Sunday, May 24, 2015

Natasha Farrant (Awesome Women)

I'm really happy today that Natasha Farrant is here answering some questions about women and books and role models.  Natasha Farrant is the author the The Things We Did For Love as well as the Bluebell Gadsby Diaries and I have enjoyed them all!  The Things We Did For Love has been repackaged with this pretty new cover as well.

To find out more about Natasha or her books, do visit the following websites:

Can you tell me a little something about yourself?

I was born in London and still live there with my husband and my two teenage daughters. I have a brother and two sisters, I’m half French, I speak Spanish, I love travelling, reading and the cinema. I combine writing with my job as a Literary Scout, looking for English language children’s and YA books on behalf of publishers in other countries. My favourite food is smoked salmon on toast, my favourite drink is champagne, and my perfect evening would involve both of those and a good book. 

Did you have a role model growing up?

My aunt. She’s an incredibly strong, hard-working woman who raised her two children alone, while also supporting her artist ex-husband, and maintaining a tremendous sense of fun throughout.  She is one of the toughest, most glamorous, life-loving people I know. She lives in the south of Spain and I stayed with her many times. She made all her morning business phone calls from her bed, smoking and drinking coffee and I wanted to be just like her. She’s the first person who made me realise what it means to take control of your life – that you don’t have to follow the path people expect you to. 

Who do you look up to now?

People of integrity who are true to themselves and their beliefs.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be self-employed (like my aunt) and a writer. And now I am both!

Tell me something about the women in your life who have been an influence on you?

My family is full of strong, somewhat complicated women. But my aunt (the one above) said to me recently, “I have made a beautiful life”, and I think that is true of all of them. Through war and heartbreak, good times and bad, they have crafted beautiful lives, with home and family very much at the centre.  There have been terrible fights – epic, really – but always, also, so much love and such a sense of belonging.  It’s something I come back to in my books again and again. 

Who is your favourite fictional character? And why?

It’s a hard call between Atticus Finch (who is true to his beliefs, see above) and Anne Shirley (see below).

Is there a fictional character that reminds you of you?  And if you could choose to be best friends with a fictional character, who would it be? 

Anne Shirley. No question about it. Because of her wild imagination and tendency to get into scrapes. Oh my god, I love her so much. I so desperately wanted to be an orphan and sleep in that bedroom and marry Gilbert.  I went to Prince Edward Island a few years ago and you can visit Green Gables! I wept when I saw it. I even bought an Anne hat (straw boater with red braids hanging down). I’m going to stop now before it gets embarrassing.

What were you like as a teenager and how did you cope with all the changes that occurred?

I was awkward, angry, obsessed with being cool and failing miserably at it. But I loved to lose myself either in books or on long solitary walks.  Both were very grounding and helped give me a sense of perspective on my really not at all miserable life. 

Which book would you say that every teenager should read and why? 

A difficult question, since every teenager is different (as my daughters keep reminding me).  I think, To Kill a Mockingbird because it tackles prejudice on so many levels, makes you question what is right and wrong, presents this amazing role model in Atticus, and also because it’s such an incredibly tender story about growing up and letting go.  

If you had any advice for yourself as a teenager, what would you say?

All those people you think are so sorted are secretly just as insecure as you… Also, do more exercise.

If you could choose to have a girly sleepover with any fictional characters, who would you choose? 

Apart from Anne? Lydia Bennet. Flora Gadsby, from my own books. The whole of Mallory Towers. Probably not all at once though, and assuming I was about 13.

Of the issues and concerns that women are faced with today, what's the area you most like reading/writing about?

I don’t know if there’s any one issue I like to read or write about.  I do feel there’s a real need for strong female characters who take on the world on their own terms – feminine without being vapid, strong without trying to emulate men, at ease with themselves and confident of their place in the world. That’s really important.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Just thank you!

Thank you, Natasha!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sue Ransom (Love Libraries)

Love Libraries is a new semi-regular feature on Fluttering Butterflies and it's all about our love for libraries and librarians.

