imaginative girl

Saying Goodbye

Just over ten years ago, Patrick and I set off on a windy, rainy day, through semi-flooded roads, driving two hours from home to Border Collie Trust, Birmingham, to find ourselves a new dog. We were still grief-stricken over the loss of our first dog, Nika (who died far too young of a terrible genetic disease), but I was desperate to have a new dog to look after, to help heal the wound.

When we arrived, we looked through their big book of dogs and found two that looked like good matches. The assistant asked us which one we'd like to meet first, and we said, "It doesn't matter. We'll meet them both."

She came back a minute later with a short-haired, black-and-brown-and-white border collie mix full of energy...who took one look at us and leapt straight into our arms, wagging her tail, radiating joy with her whole body, and giving us one unmistakable message: It's you! You finally came for me!!!

We were supposed to take her for a walk around the grassy yard, but every few feet we had to stop because she kept flopping onto her back for tummy rubs. She didn't want exercise at that point - she wanted love. And as we knelt over her, petting her while her whole body wriggled with delight, Patrick looked up at me and said: "Are we really going to send her back to her kennel to look at another one?"

Well, of course we weren't. We couldn't. She'd chosen us, and we chose her back. She rode in my lap all the way back home.

We never knew exactly how old she was. The vets back then, in 2006, said that based on her teeth, she could be anywhere between two and five years old. She'd been found after wandering stray somewhere in Wales. She had a bad shoulder, and based on the pattern of the injury, the vet said she'd probably been thrown out of a moving car. It looked like she might have had puppies at some point when she was extremely young. It was too late for her shoulder to be fixed by the time we adopted her; she'd been wandering stray for at least a month, and it was during Bonfire Night in the UK, so she had developed a terrible fear of fireworks and loud noises in general.

But oh, did she love people. She loved people so much. And the love she gave us was incredible.

I was diagnosed with M.E. not long after we got her, so I was never able to give her the long walks she adored - she had to rely on Patrick and on various dog-walkers we hired over the years for her exercise. But she loooooved to cuddle up on the couch with me, and she kept me company all through every day. Most of my first pregnancy was spent cuddled on the couch with her curled into my side, a warm, loving companion. And when we brought home our first baby, she accepted him immediately, too. He - and then his little brother - were the family puppies, and she was infinitely patient with them both. She played very gentle tug-o-war with them once they were old enough, and even as her spine grew worse and worse over the years, until she had to take a cocktail of four different medications (including multiple painkillers) every day, she remained gentle, loving and invariably affectionate with all four of us.

She spent the last couple of years of her life tottering around, as her deteriorating spine made it more and more difficult for her to walk, but she still exuded love and affection and she loved, most of all, being surrounded by people. She was a part of every family celebration, and she cuddled into anyone who was sad.

On Tuesday night, she had a terrible stroke. It was the most terrifying thing I've ever seen. I spent that night sleepless, worrying...but the next morning, she was better. The vets said she'd made a miraculous recovery, and she might have many happy months left. I went to bed filled with relief.

She had a second stroke that night. That time, she did not recover.

Yesterday, we had to make the hardest decision. She spent the afternoon beforehand in our sunny garden, being petted and loved by the whole family. Patrick and I were both with her at the end.

The kids are devastated now, and so are we. She was gentle, loving, and an essential part of our family.

The love she gave us over the last 10+ years was well worth the pain of losing her now...but oh, does it hurt.

If you have a pet, please give them an extra hug from me today.

And if I'm a little slower than usual in responding here or elsewhere for a while, I hope you'll understand.
imaginative girl

Chalk Art and Joy and Chocolate

I've always loved my local Waterstones and felt really lucky, too, in how supportive they've always been of my books. It's an incredibly warm, welcoming environment in every way, and my family visits it at least once a week as readers, so of course it was the natural place to host my launch party for The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart.

But I still never expected this.

And OF COURSE I had to head straight in to town this afternoon to check it out in person!

