Book Review: The Wrong Train

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The Wrong Train by Jeremy de Quidt is a collection of creepy short stories joined together by a central plot. It’s the first book that I’ve read by Jeremy de Quidt and I really, really enjoyed it.

It’s late. Dark. A boy rushes to catch a train, leaping aboard just before it pulls away. Suddenly he realises that it’s the wrong train. He’s annoyed of course, but not scared…Yet. He gets off at the next station, but the platform’s empty, and it doesn’t look like any station he’s seen before. But he’s still not scared…Yet. Then a stranger arrives – someone with stories to help pass the time. Only these aren’t any old stories. These are nightmares, and they come with a price to pay…Scared yet? You will be.

I love the concept of The Wrong Train because the central storyline of a man telling unsettling stories to a boy who is lost gives purpose to the collection of stories and allows the stories to be read as 1 book. I’ve not read a YA short story collection before but I loved the intensity that a condensed story is able to achieve and I also really enjoyed being able to read a whole story in one go, much like the boy who is hearing these stories. It’s interesting to hear that Jeremy always planned for The Wrong Train to include a central plot (instead of writing a collection and then deciding to tie it all together) saying:

‘The central plot, rather than the stories, was there from outset. The plan was always for a character to be told a series of stories. I had to frame it so that the character had nowhere to go and no choice but to listen to the stories, which is how we end up alone on a railway halt in the middle of the night. I wrote the stories first, one by one, and in the same order that they appear in the book and only then wrote the linking narrative to join them together. It was very much the case that the central plot came before the stories.’

I also really enjoyed the variety of the stories that Jeremy tells in this book. Even though all of the stories are set in the present day and centre a teenager, each story feels completely unique and very different from the others in the book. What is most impressive about The Wrong Train is how the everyday is twisted to become so frightening. From babysitting 2 young children to being home alone, Jeremy is able to play with the reader’s mind in so few pages but make an impression that stays for days:

‘One of my favourite master ghost short story writers is M.R.James. He wanted his scary stories to be contemporary and able to convince people that but for a bit of good fortune the awful events of the tale could happen to them. But he was writing at the turn of the last century and his model of Edwardian English ghost stories has become so popular that everyone now misses the point that he wanted them, and the whole point of them was, to be modern and everyday.

So, I wanted to set my stories not in distant Edwardian school holidays but in the here and now, and fill them with the normal everyday things and technology that we all have – then make that normality frightening.’

The inclusion of technology is another aspect of The Wrong Train that I loved, and I think it really adds to the thrilling and exciting nature of the stories. Jeremy weaves everyday technology into the stories in such a clever way that the terror felt by the characters in the The Wrong Train feels very close to home and left me wondering how I would cope in the same situations.

The Wrong Train is the perfect autumnal read – it’s dark, exciting and the each story is the perfect length for reading before bed or in a spare half an hour. I will definitely be seeking out more short story collections and look forward to reading more from Jeremy in the future!

 

Thank you so much to Jeremy for answering my questions in so much detail, and to David Fickling Books for my proof copy.

Books that deserve all of the prizes

I was saving this post until the new year because I wasn’t sure when the bookish awards were announced but since the CILIP Carnegie Medal nominations were announced last week, it would seem that it’s an appropriate time for this post right now!

I’m very lucky that I can spend all day raving about books without people thinking that I’m crazy because I’m pretty certain that I’d be shouting about the following books whether I was a bookseller or not. The books included in this list have all been published in 2015 by authors that are from the UK or Ireland – I hope there’s something that takes your fancy!

Click on the pink titles to read my full reviews. (Sorry there’s not yet a review for A Boy Called Christmas!)


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Am I Normal Yet? is a feminist novel telling the story of Evie, a 16 year old who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety. Told from a first-person narrative, the reader experiences Evie’s highs and lows, and watches her fall back into the hands of her illness. Holly is such a talented writer, managing to make a story about a girl relapsing so much more than than an ‘issues book’. Evie’s voice is honest and utterly loveable, and you really feel for her journey. Through Am I Normal Yet? Holly has done so much good with regards to changing the way that teenage mental health is percieved by portraying it as something that mustn’t be feared.

In amongst Evie’s story of her mental health illnesses, Holly also covers friendships, feminism, abusive relationships, and self-perception in just as much detail, providing the reader an education on what’s an okay problem to have (anxiety) and what isn’t (unpleasant boyfriend). So much of Am I Normal Yet? is about empowerment and I wish this book was around when I was 15. I really do think that Am I Normal Yet? is an incredible story and as someone who has suffered with severe anxiety, I think Holly has done a great justice to us all by portraying this topic so accurately.


