Sunday, 30 March 2014

March Review

Another month has flown by. Here's what I read over the past few weeks

Books read in March

45) Life on the refrigerator door by Alice Kuipers (British Books Challenge)
46) A kiss in the dark by Cat Clarke (British Books Challenge)
47) Trouble by Non Pratt (British Books Challenge)
48) Alex as well by Alyssa Brugmann
49) Baby one more time by Esme Taylor (British Books Challenge)
50) Say her name by James Dawson (British Books Challenge)
51) The declaration by Gemma Malley (British Books Challenge)
52) The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
53) Landline by Rainbow Rowell
54) The Road of bones by Anne Fine (British Books Challenge)
55) Breaking Butterflies by M Anjelais
56) Bombmaker by Claire McFall (British Books Challenge)
57) Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivson (British Books Challenge)

I must say while it has been a really slow month for me reading wise the books I have read on the whole I thought were thoroughly brilliant

Here's to next month and easter holiday reading time!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Bookcase Showcase: Author Sarah Naughton

Not being a particularly outdoorsy little girl the Dorset countryside made for a pretty boring childhood, so from the moment I could read I escaped into other, infinitely more exciting worlds.  People said I would grow out of this dreaminess, but I’m afraid I never did.  Like Bananaman I lead an exciting double life: by day I’m a middle aged mother of two sons who spends her time ferrying children to clubs and swimming lessons, but I spend my nights in the company of dystopian revolutionaries, child serial killers, ghosts and vampire lovers.

My bookcase is basically my inner life on six shelves.

Under 12 – Most of my well thumbed childhood texts (Roald Dahl, Penelope Lively, Alan Garden) have been transported upstairs to my sons’ bedroom – a triumph of hope over experience considering their reading (non) habits – but The Wind Eye by Robert Westall is still here, as it is ‘The Best Book Ever” according to my inscription on the inside cover.  It was what inspired me to write, and to write the sort of stuff I write, and I use it for schools talks.

12+ - The first part of my writing life was shaped by Terry Pratchett and Stephen King.  In the end I came down on the side of horror, but I keep the Discworld series for my kids to enjoy (should they ever decide that a book has more uses than simply propping up a Hotwheels track).  I also got seriously into the Brat Pack at about this time (Google it, kids!), so The Outsiders was rather a seminal text.

15+ - Now I had to get down to some serious reading, for GCSE and A-level English Lit.  The book that really stayed with me – and I’m probably speaking for many pubescent girls here – was Wuthering Heights.  Boy, did I like Heathcliff.  He’s Edward Cullen for the (if I may be so snobbish) more discerning reader.  The rest – Middlemarch, Bleak House, Jane Eyre etc, all pretty much merge into one.  This was also my first foray into poetry, when I discovered there was more to it than wandering through daffodils thinking about clouds, and I still find war poetry extremely powerful.

18+ - My university years at UCL were when it all got a bit taxing.  Piers Plowman, Beowulf, Chaucer, Dante’s Inferno in the original medieaval Italian (briefly, until I dropped that module, being unable to get beyond “Uno cappuccino per favore”).  My prejudices were confirmed when I was forced to study the flakey Romantic Poets, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much I liked that dull old Hull librarian, Philip Larkin.

21+ - After my degree I went all intellectual for a while.  I promise you I have actually read Ulysses in its entirety, also Samuel Beckett, Thomas Pynchon, Dostoyevsky, Sartre.  Exhausted by these I dumbed down a bit, to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, then Martin Amis, Zadie Smith and the Booker winners.  Then I discovered Harry Potter…

35+ - Now I’m reading for sheer pleasure again.  Mainly scary or supernatural books.  I like the adult writers Sarah Waters, Angela Carter and Hilary Mantel, and I love some of the YA and childrens’ authors – especially Patrick Ness, Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman.  Conspicuously missing from my shelves is my favourite book, Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, which terrified me so much I couldn’t read it whilst alone in the house.  I’ve lent the darned thing to someone and now I can’t remember who, and sadly most of my friends are not as fastidious book-returners as me.

