Wednesday, April 01, 2015

British Books Challenge - Link Your April Reviews

So.... 2015 is now a quarter finished. How did that happen?! Again, as with previous months this year, I am super, super impressed with the level of commitment you guys have shown to this challenge. At last count there were close to 60 reviews linked during the month of March. There was lots of love for recent publications such as Half Wild by Sally Green and Under My Skin by James Dawson but I love seeing the vast range of books everyone has been reading and reviewing for this challenge! And I hope you've also been finding some good recommendations from the review link-up pages as well. As ever, good luck and keep reading and reviewing! 

Onto March's winner. March's prize pack was hosted by Scholastic and the prize is the absolutely gorgeous 20th anniversary editions of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. 

And that winner is...
Chrissi Reads

Congratulations Chrissi! You have one week to email me with your address so that Scholastic may post out your books.  And a huge thank you to Scholastic for hosting March's prize pack! Now onto this month's exciting prize...

April Prize Pack:

Well, this is awkward. I took my time organising this month's prize pack and it hasn't quite been confirmed. Do come back soon and this will hopefully have been resolved!

Important Information:
  • Please make sure you sign up for the challenge before you start linking your reviews, I will delete links from people who aren't registered. You can sign up HERE if you haven't already.
  • When you add your link to the Mr. Linky below please make sure you link directly to your review, not just to your blog (invalid links will be deleted)
  • Books must have been read in 2015 to count towards the challenge so those books you read in December but reviewed in January don't count!
  • Also, please make sure that the reviews you link are for books written by British Authors - they can be born in Britain (living here or abroad) or they can be adopted British Authors (who were born elsewhere and now live here) but if they don't fit into one of those categories then they don't count. (as above invalid links will be deleted and won't get you an entry into the prize pack). Please note that Britain includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, I'm afraid authors from Southern Ireland don't count.
  • If you need ideas for books by British Authors check out the FAQ page for lots of suggestions. You don't have to choose books from these lists though - they are just to give you ideas if you need help!

Link Your Reviews:

Now for the important part, make sure you link all of your reviews using the Mr. Linky form below. In the Your Name field please include your blog name, the title of the book and the author. Make sure the link takes me directly to your review or your entry won't count and will be deleted from the list.

For example: Under My Skin by James Dawson (Fluttering Butterflies)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March Wrap-up

How is the end of March already?! I had SUCH a busy month. It was The Littest AND N's birthday and there were parties and celebrations every weekend. Plus Mother's Day and the start of theme park season means that I felt absolutely rushed up my feet this past month.  With Easter and the school holidays coming up, I don't feel like this will change much any time soon but there you go.

It was an amazing month, March. I went to UKYABA and to an exclusive MiraInk event with Maria V Snyder. On a personal level, I also did a wildlife experience at Chessington and the boys fed meerkats AND I took part in a WORLD RECORD. That's right, I took part in a world record for the most people dressed up as penguins in the same area. BOOM. That's going on the CV.

Here is how my reading and blogging and booktubing went during the month of March:

Books read in March:

1. Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed (4 stars)
2. This Is Not A Love Story by Keren David (4 stars)
3. Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters (3 stars)
4. Liccle Bit by Alex Wheatle (4 stars)
5. Rock Hard by Nalini Singh (3 stars)
6. Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah (3 stars)
7. This Book Is Gay by James Dawson (5 stars)
8. She Wore Red Trainers by Na'ima B. Robert (3 stars)
9. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (4 stars)
10. If You Were Me by Sam Hepburn (4 stars)
11. Urban Legends by Helen Grant (5 stars)
12. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (4 stars)

Total read in March: 12

Total in 2015: 40

So I decided that for my reading in March, I would only read books written by POC authors or books with an LGBT story line. Aside from one book that doesn't fit that criteria, this month I read 7 books by POC authors (Sufiya Ahmed, Alex Wheatle, Nalini Singh, Benjamin Zephaniah, Na'ima B. Robert, Sam Hepburn and Nicola Yoon) and I read 4 books with an LGBT story line (This Is Not A Love Story, Lies My Girlfriend Told Me, This Book Is Gay and Two Boys Kissing). I also started several other books but when I finish those books, I'll talk about them in a later monthly wrap-up post!

I really enjoyd this diversity push this month and it has inspired me to do and read more.  I'm not going to let this be a one-off thing. Watch this space.

My favourite book of the month...

March Book of the month:

This Book Is Gay by James Dawson

It has to be This Book Is Gay by James Dawson. Just because of how important it is. And it's written in such a fun, funny, informative way. 

British Books Challenge and UKYA in 2015:

British Books Challenge - Link Your March Reviews
UKYA Published in March 2015

UKYA published by POC Authors in 2015
Amazing UKYA covers in 2015

Love Libraries

Matt from Teen Librarian

This month I started a new feature on my blog called Love Libraries. If you would like to take part in the feature, do let me know!

Books reviewed in March:

Game Changer by Tim Bowler
Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi
The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
Deception by CJ Redwine
She Wore Red Trainers by Na'ima B. Robert
Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

6 reviews posted this month! A respectable number, even if it is half of my usual amount! Hopefully we'll see me crawling out of my blogging/reviewing slump soon?

