Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Blog Tour: The Bookshop Book: Mini Interview with Jen Campbell

Today I'm happy to have Jen Campbell on the blog as part of her Blog Tour for The Bookshop Book. It's available now and Jen has been nice enough to do a mini interview with me.  Hurray!

What is the first thing you look for when you go into a (new) bookshop?

Friendly staff, awesome displays, squishy chairs and great staff recommendations.

Whilst writing this book, was there anything you learnt about bookshops and books that surprised you?

I found it amusing how long we’ve been declaring the death of the book - that was something that crept up time and time again when I was researching. Newspapers are full of articles these days about the death of the publishing industry etc - but in the 1400s, when the printing press was invented and it was announced that books would no longer be written by hand, a bookseller in Florence was so outraged that he closed his bookshop in disgust and declared this new technology the death of the book. Ha! Over 500 years later and books are still here, as are bookshops. I think we’re going to be ok. ;)

What propelled you to write a book about bookshops over anything else?

Well, my first book came out in 2012, when I’d been working in bookselling for five years, and it was called ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ - a book about all the funny things that have been said to me (there are quite a few!). When the book came out, I got to go on book tour and met all these amazing booksellers in fantastic bookshops (like Wigtown: a bookshop town on the west coast of Scotland by the sea: twelve shops all on one street. One of them is the largest secondhand bookshop in Scotland with a bed in amongst the books. Another is a feminist bookshop run by a lady called Gerrie who not only sells books but is also a humanist celebrant, so she marries people too! Sometimes in the bookshop itself!). So, I was going to all these places, and in turn going off and researching other strange bookshops - travelling bookshops; tiny bookshops; bookshops in the middle of a rainforest. And I thought, ‘Hey, I need to write about this.’ 

Who was your favourite interviewee from the book and why?

Everyone I talked to had something fantastic to say. I interviewed authors as well as booksellers, and asked them what sort of bookshop they would open if they had the chance. Ian Rankin said he’d open a music bookshop/cafe; Tracy Chevalier said she’d open a bookshop in a train station filled with chocolate; Audrey Niffenegger is actually planning to open an art bookshop in Chicago in real life and Cornelia Funke said she’d open a bookshop in the middle of a forest. 

This book has been heavily tied in with the Books Are My Bag campaign.  Do you think it's important for people to take advantage of a physical bookshops over online retailers? Why?

Good bookshops are places to get lost in. They are places to fall in love with books. They present you with books you didn’t know existed - and you browse them in an entirely different way to the way you browse online. It’s all about the experience that they offer. The smell, the touch, the feel of being surrounded by books (and people who love them!); the events they put on, and the people you get to meet. If you want to buy books online, then do - that’s absolutely fine (though if you discover a book in a bookshop it’s only fair to buy it there!). It’s a simple happy, message really: if you love your local bookshop, please don’t take it for granted.

What's your next project after touring with The Bookshop Book?  Will there be a fiction book on the horizon or is non-fiction where your heart lies?

I’m writing a novel at the moment (eek!), and also working on a children’s project. I’m quite excited about both of these things! 

Thanks to Jen for answering my questions and to her publishers for organising everything.  The Bookshop Book is out now and can be found online and in bookshops

Monday, 17 November 2014

Review: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo & Timothy Basil Ering


This is the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl with a simple, impossible wish. These characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and ultimately, into each other's lives.

And what happens then?

Listeners, it is your destiny to find out.


I've fallen in love with a mouse called Despereaux Tilling.  I couldn't help it and if you read this book, you'll understand.

The Tale of Despereaux is the story of a little mouse that is very different from his family and doesn't fit in with everyone else.  He dreams and he dreams big.  He notices things in the world around him that others choose to ignore and it's not until his eyes fall upon a book that he slowly understands.  It's a fairy tale about a knight and a princess and it starts Despereaux's journey to meet the young Princess Pea and fall in love with her.  

There are many threads in this story including the story of Mig, a serving girl that has a hard life growing up, and a rat that has a darkness in his heart because of the light he has seen. All these threads come together and tie up eventually but it's a wonderful journey along the way.  Kate DiCamillo writes in a classic style that makes this book feel timeless and writes in a way that makes this book perfect for being read to someone.  There are moments when the story cuts away from the tale and asks the Reader something and gets them to interact with the book and become part of it.  I found myself saying "Quest, Quest" out loud with real glee and excitement.

This is perhaps the most charming and wonderful tale I've every had the chance to read and I hope this review charms you enough to buy a copy for someone you love or even just for yourself.  I've often been told I have an upbeat and positive outlook on life and tend to see the good in people and lightness in the world around me when others find it hard.  The Tale of Despereaux is probably the best example of seeing the lightness and hope in the world and I hope that there is a Despereaux in your life to let you all see the good out there.  If not, then buy this book and treat yourself to a smile, a tear, a laugh and some happiness.
Published by Walker Books UK and is available online and in bookshops now

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Review: The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell


A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell – weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish. 

