Young Adult Reviews

Review: Flying Tips For Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain

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Synopsis:

Finch and Birdie Franconi are from a circus family. Now the family business is in trouble, it is up to the twins to save it with their flying trapeze act. The twins are also a double-act at school. It has never mattered to Finch that everybody calls him a freak, because he and Birdie have always done their own thing.

When Birdie suffers a terrible accident, Finch must find a new double-act if he is going to save the family circus school. Can Finch overcome his feelings about school and new-boy Hector? Will he ever get over James Keane? Can Hector’s Dad accept the son he has?

A warm and witty YA novel about sexuality and identity.

birdReview:

This novel is as good as Meg Rosoff at her finest. A fresh and honest look at teenage life, and explored issues of sexuality and identity.

Finch Franconi’s safe place is circus school. He feels out of place everywhere else, especially at secondary school where he falls prey to the taunting comments of people like Kitty and James. Since an incident of bullying in his first year, Finch has orchestrated his own ‘act’. He dresses to be different, gives snarky remarks and generally acts as if he is a cut above his class mates. My heart bled for Finch, because I was exactly like him as a teenager. His issues didn’t come from nowhere. He has a really grotty time at school between the comments and the people refusing to spend a minute with him, but his reaction is to withdraw. To assume anybody who approaches him is against him. Kelly McCaughrain’s depiction of school life is so observant it is like watching footage from a hidden camera. She picks up on the way kids feel and how this affects their behaviour.

Circus School is the only place where a lot of the characters feel safe. We know from page one that it is under threat, and this keeps us turning the pages. There is a second question set up early on: will Finch get together with Hector? Finch isn’t exactly in denial about his sexuality, but he has issues with being open about it. Hector’s Dad is another obstacle between the boys. Where Finch’s parents are more relaxed about his sexuality than he is, Hector’s Dad doesn’t want him to make life difficult for himself.

Birdie sets up a blog toattract more people to Circus School. She schedules lots of posts before her accident. It is lovely to see a YA book where kids have a regular social media presence. Lots of teens on Twitter have said this is something they feel is too often left out of YA because it is not part of life adults want to depict. They have talked about social media being a large part of their lives. Like Editing Emma, Flying Tips For Flightless Birds picks up on the way people express themselves through blogging and social media.

This book is so lovely and warm and humorous. Finch can be deprecating but he is witty and observant and I laughed so many times just because something was a perfect representation of life. This is the book I needed when I was fifteen and it is one I will reread for the sheer joy.

 

Huge thanks to Walker YA and Kelly McCaughrain for my ARC of Flying Tips For Flightless Birds. Check back on Saturday when I will publish a Q and A with the lovely Kelly McCaughrain.

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waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi

beastplayerbannerSynopsis (from Pushkin Press): 

getimage-824Elin’s family have an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the beasts mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath she manages to send her daughter to safety.

Alone, far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can talk to both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great powers, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or must she face the terrible battles to come?bird

Why I can’t wait to read The Beast Player:

  • The beast magic reminds me of the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb. This was a real favourite in my teens and the main reason I loved it was the bond between the protagonist and his animals.
  • ‘Can she prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war?’ Too many humans mistreat or misunderstand animal intelligence and I think this is an important theme for any book which centres around animals. Good fantasy says something about the real world.
  • Stakes. Elin’s mother is sent to die. The first thing I want to know is whether Elin can save her mother. Possibly we will find out straight away whether or not she survives, but if we don’t know the answer I will definitely turn the pages. 
  • This is a story of battles and wars. It sounds like something is majorly up if someone is in control of a serpent army. I want to know who is at the helm and what their agenda is, and I want to see Elin defeat them with her gift. 
  • Fantastic beasts! Regular readers know I am a huge fan of the Fantastic Beasts franchise. In actual fact I love all mythological animals from talking Beavers to Snow Dragons. 

 

 

top ten tuesday

Ten Reasons We Might Fail To Get On With A Book.

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Sometimes we don’t want to finish a book. It’s the dirty secret bookworms believe is theirs and theirs alone. If you organised a confessional, people would come. I swear. We get into such a tizz about our DNFs. Can you imagine people behaving the same way over films or computer games? 

My big secrets:

It is OK to dislike a book

It does not mean you are inferior. It does not mean the book is too literary or political or intelligent for you. 

You are not a snob for disliking a writer’s prose. You are not a snob for disliking certain themes. 

You might like it in the future. You might not. Remember – we bring ourselves to fiction. As we change and grow we need different things from our reading. A character who bored you to tears the first time around might be the one you relate to in ten years. They might not. 

