Blog Tour: David Owen – Panther

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Blog Tour: David Owen – Panther

Released on 7th May, Panther is the debut novel from author David Owen, and tells the story of Derrick, a teen who is coming to terms with his parents’ divorce and his sister’s attempt at suicide, while also attempting to track down a panther on the loose in South East London.

I was kindly invited to take part in blog tour celebrating the book’s release, and have an extract from the book to share with you. My review follows the extract.

The alley showed no sign of what had happened a couple of nights ago. The dustbins had been emptied, but the warm, sticky smell of ripened rubbish still remained. Derrick leaned down to peer through the hole in the fence. No sign of black fur.
The allotments seemed as tranquil as always. An overcast sky made it darker than usual. Through the sheds and beanpoles he could barely see to the back. Only the wavering branches of the oak tree stood out against the sky. A car alarm spiralled in the distance.
Anger had threatened to overcome him when he ran from the car. Now he began to relax. It was the allot¬ments. Somehow they drained his anger. They were the only place that he felt free. The Beast was on the loose here, free of the trap, free of the depression that had sealed away everywhere else in his life.
The wooden fence creaked as he leaned back against it. He kicked at a newspaper by his feet. Dad had depression too. The revelation wouldn’t sink in even now that his anger had faded. He’d never seen Dad crying or screaming or smashing things against the wall. Arguments with Mum had been heated. They’d always tried to keep it quiet, as if Derrick wouldn’t notice. Then suddenly the whispers would ignite into furious shouting like a struck match. Maybe it was the depression that made him behave that way. Maybe the depression was the real reason they’d split up. But Mum had done plenty of shouting too.
A father was supposed to look after their family. That’s what he was always told. Now that Dad was gone, someone else had to pick up the slack.
He scooped up the newspaper and read the front-page story about the panther. All sorts of people were coming forward with accounts of seeing it. It was on my garden shed eyeing up my pet rabbit, said one stupid woman. It peed all over my radishes and killed them, said an equally stupid man.
They were all liars. The Beast was there for him.
It was a sign that things were only going to keep getting worse. Now Dad was like Charlotte too. Derrick was the only person left who could do something about it. The Beast’s freedom felt like an insult.
He let the newspaper drop and it landed on his feet. As he glanced down at it, something else caught his eye. Their garden fence was mostly hidden behind overgrown bushes, but they were cut back around the gate enough to keep it clear. Reaching forward, he brushed his fingertips along the wood just inside the gate. A vertical mark, starting as high as his chest, had been gouged deep into the grain almost down to the ground. Wide, splintered grooves. The damage stood out in the dark like a wound.
He recognised it immediately. It looked exactly like the banisters at the bottom of the stairs where their cat liked to scratch. Derrick had read about panther behaviour during his Google searches. They were highly territorial. They’d scratch somewhere to sharpen their claws and mark their turf.
The Beast had chosen his back garden.
A harsh bark from the allotments jolted him out of his thoughts. Derrick froze, but it was only a fox. He was used to being woken up by foxes screaming at each other. Another fox answered, and the two barked back and forth from opposite ends of the allotments. (As a form of communication, he didn’t think it was wildly different to Facebook.) After a moment another fox joined in, and another and another.
The air grew thick with noise, a grating cacophony that tumbled over and into itself like rocks rolling down a cliff. He had to fight the urge to cover his ears. He wanted to record it and fumbled in his pockets before remembering that his phone was lost. The noise seemed to be woven into the fabric of the darkness.
Slowly, Derrick pressed his face into the cool metal of the chain-link. His breath came in shaky, irregular flurries. It sounded like a thousand foxes now, but he couldn’t see a single one.
Quiet.
The low growl cut through the middle of it all and the foxes hushed. It was a growl like a rumble of thunder, which seemed to roll in from every direction, simultaneously miles away and a breath upon his neck. It shook the air and quivered inside his stomach. He squeezed the fence so hard that the metal cut into his skin.
As the growl died away, silence settled once again over the allotments, as if nothing at all had happened.
Derrick turned and ran. He didn’t stop until the kitchen door was locked behind him.

