Monday 25 February 2013

Presenting a new feature... I Need to Get Out More #1

Well, it's been a while since I've introduced a new feature and then not really followed it up much, so here's my latest attempt. And here's the rather muddled thought process behind it....

Well, you may or may not know that I work from home. This mainly involves staying at home a lot. And occasionally leaving home to drop off and retrieve children from schooling places. But generally not venturing much from the confines of Hammersmith. On occasions, I do get the opportunity to leave my flat and mingle with the outside people. And if I'm really, really lucky, my husband might also have the evening off so he can babysit, and it is for these infrequent but lovely times that I've have decided to devote said new feature.

Every time I've been to a book-related event, I always, think 'oh I must do a write up thing about that' but most of the time this never happens. So this is really my way of forcing myself to do write ups.


A place. Not a million miles away from my front door. 
I have also been thinking about starting a feature to do with places. Yes, that does sound very vague. Let me elaborate slightly. Whenever I start writing something new, or an idea starts to form in my noggin, a lot of the time this is started by visiting a place or remembering  a place. It could be somewhere on my doorstep or somewhere I been to in the past. (I was trying really hard to write this without sounding completely wanky but I'm failing miserably). Ok, I just want to write stuff about writing places because they mean a lot to me. There. Said it. So I've decided to combine the two ideas and create one shiny new feature out of them.

So in my first post (haven't actually written it yet but ho hum) I'm going to be telling you about this great event I went to last week - Young Adult Fiction: Coming Out of the Closet - presented by Booktrust. James Dawson, Hayley Long and Emily Thomas from Hot Key, amongst others, talked about why there were so few LGBT character in UKYA and what can be done about this.

So look forward to that first write up. It will happen, I promise...

Wednesday 13 February 2013

YA REVIEW - 'The Ant Colony', Jenny Valentine (Harper Collins, 2009)

Number 33 Georgiana Street houses many people and yet seems home to none. To runaway Sam it is a place to disappear. To Bohemia, it's just another blip between crises, as her mum ricochets off the latest boyfriend. Old Isobel acts like she owns the place, even though it actually belongs to Steve in the basement, who is always looking to squeeze in yet another tenant. Life there is a kind of ordered chaos. Like ants, they scurry about their business, crossing paths, following their own tracks, no questions asked. But it doesn't take much to upset the balance. Dig deep enough and you'll find that everyone has something to hide… (Synopsis from Goodreads)

I've read a couple of Jenny Valentine's books in the past (Finding Violet Park and The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight) and a few things have struck me...

1) She is very good at plot. I'm always a bit sceptical when picking up a book labelled as a 'mystery' because I am invariably disappointed. Having been brought up on a rigorous diet of Agatha Christie, I have very high mystery standards and quite like my mysteries to be very mysterious. Jenny Valentine has won me over before  by being successfully mysterious on two previous occasions.

2) The covers of her books are very misleading. They seem to be either very light-hearted comic-strippy things or pastelly with lots of swirls. If I was the sort of person who used the word 'fluffy' them I might call them that. But her writing is not. A lot of the subject matter is very dark indeed. Yes, maybe in a slightly wry and humorous way, but dark nevertheless. Which means I end up looking at her covers with a scrunched up forehead most of the time.
The Ant Colony
Light-hearted cover is light-hearted

So,The Ant Colony...well, the dark stuff is still here. It quickly becomes apparent that one of our narrator's, ten year old Bohemia, has a pretty grim existence, but manages to put her own optimistic take on it. And the mystery is here to, with the background of runaway Sam shrouded in MYSTERY until the very end. So yes, I did keep staring at the bizarre cover and thinking WTF?? quite a bit. This wasn't as plot-heavy as some of her other books, but felt more focused on how these characters interact. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Quite a good thing in fact.

And her writing is just so bloody good. Just the most gorgeous turns of phrase that made me dog-ear so many pages of my copy.

"A little boy at the window of another train, crammed in, surrounded by arms, the sleeve of a quilted jacket squashed flat against the glass like someone pulling a face."


And I think my favourite thing about this book is how she writes London. How she makes it feel like a living, breathing whole, in equal parts exasperating and exhilarating.