I'm really happy today to have this wonderful guest post from UKYA Author SC Ransom about libraries. Sue is the author of the Small Blue Thing trilogy as well as newly published, The Beneath!  Her stories all sounds incredibly interesting and if you'd like to know more about her or her books, do visit the following websites:

by Sue Ransom

Every day we hear about more local libraries being closed down or school librarians being ‘let go’. As part of the growing voice of protest, I wanted to share what libraries have meant to me
When I was young I lived in a house full of books which seemed to be mostly for adults or directed towards boys (I have two brothers). I read everything I could lay my hands on, but when I first went to my local library I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There were racks and racks of books for children, including some aimed at girls, my own library cards and no-one to tell me what to pick. Every Saturday morning I took the bus into town clutching my three books, handed them in and got back my three little orange cards. I loved the way that the Librarian could instantly find them in the huge trays of identical cards, each with a little pocket which held the tab identifying the book. I can still picture those trays, bristling with those little white strips.  I watched in awe as I stood in the queue every week, the Librarian flicking through the tray with her nimble fingers, deftly retrieving the right cards. I then sniffed along the shelves until I found something which caught my fancy. Half the time the three books wouldn’t last me through the weekend. I pleaded with the librarian to be allowed to take out more, but those were The Rules. Even so, in a few years I must have read half the library.

When I moved up to senior school there was a small fiction library to explore, so I was able to take out books from there too. As I got older I started to get my own books and borrow from friends (there’s nothing quite like having a rummage through someone else’s bookshelf). And I also bought my own, enjoying the thrill of a nice, crisp paperback which may or may not in time turn into a soft, well-worn favourite.

One of the most exciting things about writing my own books has been knowing that they are sitting on the shelf in libraries, where a whole new generation of girls can find them, and that makes me hugely proud. Go and join your local library today!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Author Responses: Hopeful endings

I've been thinking lately about a particular subject. And I wanted to write my own opinions down about this. But I kept going back to the idea of getting feedback from authors instead. So I sent out a very vague tweet and a bunch of lovely authors agreed to mull over the topic with me.  I hope you enjoy this new feature of mine. It might even be something I return to in the very near future...

Here is the question I posed. Do let me know in comments what your thoughts on this subject are! 

Do YA writers have a responsibility to provide hope at the end of their stories? Particularly when it concerns potentially vulnerable readers such as LGBT teenagers or those with mental illness? 

author of The Bone Dragon and House of Windows

*generic spoilers: Only Ever YoursThe Bunker Diaries'

I don't think writers have a responsibility to provide a happy ending, but I think it is a good idea in general to provide a hopeful one. But rules are made to be broken and in some stories it would be irresponsible to have a hopeful ending. I'd contrast The Bunker Diaries with Only Ever YoursThe Bunker Diaries could have a hopeful ending without destroying the message of the book: Only Ever Yours can't. If Only Ever Yours ended happily or even hopefully it would destroy the message of the book about how dangerous gender inequality is and how totalitarian societies are not escapable, especially for the most powerless. That is what the book is about and so the ending must be as grim as the reality of the characters. However, a book can be very grim and harrowing and still offer the possibility for hope when that doesn't destroy what the book is trying to talk about.

Even more than hope, though, I think books - especially for young adults - should ask questions. They shouldn't send moral messages, though there can be a general sweeping message along the lines of 'This is important, we should think about it' or 'We need to change this in our world' provided no answers are given about how to do that. The best books leave questions in the reader's head: all sorts of questions. They're the books you chew over slowly. They're harder to enjoy because they don't make things simple, but they're the ones that teach us the most - not by telling us things, but by making us ask ourselves questions. For me, the ending of Only Ever Yours does this superbly but The Bunker Diaries'ending (and I'm talking purely about endings here) doesn't. I have lots of questions about the first third of the book, which I thought was superb, but the ending left me blank. Where were all the questions I thought it would lead me to? And that was my big problem with how nihilistic it was: it didn't lead me anywhere. It didn't help me teach myself something about my own views on the issues at stake. And in that context I *did* mind that it wasn't hopeful or happy, but that hopelessness and unhappiness didn't serve a purpose for me (though I got lots out of other things in the book).

As for whether all this is particularly true for vulnerable young people... I had so much to say, on top of all of the above!, I ended up writing a whole blog post on the subject. I'll send you the link when it's finished. ;)

author of The Earth Girl trilogy

You can certainly have an unhappy ending, and even a very unhappy ending needn't be totally devoid of hope. I think an author should think hard about an ending of utter despair, whatever age group they're writing for, because people of all ages can be vulnerable, but you can't make blanket rules on books. For some books, the despairing ending could be not just right, but the only possible option.

I don't think there are any topics that can't or shouldn't be written about for YA, any more than there are for adults. There are some topics that I feel shouldn't be lightly mentioned in passing, but treated with appropriate care and respect.

author of The Things We Did For Love and the Bluebell Gadsby Diaries

When I received your email, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to say.  Then I tried to write it down, and realised it’s not at all as clear-cut as I thought.  But for me, it boils down to this:  I don’t think any writer should shy away from any subject they want to write about, but I do believe – quite strongly – that by labelling something Young Adult, you are entering an implicit contract which engages you to be truthful and honest, but within a safe place – and that safe place is hope.  We know – and they know – that the world can be brutal, cruel, unforgiving.  It’s the responsibility of all “educators” – and I use the term very widely to designate all of us involved in activities which will one way or another contribute to shaping young people’s minds – to nurture the energy in young people which makes them believe they can change the world for the better.  To believe that they can make a difference.