An incredibly visceral read, Panther is a brilliant debut. It sensitively deals with the stigma of depression; how it affects those diagnosed, and in different ways, but also shedding light on how depression also affects the loved ones of those suffering.

Tackling difficult issues in a book whilst also letting the story shine through is not an easy task, but one which is certainly achieved in Panther. Through Owen’s excellent use of description (as evidenced above), the reader is immedately able to place themselves in Derrick’s brain, and to follow him on his attempt to renavigate the world; a world where, in addition to the panther, his parents have split up, his sister has attempted suicide, his best friend has deserted him for the popular kids at school, and his long-time crush is unaware of his feelings.

A quick read, but one that stays with you.

Many thanks to Grace at Constable, Robinson and Corsair for inviting me to be part of the blog tour and for providing a copy of the book for review.
For more information on David Owen, his website can be found here, or follow him on twitter, here.

Follow the rest of the tour (or what’s left!) below:

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Cover Songs

Yesterday, Eve Ainsworth (author of 7 Days) posted a discussion point on twitter regarding cover versions, and asking her followers to suggest their favourites.

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Like Eve, I’m not always a massive fan of covers. I’m quite particular about my music tastes, and find many cover versions (particularly those where certain TV shows are concerned) to be really quite bland and little more than karaoke. However, this isn’t always the case, so, inspired by Eve’s post, here are my favourite covers that I think add a little something to the original versions.

Bon Iver – I Can’t Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt)

Shorn of the showy and embellished piano line of Bonnie Raitt’s original, Bon Iver’s cover of I Can’t Make You Love Me is an absolutely haunting take on an 80s standard. The more staccato nature of the piano playing, married to Justin Vernon’s falsetto vocals is just gorgeous . The chord progression during ‘don’t patronise me/don’t patronise me’, brings me out in goosebumps every time.

Dustin Kensrue – Round Here (Counting Crows)

While I love his work in Thrice, I can find Dustin Kensrue’s solo work a little hit and miss at times. His choice and delivery of covers, however, is excellent, as this version of the Counting Crows’ Round Here demonstrates. Lyrically this song is beautiful, and I love the guitar tone on the original, but the delivery is a little disjointed and Adam Duritz’ vocals are an acquired taste. Dustin’s solo, acoustic version of this song is simpler, his vocals a little rougher and more immediate, and absolutely captivating. I’d love to bear witness to this at some point in my musical life.

James Blake – A Case of You (Joni Mitchell)

Another that involves nothing more than solo vocal and a piano, James Blake’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You moves me to tears each time I hear it. Obviously brilliant lyrically, there’s something a little too uptempo about the acoustic delivery of the original that doesn’t quite seem to work for me. The fluid piano line of Blake’s version, however seems much more in keeping with the content of the song. Paired with his vocals, it’s devastating good.

The Ataris – Boys of Summer (Don Henley)

A staple of the all-ages club nights I would attend before university, I still have a massive soft spot for The Ataris’ version of Don Henley’s The Boys of Summer. The increase in tempo, the driving drum line and the riffs on this version just really work for me and capture that end of summer feeling. So good.

Kevin Devine – Joey (Concrete Blonde)

There’s clearly a theme running through all of this which involves the 80s and my favourite vocalists from today stripping down those songs. This is no-different. Released properly in the UK as one of a set of b-sides to Splitting Up Christmas, I was lucky enough to see Kevin perform this to a sold out Deaf Insitute in Manchester. An utterly, utterly captivating performance which stunned the crowd into silence. I quite enjoy the darker feel of the original, but Kevin manages to make this his own.

Jesse Lacey – Accident Prone (Jawbreaker)

Played solo on electric guitar, Jesse Lacey’s cover of Accident Prone is gentler and more flowing than Jawbreaker’s original, but no worse off for it. Really allowing the lyrics to shine through, this is just lovely.

These were mine; what are yours?

2015: an update

2015 has begun much as 2014 ended; in a ridiculously busy haze. I really should learn to be less shocked by this and accept it as the norm. I finally moved into my new flat at the end of November, and after an exceptionally busy Christmas period at work, my new year has been filled with gigs, book events and the mountainous amounts of life admin that homeowning results in.

