampunk aplenty? Plenty of appeal. Also, do you remember what I said about circles on covers in this nominations list....?

We've read The Obsidian Mirror. Note that our copy is a proof. The actual book cover looks like the picture below and I'd recommend it as adventurous Christmas reading.

From sea to sky.....

We haven't read many of these but my guess is these books may appeal most to middle grade readers (older primary and young teen) though if they're great and unexpected, they'll reach everyone.

The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas - David Almond (Walker Books; he has 2 nominations)
Far, Far Away - Tom McNeal (Jonathan Cape)
The Cloud Hunters - Alex Shearer (Hot Key Books; I started this - promising middle grade)
Sea of Whispers - Tim Bowler (Oxford Univeristy Press; my curiosity is aroused)
North of Nowhere - Lizz Kessler (Orion; our guest reviewer, Chutney (12), loved this)
I have read Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (Faber). My expectations were sky high and it delivers. Pippi Longstockingish in character, it's an unusual delight, and the main character may well also remind some people of Neverfell in Frances Hardinge's A Face Like Glass. It's really quite lovely in so many ways. Another great unexpected.

Back down to earth.....

 with a little bit of history.....

  • Song Hunter (Sally Prue, Oxford Univeristy Press) goes right back, to the time of mammoths and the Neanderthals;
  • A Dream of Lights (Kerry Drewery, Harper Collins) is set in a North Korean prison camp;
  • Out of the Easy (Ruta Sepetys, Puffin) is set in 1950s New Orleans;
  • Ghost Hawk (Susan Cooper, Bodley Head) - depending on your interpretation this one is either more fantasy or more history; the only one I've read from this group, it's likely to be on my personal shortlist. It surprised me and I adored it. Another one of the great unexpecteds on the list for me.

When everyday goes badly wrong....

 These look like they tackle big, contemporary, UK issues: child abuse (Blood Family, Anne Fine), gun crime (Raining Fire, Alan Gibbons), an armed school attack (Siege, Sarah Mussi), and returned young army recruits (Heroic, Phil Earle). These might be too heavy for my personal taste (Blood Family definitely was) but we'll see (says she who once was an ardent Robert Cormier reader).

This week's 23 advent letters:
(bringing your current total to 43)

N  E  I  N

T  H  O  O

B  G  N  A

D  I  C  R

E  H  K  A 

E  E


Yes. we know it's not a letter, but the exclamation is a tile (we took inspiration from Rebecca Stead and lied a bit).


  • The apostrophe is the only tile that is a punctuation mark
  • Our message starts with a W
  • Our message contains familiar phrases - but we may have taken small poetic liberties with one of them.
  • The exclamation mark would fit well as either the 76th tile or as the ........ tile!

Wednesday 11 December 2013

She Is Not Invisible - Marcus Sedgwick

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Review by M

The cover, feel and shape of this book makes it aesthetically one of my favourites this year. I’d be tempted to buy it just for that.....

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus SedgwickShe Is Not Invisible is about sixteen year old Laureth who takes her seven year old brother to New York in search of her author father whom she suspects has gone missing. Her situation is fraught with potential mishaps that are substantially multiplied when you realise that there is something unusual about Laureth and there’s something unusual about Benjamin, her brother, too. Actually, the whole scenario is compellingly unusual, and it’s also funny and it’s warm.

The basic plot is a mystery but Sedgwick weaves in a number of mysteries and games of his own which will delight many readers – especially the last page! Clues of all sorts are placed throughout the pages and I liked that.

Essentially, the novel is about the different ways we see things and how we act upon our perceptions. The novel also explores the subject of coincidences and so it’s not surprising when coincidences pop up in the novel (whether they’re sometimes used as plot devices or not could make for an interesting debate; I was a little unsatisfied and things came together too easily for me).

The novel is a quick read and on the whole, it’s a lot of fun and easy. Although published by a teen/young adult imprint, younger readers may also enjoy the challenge of some of the concepts raised (but I found some of the details on the theoretical aspects of coincidence and synchronicity a bit dull – even though it’s actually quite interesting!).

Like Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood, She Is Not Invisible is a story that wants you to play and examine things within and beyond the novel.

If you enjoy this novel, I think you will love reading novels by Rebecca Stead, like When You Reach Me or Liar & Spy.
PS. I haven't acted on the last page yet - I'm saving it!
PPS. I have a thing with a number too: 32
PPPS. Richard Parker sure gets around in literature. So much for shipwrecked!


