Win a copy of Desolation by Derek Landy

Derek Landy’s sequel to Demon Road, Desolation, is out now.  It’s a darker, bloodier, more violent follow-up.  You can read my review here on the blog.

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Thanks to HarperCollins NZ I have a copy of Desolation to give away.  

Thanks to everyone who entered. The winner is Christine.

Desolation by Derek Landy

In the first book of his Demon Road Trilogy Derek Landy took us to a darker place than the world of Skulduggery Pleasant.  This was a world of demons, serial killers, vampires and witches and set on a completely different continent, America.  We met our new heroine, Amber, her mysterious companion/bodyguard Milo, and plenty of other creepy individuals.  Derek left us with a sense of foreboding, with a promise that something really bad was coming.  Desolation drops you right back into the action.

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Reeling from their bloody encounter in New York City at the end of Demon Road, Amber and Milo flee north. On their trail are the Hounds of Hell – five demonic bikers who will stop at nothing to drag their quarries back to their unholy master.Amber and Milo’s only hope lies within Desolation Hill – a small town with a big secret; a town with a darkness to it, where evil seeps through the very floorboards. Until, on one night every year, it spills over onto the streets and all hell breaks loose. And that night is coming.

Desolation is a darker, bloodier and more violent follow-up to Demon Road.  Throats get ripped out, heads roll, demons get eaten, and there are some incredible fight scenes.  Overall I enjoyed this sequel but there were times that I felt the story lagged.  It’s a big book that maybe could have been a little shorter to help the story move faster.  Unlike the first book, where Amber and Milo were on the run the whole time, the action of Desolation is focused in a strange little town in Alaska called Desolation Hill.  Amber is being chased by the Hounds of Hell and she has been told that she will be safe from the Hounds in Desolation Hill.  Amber and Milo get to their destination and what they have been told is correct – the Hounds are kept out of Desolation Hill by an invisible barrier.  Their main problem now though is that the people of Desolation Hill don’t want them there and try everything to get them to leave.  Something weird is going on in this town and it’s up to Amber and Milo to find out what.  Things go from bad to worse, and just when you think it can’t get any worse Amber’s family turns up.

There are several strands to the story that all eventually come together.  Of course, we follow Amber and Milo, but we also meet Virgil and Javier (two old TV stars who live in Desolation Hill and want to relive their glory days), and Ronnie, Kelly, Linda, Warrick and Two (a group of teens and their do who travel the Dark Highway to fight monsters).  Ronnie and the gang travel the Dark Highway in their van and I thought of them as the Scooby Doo gang traveling in the Mystery Machine.  You wonder which of these characters are going to make it to the end of the book alive.  There are demons everyone so you just don’t know.

I think the one thing I missed while reading Desolation was Derek Landy’s humour.  Sure, it’s a dark story and people are being killed left, right and centre, but there is always room for Derek’s humour.  There are some funny parts that made me laugh, usually involving bumbling, idiotic serial killers.  My favourite part involved the interactions of four serial killers when they had trapped Ronnie and the gang.

Although I didn’t enjoy Desolation as much as Demon Road I’m still looking forward to finding out how it all ends.  The end of Desolation leaves you with plenty of questions which I need to know the answers to.  The final book in the trilogy, American Monsters, is released on 25 August.

My Top May Kids & YA Releases

 

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Ruined by Amy Tintera

Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war; her parents were killed and her sister was kidnapped. Even though Em is only a useless Ruined – completely lacking any magic – she is determined to get revenge.

Her plan is simple: She will infiltrate the enemy’s kingdom, posing as the crown prince’s betrothed. She will lead an ambush. She will kill the king and everyone he holds dear, including his son.

The closer Em gets to the prince, though, the more she questions her mission. Her rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life – and her family – on the line, love could be Em’s deadliest mistake.