Other posts in March:

How I Blog
Dementia and my dad

World Book Day 2015
Cross-posting reviews to Amazon
Blog Tour: Kris Humphrey's Favourite Fantasy Novels
The Real Life Locations that Inspired Urban Legends by Helen Grant
Book Blogger Problems: Netgalley
MiraInk Event and Interview with Maria V. Snyder

And while I sometimes find it difficult to maintain a constant stream of reviews, I don't generally seem to mind writing other types of posts. Some of these other bookish posts were quite popular this month, particularly the Netgalley post!

Booktube videos in March:

5 Books I'd Save From a Fire
Interview with Maria V. Snyder

Michelle recommends diverse books
Michelle Loves the Anticipation

Far fewer videos this month than normal! That is due to the level of emotion I felt whilst filming the top 5 books I'd save from a fire video. Lots of people picked up on the fact that I did cry during filming and some said they felt that emotion. (Sorry!) I really didn't feel much like filming after that, unfortunately. It brought too many feelings. I did very much enjoy interviewing Maria V Snyder this month though, that was amazing. I SO want to interview authors on a regular basis. Let that happen, yes?

Progress in my reading challenges in March

LGBT Challenge in 2015:

This Is Not A Love Story by Keren David
Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters
This Book Is Gay by James Dawson
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Total for March: 4
Total for 2015: 10

I read 4 books this month that count towards my LGBT challenge. Absolutely loved three of them and one was just okay. I started several other books that would count towards this challenge as well and I'm super excited to continue with them... 

British Books Challenge 2015:

Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed

This Is Not A Love Story by Keren David
Liccle Bit by Alex Wheatle
Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah
This Book Is Gay by James Dawson
She Wore Red Trainers by Na'ima B. Robert
If You Were Me by Sam Hepburn
Urban Legends by Helen Grant

Total for March: 8

Today for 2015: 16

Oooh, well done, me on reading books for the British Books Challenge this month. I read 8 books this month which doubles my number overall for all of 2015. I'm really pleased with that and I hope to read many more books by British authors in the next few months. I'm really falling behind on my UKYA in 2015 goals :) 

All quite interesting books this month! 

What was your favourite book(s) read in March?

Monday, March 30, 2015

REVIEW: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is one of my favourite books that I've read so far this year! It's funny and sweet and awkward and hugely romantic. I smiled, I laughed, I cried. There were so many points that the authors makes that made me shout 'YES, THIS' many times during the reading of this book.  I loved the characters, I loved the friendships and I thought Simon and Blue were utterly adorable. This is definite new favourite of mine!

At the beginning of this book our main character, Simon who is not-quite-out as gay, is blackmailed by another student at his high school. This other student has come across an exchange of emails between Simon and another boy at their school, nicknamed Blue. This other boy, Martin, implies he'll make public these emails and 'out' both Simon and Blue as being gay unless Simon helps Martin to win over the affection of one of Simon's friends.  This starts a really interesting story about friendship and identity and coming out and being okay with who you are.

Man, I loved this book.  The book is split between Simon's narration and also these email exchanges between Simon and Blue.  And it really feels like there are two main plot lines in this book. The first is Simon coming to terms not so much with his sexuality but with being okay about coming out to his friends and family. He's attracted to other boys and that's okay with him. What he's struggling with is how that will change his relationships with the people who have known him forever, like his parents and his oldest friends. There is a great line in this book about how people should have to come out as being straight and that it should be mandatory for that to be as awkward as possible. I totally agree with that sentiment!  I did really love this story arc of Simon's. He has a really interesting friendship circle and family and I love the complicated dynamics that are at play in both areas of his life.

And the other major story line is this flirtatious relationship that develops between Simon and Blue and how they become more and more comfortable with each other and start having feelings for the other based on what they've said in their emails. I thought the two of them were unbearably cute and I loved the almost mystery element towards the second half of this book in which Simon puts his detective hat on and tries to discover the identity of Blue. I think at the same time we see Blue being more open to the people around him and there's almost a thing between him and another character. But it was really this online love story that really appealed to me here. And oh I just wanted to give Simon and Blue big hugs for being awesome.

I loved this story so much.  It's so emotional and heart-felt. I loved the characters and friendships and the incredibly sweet love story between two amazing characters! I can't recommend this book enough!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

MiraInk event and Interview with Maria V. Snyder

This past week I had the great pleasure of attending an event with MiraInk to celebrate the publication of Shadow Study and attending a blogger event with Maria V. Snyder.  It was absolutely wonderful, not only to meet Maria, but also other incredible new-to-me book bloggers and the lovely staff at MiraInk.  There was great conversation, food, wine, and goody bags!

And! I was able interview Maria V Snyder and we had a great chat about her new book, favourite characters, fangirling over authors, addictions and book bloggers! Check it out. And here is the information about Shadow Study...

Once, only her own life hung in the balance…

When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.

Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger.
As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked.And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.

Some events photos...

A huge thank you to Maria, Cara and everyone at MiraInk for hosting such a wonderful event!