While I started the year in what felt like a post-christmas reading slump, Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen’s Lobsters broke that quite spectacularly – it’s a book that I can’t recommend highly enough to those who enjoy contemporary YA. It’s awkward, sweet and genuinely funny in all the best ways, and had me laughing out loud in public places more times than is socially acceptable. Plus, hot ribena (<3). Since then I’ve been on something of a reading roll and have read over 20 books so far – a new high for me. Standout titles:

Louise O’Neill – Only Ever Yours

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The best books do a number of things. They ask you both to devour and savour in equal measure, and through immersing you so thoroughly in their world, they remove you from the reality of yours. On finishing the book,  ‘visceral’ was the only word that stuck with any conviction. While set in a speculative future, there are too many similarities with today to make Only Ever Yours a comfortable read, which is entirely the point. It’s absolutely unflinching in its portrayal of young women and their lives; the issues and pressures that society allows them to, or even makes them face every day.

Excellently constructed, sharply written and with a tightness of pace that ratchets up as we reach the conclusion, Only Ever Yours is a genuinely accomplished debut, and Louise’s next book, Asking For It is now at the top of my 2015 most anticipated list!

Robin Stevens – Arsenic for Tea

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The sequel to last year’s Murder Most Unladylike, and arguably an improvement on its excellent predecessor. Another page turning mystery that kept me guessing until the end. It was lovely to see Hazel develop and come into her own while also building on the lovely friendship set up in the first book. I love the world that Robin Stevens has set up and can’t wait to read book 3.

Becky Albertalli – Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

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Thoroughly recommended by most people I follow on social media and with good reason as it’s such a lovely book. The comparisons to John Green and Rainbow Rowell are inevitable but deserved and complimentary; Albertalli has created a world so easy to immerse yourself in, with characters who you care about immediately. I devoured this in less than a day in my breaks at work and on my commute – so good I could barely put it down to actually get off the bus at my stop!

Non Pratt – Remix

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One of my most anticipated reads of 2015; Non’s debut, Trouble, was one of my favourite books of 2014, and this book has at its heart two things very close to mine – music and friendship. I was lucky to receive an advance copy from the lovely folks at Walker books and devoured it in one sitting.

The love of music that permeates the whole book,  from the chapter titles ( which reference some of my favourite songs/records, Jack’s Mannequin’s Dark Blue and Copeland’s In Motion to name a few), to the descriptions of the live performances feels truly, truly genuine, and the friendship between the two main characters in this book is so excellently portrayed – intense, imperfect and real. A great book.

I’ve also set myself a few reading challenges for the year:

2015 YA Book Prize (10/10)

More on this next time; my thoughts on the shortlist, the prize itself and a wonderful ceremony that I was lucky enough to attend a couple of days ago.

2015 Classics Challenge, run by Stacey at theprettybooks (2/12)

I’m making steady progress with this challenge, though I’ll need to crack on to get North and South (my title for March) read as I keep getting distracted by the wonderful proofs that arrive on  my desk at work.

2015 Carnegie Medal Shortlist (1/8) & 2015 Greenaway Medal shortlist (1/8)

I have complex thoughts on the Carnegie list, as ever, but am very much looking forward to shadowing this year’s award with my CGK book group as last year’s process passed me by somewhat.

More next time, see you then!

Book Review: Eren by Simon P. Clark

Happy Books are My Bag day!

Quite appropriately, I’m at work today, where, as well as handing out those wonderful bags, we have storytellers from the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre performing mid-afternoon.

Also, quite appropriately, today is my day to take part in the blog tour for Simon P. Clark’s debut novel Eren. I received a digital proof from Constable and Robinson via NetGalley in exchange for this review.

When Oli and his mum go to stay with his uncle in the country for the summer, Oli is angry at the secrets being kept from him. Why are they there? And why is his father not with them?

But Oli soon has his own secret to keep. In the attic of his uncle’s house he discovers Eren – a monstrous, bird-like creature; an ageless, dreamlike being fuelled by the power of stories.

While at first, Eren intrigues Oli with his telling of dark fairy tales, soon he demands that Oli tell him stories of his own, no matter what the cost.