One tells the story of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi as their family struggles financially and emotionally when they start school aged 16. Told from Grace’s point of view, Sarah brilliantly explores the bond between the sisters in a way that is powerful yet touching. I was expecting to feel emotional when reading One but honestly, I wasn’t expecting to feel as attached to the characters as I did. When writing One Sarah drew upon feelings that she has experienced as a mother, notably the physical pain that she feels when separated from her child. This raw emotion is clear and is conveyed in a way that allowed me as a reader to feel her pain too.

What makes One so impressive is that it’s written entirely in verse, a style that opens up a closer bond between reader and narrator – in many parts it felt as if I was directly accessing Grace’s thoughts. One is ultimately a story of love that has been approached in a beautiful and gentle manner. Although heart-breaking in parts, I wouldn’t put off reading One for fear of being upset, rather I would encourage everyone to read it and experience this wonderful story for themselves. One is beautiful, brilliant, and most importantly, different.


A Boy Called Christmas is a tale of adventure, snow, kidnapping, elves, more snow, and a boy called Nikolas, who isn’t afraid to believe in magic. After his father leaves on an expedition, Nicholas is left alone with his wicked aunty who locks him outside in the cold and makes his life miserable. But with a little bit of hope and his friend mouse Miika in tow Nikolas heads toward the Far North in search of his father and the magic he always believed in. The recommended readership of A Boy Called Christmas is about 8 to 12 although at 20 years old I loved it an awful lot!

Telling the story of how Father Christmas came to be, Matt’s magical writing alongside Chris Mould’s enchanting illustrations make this book so special and so timeless. As this will be published in hardback it will make the perfect Christmas gift, but also will remain a treasured story that can be brought out year after year. The innocent central character living a desperately unfortunate life combined with Matt’s witty writing style reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl, although I felt that this book was a little bit softer than some of Roald Dahl’s books! A wonderful Christmas story with lots of heart, plenty of puns and brilliant lessons about love, giving, and happiness to take away. [Published 12th November]


The Next Together is Lauren James’ debut novel and tells the stories of Katherine and Matthew as they live life after life together. There are three main settings used to tell their stories, England 2039; Carlisle 1745; and Crimea 1854. Katherine and Matthew appear in each time period, each time as different incarnations of themselves. I really love it when a book can’t be described in a single paragraph because it makes me feel that I’ve read something extra-special. With such an ambitious plot this potentially could have felt clumsy and confusing, but Lauren’s flawless attention to detail ensured that her book felt clever and exciting.

So much of the charm of The Next Together comes from Lauren’s ability to make you feel that you know Katherine and Matthew because even after just a couple of pages you’re rooting for them and are invested in their stories. Lauren managed to strike the perfect balance between not making me feel like I was third-wheeling Katherine and Matthew’s relationship but also still letting me get that lovely squishy feeling when they were being all cute and nice. I’ve read some really brilliant books this year but The Next Together is without a doubt the most adventurous and imaginative!


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The Big Lie is a speculative fiction set in 2014 where Britain is governed by the Nazi regime and everybody must fulfil their role. Jessika Keller is a good girl who plays her part as expected; her best friend Clementine is not. As daughters of the Greater German Reich, Jessika and Clementine are told what to believe and must believe what they are told. Freedom of speech is forbidden and it’s getting Clementine into trouble. In a book that upon first glance appears terrifyingly distant from the world that we live in, Julie has done an exceptional job of covering so many present issues such as consent, relationships, family, sexuality and gender roles.

It’s this realism that makes The Big Lie such a powerful book and Julie’s impeccable research makes it feel so real that at times it can be quiet a scary read. Her ability to so carefully and so brilliantly reflect the authoritative manipulation felt by children of the Greater German Reich makes you feel shocked by your own thoughts and proves just how fantastic a writer she is. As well as making the reader think about the way that they perceive authority, The Big Lie raises questions about revolution and what it means to be truly free. I’m so pleased that YA fiction is asking more than questions, but asking us to think about ourselves and the impact that we make. The Big Lie is utterly brilliant and is a book that I think we will be talking about for a very long time.