In a sense, it’s what we all want from a story.  In fact, I think it may be the whole point of stories…  But it’s especially true of stories for children and teenagers.

author of Darkmere (Chicken House, August)

Well, I've spent the entire weekend trying to make my answer a 'No' - I don't believe authors have a responsibility to do anything other than tell a story. But after two days of untangling my opinion, a 'No' still doesn't feel like my answer. 

I bet you’re really glad you asked me!

My first book isn't out until August, so I've only ever written stories alone in the attic with no expectation of anyone else ever reading them. It would be ridiculous for me to have a sense of responsibility over what I should or shouldn't write at this stage. Arrogant too – to imagine I might ever be able to influence anyone. Maybe this will change when real people read my book, but it’s not easy to believe.

My story involves a gang of teenagers and – without giving it much thought – I wrote them as realistically as I could. So they drink and swear and take drugs. My publisher told me this closes certain doors automatically when it comes to selling the book, but I chose to leave the teenagers as they were. I have a twelve year old son and although he and his friends are all thoroughly nice children, since they started senior school, they've learnt every swearword in existence. They don’t practice them in front of adults, but in their own conversations they use them constantly – and gleefully. And they’re not even teenagers yet! I imagine they’ll try drinking, sex and drugs later on because that’s what teenagers DO – whether or not books are pretending these things don’t exist.

I think ‘Clean Teen’ books cross the line between ‘telling stories’ and ‘telling lies’.

Similarly, whenever I’ve written about problems that young people might face - such as eating disorders or coming to terms with their sexuality – the most important thing has always seemed to me to write truthfully. I hate books that suggest the sort of issues that people wrestle with forever can be neatly resolved in 80,000 words just to provide a shiny, happy ending. Teenagers are young – not stupid – they know bad things happen. And they’re often more resilient than the rest of us!

I'd certainly prefer my own children to learn as much as they can about life from the safety of books before they have to go out and tackle real problems by themselves.

Some of my favourite writers are Kevin Brooks, Melvin Burgess and Sally Gardner, whose writing can be unflinchingly dark. So you can see why I felt certain that my answer was going to be a ‘No’.

It isn't, though.

I can’t make it a ‘No’ when it comes to hope. A book without any hope at all would feel plain wrong. I wouldn't want to write it or read it. A book in which everyone died and there was nothing but darkness would make me suspect that the author was suffering from clinical depression. There has to be hope or there’s nothing. That’s how the human spirit works. I think.

Anyway, I checked this with my husband who is a massive Star Wars fan, because I’d heard him enthusing about how brilliant and revolutionary it was when The Empire Strikes Back came out and the bad guys won. But – no – he said the ending only united the rebels even more. It also raised the stakes and made him even more excited for the next film – he was never allowed to lose hope for a moment.

One of the best books I read last year was ‘We Were Liars’ in which – well, the worst happens and I wondered if this could be an argument for a ‘No’. But when I thought about it, I realised the worst had already happened at the beginning of the book and the rest of the story was simply about the way the narrator (and her family) came to terms with it and began to hope again. In a way, the whole point of the book was hopefulness over tragedy.

So even my examples have worked against a ‘No’ argument.
It has to be a ‘yes’ from me – and I’d love to answer more questions in the future, as long as you don’t mind pages of rambling when I really just mean ‘yes’.

author of Panther

I think it really depends on the book. In some cases, like your example of The Bunker Diary, it would feel cheap and disingenuous to tack on a hopeful ending. I think YA books can be dark and bleak, without needing to tack on a happy or hopeful ending for the sake of it. That, to me, feels patronising.

An ending lacking in hope can be incredibly powerful. I recently read Only Ever Yours, which is a dark book throughout and especially so at the end. But it does to this to make a very important point about the world, from which people can think, learn, and actually maybe take something positive.

It can be tricky, because YA readers can be vulnerable, as you say. But as Patrick Ness has often pointed out, young people are great self censors. They won't read something if it's upsetting them. In fact, just yesterday I overheard a teenage girl browsing in the YA section of Waterstones. She picked up a book about anorexia, read the blurb, and returned it to the table because it 'sounded depressing.' She knew it wasn't for her.

