Tag Archives: ya books

Five Favourite: books for young adults

My Five Favourite series is focused around the three categories in which I now have books published. The last post was my Five Favourite Creepy Stories, and the next and final one will be Poems. That means this time it’s my Five Favorite books aimed at the audience of my own series, The Secret of the Tirthas. These are mainly pre- and early teens, but with crossover appeal to older readers. They’re books that I think can be enjoyed by the whole family – or at least all of them over nine-years-old!

1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

OK, so there’s no surprises with the start. Harry Potter is hardwired into our lives now for a very good reason – it’s brilliant. I’ve chosen Goblet of Fire as my favourite although it’s marginal over the first and all the later ones.

Why do I like this one in particular? I like the fact it’s where it starts to get properly dark, with the fate of Cedric and the proper return of Voldemort. I like the first battle between Harry and Voldemort. (I also like the fact the Quidditch World Cup in the film is set on the Sussex Downs, near where I was born.)

Whilst including Harry Potter is a no-brainer, I will admit something here. When I first tried to read the Philosopher’s Stone I was turned off by one phrase on the first page and put it down… for years. It was only thanks to my wife, a big fan, that I picked it up again, pushed past that section – and then devoured the whole lot in a few weeks one summer.

2. Northern Lights

Five Favourite YA books: Northern Lights

So I’m getting the obvious out of the way first. Philip Pullman has been a major inspiration in my writing. I like Northern Lights best out of all the books in His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust. I love the settings, the cold north and Oxford spires, the armoured bears, the nuanced appearance of Mrs Coulter – and of course the sharp mind and character of Lyra.

3. Chicken Dance

Five Favourite YA books: Chicken Dance

Now for something completely different. I read this book on my own years ago, and then read it again recently to my two boys. They loved it too.

Chicken Dance is the story of a boy who lives on a chicken farm and gains fame in his hometown by entering them into competitions. Don Schmidt has his own special take on the world, quirky, cautious and observant. Despite poor treatment by his family, he remains the true grown-up – even when events take a strange turn, and he begins to investigate the mystery of his sister who supposedly died when he was born…

Check out my Goodreads review here.

4. Cigars of the Pharaoh

Five Favourite YA books: Tintin

I remember my excitement at seeing a Tintin book, King Ottakar’s Sceptre, in a shop in Eastbourne when I was nine. I was staying on a long summer holiday with my grandma. I asked her if I could buy it with my book token but she was hesitant as it was a comic (or graphic novel, as we’d say now…) She eventually agreed and so began my passion for Tintin.

It was hard to select my favourite. It came down to a fight between this one, Cigars of the Pharaoh, and the superb Tintin in Tibet. I chose Cigars of the Pharoah because it was a breakneck adventure and it made me laugh – a lot, especially the eccentric archaeologist, Dr Sophocles Sarcophogus. You can read about how Tintin inspired The Secret of the Tirthas here.

5. The Girl Savage

I love Katherine Rundell and find it hard to select my favourite from excellent books such as Rooftoppers, The Explorer and The Wolf Wilder. But ultimately I think The Girl Savage pips it, particularly for the sheer exuberance of the opening section where tomboy Will runs through the South African countryside, living a wild and free existence. She is loved by her father, and adores every bit of her life. But it’s all about to be shattered by the arrival of a terrible stepmother. Like all of Rundell’s books, The Girl Savage drips with poetry whilst retaining a strong sense of plot and direction.

And now for the ones that got away…

Moominvalley in November. Not really young adult, but I didn’t feel I could leave the Moomins out. I read them when I was eight, but think they appeal up to ages twelve or older. They have a beautiful combination of friendship, strangeness and adventure – surrounded by a wondrous delight in northern landscape and nature.

The Three Investigators – The Mystery of the Screaming Clock. I loved loved loved this series as a kid. They’re now out of print but you can still get them second-hand online – and I keep finding them rummaging around in old book stores. Good news, as my boys love them too!

Skellig – David Almond has a masterful touch for fantasy that subtly encroaches the edges of reality – and of the ability of kids to accept and engage with it. This story of a boy finding a damaged angel in his garage is truly magical.

Earthsea – a wonderful fantasy series from the late Ursula le Guin. The moment in the first book when the young mage Ged accidentally summons a shadow creature is every bit as dramatic as the ‘You shall not pass’ Gandalf-on-the-bridge moment in The Lord of the Rings.