Publication details: Indigo, 2013, London, hardback
This copy: review copy from the publishers


Sunday 8 December 2013

Carnegie advent - 1st week

A recap of what's been in our Carnegie Advent Calendar this week (2 - 7 Dec). If you're playing along with us, 20 letters are grouped at the end of this post.


The theme for this selection is animals on the covers. But, genre-wise, there's a real mix and the stories take you to many places. We think this mix might reflect much of what we can expect from the remainder of the list.

The books we haven't yet read:

There's Brock (Anthony McGowan, Barrington Stoke), which addresses contemporary themes (and there's an animal in the bottom left hand corner) and my guess is it will be set somewhere in the UK.

The Last Wild (Piers Torday, Quercus) sounds like it's going to be an unusual dystopian, prison break, fantastical story.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon (Jackie Morris, Frances Lincoln) sounds like a fantastical journey, and there are illlustrations so it'll be good for the younger readers too.

The books we have read and loved:

Monkey Wars (Richard Kurti, Walker) is a fable that explores territorial politics and military strategies, in India. M really enjoyed this one.

The Child's Elephant (Rachel Campbell-Johnston, David Fickling) mixes animal poaching with child soldiers in Africa, and is good for younger readers too. Currently, this is one of Little M's favourites from this year's list.
Then, there're the funnies....

Quite a splash of blue in those covers!

For the younger set:
Darcy Burdock - Laura Dockrill (Corgi)
The Extincts - Veronica Cossanteli (Chicken House)

And if you're a bit older:
Waiting For Gonzo - Dave Cousins (Oxford University Press)
Binny For Short - Hilary McKay (Hodder)
Geek Girl - Holly Smale (Harper Collins)
The Savages - Matt Whyman (Hot Key Books)

From funny to......something a bit scary!

(Maybe we should have called this selection 'publishers beginning with a D'!)

It's in the eyes...or at least that's what the covers tell us for Doll Bones (Holly Black, Doubleday) and The Boy With Two Heads (Andy Mulligan, David Fickling Books). But for The Feathered Man (Jeremy de Quidt, David Fickling Books), apparently it's in the teeth!

An adventurous mix 

Sci-fi/Fantasy adventures with a mystery to solve or codes to crack, that's our bet for these three:

Secret Breakers: The Knights of Neustria - HL Dennis (Hodder)
The Reluctant Assassin - Eoin Colfer (Puffin)
The Claws of Evil - Andrew Beasley (Usborne, Ben Kingdom series)

Dodger (Terry Pratchett, Doubleday) is here because we bet it dodges category boundaries. Promises Dickensian inspired something! 

This week's 20 advent letters:

W  T  A  I  

T  E  E  A 

E  E  B  G

R  T  G  E 

S  O  G  S

56 more to go. You won't be able to solve the anagram message yet but here's a clue:

The first word has an apostrophe in it. 

If you don't know what we're on about, read here.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

The Midnight Dress - Karen Foxlee

The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee
Review by M

Rose and her dad spend their lives moving from caravan park to caravan park in Australia. This time, they’ve ended up in a very small coastal town in Queensland (possibly where the rainforest meets the reef). This time, Rose has to go to school and ends up in a class with Pearl, who is the kind of girl she likes the least. All of the girls are planning dresses for a festival parade and Rose, who has no money or no interest in this, gets caught up in things she never expected. And then something happens to the girl in the midnight dress.

The Midnight Dress is a very textured novel and the writing mostly matches its evocative setting. The UK cover promises this and the chapter headings develop it too. Like the midnight dress, the story is stitched patchwork piece by patchwork piece. I loved that about it.

The back cover promises magical realism but I felt that the story’s insinuations and intrigue slightly overshadowed the magic. At first, I enjoyed the story but then it went down cold paths that I didn’t think matched the overall warm tone of the story. I’m left disappointed by the ending.


Publication details: 2013, Hot Key Books, London, paperback
This copy: review copy from the publishers

Sunday 1 December 2013

Ho, ho, ho....it's a Carnegie Christmas

76 books, 76 letters, 25 days, 22 publishers, 2 bloggers and 1 Christmas tree! And a cracker or two (or eleven). We're kickstarting our shadowing for Carnegie 2014 in festive style this year.