I am in awe of the staff member who created this chalk art, replicating the front cover of the book so perfectly. And the way it felt for me to see it there, filling up that familiar blackboard over the counter in the shop I've been visiting with my family and loving ever since I first moved to Wales 7 years ago...

It felt amazing. It feels amazing.

I am really, really lucky to have such a wonderful local bookstore, and such a supportive one, too.

And naturally, I can never walk out of a bookshop without a new book for myself, too! I've been hearing wonderful things about Susan Dennard's Truthwitch for ages, and just check out how gorgeous this cover is. How could I resist?

It's 3 weeks and two days until the launch party. (We discussed the food for it today, and oh yes, there WILL be chocolate!)

It's three weeks exactly until The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes out in the UK. Chapter One is already online. Everything's ready.

I cannot wait to share it with you guys!
imaginative girl

A Love Letter to my Favorite Book Published in 2016, on the Occasion of its One-Year Birthday

It's January 12th - which means it's exactly one year to the day from the day that Patrick's Secrets of the Dragon Tomb was published!


I can't even count how many times I've read this book - and I loved it more and more every time. When I read the first draft, well before it sold or even found an agent, I knew immediately that it would be published. It was so sparky and funny and exciting and heartfelt. It was just wonderful! And I loved every new version more. The final, published version absolutely blew me away...and I wasn't the only one!

Publishers Weekly gave it one of their rare starred reviews, saying
Samphire's swashbuckling tale is both a pitch-perfect pastiche of a Victorian serial and a well-rounded, three-dimensional story of a boy learning that the world is more complicated than he thought. Abundant humor, intricate worldbuilding details, and precisely timed slapstick and mayhem mesh as neatly as the gears and levers of the water abacus, producing a gorgeously articulated clockwork of a novel.

(And you can read the full review here.)

You can see a whole batch of other great reviews from other magazines and blogs here.

It's a wonderful book, full of hilarious moments, exciting action adventure, wild pterodactyls, dangerous clockwork crabs, spies and mysteries and infuriating (in the best possible way) family members. I looooove practical, put-upon Edward and his family full of eccentric geniuses and social climbers.

I love this book!

And look - it has a brand-new cover lined up for its paperback edition:

Isn't it cool?

The paperback edition won't come out until July 18th, though, on the same date that Book Two - the wonderful The Emperor or Mars - will be published, carrying Edward and his sisters on even more fabulous adventures. (Sea serpents! Museum heists! And a very, very awesome girl thief!) So if you want to catch up in time to grab Emperor on its publication day, I vote for you to buy Secrets of the Dragon Tomb now, in celebration of its one-year birthday.

Happy birthday, Secrets! I love you! :)
flying cookies!

Disasters, Hot Chocolate Strategies, And an Opening Chapter

Alas, yesterday's hot chocolate experiment was such a disaster, I'm not even going to report the fine details here (except to say: TEN CARDAMOM PODS IS DEFINITELY TOO MUCH)! On the upside, though, my 8-year-old has volunteered to join with me in the experimentation process, making his own search for a new favorite hot chocolate recipe - and I have to admit (with mingled pride and envy) that his own hot chocolate experiment yesterday was FAR better than mine! Still, we're both planning to do some fine-tuning today with our next round of experiments when he gets back home from school.

(If you want some context for this quest for hot chocolate perfection, check out the blog entry I posted this weekend. I WILL come up with a perfect pair of new recipes, I swear it!)

And check out this fabulous piece from The Guardian that was forwarded to me by Joanna Murray! The writer, Felicity Cloake, rounds up lots of different hot chocolate recipes using various approaches, then offers her own favorite recipe. I don't think it would work for me because of how little I personally like milk chocolate - but if you do like milk chocolate, you should definitely check it out! And I loved reading about all the different methods.

In more chocolate-themed news, it's one month exactly until The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes out in the UK - and in celebration, you can read Chapter One on my website now! I really hope that you enjoy it. :)

Of course, you can pre-order the book now - and if you're in the US or Canada, while you have longer to wait for the final book, you can enter this Goodreads giveaway for an ARC, too. Good luck!