That’s it.  One day I might get into chicklit I suppose but, since I’ve filled up my shelves, it’ll have to be one-in-one-out policy and I don’t really think I can part with any of them, even Bleak House.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Books I can't wait to read

Another month, another lovely pile of books I am dying to read

The Castle by Sophia Bennett

Peta Jones is an ordinary girl struggling with the loss of her father, an army hero who died in mysterious circumstances. When she receives clues that he may still be alive, she embarks on a dangerous rescue across the Mediterranean to a clifftop castle, home to a billionaire in exile. Soon Peta discovers that what some people will do for money, she will do for love.

I have loved the books I have read by Sophia. I cannot wait to get my hands on this.

Murder most unladylike by Robin Stevens

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia's missing tie. Which they don't, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident - but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there's more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?

This book has been on my radar for ages and I've now finally got a cover to share it with you. I cannot wait for this one at all.

Zero Hour by Will Hill

Department 19 still stands against the darkness. But for how much longer? Book 4 in the epic series from bestselling author, Will HIll.

When Jamie Carpenter's mother is kidnapped by strange creatures, he finds himself dragged into Department 19, the government's most secret agency.

Fortunately for Jamie, Department 19 can provide the tools he needs to find his mother, and to kill the vampires who want him dead. But unfortunately for everyone, something much older is stirring, something even Department 19 can't stand up against…

This is one of the few series I am actively keen to keep up with. I have loved the previous installment and am dying to see where things go from here  

I'll give you the sun by Jandy Nelson

A brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell

Jude and her brother, Noah, are incredibly close twins. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude surfs and cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and divisive ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as an unpredictable new mentor. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

I am so excited about this book. I have been waiting for it to be written for what feels like forever now. It looks awesome 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Review: Far from you by Tess Sharpe

Nine months. Two weeks. Six days.

That's how long recovering addict Sophie's been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong - a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.

Forced into rehab for an addiction she'd already beaten, Sophie's finally out and on the trail of the killer - but can she track them down before they come for her?

My thoughts
I tried to read this on my kindle and struggled to know what was going on and gave up with it. I then received a paperback copy which made the differentiation between time periods more clear and therefore so much easier to know what was going on and it had me hooked. The paperback wins again over the kindle.

I loved this book for a variety of reasons most of which I can't talk about for fear of spoiling the book. The murder mystery side was suspenseful and made me want to keep reading to know what was going to happen next. I loved being made to guess all the way through until the very end.

I loved how the relationships weren't completely straight forward and how that fact made the book that bit different from every other YA book out there. It made for a far more interesting story especially when you looked back over previous events and the way in which the characters reacted. Yay for being a bit different

Just a fab read all in all and one I'd definitely recommend.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Bookcase Showcase: Author Tessa Sharpe

These are my downstairs bookcases, containing everything from picture books I've had since I was a kid to the large collection of plays I collected in college to my favourite YA reads. I've lost quite a few lately to one of my dogs who has developed a taste for books, so usually there's a barrier of chairs around the shelves to protect them!
Tom Stoppard's play ARCADIA is up there, which definitely inspired me, as well as my collection of gardening books which helped me with the layout of Sophie's garden--I resisted giving her a Shakespeare themed garden, just barely! And Sharon Creech's WALK TWO MOONS, which is an MG that is the book that taught 10 year old to love plot twists. I was home-schooled and my mom had me read this book twice for our version of English class. First time, I just read it all the way through normally. Second time, she had me underline all the subtle hints interwoven into the book that step by step led to the twist. It's a book that's always been cemented in my consciousness as a writer, and really effected how I approach plot and the steps that lead to a reveal--not only as a writer, but as a reader. It's the book that taught me to write--and read--deeper.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Review: Cow Girl by G Gemin

Growing up on the embattled Mawr Estate in South Wales, all Gemma sees are burglaries, muggings, sadness and boredom. With a dad in prison and a mum who has given up hope, she, like everyone around her, is holding on to memories of the times when happiness wasn’t so hard to find.