"Mum and Dad moved away from London before I was born. They always said that city people who move to the country are never at home. Wherever they are, they miss the things they love about wherever they're not. You fall in love with the spaces and the air, while you pine for the crowds and the movement. You learn four hundred and fifty new shades of green but everyone's skin is the same colour. You crave the lights and the speed and the noise that when you get there are too bright and too fast and too loud."

I found this video on the Guardian website where Jenny Valentine talks about London and books and London books. Watching it makes me feel very proud and lucky to live here (although some days, not so much). Anyway, it might give you an idea about how important the city is to this book, how it works as one of the main characters.

So, back to the point I made at the start concerning the covers. Well, I loved this book. Up to a point. And I shall explain why, or try to without littering this review with too many spoilers. Although there is a bit of a spoiler, sorry...

Light-hearted cover = dark subject matter. So why, when I got to the ending, did I end up wishing that the cover didn't match the book at this point? Does this make sense? For a book that seems to spend 90% of it's time wallowing in the complexities of life, why does it choose to have a very cut and dried conclusion? I love a happy ending as much as the next person, but this just did not feel right and put a bit of an ironic dampner on proceedings for me, I'm afraid.

But I heartily recommend this one. I can see adults enjoying it just as much as younger readers and it has so much to say about so many things - community, why people choose to disappear, the things that go on under our noses that we choose to ignore. I just wish real-life endings were as happy as this one.

( I just had a look at the US edition of Cassiel Roadnight on Goodreads. It's called Double and they've made it look like a typical YA thriller, although this doesn't feel right either. I KNOW. THERE'S NO PLEASING ME)

(BUT, I do like this cover and title of Finding Violet Park)

(Sorry, I'll shut up now)

Sunday 3 February 2013

YA REVIEW - 'This is Shyness', Leanne Hall (Text Publishing, 2010)

A guy who howls. A girl on a mission to forget. In the suburb of Shyness, where the sun doesn’t rise and the border crackles with a strange energy, Wolfboy meets a stranger at the Diabetic Hotel. She tells him her name is Wildgirl, and she dares him to be her guide through the endless night. But then they are mugged by the sugar-crazed Kidds. And what plays out is moving, reckless...dangerous. There are things that can only be said in the dark. And one long night is time enough to change your life. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

This is Shyness (This is Shyness, #1)When I was about halfway through this book, I decided that I wasn't going to review it. Not because it was bad or boring or anything. Very much the opposite, in fact. I don't review every book I read, mainly because if I write a review, I want to make sure I have something interesting to say about the book. And with This is Shyness, I just felt that is was so unusual and interesting that there wasn't anything I could say that could do it justice. It would be impossible to explain so I should just say READ IT and let it be brilliant and interesting for new people to discover and appreciate it's brilliance and interesting-ness.

But then I finished it and I thought what the heck, I might as well attempt to write an interesting review because, like I said, it is a brilliant book and brilliant books deserve to be shouted about. So, how do I explain this This is Shyness - a (possibly) paranormal book in contemporary clothing? That's about as close as I can get I'm afraid. Although, then again, if you're going into it looking for a paranormal read, I don't think you'll find what you went out looking for. BUT you might be pleasantly surprised...

On the face of it, this book contains more than a few YA cliches - slightly gobby girl who doesn't quite fit in, a moody and mysterious fellow with a PAST, an on-foot miniature road trip...yet, it is so much more than this. This is packed full of awe-inspiring ideas and images and the two main characters are  convincing teens yet completely out there all at once.

For me , there were a few lapses where my attention waned, especially at the point when their journey takes a different turn, but there are more than a few genuinely creepy and slightly horrifying moments as the story gathers pace again. As much as I loved Wildgirl and Wolfboy, I wish I'd had just a bit more of an emotional connection with them, but this will come in the sequel, yes? YES!

So if you want YA with traditional elements yet is like nothing you have ever read before, then yes, believe it folks, there is such a book (it's this one, in case you're wondering).

So was that an interesting enough review? 

Oh well, I've written it now, so there.

(and thank you to Jo for lending me her copy...ages ago. And apologies to her also for not reading it for a criminally long time)