Saturday, 10 February 2018

#SVHReadalong - Playing with Fire

Oh, this book promises so much and delivers so little, and the John Barrowman/Timothy Dalton interpretation of Bruce in the cover art is possibly the highlight of this whole volume.  Admittedly, the Jessica/Bruce storyline is interesting to start with (and I remember thinking the bikini scene was red-hot when I first read these books in the 90s), but as an adult Jessica's compliance to Bruce's manipulation makes for uncomfortable reading.

The B plot follows Jessica encouraging Robin Wilson (who we are repeatedly told is fat) to steal a test paper and post it in Emily's locker so that Emily, distracted by a music mogul in red leather trousers who's going to turn The Droids into the biggest band ever, can pass the test.  This is important because Jessica plans to cheat off her, but the plan backfires when Mr Russo changes the test at the last minute. 

The fat-shaming makes this a difficult read for me personally and although I enjoyed the scene when Bruce ends up with egg (or should that be pizza?) on his face at Guido's, the overtly cruel behaviour of so many of the characters left me feeling very uncomfortable.

Have you read Playing with Fire?  If so, what were your thoughts?


Saturday, 3 February 2018

January 2018 in brief

I've been reading...
Double Love (Sweet Valley High)
Secrets (Sweet Valley High)
Playing with Fire (Sweet Valley High)
Power Play (Sweet Valley High)
Emma Ever After - Brigid Coady
One Day in December - Josie Silver
Christmas in St Ives - Miranda Dickinson
Some Kind of Wonderful - Giovanna Fletcher

I'll be blogging about Playing with Fire and Power Play soon for the #SVHReadalong, but I've also really enjoyed the women's fiction I've read this month. 

Emma Ever After is a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen's Emma set against the backdrop of the music industry.  It's sassy and witty and a must for anyone interested in the part the media plays in celebrity and stardom.

One Day in December isn't due out until later in the year, but I was fortunate to receive an early copy.  It's already drawn comparisons to David Nicholls' One Day and Richard Curtis' rom-com films, and I can see why; and don't let the title fool you - whilst there's plenty of Christmas in it, this is a book that could be enjoyed at any time of year.  A bittersweet tale told with warmth and humour, I have a feeling this is going to be huge.

Christmas in St Ives is a prequel to Miranda Dickinson's forthcoming novel Somewhere Beyond the Sea.  I loved the introduction to these characters and as it used multiple viewpoints I finished feeling as though I'd made a whole new group of friends.  As a big fan of Miranda's work I can't wait to follow their stories.

Some Kind of Wonderful is the latest offering from Giovanna Fletcher and centres around Lizzie, a woman looking to find herself following the break up of her long-term relationship.  This was a slow-burner of a book for me which meant it took a while for me to feel involved with the characters, but I loved the idea of Lizzie rediscovering what makes her tick.

Music I've been listening to...
Bastille and Frank Turner, as always.  They're mainstays in my playlist, especially when I'm writing. 

Frank announced his new album, Be More Kind, which will be released on May 4th; and 1933, which had already become a fan favourite from the live dates, is available to download now so I've been playing that over the last few days.  It's very much in keeping with some of Frank's earlier work - angry, lyrical and with a firm nod to punk.  I can't wait for the rest of the album.

I've also been hooked on All I Have, the first track released from Charlie Barnes' forthcoming album Oceanography.  Melancholic melodies matched with wistful lyrics make for a stirring and emotional track about ambition, which particularly resonates with me as a person trying to make a living/career in the arts.