Five Favourite YA books: Earthsea

A Library of Lemons – a fantastic book about the relationship between a boy and his father, struggling to cope with the loss of their mother / wife.

And finally, I couldn’t finish without superlative praise for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I read them all in my early teens but think of them as adult fantasy, which is the only reason they’re not in this top five.

Five Favourite books: The Lord of the Rings

 

If you’re inspired to read more young adult novels, why not check out my own adventure mystery series, beginning with The City of Light. What would you do if you inherited a garden with a portal to India – and found a killer was using it?

Best Books: Young Adult & Children’s

I’ve become quite a fan of the readers’ social media platform, Goodreads. I like it for three reasons:

  1. It’s a great way to get to know readers and writers, and to make friends. You can even compare all the books you’ve ever read with them, and see how similar (or wildly opposed) your tastes are.
  2. As a writer, it’s a great way of seeing what readers think about your books. Most users rate their books as soon as they finish them, and some do written reviews. Because it’s a social media platform, you get more reviews than on Amazon or other retail sites.
  3. It’s a great place to find out about books, as well as to log all the books that you’ve read and want to read. A friend once said that she wished she could write just a few sentences of each book she’d read as she finished it, because it’s so easy to forget books after a while. And it’s the perfect platform for that.

You can check out what people think about The Secret of the Tirthas, compare your books with mine, and send me a friend request all on my profile page.

Anyhow, I thought I’d share some of the best books I’ve read over the last couple of years, which I’ve reviewed on Goodreads. In this first post: Young Adult & Children’s Books.

A Library of Lemons, by Jo Cotterill

A beautiful book about the mistaken routes we take to cope with grief and the long-term harm they do. Lovely, lucid writing – I particularly liked the image of the reclusive father receiving an invitation and looking like a hamster about to be plucked from its cage. Recommended for readers aged 10+, including grown-ups. 5 stars

Charlotte’s Web, by EB White

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I didn’t come across it as a child, but thankfully have had the chance to read it to my own children. The writing is wonderful, rendering the beauty and sadness of nature with almost perfect precision. The ending is, of course, heart breaking, and my wife and I had to take it in turns consoling our six-year-old. But he understood bravely the message that (paraphrasing Dylan Thomas) whilst friends may die, friendship will not. 5 stars

The Last Wild, by Piers Torday

Gripping, harrowing, comical, exciting… and with a very strong message about how much damage we do intentionally and unintentionally if we don’t remain vigilant about our connection to the natural world. This is a fantastic roller coaster of a book, with heroic children and animals, and the animal world’s version of the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the form of Captain Skuldiss. 5 stars

Doctor Who: Ghosts of India, by Mark Morris

I really enjoyed this book. India just after the second world war is masterfully depicted, with the hope, mystery and exuberance nicely balanced against the ominous clouds of coming strife with partition. The adventure has a good blend of villains and monsters, from the ghastly white ‘half-dead men’ to crazed Army Majors, giant crocodiles and cobras. The meeting of Gandhi with the Doctor is wonderful, and it’s left to Donna to draw parallels – and the Doctor to highlight the one key difference between them. A fun ride, with a pointed note of sadness at the end. 4 stars

The Chicken Dance, by Jacques Couvillon

I love this book, it’s a fantastic take on the huge capacity for patience and acceptance that children have, and the things they’ll do to ensure that no matter what they’ll find a way to have fun and give their lives meaning. Don is a winning example of one of those kids who end up parenting their parents. His final act of kindness breaks your heart. My only criticism is that the book feels a little drawn out towards the end – but that’s not enough to knock it off the top spot. Surely the best book you’ll ever read about chickens, too. 5 stars


The Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor: An interactive ghost hunting adventure, by Ellie Firestone

A great, well written interactive book, perfect for the creepy season! I’ve just read this with my son (age 7) and we really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, he came to a sticky end, but we will be playing it again soon. Recommended. 5 stars

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

I loved the concept of this novel, in which the author draws on the fascinating power of old photographs to weave his fantastical story set between Florida and a wet and windy Welsh island. In the back notes Ransom Riggs explains how the creative process worked, with sometimes him hunting through thousands of archives to find the right picture and sometimes the story being pulled in a new direction by a chance find. With a big idea like this I’m sure there was a danger of things not working out. No fear. This is a masterful story full of strong characters, inspirational settings and a plot that keeps you gripped right to the end. 4 stars