Meteorologist turned novelist, Maria's been writing fantasy and science fiction since she was bored at work and needed something creative to do. A dozen novels and numerous short stories later, Maria's learned a thing or three about writing. She’s been on the New York Times bestseller list, won a half-dozen awards, and has earned her MA degree in Writing from Seton Hill University where she's been happily sharing her knowledge with the current crop of MFA students. She also enjoys creating new worlds where horses and swords rule, 'cause let's face it, they're cool, although she's been known to trap her poor characters in a giant metal cube and let them figure out how to get out. Readers are welcome to check out her website for book excerpts, free short stories, maps, blog, and her schedule at

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Blogger Problems: Netgalley

As most of us book bloggers know, Netgalley is both an amazing and also horrible resource.  Amazing because we all have access to incredible books before they are published. Horrible because there are so many stress-inducing elements to being a member of Netgalley.  Today's blog post will delve a little deeper into our Netgalley inspired problems...

-The temptation to request all the books

I think we all did this when we first started out with Netgalley, didn't we? We requested anything that mildly took our interest. We were all incredibly click-happy and went wild. I know I did. And where did it get me? It got me to a place two years ago in which my feedback to approval ratio was under 15% That's where it got me.

Now, what I do, is I'll look at the Recently Added shelf. I'll look at the books in the categories I like. And if I see a book that sparks my interest, I'll keep a tab open to that book. And I'll carry on with whatever I'm doing on my laptop. If, in an hour's time, that title STILL sparks a massive interest in me, I'll request it. If I'd forgotten that I was excited about that book in an hour's time, I close the window and carry on.

Because a lot of books interest me, I've also placed a reasonable limit for myself.  Right now, that limit is 5 books.  In order to request MORE books, I'll need to read and review the five books on my Reading Shelf. Once I get into a better routine in which I automatically read and review these books without placing ridiculous rules and restrictions on myself, I might raise this to 8 titles or 10 titles depending on how often I'm sending in feedback. You'll know what's right for you.

-Being declined

There's so few things worse than being incredibly excited to read a book only to request that book on Netgalley and to be declined. What a terrible feeling. Usually when this happens, I'll look at the Approval Preferences of that particular publisher and see if there is anything I can do to improve my chances for next time.

Some good tips for not being declined in future is to have an up-to-date and informative profile which includes an email address and a profile photo. I'd recommend linking to all appropriate websites and profiles. Your blog, obviously. But also Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and anywhere else you might discuss books. Remove all of those personal details in your Bio section and focus on follower numbers, average page views and awards/achievements. Write that Bio and use it to really sell yourself. Let publishers know why you should be approved and what kind of influence/reach you have.

And, of course, improve your feedback to approval ratio! Which leads me to the next problem...

-Having a low feedback to approval ratio

As I mentioned at the start of this blog post, two years ago I had a feedback to ratio approval rate under 15% Right now? At the time of writing this blog post my percentage stands at 73% It's not quite the preferred 80% but it's close. And I'm auto-approved for 7 different publishers and I can't remember the last book that I was declined for. I'm doing okay! But that was definitely not always the case!

If you have a low feedback ratio, what I'd recommend doing right now is to look closely at your Reading Shelf. If there are any books that you never downloaded because the title was archived soon after your approval, leave feedback to the publisher to explain why you haven't given feedback. If any of the titles have formatting issues or missing letters which make it difficult to read the book, leave feedback to the publishers to let them know you won't be reading because of these issues.

If any book there is over a year old and you've not read it, move on.  But before you do, leave feedback.  Always leave feedback. I think a lot of people's problems with Netgalley is that they feel under pressure to read every book, finish every book and write full reviews of every book. And while that is preferable, it doesn't always happen.  Nor should it always happen, I don't think.

Some of my feedback is quite short. Something like 'I was approved for this title and two days later it was archived and that didn't give me enough time to read and review it.' 'I was very excited to read this book, however, some of the formatting or missing letters included in my copy of the book made it difficult to read which made it impossible to finish reading the book.' 'I gave this book several attempts but something about the characters/writing style/situation/setting didn't quite grab my attention or excitement. I'm sure that it will capture the imagination of other readers but it is not the right book for me at this time.'

Even with books I love, sometimes I keep it quite short. Once my list of Netgalley books is cleared to a more acceptable number, then I'll be able to focus more time and attention on certain titles. But I won't get that opportunity if I still have 40 other Netgalley titles hanging over my head!

-Keeping up-to-date with Netgalley books

That leaves me with this final Netgalley problem. Hopefully you've gotten your profile sorted out, your feedback percentage to a good number, you're limiting what you're requesting but how do you keep up-to-date by continuing to read and submit feedback for these books?

Some people join Netgalley reading challenges. I think those are always fun and something like Netgalley November is a great way of clearing a big chunk of titles off your reading lists.  Or you could just add in, say 2-3 titles to your monthly TBR lists and chip away at things are regular intervals. Add in publication dates/archive dates to your calendars so that it will pop up with reminders for you. I do all of these things and they help in different ways.  I hope this has helped in some way!