When her search for the scene of a perfect childhood day takes her up into the surrounding hills, Gemma is forced into a meeting with the legendary Cowgirl. Everyone at school knows she’s a weirdo: six foot tall and angry, the only conversations she has are with the twelve cows on her dad’s farm. But with her abrupt arrival in Gemma’s life, everything starts to look different. And with her only friends in mortal danger of the abbatoir, it turns out she and Gemma have a mission on their hands. A gently funny story of a community coming together, this is a tale of happy endings in unexpected places.

My Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed Cow girl. Cow girl is the story of a farm in decline the the lengths a young girl goes to in order to save her herd. It is thoughtful and poignantly. I loved that the book focuses on the relationship between a young teenager and her grandmother as it's not something I've seen lot of late and I loved that the book challenges the often wrong impressions we make of people we don't know. Also really lovely to see a British book not set in England. 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Review: Girl with a white dog by Anne Booth

I adored Girl with a White Dog and thought it was absolutely beautiful. I cannot wait for it to be released so I can buy several copies and give to everyone I know.

Girl with a white dog does several things well for me. Firstly it discusses Nazism and the holocaust in a sensitive and thought provoking way. All too often I get angry with books which deal with issues such as Nazism as a gimmick to sell their book and make it more interesting rather than because they have a story to tell or something to say about the issues around it. This book is perfect in the way it handles it and that makes the history teacher in me very very pleased.

Next I loved the characterisation in this book. All the voices are so authentic and I loved how these kids sounded like the ones I teach. There's actually one quote about a history teacher that one of my students could have happily said themselves because it is spot on. Also I loved how the characters were diverse without being in the book for show. You have characters who are disabled and they are just there as they should be. Nothing makes me rage more than the token disabled / gay / non white characters thrown in and pointed out regularly for being a special little minority snowflake to show how 'with-it' an author is. This book treats people from a more diverse background just as they are and should be like everyone else in the book.

I loved that this book made contrasts between the past and current events making them relevant and current to young minds and encouraging children to think for themselves and see parallels between the two. It's so important for children growing up in a world fun of propagandised newspapers and scaremongering headlines from extreme political parties they they learn that they don't just have to accept what is in front of them and can fight to make the world a better place.

All in all I adored this book and cannot wait for more people to read and adore it too.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Review: Dead Ends by Erin Lange

Dane Washington and Billy D. couldn't be more different. Dane is clever and popular, but he's also a violent rebel. Billy D. has Down's syndrome, plays by the rules and hangs out with teachers in his lunch break.

But Dane and Billy have more in common than they think - both their fathers are missing.

They're going to have to suck up their differences and get on with helping each other. There are answers to be found.

Powerful, funny, moving - the ultimate coming-of-age novel.

My thoughts

Dead ends is one of those books that completely draws you in making you not want to put it down for even the briefest moment. I thoroughly enjoyed every page and utterly fell for the relationship that develops over the course of the book.

Dead end is the story of the unlikely friendship between Dane and Billy D. Dane is the local thug, at risk of permanent expulsion from school, and BIlly D is a teenager with Down's syndrome. I loved that this book had a main character with a disability and I loved how it challenged perceptions and quick judgements society makes of people who have such disabilities. We need more of this in YA fiction please.

I loved seeing how the friendship between Billy D and Dane develops over the course of the book. To start with Dane is having none of it and treats Billy D poorly but as Billy works his magic Dane softens to him and a strange friendship develops. I loved seeing how they interacted and they they learnt from one another. I particularly enjoyed seeing how Dane changed as a result of his friendship with Billy and how much he learnt from him. I also loved how Billy wasn't portrayed as a weak victim of a character which do easily could have happened had this book not been so thoughtfully and insightfully done.