Life is frequently difficult, and things don't always have happy endings. Young people know that from firsthand experience. That's why YA exists in the first place! There's no point in hiding that side of reality from them. YA is so vast that plenty of books have hopeful endings, probably a lot more than have hopeless endings. For every book about depression or anorexia or patriarchy there's a book about romance or fantasy or action. The fact that all these can sit side-by-side on a bookshelf is what makes YA so wonderful.

author of Close to the Wind and My Name's Not Friday

Luckily for all of us, there isn’t a formula to good books and those that try to prescribe a list of do’s and dont’s are walking a very dangerous path.
For me, there are no unsuitable topics in children’s literature. I might think of Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, about the death of his son, or Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norriss, a book for 9 year olds about suicide. I think every child should have a copy of them both.
Perhaps there are stories that are told inappropriately but I’m not even certain of that and I can’t think of an example.
That might be because no one book is the same to any two people. The action of reading requires us to put ourselves into a story and in doing so we make it our own.  What one person might regard as depressing, another will find incredibly profound.
I've recently been getting feedback from schoolchildren on my book Close to the Wind. Elliot, aged 10, told me, “What made the book better was having a little bit of sadness in there. When there’s no sadness in a book it’s a little bit boring.”
He might also have said that without sadness a story can be unreal - that in life there is both black and white, good and bad and that’s what makes it ring true.
I believe that stories bear witness to our lives and the lives of others. If it’s real, it’ll come alive and if it’s alive, there’ll be hope. It’s impossible for it not to be. Hope is in every heartbeat and every intake of breath. If the story is alive then it has to be.

author of The Art of Being Normal

As an author, I don't feel a responsibility to provide a 'hopeful' ending as such, I simply believe injecting a sense of hope into my stories reflects real life far more than a totally bleak ending might. As cheesy as it might sound, life is full of moments of magic and euphoria, as well as pain and sadness, and I like to explore both. It's all about personal choice though; no topic should be out of bounds in YA fiction, and the writer should always have the freedom to tackle a particular topic in any way they choose.

TAOBN features a transgender teenager. It has an upbeat ending and I knew I wanted that to be the case from the very start. Not because I wanted to sugar-coat the subject matter, but because I felt it best reflected the lives of the transgender teens I had met, all of whom were very hopeful for the future. A few people have remarked the ending of the book reminded them of a John Hughes film, a comparison I was thrilled with! There are quite a few painful moments in TAOBN (I really do throw rocks at my characters!), so by the time they get their 'happy' ending, it feels thoroughly deserved. 

What are your thoughts regarding this topic?! Let us know.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Charli from To Another World (Celebrating British Bloggers)

Hello and welcome to another edition of Celebrating British Bloggers in which I ask a bunch of difficult questions about books and blogging to some rather awesome British bloggers!

Today's interview is with Charli from To Another World, and I'm really excited. Charli is definitely one of my favourite teen bloggers and visiting her blog is a real joy. If you aren't already following her blog or following her on Twitter, I really suggest you do that:

Firstly, can you tell me something about yourself and your blog?

Hi! I'm Charli and I run To Another World with my best friend Tori. I'm 14, into photography, music and books, and am quite opinionated! TAW started in July 2013, and we post the usual reviews, along with musings, discussions and a few unique features.

How did you begin being a book blogger? What is it about books that makes you excited to talk about books on your blog?

Well, I had a general blog from 2012-2013, and was running both at the same time originally but decided I was more invested in TAW. I've been reading since I was a toddler, and I've always been a nerd!

What would you like to have known about book blogging before you got started that you didn't know beforehand?

How and when to email publishers! I wasn't too bad, I've seen distaster stories, but that's mainly because I had my mum check over my first! In honesty, I didn't know review copies were a thing till I started either!

When you're not reading or blogging, what do you do with yourself?

I love photography, art, watching youtubers, debating and I'm also in the Scout movement! I also have a law/politica blog and love debating.

What type of things do you champion on your blog? What would you like your blog to be known for?

I champion feminism, LGBTQIA+ representation, mental health representation, UKYA and just any book I think is amazing! I don't think my blog has anything to be known for except some of my more unique posts.

What has been the best experience of being a book blogger so far?

YALC! No shadow of a doubt.

What is your biggest struggle as a book blogger?

Beating myself up over review books and not putting posts up.

You can do it, what is your absolute favourite book?

NO! Argh. Ok, my top three are TFiOS (who would have thought?), Earth Girl by Janet Edwards and Solitaire by Alice Oseman.

What books or authors or series would you like more people to be aware of?

