Monday, 29 September 2014

Review: Replica by Jack Heath


'Whose body is that on the table?' I ask.
She stares at me, as though the answer is obvious. 'It's yours,' she says.
Before I have time to scream, she types a command on the keyboard. My consciousness whirls away like storm water down a drain.

Chloe wakes up to find all her memories have been wiped. And the only person who knows what happened is a teenage girl who looks and sounds exactly like her.

Who is she? And what does she want?

Chloe is running out of time to discover the truth. But she's in even more danger than she realizes, and nothing is as it seems . . .


First off, I was completely tempted to read this book for two reason:

The cover looks, quite frankly, brilliant.   Scary and stands out off the shelf by a mile.  Bravo to the team for that job.  Secondly, and quite shamelessly,  the author shares the same last name as me.  No relation but I think it's kinda of cool in a funny way.  (Yes, I'm odd.  Let's just both accept it and move on).

Replica is the story of Chloe, the two lives of Chloe at least, as she finds herself trapped in her own basement with a girl that looks and acts exactly like her is working on her like a science experiment.  After a bit of action and drama, Chloe is free from the basement but not from danger as her very existence is on the line every minute.  Why are the mysterious military times targeting her?  What secrets are those around her keeping?  What secrets is she keeping from herself?  

I jumped straight into this book, knowing that I'd have to stretch the edges of my logic and reason to believe it was all possible.  I'm fine with that.  Why can't a teenage girl create something hugely advanced in her basement without her parents finding out?  Happens all the time, I'm sure.  Aside from that, I was really sucked in with the idea behind Chloe's character and how, through the course of the book, we see the side of life that many of us won't ever experience.  I know I'm being very vague but I don't want to spoil any surprises.  

It's a book that asks some big questions about artificial intelligence and the progress of science versus morality as well as same sex relationships (a great addition to the plot).  I loved the high paced action but I think, by the end of the book, my interest had fallen a little and I'd stretched my realms of logic and believability as far as it could.  The final big action sequence was a bridge too far for me personally. 

However, Replica is a fast-paced action thriller that hits some really good high notes and ask some great questions that teenagers should definitely be asking of themselves and those around them.  Great characters and ideas but fell at the last hurdle to be a really great story.  Worth a look for those looking for a bit of action and thrills.

Published by OUP and is available in bookshops and online now

Monday, 22 September 2014

Review: Vivian versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle


A chilling vision of a contemporary USA where the sinister Church of America is destroying lives. Our cynical protagonist, seventeen-­year-­old Vivian Apple, is awaiting the fated 'Rapture' -­ or rather the lack of it. Her evangelical parents have been in the Church's thrall for too long, and she's looking forward to getting them back. Except that when Vivian arrives home the day after the supposed 'Rapture', her parents are gone. All that is left are two holes in the ceiling...

Viv is determined to carry on as normal, but when she starts to suspect that her parents might still be alive, she realises she must uncover the truth. Joined by Peter, a boy claiming to know the real whereabouts of the Church, and Edie, a heavily pregnant Believer who has been 'left behind', they embark on a road trip across America. Encountering freak weather, roving 'Believer' gangs and a strange teenage group calling themselves the 'New Orphans', Viv soon begins to realise that the Rapture was just the beginning.


This book was a great break from reality for me because it was both contemporary but at the same time it was pure fun for the end-of-the-world road trip drama.  Viv is living in an almost too believable version of America where a cult, The Church of Frick, has nearly taken over and converted the majority of the population.  On the evening of the "Rapture" Viv parties the night away and comes home to two missing parents and an eerily quiet street.  Those 'left behind' begin to either panic or turn on each other so it's left to Viv, her best friend and a bit of end of the world eye candy to try and work out what is actually going on.

A really unique story and kinda scary as you can easily imagine it happening, now more than ever.  Plus the characters were so well written that I loved being able to travel along with them and work out the mystery around the missing people, the strange weather and the general cray-cray of people gone to extremes.  I'm rather looking forward to reading the follow up which is out now (I believe) and I hope it lives up to this first book.  It's easy to see why Katie Coyle and this original story won the 2012 Young Writers Prize.  