All in all a fab story with a brilliant relationship at its heart which draws you in from the first page. Highly recommended.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Review: Half Bad by Sally Green

In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

My thoughts
I have been hearing things about this book for a while so snapped up the chance to review it when offered it for review.

For me this book was about the way in which we treat people different from ourselves. Witchcraft aside for a moment I liked the message this book had about diversity and social exclusion. It really made me think about self fulfilling prophecies and the way in which people become the labels put upon them.

Coming back to the witchcraft I loved to take this book had on witches. The witches in this book are hardcore and I loved that while there was supposed to be a clear line between good and bad witches that there were a lot of characters who fell inbetween the gray area between the very black and white world of good and bad they were supposed to conform to.

The main character Nathan is. Really interesting one and what this book does well is let you see him grow both literally from a child to a young man but also in his outlook on life and as a character within himself in the decisions he faces. I,for one, was fascinated by his story and and very interested to see where it goes next (I'm assuming there will be a sequel).

All in all a book I thoroughly enjoyed because it was a bit different from everything else out there at the moment on the market and because it made me think.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Daughters of time blog tour: Interview with Celia Rees

Explain for me and why the daughters of time anthology came about and why you decided to be involved with it.

Daughters of Time was the brainchild of Mary Hoffman, who has edited the anthology. We were all History Girls, writers of historical novels for adults and children who regularly contribute to the History Girls Blog. The History Girls was Mary Hoffman’s brainchild, too. We began blogging in 2011 and Mary thought it would be nice if we made an anthology of stories about women in British history, kind of Our Island Story, but about women instead of men. She found an interested publisher in Templar, and that is how it all began.

Why did you decide to focus your short story on Emily Wilding Davison?

 Emily Wilding Davison’s dramatic end has always fascinated me. Did she mean to, or didn’t she? I was talking to my daughter about a suitable subject when the Daughters of Time anthology was first mooted and Emily’s name came up. My daughter mentioned the famous return ticket and I suddenly saw a story there.

Emily Wilding Davison has always been an interesting character in our recent history because her intentions on derby day were so unclear. For example she had a return ticket in her pocket. Do you believe she intended to become the suffrage movement's martyr?

I believe that she did. I think the return ticket is misleading. She was a highly intelligent woman and familiar with horses. No-one who has seen horses at full gallop can think that they would survive running among them in a race like that.

Some would say that the actions of the suffragettes such as Emily actually hindered women's chance at the vote and it wasn't until women contributed to the war effort between 1914 - 18 that they began to change the minds of the government. Do you agree?

No-one brings about radical reform by keeping quiet, sitting at home, doing nothing. Political change of this kind is only achieved through action, whether it is the Civil Rights Movement in America, the Anti Apartheid Movement in South Africa, the Arab Spring or Votes for Women. By taking to the streets, the suffragettes brought their demand for equal voting rights for women to the forefront of the public mind and kept it there. It is undeniable that it took a World War to prove to the male politicians that women were worthy of that right, but if the suffragettes had not acted, such recognition might have taken even longer. Also, by breaking rules and boundaries, radically re-defining what women could and could not do, the suffragettes made women’s massive contribution to the war effort possible by allowing them to take on men’s work, work that was by definition less than ladylike.

As a history teacher I love historical fiction but shy away from using it because of the variety of issues surrounding it not least that fact the author can put their own interpretation on events and can be known to take liberties with events to suit the story they are trying to tell which can confuse those studying the topic. What role do you think historical fiction should play in the classroom?

