DeptCon debrief

A week ago, I flew to Dublin for a wild weekend of YA. Such is my FOMO that as I watched the lineup for DeptCon3 getting steadily more stellar, I realised there was absolutely nothing stopping me from heading to Ireland for the sake of books alone, so I booked my flights and started to get excited. Call it post-YALC withdrawal if you like, but nothing sounded better than the idea of spending another couple of days in a room full of people, listening to other people talk about books. (When I put it like that, I feel like I’ve just written out my longterm life/career goals…)

Armed with little more than my passport and brand new fringe, I landed in Dublin and headed straight to Easons to stare at books. I did get a little wandering in, too – as you probably know, I am 100% autumn trash, and there’s nothing better than a city break during the colder months.

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It was my first ever DeptCon, but I’m a seasoned attendee of YA events, so it was great to see a mix of old and new faces. Edinburgh’s Ink Road imprint was well represented, with three of their authors appearing on the Saturday, which gave me a sense of “hometown” pride. It was also great to finally talk to Daiden from SYP Scotland – evidently we had to be in Ireland to do it?!

I am of course burying the lede because I MET ARIANNE! We snacked and fangirled together and it was completely marvellous. If you’re not already following her blog, you really should be, because her smart, thoughtful, brilliant reviews are more than worth your time.

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It’s a laidback convention with lots of laughs – occasionally tipping into hysteria, particularly on Friday night! In between the hilarity (who will ever be able to forget one author’s elimination in the very first round of the Harry Potter spelling bee? D.O.B.B.I.E. does not spell Dobby…) there was plenty of insightful, fascinating chat about books and writing. Peadar Ó Guilín did a brilliant job of chairing Philip Reeve, M.A. Bennett, and Will Hill as they talked about the common threads between their very different novels. Deirdre Sullivan similarly drew out the complex themes of Lydia Ruffles, Sally Nicholls, and Pooja Puri’s books in a discussion I could have listened to all day; of those three, I had only read The Jungle, but I now can’t wait to read A Taste of Blue Light and Things a Bright Girl Can Do. One of my favourite of all the panels was the roguishly titled Prosecco & Secrets, which was both very funny and very revealing. It was fascinating to hear about what emerged as two opposite schools of how to write a novel: on one side, Dave Rudden and Melinda Salisbury, who shoot a movie in their heads and write it down, writing for plot, and Alice Broadway and Moïra Fowley-Doyle, who, er, seem to be making it up as they go along, but in a supremely poetic and beautiful way.

I spent most of the panels cross that nobody was asking me which fictional character I’d invite to a dinner party. (It’s obviously Jonathan Strange.)

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As if spending two days in a dark room thinking about books wasn’t enough, I got some time to myself on Sunday to do touristy things and promptly… went to the library. Trinity College’s Old Library, to be specific. Be still, my Ravenclaw heart! I hope I can go back to Ireland soon – my pals went to Giant’s Causeway on Saturday, and I missed out because I wanted more quality DeptCon content, but I would really like to visit someday. It is, after all, only a short plane ride away, Ryanair willing! I’m seriously considering DeptCon4 already…

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What I Read in September

Readers! Autumn is well and truly here, and I am frolicking delightedly in the rain and wind and leaves. Okay, to be entirely candid with you, I am currently in bed, looking out the window at the rain and wind and leaves. But it’s much the same effect.

More importantly, I have REMEMBERED HOW TO READ! Yes! In September, I read more than two books. Let’s take a look at them all, shall we?

41+8QKIn4uL._AA300_THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt – Back in August, I spent 30+ gleeful hours listening to one of my favourite novels, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. “Golly, what am I to do with myself and my Audible account after that?!” I thought. The answer was obvious: listen to another of my favourite novels. I love love love The Secret History. Narrator Richard is a working-class California boy who decides to attend a small college across the country on a whim. There he encounters a group of weird, if stylish, kids who he for some reason becomes obsessed with: affable twins Charles and Camilla, mysteriously attractive redhead Francis Abernathy, braying loudmouth Bunny, and the aloof genius and leader of the pack, Henry Winter. He finds his way into their group, and has a marvellous time studying Greek and Latin and drinking too much, but there is something they are hiding from him… (Murder. It’s murder.) The prose is languid, hypnotic, beguiling; the characters are all desperately terrible people and I am awfully fond of the lot of them; the whole story is fuelled by repressed sexuality and reverence for beauty. It is the perfect campus novel. It’s also, although your mileage may vary on this, really funny. Bunny’s essay on metahemoralism literally made me laugh out loud. As I said, I love all these characters and think about them a lot. They are all just so… fascinating. You end up seduced by them all as much as Richard is, despite the fact that if you take a step back it’s immediately obvious that they are all Really Awful. On a semi-related note, it is also important to me that you all acknowledge Richard Papen is bisexual. Obviously, I love to give everything the queerest reading possible, but Richard is so attracted to Francis and so in denial about it. Anyway, The Secret History! Even better this time around, which is a relief because I’ve been citing it as a fave based on a single reading. Now I can confirm: definite fave, still great.