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The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggin

Twelve-year-old Daisy has just died in a car crash. But in a twist of fate, and through a heavenly bureaucratic mistake, Daisy ends up not where she is supposed to be – but in the body of a dog. Daisy may now be inhabiting a dog’s body, but inside she is still very much Daisy, and is as bouncy, loyal, positive and energetic as she ever was.

Daisy’s only thought is to somehow be reunited with her parents, whom she knows will be missing her. This is how she meets Pip, a boy who is homeless and on his own journey, and a lasting, tender and very moving friendship between boy and dog/girl is formed.

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The Girl from Every Where by Heidi Heilig

Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times – although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix’s father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix’s existence rather dangerously in question . . .

Nix has grown used to her father’s obsession, but only because she’s convinced it can’t work. But then a map falls into her father’s lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it’s that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever.

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The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan

Fourteen-year-old Charlie Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes for ever.

Sometimes, to keep the people you love safe, you have to do bad things. As Little Town’s rules crumble, Charlie is sucked into a dangerous game. There’s a gun, and a bad man, and his closest friend, and his dearest enemy.

Charlie Law wants to keep everyone happy, even if it kills him. And maybe it will.

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Are You Sitting Comfortably? by Leigh Hodgkinson

Hello there! Are you sitting comfortably? Are you sure?

Have you found the perfect snuggle-up-and-lose-yourself-in-a-book place?

Somewhere comfy, NOT itchy-fuzzy? Somewhere quiet, NOT buzz-buzzy?

You have? Great!

Unfortunately the little chap in this book isn’t having quite as much luck as you are.

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The Genius Factor: How to Capture an Invisible Cat by Paul Tobin

Every Friday the 13th, 6th-grade genius Nate Bannister does three not-so-smart things to keep life interesting. This time, he taught a caterpillar to read, mailed a love letter, and super-sized his cat Proton before turning him invisible. Now Proton is on the loose, and Nate and his new friend Delphine must reverse the experiment before the cat crushes everything and everybody in town.

As if that’s not enough, the Red Death Tea Society, known for its criminal activity, killer tactics, and tea brewing skills, is plotting against Nate and Delphine. The dynamic duo must use their creativity, courage and friendship to save the day.

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Tickle My Ears by Jorg Muhle

It’s getting late and Little Rabbit must go to bed. Can you help him?

When Little Rabbit asks “Tickle My Ears?” a wonderful new bedtime ritual begins:

Clap your hands, fluff the pillow, give Little Rabbit’s ears a tickle, stroke his back, pull up the covers and a goodnight kiss. And don’t forget to turn out the light: here’s the switch!

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Olive of Groves and the Great Slurp of Time by Katrina Nannestad, illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

Olive is gobsmacked. Basil Heffenhuffenheimer has just hiked out of the Black Forest in 1857 and into Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers. When he offers to take Olive into the past, she cannot resist a time-travelling adventure. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, dear reader. Plenty!

When Olive and her friends return to the present with a hungry dinosaur, an Elizabethan pirate and a scissor-happy servant boy, strange and disturbing things start to happen at Groves. Furthermore, ‘new’ student, Pigg McKenzie, is taking an uncomfortable interest in the dangers and disasters of time travel. Can Basil and Olive keep control of their adventures, or will the Time Slurp and a certain villainous pig have their wicked way?

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Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes

Dinah is a princess, the future Queen of Hearts, who will one day reign over Wonderland. Unaware of the dark depths of her kingdom; she longs only for her father’s approval and to reign with the boy she loves. But when a betrayal breaks her heart and threatens her throne, Dinah is launched into the dangers of Wonderland. She must stay one step ahead of her enemies or she’ll lose not just the crown, it will be off with her head! Evil is brewing in Wonderland, and maybe, most frighteningly, in Dinah herself. The first in an epic, imaginative series tells the origin of one of the most infamous villains – the Queen of Hearts.

