Category Archives: Romance

Billy Button, Telegram Boy

Billy Button is a Little Gem in more ways than one. Sally Nicholls has written the loveliest little tale about young Billy who yearns to be a telegram boy. Except he’s too young, and a bit on the small side.

But he’s got a big heart and quite a lot of initiative, and when Billy does something, it turns out well in the end. And that’s what we want.

Sally Nicholls and Sheena Dempsey, Billy Button - Telegram Boy

Set in the past when we had village shops with post offices as well as telegrams and telegram boys, this is a sweet and slow story about the Button family and angry old Mr Grundle.

Luckily – for both Billy and Mr Grundle – the regular telegram boy falls out of a tree, so Billy has to step in and take his place. And where would Mr Grundle be if that hadn’t happened?

As everyone would agree, some rules are there to be broken. Whether you are old enough to be telegram boy, or whether you are allowed to, well, read other people’s telegrams…

It’s a bit Miss Marple-ish, minus the murder.

(Sweet little illustrations by Sheena Dempsey.)

Broken Sky

This is the kind of novel you simply read and read until you get to the end. L A Weatherly’s Broken Sky (with the subtitle Trust No One, which you should keep in mind at all times) is a futuristic historical sort of WWII story.

It’s 1941 in a new world, one long after our 1941, but with a lot in common with the real WWII period. Our world was destroyed in one too many wars, and now they have Peace. War is not permitted. But to keep some kind of balance, fighter pilots fight one-on-one to determine which country gets what and when.

L A Weatherly, Broken Sky

Amity is such a pilot, 18 years old, and based near what used to be Los Angeles. The country next to her Western Seaboard, is Central States and they have a leader who reminds me very much of a certain presidential hopeful. He is just as scary, too, and there is a female character rather like the two-faced woman in a recent Danish television series.

I like the way we now have girl pilots as main characters in books, and how there can be an alternate WWII, allowing the writer to change reality a little, while still keeping much of what we are used to.

Under the surface things are not as neat and clean as people have been led to believe, however. The reader discovers this from the start, as Lee begins with almost the end, and you know how bad it will be. Just not how it got like that.

It’s exciting, romantic and simply a marvellous read.

‘Trust no one’ is what you need to keep in mind. And you think, ‘yes, but…’ and I suspect we shouldn’t do that. Unless there is lots of double and triple bluffing going on. Which there could be. Perhaps.

There is one thing wrong with Broken Sky, and it’s that there are two sequels still to come. I want all of it now!

Chasing the Stars

Othello in space. We don’t get anywhere near enough YA books set in real proper ‘old-fashioned’ space. Malorie Blackman’s version of Othello shares much with the science fiction I used to read when I was a young adult.

Set in the future, twins Olivia and Aidan are alone on a spaceship after everyone else has died. Both are very competent technically speaking, but perhaps less so socially, which is not surprising seeing as they have only had each other for company for three years.

Malorie Blackman, Chasing the Stars

Olivia is Othello, so you have to try and look at the story the other way round. The siblings rescue a group of people off a planet (moon?) and things on board the ship soon change, both for the better, but mainly for the worse.

Think murder and back-stabbings, and as with any Shakespeare there is more than one problem for this group to deal with. The twins are 18, but still pretty young and inexperienced and all the new problems soon become too much.

As I said the other day, I don’t know Othello, and I kept trying to think Desdemona (easy) and Iago (harder), and then I gave up. You can read this simply for what it is; a newly written futuristic space drama.

But you know, you could ask yourself what happened to the ship’s original crew. And who is the bad guy on board now? Also, will it end precisely as Othello did, or is there any hope of happiness?

2016 Yay! YA+

Cumbernauld Theatre

I swear I didn’t enter Cumbernauld Theatre yesterday morning, uttering the words ‘do you know who I am?’ I merely wondered if they needed to know who I am. You know, similar question.

(I suppose I should be grateful I arrived at all. The Resident IT Consultant was to give me a lift. What he’d omitted to consider was the amount of diesel a pumpkin likes to have in order to go all the way to Cumbernauld. It did. It even got him to the nearest petrol station after, so he could drive home.)

It’s interesting how the meaning of the term YA keeps slipping and sliding. Yesterday I suspected that what it meant was that the books were by young adults, and not just for them. In my mind I categorised the authors present as the teenagers, the debutantes (I know), the old hands (those with three published books) and the grand ‘old’ lady (sorry..!). Kirkland Ciccone had done his best to find authors I’d never heard of before.