CkWQYnGXIAAzGXKTHE WITCH’S KISS by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr – This enjoyable YA fantasy centres around Merry, grumpy teen and reluctant witch. A spate of knife attacks in Merry’s town has everyone on edge, but surely it has nothing to do with magic, or the dreams she’s been having? Merry finds herself embroiled in the family prophecy, fated to end a centuries-old curse – but she is going to have to kill. Before that, though, she’ll need to learn to control her power, not to mention her heart… I really liked Merry as a heroine: she is flawed and has made mistakes in the past. She’s a little selfish, but it’s refreshing to meet a Chosen One who isn’t nobly self-sacrificing from the off. It’s also a nice change to have a sporty heroine – there’s nothing wrong with bookish-teen-saves-the-day, but Merry actually has extracurricular interests and fencing skills! I also liked her relationship with her brother Leo, who is definitely the standout supporting character. I would have swapped some of the modern timeline for more Anglo-Saxon stuff, but The Witch’s Kiss is overall good fun, especially in the last act where things start kicking off.

Ayobami-Adebayo-Stay-With-MeSTAY WITH ME by Ayòbámi Adébáyò – Yejide is a childless woman, a tragedy in Nigerian society. Her community insists that the barrenness of her marriage must be her own fault, and so she goes to extremes to try to get pregnant. Her relationship with her husband, Akin, undergoes profound strain as they suffer through all the many things that can go wrong when we decide to bring new life into the world. The children she does manage to bear have sickle cell disease, and childlessness becomes child loss. Grief takes its toll, and we begin the novel with Yejide alone. This beautiful, heartbreaking novel was nominated for the Bailey’s Prize, which I usually shadow but did a useless job of this year. I’m glad I read this one, though. 1980s Nigeria is vividly evoked, peopled by lively, warm characters. Stay With Me is a book resonant with love and life, for all that it is a story of grief.

61MCE0p1hwL._SL375_LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders – And speaking of stories of grief… President Lincoln buries his young son, dead of a fever, but returns at night to hold his body and to remember him. However, Lincoln is not alone. His appearance – and his son, Willie’s – is of great interest to many in the graveyard. These are the souls stuck in the bardo, unable to move on as they are yet to accept their state or learn from their mistakes in that previous place. As the night draws on, this Greek chorus of ghosts narrates a strange sequence of events, as well as sharing their own troubles and obsessions. First of all, the audiobook cast is FANTASTIC. I think the listening experience is very different from the average audiobook and I would recommend it highly. I liked this strange book a lot. It’s a bizarre, virtuosic performance of a novel, incredibly moving, original and memorable. There are many images of the afterlife that will stick with me for a while. It’s a powerful meditation on life, death, and grief, the persistence of the human spirit. It’s also a historical novel about Abraham Lincoln. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, and it moved me to tears pretty much constantly.

9781910411599-464x708THE SPACE BETWEEN by Meg Grehan – This debut published by the brilliant Little Island Books is a novel in free verse about Beth, who has decided on a year of solitude, and Alice, who crashes into her world with freckles and sundresses and a dog called Mouse. It’s a sensitively told and lovely story, mostly light but touching on some heavy topics. The format allows the reader complete intimacy with Beth’s thoughts, which are often difficult to read, but if her anxiety is intense then so, too, is the gentle blossoming of her love for Alice, for Mouse, and for the potential of the world outside her front door. Quirky, sweet, and beautiful.

And that’s your lot for September. Check back at the end of October to see what more delights I’ve been reading. (They might be… SpOoOoOoKy!)

Quick news notes: I’m in an anthology of essays on bisexuality, which has been fully funded (hurrah!) but you can pledge for another 13 hours (sPoOkY) here. I’m at #DeptCon3 in Dublin next weekend, which I feel Strangely Nervous about – I don’t fly very often, and I think the last time I flew solo might’ve been 2012! Also, what the heck is Ireland? I’ll be darned if I know, but I guess I’m about to find out. Finally, you should check out my Instagram where I’m posting something ~autumnal~ every day this month because OCTOBER, WOOHOO!