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The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

Imagine if you could see inside the minds of everyone around you – your best friend, your boyfriend, your enemies…? Imagine how valuable you’d be… Imagine how much danger you’d be in… Imagine being an Outlier. It all starts with a text: Please Wylie, I need your help. Wylie hasn’t heard from her one time best friend, Cassie, in over a week. Not since their last fight. But that doesn’t matter. Cassie’s in trouble, and it’s up to Wylie to do what she does best, save her best friend from herself. This time it’s different though – Cassie’s texts are increasingly cryptic and scary. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie asked him to help. Trusting the super-hot boy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice. But as Wylie and Jasper follow Cassie’s bizarre trail, Wylie has a growing sense that something is REALLY wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? Who is she with and what do they want from her? And could finding her be just the beginning…?

Win a copy of Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

Cecelia Ahern has just released her debut YA novel, Flawed.  It is a tense, action-packed, edge-of-your-seat read and I absolutely loved it!  You can read my review of Flawed here on the blog.

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Thanks to the lovely people at HarperCollins NZ I have a copy of Flawed to give away.  All you have to do to get in the draw is email bestfriendsrbooks@gmail.com with the subject line ‘Flawed,’ along with your name and address.

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Jeanna.

Interview with Em Bailey

Em Bailey is an award-winning Australian author.  Her previous book, Shift was the winner of the 2012 Gold Inky Award for best Australian YA novel and was selected as a notable book by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.  Em’s new YA novel, The Special Ones is an incredibly exciting, twisty, nail-biting read.  You can read my review of The Special Ones here on the blog.

The Special Ones is one of those books that I can’t get out of my head.  I had a few questions that I was dying to ask Em and she has very kindly answered them for me.  Read on to find out her inspiration for the book, what it was like to go inside the head of a psychopath and what draws her to writing for teens.

Special Ones

  • What inspired you to write The Special Ones?

I’ve always been interested in the psychology of cults: what sort of person becomes a cult leader, the people who are drawn to them, what happens when someone attempts to leave. I knew I wanted to write something about this theme and I started thinking about how modern technology might affect the way a traditional commune-style cult operated. I began imagining a situation where someone was able to control and manipulate a group, in the way that cult leaders traditionally always have, but without needing to be physically present.

  • Which of The Special Ones are you most like?

‘Him’? No, not really! I don’t think I’m very much like any of the girls, although I guess certain aspects of Esther’s personality are like mine but she is much tougher and far more determined than I am. I like to write about characters who make mistakes and do dumb things – sometimes even really bad things – because I think it’s still completely possible to have empathy for them. A number of people have told me that they really dislike Lucille in The Special Ones, but I must admit to having a soft spot for her. She’s put through a very traumatic series of events after all, and a lot of her complaints about Esther seem justified to me.

  • Is the cottage in the book based on an actual place?

The farmhouse isn’t based on a particular building, it’s more a composite of many. I started planning The Special Ones while driving through South Australia with my family. I spent a lot of time looking out the window at the dry landscape and noticing the abandoned, ramshackle old stone farmhouses here and there. It’s that kind of environment that I picture for The Special Ones and I imagined the girls being imprisoned in one of those solid old buildings.

  • You take readers inside the head of a psychopath in The Special Ones. Did you have to prepare yourself to get into character when writing these parts?

It was difficult, and exhausting, to be in ‘his’ head. I would be working on a passage and realise that I was writing it from a normal person’s perspective, with typical, human reactions to things. I would then have to stop myself and think ‘but how would a psychopath view this situation?’ I read Jon Ronson’s book The Psychopath Test book as part of my research and I had a list of psychopathic characteristics stuck up beside my desk which I used to refer to as a way of keeping myself on track. It wasn’t very pleasant. I would often find myself frowning or clenching my teeth as I was writing from his viewpoint. It was always such a relief to flip back into ‘Esther-mode’.

  • Apart from ‘him’ in your story who is the most evil, twisted character from a book or movie that you’ve come across?