Now I'm back to plotting out my next attempt at a perfect cardamom hot chocolate. Please wish me luck!
hot chocolate

Hot Chocolate Recipes and Obsessions

Readers who've been keeping me company for the last few years might remember that when the Kat trilogy was re-released as a boxed set, I declared its publication day (October 7, 2014) to be Hot Chocolate Day. In the week leading up to it, I posted one hot chocolate recipe after another, including guest recipes from friends. (There was Hot Chocolate One: the Original Comfort Recipe; Hot Chocolate Two: Vegan Perfection; Hot Chocolate Three: Witch's Chocolate; and then, on Hot Chocolate Day itself, Coconut Milk Hot Chocolate.)

Of course, hot chocolate was never actually mentioned or drunk in the Kat books - I just like hot chocolate, so I thought Hot Chocolate Day would be a fun way to celebrate the boxed set. (And artist Sally Jane Thompson even drew a beautiful sketch of Kat drinking hot chocolate for the occasion!) But not entirely coincidentally, on October 24, 2014, just a few weeks after Hot Chocolate Day, as I was lying in bed in the dark waiting to fall asleep...I suddenly jerked upright, grabbed my laptop, and wrote the first 450 words of a new book - a book about a fierce dragon girl driven by her passion for chocolate (and a pot of enchanted hot chocolate that gets her into trouble in the first place!).


(Sketch by Sally Jane Thompson.)

It was, of course, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart...which is being published in the UK in just 33 days (and in the US/CA 3-1/2 months later).

So. It seems like time to start work on a few new recipes!

My personal cooking goal over the next couple of weeks is to come up with one recipe that I really like for cardamom hot chocolate (something I've been curious about for a while) and one recipe I really like for chilli hot chocolate (my fiery dragon-heroine's very favorite kind!). (I know how she made it in the novel, of course, but that was based on eighteenth-century chocolate-making methods, and I'm not working with all of the same ingredients, so I'll have to make my own recipe a little different.)


Today, I made my first attempt at a cardamom hot chocolate, and it was really yummy - but I think it could be even better. And my public vow is to return to this blog within one week, maximum, to report on a version that I love.

(Today's experiment #1: I poured a cup of milk into a small saucepan along with 6 bruised - i.e., cracked open - cardamom pods and a scattering of cinnamon. I turned the hob to the lowest heat possible and let it all simmer together for about ten minutes before adding in 6 squares of 70% dark chocolate and whisking it regularly for the next five minutes. It was really lovely! I love the heat that the cardamom gives to the flavor, and the combination of cardamom and cinnamon was really nice. BUT I also thought the flavors could be stronger. I'm going to be putting in more cardamom pods next time and more cinnamon and maybe letting the whole mixture simmer longer, too.)

Of course, this means I'll have to make a lot of hot chocolate over the next several days.

What a pity, right? ;)

Happy chocolate-drinking to all! And I'd love to hear about any of your own favorite hot chocolate recipes.
imaginative girl

Year in Review, Wild Dreams, and a Personal Mission

By the end of a long holiday season, I'm always feeling jittery about how little writing I've been able to do, with multiple deadlines mounting in my head and frustration that I haven't managed to do more. Why haven't I somehow done more???

But here's what I have written in 2016, as an annual record for myself to look back on, because it genuinely helps:

  • I did structural edits (i.e. major rewrites) on The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart and Congress of Secrets

  • I wrote my Kat-all-grown-up-with-kids short-short story "Flying Magic"

  • I wrote another short-short story that's currently out on submission

  • I wrote the last 23,000 words of my MG spies-and-fairies book (to be published in 2018) and then did a substantial rewrite of the full book before turning it in to my MG editors

  • I wrote the first 29,000 words (about the first 3/4) of my first adult novella, Snowspelled (which should be released sometime in 2017)

  • I wrote the opening to my next-next MG book (my grumpy-princess-and-giants-and-sisters-and-goblin-girls book)

So, all in all, I wrote just under 57,000 words on brand-new stories and also did major rewrites (including many thousands of new words) on three full books, along with various rounds of line edits, copyedits, etc, all of which took time and energy.