GUEST POST: Why Cosy Crime? by Rachel Ward

Good morning pals! Today I have a guest post from Rachel Ward, author of the Numbers series and YA thrillers The Drowning and Water Born. She’s now turned her hand to adult fiction, and the result is The Cost of Living. Here’s the blurb, to whet your appetites:

After a young woman is brutally attacked on her way home from the local supermarket, checkout girl Bea is determined to find out who’s responsible. She enlists the help of Ant, the seemingly gormless new trainee – but can she really trust him? Customers and colleagues become suspects, secrets are uncovered, and while fear stalks the town, Bea risks losing the people she loves most.

Read on to find out more about cosy crime, and Rachel’s journey alongside her characters, Ant and Bea.

Continue reading “GUEST POST: Why Cosy Crime? by Rachel Ward”

What I Read in July & August

It’s been a difficult summer for me and books. For the me/books relationship. This is due to a number of factors, all of which are my dissertation. In the run-up to YALC, I had such lofty goals of reading books by ALL THE AUTHORS, so I could meet them and have a knowledgeable chat about the themes of their works, the obvious influence of so-and-so upon their hallowed prose stylings. Wandering into the green room, I would spy an author and declare myself an avid shipper of X and Y, despite those plot shenanigans I had definitely read all about!

I read literally one book in July. A NEW LOW. But it was a brilliant book.

Screen-Shot-2015-11-16-at-11.37.29NEEDLEWORK by Deirdre Sullivan – At a slight 224 pages, Needlework wields more power than its size might lead you to suspect. It is dense with pain and beauty, often difficult to read because of the subject matter, but the fluent writing and Ces’ direct voice pull the reader inexorably along, no matter how hard the going gets. I sometimes take photos of jokes in books so I can send them to my friends, but Needlework had me taking pictures of pages because they had distilled something so true and personal I felt the words reverberate in my bones. I didn’t send those pictures to anyone. This book is not for everyone, but if you can bear the intimacy and discomfort, it will make a lasting impact.

And now for my August reads:

23571040155_037db0a201_oJONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke – How can I review Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell? I listened to 32 hours of it, over the course of several weeks, and I literally wept at the ending not because it was sad but because I was already grieving the characters I had spent so long with. An alternative history fantasy set in an England that has long known magic and fairies, but where both have been dormant for a long time before the eponymous magicians revive the practice and generally cause a stir, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is one of those novels you could happily live in. It is peopled with characters who are utterly convincing as individuals with histories and motivations of their own, from Jonathan Strange himself to Mr Norrell’s servant’s cat. Some readers find the level of detail Clarke goes to tedious – this is a novel with footnotes, and plenty of them – but I would happily spend another 32 hours at least finding out what everyone’s been up to, right down to what Childermass had for breakfast yesterday. It bears mentioning that Jonathan Strange is my number one, my top book totty, the babeliest of all magicians and indeed all men the fictional world has to offer. He is sometimes a bit annoying, and most of the plot could have been resolved in moments if he ever paid any attention to his wife, but he is also really hot. I’m still slightly cross he wasn’t ginger in the TV series, but he is always ginger in my heart. This is one of my favourite books of all time. It is all narrated in third person as a deadpan, uncannily accurate pastiche of 18th century novels you probably read at school, with the elaborate detail and footnotes and occasional cameos from figures such as Wellington and Lord Byron making it convincing as a history. This same deadpan, bedtime story narrator voice makes the brief flashes of violence and horror all the more jarring; alongside the genteel society comedy of manners is a dark, veiled world of unpredictable magic and terrible consequences. Clarke also draws our attention to the oppressed of the society she depicts; the story is ostensibly about Messrs Strange and Norrell, but of the many subplots, one of the most significant and interesting is that of Stephen Black, butler to Lord Pole, black man in Regency era England, and, according to at least one fairy, the future king of England. The ferocity of Lady Pole’s rage is also something to behold; her entire life is centred around the whims of men, and she is REALLY ANGRY about it. I’ve started to realise how often I’m drawn to historical fiction for the rich, detailed sort of prose that often comes along with it, and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell fits the bill. I frankly love few books more than this one.

T IS FOR TREE by Greg Fowler – I received a copy of this book from Ink Road, so I could feature it for the blog tour – check out the post here!