1 Christmas tree
Built from 76 books, all nominated for Carnegie 2014.

76 books, 76 letters, 25 days
We're scrabbling our advent calendar this year. For 24 days, we'll be featuring a few Carnegie titles and revealing some letters. All of these letters make up an anagrammed message. Do check them out on our Carnegie Advent Calendar.

If you don't make it to the calendar, we'll be exploring the variety that makes up the 2014 nominations list right here too. About once a week, we'll bring together all the titles that have featured on the advent calendar here on this blog. These posts will throw the judging criteria and alphabets to the wind. We'll see where that takes us, especially as we haven't read them all. In these posts, we'll also give some clues to help you solve the advent, scrabbled message.

We hope you'll join us.
And so, to the first titles.....

Liar & Spy - Rebecca Stead (Andersen Press)
Of course we're starting with this: there are scrabble tiles!!

The Great Unexpected - Sharon Creech (Andersen Press)
We're not sure what to expect from this story and we're not too sure what to expect from all 76 of the nominated titles. No doubt, some will be great. Some will be unexpected. Some will be both - those are the ones that will win.

And, if you keep an eye out, why not count how many of the covers on this year's list feature big circles.....and trees!

Head on over to our Carnegie Advent Calendar to grab those first 2 letters. There are cracking surprises too!
And last but not least, a hearty "Cheers":
to the 22 publishers who have supported our Carnegie festivities this year.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Charm and Strange - Stephanie Kuehn

Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
This novel has been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie 2014 medal.

Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn, Electric Monkey, UK hardback editionCharm and Strange: a curious UK hardback cover and a delightful title loaded with flavourful promise. I didn’t read the blurb too closely so I only had a vague idea of what this was going to be about and I’m pleased about that. If you look closely at the cover, you might spot a moon and a tennis ball. They are relevant and maybe significant. This novel is both charm and strange, and I kind of liked it.

Charm and strange. They’re flavours of quark. Those itsy bitsy quantum pieces from which we’re made. There’s plenty of fun and games to have with that but there’s also a dark and menacing implication if you think about entanglements and decay. This novel does exactly all that. It’s not a nice story and there’s very little fun in the actual plot. But, there’s a developed tension and the reader is unwittingly invited to unravel a mystery. That’s the fun bit. Gamewise, there’s a strong sporting element to the novel’s main character.

Win is at an elite boarding school. He is an athletic but anti-social teenage boy, with few (if any) friends. Drew is a rich tennis champion child with a mean streak. They’re really the same person and the novel shifts from Win’s present (matter) to Drew’s past (anti-matter). Is one of them strange? Is the other one charm? Or are they both? And what is eating away inside of them? Why has Drew become Win?

Charm and Strange sets a very dark and menacing tone. Drew is not the sweetest kid you’ll ever meet and what he does is very violent. Often, I’ve left a novel because the character is just too horrible for me. But this novel and its main character are also shrouded in mystery. You know that there’s even more to it (and him) than just that. Put a few of the pieces together and you’re going, “no, not that”, and “please, not that either”. From a fictional perspective, I was pleased that the mystery was not a plot cop-out.

Thematically, Charm and Strange is a big toughie: suicide, violence, mental health, self-harming, bullying, abuse and death. However, the tone of the novel is not gritty and there are plenty of gaps for the reader to fill themselves. Importantly for me, and without giving anything away, the final outlook is not bleak. If you’re ready to handle the darkest of some of these themes, Charm and Strange is an entrancing, thoughtful and (dare I say it!) enjoyable read.

A couple of drawbacks for me, if we’re thinking Carnegie criteria: a slightly overcrowded plot and I can’t decide if it all needed to be there or not (especially Anna). Sometimes Drew/Win’s voice didn’t sound like I expected him to sound – but that might be me (or his very posh American private school).

Publication details: 2013, Electric Monkey, UK, hardback
This copy: received from the publisher for review

Tuesday 26 November 2013

24 hour readathon (& fundraising for the Philippines)

The 24 hour readathon! It's back by popular demand from our book group !
8h30, Fri 6 December - 8h30, Sat 7 Dec (GMT)
Our places (online & off)
Read! Anything!
You don't have to read or stay up for the whole 24 hours. But there will always be at least one person in our house reading for the whole duration.  Join in with us via Twitter ##wsd24, on the blog, or on our fundraising page.
It's a party!
Also, we do a bit of fundraising. This time, we're raising money for the British Red Cross, particularly in support of the rescue work they're carrying out in the Philippines as a result of the recent typhoon disaster.
Please, donate as much as you can. You can donate online via our justgiving page, or you can
to 70070
Please note, the £2 is just a suggestion.