The Earth Girl books by Janet Edwards! I've never seen much about them and I think they're absolutely fabulous.

Have you discovered any books or authors through blogging that you might not have otherwise found?

Most books, like 90%, that I read nowadays were discovered through blogging. Before I started, I wasn't particularly adventurous and was quite limitied.

Name your top 5 UK book bloggers!

Amber @ The Mile Long Bookshelf, Sophie @ A Day Dreamer's World, Georgia @ The Bibliomaniac, Debbie @ Snuggling On the Sofa, Ruby @ Feed Me Books Now

If you could meet your favourite author, who would it be?

I've met nearly all my favourites, but I'd love to meet David Levithan and John Green!

What would you like to see more or less of in the books you read?

More asexuality spectrum, better mental health representation and less slut shaming would be fab.

And finally, who is your ultimate book crush?

I mean... I love Gus. And Four. But I'll actually say Jam from the Missing books by Sophie McKenzie - my first book crush when I was about 9!

Amazing answers, Charli! Thank you so much! I love how much you support the LGBT and UKYA communities. 

Let Charli and I know your thoughts on her answers in comments! Do you agree or disagree? 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Interview with David Owen, author of Panther

I'm really happy today to be taking part in the blog tour for Panther by David Owen and today I will be sharing this interview with David Owen. I quite like it, I hope you will as well.  Panther was published at the beginning of the month, do look out for it! 

I definitely would like to see more books discussing mental illness and families! If you'd like to know more about Panther or David Owen, do visit the following websites...

Hello and welcome to Fluttering Butterflies! Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little something about your book, Panther?  

Thank you for having me! I’m David Owen, and Panther is my debut novel. Which is exciting. I was inspired to write after ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness forced me to choke back tears while crammed onto a train with three different stag parties. The use of magic realism to tell a deeply emotional story was something that interested me straight away.

Panther contains some really heavy issues - disordered eating, bullying, depression, suicide - were there any scenes or aspects of the book that you found more difficult to write or that you kept returning to in order to get right? 

It felt important to get all of those things right, so I felt a certain amount of pressure when writing about them. I put a lot of work in to make sure I didn't over-simplify or disrespect anything or anyone. Hopefully I was successful.

Probably the hardest individual scene to write was Derrick’s binge-eating. That’s something I've struggled with for many years, particularly when I was a teenager, so having to call all of that up was difficult at times. But it also helped me gain some idea about why I might do it.

Did you have an idea all along of the major plot lines in Panther or did they happen whilst writing? Was there ever a different ending in mind? 

The first thing I had was the ending (which obviously I won’t say much about here!). I knew who would be there and what would happen, and the final images were something I’d had in my head for a long time. From there it was a case of working out how the characters would find themselves at that point.

Panther is your debut book, congratulations! How have you found the experience so far? 

Thanks! It’s been great. The book sold 18 months ago, so it’s taken a long time! It’s been brilliant to work with my editors and everyone else involved behind the scenes. There’s so many of them! I had no idea. And they do so much work, with so little recognition. All I did was write the stupid book.  

There are some really complicated and emotional relationships in the story. Notably Derrick and his sister (but also Derrick and Tamoor) and these sort of sibling relationships are my favourites. Where do you draw your inspiration and do you have any favourite fictional siblings? 

I think sibling relationships are really interesting, because whether you like it or not you grow up knowing pretty much everything about each other. Then as you get older you often start being more private and keeping things from each other, and it’s a really surprise when you discover something you didn't know about them. That kind of relationship is ripe for drama and stories. Family secrets are always exciting!

There’s a host of great siblings in The Chronicles of Narnia, and Hazel and Fiver in Watership Down are particular favourites. They’re not sentimental about family, yet Hazel still has absolute faith in Fiver. 

There's a bit in the story about Derrick picking up on language used to describe his sister 'crazy' and 'mental' Is there a wish list that you have about things you'd like to change about the media and the public in general about their views of people with mental illness? 

I think it’s a matter of improving education and empathy. Having a mental illness, like depression, does not make someone crazy. It means they have an illness. But because it isn't as tangible as the likes of cancer or heart disease, it’s dismissed by many, or worse, demonised.

We saw it in the media recently with the pilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 who was found to have suffered with depression. We can’t know what role that played in what he did, but the media reacted as if everyone with depression was dangerous. That’s millions of people. And not only is that deeply hurtful, it’s also hugely harmful. How many people will be put off seeking help because they’re scared of being branded crazy and dangerous? Depression doesn't make you hurt other people, it makes you hurt yourself, and this stigma will only make that worse.