Freshers-website-678x1024FRESHERS by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison – I completely adore everything Tom & Lucy write. This book is hilarious and true, and makes me nostalgic for a freshers experience I never even really had. You finish reading with the sense that you’ve just had a rollercoaster of a time with your best mates. I’m a bit disappointed that I won’t get to see them again next term. The relationships are as ever absolutely spot on – I love the awkward romances Tom and Lucy write, but also that it’s the highs and lows of the friendships that really get me invested. Friendship is VISCERAL and VITAL and A BIG TERRIBLE MESS. Also: you’ll laugh a lot, out loud, in public. Don’t be embarrassed – everyone who’s read this book has done the same thing, and you’re probably still less embarrassing than most of the characters.

A_Change_is_Gonna_ComeA CHANGE IS GONNA COME (Anthology) – It took me an embarrassingly long time to read this but I’m so glad I finally did! a change is gonna come is important & necessary in bringing together underrepresented voices in YA lit but it’s also actually, genuinely brilliant. such a staggering variety of stories that pretty much all made me cry for very different reasons. it’s difficult to pick favourites – there’s honestly not a bum note – but I particularly enjoyed Tanya Byrne’s HACKNEY MOON about queer identity, love, and finding your tribe, Nikesh Shukla’s WE WHO? about post-Brexit racism infecting years of friendship, Yasmin Rahman’s story of facing down Islamophobia and making friends along the way FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BOLD and Aisha Bushby’s intimate and heartbreaking MARIONETTE GIRL. That’s a full third of the book. I could go on. Thank goodness for the team at Stripes, who are changing the game with their publishing committed to levelling the playing field. Hopefully in the near future we won’t need anthologies like this, but if they’re all as good as A Change Is Gonna Come, we’ll keep publishing them anyway.

BLOG TOUR: T is for Tree by Greg Fowler

I’m excited about the work being done by Ink Road here in Edinburgh, and so I was delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour for one of their very first YA titles, T is for Tree. (If you don’t already subscribe to their mailing list, you definitely should – it’s always the highlight of my inbox! Check ’em out here.)

T is for Tree

Eddy knows he’s not like other teenagers. He doesn’t look like them. He doesn’t think like them. He doesn’t go to school or have friends like they do. Eddy’s not even allowed to leave his bedroom – except on shower day of course. He doesn’t know why; all Eddy knows is that he’s different.

Abandoned by his mother and kept locked away by his grandmother, Eddy must spend his life watching the world go by from his bedroom window. Until Reagan Crowe moves in next door and everything starts to change. She’s kind, funny, beautiful, and most importantly, she’s Eddy’s first friend. Over time, Reagan introduces Eddy to the strange and wonderful world outside his bedroom: maths, jam, love.

But growing up isn’t that simple for either of them. And Eddy has a secret. The tree that’s slowly creeping in through his window from the garden is no ordinary tree. But then again, Eddy’s no ordinary boy. He’s special…

Set over the course of five years, T is for Tree is moving, life-affirming, and shows that we can all find greatness in the small things.

As you all probably know, I’ve been struggling to read anything because of the Dreaded Dissertation, but guess what?! It’s done now and I am free! This was the first book I read as a free woman, and I’m glad to have had such an easy read to get back into the swing of things. Eddy’s life is laid out before the reader in short episodic chapters as we see him grow from isolated 12 year old to confident older teen, with the help of best friends Reagan and Mr Tree.

The cover is stunning: there’s Eddy and there’s Reagan, with the extraordinary tree bridging the gap between the two friends and allowing for the kind of communication Eddy went without for the first twelve years of his life. Inside the book, you’ll find some beautiful adages on life itself. My favourite character was Mrs Elsdon, a lonely old lady who takes the time out of her daily walk to talk to Eddy about love and death and everything in between; mourning her husband and her dog, she has little else to do, but a lot of wisdom to give.

This is a strange, fairytale-like story. The tree of the title is no ordinary tree, but instead becomes Eddy’s greatest support, helping him in many different ways on the twisted and difficult journey that is growing up. It’s the very definition of a force of nature, growing its way into the bedroom that Grandma Daisy keeps so tightly locked. The tree is Eddy’s saviour… but in the end, is it really Eddy who needs saving? Is he broken, after all?

I’ll let you decide. In the meantime, you can check out the rest of the blog tour – I’m the last stop, which means everybody else’s posts are out there, ready for you to enjoy.

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Thanks to Ink Road for sending me a copy of T is for Tree in exchange for an honest review!