All historians put their own interpretation on historical events; we just have to consider the diametrically opposed views of Max Hastings and Niall Ferguson on the First World War. There are as many interpretations as there are historians, or schools of historical thought: Marxist, Economic, Social, Cultural, Feminist, Right Wing, Left Wing, and so on. There are solid, known facts, certainly, but these are added to constantly as new discoveries are made about the past and these, in turn, affect how we interpret events, so interpretations can change from generation to generation. My understanding is that the teaching of history (and I speak as an ex History teacher and as a History and Politics graduate) as an academic subject is a matter of weighing these different interpretations, measuring them against the known evidence and for students to then form their own opinion. I can’t see why, in that case, historical fiction could not be regarded in the same light. On the contrary, I think it could add to and enrich the study of history. No reputable writer of historical fiction would knowingly distort historical facts to suit their story. We fit our stories into history, not the other way round. Even if they did, would it not be an interesting task for students to find and expose false information and anachronism? Historical fiction can make a period come alive for the student of history. It is also a shorthand way of getting to know periods outside the sometimes rather narrow confines of the curriculum. I have always read historical fiction and feel that it has added to and augmented my knowledge of history. I can’t think of a better addition to the study of the Tudor period than Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies. I wish her novels had been around when I was doing A Level. As it was, I owe a great debt to Jean Plaidy and Nora Lofts.

Which other female figures in history would you have liked to include in the anthology had you had the chance to include more than one story?

There are so many! I retain a strong interest in the English Civil War period and the women involved in it like Elizabeth Lilburne, wife of the Leveller leader, John Lilburne and Lucy Hutchinson. Women from very different social backgrounds but who chose to fight along side their husbands and campaigned to save them when they were imprisoned for their beliefs. I’m also interested in women artists in both the First and Second World Wars (in referring back to the question above, any student of the First World War should read Pat Barker’s novels) and female war correspondents, like Claire Holliingworth, the first journalist to report on the outbreak of the Second World War. 

Daughters of Time by The History Girls, edited by Mary Hoffman. Out now, £7.99, Templar Publishing

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Review: A boy called Hope by Lara Williamson

I'm Dan Hope and deep inside my head I keep a list of things I want to come true.

For example, I want my sister, Ninja Grace, to go to university at the North Pole and only come back once a year.

I want to help Sherlock Holmes solve his most daring mystery yet. And if it could be a zombie mystery, all the more exciting.

I want to be the first eleven-year-old to land on the moon.

I want my dog to stop eating the planets and throwing them up on the carpet.

And finally, the biggest dream of all, I want my dad to love me.

A Boy Called Hope is a brave, bold and funny debut about family in all its shapes and sizes

My thoughts

A really sweet read which I thoroughly enjoyed. A boy called Hope will make you laugh out loud and shed a tear as you follow Dan's adventures to make the items on his wishlist come true.  

I loved several things about this book. The first and most immediate thing I loved about this book was Dan Hope a eleven year old boy with loads of hope and dreams. He is has that innocence of a boy before he turns into a teenager and I loved his outlook on life, his positive attitude on the worst of situations and following him as he discovered more about the world and grows up that little bit more.

I loved what this book had to say about families, however dysfunctional, and the role they have to play whether you like it or not in your life. I particularly loved the relationship between Dan and his mother's boyfriend and how it showed that you don't have to be blood related to be a family and it is the things you do that matter in the end.

The story itself is a brilliant mix of funny especially when Dan's weak stomached dog is in the picture and sad as you see him start to realise that some of the items on his wishlist are unobtainable and see him come to terms with that realisation.

All in all a boy I thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend.

You'll love this if you loved Wonder by RJ Palacio

Monday, 10 March 2014

Review: The Madness by Alison Rattle

Sixteen-year-old Marnie lives in the idyllic coastal village of Clevedon. Despite being crippled by a childhood exposure to polio, she seems set to follow in her mother's footsteps, and become a 'dipper', escorting fragile female bathers into the sea. Her life is simple and safe. But then she meets Noah. Charming, handsome, son-of-the-local-Lord, Noah. She quickly develops a passion for him - a passion which consumes her.

As Marnie's infatuation turns to fixation she starts to lose her grip on reality, and a harrowing and dangerous obsession develops that seems certain to end in tragedy. Set in the early Victorian era when propriety, modesty and repression were the rule, this is a taut psychological drama in which the breakdown of a young woman's emotional state will have a devastating impact on all those around her.

My thoughts
I have been excited about getting a copy of this for almost a year now and I am so glad to say it was totally worth the wait.

