Event Round Up: DeptCon Day 2 (+ Giveaway!)

MORE bookish event reporting? Why yes, I did take enough notes at DeptCon to justify two blog posts. You can check out the first one here!

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Laini Taylor in Conversation (moderated by David O’Callaghan)

Opening day two was a very cool guest. Taylor’s resonance and good humour stood out as she spoke about books, struggling with perfectionism (“even when I hate writing I love it”), and feeling like a fish out of water in 1980s California (“the music was the only good about the ‘80s”). Asked about recent articles disparaging YA, she gave a fantastic, forthright answer about how the media always mocks things teenage girls love and how you can tell when someone hasn’t read the YA they’re condemning. Discussion on ignoring outrage articles, focusing on your art and “maybe the media should look at what people are getting out of YA that we’re not getting out of other literature” as well as revelations about her new book (Strange the Dreamer releases next year and it sounds AMAZING. It’s about a city which has lost its name and a newcomer who is intrigued by fairytales, pitched as a love letter to the fantasy genre) made Laini’s appearance one of the most “YAAAS QUEEN” moments of the weekend.

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Estelle Maskame, EilÍs Barrett and Lucy Sutcliffe (moderated by Claire Hennessy)

Another merging-of-genres line-up. Estelle Maskame (author of contemporary YA trilogy Did I Mention I Love You?), Eilís Barrett (dystopia, Oasis) and Lucy Sutcliffe (contemporary memoir, Girl Hearts Girl) talked what they like most/least about YA, editors as bungee cords and their paths to publication at a relatively young age. It was interesting to hear Estelle speak about writing her first book in frequently uploaded Wattpad chapters but writing her latest book in a more traditional writer-editor process. I would’ve liked to hear Estelle speak more, actually – this was one of the only panels over the weekend where the chemistry seemed a bit off, with quite an obvious disparity in who got to speak and lack of focus on solid questions. It ran over time, too, so the signing was a bit of a rush!

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Lisa Williamson + Susin Nielsen (credit to @dept51)

Lisa Williamson and Susin Nielsen (moderated by David O’Callaghan)

Ah, the panel in which we discovered Lisa and Susin were separated at birth. These two had such a great, natural rapport. Lisa Williamson is a fantastic panellist – professional, funny and down-to-earth – and Nielsen (We Are All Made of Molecules) seemed to embrace being over for the convention as well as regaling everyone with tales of writing for TV before her first novel. Both kept teen diaries and neither think about the reader while drafting. The audience Q&A included questions on approaches to writing (do your research, have fun with it, remember that you’re only writing one experience, not all), whether being involved with the screen helps their process (Susin works well to deadlines but had to improve description, Lisa acts out dialogue), and who they’d invite to a dream dinner party. I recommend Lisa’s The Art of Being Normal all the time so naturally I forgot my hardback, but picked up samplers from All About Mia.

Catherine Doyle, Laure Eve and L.A. Weatherly (moderated by Elaina Ryan)

I’m running out of adjectives to describe how much I liked these panels but this may have been one of the coolest: Laure Eve’s The Graces has been a big blogosphere hit, Cat Doyle writes about hot Mafia brothers, and L.A. Weatherly went flying to research her latest book. They talked influences, planning, reviews and if being a part of multiple cultures and countries has changed their writing. Elaina Ryan was a great moderator, relaxed and friendly while keeping the conversation on track (though she had less luck trying to guess her panellists’ contributions to the infamous DeptCon2 Playlist). AND this was the panel where I asked a question (it was supposed to be about how fan interaction or reaction changes a writer’s perspective but ended up being about shirtless Luca)…!

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Alex Scarrow, Peadar Ó Guilín and Dave Rudden (moderated by David Stevens)

My unbroken streak of attending ALL THE THINGS ended when I had to get food during the first half of this panel (if the convention happens again they’ll really need to schedule a lunch break). I got back for the second half, however, and it seems I missed some laugh-out-loud moments, including Dave Rudden’s now-notorious “Labels are for jam-makers!” which I’m having printed on a t-shirt as we speak, and some great back-and-forth punning between the panellists. With another great moderator in Scholastic’s David Stevens (neé Maybury), it was lively and entertaining to the last, and I met all three authors at the signing (I enjoyed TimeRiders – but left the copies I read in the library where they belong)!