Asking For It is Louise O’Neill’s second novel and following on from Only Ever Yours it was destined to be pretty spectacular. A realistic novel, Asking For It was much harder to read than Louise’s debut as the hideous plot had no guise for the story of sexual abuse to hide behind. 18 year old Emma is the perfect character to tell a story of sexual abuse because she ticks every box on the list of characteristics that society views as more to blame for rape than the rapist. When Emma wakes up on her doorstep in pain and with no memory of the night before the question is forced upon us: was she asking for it?

Louise has told Emma’s story with such clear conviction that everybody who reads Asking For It will take something positive from it. This is a disturbing and harrowing read but it’s a book that I was unable to look away from; I couldn’t stop reading this and devoured it in less than a day. Victims of rape and sexual abuse deserve for us to read their truths so that we can improve our own behaviour and protect people from it happening in the future. Louise O’Neill has once again written something that is bold and brilliant, and that will make a real difference.


Remix is Non Pratt’s second novel and is a book that I’d recommend to a slightly younger reader than that of her debut, Trouble. Whereas Trouble brought up discussion of teen sex and blame, Remix is much more focussed on best friends, boyfriends, new friends, sex, alcohol and the first time at a festival which at 14 would have felt like the most grown-up and exciting things ever to me! That said, I still adored Remix. Primarily, Remix is about friendship and the struggles and heartbreak that come along with it. I’m so pleased that Non has used Remix to present a realistic view of friendships because often the relationship between best friends in novels isn’t explored in a way that I’ve found relatable.

Remix is written in dual narrative with the voice changing when necessary for the storyline – often switching many times in a chapter. I thought that dual narrative was particularly effective in this book as Non was able to portray the friendship between Kaz and Ruby in a realistic and humorous way. Non also managed to capture the first-time festival feelings so perfectly that even if readers haven’t experienced a festival for themselves, they won’t feel excluded. Remix is a really fun book and I’ve already recommended it to my 15 year old sister!


The Art of Being Normal is a dual perspective novel, telling the story of 2 teenage boys, David and Leo, and the journey they take after meeting. David is 14 and time is running out for him to tell his parents that he wants to be a girl while Leo from the year above is desperately trying to slot quietly into year 11 without anyone finding out why he moved schools. Lisa uses this book to so bravely and so beautifully tackle gender identity and transgender issues in a way that feels real and raw but yet accessible to those who have no personal experience of what it’s like to be transgender.

2015 has been a huge year for transgender awareness with actress Lavern Cox using her Orange Is The New Black fame as a platform to speak about her own transition, Caitlin Jenner’s transition playing out very publicly and culminating in a Vanity Fair cover, and more recently with UKYA’s very own James Dawson who last week announced: ‘I’m becoming a transgender woman’. It’s important now more than ever that we listen to and read stories about those who are transgender, and I think that The Art of Being Normal is a brilliant book to begin with!


Only 1 of the 8 books on this list were written by men so if you have any suggestions of fantastic YA books by male authors please do let me know below!

Read the full list of CILIP Carnegie nominations here.

Ghost written books: who deserves the credit?

I’ve been thinking about the issue of ghost writing for about a year ever since Zoe Sugg’s debut novel, Girl Online, was published last November. I’d not really done anything with these thoughts though until a couple of days ago when I posted my mini-review of Girl Online and another blogger asked if it was ghost-written.

Although there was, and to some extent still continues to be, a lot of discussion about how much of Girl Online Zoe Sugg actually wrote, I made the conscious decision not to mention that aspect of the book in my review. Taking the book at face-value – which is all we can do without real facts – I decided only to credit Zoe as she is the listed author. The issue of ghost writing is of course different for every book but I think talking about ghost writers in way that negatively portrays the credited author begs the question – why are people reading this book?

With Girl Online it’s undeniable that readers picked it off the shelves for 1 of 2 reasons. Firstly (and certainly the main reason) is that it’s written by Zoella, a blogger and YouTuber with millions of teenage fans. The other reason, although probably only accounting for a small percentage of book sales, is that it’s an easy-to-read fiction aimed at 10-14 year olds. Given that almost all of the book sales will have been directly as a result of ‘Zoella’ hysteria, to me it’s apparent that it doesn’t actually matter who wrote the book because no-one was buying it based on the writing.

Both Penguin and Zoe Sugg have confirmed that the story, characters, and themes were Zoe’s original concepts and that the help given was in the construction of the writing. I’m sure that I can speak for most 10 – 14 year olds when I say that as a young teen I wasn’t interested in grammatical features – I just wanted a really good story, even better if the writer was someone that I admired.