Podcasts I've been listening to...
The Debrief  (I always listen to The Debrief - Tessa and Stevie make me laugh)
The High Low (the perfect mix of pop culture and hard-hitting news stories)
Sweet Teen Club (Nineties nostalgia)
Double Love (Sardonic and amusing take on the Sweet Valley High books)
Quickly Kevin, will he Score? (Josh Widdicombe and friends talking all things nineties football)
Sweet Valley Why? (More mocking of SVH's failings)

I've been watching...
Coronation Street (Can the Phelan storyline wind up soon please?)
The Greatest Showman (Twice.  Musicals + Circus + Hugh Jackman + Zac Efron =PERFECT)
Lovesick (Binge-watched this Netflix series about love, friendship and STDs)
Transformation Street (A fascinating documentary series about people undergoing gender reassignment surgery, which featured one of my favourite authors, Juno Dawson)
A House through Time (Brilliant documentary series following the history of a Liverpool town house and the people who've lived there from the 1840s to the present day)
Girlfriends (I had high hopes for this Kay Mellor series, but I've given up on it - it just didn't have me gripped)
Love It or List It (Because I have big dreams of Phil and Kirstie making my house over)
Dancing on Ice (I know, I know.  But the outfits!  The kitsch!)
First Dates Hotel (I prefer the First Dates restaurant, but a bit of sunshine on my telly is more than welcome in gloomy January)

Places I've been...
... Manchester for the day, as Zachary was keen to go to the National Football Museum.  It's free to enter, although there are additional optional activities which incur a charge, including an opportunity to try commentating on a famous Match of the Day clip. 

... the cinema twice to see The Greatest Showman, Jump trampoline park, and watching Sheffield United's 4th round FA Cup match at Bramall Lane.  I also visited The Treehouse Board Game Café, a great little café with an extensive array of games - I'm now an expert at Dominion (could have been beginners luck)!

I've been writing...
the first draft of the second book in the trilogy I'm working on, and finishing the structural edits for the first book in the series - my agent thinks it's almost ready to go out on submission now, which is exciting and petrifying!

What exciting stuff have you been up to in January?  Any recommendations for music I must listen to or programmes I need to watch?

Saturday, 13 January 2018

#SVHReadalong - Secrets

I was really excited to get stuck into the second Sweet Valley High book, Secrets, because it's one of the books that springs to mind when I think of the series.  The cover is one of my personal favourites, showing Jessica gossiping on a bubble-gum pink telephone as Elizabeth watches on aghast, even though this doesn't represent the story inside at all.

*Spoilers ahead*

Secrets follows on immediately after Double Love, with the main plotline focussing on Elizabeth's best friend Enid's dark, rebellious past.  Enid, who is in a relationship with possessive Ronnie Edwards, has been secretly writing to her old friend George Warren, a former joy-riding drug-using delinquent (there's talk of them using bennies.  In my youthful innocence I never used to know what they were referring to - it's actually benzadrine, a pharmaceutical that contains amphetamine).  When Enid shares this with Elizabeth, and accidentally leaves a letter in her friend's bedroom, it is found by conniving twin Jessica who uses the information to wreck Enid's relationship with an angry Ronnie who takes Enid to secluded Miller's Point to have it out with her.  Enid believes it is Elizabeth who has betrayed her trust.

Jessica is keen to be taken to the upcoming fall dance by Bruce Patman so she can be crowned queen, but when she finds out he's taking a nineteen year old, she pounces on newly-single Ronnie.  The story ends with Enid discovering the truth about who revealed her secret although, as George Warren turns up on her doorstep as she's about to go to the dance solo, reformed and handsome, she is thankful that things turned out the way they did.  Elizabeth's revenge on Jessica is to fix it so Jessica gets her dream of being queen of the fall dance, but paired with nerdy Winston Egbert as king.

The subplot is based around an unsubstantiated rumour that 'young and pretty' French teacher Ms. Dalton (who is dating Lila Fowler's father) is in a relationship with Ken Matthews.  Ms. Dalton takes leave from teaching as a result of the rumour and considers resigning, but Mr Collins - 'resident hunk' and adviser on the school paper The Oracle - stands up for Ms. Dalton.  When she returns to work, turning up at the dance, she ends up dancing with him.  As a teen I remember loving Mr. Collins with his Robert Redford looks and crinkly blue eyes SO MUCH.  Swoon.