I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to scary books and movies (yes, it’s ironic I know) so I’m probably not the best person to answer this. I did however read a lot of non-fiction accounts of cults while preparing for this book and it was amazing to notice the similarity between the various cult leaders. They share such an unswerving belief in their own greatness and a complete disregard for the rights of anyone else. Because they lack the ability to feel empathy the suffering they inflict on others has no effect on them whatsoever. It’s chilling to read about people like this because it’s clear they genuinely don’t realise they’re doing anything wrong.

  • How did the story come together? Did you know how it was going to end?

Nutting out the plot was a very long process. I knew basically how I wanted to resolve things, but it took a lot of work to get the details right. I think I re-wrote the entire second half at least four times. It was painful at the time, but ultimately it was necessary for getting the storyline to follow a course that felt right to me.

  • What do you love most about writing for teens?

Writing for teens is great because there’s so much scope. The YA genre is so broad now that you can really go in any direction you want and explore a wide variety of themes. I’m drawn to writing plot-dense stories and this works well with teen literature. I think of my books as being escapist but hopefully also reasonably substantial, theme-wise. Teens read a lot more widely and with a greater level of sophistication than they did in my day, so there is also the challenge of writing something which will meet with their approval.

The Special Ones by Em Bailey

Often a blurb hooks me in and the story is exactly what the blurb promises.  Very rarely though the story can be so much more than what the blurb promises.  The Special Ones by Em Bailey is one of these rare books.  It took me by surprise and was so much more than what I expected.

Special OnesHe keeps us here because we’re Special.

Esther is one of the Special Ones – four people who live under his protection in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, but why would they want to? Here, they are safe from toxic modern life, safe from a meaningless existence, safe in their endless work. He watches them every moment of every day, ready to punish them if they forget who they are – all while broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside.

Esther knows he will renew her if she stops being Special, and that renewal almost certainly means death. Yet she also knows she’s a fake. She has no ancient wisdom, no genuine advice to offer her followers. But like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance–if she wants to survive long enough to escape.

The Special Ones completely blew me away!  This is one incredibly exciting, twisty, nail-biting read.  It’s one of those books that, just when you think you know where the story is going, it takes a sharp turn and you have to take a moment for it to sink in.  You don’t want to put the book down because you have to know what happens next, but there are times that you just have to close it for a moment to breath.  There are so many twists that I had no idea how the book was going to end!

I don’t want to say too much about the story for fear of spoiling the story, but here goes.  It’s told from Esther’s point of view.  Esther, Harry, Felicity and Lucille are The Special Ones.  They have been ‘chosen’ by him to live in a cottage on a farm, living a simple life, but regularly communicating with their followers on the outside via the Internet.  They must live the life that he has laid out for them, and if they act in the wrong way they will be punished or even ‘renewed.’  Esther has lived like this for two years, but the life she has come to know changes dramatically when Lucille is renewed.

Em Bailey’s writing is very slick.  She keeps the tension throughout the story, building it towards the nerve-wracking finale.  Em makes you feel for the characters and the scary situation that they are in.  The story is told in the first person from Esther’s point of view so we know everything that she’s thinking and feeling.

The Special Ones is an addictive YA thriller and one of my favourite books of 2016.

Sylvie the Second by Kaeli Baker

With some of the larger publishers moving offshore there have been some wonderful independent publishers set up, one of these being Mākaro Press.  They have a commitment to publishing books for children and young adults and are helping to ensure local authors can still get their stories published.  Their most recent publication for young adults is Sylvie the Second by debut author Kaeli Baker.

sylvie-cover-copyIt’s another hospital trip in the witching hours for Sylvie, as part of the support crew for her crazy sister, Calamity Cate. An overdose, this time. As usual, it seems like the family is so caught up in all of Cate’s drama that Sylvie goes unnoticed.

Invisible. Always coming in second.

Not anymore.

