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2 "Top Ten" Lists

I've seen quite a few of these on websites, so I thought I'd make mine a little different. So they're Top Eleven lists.

 Top Eleven MG/YA Books

Here's an update of my favorite reads. I've kept my classic favorites: ones that I grew up devouring, and/or that influenced my writing, or that are more recent never-to-be-forgotten books. Not that I don't still love the deleted ones, and many others besides—way too many to mention! I just wanted to include a few brand new ones from 2013 that I particularly loved.

Old Favorites:

The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the UK)—Philip Pullman (YA fantasy)
My favorite of the His Dark Materials trilogy, I love its feisty heroine, Lyra Bellacqua, and the amazing steampunk version of Oxford that Pullman creates (I still remember 'anbaric lighting', even though anyone who knows me will tell you I have a terrible memory for books), as well as the overall mood and setting. The idea of daemons is wonderful, too—who can forget Pantalaimon? Not even me. Just fantastic.

Harry Potter Series—J. K. Rowling (Middle grade/YA fantasy)
Need I say more? Brilliant story, brilliant storytelling and world building. Brilliant.

The Famous Five Series—Enid Blyton (Chapter book/middle grade)
I grew up living and breathing these books from the age of about 8 until I was 10 or 11, so couldn't leave them out. Always involving mystery and adventure (which probably influenced my own writing), they gave me hours of joy when stuck at home with asthma, which was often. Like the asthma, I grew out of them, and never wanted to re-read them as an adult. But more than 50 years after the author died, they still turn up on "top 10 selling kids' books ever" lists in England. No mean feat.

Newer to-be-classics on my shelves:

The Magician's Elephant—Kate diCamillo (Middle grade fantasy)
Magical, heartbreaking, heartwarming, funny, delightfully told, with a humorous voice that complements the sad parts of it. I was literally crying on one page, laughing on the next. Genius.

In 2013 I also read another of Ms. DiCamillo's books, The Tale of Despereaux. I loved it almost as much, so can't not squeeze in a mention of it!

The Peculiar—Stefan Bachmann (Middle grade fantasy)
An absolute favorite 2012 debut! The post-faery wars steampunk version of England is brilliantly drawn, and changeling Bartholomew and his sister Hettie are just adorable. Full of creepiness, it's a non-stop adventure that had me alternately laughing out loud and gasping in alarm. (And I really don't do that a lot. Honestly.) Magical, fabulous, and funny.

The Fault in Our Stars—John Greene (Contemporary YA)
Another that rips you apart and has you laughing out loud within pages, but with a very different subject, told in the first person by sixteen-year-old Hazel, who is dying of cancer. The book is not in the least maudlin though; it's amazing, and Hazel's voice brilliant and loveable. One of my top reads of 2012.

Favorite 2013 releases:

In the Shadow of Blackbirds—Cat Winters (YA historical/paranormal)
Set in first world war San Diego against a backdrop of the 1918 influenza epidemic, at a time when so called "spirit photographers" claimed to be able to capture images of ghosts, this is a page-turner with a high spook factor. And I do love my spook factor! Full review here.

Dr. Bird's Advice to Sad Poets—Evan Roskos (YA contemporary)
James is having a rough teenage. His parents suck. Sister Jory has left home. And he's left to face his anxiety with the help only of his love of Walt Whitman poetry and—wait for it—his inner psychiatrist, Dr. Bird. Who is a pigeon. Hello?! How could I not love that premise? Great! Full review here.

The Year of Shadows—Claire Legrand (Middle Grade fantasy/paranormal)
Olivia's mom is missing. Her neglectful dad, conductor of an orchestra, has moved the family—Olivia, himself, and his mom—into the back of a concert hall. Olivia is angry ... hurt ... confused ... but with the help of her friend Henry, her ornery cat Igor, and a few theater ghosts, things begin to change... P.S. You might need a box of Kleenex.

Acid—Emma Pass (YA dystopian)
A post-apocalyptic page-turner set in a futuristic version of the author's (and my) native England, ACID was nominated for a Carnegie Medal, and deservedly so. Its tough heroine (who's a redhead, and her name, what's more, is Jenna!) also has plenty of heart. Full review here.

Every Day After—Laura Golden (Middle Grade historical)
The blurb: Trouble has rained down on Lizzie Hawkins. Her daddy has deserted the family, her mama is silent with sadness, and the bank is after their house... Say no more! This is a lovely, heartfelt, Depression-era story of Lizzie's battle with tough circumstances—and her own demons. Full review here.

And last but not least comes one from 2011 that I just recently discovered:

A Monster Calls—Patrick Ness (YA Magical Realism)
Beautiful, haunting, heartbreaking, brilliant. The journey of a boy's torment as his mother's cancer worsens, he's bullied at school, and a yew tree monster tells him repeatedly, "I want the truth...". I loved this book so much I even wrote about it on my blog, here.

And you're right. That wasn't 11. It was 12.

There's also one adult series I have to mention, because it influenced the setting of The Flame in the Mist so much. So this will make 13. Lucky for some!

Gormenghast Trilogy—Mervyn Peake (Adult fantasy)
The fabulous Gothic setting of Gormenghast Castle inspired (the much smaller) Agromond Castle, and names in The Flame in the Mist like Drudge and Marsh were influenced by Peake's wonderful character names, for example Steerpike (the scheming kitchen-boy), Swelter (the cook) and Flay (the manservant), and the protagonist, Titus Groan. Their names say so much about them. And as for 'Gormenghast'...it just sounds like everything it is; hulking, sprawling, ghastly. Fabulous!

Another influence was Titus's mother Gertrude's sea of white felines, which follow her everywhere like a moving carpet of cat. They inspired the four black weasels who are Nocturna Agromond's constant shadows.


 Top Eleven Things You Might Not Know About Me

I'm English (you might know that).

I dream that I'm flying quite a lot, and wish I really could.

I love doing yoga. And walking. And cycling. And beaches. Mountains. Rivers. The smell of new-mown grass, roses, lavender...oh, where to stop?

Sometimes I don't know when to stop.

Favorite chocolate: daaaaark. Of course! Just like Agromond Castle. Or hot chocolate, in the winter. Or chocolate ice cream, in the summer. Chocolate....another example of not knowing when to stop.

My favorite food ever is sushi. I think I'd find that harder to give up than chocolate. Though chocolate wins on a daily basis.

Sunshine. I need sunshine.

Of all the countries I've visited, my favorite is France. I qualify as a Francophile. I prefer the south, though, more than the north. Much more sunshine.

I've had songs recorded in France, in French!

Once upon a time, I wrote and recorded the synthesiser score to a fun, short B-horror movie called Horrid Intermissions. It starred Jim Broadbent, who's since become Very Famous as British actors go.

Most dramatic trip of a lifetime: Peru. My husband and I went with a group of friends and local shamans, and climbed a mountain in the Andes. Oh. My. Geeeeeeee. At 16,000 feet, you can barely breathe. Here's me and my hubby at a place almost 8,000 feet above sea level called Machu Picchu, which is amazing. It was built about 600 years ago by people called the Inca.

Machu Picchu Kit & husband in Peru Llamas
As you can see, the llamas don't seem to have any trouble breathing.