On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.

Lavishly produced, packed with glorious Chris Riddell illustrations enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift.


I've really been trying to stop requesting so many books from publishers, in order to reduce my reading load etc.  However, there are some books that just look too lovely to turn down.  The Sleeper and the Spindle is one such book that is both beautiful to read as it is to look at the artwork.  For fans of Chris Riddell or Neil Gaiman, it won't be a surprise that these two talents work so well together as Chris' illustrations balance out Neil's words perfectly.  It's a match made in heaven.  

The story is a traditional fairytale-style that has been twisted on it's head to work for a slightly more modern audience.  With a female hero that fights the battles as well as looking lovely in her silken gowns leading our quest, we get to see that girls can "win the day" as well as "get the girl" in the end.  With both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty being given nods along the way we see a fairytale that we think we know, but it's not the way we really remember.  It's darker, murkier and stranger.

This is the perfect present for younger family members as well as those that love to have a gorgeous-looking book on their shelves to dip in and out of.  A great book from two greats that will hopefully be continuing their collaboration and writing more fairytales together to keep my bookshelf looking pretty.
Published by Bloomsbury and is available online and in bookshops now

Monday, 10 November 2014

Review: The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick


The spiral has existed as long as time has existed.

It's there when a girl walks through the forest, the moist green air clinging to her skin. There centuries later in a pleasant greendale, hiding the treacherous waters of Golden Beck that take Anna, who they call a witch. There on the other side of the world as a mad poet watches the waves and knows the horrors the hide, and far into the future as Keir Bowman realises his destiny.

Each takes their next step in life. None will ever go back to the same place. And so, their journeys begin... 


Marcus Sedgwick is the kind of author you utterly love and find annoying at the same time. Mainly because he's so incredibly clever and smart that is on another level that you can't believe he manages to pull off these great stories every time; and yet he does.

This book is told in four parts that are fully formed stories in their own right but form part of a bigger whole that can be read in any order.  Yes, you can read the last part first if you fancy it and it still makes sense.  In fact, the book could read as a different story if you read it in a different order.  See; super clever and talented.  It's just not fair, though I'm glad of it because Marcus Sedgwick books are a delight to read and own.

As with all his other stories, I was suck in and loved the strange atmosphere he's able to infuse into his books along with characters that seem as real as you or I.  They're tales of the odd and slightly unexplained with a sense of sorrow lingering around them.  Marcus Sedgwick is Poe for this generation as he weaves tales that make you want to lock your doors when your alone.

My favourite tale was the second one (as printed) which was set in a time when witchcraft was a crime in society you could be put to death for.  It was scary to read on a human level that we, as human beings, can do such awful things to each other out of fear and spite.  

Another stunning book to receive and read and I'm pleased to add it to my growing collection of Sedgwick books on shelf. 

Published by Fierce Fiction, an imprint of Orion, and is available online and in bookshops now

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Event Post: Tea with Zoe Marriott at Walker Books, October 2014

Zoe Marriott is not just YA royalty in my mind; she's proper full-on royalty!  I have been a fan of Zoe and her work for years but because she lives in the middle of nowhere she doesn't get the chance to come and visit London much.  Which is stupid because we could totally be best friends and have tea if she came out to play in London more often.

Anyway, Walker Books had arranged a special event for a small group of bloggers at their offices with Zoe where we could all meet, hang out and gab about books and stuff.  MEGA EXCITED FACE.

I had been a little sneaky and met Zoe ahead of this event, as the weekend before she was doing a talk and signing at the pop-up YALC in London and I nipped by to say hi.  We hugged, we chatted a little but I was saving all the proper chat and questions for this event.  It was hosted by Annalie, Zoe's editor, so I knew it would be a relaxed type of event having met Annalie a few times before and knowing how lovely she is.

The was usual blogger hugs and chatting/catch-up which I always love at events because we don't always get to meet up with each other, but when we do, it's like old friends back together.  Zoe joined us all (and the food that I was eyeing up because I'm a pig and love flapjacks and sandwiches) and we kicked off the afternoon in suitable fashion with Zoe explaining her tendency to word vomit and spill the beans on things so that was why Annalie was good to have as a host; so she'd stop her talking.

We heard about the writing process for Zoe, her love of Japanese culture and mythology as well as her journey as a writer as far back as her once dream to write for Mills and Boons.  It was a short lived dream.  

It was such a nice relaxed atmosphere and I really felt glad for that because it meant we could jump in and ask questions and have a back and forth with Zoe about her thoughts.  We heard a sneak peak chapter from her next book, Frail Mortal Heart, and there was a wash of silence in the room as we sat on tender hooks as Zoe read to us.  It was like being read to when you go to bed as a kid, but by your favourite author.  Brilliant!

The afternoon flew by in a whirlwind and Zoe gladly signed all our books for us but we (Zoe included) wished there could have been more time for chat and hugs.  Zoe is big on hugs.  I hope there can be more events for Zoe in London in the future because I'd go to every one if I'm free.  She speaks with she passion and is very funny and down-to-earth.  ZOE MARRIOTT IS AMAZING!