After a makeover, a friendship breakdown, and a whole lot of pizza, Sylvie starts to get noticed, but by the wrong people. That’s when things unravel with painful consequences. Visibility, Sylvie discovers, is not about how other people see you, but how you see yourself.

Sylvie the Second tells the story of Sylvie’s journey of discovery.  It is a story of identity, family, friendships both good and bad, and choices that can affect the rest of your life.  The story is told in the first person, so we go on this journey with Sylvie and know everything that she is thinking and feeling.  There were times that I wanted to yell at Sylvie in frustration and moments that I wanted to hug her. She has a strong voice that teen readers will be able to relate to.

Sylvie feels invisible.  Her parents don’t pay her any attention because they’re always wrapped up in what is happening with her crazy sister Calamity Cate.  Cate has tried to commit suicide several times, without success, and so she is in and out of psychiatric care.   Sylvie’s parents are rarely home, and when they are they don’t seem interested in Sylvie and what is happening in her life.  Sylvie becomes so sick of going unnoticed that she changes her clothes and her look to stand out more.  This certainly seems to get the attention she desires, particularly from Chris, the hot guy at school.  However, things take an unexpected turn at a party and Sylvie’s world is turned upside down.  When she needs support the most Sylvie discovers who her real friends are and that she stands out more than she thought.

My favourite character is Belle (or Bookish Belle as Sylvie calls her).  She is the voice of reason in the story and helps to pick Sylvie up.  She’s an incredible friend (nothing like Sylvie’s so-called friends at the start of the book) and if it wasn’t for Belle I don’t know what might have happened to Sylvie.  I also really like Adam but I wanted to know more about him.

I loved the way that the story is wrapped up.  Kaeli leaves you with a sense of hope, while also realising that Sylvie’s life will be tough and still have its challenges.

Sylvie the Second is a stand-out debut novel from a wonderful new local author.

I’m very excited to be part of the blog tour to promote Sylvie the Second.  Make sure you check out the blog on Friday 18 March to read Kaeli’s post about her Top 5 Sisters in Fiction and enter the competition to win a copy of Sylvie the Second.

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

There are some books that leave you feeling drained.  Those books that grab your heart and throw it all about and mess with your mind.  You get so emotionally invested in the characters’ lives that you feel their heartache, their turmoil and get completely blown away by the actions of the other characters.  Justine Larbalestier’s new YA book, My Sister Rosa is one of these books.  I can’t stop thinking about this incredible book.

MySisterRosa_RCcvr.indd‘I promise,’ said Rosa. ‘I won’t kill and I won’t make anyone else kill.’

I can’t see the loophole. Since the guinea pig there’s been nothing. Months now without Rosa killing as much as a mosquito.

As far as I know.

Che Taylor has four items on his list: 1. He wants to spar, not just train in the boxing gym. 2. He wants a girlfriend. 3. He wants to go home. 4. He wants to keep Rosa under control.

Che’s little sister Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and so good at deception that Che’s convinced she must be a psychopath. She hasn’t hurt anyone yet, but he’s certain it’s just a matter of time. And when their parents move them to New York City, Che longs to return to Sydney and his three best friends. But his first duty is to his sister Rosa, who is playing increasingly complex and disturbing games. Can he protect Rosa from the world – and the world from Rosa?

This is one word for this book – WOW!  It is the most tense YA book I’ve ever read with possibly the creepiest 10 year old girl you’ll ever find in a book.  I didn’t want to put this book down because I was afraid that something huge would happen when I wasn’t looking.

There are times when I’ve finished a book that I wish I could wipe my memory of reading it, just so I could read it again and feel exactly what I felt that first time.  My Sister Rosa made me feel exactly like this.  It is such a full-on read, with so many twists, and I don’t think it would feel the same reading it a second time.  The suspense I felt and the way that my heart broke for Che is something that I rarely find in a book.  It just shows what an amazing job Justine has done of making her characters real and relatable.

