Twists and turns in an ace setting – ‘All Fall Down’

AllFallDownThe Embassy Row series seemed to be popping out at me from everywhere, and I was intrigued. So when Book 1 showed up at my library, I grabbed it.

‘All Fall Down’ by Ally Carter was an unexpected surprise for me. I had very little idea what the series was about, and what I did know had me thinking it was going to be something a bit Selection-y (perhaps because of the cover of Book 3). It’s not.

It’s got more grit and less glamour, with an ace setting and many twists and turns that will have you wishing you’d trailed string behind you in those dark underground tunnels so you could crawl out to safety.

And check out the cover. I love the fractured font above the soft image.

It is a bridging YA text, you could be confident giving it to middle-grade readers who are looking for something more, as well as more seasoned YA readers. The book combines adventure and mystery with the gaining, and losing, of friendships. As well as some harder issues around mental illness and grief.

So, what worked?

  • The inspired setting
  • The plot twists
  • The supporting cast

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A great brew of friendship and fun – ‘Ivy + Bean’

Ivy+BeanBook1I’m always on the look out for cute chapter books to read with my daughter, especially a series. I mean, what’s the one thing better than finding a fun book?

Finding out it’s only the first of many!

‘Ivy + Bean’ by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, just calls out to be read and enjoyed. Look at the cover! So cute! And the size is nice and wee, making it supremely approachable for kids starting out on chapter books.

I really enjoyed this story of two girls, who know they aren’t going to be friends until the day they each realise the other is more fun than they’d thought. As a mum it made me giggle to see how the more their mums told them to play with each other, the more they didn’t want to.  Continue reading

Fun and daring make for an ideal combo – ‘To the Lighthouse’

ToTheLighthouseIt’s rare to read a book that looks at childhood and growing up with such clever balance. ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Cristy Burne does that, and all with a vivid sense of humour and love of adventure.

Take risks. Eat jelly snakes. Make new friends. Laugh. Lots.

I really enjoyed this junior fiction book. It was vivid and honest, exciting and funny, and I recommend it for all 7-10 year olds.

But I almost didn’t write it up. ‘Why, oh why?’ I hear you ask.

Because I know the author. Really well. And I didn’t want to be seen as false or having conflicting interests or whatever it could be.

But then I figured… it’s my blog! And it was such a fab book, I’d write it up anyway :). Ha!

Yeah? And what was so fab?

  • Diverse characters
  • Boy and girl friendship without any complications
  • Parents are around
  • Encourages risk-taking

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Recommended reading for all teen girls – ‘Risk’

Risk.jpgReviewing this top-notch read has been a long time coming. And when I say long, I mean years.

I first heard about ‘Risk’ by Fleur Ferris before it was published. Here in West Oz, SCBWI have an annual event where we basically invite a few publishers over and then maroon them on a small island with us for several days.

Back in 2015 the publisher was from Random House. And she was talking up this book. If we wanted our YA to be published, she told us, this book was our benchmark.

The tantalising first chapter on the web hauled me in, but the book wasn’t out at the time. And somehow it just stayed on my TBR…

Until now.

My library recently bought a brand-spanking shiny new copy that jumped out and grabbed me as I wandered past the shelf. And approximately seven hours after checking it out, I was reviewing it.

Because this brilliant book dragged me in and held me.

It frightened me.

It made me cry.

And it made me consider internet restrictions for the teenager my daughter will become in less than a decade. May it be a very long eight years.

So, what was so great about it?

  • The balance between fear and reaction
  • The background knowledge of the author
  • The characters

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A super start to a defo non-fairytale fairy series: ‘Valentine’

Valentine.jpgPhew! First semester is over, so it’s back to the (fun) books for me! I couldn’t resist reaching for a novel I’ve been aching to read since it first came out – ‘Valentine’ by Jodi McAlister.

Great cover (don’t you think??!), great premise. Four kids, all born on Valentine’s Day… but which one is the changeling? Add a dash of love-hate romance and you have the perfect recipe for YA enjoyment.

And so…?

This book does truckloads of stuff right. The characters and location feel so real. The start is amazing. All those midnight animals creeping around keep building the suspense.

And whoa… because if there aren’t at least two Valentines who can trace their lineage back to a bit of fairy magic, then I’m not a madcap children’s writer. Unfortunately, I have to wait for the next book to find out if I’m right. Continue reading

Ponies + Mermaids = Gold… ‘Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn’

LuluBellBirthdayUnicorn.jpgI’ve just read that the Lulu Bell series by Belinda Murrell has sold >200,000 copies.

Just a moment while I put the laptop aside and bow in tremulous awe.

Okay, I’m back. So today I’m reviewing Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn, the first in the Lulu Bell series. The book instantly caught my attention, thanks to the vibrant illustrations by Serena Geddes. And then it kept it, thanks to the clever writing.

