Round-Up · Young Adult Reviews

Round-Up: 6 wonderful historical YA titles


I’m loving historical YA right now. Books take me to places I can’t visit, from the smoggy streets of Victorian London to the dining room of an inter-war mansion. I love films too, but scenes can be fleeting. Only a book gives me the time I need to savour the details.  They also help us to empathise with people from the past. 

There is a great selection of historical YA right now. I thought I would share some of these titles with you. bird

Unveiling Venus by Sophia Bennett

Mary is no longer a maid. Hiding behind her alter-ego of Persephone Lavelle, she becomes a muse to painters and a regular at the high society events of Victorian London. 

When her identity is exposed, Mary flees to Venice with her friend Kitty. There she encounters a man who offers her the world – at the cost of her friendship with Kitty.

Unveiling Venus continues the story started in Following Ophelia. I love the continuation of Persephone’s story, and how the story focuses so much on her friendship with Kitty. Sophia Bennett’s world-building is sublime. If you’re looking for historical fiction which takes you right into an era, put this series high on your list. 


Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon

Olivia was born in the workhouse and raised on the streets of London. When she is taken in by a wealthy uncle, she finds it hard to leave behind her thieving ways. She also refuses to forget the children living in London’s streets and slums. 

Olivia meets Jack, the boy once known as the Artful Dodger. Jack too has risen to higher places. He sees it as an opportunity to rob the people of high society. 

The pair must decide whether to turn their backs on their comfortable lives in favour of love. 

This is on my TBR. I am interested to see a retelling of Oliva Twist with a female protagonist. I hope there will be some interesting heist scenes before the lead pair figure out what they want in life. 


The Goose Road by Rowena House


1916. 14 year-old Angélique poromises to keep the family farm running until her brother returns from the war. To keep her promise, she will have to embark on a journey across France, accompanied by a flock of geese. 

I’ve been looking forward to The Goose Road for months now, and have it on good authority that it is the sort of book that you want to last forever. The idea of a young girl travelling with a flock of geese stuck with me. Maybe it is because I live in an area where migratory geese winter. They fly over the house twice a day for half a year, and I stop what I am doing to look up every singe time. 


The Mermaid by Christina Henry

News of a mermaid who lives on shore reaches P.T. Barnum, showman extraordinaire. The mermaid becomes part of his museum. Leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was. 

P.T. Barnum was a real-life figure. His story was recently told in The Greatest Showman On Earth. I am interested to see how Christina Henry portrays him. It sounds as if this story focuses on the unheard voices of the people in Barnum’s ‘museum’.  


The Electrical Venus by Julie Mayhew

Mim and Alex have been raised in a traveling show. Money is tight and Mim is afraid she will be thrown out on to the street. Mim and Alex start plotting to overcome their problems, a plot which is interrupted by the arrival of Dr Sebastian Fox. Fox uses electricity to give Mim a new identity. He bills her as the girl whose kisses are truly electrifying. Now Mim is in the spotlight as men queue up to buy one of her electrifying kisses. 

I adore books set in Circuses and performing communities. This book shows history in its gory reality. Think poverty and guts and stench. This makes an interesting juxtaposition with Alex and Mim’s story of love and self-discovery. 

I found the narrative a bit unusual. It is told in alternating sections, some of which are addressed to animals – a parrot and a pig. This made more sense when I found out the story originated as a radio play. It took me a little while to get used to the unusual voice. 


A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

Aspiring writer Lou has always wondered about the grand house which has stood empty for years. When the owners arrive home for the summer, Lou is swept into a world of cocktail-parties and glamour beyond her dreams. As she grows closer to the Cardews, she becomes aware of a darkness at the heart of the family. 

This is on my TBR. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. As a teenager I loved big house stories. Anything with a Du Maurier vibe and I was there. I’m looking forward to reading A Sky Painted Gold. This is one my younger self would have adored. 


Do you have any favourite historical fiction? What is on your TBR? Let me know in the comments below

Louise Nettleton


Northern YA Literary Festival – Signings, Stalls and Swag.

Oh my fangirl!

Northern Book Bloggers L-R: Steph, Louise [self], Charlotte, Liam, Cora, Rebecca, Kelly and Hannah. [Photograph taken by event managers.] 
What an event. The first ever Northern YA Literary Festival was held on Saturday 24th of March 2018. Previously I have told you about the author talks, but author talks are only part of a literary festival. There are other things going on. These can be summarised in three ‘S’s –

  • Signings
  • Stalls 
  • Swag

Beyond that the festival was a great chance to network. I spent the day with the Northern Book Bloggers. It was lovely to put faces to names and to realise that I have so much to say to these people outside of the Twittersphere.