Deirdre Sullivan, Kim Hood and Claire Hennessy (moderated by Elaina Ryan)

Colloquially known as the ‘Ladies of Darkness’ panel (even though they are very nice), this ragtag group of Irish (and a bit Canadian) YA authors talked feminism, juggling multiple careers, their recent releases, books with tough subjects and what they love most/least about YA. Kim Hood came up with possibly one of the best answers of the entire event when she pointed out how many people – individuals, movements, organisations, gatekeepers – talk about what teens ‘want’ or ‘need’ from YA but never actually ask teenagers themselves. There was plenty of fascinating discussion over the weekend but that really struck a chord with me. She was lovely to chat to during the signing, too! Each hinted at new projects (Sullivan has a collection of dark feminist fairytales out next year, for those interested in short story happenings) and when talk turned to collaboration, Deirdre and Claire were ADORABLE.

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Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan (moderated by Sarah Bannan)

IT’S THE FINAL PANEEEEEEELLLL! And they saved one of the best ‘til last: Sarah and Brian were fabulous. They were funny, smart, candid, had terrific chemistry and really made the panel worthwhile, even when it was their first event for We Come Apart – the initial draft of which was written over WhatsApp, exchanging chapters and poems in a game of literary tennis due to busy schedules. They talked the hard graft of writing (“people say you have to have the language but maybe you have to have the heart first”), thinking they couldn’t be writers, the appeal of verse, how “young people are the best critics – they scrutinise in a way adults don’t” and how their collaboration came about before READING FROM THEIR NEW BOOK AHHHHH. I loved the extract. We Come Apart – which Sarah described as “freeing” and Brian classed as “the best writing experience [he’d] had” – is an alternate-narration novel-in-verse about two teenagers, Jess and Nicu, from very different backgrounds. And oh, Nicu is such a good egg. Last stop of the day was the signing queue, where I got my ARC of One signed and BRIAN CONAGHAN ASKED ABOUT MY BLOG which made me beam.

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Sarah Crossan, Brian Conaghan, Sarah Bannan (I don’t even know what to caption this) credit to @dept51

So there you have it: all the highs, lows, twists, turns, and book love from one of the biggest YA events of the year. And to top it off I even have a giveaway! Enter to win a tote bag signed by SEVENTEEN DeptCon authors including Sarah Crossan, Laure Eve, L.A. Weatherly, Estelle Maskame, Peadar O’Guilin, Lisa Williamson and Catherine Doyle – plus plenty of signed swag!

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The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle // magical realism done right

It’s October and we are firmly into autumn, with its colourful falling leaves and warm-scarf weather. If you’re a fan of Moïra Fowley-Doyle, however, you’ll know that it’s also a surreal time known as The Accident Season…

(This is a repost of my review from last year, which you can read in its original form here. Minor changes have been made to typos etc. because I am an insatiable editor.)

23346358Author: Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Publisher: Corgi Children’s
Publication date: August 18th 2015
Category: YA
Genre: magical realism
Series or standalone?: standalone
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

It’s the accident season, the same time every year.

Bones break, skin tears, bruises bloom. The accident season has been part of seventeen-year-old Cara’s life for as long as she can remember.

Towards the end of October, Cara’s family becomes inexplicably accident-prone. They banish knives to locked drawers, cover sharp table edges with padding, switch off electrical items – but injuries follow wherever they go, and the accident season becomes an ever-growing obsession and fear. But why are they so cursed? And how can they break free?

Stylishly written, highly engaging and utterly captivating, The Accident Season heralds the arrival of an original and striking voice to YA fiction. It’s full of tarot cards, masquerade balls, fortune-telling, dreams, hallucinations and hazy, intoxicating magic.

Every October, seventeen-year-old Cara and her family – including her mother, older sister and ex-stepbrother – board up the windows, hide sharp implements and batten the hatches, because if something bad’s going to happen to them, it’s going to happen during the Accident Season. Throw in the mystery of a girl who shows up in all of their photographs, though nobody else seems to notice or even remember her, and The Accident Season sends chills down your spine from the very first page.

The Accident Season is a shifting, shadowy tale which seems to hover in the border between reality and fantasy. It reads with the ease of a labyrinthine Tumblr or an abandoned places Instagram; flowing, illustrative, and telling more story in a single page than some authors do in a lifetime. The plot is exquisitely constructed, and often raises more questions than it answers. As its secrets are revealed, it will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about this surreal storytelling world.