Here are reasons I might fail to finish a book. Do you relate to any of these? Let me know in the comments below. bird

  • A newer book is on our shelves, casting its latest-purchase magic. Even worse? There is a book I do not own but somebody else does. Why is the book I have acquired most recently always the one I want to read? 
  • Dull prose sends me to sleep. The end. 
  • I bought it for the cover. The shiny, shiny cover which the publisher invested heavily in. Other than that it isn’t my thing. 
  • Netgalley made me click-happy and now I am cowering in the face of digital files. 
  • Somebody told me I would love this book. It’s a curse. Speak not the fatal words if you want your friends to enjoy the same book as you. 
  • It appropriates someone else’s experience. I don’t believe you must live an experience to write about it but you must research and be sensitive to the real thing. 
  • I’ve read a-bazillion-and-one books this month. I will never read again. I do not know what reading is. 
  • It’s due back at the library so my reading pace has slowed to snailish. Deadlines. Also a curse
  • Entire GCSES and A-Levels and Degree modules count on me knowing this plot. OK, not relevant right now, but if my understanding of a book is going to be graded my interest in it is nada. Expectations? Curse
  • My book group chose it. Hence I don’t join book groups. That’s deadlines and expectations and I’m-supposed-to-love-it rolled into one. Albeit with tea and biscuits on the side. 
Non-Fiction · Picture Books

Review: Amazing Women by Lucy Beevor and Sarah Green

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Temple Grandin

Amazing Women celebrates the lives and achievements of 101 great women. It features women from different fields and cultures. Modern-day to historical figures. Their lives are related in digestible fact-files which relate their stories as well as key dates. 

The thing I love most about this book is the design. When I saw the front cover I wanted to flick through and read about every one of those women, and the same thing happened when I looked inside. The book is high on ‘flickability’. It is the kind of book you want to thumb through, to flick backwards and forwards between the pages. The pastel colour palette and fantastic illustrations remind of a really modern blog or website. 

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The key message of the book is to be your true self. Every story in the book is inspiring, but the way to achieve great things is not to try to be someone else but to work hard in the areas where you excel. With a large number of books about inspirational women in the market place this is a really good message. A handy resources section at the back gives young readers some ideas of where to look next. This is a lovely addition. Young people with a new interest often don’t know where to turn for more information.

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My only criticism is that the book talks about some women in the present day – what they are doing now and how old they are. Unless new editions are printed this puts a lifespan on the book because this information will date. Nevertheless it is a great title and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking to improve their knowledge of influential women.

 

 

 

Reflection

One Year Blogging – Reflections

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Happy blog-day to me! This time last year I came home from an author event and started a book blog. What did I expect then? Maybe to connect with 20 or 30 people. To find adults with a theoretical/writing-based interest in children’s literature. In the intervening year my blog has gained 240 follwers, and I have an extra 1500 on Twitter.

Thank you to every single follower. You are the reason I write this stuff. I love your feedback and opinions. I love talking to you abut books, and hearing whether my review caught your interest. 

 I have made friends, even finally met a couple, and a couple of my quotes have appeared in the front of books I admire. Not bad for my little bloggie.

I don’t dish out blog advice on a regular basis because I have barely started learning and it has been written before. Written better. Occasions like this seem a good time to reflect, and I do think there is value in these posts for people just starting out. When I searched for blog advice last year, the questions I was asking were newbie questions. The things everyone had forgotten about. I also found a lot of conflicting advice. 

Here are some learning-curves I hit. I can’t tell you the answer, because you will have to find your own right. I can tell you about the places where I have had to rethink or revise my approach.    birdNegative Reviews:

The blogging community seems split on what is more difficult, a positive or a negative review. Personally I find negative reviews harder. The difficulty is:

  • how much to write
  • what purpose your review serves

Some people say you must post them to maintain integrity. Others say you shouldn’t spread your miserable opinions. No subject causes more conflict in the kidlit community. You need to find your own answer, but these tips might help:

  • never tweet an author or publisher into a negative review. Sounds simple, but it happens surprisingly often. I think this is because what you think of as a three-star or fairly enthusiastic review might come across as negative to someone invested in the book. Save author tweets for books you loved.
  • don’t fall back on the cliches. We all do it in our early reviews ‘if I had been this age’ ‘I would have done xyz’ and ‘I would have given it four stars BUT …’ are review cliches. 

 

Network beyond Twitter chats. Networking is about building connections with people. Twitter chats are a great place to start, but it wasn’t until I networked outside of scheduled chats that I made meaningful connections.

 

If you’re looking to build social platforms, you need to be flexible about the content you are willing to include.  If you’re blogging for fun and stats don’t matter to you, write what you like when you like. My blog falls somewhere between. Writing chatty content was a big step towards building my stats.

 

Find the hosting which works for you – I started on Blogger, but didn’t really get going until I moved to WordPress. Free WordPress (.com) is easy to edit, and brings people to your posts through WordPress reader. Now I’m looking at self-hosting options a little too often to pretend I’m not considering it. My storage on free WordPress might see me until the end of the year. After that I will have to self-host or delete old media. I’m not sold on self-hosting. I would love to redesign my website and have more flexibility to code links in, but free WordPress is like the training pool. It is safe. It is easy. Unless I expand my blog into something other than a hobby, I am not certain I want to move.

 

Use more than one social platform – Twitter is my main social-media platform. It is where I have most followers and it is the format I find most useful for connecting with people. Ask yourself where you would be if your main platform closed overnight. I don’t spend hours of time setting up pictures for Instagram, but I have started to build my network. Discord is great for blogger chats.