The Madness is a YA historical novel set in a Victorian seaside town and tells the story of Marnie, the daughter of the local dipper. A dipper is someone who helped well to do ladies dip in the sea as it was thought at the time to be beneficial to their health. Marnie assists with this day to day and it is because of her work she meets and falls completely in love with the Lord of the Manor's son Noah. Unfortunately for her his feelings towards her aren't reciprocated but Marnie doesn't see it.

I loved the historical setting. Living in a Victorian seaside town myself I geeked out over the detail and loved learning about the trade of dippers and the excitement around the building of a new pier and quite frankly I couldn't get enough of the detail. As well as that you have all the upstairs / downstairs detail and the comments on the split between classes during the Victorian period which the Downton loving part of me loved reading about.

I loved how wonderfully twisted the story became and how different you see events as a reader to how Marnie sees them with her own very biased world view. You start to see her becoming slightly unhinged once things don't go her way and right through the end of the book with your split between dreading what she might do next and needing to know anyway. Like Alison Rattle's previous book this book doesn't hide away from the darkness and wants to go to the places you don't think they will and leave you with a stunning ending.

A stunningly wonderful read which I devoured greedily which had me hooked from the first page.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Review: Trouble by Non Pratt

I need to preface this review with the following statement. I adore Non. She is one of my favourite people and sometimes I feel we actually share the same reading brain. I loved the books she commissioned when working for Catnip. We meet up from time to time (not enough though) and just talk about books for hours at a time and then stroke said books in foyles. When she first told me about her book I knew I'd love it and I am so so so pleased today to be able to offer you all this review. Yes you could argue I'm terribly biased but even if I didn't adore Non as much as I do I would adore this book (then probably adore her from afar instead).

A boy. A girl. A bump. Trouble.

Hannah’s smart and funny ... she’s also fifteen and pregnant. Aaron is new at school and doesn’t want to attract attention. So why does he offer to be the pretend dad to Hannah’s unborn baby?

Growing up can be trouble but that’s how you find out what really matters.

My thoughts
I have been waiting to read trouble for a long time and I am delighted to say it didn't disappoint. Trouble is the story of Hannah and Aaron. Hannah is 15 and pregnant and Aaron is the new boy at school who pretends to be the father of her child. It was the perfect read for me for several reasons.

Firstly the voices of both Aaron and Hannah are spot on. The way they think, the way chat about things with their friends captures all those thoughts and feelings of a 15 year old and it draws you completely in. As a result I was the with them from page one and had to keep reading as I needed to know more about these characters. Hannah is clever and funny and whilst she does necessarily use it in the traditional way at school you really get the feeling that she is the sort of girl you would have wanted to hang out with when you were at school. Aaron is absolutely adorable and I loved his loyalty and finding out more about his past and why he was the way he was. Not only were the two main characters spot on the whole host of secondary characters from the other kids at school to Aaron elderly friend Neville (whom I must admit I have a special soft spot for) were brilliantly well done too.

For me this book is all about friendship and the main characters learning what it is to be a good friend. As the book goes on you get to see shifts in the social groups both Hannah and Aaron associate with and it is brilliant to see them at that last stage of high school going into adulthood as they suss out which of their friends are true friends and deserve the loyalty the other can offer.

One thing I do love about this book is the way in which teenage sex is handled. It isn't judgmental and sees sex as an ordinary part of growing up and teenage life as it should be. It doesn't have a preachy message about it either although it does comment on the way in which society can look down on teenage girls who enjoy doing the deed. I also loved how one of the characters was gay but he wasn't included as a gimmick or put on a pedestal but treated normally. We need more of that in YA fiction please.

Ultimately for me the best part of the book was the relationship between Hannah and Aaron and seeing how it develops over the course of the book. I loved how they bonded but still fell out and argued like proper teenagers. I loved seeing Hannah through Aaron's eyes and I loved seeing how they supported one another through some really though situations.