Signed book alert. Between author talks there were chances to meet our favourite authors and have our books signed. Every single author took part in signings at some point in the day. I took four books with me, and purchased two more (The Fandom by Anna Day and The Exact Opposite Of Okay by Laura Stevens.) I’m digging those sharpies, and Samantha Shannon’s Scion stamp is a thing of beauty. There is something so precious about a signed book. A minute’s conversation with a favourite author can last in the memory for a lifetime.



There were several vendors at NYA. Waterstones were on hand to sell those books we had heard about and suddenly couldn’t live without, while the university’s own press was promoting its very first YA novel. There was a fab cupcake stall which I walked passed several times just for the pleasure of seeing those creations. 

I was particularly pleased to see Rebecca from Taken Moons. 

Rebecca is a Northern Book Blogger who began her own Etsy business earlier this year. Her candles are themed around popular YA books. Brave Of Heart is her Gryffindor candle. I kid you not, I take the lid off and sniff this thing several times a day. Check her out here and add a whole new dimension to your reading experience. 



The first place many people headed was the publishing pretties swag stall. This is like the ultimate bookish goody-bag experience. We were given tote bags upon entrance and filled them at the swag stall with posters and pencils, bookmarks and mirrors and postcards. And proofs. Don’t forget the proofs. Books were limited to two per-person, but when I got to my reserved seat I found a goodie-bag waiting with two more books. I picked up:

  • Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter
  • The List Of Real Things by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
  • Grace And Fury by Tracy Banchart
  • Fragments Of The Lost by Megan Miranda

Bookish merch. is more than a perk. If you love film or sport, chances are you can buy merchandise to express your hobby. Until the dawn of Etsy and smaller online marketplaces it was impossible to buy posters and badges to celebrate books. These freebies allow people to take their hobby beyond the pages of their books. 

If you missed out …

If you missed out, fear not. The University Of Central Lancashire plans to make this an annual event. The hope is that this will remain a free event. I can’t celebrate this enough. Literary festivals should be open to as many people as possible. I’m already looking forward to next year. See you there? 

Louise Nettleton.

Were you at NYA? What was your favourite part? Let me know in the comments below.


Northern YA Literary Festival – Talk round-up

Reader, I passed initiation. A world of possibility has opened at my feet. On Saturday 24th of March I went to my first YA festival. Eleven authors, one stage and a whole load of publishing swag.

How great that it wasn’t in London?! Nearly everything happens in London. Book launches, publishing events and literary festivals are centered around the capital. You’d think as a small island we would be happy to travel to different corners but the UK seems to have signed a pledge to fit everything into the smallest amount of square miles possible. In the past it has been very difficult for many people to get to bookish events. 

Thank goodness for the University Of Central Lancashire for hosting the Northern YA Literary Festival. This day-long event was the first of what will hopefully become an annual event.

Check out my post for a round-up of the talks. I will post separately about my bookish treasures and purchases so check back later for more information.birdGetting into Publishing: a conversation about paths to publication

L-R: Kevin Duffy, Danny Weston, Anna Day and Terri Terry

How is writing turned into a saleable product? Many scribblers have asked themselves the same question.

Authors Anna Day, Terri Terry and Danny Weston spoke in conversation with Kevin Duffy, founder of independent publisher Bluenose books. The authors shared their routes to publication.  Both Danny Weston and Terri Terry took a traditional route to publication. They sought literary agents who sold their work to a mainstream publishing company. Anna Day’s opportunity came after being shortlisted for the Times Chicken House competition. 

It was clear from this talk – and from discussion throughout the day – that most writers have multiple manuscripts behind them before even approaching the point of submission. Terri Terry was high up there with nine complete novels and Kevin Duffy suggested that four complete novels would be a good average. 

There was some discussion about the role of an agent. Agents have the experience to know whether a book will be marketable. The editing process was discussed, with authors varying on the amount of input they would like to have into their story’s final shape. Anna Day said that after initially feeling disheartened she usually concluded that her editor was correct. Terri Terry was happy that her editors recognised when something wasn’t working but liked to find a solution herself.

The talk followed writing from a hobby through to a manuscript and the various stages along the road to publication. This would have been of interest to writers as well as to people thinking about a career in the publishing industry but with very little idea of what roles might exist.