A great read with a twist that is far too believable for my liking.  Full to the brim with emotions and fantastic writing.  Buy. Buy. Buy.
Published by Hot Key Books and is available online and in bookshops now

Monday, 15 September 2014

Event Post: Meeting Michael Rosen at Foyles in London

So, Michael Rosen is kind of a hero in my mind.  Not only has he done some hugely amazing things for children's literature, learning and lives; he's also a fantastic writer and poet.  I first met Michael Rosen when I was a child, probably about 9 or 10, and he came to my school on a visit.  We'd all been absorbing his poetry books like sponges and "Chocolate Cake" was ingrained on our brains.  He was like a rockstar visiting and we all LOVED him for being funny and talking to us like we were grown ups.

Now, being an actual grown up,  I was presented with the chance to meet him.  With a copy of my poetry book in hand, I went to Foyles fully prepared to lose my shit a bit and mumble my way through meeting him once again.   What I really wanted to tell him was that he sort of inspired me to keep writing and loving reading even though I struggled at times at learnt that being dyspraxic doesn't mean you're stupid or can't achieve.

Michael was celebrating the launch of his new book, How to Be Your Child's (and Your Own) Best Teacher, so I knew his event was going to be a mixed crowd of fans, parents, teachers and perhaps even some children.

It was a lovely event held in the new Foyles event space and it was a great mix of listening to Michael read from his new book, questions and answers and interaction.  I could listen to him talk for hours but it was also a special moment for me to meet Michael and get my copy of Quick, Lets Get Out Of Here signed.

I want to say thanks to the Foyles staff for a really well run event and a huge thank you to Michael for being very kind when signing my book and listening to be talk.  It's a big moment when you meet a writing hero; it's even bigger when you get to meet them a second time and tell them how the first meeting impacted your life.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Event Post: Leigh Bardugo at Waterstones Piccadilly, London August 2014

I, along with a bunch of other bloggers and bookish types, were invited to a very special event in a little tucked away room downstairs at Waterstones Piccadilly, London.  Leigh Bardugo was in the UK and, along with her few events across the UK, her lovely publishers, Fierce Fiction, wanted to give back to all the fan reviewers and writers that have supported the Grisha trilogy.  

Cake: A way to a blogger's heart
Now, I have met Leigh before but this time I got to do something a bit special.  My cousin Rebecca (Etsy here and Tumblr here) is a big fan of the Grisha books but she's also a talented artist.  I knew she had been working on some pieces based on the Grisha books and characters and meeting Leigh being able to share her work with her would make her year.  

We met early and had some terribly unhealthy junk food (standard) and then ventured off to the venue to get sat and ready for Leigh's talk and signing.  I think Becky was actually quite nervous about showing Leigh her work but I kept nagging her to do it.  I'd mentioned to the lovely Nina (publicist of awesome) that Becky would be coming along and bring some pieces to show Leigh, so Becky really had to bring her stuff along.

Leigh talked to us about her life as a writer and why she wrote YA and why she wrote 'genre' books, these being the two questions she gets asked the most.  Leigh was great to listen to as she always made sure to answer as honestly as she possibly could and be straight about why she was saying what she was.  We asked questions, which was lovely as we could ask some questions that aren't always asked to authors in standard fare interviews.  We also heard some stuff that I don't think we're allowed to mention at the moment.  New things :D

It was a truly lovely evening and I know my cousin had a wonderful insight into the book blogging world and left beaming after Leigh was so kind about her work. Thanks to Nina at Fierce Fiction, Leigh Bardugo and all the staff at Waterstones Piccadilly for a great evening.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Review: Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs


Deep down underground, in the dark, dripping tunnels of bogeydom, live the bogeys, a vile collection of slimy, smelly creatures who revel in everything revolting. Fungus is a bogeyman-a particularly foul and fetid specimen. As he goes about his bogey business, the full horrors of bogeydom are revealed. Over 80,000 copies of this fun book have been sold worldwide.


This book was thrust upon me by someone (who shall remain nameless because they probably feel smug already that I liked it) after a long search.  I had been told 'Oh, you really need to read it' for some time and it wasn't until after a long look around that a copy was discovered and I could actually read it.

I'm not an avid reader of picture books but that isn't to say that I don't enjoy them from time to time.  I often enjoy having a look through them in bookshops and having a cheeky read.  I do love Raymond Briggs too and one of my favourite books from growing up is The Man by Mr Briggs and I still talk about to people at how charming it is and wonderfully illustrated.

