Author Spotlight: Lauren St John

LAURENSTJOHNThis is a new feature I’m going to be doing on my blog every other Sunday. I often get to talk about individual books but rarely do I get to talk properly about some of my favourite authors, so that’s the focus of this feature.

First up is an author I only discovered in the last year, but who has quickly become one of my favourites: Lauren St John.

The Books

The White Giraffe Series

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A series of four stories for the 9-12 age range about an eleven year old girl called Martine who is sent to live on an African game reserve. There she finds a white giraffe who looks as if he has been waiting for her and so begins her adventures which will take her across Africa.

  • The White Giraffe
  • Dolphin Song
  • The Last Leopard
  • The Elephant’s Tale

The Laura Marlin Mysteries

deadman's  cover

A series of mystery stories about a young girl called Laura and her best friend Tariq who find themselves caught up in many a dangerous case. Inspired by her favourite fictional detective, Matt Walker, Laura must use all her skills to solve the mysteries without getting herself and Tariq into danger. Reminiscent of the Nancy Drew detective stories, these are wonderful detective mysteries for the 9-12 age range.

  • Deadman’s Cove
  • Kidnap in the Caribbean
  • Kentucky Thriller
  • Rendezvous in Russia

The One Dollar Horse Series

one dollar horse

When horse-mad Casey Blue rescues a starving horse for the price of one dollar she sets about trying to achieve the impossible: winning the toughest three day eventing challenge in the world – the Badminton Horse Trials. A fantastic series with plenty of horsey action and excitement.

  • The One Dollar Horse
  • Race the Wind
  • Fire Storm

The Glory

A stand-alone YA novel about two young teens who enter a 1200 mile endurance race across the Midwest. This is an thrilling story about horses, adventure, and an unlikely friendship.

Books I Have Read

  • Kentucky Thriller
  • The One Dollar Horse
  • Race the Wind
  • Fire Storm
  • The Glory

Why I Love Lauren St John

Firstly, St John is an excellent writer; from the very first line I feel completely safe in her hands. Her writing is well-paced and the action drives the plot forward throughout whether it’s a gripping mystery to be solved or a dangerous endurance race across the United States.

Secondly, I enjoy reading about her characters, particularly Laura Marlin. I have only read one of the Laura Marlin Mysteries, Kentucky Thriller, but I found Laura to be an immensely likeable character: brave, clever, always one step ahead – as any good young detective should be.

I also love the way St John writes about animals, from horses and dogs to much larger wild animals. She writes with a real understanding and sensitivity to animals, no doubt drawing from her own background and childhood on a farm in Africa, and from her travels around the US. I love books featuring animals in such a way. St John seems to pull together so many strands of my childhood reading into her writing and I can’t get enough.

Lauren with a cheetah.  Image from laurenstjohn.com

Lauren with a cheetah.
Image from laurenstjohn.com

Website: laurenstjohn.com

Twitter: @laurenstjohn

Mini Book Haul

I have acquired a number of new books lately, despite trying not to, so I thought I’d share them with you all.

Bought:

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  • Five Go Off in a Caravan by Enid Blyton – I saw this in a charity shop in near perfect condition for £1.25. I love these new 70th anniversary covers and couldn’t resist.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – Another £1.25 charity shop purchase. I’ve been meaning to read this for a really long time but have never found the opportunity.
  • Kentucky Thriller by Lauren St John – I love Lauren St John’s books for older readers, but have never read any of the Laura Marlin Mysteries. I found this in the clearance section at Waterstones where I work for £1 and couldn’t pass it up!
  • Shift by Em Bailey – This is an interesting sounding YA title which has caught my eye a few times. There was a copy for £1 in the clearance section, so I took a chance on it.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling – We had one hardback copy of the original children’s edition cover left at work and it had been sat there for a few years. These covers are no longer in print and it just so happens that this was the one book I didn’t have in the children’s cover. It seemed a little like fate that it was still there after so long so I bought it to complete my collection fully.

Proofs/Reading Copies:

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  • Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis – I was sent this by Chicken House and I’m pretty excited to get stuck in.
  • Darkmere by Helen Malin – Another one I was sent by Chicken House. This is not something I would usually pick up, but I’m trying to read more widely, so I’m going to give it a go!
  • Starboard by Lucy Hounsom – This is a chunky new fantasy with a female protagonist. I haven’t read much female-orientated fantasy so I have high hopes for this.
  • The Girl With All the Gifts by M. J. Carey – This has been on my wishlist for a while and I finally found an old proof hidden away at the back of a shelf at work.
  • The Princess and the Foal by Stacy Gregg – I don’t know why, but I’m in the mood to read horse stories at the moment so picked this one up.
  • Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten – A new YA title which sounds intriguing!