So then if the story is Zoe’s and people are only buying it because it’s a Zoella product, why should we credit a ghost writer? An interesting comment that was left on my Girl Online book review was ‘I always think that a writer, whether ghost or actual, should always have some credit when a review is given’ which is something I personally disagree with.

I think that a ghost writer should be just that, read but never seen. I know that a lot of people disagree with the way that ghost writers are expected to keep anonymous but actually, that’s their job. Ghost writers are paid a fee to write a book for which they will not be credited and they know that that’s the deal.

With Girl Online in particular the massive sales achieved (78,000 copies in the first week) had nothing to do with the quality of the writing – it was all down to Zoe’s huge teenage following. It just seemed so silly to me that people were suggesting that Zoe was taking credit for alleged Girl Online ghost-writer Siobhan Curham’s success because without the Zoella stamp on the front cover no-one would have bought it. Everything that makes Girl Online Girl Online is down to Zoe Sugg, and so I think that she absolutely deserves the credit for the immense success of this book.

There is so much more to say on this topic so do let me know what you think down below!

Mini Review: Nick and Charlie

9780008147877Nick and Charlie is Alice Oseman’s first novella and is a love story featuring Solitaire’s Nick Nelson and Charlie Spring. I really enjoyed this short story and think it’s the perfect addition to Solitaire.

Set a year on from where Solitaire ends, Nick and Charlie tells the story of the changes in their relationship as Nick prepares to leave for uni and Charlie prepares to be left behind.

I was interested to know why Alice chose to write about Nick and Charlie at this stage of their lives to which she replied, ‘I definitely chose to write Nick and Charlie at that point in their life because I wanted to write a realistic long-term relationship.

My goal wasn’t to write a romance or a fun adventure story – I wanted to really explore what it is realistically like to be in a relationship of that length when you’re that young. I find that stuff really interesting and actually not often written about! Realism is my one true love.

Despite not being very long (120 pages), this novella was incredibly touching and emotional which was achieved by dual perspective storytelling. I really love dual perspective novels and I think that Alice did such a good job of writing both parts which were so faultless you’d never be able tell that she found it hard; ‘dual perspective was quite hard. I tried as hard as I could to make the voices very different, but this was especially difficult because since Nick and Charlie are so close, they actually speak in quite a similar way! In any case – I tried to make Charlie sound a little more eloquent and well-spoken, and Nick more colloquial.

I think that so much of the reason why Alice’s stories are so believable and heartwarming is because she knows her characters so well. From her drawings on her art tumblr (‘drawing my characters REALLY helps me to visualise them and get into their heads!’), to her character blog for Tori, Alice’s creations play such a huge part in her life that she’s able to write about them as well as she could herself. It’s so easy to read Alice’s writing as you instantly feel that you know every character. I definitely recommend Nick and Charlie to anyone who enjoyed Solitaire, and if you’ve not already read Solitaire I really think you should!

Follow Alice on tumblr for more Solitairey stuff, and look out for something special this winter!

Thanks Alice for answering my questions! (click for links to her answers part 1 and part 2)

Follow Alice: twitter | tumblr | website | facebook | youtube

Author Q&A: Lauren James

When I write my book reviews, I always try to contact the author and ask them a few questions about their book so I can add some interesting quotes into my piece. When I wrote to Lauren James, author of The Next Together, she responded with such wonderful answers that I decided to put them into a blog post of their own! I didn’t expect to be sharing these questions so please forgive how sloppy some of them are…

If you’d like to read my book review of The Next Together first, the link is here!

I was wondering why you chose the time periods that you did, and if there were any time periods that you’d have liked to have written about but weren’t able to?
I would have loved to include lots more of Kate and Matt’s lives, but I think it would have been far too complicated to read – and I can’t even imagine trying to write it! It was a little complicated to keep track as it was – especially during editing, when I struggled to remember which plotlines I had written, which I had removed from an earlier draft, or had yet to write! As the plot involves time travel elements, this made is especially confusing, both for myself and my editor. I had to make a lot of posters keeping track of plots.

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Book Review: The Next Together

The Next Together is Lauren James’ debut novel and my, oh my I LOVED it. Telling the stories of Katherine and Matthew as they live life after life together, it’s a real beauty inside and out. Walker books have done a spectacular job of designing this book and making it feel so special; with gorgeous maps, notes and letters, The Next Together feels like a vamped-up detective’s notebook crossed with a scrapbook of Matthew and Katherine’s lives!

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