Joyous mentions in this book - Jessica's bronze, wet-look swimsuit, the first references of the series for both Jessica's 'Hershey Bar' bedroom and The Droids - the best band at SVH.

Overall, although this book has a better structure than Double Love, I didn't like it as much, partly because I really, really don't like Ronnie (I understand his trust issues stem from his parents divorce, but still...he's possessive and manipulative and really creepy).

If you want to join in with the Sweet Valley High Readalong, share your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #SVHReadalong.  Next up is the third book in the series, Playing with Fire.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

#SVHReadalong - Double Love

The time has come - 2018 is the year I'm rereading the Sweet Valley High books!

This series of books is hugely important to me.  Although I was a voracious reader prior to discovering Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield (with mainly Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl satiating my appetite), once I started the Sweet Valley books I was a goner.  I don't even remember how I first came across them, because I thought it was through my slightly-older cousin, but she says she got into them through me.  One thing I am sure of is that I was reading both the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books by the time I was eleven and was still reading them when I was fifteen.  Mostly I bought second hand copies from charity shops and car boot sales, but any money I had for birthdays or Christmases went on these books.  I also spent a lot of my summer holidays hiding in a corner of Monmouth's WHSmiths craftily reading any instalment I'd missed out on.

The books were addictive, and combined the two major interests of pre-teen me - books and soap operas.  Essentially, Sweet Valley was Erinsborough and Summer Bay rolled into one, but in America instead of Australia, and the plotlines of the books made anything Scott, Charlene and Henry got up to look positively tame. 

When I left home and decluttered my bedroom, I passed my Sweet Valley collection back to the charity shops they'd originally come from.  What an idiotic move!  Now I'm not only having to recollect them all, but some of the copies I'm ending up with have ghastly updated TV tie-in covers (bleurgh).

There's a lot of nostalgia for these books, as I've found through listening to podcasts such as Double Love, Sweet Valley Why, Sweet Valley Diaries, Sweet Valley Online and Sweet Teen Club.   There's also oodles of love for them on Twitter, which is why I've started the #SVHReadalong hashtag for anyone who wants to join in and reread the series alongside me.

*Spoilers ahead*

The first book, Double Love, introduces the dazzlingly beautiful Wakefield twins in all their blonde, blue-green eyed glory.  Perfectly identical in looks but for one mole and the fact Jessica never wears a watch (although the illustrators and casting directors seem to miss the 'perfectly identical' thing - they're easily distinguishable in every visual representation), their personalities couldn't be more different.  Elizabeth is studious and sensible whereas Jessica is flighty and part of the cool crowd, although their behaviour in this and future books proves neither of them have enviable personalities/characters.

In brief, Double Love is about Jessica trying to get with hunky star of the school basketball team Todd Wilkins, the only boy Elizabeth likes.  The book sets the path for the series as a whole - Jessica, shocked that Todd ignores her advances, gets in a car with the first male to show her any attention - dangerous, tattooed drop-out Rick Andover.  He takes her to Kelly's, the underage drinking joint, and when they get busted and a cop mistakes Jessica for Liz, Jessica doesn't correct him.  Elizabeth is cast out by many of her peers who are horrified by her behaviour, including Todd (judgemental, much?)  When, under duress, Jessica admits to Todd it was her at Kelly's he thinks she's taking the flack for her twin and rather than transfer his disgust towards Jessica, he kisses her and invites her to the Phi Epsilon dance.  Returning Jessica home after the dance, Todd doesn't make a move on her, so when Liz asks about her twin's night Jessica, humiliated at being rejected, says Todd has 'tried just about everything'.  Liz doubts her own judgement of Todd.  Only after the dance (which Liz attends with nerdy, fat-phobic geek/clown Winston Egbert) does the truth come out.  Rick forces his way into the twins' Fiat Spider, driving them to his favourite haunt Kelly's.  Todd chases in his Datsun, and punches Rick in the bar's parking lot.  Jessica's lies unravel as she says she never wants to see Kelly's again, which leads Todd to realise Liz really is the one for him and Liz to discover the boy of her dreams isn't a date rapist.  Todd and Liz then hatch an elaborate plan for revenge for Jessica to be mistaken for Liz, which ends up with Jessica being thrown in a pool.