Rooftoppers , by Katherine Rundell

Structurally, the book felt a little unbalanced, some bits were overly long – but somehow this added to its sense of originality and poetry. I loved the tangential metaphors, particularly as they illuminate Sophie’s inner life. And the ending leaves you in a perfect spin. 5 stars

We Were Liars, by E Lockhart

A stylish novel that messes around with your expectations. Set on an idyllic island, four privileged teenagers find their lives shadowed by an accident involving the narrator, which she is unable to remember. The story is pervaded by a sense of disturbance – brilliantly reflected by occasional, explosive images – and reproach throughout. Who’s the subject of this reproach – the wealthy patriarch, his money-grabbing daughters, the idealistic, enigmatic Gat? Given the unreliability of her memory, does the narrator even know herself? Well worth a second read, loved it. 4 stars

All Aboard the London Bus, by Patty Toht

Can’t fault this lovely book. Excellent illustrations and poems, and a great introduction to London. 5 stars


Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! , by Mo Willems

This has got to be one of the best picture books ever. The only time you will love hearing your children shouting ‘NO!’ 5 stars

The Dog in the Diamond Collar, by Rebecca Lisle

Read this with my boys aged 6 and 8 at bedtime. It’s a great story, full of laughs, with wonderful illustrations. The youngest couldn’t get over the name the three boys called the dog, Clinky Monkey (‘he’s not a monkey!’). I particularly liked the scene where they put the dog in a babygro and then wheel him around in a pram to get him into the zoo. When we finished, I asked the boys to mark it out of 10. 10 and, to quote, ‘Googol’ (10 to the 100th power) were the answers. 5 stars

Locked in Time, by Lois Duncan

I was drawn to this book by I Know What You Did Last Summer and the atmospheric Louisianan plantation setting. The story is enjoyable, with an engaging heroine who has to deal with the challenge of her father remarrying into an enigmatic southern family. The suspense is there, although perhaps not taut enough by today’s standards. 3 stars

A Year in Writing

Season’s greetings and a huge thanks to everyone who has supported me this year, particularly to bloggers, bookshop owners, festival organisers, and above all readers.

I’ve had a great year, and here’s a few highlights:

In January, I received my first review from an American blogger, Maureen, on her Hands Full Mama site. It’s an excellent site for reviews of children’s and YA books, and I was really pleased by Maureen’s write up: “I loved the way that Indian culture, religion, and mythology was incorporated into the plot. I also liked the mystery element…an exciting story.” If you want to read the full review – and perhaps subscribe to Maureen’s blog – you can do so here: The City of Light (Secret of the Tirthas) by Steve Griffin

The Dreamer Falls, Book 3 of The Secret of the Tirthas, came out in July. In the words of one reviewer: “I enjoyed the book very much. The author writes crisp and clear prose and has a gift for description. Above all he can tell an absorbing story. Although aimed at young adults this series can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.” Silversmith, 5-star review, Amazon UK

In October I was interviewed by the award-winning US children’s author, Cheryl Carpinello, on her blog – you can look at that here http://carpinelloswritingpages.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/meet-mg-english-author-steve-griffin.html

I did my second book signing at Barton’s Bookshop in Leatherhead in November. I can’t praise the owner and staff of this wonderful independent bookshop highly enough. Professional, friendly, funny – and always full of useful advice and insight into my writing. If you live locally please go there to buy all your books.

I had my first local radio interview at Dorking’s Pippfest in September, and in December I had a stall at my sons’ school Christmas Fair – yet more opportunities to meet and chat with readers.

In November I started a free promotion of the ebook version of The City of Light, which led to some high Amazon positions (#6 in UK, #13 in US), and the first Amazon number 1 in Germany. My mum is half German, so maybe there’s something in my storytelling that has particular resonance with our German cousins!

Right now, I’m halfway through writing the fourth book of The Secret of the Tirthas, The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask, and loving every minute of it. It’s set largely in an English country house, based on Polesden Lacy in the Surrey Hills. Plenty of mysteries, leading to some big surprises – and a very unexpected alliance…

I hope you all had a good year, and wish you all the best for 2017.

 

 

 

 

The City of Light’s first Amazon no.1!

The City of Light has reached its first no.1 spot in the Amazon charts!