It's certainly not a massive amount of wordage compared to many of the writers I know, but considering that my younger son isn't in full-time school yet - so I only have 14 hours a week of writing time - I'm telling myself AS FIRMLY AS POSSIBLE that it's not too bad. Whew.

(And I'm posting it publicly as part of my personal mission to teach myself to be proud of what I do get done rather than focusing nonstop on wishing that I'd done more.)

In the non-writing aspects of my life, I took my kids on my first solo weekend away with them and it went wonderfully; I had a great time taking my younger son on an overnight trip to London; and my older son and I went to his first-ever ballet in Cardiff and he called it one of the best days of his life. So those are the accomplishments I'm hanging onto there, at the end of a tough year!

What about you guys? I'd love to hear (either here or on Twitter or Facebook) about any of the things you're most glad to have accomplished this year, no matter how large or small. Here's to do-able goals and pride in our work!

And in the next few days, I'll be sitting down to make my yearly list of Big Dreams, !!!WILD!!! Dreams (with extra capitalization and italics to emphasize the wild implausibility of them all!) and also Small, Do-Able Goals across the year. If you guys feel like sharing any of your own personal goals/dreams for 2017, I'd love to hear about them!

Wishing you all a wonderful turning of the year!
imaginative girl

Knitting, Sneak-Writing, and Books of All Sorts

Our Christmas tree is still sparkling in the corner of our living room, five days later. It was a lovely, busy Christmas with the kids - and I got all three of my knitted gifts finished in time. Whew! :) Now I'm knitting a scarf for myself with the lush, gorgeous cornflower-blue wool that Patrick got me for Christmas, which fills me with utter delight. (I only ever knit in the autumn and winter, but oh do I love knitting during those seasons! Total stress-relief - especially when the wool is this soft and rich and beautiful.)

Since the kids have been off school and we've been celebrating Christmas with the extended family, I've only managed to sneak-write little bits and pieces of my new novella (Snowspelled) at a rate of about 50 words a day - just enough to keep me in touch with the project (and slowly but surely move along the fun kissing scene I'd started just before the holidays). But this morning I woke up with a massive realization:

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes out in the UK just 6 weeks from today!

Eeee! And: eep! I have SO MUCH of my heart wrapped up in this book. I really hope you guys will like it!

It's a strange feeling to have three novels come out within 10 months. I felt as if Masks and Shadows had only just come out when Congress of Secrets arrived at the beginning of November. (And hurrah, I was SO pleased to see both of them on this list of 7 Must-Read Historical Fiction Books of 2016!) Now I'm already excited and nervous about The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, my return to MG fantasy. It's been a very, very lucky publishing year for me.

It's been a lucky time for me as a reader, too. Just check out my Christmas book haul!

I've already started Game of Queens, and it is fabulous - the kind of rich, fascinating history book that makes ideas for new stories spark on almost every page.

And look what arrived in the mail yesterday!

This Would Make a Good Story Someday is SO much fun - which isn't at all surprising, since Dana Levy's The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is one of my favorite-ever MG books. (This one is a standalone spin-off of the Family Fletcher books, and it's coming out in May. I was SO excited to get an advance copy!)