 

What have you learned in your time as a blogger? Share your reflections below. 🙂

 

Chat · Round-Up

Event Round-Up: Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan Author Talk

img_4910‘All I had was this character’ says Brian Conaghan regarding the origins of his collaboration with Sarah Crossan. Both writers had launched successful debuts and been nominated for the 2015 Carnegie Awards. Prose poetry novels were unheard  in UKYA before Sarah Crossan debuted with The Weight Of Water. She was told it wouldn’t sell, but it has now sold in multiple countries. When Brian Conaghan wanted to put his new character into a prose poetry novel, he knew Sarah Crossan was the person to consult.

What were their priorities? Sarah Crossan spoke of the need for a similar work-ethic. They were working in a tight time frame, so she needed to be certain the work would be done.

The novel developed in a series of online conversations. During the writing stage, Crossan wrote Jess’s parts, and Conaghan wrote Nicu’s. While editing the authors worked together. The ending was planned in one session. Crossan spoke about the different ways the ending could have evolved, but said the priority was for both characters to grow and develop as a result of their experiences.

Crossan spoke about the pressures of writing an ‘Own Voices’ character. Both authors wanted the voices to be authentic, and agreed that it is important to be sensitive to the fact that they have not lived ‘the real experience’. Conaghan spoke about his experiences as a teacher, saying he wanted to give voice to the children he worked with who were not represented in fiction. He also spoke about the ability to empathise with the outsider experience – he has not lived Nicu’s life, but has experiences which enable him to empathise with Nicu and create his character.

How do they write about difficult themes? Crossan stressed the importance of universally img_4908relatable themes, referring particularly to Moonrise, her latest YA work. Moonrise is about a character on death row, an experience which only a small number of people can relate to, but the story is also about death and dying which is a universally relatable experience.

Advice for writers included accepting rejection and a strong work ethic, and not being afraid to make mistakes and show other people your work.

Thank you to Newcastle University School of English and Seven Stories for the opportunity to hear from Conaghan and Crossan at this free event. For those of you who are not aware, Seven Stories is the national centre for children’s literature. It hosts great exhibitions and events, and houses the largest archive of children’s fiction in the UK.

top ten tuesday

Five YA Friendships

Here is it again. Valentines, Galentines or Singles Awareness Day – and no I ain’t, now you ask. Whatever name you call it, it is quite probable that by this point you have had enough. Perhaps you need a shoulder to cry on.

This is certainly the case for a lot of YA characters. Without conflict there would be no story.  The poor things endure so much for our entertainment. Thank-goodness for BFF characters. The ones who have been there since childhood and come back no matter what stupid things the main character says in Act 2. This list features some of my favourite YA BFFs, but I would love to know yours. Which friendships did you enjoy reading the most? Who do you secrectly wish was your BFF? Let me know in the comments below.bird

BeforeIFallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver – Sam should have died in that car-crash, but she keeps returning to the morning of the accident. Every time she relives her day something changes. Gradually she learns why she has returned, and is forced to challenge the Mean Girl behaviour of her friendship group. Despite their behaviour to other people, I **love** the friendship between Sam and Lindsay. Yes, they are horrible, but they are friends. They love each other and have each other’s backs, and it felt realistic. Popularity is a big issue in schools, and this book told it like it was. Too often fiction tries to turn the reader against popular kids, but Lauren Oliver understood that their friendship could survive without the bullying.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli – She’s elusive, she is strange and she captures Leo’s attention. Star Girl may not strictly be YA, but it is certainly teen interest. I read it over and over throughout my teens, enchanted by Stargirl. The girl who didn’t want to fit in. The girl who wore handmade clothes and played Ukellele in school. Stargirl is not Leo’s friend at the start of the narrative, but their friendship is the most memorable.

img_4802Flying Tips For Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrean- Since an incident of bullying in his first year, Finch has insisted he and his twin sister Birdie dress differently, act differently. He thinks this makes their unpopularity ironic. Then Birdie has an accident and Hector Hazzard comes into Finch’s life. I love the relationship between Finch and Hector, and how much Finch learns when he opens himself to other people.

Justin Case by Meg Rosoff – David Case reckons he will die if he doesn’t get to date Agnes. He reckons he will probably die anyway. After saving his little brother from an accident, David becomes convinced Fate has it in for him. With Agnes’s help, he styles himself as a new person in a bid to outwit fate. The friendship I love is between David/Justin and Peter. Peter is the ‘B Story’ friend. Ingeniously, they meet on a running track. No matter how fast Justin tries to outrun Peter, eventually he is forced to face the truth only an honest friend can deliver.

Geek Girl – When Harriet Manners is given an opportunity to model, it is too much for her best friend Nat. All Nat has ever wanted since she was tiny is to work in the fashion industry, and now the opportunity has presented itself to Harriet. Her awkward, totally-geeky best-friend. Nat is fantastic. She admits her feelings and helps Harriet confront arch-bully Alexa. Their friendship reminds us that nothing is more important than our BFF.

Louise Nettleton