Also, if you've really already done your bit for the appeal, feel free to just join in with the Readathon Party.

Readathon Tips
  • Variety of reading material: something that will keep your eyes wide open
  • Snacks, snacks, and snacks
  • Move it - get a change of atmosphere and bit of excercise too
  • Do it with friends - if you're on your own, we'll be around online to keep you company

We'll see you on the 6th or very early on the 7th!



Friday 22 November 2013

All the Truth That's in Me - Julie Berry

All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry
Review by M
All the Truth That’s in Me has been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2014.

All the Truth That’s in Me had me from the first page. I loved it very much. That has as much to do with the story as it does with the writing.

All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry, UK hardbackJudith went missing when she was a young teenager. She returns a few years later, mute, to her community in Roswell Station. Nobody knows where she has been or why and she can’t tell them. Set back when the United States of America was still in its formative years and western ways of life were quite different from today’s, there is no loving welcome for her and she is treated with suspicion as a cursed outcast by her community. While this is bad enough, Judith has no time for wallowing in self pity and is treacherously defiant about the loss of the love of her whole life.  All the Truth That’s in Me reads like a eulogising ode: To Lucas, from Judith.

At face value, this is an unrequited love story, smouldering and intense. It’s mournful and yearning, in the way of odes, elegies and praise poetry. But, through its praising and its questioning, Judith’s narrative is also suspenseful and the whole story turns on a couple of whodunit questions.
A girl has been murdered and Homelander invaders threaten. Rumours taken as truth for answers abound.  As the story progresses, many readers will fill in the story’s gaps correctly. For me, these came as light relief from what was otherwise a very intense and absorbing read.

All the Truth That’s in Me is a short novel (perhaps even novella?) and the reading experience is similar to last year’s Carnegie shortlisted, The Weight of Water. While The Weight of Water was written as poetry and was a light-but-substantial read,  All the Truth That’s in Me is not a poem and it is darkly, deeply intense.

The overwhelming feeling that this novel is a poetic ode or eulogy, to Lucas, is further enhanced by this ‘verselike-diary entry’ structure. Again, this also gives it the quality of a testament, which narratively it is, in more ways than one.  The chapter structure feels like verses from the Bible and is thematically very fitting as Judith’s community is deeply and often rigidly religious. With references to Greek myths, I also can’t stop thinking of Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn. I love it when a novel sends me off on a search.

This is a little book but it is quite as long as it should be. I dare any of you not to fall head over heels for Lucas (and that’s something I may never have said on this blog before!?). Judith’s ode does its work and I loved it. It was enormously satisfying. Far and away, All the Truth That’s in Me has been one of the most captivating books I’ve read all year.

This novel has adult themes suited to the ages of its characters who, at times, are about eighteen and twenty-something. But, these issues are treated in a way that makes this novel easily suitable for secondary school shadowing groups. Visions of things that might not have happened in the story may fill the mind of the reader in much the same way that they did the judging minds of Roswell Station’s community.
This novel may also prompt some readers to find out more about Joan of Arc.

Publication details: 2013, Templar, Surrey, hardback
This copy: review copy from the publisher


Tuesday 19 November 2013

The Fault in Our Stars - Teen Book Club

October’s teen book club read was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. The group met at the local library and had a Hazel and Gus style picnic: Dutch themed sandwiches – Gouda cheese, chocolate spread – and fizzy drinks in fancy bottles served in picnic champagne flutes.

Here are some of their thoughts about the book:


I absolutely loved this book, it's beautiful, emotional and one of my favourite books! It is so well written and by an amazing author. I constantly wanted to read more and I swear I had withdrawal symptoms when I wasn't reading it! Both times I read it I was sobbing even when I knew what was going to happen! All in all, I think it's an incredible book that I would recommend to anyone and everyone! 