Feminism In YA:

L-R: Laura Stevens (author who provided a fantastic introduction to the panel), Matt Killeen, Lauren James, Annabel Pitcher and Katherine Webber.

There is no wrong kind of feminism. The key message from this panel was anyone who believes that people should have equal rights regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of gender is a feminist. Chaired by Katherine Webber, the event looked at the theme of feminism and how it featured in the authors’ works.

I was particularly interested to hear Annabel Pitcher talking about The Last Days Of Archie Maxwell. Previously, children’s fiction has featured male protagonists who learn to respect women (Bill’s New Frock, for example) but Archie Maxwell looked at what gender equality means for boys, specifically at the idea that boys shouldn’t show emotion. Archie is a boy who is going through a difficult time but has no outlet, and no vocabulary to explain his feelings.

Pitcher spoke about the misconceptions which turn people away from feminism. These can include thinking that feminists are against femininity and that men shouldn’t be masculine. There is also a problem when people think men don’t gain from feminism.

Writing advice stressed the habit of completion and not falling into the trap of perfectionism. Lauren James also suggested deciding a character’s darkest secret to learn their plot. There was some fascinating discussion about the YA age-group, and how teenagers are in the process of rejecting other peoples’ ideas to form their own.

This was a particularly strong line-up of authors and I liked the topic-based focus.


Alwyn Hamilton (interviewed by Samantha Shannon):

L-R: Alwyn Hamilton and Samantha Shannon

Arabian Night meets The Wild West. Author of Rebel Of The Sands trilogy Alwyn Hamilton spoke about her writing process in conversation with author Samantha Shannon.

Asked which of her three books she liked the most, Alwyn Hamilton spoke about exploring the wider world of her novel during book 2. Book 2 was also where her character developed in a different way. Due to the plot there were fewer action scenes which meant more internal development.

Hamilton originally envisaged the work as a stand-alone novel, but realised there was too much to say in one book. She always knew how the series was going to end. Shannon likened this to navigation. If you know the destination you can read the map, but it can be good to be flexible about routes. This was a nice bit of plotting advice.

Hamilton’s own advice was that trying to be imaginative inevitably results in plagiarism but thinking about interests and questions you want answered can be a starting place for something original.

The chemistry between the two authors and their familiarity with each-other’s work made this an enjoyable event.


Holly Black (interviewed by Samantha Shannon):

L-R: Holly Black and Samantha Shannon

Holly Black came on stage in a faerie crown and held the audience spellbound with her discussion about faeries.

Early influences included an illustrated book of fairy tales and living in a house which her mother believed to be haunted. What draws her back to faeries? Black spoke about the fact that many supernatural creatures are basically human – werewolves, ghosts and zombies are either human or have been human. Faeries are different. Although they look like us their morals are different, and this fascinates Black.

What inspired her latest novel? Black wanted to write a ‘reverse-changeling’ story. The Cruel Prince is about a mortal who is abducted and raised in faerieland. Black gave some hints about what comes next in the series – a wedding in book 2 and a funeral in book 3. This kept her fans talking during the long signing queue.

By the time this event ended many people had been in the hall for eight hours, but you wouldn’t have known it. Black held the stage and it would have been impossible to give anything but full attention.

Many thanks to The University Of Central Lancashire for hosting, to Hazel Holmes and everyone who helped organise this amazing event, and to the authors for turning up and sharing your experience.





Event round-up: Andersen Press YA Book Brunch

Book haul – how good does my TBR pile look right now?

On Saturday 10th March 2018 Andersen Press hosted a YA Book Brunch for bloggers, bookstagrammers and bookish social media aficionados. This was an opportunity to hear about forthcoming titles, meet some of their authors and to network with other bloggers. And there were croissants. What’s not to love?

This was the first time I had attended a blogging event. I couldn’t have been made more welcome. Harriet – the fab publicist at Andersen – and the regular bloggers made me totally welcome. It was lovely to meet some of the people I’ve spoken to over the year, like Faye and Bex, and to meet people whose blogs are now on my radar such as Josh.

We had a great presentation  of forthcoming titles from editor Chloe Sackur, and heard from authors Julia Gray and Emily Thomas. I would love to share some of the forthcoming books with you. I hope you’re excited too! 

birdReboud – Kwame Alexander

April 2018

Kwame Alexander is new to me. Since the event I’ve devoured his first prose-poetry novel and I can tell you his work is amazing. This is a must for fans of Sarah Crossan. Rebound follows Charlie Bell, a teenager whose life changes one summer when he discovers basketball, romance and his family’s past.


