Friday, 3 July 2015

I'm coming to YALC ... Brace yerselves!


Right now, I'm feeling excited about being part of the Blogger panel at YALC and getting to represent the bloggers and UKYABA. About five minutes before I'm about to go on, I'll be having a panic attack but I'll still be going up in front of everyone and giving the best advice I can and answering all the questions possible. No matter how scared I might be, I know I'll be doing it for important reasons.



I don't want to make this event seem like some big, climatic moment from a movie blockbuster where I'll stand up and scream “I AM SPARTACUS!” to a very confused audience but, in some ways, it feels like it. I've been blogging for over five years and in that time I've seen MASSIVE changes to the blogging community and how we interact with publishers and authors. The game has changed and yet we remain the same; we are book lovers that want to carve out a space on the interweb to gush about literature. This invite to be part of YALC is a big deal because, in my mind, it's another example of how the industry is taking us seriously as reviewers, a marketing outlet and human beings.


The UKYA Blogger Awards were a massive deal because they said to us that the industry thinks we're important enough to celebrate. I was honoured to win one of those awards but I think the next step is ours. Bloggers have always, privately and publicly, stated how they want to be looked at as more than just a marketing tool to be abused - so now is our time to prove it. We can't expect all the work to be from the other side. We have to show we can kick arse and that we are important enough to invest in.


The YALC panel will give us six the time to sit on a stage and gab about blogging but it's also a chance to show everyone that the blogging community isn't just about Twitter, book hauls and Youtube. It's bigger than that and, with the help of things like UKYABA, we can do BIG things. This could lead onto to more things for bloggers; HUGE things.

For my birthday, I was given a gift with a great quote on it and it seems fitting for this post:

“She believed she could so she did.”

If we believe, then we can do this. We can make a difference.


*cue fireworks, climatic music, cheering crowds, air fist pumps and such*

Photo is missing the lovely Lucy P but hopefully we can recreate this image with her in!!!

See Andrew (PewterWolf), Michelle (Tales of Yesterday) and myself (Sisterspooky) on Sunday 19th at the YALC between 12.30 - 1.15 pm talking about "Book Blogging for Beginners"

See Viv (Serendipity Review), Lucy (Queen of Contemporary) and Jim (YAYeahYeah) straight afterwards from 1.30-2.15pm talking about "Taking your blog to the next Level"

Monday, 29 June 2015

Review: The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis by Michael de Larrabeiti

GoodReads

What is a Borrible? 
Borribles are runaways who dwell in the shadows of London. Apart from their pointed ears, they look just like ordinary children. They live by their wits and a few Borrible laws—the chief one being, Don’t Get Caught! The Borribles are outcasts—but they wouldn’t have it any other way….

The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis
Battersea was no longer safe for a Borrible. The Special Borrible Group—a secret section of the London police dedicated to finding Borribles and clipping their ears—was closing in. Driven on by the fanatical Inspector Sussworth, the SBG was determined to wipe them out once and for all. It was time to break out, escort Sam the horse to safety in Neasden, then return to the old Borrible life of independence and freedom. So began a perilous trek across the dark metropolis—a journey that would test the courage and cunning of the Adventurers to the limits. 

Review

WARNING: This is the third and final book in this series and this review will likely contain spoilers for the previous two books.


When I read the first two books in this series, I felt like I was discovering a pot of gold at the end of a Mid-Grade rainbow.  These books are dark, vicious, full of adventure and brilliantly told.  I completely fell for the idea of a mythical side to London life that wasn't just fairies or elves but a gritty childhood that never ends as a Borrible.

Across the Dark Metropolis follows our core group of Borribles as they fight their way across central London to save their friend, Sam the horse, once more.  However, the SGB have grown more determined to destroy all Borribles and Inspector Sussworth has his eyes focused on our heroes for the next session of ear-clipping.  Can our Borrible friends make it across the big city without getting caught?  

As a whole, Across the Dark Metropolis was a mix bag of a book for me.  It had parts I really liked and others that were a bit of a letdown.  I liked a lot of the new characters that were introduced, especially Queenie, who was a mad, battle-axe, old woman but a great new voice.  The intensity of the journey and the stakes seemed much higher compared to the last books and thus making the story darker as a whole.  I loved the dark edge to everything in the book and desperation in these characters who have suffered for so long.