I thought that it was a good book but it was very predictable as I guessed the ending from the end of the first (or second) chapter, but I didn't really expect it to happen exactly in the way it did and as dramatically. I really liked Isaac, I thought that he was funny and I feel like I connected to him very easily. I thought that at points the words felt quite forced, like he didn't know what to put, also I think he tried too hard to put in quotes that would make people remember the book and think about it. I think that the book was over-hyped, my expectations were very high from what people had told me but it didn't live up to those expectations at all, this could be because they were so high that I didn't give it a chance.


I thought The Fault in Our Stars was basically just a cancer novel, not that I have anything against cancer novels. However writing about someone overcoming this particular illness I think tends to restrain the level of originality others can have. As a whole the novel was okay to good, but not exceptional. It is one of the most hyped up books I've ever read and it really didn't live up to my expectations. The characters, while different, weren't very believable. For example Augustus didn't flow. Everything he said felt very scripted, like an over prepared speech. I feel Augustus was sort of made as a character to be famously quoted and therefore he wasn't natural. The characters didn't really connect for me. I think over a longer or teen novel I tend to expect to build a little empathy link with the characters. You come to know their little habits and their flaws and that makes them seem real. The characters and the whole book were really too perfect for me but I can see why some people liked them. The plot was also easy to predict. All in all I thought the book was a nice short novel perhaps for a day on the beach however I was disappointed and sad that it wasn't the emotional page-turning heart-wrencher it was set up to be.


I loved The Fault in Our Stars and I cried at it.


I really liked The Fault in Our Stars. It was sad but happy and a few tears were shed. Parts were a little predictable but that didn’t stop me from reading it. People have said it is very over-rated but I don’t think that at all. John Green did a splendid job. I can’t wait to read others of his.


Thanks to The Reading Agency for sending us reading group copies.
November's book club read was Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman. Thoughts on that coming soon.





Thursday 14 November 2013

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Adult fiction: Book review by M

I'd been curious to read one of Franzen's novels for a while. Having recently bought copies of both The Corrections and Freedom, I started with Freedom purely because the title compels me more.

Book review: Freedom by Jonathan FranzenFreedom is an epic turn of the century (20th to 21st) great American family drama that dilly-dallies heavily in the American dream and national politics of the day. No-one gets off too lightly. Tonally, it has the zip and sting and taboo-shaking that Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap delivered but is geographically and thematically set in a far more expansive American way.

Freedom is about the Berglund family but really more about Walter and Patty, their son, Walter's friend Richard, and not so much about their daughter. From the start, we know that Walter has mucked up big time over ethical environmental issues in Washington, and that this seems uncharacteristic from what people knew about him. The story immediately jumps back and traces, through a third-person narrator and occasionally, Patty, a series of events that led to this current situation. The story traverses about four decades of intersecting and persistent relationships (mostly flawed and definitely obsessive) amidst a vitriol against American middle class politics that raises questions (not so new but nevertheless persistent and deliberately ignored) about motives for war, saving the earth and of course, freedom.

Being somewhat stuck in the middle of the debates about freedom from meets freedom to, the concept of freedom is what drew me to the novel.While always interesting (and especially if you've never given much thought to the un/limits of freedom), I felt that the concept of freedom was heavily overworked in this novel. This doesn't necessarily detract from it still having thought-provoking value for the reader (in this case, moi).

Characterwise, Walter is the most interesting and, for me, wholly likeable. Patty reads like a dull character and I really can't see what other characters thought was so extraordinary about her. No doubt she wouldn't give me a moment's notice either. Her beloved son, Joey is very unlikeable and his whole situation is weird (or maybe the way some things are in real life just don't translate very well to the written word). Interestingly, the daughter, Jessica, doesn't get much textual space in the novel whereas the rest of the Berglund family (and Richard Katz, Walter's best friend) get their own very lengthy chapters, at least once. Arguably, Jessica gets a lot of headspace though. The description of Richard as a cute Gaddafi, that ruined him from the start for me.

It's not often that I think or feel that a novel has a gender, but I think Freedom is masculine. All of the characters feel masculinised (rather than gender indeterminate). For example, Patty is a top notch basketball player and describes herself as a jock. That's great but the sound and flow of her voice felt very masculinised - even the high school incident, which, well.......is alarming. But, what is especially interesting is how all of the female characters are described as super pretty, bar perhaps just one - Jessica. Jessica, who doesn't get the word count that the other characters get describes herself as not that pretty. Every other woman character is drop-dead-georgeous-and-beautiful-in-a-very-pervy-objectified-way. Even Walter's feminism doesn't stretch beyond that.

