Sunday, January 31, 2016

Crooked, twisted, but having a great day: BBC Oxford Afternoon Book Buzz

This week we were utterly thrilled to watch as Oxford-based author Frances Hardinge picked up one of the biggest prizes in British publishing - the Costa Book of the Year award.

Frances' books are a bold and imaginative blend of science fiction, fantasy, fairy tales, history and horror for children and young adults. But aside from her exquisite writing, she's a thoroughly lovely and generous person - and when we've taken her into local schools, the children have always been inspired to write themselves.

So we were excited to be able to rave about her Costa-winning book 'The Lie Tree' on BBC Radio Oxford this week. You can listen to the show here (fast-forward to approximately 2 hours 40 minutes).

Here are the books we reviewed:


The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge (PB, Macmillan, £7.99)
It’s Victorian England, and Faith knows she has no future as a scientist like her father. But when he is found dead under mysterious circumstances, she discovers that a woman in Victorian society can be good at influencing and manipulating behind the scenes, and she sets about trying to uncover the truth, despite no-one believing her. In her father’s belongings, she finds a strange tree that seems to feed off of whispered lies, and the bigger and more believed the lies, the more the tree grows. She decides to experiment with it, but things start to spiral desperately out of control.

This is another brilliantly thought-provoking, imaginative tale that weaves science and fantasy, drawing on deep storytelling and fairy tale themes but totally original. Frances Hardinge is definitely at the cutting edge of YA writing – and now she’s one of our most celebrated authors.

Crooked Heart – Lissa Evans (Black Swan, PB, £7.99)

Where Frances Hardinge has written a book which has plenty of appeal for adult readers, Lissa Evans is an author who writes for children and adults. Lissa’s children’s books are brilliantly imaginative mystery stories and have been shortlisted for just about every children’s award going (here's a review we did in 2011 for 'Small Change for Stuart', one of favourite children's books ever)

In Crooked Heart, we reckon she’ll get plenty more nominations. It’s simply a rollicking good story, told with dark humour, showing how different people, with different skills, can be thrown together and blossom in the confusion of war.

The story is set at the outbreak of World War II, and Noel Bostock - aged ten, with no family - is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz. He winds up in St Albans with Vera Sedge. They seem the polar opposite: where Noel is studious, serious and analytical, Vee is instinctive, opportunistic and always on the make, drowning in debts and always desperate for money.

On her own, Vee’s a disaster, but with Noel, she's a team. But the consequences of their activities start to make them dangerous enemies, and Noel finds evacuation hasn’t exactly made him safer. Funny, original, a wonderful read.

How to Have a Good Day : Think Bigger, Feel Better and Transform Your Working Life – Caroline Webb (Macmillan, PB, £14.99)

Finally, we're big suckers for personal development or ‘how-to’ books (or, as we like to euphemistically call them, ‘success literature’) but in recent years the move has been to back up traditional recommendations of success (positive thinking, positive affirmations and goal settings) with the latest developments in how the brain works.

What we love about Caroline Webb’s ‘How to Have a Good Day’ is how it’s written as a handbook to achieve better outcomes in your life, with a folksy, attractive style which sets nice, achievable steps and contains plenty of real, recent proof that her tips really work.

It’s not grandiose, it’s nicely self-deprecating, and contains all sorts of science-backed, small changes we can make to achieve really desirable outcomes e.g. getting a better night’s sleep, getting along better with work colleagues, feeling fitter and achieving more. What a great way to start the year!

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