Thanks to Walker Books for hosting the lovely event and feeding us, to Annalie for hosting and asking questions and, of course, to Zoe for being HER!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Review: Hellbent by Anthony McGowan


Conor O'Neil is in Hell. No, really. While chasing his dog, he got run over by an ice-cream truck, and now he's sentenced to eternal damnation. He's stuck in a corner of Hell specifically designed for his maximum torture -- lined with bookshelves and droning educational radio programs. Then he realizes that his personal version of Hell might be someone else's idea of Heaven -- and vice versa. He sets out on a filthy, funny, and forbidden journey to search for his opposite number, accompanied by his repulsive pet dog, a depressed cross-dressing Viking, and Clarence, his personal devil. Can he do it? Conor is hellbent on finding out.


I'm going to start this review by saying that, quite honestly, this book will make most of you want to vomit.  I can't lie; there are some truly disgusting moments in Hellbent and they don't stop at one little blip of a moment but a continual stream of horrid vileness.  The warning label on my hardcover edition could not be more accurate if it tried.

That being said, it wasn't all guts and goo.  There was higher-thinking, big questions asked and a bit of adventure and peril thrown in for good measure.  Hellbent is the story of Conor's afterlife.  He's killed in an (rather amusing) accident and ends up in Hell.  Not exactly where he'd thought he'd be heading after such a young and short-lived life but the rules are quite strict and he's bound for his own little slice of personal Hell.  After some time (no specific time because Hell doesn't run by a set timezone like Earth) Conor forms a plan to not free himself but find a place in Hell that isn't quite so hellish.  Together with his dog, his own personal Demon called Clarence and a Viking, Conor goes on a quest for sanctuary.

I shall repeat, this book is not for those with a weak stomach or aversion to anything remotely disgusting.  It doesn't pull any punches possible and I did wonder about putting it down a few times as I wasn't sure if I could take it.  I'm glad I didn't because it's a smart-thinking book that questions morality, life and death as well as humanity itself.  There is some clear research from the author about the philosophy of life and death as well as what it means to be human.  I will say that sometimes, all the references to theology and philosophers did read a bit too much like being hit over the head by an Encyclopaedia sometimes.  I wondered if it was always needed or even if a kid of Conor's age would really comprehend it all and retain that amount of knowledge to reference later on.  Maybe.  

I think this book was worth me reading because Anthony McGowan is a talented writer and I was glad to have read something unlike anything I've ever read before.  Though the amount of stomach-churning that went on and the sheer volume of "big-thinking" didn't make it the easiest of reads.  Who knows, maybe it'll get some teens asking some questions and looking up ideas that they'd never considered before, which can only be a good thing.

Gross but good.

Published by DoubleDay, an imprint of Random House Children's Books and is available online and in bookshops now.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Review: Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison


Sam and Hannah only have the holidays to find 'The One'. Their lobster. But instead of being epic, their summer is looking awkward. They must navigate social misunderstandings, the plotting of well-meaning friends, and their own fears of being virgins for ever to find happiness. But fate is at work to bring them together. And in the end, it all boils down to love.


I had intended to read this book over the summer, as it seems a fitting book for that season, but as time went on and other books came and went I found that autumn was already upon me when I made it to Lobsters.  It mazy have taken me a while to get there but I was so pleased I picked it up eventually.

Told from the dual POV of Sam and Hannah, we follow the story of these two teens as they embark on their last summer before university and they have two things on their mind: their A-Level results and losing their V plates.  We see Sam and Hannah in their own separate worlds and how their collide and weave together over the summer in strange coincidences and chance meetings.  Will they find a way to be together without their own silly mistakes stopping them in their tracks?

A really amusing and heart-warming story that was a real pleasure to read.  I enjoyed seeing both the male and female perspective on romance, relationships, friendship and losing your virginity.  It's one of those subjects that, as a teenager, becomes something all important but, in truth, it shouldn't be.  In fact, the idea that having sex is the most important thing is crazy.  However, it does become so when your 17 and still having done "it".  

Lobsters really captures a special moment in those growing-up years in a real and believable way that made reading Sam and Hannah's stories enjoyable, rather than a chore.  Sometimes, what puts me off contemporary romances in YA is the disney fairytale like plot that only happens in movies.  This book did have some moments of chance meetings etc that might not happen everyday but the relationship was completely believable to my mind.  The other part that I found brilliantly executed was the relationships between the male and female groups.  Some of the girls were complete bitches and others were timid mixes but they all worked together and found their balance, even with a few arguments.  The boys were the same but with that different layer of communication that girls do have, but it's almost like another language compared with boys.

Lobsters was a treat to read and I loved the dual authors/dual MCs that really made this book an interesting read as well as a fun one.  Funny, a bit disgusting and realistic.
Published by Chicken House and is available online and in bookshops now