Did I like it? On the whole, yes but with lots of grumbles. It is an absorbing read (though its chapters are...lengthy). I especially liked the character of Walter Berglund and the final chapter (which is a bit Life of Pi-ish - but more in terms of interpreting the ending rather than the whole story so it might be a cop out but it's very entertaining). It's the kind of novel I'd love to read with a bookclub because there is a lot of stuff to wrangle over.

Publication details: Fourth Estate, London, 2011, paperback
This copy: Mine


SPOILER about the ending!

My interpretation of the final chapter is that there is not a happy ending.

This chapter was a story that Patty wrote for/to Walter. None of the events in that story actually happened, in a literal sense. They may of course have happened post-writing but I'm not so sure. I don't think Walter was a big grumpy depressive hermit in the way that Patty portrays it. Then again, The Winter's Tale quote at the beginning suggests quite the opposite........

End of spoiler

Tuesday 12 November 2013

National Short Story Week: Margo Lanagan

National Short Story Week: Margo Lanagan

This week is National Short Story Week. In celebration of it, we sat down for a chat with critically acclaimed young adult author, Margo Lanagan. She shares a few thoughts about her short story collections. For any teen or adult reader who hasn’t read any short stories for a while (or ever), I’d highly recommend trying Lanagan. She combines play, observation and provocation beautifully.

WSD: All of your short story collections are named after colours. Does each colour have a special significance to each book: either in its contents, to her when she was writing it, or any other way?

Margo Lanagan, National Short Story Week 2013Margo Lanagan (ML):
Short answer, no. The first collection, White Time, had a story called "White Time" in it, but I chose Black Juice simply because I wanted a title with Black in it. Then with later collections I thought I'd just move on to the primary colours: Red Spikes, Yellowcake. Blue is next. It's easier to have a naming scheme than to try to capture the essence of each collection, particularly as the stories within each collection are so varied.

I also have a fifth (mini-)collection, Cracklescape, which came out from Twelfth Planet Press last year. That one's title came from a kind of firework - there's a firework display in one of the stories, but mainly I just liked the word. The -scape part of it also pointed to the fact that all the stories were set in Australian landscapes, so they were united by that.

WSD: Do you have a favourite (or a few) short story/ies in your collections and why?

Let me think.

In White Time, I think my favourite story is "The Night Lily", because it still remains slightly mysterious to me; I kind of coughed it up rather than putting it together from ingredients I chose.

In Black Juice, "Singing My Sister Down" and "My Lord's Man" are my favourites because they came out the neatest and best formed; "Sweet Pippit" I like because I grew very fond of those elephants in the telling.

In Red Spikes, I like "Winkie", because it's so creepy, and in Yellowcake I'm torn between "A Fine Magic" and "Ferryman", again for their neatness, but also because I enjoyed the characters in them.

In Cracklescape, probably my favourite is "Significant Dust", because I enjoyed going back to that stark Nullarbor Plain setting.

WSD: Your writing, though fantastical, is often literally and symbolically visceral as it unpacks anatomies and life's inequalities. At times, this is a delight and also a discomfort to the reader. Does it have the same effect on you as a writer?

I think I'm always looking for what Kelly Link calls a "pleasurable" experience in the writing, but this doesn't necessarily translate to the writing of a joyful story or a story about people experiencing pleasure. Generally it means that I've got hold of a story and some solid, interesting characters to drive it (or some interesting characters, with a plot to drive them to reveal themselves) and if everything's working well I will be totally absorbed in the adventure of creating it.

Delights and discomforts for the characters are equally challenging to write; I wouldn't say that I get more distressed writing one than the other. Sometimes if I've been delving in dark stuff there's a certain relief in walking away from it; sometimes I make myself cry - although I try not to have characters cry, as it usually indicates a weak point in the story construction. And my tears are usually momentary things; we're not talking floods of tears and loud sobbing here, just one nose-blow and some eye-dabbing.

The experience of putting together a scene that I'm hoping will affect readers one way or another generally involves one layer of character's actions and emotions and one layer of technical preoccupation with evoking particular emotions (not always the same as the characters') in the reader; there's very little room in that mixture for me to indulge my own emotions.

Thank you, Margo. Having read Yellowcake, I think the Ferryman story was one of my favourites too. I'll look out for your favourites when I start White Time and Red Spikes too.