I did feel a bit of disappointment over one aspect of the ending because it felt a bit "easy" after everything we'd been through as a reader but it didn't make the book a complete letdown.  The real trouble for me was that this story felt very much the same as in the previous book.  I felt like there needed to be a bigger final adventure for this characters or a grander stage for it to be set on.  

Not the most satisfying ending to a series but not a terrible read either.  Middle of the road which is a shame as the other two books are of a much higher standard in terms of the storyline.  A great adventure series that has genuine appeal to boys and girls equally.

Published by Piccolo and is available online and in bookshops now

Monday, 22 June 2015

Cooking with Spooky: Thai Curry with Scallops

This was probably one of the more frightening recipes that I've ever attempted on my own.  I was sort of tricked into making it but that's a bit of a long and pointless story.  Let's just get to the food stuff, shall we?

I adore Thai food but have always been a bit scared to try and make any myself because it always looked rather complicated.  I've since discovered that it's actually quite easy but it does often need a fair few ingredients and a bit of guesswork in places to get it to the perfect taste level.  

The first step is the paste which is the basis of the whole curry.  Here is everything you'll need:  4 (ish) cloves of garlic, lemongrass, pinch of salt, a teaspoon of shrimp paste, 3 (or more) chilli's with a few of the seeds if you want extra heat, small handful of coriander, half a teaspoon of ground white pepper, small chuck of ginger (about 2cm cube) and half a red onion.  Now; the recipe actually says to use galangal and red shallots but I couldn't find them anywhere so I substituted with the ginger and red onion.  Not the end of the world, IMO.


Then these all go into a blitzer and get chopped up until it's a thick paste.  It'll look like this: 


I won't lie to you; it'll HONK.  It's the shrimp paste that does it and this smell is not good but don't worry.  I wasn't expecting the smell to be so strong and got a surprise when I went in for a quick sniff.


Don't worry.  We now move onto the rest of the dish.  Take a big spoonful of coconut cream and pop it in a large saucepan on a medium heat.  Once it's melted out a little, add 3 spoonfuls of the paste and stir it in.  It then cooks out for about 5 minutes and seasoned with a tablespoon of fish sauce and half a tablespoon of palm sugar.  Keep gently stirring.  IT WILL SMELL BAD BUT DON'T WORRY.  Slowly the smell changes.  Add about half a cup of coconut milk, or there about, and mix in.  Add 2-3 torn lime leaves and let the pan gently cook.  The lime leaves somehow magically save this dish and shifts the smell from being awful to awesome.  Add another handful of chopped coriander.  Then you add the scallops, roughly 3 or 4 per person but that's the very most you'll need as its quite a rich shellfish.


The scallops will only need a few minutes on each side but the best way to check is to split one open when you think they are done and make sure it's white all the way through.  Then, serve.  It goes great with rice but I went for a bowlful of the scallops and the sauce with some traditional bread on the side for dipping.


The cookbook I used was Thai Food by David Thompson (published by Pavillion) and it's a blinder of a book because it has a lot of history in there about the Thai way of cooking as well as a vast selection of recipes. 




Monday, 15 June 2015

Review: One by Sarah Crossan

GoodReads

Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins.

And their lives are about to change.

No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world – a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love?

But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined…

From Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this moving and beautifully crafted novel about identity, sisterhood and love ultimately asks one question: what does it mean to want and have a soulmate?

Review


I was sent a proof copy of this book from the publishers and, at first glance, thought it looked pretty but I didn't think much more about it.  Then I started to see amazing tweets from bloggers as they were reading it.  I don't always jump on every book that I see praised on twitter but this was a series of continuous praise from every different kind of blogger I know.  I finished my current read and picked this book up.  Within twenty four hours, I had finished reading.

One tells the story of two sisters that are very unique; they are conjoined twins.  They've been kept away from the world, mostly, but now have to go to school for the first time as money gets tight at home.  This is the story of their lives as they get to grips with a new reality and how they deal with big decisions that might dramatically change their lives when they're presented to them.  