What about you guys? What were your favorite holiday gifts, if you exchanged any? And/or: what are you looking forward to in the next year?
excited about going out

My Favorite Adult F/SF Novels in 2016

I posted last week about my favorite MG books read in 2016, and I promised to do a followup post about my favorite adult reads. Of course, I always have less time than I expect over the kids' school this followup is a little late for holiday shopping. Sorry! However, if you (like me!) are a last-minute holiday shopper, or if you just want to look for more fun new books to read yourself, here's a list of adult fantasy novels that I genuinely loved in 2016, along with snippets of the reviews that I wrote for them on Goodreads (and links to some of the longer reviews):

Elizabeth Bear's Karen Memory
A fabulously fun steampunk adventure story with a great, sympathetic (and very diverse) cast of characters and a completely gripping narrative voice. Karen, the narrator, is just *awesome* - matter-of-fact, brave, loyal, funny, and far more impressive than she realizes - and I cheered for her arc of empowerment by the end. I also loved her sweet, fumbling romance, and Priya, her love interest, is truly wonderful too. (Read my full Goodreads review here for more details and discussion.)

Laura Anne Gilman's Silver on the Road
A slow-paced but truly lovely fantasy novel, set in an alternate version of the 19th-century American west in which the Devil staked his own territory centuries earlier and the rest of the territorial borders have shifted around that. The heroine, Izzy, is a sixteen-year-old coming of age and coming into her own as the Devil's Left Hand, traveling the roads of her boss's territory with a mentor who has magical issues of his own. The alternate history setting is fascinating and well thought-out, the writing is absorbing, and the characters are wonderful. By the time I was halfway through reading this book, I'd already preordered Book 2, which is coming out next month - I can't wait to read it!

Sarah Kuhn's Heroine Complex
Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to San Francisco's glamorous local superheroine, Aveda Jupiter...who was once her best friend Annie long ago, before a rift between dimensions scattered random superpowers across the city. Annie grabbed onto her new superpower whole-heartedly and flung herself into the spotlight, renaming herself Aveda Jupiter and fighting demons on livestream to the delight of her internet fans; Evie panicked and hid as deeply in Annie's shadow as she could. But when she has to take Annie/Aveda's place at an event with the help of a magical glamour, she's finally forced to recognize her own true strength in more ways than one....with the help of a very nerdy, very hot scientist, lots of great friends, AND her rebellious little sister.

This book was so funny and fun and so full of real heart, it filled me with pure delight throughout. It's full of fun urban fantasy adventure, hot (AND sweet and funny) romance, intense female friendships and complex, important family relationships. Basically, it has everything I love most in a book! And it's all done so well. (Read my full Goodreads review for even more raving. I LOVED THIS BOOK.)

Ilona Andrews's Magic Binds
This turned out to be one of my very favorite books in the whole Kate Daniel series so far (which is, by far, my favorite-ever urban fantasy series - I didn't click with Book 1, but when I started again with Book 3, I got hooked HARD). I love the combination of humor with real emotion, tension and adventure, and these characters all feel like old friends by now. I loved the mixture of madcap wedding planning moments along with genuinely heartwrenching issues, freaky magic and fun fantasy action. I adored all the different kinds of relationships between women in this book, including one I would never, ever have guessed at any earlier in this series - it came as a delicious surprise in this book. And most of all, I cannot wait for the next book!

Seanan McGuire's Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special
I just discovered Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series and have been DEVOURING it. I tore through both of these first two books within less than 3 days! Urban fantasy, ballroom dancing and talking mice - this series is just ridiculously fun. You can read my full reviews of Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special on Goodreads.


What about you guys? What were your favorite f/sf reads in 2016? I'd love to hear about them either here, on Facebook or on Twitter. (You will not be surprised to hear that I am ALWAYS looking for new recommendations! :) )
imaginative girl

Failed Resolutions, a Comforting List, and a Movie Rave

Every year, I tell myself that I'll (somehow) get loads of writing done over the children's school holidays. This year, I tell myself, I'll definitely find a way!

And every year...



Quite. We'll just leave it there, shall we? ;) (...says the woman who's managed a grand total of 430 words over the past 3 days...ah well.)