We need to talk, we need to listen, and we need to understand.

I've read that Panther's story line is something you have experience of yourself - both a family member with depression and having depression yourself - how easy or difficult was it to write this story and draw on your experiences and at the same time tell Derrick's story? 

Having experienced depression from both sides made writing the book relatively straightforward, as I felt I had a good grip on the things I was writing about. But separating it from reality was difficult at first. There are undoubtedly traces of real people in my characters, particularly myself in Derrick, but despite what a lot of people I know think, the characters soon took on a life of their own and became very different to any real life counterparts. After that it was easy to make the distinction and tell Derrick’s story.

And finally, Panther was a book I was really looking forward to reading - what book, UKYA or not, are you most looking forward to reading this year? 

I’m stupidly excited to read the new Patrick Ness, ‘The Rest of Just Live Here,’ as I am a mega fan of his work. I’m also really looking forward to ‘Remix’ by Non Pratt, and the new Rainbow Rowell.

There are a few books I’m behind on, too. I still haven’t read the new Ishiguro or Murakami!

Thank you!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

REVIEW: Panther by David Owen

Panther by David Owen wasn't an easy book to read.  It's a pretty short book and I sat down to read it thinking I'd whiz through it in a couple of hours.  And that didn't happen.  In fact, it took me almost three days to read the entirety its (roughly) 230 pages. And that is because this is a slim book packed full of issues and circumstances that are emotional and sometimes difficult and uncomfortable reading.  And I just felt like, though this book also includes humour and light-heartedness, that this book was one that needed long breaks in between chapters.

And maybe I'm not selling this book very well right now, but I felt like those breaks from reading were necessary because I was connecting with this story on an emotional level and I felt like a lot of it felt very realistic and that it captured some really intense things in a really great way.

Panther's main character is this overweight teenage boy called Derrick. At the beginning of this novel, Derrick is in his garden late at night, eating junk food out of the rubbish bin. It's a very hard scene to jump into this story with, but very indicative of what's to come, I felt. Because Panther is the story about Derrick and his family and how him and his mother are coping with the depression and suicide attempt of Derrick's older sister, Charlotte.

Derrick is also dealing with bullies at school, the fall-out in the friendship with his old best friend, Tamoor, and his unrequited feelings for one of his sister's friends, Hadley. So, things aren't going so great for Derrick. Which, I think, is probably why he turns to disordered eating in order to have some control over one aspect of his life. Derrick also has this misguided belief that if he somehow manages to capture and prove the existence of a rumoured panther in the area that things will become better for Charlotte and his whole family and he really throws himself into this task.

I felt like Derrick and his mother both fall into the same sort of mindset. The one that says 'things will be different when...' and for Derrick, he believes this will be when he captures the panther and for Derrick's mom, it seems to be when Charlotte goes off to university and faces this bright future that Charlotte had ahead of her. These sort of thoughts are so common but can also be really damaging as it doesn't address the problems at hand.

I think one of the things that I think Panther did very well is to illustrate both how much the rest of a family is affected by one person's depression and the ways things change because of it and also paints a really great and complicated relationship between siblings. Charlotte's depression has very clear effect on the rest of her family.  Through Derrick and Charlotte's mother you can see a lot of fear and worry and I felt like Derrick became very uncertain of everything.

It isn't a perfect story. At times, I really didn't like Derrick as a character and the ending isn't my favourite. But I also think that this book was really interesting and had thought-provoking things to say about depression and families and about how who we are and things we do plays an important part in the people around us.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

REVIEW: Notebooks From A Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot

I found Notebooks From a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot to be utterly adorable. I was always going to be hugely excited about a new Princess Diaries spin-off series and this first book in the series does a  great job of introducing us to new (and old!) characters and a new setting for a brand-new middle grade audience.

At the same time as being very, very excited, I was also a little bit nervous that this spin-off series featuring Mia's long-lost half-sister, Olivia Grace, would feel very samey to what I've already read in the Princess Diaries series. It was a tough one. I think I wanted more of the writing style and sense of humour of the Princess Diaries series... but something different too. It's a very fine line, but I think Meg Cabot did a brilliant job of doing just that.

In this book, we're introduced to Olivia, a rather adorable middle school girl whose mother has died and who has never really known her father. She's written letters back and forth with him but knows very little about her dad. So little that Olivia resorts to making up a story about him and his life, pretending that he's an archaeologist who travels the world and therefore is unable to provide a safe and stable home for her. And she's okay with that.  Even when she lives with her aunt and uncle and her cousins, none of whom are particularly that friendly with her.