Scotia Books at Yay!YA

And when Googling Kelpies Prize winner Alex McCall it is well nigh impossible to find anything that doesn’t suggest he’s an older man who has a lady detective in Botswana, but no, it’s not that one. The other Alex (Nye) also has a prestigious award under her belt, the Royal Mail Award. And organiser Kirkland won the Catalyst prize. Elizabeth Wein has won a number of awards, including the very valuable Bookwitch second best book ever.

Code Name Verity

I’m glad that’s the novel Elizabeth chose to talk about in her session in the bar. Not just because it’s such a favourite, but because I’d not heard her in an event about Code Name Verity before. She read a bit, down in her ‘cave,’ and then she showed the children her silk map, and mentioned that one author who inspires her is Hilary McKay. (Such a wise choice!)

Elizabeth Wein

If you’re wondering why the others have not won prizes, it’s because Victoria Gemmell and Martin Stewart have only just got their first books out (Martin’s not actually officially out, even), and Estelle Maskame is only 18. Not that that should stop anyone.

Estelle Maskame

Estelle was in one of the other bars, where she read the first chapter of what I will probably always call DIMLY, when it should be DIMILY, Did I Mention I Love You? She’s one of these online wonders with millions of hits who has gone on to be published ‘properly.’ Estelle began writing her first book (it’s a trilogy) when she was 13… It’s apparently very popular, and I can sort of see that I’d have liked it when I was 14. And as for becoming a role model for pupils barely younger than herself, I can see how that works.

Martin Stewart

In the third bar was Martin Stewart, more or less stuffed in a fireplace, who also read from his book, Riverkeep. It’s based on the Glasgow Humane Society, which seems to be about fishing people out of the river Clyde; either dead or alive. Martin is a former teacher, who gave up teaching when he was offered a book contract on the basis of a short story he’d written.

Kirkland Ciccone

That was my afternoon in three bars. The morning was spent in the theatre itself where Kirkland introduced Alex Nye, before ‘exiting’ – by that I mean standing just behind the rows of seats – and allowing himself to be interviewed very loudly, drowning out poor Alex and making the audience laugh.

Alex did much the same talk as she did in Dunblane in November, and I think it’s a good one, which works well for a secondary school audience. This time her spooky sound effects worked fine and added a certain something to her ghostly readings. I especially like her 007 and M photograph from Glencoe.

Alex Nye

This ‘failed’ waitress who still hasn’t got the red sports car she craves, got lots of good questions from the children, so now we know she writes accompanied by Kate Bush, and that she admires Marcus Sedgwick (that rather explains the spookiness). Her next book about Mary Queen of Scots will be out in July.

Then Kirkland himself took over and basically did half an hour of stand-up comedy, that no author in their right mind would want to appear after. Luckily there was no one else after the exploding houses of Cumbernauld or Kirkie’s older brother the Tesco robber. He did mention Meg & Mog and Winnie the Pooh, but only to follow with Stephen King and some seriously bad book covers.

He wore his leopard jacket again, and teamed it with failed black hair. Apparently he had been aiming for blue.

Kirkland Ciccone, Victoria Gemmell, Alex McCall, Elizabeth Wein, Martin Stewart

Lunch was nice, with lots of things I’d have liked to eat but couldn’t. Luckily the others made up for this, and Alex Nye did some heroic work on the macaroons. Victoria Gemmell had handbag trouble and spent quite some time jamming an enormous pair of scissors into the zip. I’m not sure if that helped. Kirkie said she ought to give me a copy of her book, but unfortunately Follow Me sold so well that it was decided she shouldn’t. (I gave Victoria my card.)

If you are thinking I’ve not reported on either her or Alex ‘not-Botswana’ McCall, you are correct. Kirkie stashed them down in the changing rooms, and whereas they both returned reassuringly unchanged, I vowed last year not to go down there again. (And after hearing one of the ushers telling me and Alex Nye about their resident ghosts, I feel less inclined still. Alex, on the other hand, looked ready to come back to investigate.)

Alex McCall

I had a little look at not-Botswana Alex’s award winning book Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, as I’d understood it to be for much younger readers, but if that is the case, I have to consider myself younger. It looked quite promising. And I’d have loved to hear Alex speak. He still looked as young as he is (that makes sense, doesn’t it?), but seemed nice. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

Kirkland Ciccone

There was a sort of book signing at the end. Some of the small venues overran, and some schools had had to leave to get back on time, but there was still a throng of fans in the queue. I decided I was in the way, so escaped into the car park where I was recognised as ‘the witch from last year’ before my newly fed transport arrived for the second time in one day.