Subplots aplenty linger in the background - is the twins' handsome dad Ned having an affair with beautiful colleague Marianna West?  Is their brother Steve dating Sweet Valley's resident drug-user Betsy Martin?  Who'll win in the battle of the richest between the Patmans and the Fowlers, who both want the school's football field for their own?  And what is nerdy Enid Rollins' hiding from her new boyfriend Ronnie?

It's a problematic read - every 'ism' under the sun is perfectly acceptable in sunny Sweet Valley, as is making wild, untrue accusations with very little comeuppance - which shows how far YA literature has come in the thirty-four years since this book was first published, however, I still enjoyed it for what it was and there are some hilarious descriptions and turns of phrase (my favourite probably being Elizabeth describing herself as a 'world-class marshmallow').

I probably read this book more than any other in the series as a teen and only now with the aid of Google do I know what louvered doors, Fiat Spider convertibles and princess phones are.  Who knew? 

If you'd like to join in with the Readalong, I'll be reading #2 in the series Secrets between 8th-14th January 2018, #3 Playing with Fire between 15th-21st January 2018 and #4 Power Play between 22nd-28th January 2018.  Use the hashtag #SVHReadalong on Twitter to share your thoughts, quotes and memories of when you first read the books!

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 in Review

On the final day of 2017 I'm going to shout about some of the things that have brought me joy over the past twelve months. 

Personally, I had a pretty great year, and I'm hugely thankful to end the year in remission from Crohn's Disease.  Good health allowed me to have a productive writing year, with the publication of 'The Café in Fir Tree Park' in May and 'Joe and Clara's Christmas Countdown' in October.  I gained a friend and agent in Julia Silk in June and drafted the first book in a series, which I'm currently in the process of editing - it's due to go out on submission to publishers in early 2018.  I became a vegan.  I walked a lot.  I spent quality time with family and friends.

As a fan of live music I saw (amongst others) old favourites (Take That, Frank Turner) and little-known gems (Charlie Barnes, Felix Hagan and the Family); world-wide megastars (Blondie, Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles) and hot new talent (Declan McKenna).  I also listened to a lot of Blossoms, Bastille and Man Made this year and would love to see them live during 2018.

I enjoyed fabulous musical theatre, seeing 'The Girls' in London and touring productions of 'Rent', 'Grease', 'The Addams Family' and 'The Band' and am looking forward to more toe-tapping in theatres around the country in 2018.

Although I read less this year than usual, what I did read was incredibly satisfying.  I loved heart-warming stories of friendship and community from Kat French (The Bed and Breakfast on the Beach) and Cressida McLaughlin (The Once in a Blue Moon Guesthouse), and a chilling thriller (Then She Was Gone) from Lisa Jewell.  Top notch non-fiction came in the form of Johnny Marr's autobiography 'Set the Boy Free', surprise bestseller 'The Secret Lives of Colour' by Kassia St.Clair and Daniel Gray's love letter to football 'Saturday, 3pm'; and humour via Mary Jayne Baker's 'Meet Me at the Lighthouse', and Keris Stainton's 'If You Could See Me Now'.  'Radio Silence' (Alice Oseman), 'So This is Permanence' (Ian Curtis), 'Everywoman' (Jess Phillips), 'The State of Grace' (Rachael Lucas), 'Moxie' (Jennifer Mathieu), 'All That She Can See' (Carrie Hope Fletcher) and 'My Not-So Perfect Life' (Sophie Kinsella) were my other favourite reads.  I also fell completely back in love with the Sweet Valley books I adored in my teens, and looked forward to Fridays when my copy of trade magazine 'The Bookseller' arrived.