Fowley-Doyle seizes her chance to make use of legends and folklore, but never overplays her hand; she breaks free from tradition as much as she draws on it, and I loved it. The book is set in Ireland, and it could have easily seemed too Irish or cliché (thank you, any writer who’s ever written an Irish stereotype, for leaving me unable to read about Irish characters without wondering if a hardy, handsome, gruff émigré or a green-eyed half-leprechaun is about to come strolling round the corner) but The Accident Season and all its settings are cleverly written. In avoiding the usual pitfalls of an Irish-set book and always taking the brave choice, Fowley-Doyle’s true talent may lie in the way she skilfully appeals to an international audience. Her prose springs to life and dares you to hold on; she writes fearlessly, brimming with intellect and vivacity.

The Accident Season is quite dark, never far from themes of trauma and tragedy, so it’s not for younger readers (and I haven’t even mentioned the drinking, trespassing and truancy yet). For older YA readers, however, it’s a treasure trove; powerful, striking, and totally unnerving, it’s perfect if you’re looking for a very different kind of read to fill your summer with. For me, the only downside came with the characters. They’re well-drawn, but it’s difficult to connect with them in such a heady, ethereal atmosphere, and even more difficult to relate when so much of their decision-making is questionable at the very least. There’s a great LGBTQ+ storyline but romance usually take a backseat to the spooky happenings of the plot. That said, when you’ve got so many mysteries to unravel, there’s always something to keep you reading.

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The Accident Season is an absolute diamond of a book. Beautiful, enchanting and just a little dangerous, it holds an almost mythical power over the reader, drawing you in until you can’t look away. Deliciously dark and utterly spellbinding, this is a shimmering and unmissable début.

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Event Round Up: DeptCon 2016!

DeptCon is quickly becoming the biggest event in the Irish YA calendar, and I was lucky enough to attend (trusty reporter’s notebook in hand) for a second time this year. Run by Department 51, the YA section at Eason (basically like our WHSmith’s or Waterstones) and featuring not one, not two, but twenty-six authors, everyone was VERY EXCITE.

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David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (moderated by Steve Boylan)

Eason’s were pulling out the YA big-hitters right away in this first panel: David Levithan and Rachel Cohn talked collaboration, what made them writers, movie adaptations, LGBTQIA+ characters and their next project, which will be their first he-said-she-said book told from the points of view of a brother and sister, as well as reading from upcoming release The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily. I didn’t adore Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, but the sequel was surprisingly funny and entertaining – I may have to give the audiobook a try instead! Recommendations included Nicola Yoon’s upcoming The Sun Is Also A Star. I got to read it in August, so I maaaay have it lined up for review soon…

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Eoin Colfer, Derek Landy and Cecelia Ahern (moderated by David O’Callaghan)

This may seem like an odd mix, but the logic behind it was that each author is new to YA: Eoin Colfer with an Iron Man tie-in for Marvel, Derek Landy with something typically gory, and Cecelia Ahern with dystopian release Flawed. They talked about the differences between adult or children’s fiction and YA, though the panel was derailed somewhat by the panellists’ antics. At one point a phone went off in the audience to the tune of Careless Whisper, which was very funny. It was noticeable that Cecelia Ahern, the only woman on the panel, got drowned out a bit – but there were plenty of awesome female-led panels throughout the rest of the convention, including…

Holly Bourne and Juno Dawson (moderated by Deirdre Sullivan)

Such a fab panel. Juno Dawson and Holly Bourne were part of the event last year and with more books under their belt this time around were raring to go. Deirdre Sullivan (author of the Prim trilogy and the acclaimed Needlework) is a delight both as a person and as a panellist. She opened with a Harry Potter question (Patronus and House, natch) which led the way for heaps of fun – all while tackling questions about writing, feminism, past books, the Pale-Male-Stale state of prescribed reading lists, fiction vs. non-fiction, the biases of book awards, and writing for and about teenagers who make mistakes, who don’t get everything right the first time. They also hinted at new books, including the book which prompted Bourne to start an epic best movie kiss vote-off, a romantic contemporary about two teenagers who work at a cinema, which sounds AMAZING.

I got my first signings of the weekend out of the way in the shape of What’s a Girl Gotta Do? and All of the Above, but most exciting of all Eason had And A Happy New Year? – Bourne’s Spinster Club novella – on sale TWO WEEKS EARLY! One thing I love at book events is authors taking time to talk to readers and this panel was no exception (and, let’s be fair, it’s nice to be able to mention Holly Bourne’s books in a blog post without it being ANOTHER recommendation. I JUST REALLY LIKE BOOKS ABOUT FEMINISM AND HUMOUR AND FEMALE FRIENDSHIP, OKAY).