Fungus the Bogeyman is quite a sad story, really.  It is the daily life of a Bogeyman and the ins and outs of their world underground our own.  The pages are littered with details and footnotes about the universe of Bogeymen and the art work is dark and dank as their lives are.  As I said earlier, it is rather a sad story because Fungus is very disillusioned about his life and the reason for what he does.  It's a very melancholy tale but it is peppered with humour and a sense of fun at every turn of the page.  

I loved it but felt terribly sorry for Fungus by the end of the book and hope that he finds out the answers he's looking for one day and that all the Bogeymen have a happy soggy life underground.
Published by Penguin Books and is available online and in bookshops now

Monday, 1 September 2014

Author Interview Exclusive: Alan Snow on Here Be Monsters!

A big, giggly, fangirl hello to everyone and especially to Alan Snow, author of Here Be Monsters!  I was lucky enough to be leant a copy of the original Here Be Monsters! to read some time ago and once I finished it, I was hesitant to return the copy to the Other Half.  Thankfully, he bought me my very own signed and Boxtroll-doodled copy and I can read it any time I like now!  I'm very honoured today to bring the author of the book that I love, to answer some questions and celebrate the new edition of the book, ahead of the film.

How did you create such a big and consistently ridiculous world, yet maintain the logic within it?

Think about it the other way round. Our world is big and ridiculous, and I just brought a few new characters into it.

Here Be Monsters! is full of such a wonderful mix of odd characters, but were there any that you had to lose in the editing process because they didn't work out or just didn't fit in with the finished version of the book?  

Indeed there were. Hilda who ran the Sunday night‘Lettuce and Slugs in a barrel entertainment’, Wompbats that lived in the tunnels and were powered by farts. Hilda was based on a great aunt of mine and was very mean (my aunt charged me for old buttons and secondhand comics when I was a kid).

This book has a very English and wonderful wacky sense of humour about it. Did you write the story with the intention of it being a “funny book” or did it just happen that way? What are your “funny” inspirations?

Children deserve intelligent humour and wit, and this was what I was hoping to put in the story along with an interesting yarn. What I grew up with and remember most enjoying were Monty Python, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and Uncle the Elephant by J.P. Martin (the Uncle series were possible the funniest books I ever read and there are few to match them). 

Part of what I loved about reading Here Be Monsters! was the artwork that made the world of Ratbridge a more concrete place to read about. Had you always planned to illustrate it and which part took longer to complete: the writing or the illustrations? 

I tried to make the book I always wanted. As a kid I could spend hours looking at maps, old catalogs and diagrams. I enjoyed the detail of old books with their plates and headers. So why not put everything in? It did all take time and I can’t really say which took longer as I worked on them together, switching back and forth as it seemed natural. With the second Ratbridge book, I wrote first as it avoided losing drawings that might not see the light of day because of editing.

With The Boxtrolls movie soon to be released, it's giving a whole new audience to the Here Be Monsters! book. Does this mean there might be a chance for more adventures in the Ratbridge universe?

I do hope so. There is a Christmas tale of Ratbridge that I would like to do.

With all the weird and wonderful creatures in Ratbridge, I wonder how you came up with them all. Was there a whole water-filled farmyard full of other animals before you decided on the Sea-Cow? Why Cabbageheads and not any other vegetable?

I tend to think of a creature while drawing and just draw what amuses me. Its place in the ecology of the world may be immediately apparent, and if not then I will ponder and see if there is an interesting solution to making it fit.  As to ‘Why Cabbageheads’? Tone! It may sound ridiculous but a cabbage has the right tone (at least to me).  A potato would be too earthy and lumpy, an artichoke too posh, and a carrot perhaps likely to get snapped. 

Which children's books or authors would you recommend to readers? Classics or contemporary? 

I have already mentioned the Uncle books by J.P. Martin, which I highly recommend, but I would also recommend Anything by Leon Garfield, or Tim Hunkin. 

I know that drawing and illustrating are passions for you; which mediums do you like to work in and is there any other creative avenue you'd like to try but have yet to pursue?