Elizabeth Wein

Book of Lies

Teri Terry, Book of Lies

The end is rather disturbing to my mind. But then, the Resident IT Consultant is always saying twins are trouble. Teri Terry’s Book of Lies features a pair of twins as the main characters. Twins who have not met before the first chapter of the book, when they are 17. And after that there is plenty of trouble.

Quinn and Piper were separated soon after birth, and the odd thing is that Piper was brought up by their mum in Winchester, while Quinn lived with her witch of a gran on Dartmoor. They look exactly the same, and they have shared experiences from when they grew up, even if it was separately.

Now, their mum has died in an accident and their gran has had a stroke and is in hospital. So they meet, and… well, let’s say that one of them is much nicer than the other. Apparently they were separated because gran the witch knew one of them was trouble and she was trying to save the situation somehow. But who is the dark twin?

There is a nice dad, and Piper has a lovely boyfriend, Zak, who is too good to be true. Too mature, anyway.

Each girl wants to sample the life her sister has lived, and there is a fair bit of upset over this. There is an inheritance, which one of them wants more than anything. Inevitably they all end up on the dark moors, far from everywhere else, with no electricity and ‘hounds’ hunting at night.

Very atmospheric and quite alarming. You sort of wonder how this could ever be right, and how it will end. Not as you think it will, is the answer. Nor the other way.

Exciting and scary, and plenty of witchcraft to satisfy.

Chosen

It’s International Women’s Day, so what more suitable book to review than Lucy Coats’s second novel about the young Cleopatra? Here we have a young woman who knows what she has to do, regardless of whether she believes she can, or what other people will think. She does her duty.

Lucy Coats, Chosen

Having been left hanging at the end of book one, you could only hope it would work out and that the characters would stay and survive. They do. Mostly.

Don’t misunderstand me; Chosen is both violent and bloody. Presumably that’s what life was like back then (although today’s not much better), and being chosen as a future Queen didn’t mean a smooth life, full of riches and comfort.

Cleo has a lot of travelling to do. At times it feels as if she does nothing but traipse back and forth in Egypt, whether by boat or through the desert, occasionally on a rather opininated camel. Having been chosen by the Goddess Isis doesn’t make for easy companionship with the others. Cleo stands out; she is different.

But I’ll say this for her, she really has some great people to help her with the task of uniting Egypt, and getting rid of her half-sister and finding her father, the disappeared Pharaoh. Personally I am quite partial to Captain Nail, although I can see that younger readers will have more interest in the gorgeous Khai, or the infamous Marcus Antonius. Lots of romantic scope.

There is more love among the supporting characters, and you really come to like them. I wouldn’t mind having a pair of diligent bodyguard soldiers like Cleo’s.

The future Pharaoh has her job cut out gathering enough soldiers to take on her sister and her supporters. When her camel days are over, Cleo needs to get to Rome to persuade her father to return to Egypt.

What this book does, apart from entertain and thrill, is teach you about Egypt and to some extent Rome. No amount of reading history books at school can make up for what’s in Lucy’s two novels about Cleo. It might not all be true or authentic (after all, how could anyone know for certain?), but it sets the scene so well, and learning through fiction for fun means you want to know, and you want to remember it. For yourself, and not for an exam.

Enjoy!

Shadow Scale

I know, I know. I said that Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina was a standalone, and better for it. I was so wrong. Here is the sequel, Shadow Scale, and it is at least as marvellous, if not better. Whereas the reader won’t have that delicious sense of surprise that they ought to have got from Seraphina, here you have the satisfaction of finding out why we met certain characters in the first book.

Rachel Hartman, Shadow Scale

I mentioned some imaginary people. Hah. Now that Glisselda is Queen and she is betrothed to Prince Lucian, they ask Seraphina to help against the looming war with, well, I think some, but not all the other countries. It’s not as simple as dragons versus humans. Seraphina is half dragon and half human, and so are quite a few others. Those ‘imaginary’ characters, for instance.

It is believed that the ityasaari, as the half and halfs are called, have special skills, and need to be gathered in one place, so that they can do what is necessary to save the country of Goredd. Seraphina is sent out to the rest of the world to find them and bring them back.

Not all ityasaari want to be collected or to help, and there is a Judas figure, who uses all her skills to thwart Seraphina and the royal couple. If you forget that the dragons are dragons, and the ityasaari are ityasaari, you find instead the same kind of differences we have here on Earth, in our world. There is prejudice and there is coexistence, and none of the ityasaari is the same as another.

As is often the case, it was a bit hard to get back into the swing of things; remembering who’s who, and all that. Shadow Scale comes with the best ever quick summary of what has happened that I have seen in a novel. (Thank you!)

Very, very exciting, and there are some beautiful friendships, as well as more romance, and not exactly as you would have expected, either.