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OK, let me qualify that for a moment.  It’s no.1 in Germany, in the chart of free children’s books in English. It also got to no.6 in the equivalent UK chart, and no.13 in the US at one stage, kept off the top spot by The Jungle Book, Treasure Island, and some books on Minecraft.

Anyway, it’s a start – and thank you to all those German readers who are downloading my book!

The Dreamer Falls – little excerpt

A little excerpt from The Dreamer Falls, due out within the next month or so (photo from Murchison Falls, Uganda):

“She must have dozed off for a while because when she opened her eyes again she found herself staring at something she recognised, lying on a bare patch of yellowy-brown sand, beneath the hanging fronds of a palm. It was something she knew very well, long and squat, a creature she knew from stories, right from childhood, and one that she had seen before in… zoos!

‘A crocodile! It’s a crocodile!’ she screamed. The boat lurched suddenly as she scrambled to sit upright.

‘Sit still!’ shouted Zuri. ‘We’re all dead if we go in the water!'”

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The Dreamer Falls – African photoblog

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The Dreamer Falls, the third adventure in The Secret of the Tirthas, is now in draft and due for publication this summer. It’s set mainly in the jungle in Cameroon, where Lizzie has to go to save a local village boy who’s accidentally discovered one of the portals in her garden.

I decided to set The Dreamer Falls in Cameroon for two reasons: 1) I was keen to bring into a story a Nkisi fetish statue and some other interesting African artefacts I’d seen at an exhibition in The National Gallery and 2) I wanted Lizzie to experience the awe and mystery and hardship of traveling through the jungle. And particularly, I wanted her to encounter a few (but not all) of these beautiful creatures, captured on a trip to Uganda a few years ago:

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And some of this magnificent scenery:

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Lastly, I couldn’t resist including this photo of the group that went looking for gorillas – the rangers carried guns because of the danger from poachers and armed rebels.

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Hands Full Mama blog – review of The City of Light

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Just received a very nice review of The City of Light from Maureen, a Massachusetts book reviewer, on her Hands Full Mama blog. Here’s an excerpt:

“This was a lovely book. I loved the way that Indian culture, religion, and mythology was incorporated into the plot. Griffin’s descriptions of Kashi are vivid and realistic. I also liked the mystery element; Lizzie begins to suspect that someone else is using the portal – for sinister reasons. She isn’t sure who she can trust – and who she should suspect… This is an exciting story, and even readers who have moved on to ‘Young Adult’ books might enjoy this book. I am looking forward to Lizzie’s next adventure!”

Like getting another Christmas present…

If you want to read the full review – and perhaps subscribe to Maureen’s excellent blog – you can do so here:

The City of Light (Secret of the Tirthas) by Steve Griffin

The Cigars of the Pharaoh

Last weekend I handed a copy of The Red Sea Sharks to a cashier at Waterstone’s in Guildford. She went ‘Ah wow, Tintin!’ and immediately asked my son if he knew who their mezzanine statue of the bearded sailor was.

Well, he’s four, so he didn’t have a clue, but I of course mumbled that it was Captain Haddock. How would she know I’d spent a few days ploughing through my recently rediscovered collection of Tintin books – and found this one missing?

It got me thinking just how much Herge (Georges Remi, the Belgian creator of Tintin) had influenced The Secret of the Tirthas. I remember the excitement of getting up before everyone and rushing downstairs to read The Cigars of the Pharoah in the early morning light. I loved the rich variety of the story settings, the good humour and painstaking attention to detail. Trekking and yetis in Tintin in Tibet. Dying of thirst in the desert in The Crab with the Golden Claws. Being chased by an ape in a Scottish castle in The Black Island. Marooned on a raft in The Red Sea Sharks.

When I started working out The Secret of the Tirthas I was thinking about how the world itself can be as awe-inspiring as any fantasy creation, especially when new places are seen for the first time. What better way to explore this than to have a multitude of exotic locations accessible from your back garden?

The Cigars of the Pharoah remains my favourite Tintin book, set mainly in Egypt and India. I read it at something like eight years old and found it exciting and very, very funny, especially the character of Sophocles Sarcophagus. And the first two countries, alongside Nepal, that I went to on my own steam were Egypt and India, so I’m sure Herge’s influence runs deep.

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Aswan, Egypt, a long time ago

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