All in all, this was a really low-key haul, with many cheap and/or free books, so I don’t feel too guilty about it.

Mid-year TBR Progress Update

You may recall at the beginning of the year I wrote about my problem of having too many unread books and my desire to cut this down to a manageable TBR pile (If not, you can read about that here).

I set the challenge to myself to read half the books on my TBR list by the end of the year. Well, I’m pleased to say that I am very close to meeting that goal already; either by reading or unhauling these books, my original list now stands at 42 books. Yay!

Now, for the not so good news… I have been adding to this list and although I have been a lot more picky about which books I choose to add to my shelves this year, my current TBR stands at 64 books. It’s better than it was, but I still have a way to go before this becomes manageable!

You might wonder why I care so much. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s a mental thing. It’s not so much that I don’t want to have any books on my TBR and have nothing left to read – it’s not about completing a goal in that sense. Rather, it helps my head-space to have less clutter around me. Unread books are overwhelming; I feel a great pressure to read them. I would love to reach a point where I no longer feel guilty for acquiring new books and don’t have to worry to much about which book to read next.

So far this year I’ve read 65 books, which is around 11 books a month. Hopefully I can keep this up towards the end of the year without acquiring too many new titles…

Did you set any goals for the year? If so, how are you getting on?

June Wrap-up

Once again, June has been a not so good month for blogging. I’m still incredibly busy at work and am so tired by the time I get home that talking about books (having been around books all day) is the last thing I want to do in my rare down time! You can have too much of a good thing, who knew?

That said, I have still been reading, of course, and have managed to get through a total of 11 books this month:

1. The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

clockwork sparrow

This is another fantastic addition to the middle grade mystery genre, following on from Robin Stevens’ success with the Wells and Wong series. Woodfine tells the story of a young girl called Sophie who is wrongly accused of stealing from her employer, the fabulous Sinclair’s department store, before its opening night. With the help of her two friends, she must find the real thief and save the store on opening night.

2. Numbers by Rachel Ward

This has been on my radar for a few months now and the idea of it is intriguing – what if you could look into someone’s eyes and see the date of their death reflected back at you? Unfortunately, this didn’t live up to my expectations and I won’t be rushing to read the second and third parts of the trilogy.

3. Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington

How this book is not on everyone’s lips I don’t know! Shirvington’s protagonist lives two lives. Every night at midnight she involuntarily switches to the other life with different family, different friends, different expectations. When the barrier between her two lives starts to become more permanent, she realises that she can now make a choice between them and live a normal life. But that choice suddenly becomes even more difficult to make.

4. Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

I was so excited to get my hands on a proof of this. Like, jumping around in the staffroom excited. (It’s ok, my colleagues know I’m strange…) Yet again, O’Neill has addressed a hugely important issue facing young people today in an open and honest way. I love this book for that, if not for its ending (I understand why, but why?). A must read.

5. Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

magonia

Another fantastic fantasy novel to come out of YA this year. PIrates above the clouds and a magical race of bird people? Yes please. This is so well written and Neil Gaiman recommends it, so what are you waiting for?

6. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

This book is so beautiful and it broke my heart in just the right way. Nelson creates magic with her words and I couldn’t go more than a few pages without being hit over the head by a wonderful sentence or phrase. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

7. Running Girl by Simon Mason

I’ve already made my thoughts on this clear – safe to say I really enjoyed it. See my review here.

8 and 9. Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

After reading A Court of Thorns and Roses, I couldn’t resist going back and trying her earlier work. I wasn’t disappointed; if anything, I loved this more than ACOTAR. Maas is another technically fantastic writer and a new favourite.

10. Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf by Catherine Storr

clever polly

I picked this up as it’s the Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for July and I like to read all of these so that I know what I’m talking about at work! This is a wonderfully witty collection of stories about a very clever girl called Polly and a very stupid wolf. Drawing on traditional stories such as Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs, this collection is perfect for younger readers. And the short story format makes it great for reluctant readers too.

11. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

This had been on my reading list for a while and I finally picked it up on a whim when I was rushing to leave the house and needed a new book. It was the first one on my shelf that caught my eye. I enjoyed this book, particularly the depiction of depression which felt very raw and very honest. I think it is easy when thinking about suicide to gloss over the depth of feeling, the complete hopelessness that puts someone in that position. Warga tackles this issue really well, and the development of the protagonist Aysel is captured flawlessly.

