Why write reviews?

I have two questions. First: What was the last great book you read? Second: How did you hear about it?

I don’t know what the answer to the first question is, there are so many amazing books out in the world. But, I’m willing to bet that the answer to the second question is: someone recommended it to you.

A book recommended to me, and one I recommended to others.

This is especially true for child-readers. I can vividly remember pushing my favorite books on my friends and gleefully borrowing theirs. Rushing home after school to read what all the fuss was about. Kids don’t care what the current bestseller is, they care what their friends are enjoying. (Although, I imagine sometimes these things go hand in hand.)

When I don’t have any recommendations from friends and reading buddies though, a heartfelt review, is the next best thing. A good review has often tipped me over the edge into buying a book, and if I love it, I go on to recommend it to all my friends as well. If you like a book and want to support the author, leave a review (on amazon, goodreads, your blog) or recommend it to your friends. It makes all the difference in the world!

(psssst…in case I was too subtle….please go on amazon and review my books…thank you)

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Happy Valentine’s Day

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, too much romance makes me squeamish BUT in honor of St Valentine I offer a review of my favorite, most reread, I’m-actually-in-love-with-this-book book of all time: Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret.


 

DeepSecret

The cover of my copy

Rupert Venables is a Magid.

It’s a Magid’s job to oversee what goes on in the vast Multiverse. Actually, Rupert is really only a junior Magid. But he’s got a king-sized problem. Rupert’s territory includes Earth and the Empire of Korfyros. When his mentor dies Rupert must find a replacement. But there are hundreds of candidates. How is he supposed to choose? And interviewing each one could take forever.

Unless…

What if he could round them all up in one place?

Simple!


Where do I start? I first got my hands on this book in 2004 and have re-read it at least once a year since then. It is my go-to comfort book when I’m feeling unwell or need a pick-me-up after reading something sad.

Deep Secret isn’t a sweeping fantasy epic, but a book about every day, even bureaucratic magic. I love poor Rupert Venables, the multiverse’s youngest magid. It’s so funny to read about the hum drum annoyances he faces trying to go about his magical tasks and keep the many worlds from spinning out of control.

I also love Maree Mallory, the second narrator. A dour pessimistic soul, Maree’s voice is everything I strive for in my own writing. She is as real to me as a best friend and I often wish I could invite her over for a cup of tea and cake. Her triumph against a truly wicked step-aunt makes me cheer (sometimes aloud) every single time.

Deep Secret is funny and fantastic and utterly charming. If you haven’t read it, do so now. If you have read it, do so again!

Happy Valentine’s day, book-baby!

 

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

One of the best things about being an author is that reading is part of my job. I have to read all the latest MG titles, and the classics and clever mysteries. Gotta keep up with the industry. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

I bought Katherine Woodfine’s The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow while I was researching MG mysteries. I loved the title, but the cover! The cover is glorious (illustrated by Júlia Sardà). I had to have it.

Being busy editing and writing I didn’t get around to reading it right away. So, when I found out Ms Woodfine had given my publisher an amazing cover quote for Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue I bumped The Clockwork Sparrow to the top of my TBR list and dove in.*


ClockworkSparrow

You are cordially invited to attend the Grand Opening of Sinclair’s department store!

Enter a world of bonbons, hats, perfumes and MYSTERIES around every corner. WONDER at the daring theft of the priceless CLOCKWORK SPARROW! TREMBLE as the most DASTARDLY criminals in London enact their wicked plans! GASP as our bold heroines, Miss Sophie Taylor and Miss Lilian Rose, CRACK CODES, DEVOUR ICED BUNS and vow to bring the villains to justice…


The Clockwork Sparrow is a delicious chocolate box of a book. Not a plain bar or a bag of mixed pieces, but a glorious assortment box with gold foil and velvet lining and one of those little menus that describe each beautifully decorated chocolate in mouth-watering detail.

Set in the late 1800s around the opening of the impossibly grand department store, Sinclair’s, The Clockwork Sparrow follows the story of Sophie the hat girl and her friends as they try to discover the secret behind who stole Mr Sinclair’s priceless Clockwork Sparrow from the opening night display.

It’s written in third person and switches between the main characters’ points of view. Usually I’m not a fan of this style, but Woodfine has really used it to her advantage, each character is well-rounded and interesting AND lets us see a different side of Sinclair’s. I loved being shown the stables and storage rooms as much as the lavish shop floors.

I read the book in two sittings, and looked up to tell my husband several times that I wished I had written it. That’s the problem with reading as a writer. So much book envy. But, I guess I wouldn’t have gotten such pure enjoyment if I’d had to write it myself. And now I get to look forward to reading the sequel, The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, to come out in 2016, without doing any work at all!


*Since Ms Woodfine gave me a cover quote, I can’t say this review is 100% impartial. But I did buy this book before the quote and, as always, if I hadn’t enjoyed it I wouldn’t have reviewed it.

Demon Road by Derek Landy

I don’t read a lot of YA, mostly because I find romance *icky*. (I have the heart and soul of an eight-year-old.) Sure a hint of romance might be ok, but anything more than a quick peck after a long courtship and I’m hiding behind my fingers whispering ewwww!