Do you have any tips or suggestions to add?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

REVIEW: She Wore Red Trainers by Na'ima B. Robert

She Wore Red Trainers by Na'ima B. Robert is not like any other book I've read before and I really like it for that very reason.  It's always a good thing, I think, reading books very different to our own personal beliefs.  It's good to read a story with a very different perspective and to see things differently.  And that's what my enjoyment of She Wore Red Trainers was about for the most part.

She Wore Red Trainers has the subtitle 'A Muslim Love Story' and it is a dual-perspective novel telling the story of two teenagers, Amirah and Ali, and how they came to meet each other and fall in love and how their relationship conforms to the ideals and customs of the Muslim religion.

It was a very different experience witnessing Ali and Amirah's feelings for the other develop over the course of this novel. A lot of that connection was subtle: there wasn't very much direct interaction with each other and I felt like the two characters found out about each other more from other people, through friends and family etc, than they did through actual conversations and spending time with each other. And while as a reader seeing the events unfold from both perspectives and seeing how both Ali and Amirah feels about the other, I think it's more apparent that these two characters potentially have a lot in common and that there might be the possibility of more, I still wanted to see them talk a bit more and to see some of their shared ideas and hopes and dreams verbalised.

I really enjoyed getting to know both Ali and Amirah throughout this book. I felt like the romantic elements of this story are kind of on a back burner and at the forefront of this novel is the character development of both of our main characters as they struggle in their friendships and families and their futures. And I really enjoyed seeing how their religion shapes a lot of their thoughts and decisions and how it both helps and guides them through.

We have Ali, who has moved to London with his dad and two brothers after the death of Ali's mother and the decline in his father's business. Everyone is handling their grief in different ways and I really liked seeing Ali's brother, Umar, struggle with Ali and their dad's return to Islam and we can see that, for Umar at least, it isn't quite that easy and that there's still plenty of anger and helplessness in the face of loss.

And then there is Amirah, who is pretty resistant to the idea of boys and marriage especially in light of her mother's disastrous love life as her mother is, at the beginning of the novel, grappling with her fourth divorce. And at the same time Amirah is also questioning what she wants to do with her life and what she sees for her future. She loves art but other more practical subjects are more encouraged and pushed.

It was great to see people using their religious beliefs to do good things, like setting up a youth group and raising money for charity. It was great to explore the Muslim faith more. I found it really interesting to see the pressures that both Ali and Amirah were under - from themselves, their families, their friends, their community and within their religion.  It was a very interesting experience.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Blog Tour: Urban Legends by Helen Grant - The Real Life Locations that Inspired Urban Legends

It is my great pleasure to welcome back Helen Grant to Fluttering Butterflies! Helen is no stranger here and it is with excitement that she is here today. Today she's sharing a really fascinating look into some of the locations that inspired her latest book, Urban Legends. Urban Legends is the third and final book in the Forbidden Spaces trilogy and I've loved this trilogy right from the beginning!  It's a definite favourite of mine and if you haven't read read Silent Saturday, Demons of Ghent or Urban Legends which will be published officially this week, I really urge you to do so now!

Here is the product description for Urban Legends and some links in case you want to know more about Urban Legends, the Forbidden Spaces trilogy or Helen Grant.

A group of story-tellers are disappearing one by one.

A young woman is haunted by her past.

A serial killer has one target he is desperate to hunt down.

Veerle is trying to lie low, to live as 'normal' a life as she possibly can. But when you've thwarted a serial killer, it's hard to do this. Especially when he wants revenge . . .

Urban Legends: the real life locations that inspired the book
by Helen Grant

Location is very important to me as a writer. I find atmospheric places inspiring, and I try to bring the settings of my books to life by researching all the little details. My books are set in foreign places where I have actually lived: Germany and Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium). I fell in love with those places when I lived there; I found everything about them fascinating, and I love sharing that experience with readers.

For my Forbidden Spaces trilogy I did a lot of location research. The first book, Silent Saturday, opens with a scene in a Flemish bell tower, so I visited several village churches and went up the towers (including one that wasn’t supposed to be open to the public, cough). For Demons of Ghent I spent a week in the city of Ghent, touring all the main sights including the Sint-Baaf cathedral and the Gravensteen castle, both of which appear in the book.

It’s very important to me to experience the locations I use myself. I want to see and listen and touch and sometimes smell! You pick up all sorts of details that you would never get from looking at photographs. Often parts of the plot will suggest themselves to me when I am visiting a location. I see the place as being like a stage set, waiting for the action to begin. I like to soak up the atmosphere and imagine what is going to happen.

Urban Legends is the final book in the trilogy so I wanted a really amazing finale. I had to find some exciting and unusual locations – not necessarily beautiful ones either, because this is a gritty story. It’s not going to be pretty! The brutal serial killer who calls himself The Hunter is back, and he’s pursuing a personal vendetta against the heroine, Veerle, and her friend Kris. The environment of the book reflects that. We’re done with opulent expat mansions and gorgeous Gothic cathedrals. Urban Legends gets down and dirty in some very nasty places indeed.