All in all a fantastic read, heart warming whilst dealing frankly with serious issues in a sensitive and funny way. I, for one, will be recommending this far and wide for a long time to come

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Devil in the corner Blog tour: Guest Post from author Patricia Elliot on setting

I have always felt as a writer that where novels are set is vitally important. The setting does so much to convey the atmosphere – the flavour – of the story. With The Devil in the Corner I might have set it in London but it wouldn't have worked. I needed Maud, the Victorian girl from London who is my main character, to feel threatened and vulnerable. I knew she had to go to the country, to an unfamiliar landscape that would reflect the mood of the novel, both the claustrophobia of village life then and the feeling of being utterly alone when you ventured beyond it. I also wanted to impart  a sense of the supernatural, of strange things happening that were beyond the characters' control. 
            So I set The Devil in the Corner in Suffolk, near the coast, in an area similar to where I live now. I have been coming here since I was a young teenager, for something always draws me back. To me it has always seemed a county of mystery and magical possibilities.   

            On a clear day it is beautiful. The sun glitters on the sea, the waves lull you, the reeds gently whisper; inland, church towers look down benignly on pink-painted cottages.
            But on a cloudy day, with dark clouds building overhead and a rising wind, you'd better pull up your collar and run! You crunch along the shingle beach, looking in vain for shelter in all that vast landscape. Then it is the most forbidding place on earth and you are the smallest creature under those great lowering skies. There is no escape.
            East Anglia with its huge skyscapes and vast open spaces has influenced many writers from M.R. James, the great ghost story writer, to P.D. James. When I wrote The Devil in the Corner and Maud is haunted by Sly, the strange, gibbering, doomed youth, I thought of M.R. James, for in many of his stories his protagonists are pursued by undefined malevolent figures through deserted landscapes.  It is terrifying for Maud to see this deformed creature, Sly, loping after her in the dusk on a endless shingle beach.  Nowadays we would feel compassion for Sly and recognise his epilepsy, his 'tongue-tied' cleft palette. But then a church-going Victorian like Maud would see him as an outcast, a monstrous aberration, unloved by God and without a place in the Universe. (God had put the rest of Victorian mankind comfortably in charge of it, of course - as long as they had their wits.)  Sly becomes to Maud a sort of manifestation of her guilty conscience and she is not at ease, even when he is dead.
            There have been times when, like Maud, I have walked on the duckboards through the reeds and thought I heard someone following me. When I've looked round, there's been no one, just an endless rustling as the wind blows through their papery stems. It's not surprising that this is a countryside of legends. Even where we live, within an area of three miles we have the hell-hound of Blythburgh, the ghostly horse-drawn hearse of the Westleton Road, the drowned man of the Smugglers' Way – not that I've seen any of them!
            It's partly that Suffolk still seems untouched by the present. It's difficult to get at: the A12 is slow and the trains unpredictable. To imagine a village in Victorian times, as I did for The Devil in the Corner, wasn't very difficult. I think they probably looked like that even up to the nineteen thirties – apart from the sewer in the middle of the street!
            This has always been an arable land and its people are still mostly farmers whose families have farmed here for generations, their names unchanging down the centuries. I wanted to impart a sort of Suffolk 'feel' to the book without making it too obvious, so my characters have names from gravestones and old books, a lane I drive past (Tiggins), a nearby hall (Potton) and some of the towns and villages locally, like Wissett and Brundish. The isolated house where Maud goes to live with Juliana, which I call Windward House, is very like one I stumbled upon by accident one day, walking the dog. It reared up behind a high wooden fence, dilapidated, but with the most amazing view of the surrounding countryside. You could see the sea in the distance. I had to balance precariously on a fallen tree trunk to get a proper look and there it was – crenelated gables, endless chimneys, tall blank windows, very Victorian and rather forbidding altogether. I had found somewhere for Maud to live!
            And so it all comes together: character, plot, setting. You cannot always say afterwards in what order they came to you or if one is more important than the other. But I do know that in this particular novel the setting is very close to my heart.