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photo credit to @dept51

Sarah J. Maas In Conversation (moderated by David O’Callaghan)

Oh, wow. The guest list was already pretty great but by the time Sarah J. Maas’s event rolled around, the theatre was packed. I flail about this series SO OFTEN and don’t even have WORDS for how excited I was to hear Sarah J. Maas had added an Irish stop to her post-Empire of Storms tour – I didn’t like A Court of Thorns and Roses but her Throne of Glass books are just so good, and in terms of sheer popularity, her success has really helped bring the joy back into high fantasy for teenagers. She talked about characters, the writing process, plot twists, cardboard Legolas, fighting to keep Manon Blackbeak in Heir of Fire and what it’s like when a series goes from début novel to actual phenomenon. There was emphasis on music and TV shows, which was fabulous because a) it made the panel vivid and entertaining and b) THEY ARE ENJOYABLE STORYTELLING MEDIA and I too have been using this as my excuse for indulging in so much of them *ahem*

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Then of course came talk of the Throne of Glass TV adaptation (announced as Queen of Shadows), and while the quality and results of the adaptation remain to be seen, it was cool to hear her highlight women in the production team she admires, and her hopes for the series. There was a lot of fangirling going on during this panel (there was a lot of cheering during most panels, to be fair), but again, she took the time to chat to everyone who went to get their books signed (and I would expect nothing less of authors for a category so closely tied to its audience). I was inwardly flailing but spoke coherently AND DID NOT FALL OVER AT ANY POINT *phew*

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And thus ended the first day of DeptCon2 not with the absolutely plausible possibility of me falling disgracefully down the staircase but with triumph and SIGNED BOOKS. Between panels I hung out with awesome YA folks (including The Books,The Art and Me‘s Jenny, Eilís, to whom I have become an accidental kdrama enabler??, and the magnificent Jacq, who is lovely and was running about all day like an event-organising superhero), too. Stay tuned to the blog for a day two round up – and a few surprises!

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The Last Beginning by Lauren James // even more wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff

Author: La24550848uren James
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication date: 6 October 2016
Category: YA
Genre: contemporary, sci-fi, historical fiction, time travel (…it’s, er, complicated)
Series or standalone?: duology (#2)
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

The epic sequel to Lauren James’ enthralling début about love, destiny and time travel.

Sixteen years ago, after a scandal that rocked – and saved – the world, Kate Finchley and Matt Galloway  vanished without a trace. 

Stumbling upon their story, and wondering what it has to do with hers, in the present day, teenager Clove Sutcliffe is determined to find out what happened to them. But where do you start looking for a couple who seem to have been reincarnated at every key moment in history? Who were Kate and Matt? Why were they born again and again? And who is the mystery girl who keeps appearing at every turn in Clove’s investigation?

Lauren James’ The Last Beginning brings back much of what made her début novel The Next Together stand out: a multitude of timelines, a sci-fi twist on a star-crossed romance, and of course, more pieces of the puzzle in the story of Matthew Galloway and Katherine Finchley, who seem destined to be born again and again throughout history, changing the world – and losing each other – every time.  Unique, funny, chaotic and full of adventure, The Last Beginning picks up with a new heroine. A passionate knitter and whiz-kid programmer, Clove is smart, impetuous, hot-headed and prone to making slightly disastrous and immature decisions, but her heart’s (usually) in the right place.

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#clove’s life philosophy, tbh

Clove longs to be the world’s first time traveller, and lucky for her, her scientist parents have been working on a time machine prototype at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. A startling revelation, however, turns Clove’s life upside down, and sees her tackling time travel rather sooner than even she expected. Throw in multiple mysteries to solve, fugitives to track down and a prominent LGBTQ+ romance, and Clove, while not my favourite character in the book, certainly has her hands full in this plot-packed but surprisingly fast read.

My favourite character, of course, was Tom. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen my over-the-top livetweeting but just in case, let me explain: Tom is Matthew’s hot ex-hacker brother. Sharp, dedicated, quick-witted, and essentially a total softie, for me he stole the show in the first book and does so even more here. He’s hotter and more noble than ever. Oh, and at one point he trades science for rebellion and a motorbike. The novel has a relatively small cast and not all are vividly drawn, but newcomers Jen and Ella are solid additions, while Clove’s exchanges with sassy, soap-opera-watching computer Spart are a strong source of humour in the book.