While I was researching for the book, I went out with some experienced urban explorers and visited an abandoned factory that was about to be demolished. That was a fascinating and creepy experience. The demolition work had started so the entire side of the building was off; it was like looking into a dolls’ house. There was a lot of rubble outside. The whole area looked like a bomb site; it made me feel as though I were in some kind of apocalyptic movie. We weren't the only ones visiting the place. Now and again we would see shadowy figures flitting around inside, but we didn't talk to them and they didn't approach us. That was quite unsettling. Large parts of the inside of the factory were pretty much as they had been on the day work finished. There were posters on the walls in the workshop areas and soft drink cans and files. Everything was covered with a very fine layer of dust.

I think the interesting thing about that visit was that it was so creepy even though it was a relatively modern building and you don’t tend to think of a factory as a scary place. I've used a lot of obviously scary locations in my previous books – old castles, graveyards, ruined houses and stuff like that. You expect your flesh to creep a bit in places like that, but not in a factory. There was a very strong sense of desolation and decay which was strongly in contrast to the practical purpose of the building.

Out of all the places I visited during research for Urban Legends, the other one that really stands out in my mind was the Brussels sewers! I saw them via the Musée des Egouts de Bruxelles (Brussels sewer museum), which is sadly now closed for an indefinite period. The museum is in a part of Brussels called Anderlecht and if you didn’t know it was there, I’m not sure you’d notice it. There’s a big traffic intersection with roads and tram lines crossing it, and on either side of it are two identical buildings in a sort of Roman style with columns on the front. You have to go into one of these and buy a ticket, and there’s an exhibition about sewers and the history of the ones in Brussels. Then you go down into the sewers and when you eventually come up, you’re on the other side of the traffic intersection, in the other building!

The day I went to the museum I was the only visitor so I had to go through the sewers on my own. The staff who sold me the ticket were teasing me a bit when they told me about coming up on the other side, saying “if you come up”, etc. Gosh, thanks guys! So, what is it like in the sewers? Well, it’s niffy, as you’d probably expect, and it’s also very dark, although the sewers museum bits have lighting. You can hear water running. Well, I say water…

The Brussels sewers come in all shapes and sizes – there is a very big wide channel where the river Senne (which ran through the city) was covered over. You could pretty much sail a boat down that. There are also some much smaller tunnels. A person could walk down those but it would be quite difficult if the water was more than a few inches deep as the bottom is rounded and quite slippery.

I’ve read that the sewers are the most hostile urban exploration environment there is. Apart from the creepy crawlies (ew), the rats (yikes!) and the obvious sewage nasties, there can be pockets of poisonous gas and flash floods. And if your light goes out, well, you’ll probably wander around in the dark forever. In fact, the sewers are such a horrible place that only a very hard hearted author would send any of their characters down there. So, did I? You’ll have to read the book to find out…

About Helen:

Helen Grant writes YA contemporary thrillers. She has lived in Germany and Belgium, and her novels to date have been set in those countries. She now lives in Scotland with her husband, two children and two cats, and is working on a new thriller set there.

About Urban Legends:

Urban Legends is Helen Grant’s sixth novel and the third in her Forbidden Spaces trilogy. It is published by Corgi (26th March 2015).

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Love Libraries: Matt Imrie from Teen Librarian

I've been wanting to start a new feature on this blog for awhile now. And at the beginning of the year, I applied for a job in a local library and one of the questions in my interview was 'what is the biggest challenge facing libraries today?' and I could only think of 'closure' as an answer. So I thought that I really needed to do more to support and share the love for libraries. And for this new feature, I feel like I need a little help from my friends... I'm hoping this feature will appear every other week and will feature authors, librarians, book bloggers, booktubers and bookish people. If you would like to take part, do let me know!

So here we are, the first post in this new feature about how much libraries are loved and are important! I'm super happy that for this first post I bring you Matt, one of the coolest librarians I know.

Do check out Teen Librarian and follow Matt on Twitter and if nothing else, please do make him happy and ask him for book recommendations!

I Love Libraries
by Matt Imrie

I love libraries, that statement is nothing amazing coming from a librarian, but that love was born in  my years as a borrower, and I have been a library patron for far longer than I have been a librarian.

I think that in this day and age libraries are more important than ever as Public Libraries are a rare physical manifestation of the ideal that all men are equal. A child will get the same level of service as an entrepreneur who will be shown the same level of courtesy as a senior citizen.

It is not just the equality of service that makes me love libraries, it was the experience of my childhood that embedded the thought that libraries were wonderful places. Walking down to the Kalk Bay Public Library, my local library with my mother holding my brother and my hands and being let loose to look through the children’s library, the smell of wood polish in the air and the sunlight from the high windows catching the motes of dust as they floated silently through the air and the shelves of books that covered the walls. I could choose three books every week – it was heaven. Then there were the trips to a slightly larger library in Muizenberg where, on a Thursday afternoon there was a story time in the children’s room, the librarian would light a candle and while the wick burned we would sit in silence and listen to stories being read.