That’s it for June. Have you read anything fantastic this month?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books of 2015 (so far…)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we’re listing our top ten books of 2015 so far! These are in no particular order (I find it nearly impossible to choose favourites) but here are my top ten reads of the first half of this year.

1. Half Bad by Sally Green

This was one of the first books I read in 2015, and it’s a book I had heard a lot of good things about and eventually decided to give it a go. I loved it, and am now stuck in limbo waiting for the third book to be released.

2. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Another early 2015 read, but a really important one for me, emotionally. This is one I will go back to time and time again.

3. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

only ever yours

I cannot express how glad I am that I stumbled across this. Thank you Twitter! O’Neill writes with a wonderful fearlessness and understanding of what it’s really like to be a young female. I loved this book so so much and have also been lucky enough to read a proof of her upcoming novel Asking For It which is equally as hard-hitting.

4. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I don’t know if this counts as it doesn’t come out until August, but I read this a couple of months ago and loved it – as I expected to; come on, it’s Patrick Ness. I don’t want to say anything more about this right now but will be posting a review a couple of weeks before the release date.

5. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Considering I almost didn’t read this at all (the red and black cover brought back memories of a certain period of time in YA fiction when supernatural novels were on trend) I am so glad I did. Firstly, Maas is a fantastic writer and I’m so pleased to have discovered her work. Secondly, the story itself is full of magic and mystery and sexy romance and I can’t wait for the sequel… I’m serious, please don’t make me wait until 2016…

6. The Glory by Lauren St John

I’m a sucker for a good horse novel and this didn’t disappoint. I loved the characters, the unusual setting of the wild west rather than the British showjumping scene, and although it wasn’t as horse-heavy as it could have been for my tastes, the story was so well told I couldn’t help but fall in love with it.

7. The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

the girl at midnight

Another great new fantasy series. Have I mentioned how glad I am that fantasy is making a come back in YA? Well, I am as it’s probably my favourite genre to read. This book has everything I could possibly want: a kick-ass heroine, magic, secrets, a mysterious potential love interest. We have to wait until next year for the second in this series too, unfortunately.

8 and 9. I’ll Give You the Sun and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You the SunI so nearly didn’t bother reading this as I thought it was a romance-centric boring summer read. How wrong I was. This is a beautifully woven story about two twins whose lives are pulling apart, but they find themselves drawn back together through art.

The Sky is Everywhere: I picked this up after loving I’ll Give You the Sun, In some ways, this novel is even more beautiful with touching poetry providing the framework for the novel. I don’t usually dog-ear pages, but there were so many wonderful lines I wanted to remember that I couldn’t help myself. My copy is full of turned-down corners. Nelson has a true gift and I will never get enough of her writing

10. The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Probably the first book I’ve read about being transgender, this book is flawless – or as close to flawless as you’re ever going to get. I would definitely recommend it.

Overall, I definitely feel like I’ve been reading better books in the last couple of months than I did earlier in the year. Maybe my taste is getting better, or maybe there are just more great books being published. Either way, let’s hope things continue in this direction in the second half of the year.

Review: Running Girl by Simon Mason

running girl
ISBN: 9781910200674
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Source: Reading copy from publisher

Meet Garvie Smith. Highest IQ ever recorded at Marsh Academy. Lowest ever grades. What’s the point? Life sucks. Nothing surprising ever happens.Until Chloe Dow’s body is pulled from a pond. His ex-girlfriend. DI Singh is already on the case. Ambitious, uptight, methodical – he’s determined to solve the mystery – and get promoted. He doesn’t need any ‘assistance’ from notorious slacker, Smith.Or does he?

I requested a copy of this book from the publisher through my role as a bookseller and they kindly agreed to send me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

I was really impressed with this as a whodunit; there are multiple false conclusions drawn about the case – moments when everything seems to have fallen into place and the case is solved, only to find out that one detail doesn’t fit the story – and this really kept me on my toes as a reader, which made it all the more enjoyable as I couldn’t guess the solution to the case before it was revealed.