Drawing for me is not so much a passion as a voice. It is also a key to a dream world. I can slide into other places as I do it. I feel most natural and very quiet when I’m doing it. Though I do use other mediums, there are nonethat feel quite like this for me.  That is probably down to the fact I’ve not spent enough time practicing them.

Cheese features a great deal in the book; what's your favourite cheese?

There are many but very fresh mozzarella is lovely.  

What has been your favourite or most memorable response from a fan?

There is a boy in France who dragged his parents halfway across the country to a signing in Paris to bring me a model box troll.

It's nearly 10 years since Here Be Monsters! was first published: Looking back on it, is there anything you would do differently if you were publishing it now?

Write faster and avoid distractions… apart from family.

I know that right now you're working on opening up your own ice cream shop! How has that come about? It's a bit different from writing and drawing for books! 

It’s not quite so different as you might imagine… I started looking at doing a food-related book a few years ago and this led me to researching science, and flavour. I built a lab at home and started playing with extracting essences out of all kind of foods. Ice cream is excellent place to put flavours and I started making my own. I also spoke to some publishers and was told that unless I was a famous cook or chef they weren’t interested in a book. So I thought about a shop or small factory as people I let taste my ice cream thought it different and very good, and I was enjoying making it. I decided that an ice cream shop with a lab - which was as interesting as possible - would be the way to go. 

Now I am building the shop’s fixtures and fittings in a workshop and am looking for a place to open it.With luck it should open next year and be unlike any ice cream shop ever seen. Think Fortnum and Masons in Ratbridge. 

I can't say enough thank you's to the lovely people at OUP for helping organise this interview and to Alan for being so kind and answering all my questions.

The new edition of Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow is available online and in bookshops from September 4th and The Boxtrolls movie is in cinemas from September 12th

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Writing is HARD: #shouldbewriting

As a book blogger, I've heard it said that writing is hard.  I've seen it tweeted, heard it first-hand and in the past year, I've been experiencing it.

Writers that I've met have made it look so easy but that's because we don't see the 24/7 version of their lives that involves WAY too much tea and/or coffee, lots of eating of things that shouldn't be eaten on a daily basis (e.g. a whole packet of chocolate digestives and the entire wedge of cheese) and the constant battle between the blank page and your brain to find words that aren't shit.

Writing is very hard

It needs a level of will power that goes beyond the top range any normal human being would possess (generally implemented when the choccy tin gets past around at Christmas) and a level of focus that even the strongest mind would wobble over.

Writing is difficult

Finding a time to do it after having completed a full work day, cooked and eaten dinner and then being expected (by yourself and the big evil eye over your head) to proceed literary gold instead of gibberish and nonsense.

Writing is painful

Once you've found the will to turn off the repeat episode of Keeping Up With The Karadashians and turned on the laptop, you've then got to beat yourself senseless while you write in order to truly feel like you've achieved.   You've got to spill out a few hundred words, look back at them and then sob quietly at the fact that they could've been written better by a monkey.

Writing is a challenge

It's always in the back of your brain and you know that the only person who can finish the project you've started is YOU.  No amount of help or notes from anyone else will get it ready to hand over for an agent to look at.  Then comes that little painful endeavour.....

Writing takes time

Once you've smashed up twenty computers in despair at your constant use of the word "said" or "banana" and then you've stopped crying long enough to edit it, you've then got to hand it on to someone else to say to you "You seem to use the word banana quite a bit.  Can you change it more?" and then you fix it again and again and then, just maybe, you hand it over to an agent or two so that they hopefully sign you up.

Writing is fun

With all that said and done, it's still amazing to play with words and create characters that become so real that you even know what they'd pick off a menu when you're out for dinner or how they'd react to some gossip you overhear on the bus.  You get to create entire universes and no one can tell you your wrong in doing it.  Nothing you write is wrong; it just might need altering so it is even better than before.

Writing is a process

It's long and there a some really hard days but there are also some utterly wonderful ones too.  You might write a whole book, only to realise that it isn't right for you or doesn't quite work for the character you've got in your head and needs to be rewritten or put away for a while.  Or even locked in a drawer and never spoken of again.  It's all learning though and that's the cool bit.  Even you mistakes are positives (annoying positives but still positives).

Writing is what I should be doing right now

I get distracted and can't focus but I've got the luxury of time to do it and a job that can pay the bills so I keep writing and hope I strike it lucky with the next sentence.