As I grew older and entered my teens and high school my trips to the library changed, no longer did I walk with my mother but stopped off in Muizenberg on my way home from school and chose my own books, I was then much as I am now a science fiction, fantasy and horror fan and the library fed my habit. My first job in my late teens was in Fish Hoek Public Library as a shelf packer and emergency book issuer and returner (in preparation for Library School) and it was there that I held my first job as a professional Librarian (and the first male Librarian ever in that Library.)

I love Libraries for the joy they gave me as a child, for the information they loaned me as a young adult and the services they offered me as an adult. When I first came to the UK it was in British Libraries that I used the internet to find my first job and over the past 13 years as a Librarian I have seen how libraries can change people’s lives for the better.

Libraries are under threat today, and have been since 2011, I was one of the first Librarians to lose my job when the axe started swinging in 2011 and I have seen too many of my friends and colleagues being forced out of jobs and libraries that they loved. It does look very bleak today with more and more local authorities promising cuts, reduced hours and closures. I will just say this, Libraries have been around for a long time, they predate Christianity, have outlasted entire religions and dynasties and will continue to survive and thrive when the current crop of petty, small-minded vandals in government have been consigned to the scrap-heap of history.

Matt Imrie is a South African Librarian currently working in a school in SE London. In his spare time reads and blogs between acting as a  judge for the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals and living on twitter.

He loves recommending books and wishes more people would ask him for suggestions!

Teen Librarian ... Matt on Twitter

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dementia and my dad

I'm seeing the word 'dementia' around a lot lately.  Terry Pratchett had a form of it. There's a film out with Julianne Moore called 'Still Alice' based on a book of the same name all about early onset dementia and Jenny Downham's new book out this fall includes a character with dementia.  I really like the fact that more story lines in books and film are happening to include this illness and that it brings more awareness and attention to dementia and I'm obviously heartbroken over Terry Pratchett's death.  But at the same time, it's been hard for me.

Some of you may already know this, but I had been talking to some people recently who didn't know.  And I realised that sometimes I just feel like everyone should know everything I'm thinking and feeling without me ever having to verbalise those things.  But of course you're not all mind readers.

My dad has dementia.  I found out just over a year ago and it's been the hardest year of my life.  My dad is only 67 and he lives in Oregon. Thankfully my dad is being cared for full-time by my brother. Both my dad and brother have lots of support and my dad is being taken care of to the best of everybody's ability. Doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, support workers, relief carers as well as family and friends are around to help. This makes me feel infinitely better knowing that all is as well as can be.

But it's very difficult to be so far away from someone I care about when they're poorly.  I don't like not knowing immediately of any changes, I don't like being powerless to help. And it's unbearably sad to see my dad succumb to this cruel and horrible disease.  There's nothing I can do.

I've talked about my feelings towards my dad's declining health to several people. Dementia is something that sadly quite a few of us have experience with and it's been nice to share some of the harder aspects of this disease with friends and family, especially those with personal experience. It doesn't feel so heavy when the burden is placed on more shoulders. And also I don't feel so alone in my feelings.

The progression of my dad's dementia has been quicker than I'd have liked. But then, I don't think anyone can fully prepare anyway for how unbelievably cruel dementia can be and this will always have ripped my heart out. This past year has been a series of big and small heart-breaks.  I've cried endless amounts of tears at my dad's losses and of mine. I've cried about the indignity and unfairness of it all, I've cried about the decline of his quality of life and about all I will miss out on and what my children will miss out on and I cry for all the opportunities that will be lost to all of us. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of night and think of all the time I wasted and all the times I took for granted that my dad would just always be there.

And at the same time, I'm trying so desperately to hold onto what I still have and to hold onto the great memories with my dad that I have. Dementia does not define my dad. Nor does it take away from his achievements in life and the good that he has done. In some ways I feel like I'm mourning him while he still lives and that too makes me sad.

I feel constantly emotional and I burst into tears on a fairly regular basis. Oftentimes I find that I can't really concentrate on many things and that's okay. My boys have accepted the near-constant hugs I give them and they seem to get that they help me in some small way.  I call my dad often, just to hear his voice sometimes and I cry at the end of each and every phone call no matter if it was a 'good' day or not.

Things are hard right now and I think it unlikely to get any better.  But I'm happy that I have such amazing and supportive family and friends and that I have books and this blog to help me through this.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Blog Tour: A Whisper of Wolves by Kris Humphrey - Kris's Favourite Fantasy Novels

I'm really pleased today to be taking part in the blog tour for A Whisper of Wolves by Kris Humphrey! A Whisper of Wolves is the first book in a 4 part series of new middle grade stories called the Guardians of the Wild, published by Stripes. And it's lovely to have the author, Kris Humphrey, here to talk about some of his favourite fantasy stories...

Here is the product description for A Whisper of Wolves:

When a raven drops a white feather at the doorstep on the day of your birth, it is a symbol of your destiny. You are a Whisperer – a guardian of the wild. After many years of peace in the kingdom of Meridina, rumours are spreading of a planned invasion – could the demonic Narlaw be returning from the darklands? It is up to the Whisperers and their animal companions to defend Meridina, protect Princess Ona and stop the Narlaw from destroying their world.