I thought Olivia was quite sweet, with her interest in animals and particularly wildlife illustrations. This book is wonderfully illustrated by Meg Cabot herself and features quite a lot of cute drawings of animals and her observations on the events around her.  She's quite plucky and interesting and she takes everything in her stride really well. I liked that about her.  She's not had an easy time of things. She's being picked on at school by a girl jealous of her new fame and royal connections, she's clearly not treated very well at home.  The media start speculating about the fact that she's mixed race and my heart broke for her.  I was brought to tears quite often when Olivia finds such happiness in the smallest of things: a salmon and cheese bagel, the idea of a proper family.

It was also, of course, incredibly nice to see the return of some of my favourite characters. Especially Mia and Grandmere. I loved being back in this world and discovering more about the new characters and the old.  This is very much the first book in the series and spends a great deal of time with introductions and laying out the future books in the series as Olivia will be carrying out her own princess lessons but instead of New York, she'll be spending hers in Genovia and I, for one, cannot wait to read more.

Notebooks From A Middle School Princess is the funny, sweet and adorable new story that will have you smiling and laughing and feeling very emotional for this newest Genovian princess!

Monday, May 11, 2015

REVIEW: Cleo by Lucy Coats

When I first heard about Cleo by Lucy Coats, I was really excited. The idea of a book telling the adventures of a young Cleopatra? That's pretty exciting.  And I think there is a lot of possibility in this idea as well, especially as very little is known of young Cleopatra's life.

It took me awhile but once I worked out where things were different to my expectations, and to separate my expectations from this book, I was able to enjoy it a lot more.  This book's main character, Cleo, is a young Egyptian royal growing up in the Pharaoh's court. Her voice and character and whole demeanor isn't quite what I had in mind for a young Cleopatra. Teenage Cleo in this book is a little bit whingey and sulky and she drags her feet a little bit with the tasks she has been assigned. She seems a rather reluctant hero but I think this was mostly to balance out the 'chosen one' pressure that surrounds Cleo. I also had problems with the fact that book is set in a particular time period and yet feels like the main character is very modern in the way that she speaks. She isn't quite the person I imagine her, in my head, to be because I'm stuck on her being a young Cleopatra but this Cleo is years from being the grown-up, put-together woman from history. And that's okay.

I quite liked Cleo. We begin this story with a big loss: Cleo's mother dies at the beginning and that puts Cleo into a very vulnerable position with her sisters who are set on taking over as joint Pharaohs and Cleo knows that she must survive. In order to do so, her and her body slave (and best friend) Charm flee to another part of Egypt and take up in a Temple of Isis before returning many years later to do Isis' will.

One of the major themes running throughout Cleo is the idea of faith and a belief in gods and goddesses of this time period. I really enjoyed Cleo's questioning of her faith and of this religion and the ways in which this plays a huge part in her life. I think religion plays a part in many young people's lives and it is quite interesting to see it fully explored in this book.

At its heart, I think of Cleo as an action adventure story.  Cleo is tasked with retrieving an artifact in order to restore the goddess Isis as a major presence in Egypt and to restore the balance of power and goodness in the Pharaoh's court. Cleo does this in opposition to her two Evil sisters and under great danger. But she does have the support of her best friend, Charm, some loyal guards and the help of super-spy and hot Librarian boy, Khai.  While Cleo and Khai's relationship is slightly in the insta-love domain, I loved that he is a librarian and has a great love of books. It's always nice to see two people falling in love over a shared love of books. And I also really liked Cleo and Charm's relationship. Theirs is a relationship that I fully felt invested in throughout the story and I'd love to see more of them in future books in this series.

While I did have some issues with this book, I also really enjoyed it. I flew threw it pretty quickly and not only did I want to know more about Cleo's story, I also wanted to know more about the actual Cleopatra and also the environment and situations that she might have faced in her actual life. Cleo was a fun book!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Michelle from Tales of Yesterday (Love Libraries)

Love Libraries is a new feature on this blog that aims to celebrate the wonder and importance of libraries and librarians.

I'm so happy that today I have a very special guest, Michelle Toy from Tales of Yesterday.  Chelley is one of my favourite bloggers and I think it's fantastic how much of an impact she has had on the UKYA blogging community in such a short period of time. She's friendly, passionate and enthusiastic about books and has some amazing ideas and a new, fresh perspective that she brings to her blog. And I'm so happy that she's here today to share with us her experiences growing up of libraries and what they mean to her.

**Presses Play**

My love for libraries started when I was very young.  

**drumroll for young Michelle**

My Mom used to take me to a playgroup that was based inside Erdington Library in Birmingham.