I discovered podcasts, devouring every episode of The Debrief, Hey, It's OK, Happy Mum, Happy Baby and Get It Off Your Breasts alongside any Sweet Valley themed podcast I could download.

Pleasure came in many other forms, too.  Sleepy cream from Lush.  Fluffy slipper socks.  Cake at Steel City Cakes on Sheffield's Abbeydale Road.  Crate digging at Spinning Discs record shop.  Meeting with a friend to watch favourite Disney films.  Booja Booja ice cream (and Booja Booja chocolate). 

Thank you, 2017.  Thank you.

I'd love to hear about the things you've loved in 2017 - tweet me @katey5678 or comment below!

Friday, 13 October 2017

When I Grow Up...

I'm a dreamer, always have been.  Since childhood I've had wild fantasies about dabbling in all kinds of different professions.

In (roughly) age order I've wanted to be...

A nurse
A writer (because I wanted to be like Enid Blyton)
An artist
A ballet dancer
Kylie Minogue
A librarian
An Olympic gymnast
A writer (again, because I wanted to be like Judy Blume)
A Red Coat at Butlins
A journalist
An actress
A nurse (again - I actually applied to do a nursing degree at this point)
A teacher
Manager of a nursery
A librarian (again - and I did get a job promoting library services to under 5s)
A burlesque performer
A professional book reviewer
A writer (again, because I wanted to write a Christmas book)

My mum has never been the pushy type but she's always encouraged me to strive to reach my goals.  Sure, being Kylie was never likely, but she still put up with me perfecting the dance moves to 'The Locomotion' and when I became obsessed with gymnastics during the Atlanta Olympics she took me along to a class at the local leisure centre even though my joints have always been weak (which put paid to the ballet ambitions too).  With time those dreams fell by the way-side, but Mum's encouragement didn't.  When I started submitting my writing to agents and publishers and my inbox seemed to be full of rejections, it was her telling me to keep going. 

So keep going I did.

From the moment I decided to focus on novel-writing rather than short stories, I knew I wanted to write a Christmas novel.  Inspired by the books of Miranda Dickinson, Scarlett Bailey, Amy Silver and Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees, I finally started writing Joe and Clara's Christmas Countdown last November.  Today I get to share it with the world, which I can't quite believe.  When I first decided I wanted to be a published author it seemed just as unlikely as waking up as Kylie Minogue. 

But I've done it. 

I've bloody done it.

I'm lucky, I know that.  In my day job I'm deputy manager of a lovely pre-school, working alongside a group of ladies I can call friends as well as colleagues, and the rest of the time I'm writing and dreaming and talking to other authors.

So if someone asked me today 'what do you want to do when you grow up?', what would I say? 

Well, in the words of the fabulous Ms Minogue, 'I wouldn't change a thing'.

Joe and Clara's Christmas Countdown is out today, published by HarperImpulse.  It's available from all good ebook stockists, with the paperback available from November 30th.

Amazon UK
Amazon US

The title of this post comes from When I Grow Up from Matilda the Musical.  You can watch a video of it here.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

I Know It's Over - 'The End' for Books with Bunny.

Many of you know that before I was a published author I was a book blogger.  My blog, Books with Bunny, was a place where I reviewed books of all kinds, interviewed authors and hosted guest posts.  I loved my time as part of the wonderful blogging community and am very proud of how I organised online events, had reviews posted in a number of books and was chosen to take part in many blog tours and marketing campaigns; but the time has come to say goodbye.  I have big plans and wild writing ambitions, and I want to be able to give these projects my all.

None of the posts at Books with Bunny will disappear, but the blog will no longer be active.  This does mean I'll be talking about other people's books over here from time to time because I will always be a reader, always shout about the importance of libraries and always support authors I admire - as anyone who follows me on Twitter will know.

You can read my final post at Books with Bunny here.

The title of this blog post comes from The Smiths song of the same name.  You can hear the song here.