Like with The Next Together, the book features historical, contemporary and futuristic sequences, twined together in a dizzying array of twists and connections. New for this book is the use of alternate universes – timelines which have diverged completely from ones the reader has been introduced to – and the huge emphasis on sci-fi. There’s so much going on, in fact, that it’s a little too confusing. The Last Beginning is so focused on hitting the beats and going through the motions of plot that it forgets to let the story breathe. It doesn’t spend enough time on scenes that matter, which lessens any sense of emotional payoff. It occasionally feels like a mere guide for filling in the blanks of the first book, and even then there are plot holes and unrealistic reactions which weigh down the text. There’s a lot of tell over show and the need to get through scenes as quickly as possible sees many characters acting, well, out of character. They’re so caught up in time-travel and sci-fi that the reader doesn’t get to see them as they are, as they could be. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Clove, Tom and Jen before the reveal, or more of Clove after meeting Kate and Matt – so much happens between them, but the book almost reads like important moments have been left off the page.

There is plenty to like about the book, however, and while you’ll need to have read The Next Together to make sense of this one (you can read my very excited 4.5 star review here), the duology remains one of the most unique on the UKYA shelf. The return of visual, often entertaining epistolary additions like letters, emails, articles, extracts, doodles, transcripts and powerpoints is particularly brilliant. The complexities of time travel are more than just navigated, they’re embraced: this is a book which throws its arms around things like anomalies and paradoxes and says, look, if there’s one there may as well be a hundred. More than anything, Lauren James has displayed a tremendous talent for concept and a willingness to add an unexpected twist or three to a familiar premise. I can’t wait to see where she goes with her writing next.

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Fans of Lauren James’ début will find a lot to like about this sequel: the return of much-loved characters, a multitude of timelines, a busy plot, great humour and a prominent romance make for a jam-packed semi-epistolary read. It’s not quite perfect and the narrative needed more space to breathe, but it’s an absolutely enjoyable time-travel page-turner.

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Haunt Me by Liz Kessler // more contemporary fiction but with (slightly less snarky) ghosts

30322601Author: Liz Kessler
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
Publication date: 6 October 2016
Category: YA
Genre: contemporary, paranormal(ish)
Series or standalone?: Standalone
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

Erin wants to face the future.
Joe is desperate to remember his past.

Arriving in a seaside town with her family for a fresh start, Erin finds herself in a new house and a new school – a new life.

When Erin meets fellow teenager Joe, they’re drawn together by a love for poetry and a feeling of shared connection neither of them has experienced before. There’s just one problem: Joe is a ghost, stuck in the home his own family have recently left.

As secrets threaten to spill and the past catches up with them, it comes down to the ultimate question… would you trade love for life itself?

Already an accomplished and prolific author for children, Liz Kessler made a strong début in young adult fiction with 2015’s Kirkus-starred Read Me Like a Book. Her straightforward prose and focus on teen life return here, with one notable addition: ghosts.

Years of torment at school have left Erin curled firmly into her shell, but with her parents hoping the sea air will do her good and a sociable sister who blossoms wherever she goes, she’s trying to forget the life she’s left behind. Yet she finds herself drawn to perhaps the only person she’s ever met who carries the same weight of pain she does. Tied to a place and a life he can barely remember, recently deceased teenager Joe is more accidental spiritual loiterer than eerie spectre, but readers will have to stick with Kessler’s novel to discover why he became, and remains, a ghost in the first place.

But where Joe is stuck in the past, struggling to piece together what happened and why it’s resulted in his apparent abandonment at the house a whole new family has just moved into, Erin is trying to escape hers. Throw in a rugged seaside backdrop, acquaintances who may not be all they seem, and a chance encounter with Olly, once the most popular boy at school – and Joe’s brother – which leaves her with ever more secrets to untangle, and Erin quickly finds that her fresh start may not be as simple as expected. All three are in many ways on a search for peace, for resolution. The book is more thematic than plot-driven but there are plenty of questions to be answered, revelations to be heard and dramatic conclusions to be played out. 

Kessler tackles issues with vigour, including grief, addiction, and particularly painfully, a portrait of a teenage girl destroyed by the most cruel and remorseless of creatures: other teenage girls. Some themes are less well handled (there are mentions of mental health issues like anxiety which are basically forgotten about halfway through the book) but there’s a stark quality to the book’s approach which slots right in to the UKYA shelf.