Awesome thumbs-up aspects:

  • Cute animals (everywhere)
  • Mermaid costumes (what kid doesn’t want one of those)
  • Humour
  • Diversity
  • Gorgeous illustrations

That’s the short of it. But, of course, I had to look a little deeper into the workings of a very successful book idea.

Want some tips on how a great chapter book works? Read on…

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A hug from the hope spreader – ‘Sorta like a rock star’

slarsI’d been crying for at least an hour. My husband peered at me over the ever-growing mountain of used tissues. ‘Why do you read books if they’re this bad?’

‘It’s not bad,’ I sobbed. ‘It’s really, really good.’

And it is. ‘Sorta like a rock star’ by Matthew Quick will give you a hug (because Amber loves hugs), tear your heart apart with anxious little doggy teeth while you’re looking the other way, and then knit it back together. But it won’t be quite the same.

I was recommended this book by an author friend. I was expecting hope and light. Sure, I got that, but I also got some unexpected, wrenching dark. There is depth and harshness and reality that make the hope that much more powerful.

Hence the tissues…

If you have trigger issues around depression, this might not be the book for you. Otherwise, read on…

So what makes this book so enthralling? Continue reading

The joy of brilliant writing and diverse characters – ‘The Sidekicks’

TheSidekicks.jpgThis book absorbed me. I became not one, but three new people as I read it.

That’s powerful.

I didn’t expect to love it this much. Don’t snort in my general virtual direction. I guess because this was written by a bloke, about three blokes adapting to the loss of a fourth bloke. And I’m not a bloke.

So I think my mind just kept gravitating to female-centric books instead.

Thankfully, I purposefully put it on my list at my last library visit after a few twitter giggles at posts by the author. And so should you. ‘The Sidekicks’ by Will Kostakis was a fabulous read, and I’m a bigger person for reading it.

The characters were vivid, the plot was enthralling, the writing was that sort of perfect where you don’t realise you’re reading.

I’m doing a dance now that I have read it, because it’s reminded me of why literature is so powerful. It isn’t just telling a story. With a book, especially in first person, you become the narrator as you read. You see and feel and think like someone else. And when that person is someone completely different to you, this magical thing can happen.

Empathy.

<oh, and a kinda spoiler alert, too> Continue reading

My top six Young Adult and Junior Fiction reads of 2016

pablo (13).png

Made by me using Pablo

This year I committed to reading a dino-load of books and absorbing, by capillary action, every awesome aspect I could find within them. I managed to read 60 Young Adult and Junior Fiction books this year, and I’m overjoyed with that.

So, what were my favourites? In precise alphabetical order, by author (that’s the librarian in me coming out…) here they are:


‘The Things I Didn’t Say’ by Kylie Fornasier

thingsIdidn'tsay

Young Adult Contemporary

Powerful. This got into my head. Beautifully written.

See my review here.

 

‘Illuminae’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

illiminaeYoung Adult SciFi

Like nothing I’d ever read before. Mind-blowing.

See my review here.

 

‘Throne of Glass’ by Sarah J. Maas

YoTOG-NYT-Coverung Adult Fantasy

Hello Fantasy and welcome back into my life! This was addictive.

See my review here.

 

‘Sister Heart’ by Sally Morgan

Junisister-heartor Fiction Historical

Beyond powerful. A must-read that both broke and filled my heart.

See my review here.

‘Deltora Quest’ by Emily Rodda

deltoraquest Junior Fiction Fantasy

Love love loved this series! It reminded me of landmark books of my childhood and left me filled with joy.

I haven’t published a review yet, I want to figure out how it all worked…

‘Divergent’ by Veronica Roth

divergent Young Adult Dystopia

When a book helps define a genre, you expect fireworks and meteor-shower-spectaculars from it. I got everything I was looking for with this one. And more.

No review though, because I read it well before I started this blog… sorry you’ll just have to read it yourself… if you haven’t already!


 

So there they are, my best reads from a very good year!

Happy New Year Everyone!

Heather :o)

 

How to create and maintain suspense: the riveting ‘Black’

Black.jpg

I read this book in one sitting. NOT because it’s short (it’s actually 276 pages). NOT because I was reading-deprived after a month of writing (which I was, but that’s not the real reason). NOT EVEN because I didn’t want to go to bed before I figured out what super-scary stuff was going down that would otherwise give me nightmares.

No. I read this in one sitting because it’s that damn good.

I lent it to an author friend and she couldn’t put it down either.

Black‘ by Fleur Ferris is totally worth reading.

Obviously, me being me, I then wanted to figure out why this book was unputdownable for two sleep-deprived children’s writers.

Roughly speaking, it’s split into two almost equal parts. Part One, where we’re anxiously trying to figure out what is happening and waiting for it to all go bad. And Part Two. Where it goes bad, and we’re caught up in Ebony ‘Black’ Marshall’s fight to regain herself. I understand what makes the second part tick. I can write action and up the stakes and have people fight for their lives.

But the first part of the novel is a brilliant study in creating suspense.

I knew I had to work out how Ferris had done it. Want to know too? Read on.

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