The story is told from Che’s point of view.  He has known what his sister is like for years and he has tried to keep her in check.  She seems cute and sweet on the outside but inside she’s nasty and poisonous.  She works out how she should behave from watching and listening to other people.  She promises Che that she will be good but she knows how to stretch the boundaries.  While Che is keeping all eyes on his sister, he is also trying to adjust to life in another new city, working on his boxing, making new friends and trying to get a girlfriend.  All of these things collide to make one hell of a book!

Reading this book is like watching a train wreck.  You know that something really horrible is going to happen but you can’t look away.  You’re glued to the pages and flicking them so fast because you need to know what is going to happen.

Rosa is both a horrifying yet fascinating character.  You know she is psychopathic but you want to know more about her and the things that she does.  As a parent she certainly makes you thankful that your own children aren’t like her, and it makes you wonder what life would be like if she was your child.  I kept thinking that the way her parents reacted to her actions were unbelievable, but it also makes you think how you would react too.

I’ve read so many great books so far this year but My Sister Rosa is by far my favourite.  Put My Sister Rosa on the top of your to-be-read pile.  You won’t regret it.

 

Interview with Glenda Millard

Today I’m joined by Glenda Millard, author of the amazing new YA book, The Stars at Oktober Bend.  Glenda’s book, A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, is one of my favourite books and I was very eager to read her latest book.  It is an absolutely amazing story with unforgettable characters (you can read my review here).

Check out my interview with Glenda to hear about her inspiration for The Stars at Oktober Bend, why she wrote her story in the way that she did, and her haunting characters.

The Stars at Oktober Bend | FRONT COVER (20 October 2015)

  • What inspired you to write The Stars at Oktober Bend?
My strong point as a writer is certainly not planning! I usually begin writing with a singular idea and develop it as I go. The initial idea for ‘The Stars at Oktober Bend’ came from a brief newspaper article about a homeless girl who sang and in doing so had earned herself a scholarship to study music at a prestigious conservatorium.
 So I began writing with the vague notion of telling the story of someone who sang as a means of escaping a traumatic past. But as often happens, once the characters began to evolve and further information came to hand, my story changed direction.
One of the bigger impacts on the change of direction for ‘The Stars at October Bend’ was that my daughter was studying for her Masters in Speech Pathology and I became aware of language disorders, their causes and effects. That led me to thinking about what it would be like to be unimpaired intellectually, but to struggle with expressing ideas verbally.
  • Your characters really got under my skin and I couldn’t stop thinking about them.  Do they still haunt you?

Literary characters have to live and breathe for me. I have to be totally engaged with them and believe in them otherwise I can’t imagine how other people will. I feel the same as a reader – if I have no emotional connection with the characters, then it doesn’t matter how good the plot is, there is nothing to keep me motivated to read. So I suppose the answer to your question is ‘yes’ because I think of the characters as  living people for so long, that it’s hard to forget them once the book is finished.

  • What is your secret to creating memorable, relatable characters?

I’m not sure I can tell you the answer to that. I imagine that creating a literary character and acting the part of one in a play or movie might be similar in some ways. I only know that I have to try to feel what my characters feel and then express it in a way that readers will relate to – not only in an intellectual way, but an emotional one.

  • Joey is the sort of brother that all sisters would want.  Do you have a brother like Joey?

I don’t have any brothers, but I invented one who I hoped would seem plausible – Joey with all his human faults and foibles, but staunchly loyal and faithful.

  • You use both prose and verse to tell Alice’s story.  Why did you decide to do this?

I used prose, verse, lower case letters and minimal punctuation as an acknowledgement of the difficulty Alice had in explaining longer, more complex thoughts in single sentences.  As Alice herself says, she began by writing lists, these developed into verse and then as the story progresses, so too does Alice’s ability to communicate more complex, cohesive thoughts. One of the things Alice and I love about verse is that each line can give a small foretaste of what is to come – a kind of prompt or reminder. So for Alice, verse became an aide to expression, something that helped her string longer passages of thought together in small bites.