Emily Thomas

Mud – Emily Thomas

July 2018

Mud is a semi-autobiographical YA novel. Emily Thomas spent her adolescence on a Thames barge with her siblings and step-siblings. The experience informed parts of her novel. It is the story of Lydia, whose father has remarried. The family move to barge on the Thames estuary. Thomas spoke about the need for stability during times of family upheaval. Lydia’s best friend is her source of stability.



Shadows – Meaghan McIssac

March 2018

 Patrick is searching for a way back to his own time, and he doesn’t know what happened to his family. Shadows is the sequel to Movers. The books are set in a world where people are connected across time. People from the future are desperate to travel back to a time when there were more resources. It is a sci-fi refugee narrative, with a deadly sinister and Conservative group called BMAC hunting down people who enable time-travel. 

Check out my Twitter page for a GIVEAWAY.




What Girls Are Made Of – Elena K. Arnold

August 2018

This is the story of Nina, a girl recovering from an unhealthy relationship. It was a runaway success in the US, and sounds like perfect reading for people who enjoyed The Nowhere Girls.



No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

October 2018

With proofs just off the press, I am honoured to be one of the first people to read No Fixed Address. Of all the books we spoke about, it wasn’t the book I immediately gravitated towards, but I can’t get the protagonist out of my head. Chloe Sackur did a great job of discussing the story’s relevance in the modern world.

Felix Knutsson lives with his mom in a van. Mom swears it is temporary, but the months tick by and they are still in the van. How long can Felix hide homelessness from his friends?



Julia Gray

Little Liar – Julia Gray

June 2018

Nora has a tale to tell, but not everyone will believe it. Not only is she a great actor, she is a proficient liar who likes to push the boundaries.

Julia Gray spoke about how teens take on aspects of other people’s personalities. Nora is not a nice character, but she sounds like an interesting one. As a child one of my favourite books was The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine. This is the story of a girl who is a bit too good at lying, and the friend who gets sucked into her world. Little Liar sounds similar. Characters don’t have to be nice to be interesting.




The Lost Witch – Melvin Burgess

August 2018

Melvin Burgess is – as the publicity material suggests – the Godfather of YA. I had the pleasure of studying Junk as part of the children’s literature module of my degree. It was the first book for teens which showed drug use in a realistic way.

The Lost Witch is about Bea, a witch who is being hunted and doesn’t know who to trust. Should she listen to the people who tell her she is in danger? What is their agenda? Fans of The Wren Hunt look no further. Folk-traditions meets contemporary thriller. It sounds fantastic.



Monsters by Sharon Dogar

February 2019

This was doubly-exciting. After getting over the excitement of hearing about a book due out in 2019, I learned that the story is about the teenage years of Mary (Wollstonecraft) Shelley. Romanticism is one of my favourite periods of literary history, not least because the lives of its leading figures were fascinating.

Monsters is about the male figures who surround and manipulate Mary, and the influence this might have had on the themes of Frankenstein. I intend to do some serious rereading ahead of Monsters, and look forward to reading a proof copy in the autumn.


Huge thanks to Harriet Dunlea for organising this event, and to everyone at Andersen for your time, courtesy and for sharing your fantastic fiction with us.

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.


Never too old for Narnia. About Lucy, Lucy and Me.

lucybannerI’ll never be too old for Narnia. I’ve said it all my life, and I’ll say it again. I can’t tell you how cool it was to find a play about a late 20-something woman encountering the same img_3347dilemma. The moment the world tries to force you to grow up and face you will never get that call from Aslan. 

Lucy, Lucy and me was a sell-out hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and came to Carlisle courtesy of  Borderlines. Borderlines is my local book festival. It may not be the biggest festival in the North, but it does exactly what you would hope. It brings a range of arts events to one area for a weekend, and promotes authors, actors, musicians and poets to bring them to a wider audience. This is my second year in Carlisle, and my advice from two years of attendance is go for the most obvious, and the least obvious. Last year I was lucky enough to win a day ticket to one venue. Borderlines has a wide range, and it is the place to find a new interest. 