I always think certain memories from your childhood definitely stay with you and I always remember these visits so fondly.  We used to walk from our house to the old library building with it’s red brick walls and triangle peaks….the building always used to feel so huge!

My Mom always encouraged me to take part in the activities that were being put on for the children and then afterwards we would always return our books from the week before and then get out new ones!  It was always a good feeling to walk home with new adventures to explore with my Mom carrying alllll the books!  Her arms must have ached!  When we were home it was time to share the books, laugh and have many adventures.

**Embarrassing moment alert!**

My Mom often tells me about the time I became quite the celebrity during one of these sessions during a feet and hand painting session!  Oh how I used to love the mess of paint!  The local newspaper were there to photograph a girl that had won a competition but upon taking the picture I accidently barged in the way and my photo ended up being taken instead!  My picture appeared in the local newspaper and I’m sure somewhere my mom still has the clipping!  If I ever find it I will share it on twitter and you can all laugh!

*Presses fast forward to teenage Michelle*

**introduces teenage Michelle…excuse the PJ’s!**

My teenage years were full of love for Nirvana, grunge and guitar playing (I used to be in a band), but my love for libraries and books continued!

Every weekend or in the school holidays I used to take the 1.5 mile walk to my local library (following moving house), Perry Common Library.  I loved this place!

The feeling of walking up the steps and through the what I now would call the Harry Potter style doors always caused a flutter inside me.  Libraries always have that bookish smell…different to that of book shops…do you know what I mean?  It’s a kind of old building-booky smell – I know that may sound so strange!

I used to always get recommendations from my English teacher, Mrs Lewis, at school who used to write me lists of books to hunt down in the library and that she felt I would enjoy.  I have her to thank for my love of such books as Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty and Watership Down by Richard Adams (both are two of my favourite books now I am older).

Turning right as I entered the building took me to the beloved children’s section!  Rows and rows of books upon books!  Heaven!  Armed with my list from my teacher I was like a kid in a sweet shop!  I
was determined to find all the books on the list as well as a few extras!  Nothing changes! :)

As well as being a kid in a sweet shop in the children’s section I used to have a love of adult murder mysteries!  Oh yes indeedy!  Venturing out of the children’s section and down to the far right of the adult section where these books were kept, with my stomach a flutter I used to work my way through picking up a Ruth Rendell Inspector Wexford mystery I hadn't read or a Colin Dexter Inspector Morse book that looked good and if I ever I saw an Agatha Christie book I hadn't read before that went straight on the pile!

Walking up to the counter with my chosen pile of books in my arms, my head peaking over the top with excited eyes, the librarian used to stamp all of the books with the return dates.  Oh how I loved that sound.  It was the stamp of approval as if to say you have many exciting adventures coming your way.  Then it was time to carry the books all the way home…..often with aching arms by the time I got through the front door when sympathy for my Mom from when I was younger was guaranteed….but for the love of books from the library it was worth it!

It was then time to open the pages and discover the worlds they had in store.  I would often come downstairs in tears following finishing a book (Dear Nobody) explaining to my Mom that I had been moved by a book and with my Mom comforting me I would swiftly move onto the next one.  I would always feel proud when my teacher Mrs Lewis would give me a new list of books to find after loving all the ones she recommended the first time around.  I always remember saying to her that Watership Down would stay close to my heart forever.  Which it has.  I wish I could find her to tell her and I’m sure she would smile!

*Presses fast forward to a few more…okay the button is stuck that’s why it’s taking so long…years later**

**Introduces 21 year old Michelle….oh okay *ahem* older Michelle**

I am now an adult!  Or so they say ;-)

I am still in love with my library although in a different town and I take my son, Corey there when I can, who seems to have inherited a love for books just like me.

**produces picture of Corey reading in a dog basket**

Our trips to the library are often eventful….and yes we still pile up the books like a huge tower but now it’s my time to carry them home until my arms ache, but like when I was younger it is worth it for the fun times we share with them, the laughs and the cry’s and most of all the adventures.

I often wonder what would happen if my Mom didn't take me to the library when I was younger.  Or what if my English teacher hadn't encouraged me with lists of wonderful books to find?  Would I still have the love for books that I have today?  Would I be a different person to what I am today? For this I thank my Mom…..without her encouraging visits to the library and letting me pick books and read whatever I wanted to read I may never have discovered their worlds something that have made me part of who I am today.  But most of all what would I have done or even my son do without libraries and being able to share books?!  They have been such an important part of my life, my son’s life and hopefully other peoples lives for many years to come!

Michelle x

Michelle Toy