Written like a series of short poems, One is a stunning read and had me so hooked that I was using every spare moment to squeeze in one more page of reading.  It's a very unusual story and it really stood out for me as a Great Book.  The important issues are handled well and with great care and Sarah Crossan has clearly taken the time to research what the lives of these two girls would be like if they were real.  I loved the way this book is written and how it isn't just about the conjoined twin girls but everyone in their lives.  

One is a heart-wrenching story about love and family and the true meaning of those two words.  Sometimes love is bigger than meeting a dreamboat boy and family is more than just the people you're related to.  I can't wait for this book to be published because I'm sure it's going to be huge.  One is a guarantee number one bestseller.

Published by Bloomsbury Children's Books and is available online and in bookshops from August 2015

Monday, 8 June 2015

Review: House of Windows by Alexia Casale

GoodReads

'The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us.' Robert Louis Stevenson

Nick hates it when people call him a genius. Sure, he's going to Cambridge University aged 15, but he says that's just because he works hard. And, secretly, he only works hard to get some kind of attention from his workaholic father.

Not that his strategy is working.

When he arrives at Cambridge, he finds the work hard and socialising even harder. Until, that is, he starts to cox for the college rowing crew and all hell breaks loose...

Review


After being so impressed by Alexia's debut, The Bone Dragon, I've been eagerly awaiting to see what she would produce next.  The Bone Dragon was such a unique story and way of storytelling that I was curious as to how she could follow up a debut of this standard.

House of Windows is set against the backdrop of Cambridge and its famed university as we see a young lad, Nick, enter its community as an outsider that wants to do well.  He has a difficult past and is living a disjointed life as his father is always away with work and Nick is not your average fifteen year old and therefore lacks a lot of social skills.  Over the course of a school year, we see the world as Nick sees it and watch his struggles to deal with his present and confront his past.

My main initial bug bear with House of Windows was the location.  I'm sure Cambridge is a very lovely town and clearly is a very visual place to set any novel but I got so lost.  Alexia creates a mental map in the first section of the story as Nick works his way around the town but I couldn't keep up.  I was turning in circles and it made it hard for me to connect with the characters initially because I was trying to keep up with where they were.  I've seen found out that the finished edition is going to have a handy map in the front and I wish I'd had it to hand when I was reading.  I might have struggled less to get into the book.

That aside, I found House of Windows to be a sad tale of a very broken family that just can't seem to get themselves together to fix themselves.  In a strange way, I found this book to be a rather realistic contemporary story because of it didn't have a simple A to B storyline.  The book has a timeline that we follow, along with the characters that grow over time, but much like normal life, stuff just happens to them and they have to deal with it.  There isn't just one big "thing" that the story is focused on; there are many, much like real life.  I found myself continually tutting at Nick's Dad because of his lack of parenting skills and stupidity and throughly enjoying the banter between Nick and his appointed housemate, Tim.

House of Windows is a complex book that does, at times, require a map to guide you through it but it's a great look at how to write characters and throw them in complicated situations and watch them figure it all out.  Interesting but not the easiest of reads.  One for when summer is fading away and you're stuck inside with the rain.

Published by Faber Children's Books and is available online and in bookshops from Aug 2015

Monday, 1 June 2015

Discovering Western Movies aka Bangs, Blood, Booze and Boobies.

The Western.

It's a genre the evokes many ideas and lots of different imageries but, for me, the first thing that comes to mind is my Grandad.  He loved John Wayne.  He had those collectable commemorative plates of various Wayne characters and would watch his movies on repeat if my Nan would've let him.  This was my introduction to the world of Westerns and it bored me to tears.  A weekend visit to the grandparents was usually made up of fun and games, Capri-Sun's and garlic bread.  However, the T.V. would sometimes have to be handed over from cartoon-city to a John Wayne Western rerun.  

This was usually the point when my brother and I would run upstairs to raid the drawing box or find our homework.

Zzzzzz.

Since then, I've avoided Westerns assuming that they were all as boring as the ones we were exposed to all those years ago.  I've naturally seen action films set in the West, like Maverick and Wild, Wild West, but the less said about those movies, the better.  It wasn't until I found Joss Whedon's Firefly (and ADORED it) that I even bothered giving a Western a proper second glance.  In the last year the BF (who was horrified that I hadn't even seen a movie with Clint Eastwood in) has been drip-feeding me Westerns.  Some I have loved and others lived up to the boring status.  Here is a beginners guide to the world of the West:

We started with a "classic": Unforgiven (1992).  A Clint Eastwood staple and widely praised for giving the genre a second life as well as being one of Eastwood's finest moment on screen and behind the camera.