YALC 2017 round-up

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YALC! It’s been over a week since the stalls were packed away, the last books were signed, and all the authors/publishers/bloggers/readers finally went home (maybe after a quick stop at the pub – the over-18s, anyway). As you probably know, I’m still in dissertation hell, and I’m blaming the lateness of this round-up post on that tragic state. That other summertime book bash starts on Saturday, so I thought I’d better cast a quick glance back over a wonderful weekend in July before I’m surrounded by excitable bookish folk all over again.

In no particular order, I present… a selection of my YALC 2017 highlights.

NON PRATT SHOCKS CUMBERBATCH

Probably the most iconic moment of YALC’s four years and certainly the most iconic moment to which I have ever borne witness… it’s gotta be Benedict Cumberbatch walking in on Non Pratt’s head shave. Already an intensely surreal moment, I’m not sure if Sherlock himself’s sudden appearance made it more or less weird. I really can’t explain the atmosphere if you weren’t in the room where it happened. It was truly incredible. And Non has raised almost £3000 for the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability! You can still donate if you feel so inclined.

DANCE CLASS IS IN SESSION

In honour of The Dark Days Club (which is an utter delight, and you should read it) the excellent Alison Goodman, my esteemed QuizYA captain, ran a Regency dancing class which somehow I got roped into. (By somehow, I mean I was physically dragged by Lauren James.) You can never quite predict what’s going to happen at YALC, but I was not expecting to do-si-do Walker’s Emily McD! Despite my initial reluctance, I had a lot of fun. Though it got rather warm with all that skipping. …you guys, YALC is weird.

PANELS!

I was having so much fun wandering around that I nearly forgot about sitting down and listening to smart book people chatting smart book things. I did attend the Life Advice panel (fabulous agony aunting from all involved, and how could you ignore advice from the rightfully crowned Sara Barnard?), the Fandom panel (brilliant chairing from Lucy Saxon – I will never forget the November Rain story!), and the FLAWLESS “We Love Buffy” panel, where it was lovely to see authors I admire geeking out and being their fantastically fannish selves about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I also saw the Tricky Second Book panel, and I have to say that Cat Doyle might be my favourite panel chair of all the panel chairs? Don’t tell the others I said that, though. Lauren James was an excellent chair, also, and I loved the support on the Unconventional Romance panel for love triangles – a much maligned trope!

PALS!

Of course, what makes YALC so lovely is the community, and I met more cool people than I can possibly hope to list. It was great to see the #SundayYA crew (and be recognised as SundayYA Sarah) and lots of other Twitter pals.

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I met #ChangeBook star Aisha Bushby! We took about 12 pics trying to achieve perfection!

I was finally in a #jimsprofile picture, to my joy! I also bumped into lots of Edinburgh buddies (shout out to Kirstin for putting up with me aaall weekend, and to Justine of I Should Read That for much the same) as well as catching up with pals from south of the border. We initiated Clare into the YALC fun, and I thiiink she’ll come back next year! One of us, one of us! Last but IN NO WAY least, I finally met Moïra Fowley-Doyle, one of my writing heroes and also general subject of my admiration, and not only was I not completely weird and awkward about it, she actually knew who I was!

GETTING QUIZZICAL

QuizYA was a highlight from… what I remember… Let’s just say the free wine was flowing, and everybody seemed to be drinking white but me. My tweets and messages to my friends document that I was having a COMPLETELY LOVELY TIME, and they’re all perfectly spelt, so… MOVING ON.

GETTING GALACTIC

YALC marked the early release of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. Actual conversation between me and Lauren James on the train to London on Friday: (may be paraphrased because, c’mon, I’ve slept since then)

LJ: *gestures at Twitter* look, it says it’s selling like hot cakes!
me: that’s good!!!
LJ: what if it sells out?
me: calm down
LJ: LIKE HOT CAKES, SARAH

Friends, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe sold out in two hours. It sold out when we were in, like, Leighton Buzzard. (Probably? idk, I used to be Very Into the London Midland line.) All of YALC was abuzz over this little book about Captain Romy Silvers, alone in space, and I am SO PROUD of Lauren (and of Romy). Space is where it’s at. I had the best time getting galactic with Walker, and there are even pics to prove it! And I did finally get my finished copy of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, happily. Signed and everything.