To comfort myself, though, I'm choosing today to post my yearly list of publications. (Because seriously, I need to remind myself today that it has been a productive year, even if the next few weeks won't continue that trend!) So here they are:


Masks and Shadows - Opera, alchemy and romance in an 18th century Hungarian palace, published by Pyr Books

Masks and Shadows.jpg

Congress of Secrets - Disguises, deceptions, dark alchemy and unexpected romance at the Congress of Vienna in 1814, published by Pyr Books



House of Secrets - YA gothic romantic fantasy, self-published as an ebook

houseofsecrets final.jpg

Short Stories

"Mums' Group" - near-future SF, published in the anthology Futuristica Volume I

"Pack Dynamics" - werewolves in Pittsburgh! Published (and free to read online) in Persistent Visions

"A Cup of Comfort" - my creepy magical tea story, published (and free to read online or listen to as an audio podcast) in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

"Flying Magic" - my Kat-all-grown-up-with-kids-of-her-own short story, self-published as a free ebook and also free to read online


Now I'm 3/4 of the way through the first draft of my adult fantasy novella, Snowspelled, I should be getting an edit letter for my MG spies-and-fairies novel sometime in the next month, and I've just started writing the MG novel that will probably come after that. (Grumpy princesses, inconvenient giants, philosophical dragons, and complicated sister-relationships ahoy!)

So, OK. Even if I don't manage to get too much written over the next 2-1/2 weeks while the kids are off school, things will probably Be Okay.

But now...

Now it's time to dive back into frantic Christmas preparation (because that is a VERY pressing deadline right now).

Happy holidays!

PS: Have you seen the movie Moana yet? Go see Moana! It made me SO happy, and our whole family loved it so, so much. The boys and I have been listening to the soundtrack almost nonstop ever since, and I'm already plotting a second trip to the cinema to see it again. MOANA!

That is all. :)
imaginative girl

My Favorite MG Books in 2016

It's our last week of work before the kids' school holidays begin...and of course, we're also frantically gift-shopping at this time of year! In case you are, too, it seemed like a good moment to start posting my totally subjective, personal lists of favorite books I read this year. (Also, I just like looking back on them!) So here is my first list - all MG novels I utterly adored, in no particular order:

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

When I asked for recommendations of books that were filled with real comfort and joy, Frances Hardinge & Terri Trimble both recommended this one, and they were absolutely right. In terms of voice, overall feel and sheer charm, this book felt like a contemporary MG version of I Capture the Castle. Totally enchanting, heartfelt, and full of warmth, with wonderful characters and such a fun story. I loved it!

(ETA: A reader on Facebook pointed out that this isn't available in the US, so I wanted to let you guys know that you can get it from The Book Depository with free worldwide delivery.)

Ronald Smith, Hoodoo

Hoodoo has one of the most fabulous narrative voices of any MG novel I've read in a long while. It is SO delicious and compelling, and I love the way the (creepy) magic is worked so seamlessly into the everyday life of the characters! This whole book is gorgeously creepy and magical.

Note: I really mean it about the creepy bit - I had to put it down at one point because I couldn't read it at night! (I am a horror wimp) - but the characters are all SO wonderful, the story is so much fun and the magic feels so real, I HAD to go back to it afterward, no matter how much I knew it would scare me. (I just made sure to read the rest of it earlier in the day! ;) )

Natasha Farrant, Time for Jas

An absolutely beautiful conclusion to one of my favorite-ever MG series. When I finished reading, I literally cried even though it wasn't a sad ending - I was just so full of emotion! I loved this book SO MUCH. It's funny - sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious! - and zany and fabulous, with one of my favorite-ever big, quirky literary families (who wouldn't want to hang out with the Gadsbys? they're so much fun!), but it's also a book that really profoundly looks at the questions of why we make art and how creativity works. It's a deeply compassionate look at complex, sometimes incredibly painful and yet still loving family dynamics, and what it's like to be someone who doesn't fit in to the norm, and and and...

It's just beautiful. Really, really beautiful. And it's my favorite book in this whole fabulous series, which is saying a LOT. (You can find the whole series listed in order here.)