  • You write picture books, books for younger readers and teens.  Do you have a favourite age to write for?

Anyone who can read! The age of the reader is in some ways irrelevant to me. Even when I write picture books, I don’t presume that only children will read them. I am always looking for the best way to tell my story, so that whoever reads it will enjoy it for some reason or other. Perhaps the story itself or simply the way it is told. Each genre has its own challenges and pleasures. Picture books, for example, generally demand very concise writing. For me, writing across a broad range, from picture books through to novels is a way of keeping my writing fresh and not allowing myself to get too comfortable or predictable.

  • Who are your rock-star authors?

Among the many on my list, David Almond, a UK writer, has been for many, many years, my rock-star author. My not-so-secret wish is to have David endorse one of my books!  In Australia, I am a great admirer of Ursula Dubosarsky’s beautiful writing and have had the privilege of meeting her on a number of occasions.

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard

Some authors have the gift of being able to create incredible worlds that you get lost in.  Other authors bring characters alive that are so real they could almost jump off the page.  Glenda Millard’s characters become your life-long friends and they haunt you long after you have finished their story.  When you read Glenda Millard’s new book, The Stars at Oktober Bend, you won’t want to say goodbye to Alice Nightingale.

The Stars at Oktober Bend | FRONT COVER (20 October 2015)Alice is fifteen, with hair as red as fire and skin as pale as bone, but something inside her is broken. She has acquired brain injury, the result of an assault, and her words come out slow and slurred. But when she writes, heartwords fly from her pen. She writes poems to express the words she can’t say and leaves them in unexpected places around the town. Manny was once a child soldier. He is sixteen and has lost all his family. He appears to be adapting to his new life in this country, where there is comfort and safety, but at night he runs, barefoot, to escape the memory of his past. When he first sees Alice, she is sitting on the rusty roof of her river-house, looking like a carving on an old-fashioned ship sailing through the stars.

The Stars at Oktober Bend is an absolutely amazing story with unforgettable characters.  Glenda Millard’s writing is beautiful and I fell in love with her characters.  It took me a few chapters to get used to Alice’s unique voice but I had to know about her life and how she got to be the ‘damaged’ person that she is at the beginning.  Alice tells her story both through prose and verse.  Alice and Joey’s father is dead, their mother has left them and their grandfather is in jail.  As the story progresses you learn what happened to Alice and her family to get them to where they are.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters.  Alice and Manny took up residence in my head, going everywhere with me.  They are both damaged my their past – Alice by the trauma that she has suffered and Manny by war in Sierra Leonne.  Alice and Manny get to have their own voices in the story so we see the world from their unique points of view.  I loved the development of Alice throughout the story, especially how those around her helped her to grow.  Although I loved Alice and Manny, my favourite character was Alice’s brother Joey.  Joey is the sort of brother that any sister would be lucky to have.  He is always there for her, to help her make sense of the world.  He is trying to keep what is left of his family together, while trying to be his own person.

Glenda shows both the best and the worst of humanity in her story.  The people who killed Manny’s family in Sierra Leonne and the guys who damaged Alice show us the worst of humanity, but Joey and Manny’s adopted parents, Louisa and Bull James, show us the best of humanity in their kindness and love.

There are so many parts of Glenda’s amazing story that I love.  I stopped reading many times just to marvel at what I had just read and the beauty of Glenda’s words.  This is a tender morsel of text from the story and it’s a quote that I feel sums up the mystery of the story.

most days joey told me
at least one interesting face
to make up for school cut short
because of what happened
one starry, starry night,
and the fear
that sometimes still
squeezed my lungs
froze my limbs and tongue and talk,
as though he thought
interesting facts would
somehow subtract all that
and the disgrace that followed
our family.

The Stars at Oktober Bend is a must-read book for teens and adults.  Add a little bit of beauty to your world and grab a copy now.