HOW TO GET INTO PUBLISHING

I wasn’t going to go to Publishing 102, despite wanting a career in publishing, because a) I went last year and b) I am just finishing up an entire MSc in publishing, what could they possibly cover in 45 minutes that I hadn’t heard before? But then I was free on Sunday, so I wandered over to the Agents Arena and heard some great advice – internships aren’t everything, be good at the boring stuff, you probably have to move to London (BOO) – but also THE GREATEST INTERVIEW HORROR STORY EVER courtesy of brilliant agent Louise Lamont. Her top tip for publishing hopefuls? Don’t kill a living creature during your interview. Publishing: not a career for the faint-hearted.

That was my YALC 2017! Being among friends and books for a whole weekend healed my dissertation-stricken soul. I already can’t wait for July 2018.

What I Read in June

Well, it’s been yet another sluggish reading month. To be fair, I am deep in dissertation hell now, but also I completed Pokémon Moon yesterday, so at least part of the problem is about how I’m choosing to spend my free time.

BY THE WAY! If you’d like to help me with my dissertation, which obviously you would, you can! If you work in a public library, or publishing, or you’re a published author, or you like to go down the pub (okay, not the last one, but hey if you’re in Edinburgh…) you would do me a tremendous favour if you filled out this survey: Click here

Moving swiftly on to books I’ve read this month, then.

31683270BONE GAP by Laura Ruby – This had been on my radar for a long time, and I was pleased when Faber picked it up in the UK. Not pleased enough to get round to reading it, though, obviously. Finally I saw it in the library a few weeks ago, and thought, “Why not here? Why not now?” Bone Gap is a strange, dusty town in America where everyone knows everyone’s business, though business is often a little odder than you might be accustomed to. Finn and Sean are missing Roza, the beautiful stranger who brought nourishment back into their lives after their mother left them for a new life of her own. Finn saw her being kidnapped, but no one will believe him. He doesn’t know where she is – and neither does she. Offbeat and lovely, this book is fantastic in every sense. Bone Gap is a small town full of quirky characters and full of a sense of strangeness. Reality is hushed by the waving corn. The plot is clever, the atmosphere skewed somewhere between a sleeping nightmare and a living one. The situations the characters find themselves in are the stuff of fantasy, but the magic intrudes on lives that are real – especially when depicting the violence we do each other, physical or not.

9781408866627THE PEARL THIEF by Elizabeth Wein – Readers might be familiar with the indefatigable Julia Beaufort-Stuart from Wein’s (deservedly) beloved Code Name Verity. Here we find her fifteen years old, already yearning for adventure, and in the middle of selling off her recently deceased grandfather’s estate. It doesn’t take her long to get into trouble even on home turf, but when she wakes up in hospital after a bang on the head, she is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Who attacked her and why? And is the other developing missing person case actually a murder case? The atmospheric setting and compelling mystery are propelled along by a charming main character. Code Name Verity is stuck in my heart, and knowing what’s ahead of Queenie and what’s behind her gives both books an extra layer of bittersweet beauty. There’s plenty to enjoy besides the adventure of the stolen pearls; the prejudice faced by the “tinkers” is a significant plot point, which I found particularly interesting as I’ve not encountered many Travellers in fiction. I also loved the gentle exploration of Julie’s burgeoning sexuality, which she approaches with the same curiosity and sense of play as she does the rest of the world.  The twisty plot wasn’t too predictable, and the whole book is suffused with the nostalgic ache of the last of the summer holidays.

9781408855652HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE by J.K. Rowling – I’ve reread Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire fairly recently, and I’m listening to Order of the Phoenix at the moment, but I haven’t read this book for at least six or seven years. It’s markedly less complex as the later books, so I expected to be bored, but it’s charming and supremely readable. The series develops in maturity so organically along with Harry, one of the iconic protagonists of children’s literature. I got quite upset about his treatment at the hands of the Dursleys, which is a little ridiculous because in this book at least, they are so cartoonishly awful. The level of abuse is parodic, but having grown up alongside him, Harry is just psychologically and emotionally very real to me. Other stray thoughts: It’s striking how little Dumbledore features in this book. Hermione’s character development is rapid – perhaps too rapid – and as always when I read these books, I wonder how different everything would be if she had a female friend. There’s a weird recurring anti-library motif: Harry doesn’t get post, not even rude letters from the library asking him to return books, Madam Pince is not at all helpful, Ollivander’s is like a strict sort of library… ALSO sending 11 year olds into the Forbidden Forest for detention will never not be a bad idea, McGonagall’s the boss, the Norbert subplot is pointless, and there’s way too much aimless wandering the castle at night. Overall though, I adore these characters, this world, and this book.