Reminiscent at times of David Almond’s Skellig and Graham Joyce’s The Tooth Fairy, this is a modern fable about the power that stories can hold over us, and the ambiguous nature of truth (or truths). Simon P. Clark has created an excellent debut that builds and wraps tension until the very last page.

For more information about Simon P. Clark, visit his blog, which can be found here

Simon has also written a number of short tales to accompany Eren, which include photographs by Brandon Rechten, found here

Follow the rest of the blog tour:

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Top 5 Fictional Dogs

For those outside of the bookish loop of the Internet, the #bookadayuk campaign has been running on Twitter since the spring, with various companies each curating a month’s worth of daily tweets along a variety of bookish lines.

October is curated by Books Are My Bag – this year’s campaign is launched on Super Thursday (9th October) with events happening in bookshops up and down the country the following Saturday.

That long introduction out of the way, I thought I would take the opportunity brought to me by today’s tweet, and write about my favourite dogs in fiction, something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. That and I couldn’t narrow the choice down to one! In reverse order:

1. Timmy, The Famous Five, Enid Blyton
Growing up, the ‘…of Adventure’ books were my favourite Enid Blyton series. So it was when Seven Stories opened their Blyton retrospective exhibition that my love of Timmy really developed. Timmy came to storytimes, he ate in the cafe, and he even made friends with the How To Train Your Dragons that lived in the exhibition upstairs. Viking hats a must. With the Famous Five’s 70s TV theme constantly playing in the exhibition, I’ll always recall him best as ‘Timmy the do-og’.

2. Claude, Alex T. Smith
Claude is the bone-baguette-eating hero of Alex T. Smith’s wonderful series for developing readers. My go-to books in the workplace for children making their first forays into reading, Claude and his sidekick Sir Bobblysock (an actual bobbly sock, of course) get involved in all kinds of ridiculous adventures, all told in Smith’s hilarious, laugh out loud style.

3. Biff, Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, Anna Kemp and Sarah Ogilvie
While I adore both the narrative and rhyme of Anna Kemp’s story, it’s Sarah Ogilvie’s illustrations that really bring Biff to life. The classic unexpected hero, Biff is just adorable.

4. George, Oh No, George!, Chris Haughton
George is a dog who wants to be good. He hopes he’ll be good. He tries to be good, but, lured by cake, cats to chase and lovely soil to dig, George is a dog who ends up in trouble. One of the most realistically portrayed dogs in fiction, George is just brilliant.

5. Manchee, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
‘Need a poo, Todd’. And so opens Patrick Ness’ brilliant The Knife of Never Letting Go. The Chaos Walking series is my favourite trilogy of books, without question, Todd, the realistically and honestly flawed main character is one of my favourite leads in fiction…so it follows that Manchee gets to top the list of canines. I think this picture of Dug from Pixar’s Up accurately sums up my thoughts on this topic:

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Autumn TBR Pile

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

1. David Almond – Half A Creature From The Sea

2. Maggie Stiefvater – Blue Lily, Lily Blue

3. David Leavitt – The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alan Turing biopic)

4. Cat Clarke – Undone

5. Various – The great War

6. Seamus Milne – The Enemy Within

7.James Dawson – Say Her Name

8. T.S. Easton – An English Boy In New York

9. Andrew Smith – 100 Sideways Miles

10. Various – Monstrous Affections

A Slight Return

An unintentional blogging break, it’s been an incredibly busy 14 months where I:

  • moved to London as I got a new job in the capital selling books
  • spoke on the panel at this year’s SYP AGM
  • cycled 40 miles for charity
  • ran my first half marathon
  • saw the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play ‘Married Life’ from Pixar’s ‘Up’
  • did my fourth (almost) full Brand New tour, including a jaunt to Europe to see them play in a tiny venue
  • and officially photographed another two weddings, among other things.

Life is as settled as it can be now (I’m mid flat-purchase), so it seemed like the right time to get the writing show back on the road before the madness of the festive season begins at work. Autumn is usually my season of Getting Things Done so I’m hoping that this is more than a slight return!