Anne Nesbet, Cloud and Wallfish

This book is utterly BRILLIANT. It's exhilaratingly smart and fun, a wild ride from the very beginning, when 11-year-old Noah is picked up from school in Virginia by his parents only to be told his name isn't really Noah, he isn't really 11 after all, and they're heading to East Berlin (this is set in 1989, when the Wall was still up) IMMEDIATELY, using an all-new set of names and a made-up history he urgently has to memorize....oh, and that from now on, he can't ask any questions, because SOMEONE will always be listening from the moment they arrive in East Berlin!

It's a fascinating and enormously fun story full of secrets and codes and mysteries, the setting is incredibly rich...and oh, the emotional developments as Noah makes a true friend in one of his neighbors and is drawn into her own painful and mysterious story!

This was an utterly compulsive read from beginning to end, I enjoyed every moment of it, and again, the ending made me cry in a very, very good way.

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Bayou Magic

Beautiful magical realism full of rich family relationships, strong women and girls, and beautiful writing. It isn't fast-paced, but it is luscious! I looooved dipping into it a bit at a time and I always came out of each reading session feeling better about the world.

Emma Carroll, Strange Star

Magical, creepy, and so beautifully written and immersive. I devoured it within less than 24 hours! As someone who's always been fascinated by Mary Shelley, I personally loved the masterful way Carroll built real history into her drama (and played with echoes of Frankenstein, too!), but this book would be just as much fun for someone who'd never heard of the Shelleys in their life. The voices of the characters are utterly compelling, the story is exciting and scary, and even when I was most filled with dread, I could not stop reading.

Sheila Grau, Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions

This book is full of wacky, funny, gross-out fun AND an enormous amount of real heart, and I loved it. Runt Higgins is a non-morphing werewolf who was left as a baby at Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions for his own protection. Now - in hopes of finding his parents again - he's trying out for the elite Junior Henchman training program, with the help of his wonderful group of friends, including Frankie, a Frankenstein-style created boy whose head pops off when he gets too upset, Syke the hamadryad who can swing from tree to tree, and the crowd of sweet, shuffling zombies for whom Runt's become responsible. The characters are all fabulous and very funny.

It's such a great mixture of fun and humor and genuinely creepy moments, and what carries it all through is Runt's true sweetness, his unstoppable optimism and his deep love for his created family. I enjoyed every minute of this book SO MUCH.

Lucy Worsley, Eliza Rose

I absolutely devoured this book, a delicious historical novel set in Tudor England, with a fabulously sharp and spiky narrator who is the cousin (and rival) of Henry VIII's ill-fated wife Katherine Howard. The truth is, I'm not sure exactly which genre to class it in, as it breaks some of the "rules" of children's literature - it looks from the cover like an MG novel, and starts with Eliza at 12, but by the end of the book she's 20 and has been dealing for years with the questions of how to operate in a licentious and brutal court. There aren't any explicit sex scenes, but the issues discussed are certainly, of course, teenage girls were expected to be in that era.

It's all incredibly addictive, smart and entertaining and perfectly handled. I loved that Worsley let her heroine be sharp and unlikeable at various points, with her pride getting in the way of her own good. I loved Eliza's voice - and oh, I swooned over her romance! And the historical era is conveyed beautifully throughout. I was already a huge fan of Worsley's historical nonfiction, and now I can't wait to read her next novel too!

(ETA: Apparently this is going to be published under a different title in the US, as Maid of the King's Court, and not for a while yet. But you can find the UK edition on The Book Depository now.)


Later this week or next week, I'll post about my favorite adult f/sf books of the year. But in the meantime, if you've been curious about my own next MG book (dragons and chocolate!)...

For the next 24 hours, you can bid to win a signed, early (final!) copy of The Dragon Heart as part of the #FundsForFox auction, raising money for wonderful YA writer and all-round wonderful human being, Fox Benwell. The book won't be published until February in the UK and May in the US - but if you bid now, you might be reading it in the next couple of weeks! Good luck!

(And I was absolutely thrilled by this lovely review of the book by one of my favorite book bloggers yesterday. Hurrah!)

What were your favorite books this year (in any genre)? I'd love to know!