I admit that it was a good movie.  Morgan Freeman was a great casting choice as the partner to Clint's brooding cowboy and Gene Hackman was elegant as the menacing sheriff.  The trouble was that, until the last thirty minutes or so, it was quite a slow film.  Interesting but it wasn't until the final showdown that I really got into it.  I'm probably making all you Clint fans rather growly but I'm speaking the truth from a novice's point of view.

Next was my choice: Another Clint movie but one from the back catalogue; Pale Rider (1985).


Now, this movie I really loved.  I cried within the first ten minutes and was hooked with the idea of this mysterious man that appears, from nowhere, to save a group of hard-working people from the big boys.  Simple story but very well done.

Then came two more recent looks at the Old West: True Grit (2010) and The Homesman (2014).


True Grit is a remake of a John Wayne classic and The Homesman just happened to be out on DVD that particular weekend.  Both were utterly brilliant in very different ways.  Both starred older actors that you might disregard at first glance.  Let's face it; when was the last time you heard of Tommy Lee Jones making a good movie?


He rocked it in The Homesman along side Hilary Swank as they both travel across the harsh and bitter landscape of America in winter along with three women that have lost their minds and require sanctuary that their small town can't provide to them.  Dark and harsh with a gripping storyline.  Brilliant film.

True Grit might be my favourite Western so far.  Jeff Bridges gives a glorious performance as a drunkard U.S. Marshall, Matt Damon is wonderful and unintentionally hilarious and a young actress called Hailee Steinfeld more than holds her own against these two big names and becomes the star of the film as the teen girl on a mission to get revenge for the murder of her father.  Superb film.

I've tried a couple other Westerns but have yet to find any others that ticked all my boxes like these four.  I'd love to get more recommendations from everyone; both old or newer movies.


Westerns seem to be a forgotten genre in today's pop culture.  We've had gems like Deadwood (2004)that showed the modern audience that Westerns can be done really well without boring you to tears but I think it's a genre that a lot of other films, T.V. shows and books stem from.  Its that basic idea of Good versus Evil against the dusty backdrop of an America we, as Brits, don't really know that well.  Star Wars is a Western set in space and look how well that little movie has done!

Westerns seem to be about being a hero and a bad guy at the same time.  Westerns are often morality tales about life's hardships and struggles and we hope our heroes survive the movie and becomes the champion in the final stand-off.  We root for someone that isn't  a clean-cut "good guy" but we they're defending "good morals" and standing up for the underdogs of the world.

I'm a converted Western fan and if my experiences have shown me anything, it's not to judge on first glance.  You never know when you'll find your next favourite movie or an undiscovered classic.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Cooking with Spooky: Pesto aka Food of the Gods

Back again with cooking nonsense!  Pesto means "paste" in Italian but I just call it amazing.  Pesto is the Besto.

Pesto is, by far, my favourite go-to snack.  I'll eat it straight from the jar, slapped on bread, with the traditional pasta and drizzled on a salad.  It's magic and can be used for so many things.  Plus; it's so crazy easy to make.

The ingredients are (for a basic mix): Basil, garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese and pine nuts.  FIVE THINGS!!!

To make the pesto all you do is chuck them all in a blitzer and whiz it up.  Peel the garlic and grate the cheese and the rest goes in on top.  It's all done to taste so if you're a garlic fiend like myself; go nuts.  If you like a milder taste; go easy on the cheese and garlic.  After each whiz-up, taste and then add more bits as you see fit.


Nice alternatives:

Try Pecorino cheese instead.  It's, for my money, a better cheese to use.  It's a saltier taste and works so well against the other strong flavours.

I've heard of people using alternatives to the basil such as spinach or kale etc and I'd love to try one of these mixes.  If you have a good recipe you want to send me; leave a comment below.

I don't own my own blitzer so, when I'm at home, I do a deconstructed pesto.  Same ingredients all hand mashed, sliced and grated and it's still good.  

To use in on a salad, thin the mix down with extra oil.