When hunters from her village disappear without a trace, Alice suspects that something sinister is at work. With the help of Storm, her wolf companion, Alice fights to save her village. The Narlaw are on the attack and it’s up to the Whisperers to stop them…

A list of my Favourite Fantasy Books
by Kris Humphrey

Redwall by Brian Jacq: Set in a medieval world populated by animals rather than humans, Brian Jacques’ Redwall series got me hooked on reading when I was young. There are warrior mice, treacherous foxes, rat warlords and fighting hares – plus the most incredibly mouth-watering feasts. Just brilliant.

Varjak Paw by SF Said: A pampered house cat is forced to survive in the big bad city, and there is something very creepy going on in the street-cat community. Thoughtful, exciting and beautifully  illustrated, Varjak Paw has the feel of a powerful, modern day fable.

Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver: This pre-historic adventure story is one of my absolute favourite books. An orphaned boy teams up with an orphaned wolf cub and they set out to confront their destiny. It feels magical yet very real at the same time, which makes it fantastically atmospheric and exciting.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman: As far as fantasy books go, Philip Pullman’s series just cannot be beaten. It spans many worlds, and is home to polar bears, witches, demons and many more amazing things besides. The characters, ideas and story come together so perfectly that it’s impossible to stop reading.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper: Everything seems so normal to begin with, then sinister events begin to unfold and you’re slowly drawn me into a strange world steeped in folklore and mythology. Creepy, intelligent and absolutely thrilling.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien: You can’t talk about fantasy books without including The Hobbit. Tolkien’s Middle Earth became the blueprint for an entire genre. Along with the Redwall series, this book cemented my love of reading and set me on course to becoming a writer.

First Light by Rebecca Stead: This is an intriguing arctic adventure with a clever structure that gradually weaves two separate plotlines together. There are husky dogs and an underground city where people ice-skate to school each morning. A rich, immersive tale which I absolutely loved.

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve: This series takes place in a future in which great moving cities hunt each other across the half-ruined earth. One of the most original and inventive things I've ever read, this is packed with humour, drama and breathless action sequences.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: This one’s for slightly older readers, but it deserves a mention because of the sheer originality and depth of its fantasy world. The relationship between dragons and humans is at the centre of the story and everything about it is fresh and inventive.

Sabriel by Garth Nix: Also for older readers, Sabriel is the first in a brilliant series about a girl whose job is to keep the dead from returning to the land of the living. It sounds very dark, but there’s a lot of humour in there too, and some wonderful ideas. Any fan of Philip Pullman should give these a try too.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

REVIEW: Deception by CJ Redwine

Deception by CJ Redwine is the second book in the Courier Daughter's trilogy. The first book, Defiance, was a book that I absolutely LOVED when I read it maybe two years ago? And I was always going to be excited to carry on the trilogy. ...It's just taken me a little longer than I expected to do so.

Despite the length of time between reading the first book in the trilogy and the sequel, I didn't find that I'd forgotten that much when I started reading Deception.  I felt like CJ Redwine did a great job of creating a memorable world, memorable characters and definitely a memorable scenario that we find ourselves reading about.  And right from the first page of Deception, I found it very easy to fall back into this world. And it felt exciting and emotional right from the start.

This book will contain spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, Defiance, but will not contain any spoilers for Deception. If you haven't yet read Defiance but are interested in reading this trilogy at some point, I suggest that you stop reading now.

Deception takes place right after the ending of Defiance. Rachel and Logan are in the battered remains of Baalboden and it's up to Logan to organise everyone and shift all of the survivors of Baalboden out into the Wasteland and kept safely away from the Commander's army that is chasing them down.  He has a plan to ally himself with one of the other city-states but must face new challenges, the pressures of leadership as well as a mole within his straggling band of survivors.

At the same time, Rachel is really dealing with the grief over her father and Oliver and also her conflicted feelings over killing a man. These losses weigh heavily on her and at the same time she feels so much rage against the Commander and wants him to pay for what he's done and what he's taken from her and everyone around her.

Most of this book is like a road trip story as Rachel and Logan and the others are trying to get from one place to another but with Cursed Ones ready to pop up and destroy everything in sight, an army chasing them from one side, a tracker picking people off from another, dissension in the ranks as well as some hot tempers.

What I really loved about this second book in the trilogy is that we see more development of all the main characters, the action is moved along without that much unnecessary drama and we get a bunch more information about the world, the Commander, our main characters and the Cursed Ones.  I especially love the elements of technology and of fighting and the ways in which the community of Baalboden change their opinions of both gender and outsiders.

Willow and Quinn, the two Tree People that we meet in the first book play a huge part in Deception.  Quinn faces a lot of criticism and name-calling from some of the Baalbodens and I loved the way in which she went out about winning them over. And I loved the way in which Quinn's relationship with Rachel unfolded and hearing more about his upbringing and why he has the no weapon policy.  I found it all very interesting and I wanted more. This entire book is filled with fascinating people and relationships and I read this whole book wanting more of everything!

At the heart of this book, though, is Rachel and Logan.  And I thought they were both adorable in this book.  Obviously dealing with a lot, but they end up dealing with things together. I love how they both let each other stand on their own and they fight all of the co-dependency issues that most couples in YA succumb to.