Back to Lucy, Lucy and Me. I knew I had to see this, as a kid-lit fanatic and lifelong Narnian. It is about Lucy Grace, the woman behind the one-woman show, and Lucy Barfield, the Goddaughter of CS Lewis to who The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is dedicated. Disenchanted with the world after a youth spent dreaming of Narnia, it img_3348documents Lucy Grace’s search for information about Lucy Barfield. Famous for the dedication, information about Lucy Barfield runs cold at the point she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, despite the fact she lived another 40 years. The question posed by Lucy Grace is can the sum total of 40 years of life be seen as ‘nothing’? 

Told with humour and respect to the memory of someone who cannot speak for themselves, Lucy, Lucy and Me is a gentle performance with a big heart. If you get the opportunity to see this, snap it up. (I also love the 90s Toys which act as props – Fisher Price Casette Player, anyone? Also love references to BBC Narnia, a programme which my sister and I watched first on video, then on DVD. Def. a nostalgia fest for those born in the late 80s or early 90s.)   




Chat · Round-Up

Autumn Wish List.





Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling. Illustrated by Jim Kay. The illustrated Harry Potter books come out around my birthday. I’ll be gutted if they change the date, with the fourth book being longer. It’s the perfect excuse to buy straight away. POA is my favourite Harry book. The clues are hidden so subtlety in the text, and I love the Marauders backstory.  

The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman Another long-awaited book, also scheduled for my birthday. When I was 15, I saw His Dark Materials at the National Theatre. The daemon puppets were made by the same people who did War Horse. It was probably the most magical thing I have ever done, and it made me a fan of HDM for life. I get more out of the books with every reread. Last time I read was during my degree. I’m so due a reread. 

The Snow Angel by Lauren St John Winter magic set in the warmest of places. Read my review here. The Snow Angel will make you cry, but it warm your heart. 

One Christmas Wish by Katherine Rundell A wish made on Christmas Eve goes wrong when the ornamnets from the tree come to life and wreak havoc. In the past couple of years, some of the strongest children’s writers have turned their attention to Christmas stories, bringing a new lease of life to the most magical setting of all. 

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend A cursed girl is lead to a magical city, and is offered the chance to stay there if she passes four dangerous trials. This sounds hugely exciting. Read more thoughts here

The Land of Neverendings by Kate Saunders

Humans and their toys live on beyond death, in a world powered by imagination. What if the door between these worlds was opened? An exploration of grief and sadness from the genius that is Kate Saunders. I already know this will have me soaking through tissues. 

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris

Inspired by Child ballad 295, which basically sold the story to me. It’s nice to see folk-tales having a moment. Read my thoughts here




The Polar Bear Explorer’s Club by Alex Bell A bit of winter magic bound in a cover. A trek across a winter wonderland full of fairies and snow queens, outlaws and bandits. I love Hans Christian Andersan’s fairytale, The Snow Queen. The description of snow queens and bandits reminded me of this. Can’t wait to snuggle under a duvet with a mug of hot chocolate and TPBEC. Read further thoughts here

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling. Illustrated by Jim Kay. Seriously, Bloomsbury Children’s Books are out to bankrupt me this year. Alongside the two books featured here is the exhibition at the British Library with accompanying book. I’ve already paid for tickets, and all three books are hardback. What’s a muggle to do??! 

Witch Born by Nicholas Bowling Alyce’s mother is burned at the stake. Alyce is on the run, but her magic is bursting out of her. I love the conflict. Alyce needs to hide her identity, but hasn’t gained control of her magic. I also love the time period, and it will be a chance to refresh my knowledge of the era. Read more thoughts here

The Rise of Wolves by Kerr Thompson Innis Munro accepts a challenge: if he can jump Bonnie Laddie’s Leap he will win a fortune. Meanwhile, the wolves are rising. I have my own theory about the ending, and can’t wait to read the story. Read more thoughts here. 

Michael’s Spear by Hilton Pashley Gabriel’s Clock and Sammael’s Wings are two of the absolute best MG books of the last five years. Gabriel’s Clock was one of my favourite books as a bookseller, and it was a pleasure to read it with the children’s reading group. I have waited impatiently for the final chapter, and am pleased to tell you I am on the blog tour. 




Out Of The Blue by Sophie Cameron Angels crash land from the sky, and people track them down with an app. Next week’s WoW title. I read an extract of this last year, when it was listed for the Bath Novel Award. It got under my skin. I’ve been thinking about it all year. 

Amendment: Out Of The Blue is out in March 2018. The information I found was incorrect. I am hugely looking forward to this, so have included it here.