As readers, we are forced to put our trust in the protagonist, Garvie, to guide us through the mystery. As such, we are encouraged to form a connection with Mason’s rather unlikable protagonist. In many ways, Garvie reminds me of a young Sherlock Holmes: clever, bored, doesn’t have time for people, cocky, and perhaps most importantly, observant. He is a fascinating and complex character which is always wonderful to see. In some ways he is the perfect hero: brave, determined, and clever, willing to put himself in danger to solve the case. However, he is also lazy, arrogant, and disrespectful, making him an unlikeable character despite his efforts to solve the case. This makes for an interesting narrative as we have to rely on his perspective of events to figure out the mystery.

One of my favourite things about this book is the diversity of the characters, which is not something that is seen in this way. Notable is DI Singh who is a Sikh policeman. Whilst his beliefs are shown to be integral to his character, they are not at the centre of his personal conflict. Mason writes his characters as characters first and diverse second, and that’s how diverse characters should be written.

This is a fantastic action-packed crime novel, perfect for older teens.

4stars

May Wrap-up

Last month really flew by for me; I feel like I hardly had time to read at all, but apparently I managed to get through nine books – helped by my participation in the #LGBTReadathon which pushed me to read quicker than I had been doing.

So, I’ll stop rambling and tell you what I read this month:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Somehow I missed out on this one at school – I’m probably one of the only people to reach the age of 21 without reading this book! – but my younger sister is currently doing her GCSEs and kept pestering me to read it so that I could help her revise. I eventually did and I really enjoyed it. I can see why it’s such a popular book for the school curriculum as there’s so much going on and so many issues to consider. Probably not something I’ll ever read again, but I’m pleased to have joined the rest of the country in having read this American classic.

2 & 3. The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure by James Dashner

Having now finished the Maze Runner trilogy, I’m really not sure I liked it that much. Whilst the first book was exciting and sparked my curiosity about this world and what could have happened to make it like this, I sort of lost interest in the story in the sequels. The Scorch Trials felt very much like a copy of The Maze Runner, but set in the desert which I didn’t like; just when I felt like we were going to start getting answers to all the questions posed in book 1, we didn’t. I would have liked to have seen what went on behind the scenes at WICKED prior to the maze. To be honest, if I hadn’t already owned the three books, I probably would have stopped after the first.

4. The Glory by Lauren St. John

the glory

After the disappointment of the Maze Runner books, I wanted something I knew I would enjoy. I have a real love for horse stories, and have previously enjoyed St John’s One Dollar Horse trilogy, so had high hopes for this. Set in the American west following the progress of an epic 1200 mile horse race, this book is full of action and history and it was a thrilling read.

5. The Ice Twins by S. K. Tremayne

This was an unplanned read as I just happened to see a proof at work and decided to pick it up. Kirstie and Lydia are identical and inseparable twins, but Lydia tragically dies in an accident. The family are grieving when Kirstie suddenly starts to insist that she is Lydia and that it was Kirstie who died. This idea intrigued me, but sadly the execution was a little lacking. I was disappointed with the solution to the mystery and felt confused throughout rather than creeped-out/intrigued which is what I hope to get from a psychological thriller/mystery such as this.

6. The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

I loved this book. There is so much to be happy about with this book: the characters are excellently written, with real personality and flaws and relationships I can already feel myself becoming invested in; the plot is water-tight and full of action, well-paced and exciting; the writing itself is a joy to read and never feels stilted – I didn’t find myself wanting to skip boring passages, because there aren’t any! The only downside is that I have to wait  until next year for the sequel.

7. Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

This was my first book for the LGBT Readathon and it was an enjoyable read with strong central characters, although I would have liked to have seen more of some of them, particularly Paige and Grayson’s other theatre friends. This is a quick read, but a fun one.

8. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Probably one of my favourite books of the year so far. I loved the characters of Noah and Jude and really felt like they were real. I almost didn’t read this book at all because I assumed it was romance-centric based on the blurb and it was only because of the LGBT Readathon that I picked it up at all. I’m really glad I did and will probably go on about it until you’re all bored of hearing about it and start throwing things at me…

9. Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates

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This has been on my wishlist for a while now, and I finally bought it when the new paperback came out. Bates collates the experiences of hundreds of women who have experienced sexism in all forms, from seemingly minor incidents to sexual abuse and rape. It a difficult read in some ways – there were times when I wanted to cry with anger and sadness for the women and girls whose stories are told – but it is also an empowering read as it encourages us to stop making excuses for the everyday incidents which all women experience and to start standing up for ourselves as a unit. Bates addresses the issues of men and feminism, sexism against men, and sexism in the digital age. This is a really important book and one that everyone should read.

What have you been reading recently?