I absolutely loved this book and this trilogy so far! If you haven't yet discovered this trilogy I really highly recommend them.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Amazing covers in 2015

This month sees the publication of Crow Moon by Anna McKerrow and Under My Skin by James Dawson, both of which have really amazing covers (I think James Dawson has been incredibly lucky with his awesome covers) and to celebrate that fact, I thought that today I might share with you some of my other favourite covers from YA books published in 2015! Where I can, I've included the designer/illustrator's names.

Don't forget to share in comments some of your favourites too!

Crow Moon by Anna McKerrow
designed by Alex Cherry

First up, we have Crow Moon by Anna McKerrow. This cover was revealed during a #ukyachat and I missed the initial response to it but I'm pretty sure there had to have been a sizeable buzz surrounding the reveal. It is gorgeous. I love the colours especially and how soft the image is next to the starkness of the font.

Under My Skin by James Dawson
designed by Jet Purdie

I love the cover for Under My Skin.  I've been quite impressed with lots of James Dawson's covers but this has to be a favourite.  It's so playful and fitting to the premise.  I absolutely adore that central image of pin-up, Molly Sue.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
illustrated by Alice Todd and designed by Ness Wood

Isn't the cover for The Art of Being Normal incredible?! Such a simple cover but so very striking at the same time.  That central image really grabbed my attention the first time I saw it and it's happened every time I've seen it since!

Seven Days by Eve Ainsworth

I love this cover as well.  What a great idea having the words spell out the title and the words to be negative messages as this is a book about bullying.  I love the use of colour and the fonts used!

Read Me Like A Book by Liz Kessler

Another case of beautiful colours being used in Liz Kessler's debut YA novel, Read Me Like A Book.  I love the look of graffiti. I don't know how that came about but I do, I love graffiti.

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury
designed by Jamie Gregory

I knew even before I read the synopsis that this would be a book I wanted to read. Just by looking at the glorious cover.  Isn't it so very, very pretty?! It just sings out 'amazing fantasy story' to me.

These are some of my favourite (UKYA) covers in 2015. What are some of yours?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cross-posting reviews to Amazon

Cross-posting my reviews to Amazon.  It's a thing I do fairly regularly and it doesn't take much to do.  Really just copying and pasting my original review from one place to another, choosing a star rating and picking out a title.  But I hate doing it.

It's not even that it's a time-consuming job.  If I cross-post my reviews to Amazon once a month (which is often when I do it) it only takes 10 or 15 minutes to do.  It's nice when I remember and I feel all accomplished.  

But the reason I hate doing it is very simple. Right at this moment I have 202 helpful votes on my reviews. 202 out of 238.  Which means that 36 anonymous people out there have read my reviews and they've decided to click that 'No' button under my review in response to the question, 'Was this review helpful to you?' 

That's happened 36 times and every time that I do notice that this count has gone up in anyway, I have a major bout of doubt and my confidence drops and I'll go back to that review and I'll think 'what is it about this review that isn't helpful? and I'll feel really sorry for myself.

And usually, I'll read that review again and I don't find anything wrong with it. I don't write spoilers for the books I'm reviewing, if it's a book in a series I'll usually post a spoiler warning before the events of previous books are spoilt.  Some books are difficult to discuss without giving away too many spoilers so they can reviews in which I talk more generally about the book but in a relevant way. Some reviews are overly positive, some are more negative but I always try to balance both the good and the bad. None of my reviews are the same, certain stories have different aspects that appeal to me more than others: the characters, the relationships, the setting and I'll write about those aspects in more detail.  

All I can think when I'm reading these reviews in which somebody answered 'No' to 'Was this review helpful to you?' is that they just don't agree with my opinions. I can't think why else they might find them unhelpful.  And I have to be honest, I find it really hurtful that 36 anonymous people have dismissed the time and effort that I have put into reading and reviewing these books.  

Now, let me tell you why I continue to cross-post my reviews to Amazon. 

It's helpful for authors.

No, that's the only reason.  But I do sometimes have to remind myself of this fact.  In fact, I usually repeat 'it's helpful to authors' during my monthly cross-posting sessions. 'It's helpful for authors, it's helpful for authors, it's helpful for authors.' 

Having more ratings and reviews on places like Amazon is helpful to authors.  I know quite a few people who rely on reading Amazon reviews to purchase books including my local book club members. An author on Twitter recently compared Amazon reviews to gold dust and while I thought that was extreme at the time, more authors agreed with her. I think this is especially true of debut authors and any author that's not already a household name and who continually tops the bestseller charts and even then it's still helpful to those authors. 

So I guess while it does hurt my heart to do sometimes, I will still always do my best to cross-post my reviews to large retail sites like Amazon.  It's nice to spread the word. And while it's easy for me to focus on those 36 unhelpful reviews, I also shouldn't forget about those other 202 votes.  Maybe 202 times I've helped someone to find a new favourite book or was the deciding factor on buying a book they were unsure about. I sure hope so.  

Do you cross-post your reviews to Amazon?