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t have the power to match up to its premise. The story is difficult to root for and difficult to invest in. The writing isn’t fantastic, faltering in dialogue and in the unrealistic reactions of characters to several plot twists. I’m used to suspend-your-disbelief YA but it takes more skill than this to pull off such an ambitious concept. Even worse, the book is creepy – and I don’t mean spooky-noise-wh0-you-gonna-call creepy, I mean that-is-a-seriously-unhealthy-relationship-and-y’all-should-probably-not-do-that creepy. To start with it had me like this:

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And by the end I was like this:

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knew the concept was reminiscent of the heyday of paranormal YA but I didn’t realize it’d be taking on a similar penchant for ultimatums and insta-love too. The prose around Joe and Erin’s relationship is forced and full of uninspired, declarative clichés. And let’s just be super clear, YA: a girl withdrawing from her entire life to spend time with a boy her family and friends can’t even tell exists (and when they do it’s because his ‘uncontrollable’ frustration has turned him into a poltergeist) is NOT A ROMANCE. The same girl then being presented with an alternative love interest in the shape of that boy’s brother, who she is only connected to because of a ghost and who she spends much of the book resenting anyway, is also NOT A ROMANCE. After the originality and thoughtfully crafted exploration of Read Me Like a Book, Haunt Me’s reliance on heteronormative clichés I thought we’d thrown out ages ago alongside vampires and rules-for-YA-romance-circa-2007 is disappointing. 

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An issue-driven novel for fans of Drop by Katie Everson, The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss and Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy. Read Me Like a Book remains Kessler’s better work.

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The Secret Cooking Club by Laurel Remington // WARNING: READ THIS BOOK WITH CAKE NEARBY

31311603Author: Laurel Remington
Publisher: Chicken House Books
Publication date: 4 August 2016
Genre: contemporary
Category: MG
Series or standalone?: Standalone
Source: won
Find on Goodreads

Twelve-year-old Scarlett is the star and victim of her mum’s popular blog. The butt of school jokes, she’s eager to stay out of the spotlight. But one evening, she finds a gorgeous kitchen in the house next door which has been left empty by an elderly neighbour in hospital. As Scarlett bakes, she begins to discover new friends and forms the Secret Cooking Club. But can baking really help fix her family or her search for a mysterious secret ingredient? And will her new hobby stay secret for long?

The Secret Cooking Club is fun, straightforward stuff. It’s not quite the Great British Bake Off in book form (I’ll give you a second here to collect yourself in the wake of the apparent demise of the cosy, pun-filled format we all know and love), but that doesn’t stop it trying. In mixing protagonist Scarlett’s discovery of her passion for old-fashioned homemade recipes with the modernity of her mother’s role as a ‘mummy blogger’, it’s easy to see why the book ticked many of the marketable boxes from 2015’s Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition.

Scarlett’s hobbies, school disasters and most embarrassing moments have all been revealed to the masses in the pursuit of fame. But while her mum obliviously spills the beans to the amusement and sympathy of fans, Scarlett struggles with teasing at the hands of classmates and former friends. Then she stumbles upon her next door neighbour’s magnificent kitchen and special recipe book, and she finally has something to call her own again. This book’s plot is fairly predictable, but I was surprised by its keen observation of what a life where every mistake is up for grabs – on social media, on camera, in print – does to kids. Knowing that her every move could potentially end up on her mum’s blog, Scarlett’s become fearful of humiliation, quitting many of her afterschool activities and feeling that only by doing and saying nothing can she escape infamy at home and in the classroom. Her self-confidence, like her connection with elderly neighbour Mrs Simpson, must be built over time.

The Secret Cooking Club is by no means a classic, but it’s a quick, clearly written début. It’s uncomplicated, relatively harmless – Scarlett, while occasionally trespassing and leaving tea towels on the hob, is the kind of character who has apparently avoided the rat race of early teen snapchat politics and still gets excited about the prospect of holding a boy’s hand – and on the whole jolly. The villains have names like Mr Kruffs and Gretchen and serious themes are presented simply, but its bright, colourful cover will leap from the shelf for parents of 9-12s seeking unchallenging, innocent reads. There are descriptions of cakes and tasty treats which will see plenty of young readers eager for, if not the multi-hour effort of cooking, then at least the resulting delights.

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Straightforward and full of baking montages, The Secret Cooking Club, though far from a classicis fun, easy-to-read kidlit.

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