BUT, I made an exception for Derek Landy. I loved the Skulduggery Pleasant Series so much, so when his new book Demon Road came out, I HAD TO HAVE IT. And then I couldn’t read it because I was finishing my own draft of the second Alice Jones Mystery.

But I finished my draft! And I devoured Demon Road in two days. (It would have been one, but I had to feed my children.)  Here’s the blurb:


51evp5grutL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Full of Landy’s trademark wit, action and razor sharp dialogue, DEMON ROAD kicks off with a shocking opener and never lets up the pace in an epic road-trip across the supernatural landscape of America. Killer cars, vampires, undead serial killers: they’re all here. And the demons? Well, that’s where Amber comes in…Sixteen years old, smart and spirited, she’s just a normal American teenager until the lies are torn away and the demons reveal themselves.

Forced to go on the run, she hurtles from one threat to another, revealing a tapestry of terror woven into the very fabric of her life. Her only chance rests with her fellow travellers, who are not at all what they appear to be…


What I love about this book is that you jump in and hit the ground running. The first line sets the pace  (seriously, go check it out) and things don’t slow down. Amber is on a supernatural road trip and every stop on the Demon Road, we get to deal with another villain from our worst nightmares. It’s such a clever set up, because it means the plot gets to have vampires, wicker-witches, demons AND a serial killer or two without feeling crowded.

Besides the sheer joy Landy obviously takes in writing scares, he’s also crafted a real and likable cast of characters. I love Amber, and how she has to deal with her inner demons (literally). A girl after my own heart, Amber has no time for blossoming romance while on the run for her life. Her response to an attempted kiss is priceless.

I’m going to cut this short before I squee all over the page. I recommend this book if you like genuine scary stories. There is blood, gore and major peril. Read at your own risk.

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

One of my favorite authors is Louis Sachar. As a kid I laughed myself silly over Sideways Stories from Wayside School. And as an aspiring writer Holes blew my mind. The plot was so intricate it was almost sculptural. (And as a reader, Holes is just a really good read). SO, when The Cardturner came out, I rushed out to buy it. This was in 2010. It’s sat on my shelf for 5 years. To be honest, I think I was reluctant to read it because I loved Holes so much and I was afraid The Cardturner wouldn’t live up to my expectations.

I finally bit the bullet and read it, and kicked myself for not doing it sooner.


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The summer holidays are looking bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him for his best friend. He has no money, no job, and, if that wasn’t bad enough, his parents are insisting that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week to be his cardturner – whatever that means. Lester Trapp is old, blind, very sick, and very rich.

But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. They’re in competition with his longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family, who seem to have a mysterious hold over him.

Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty but shy Toni Castaneda.


It’s a fun story, and while the plot may not be as complex as Holes, it did something else that was kind of amazing: It made me want to learn to play bridge. Sachar writes scenes of his characters playing bridge, like a fantasy writer writes a sword fight. It sounded fun and exciting and I’m seriously looking into Bridge Clubs in my area.

Holes will probably always be my favorite Louis Sachar book, but The Cardturner was a great read too and I’m so glad I finally picked it up.

The Jam Doughnut That Ruined My Life by Mark Lowery

Mark Lowery* is a funny guy! I should know, I had the hilarious pleasure of sharing a kitchen with him for a year when we were both mature (mature… snort) students at the University of Winchester. You’ve never really laughed until you’ve seen Mark sing Madonna’s Hanky Panky at pub karaoke night.

I loved Mark’s first two books (Socks Are Not Enough and Pants Are Everything-both shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize), so when his latest book was available I ordered my copy straight away.


Jam DoughnutA jam-fuelled week of disaster is set in motion by a single doughnut!

Roman Garstang is obsessed with food – particularly Squidgy Splodge raspberry-jam doughnuts – but he is about to learn that things are not always as sugar-coated as they might seem. Because of his Monday-morning jam doughnut, Roman’s week takes a very sticky turn . . .

By Friday Roman has been banned from eating for 24hrs, narrowly avoided a faceful of warm toddler-wee, accidentally shoplifted, been given a lift in a getaway van, styled his teacher’s guinea pig with a blue mohawk, started an OAP** riot . . . and still barely managed to scoff a crumb – or lick – of a single doughnut.

Who knew jam could be so deadly?


Mark has a real talent for writing the absurd. In the great British tradition of Basil Fawlty and Mr Bean, NOTHING goes right for our hapless hero, fate conspires against him at every turn and all his best intentions go horribly, hilariously wrong.

But more than that, Mark has the best turns of phrase. He writes things that make me laugh out loud as a reader and turn green with envy as a writer. Why didn’t I think to describe school cafeteria chocolate sponge as ‘as dry as a lizard’s underpants’?

I’d recommend this book to readers who like the Captain Underpants books, The Twits, Gangsta Granny and rooting for the underdog.

To find out more about Mark and his books (and read one of the funniest author bios of all time) visit his website: http://www.marklowery.co.uk/

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*Since I know Mark, I can’t promise this review is 100% impartial BUT it is at least 99.99% impartial. If I hadn’t liked Jam Doughnut, I would have slunk away and hidden in the corner and never spoken to Mark again for fear he might ask me what I thought of it.

**For those reading this in America, OAP stands for Old Age Pensioners