Monday, 30 November 2020

Malice in Underland review


Meet Malice Morbid Malign. She’s from Underland, land of sorcery, spooks and skulduggery. But, she and her family live in Topside and mischief is their business . . . And the business of mischief is a very serious matter!

From Malignant House, Ma and Pa run the Malign Haunting Agency, tormenting Topside families and their homes. After all, it is their responsibility to maintain respectable levels of ghastly amongst the Topsiders. And as Underland representatives, the Malign’s hate books, they hate bathing, and they especially HATE helping.

The problem is, Malice is the exact opposite of her unpleasant, smelly, mischievous family. And when grandad ghosts mysteriously start disappearing, including her own beloved grandad, Malice has no choice but to help rescue him.

Malice partners up with her Uncle Vexatious, Private Investigator of Underland and outcast of the Malign family. Can they solve the case of the missing grandad-ghosts? And will Malice still be a Malign at the end of it?!

I've found it hard to keep on top of my blog for so many reasons this year, but Malice in Underland was too good not to review! It's right up there with my favourite spooky middle-grade reads and is a perfect next read for fangs of Isadora Moon and Amelia Fang. 

The creepy Underland setting is gorgeously described and the illustrations by Hannah Peck really complement the tone of the book. I also loved how the characters were brought to life. Malice is a wonderfully relatable protagonist and even the most minor characters are well drawn.

The mystery of the missing grandad-ghosts is gripping and I didn't predict how it would all be resolved! The relationship between Malice and her family also adds another level to the conflict.

Malice in Underland is one of my favourite MG reads of the year, and I'll definitely look out for more spooky reads from Jenny Bayliss.

Thank you to Scholastic for the gifted copy!

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Independent Bookshop Spotlight

It's been so lovely to share people's favourite independent bookshops! I've found so many new shops to visit when lockdown is over. Next up, author Bex Hogan shares one of her favourites: Topping and Company.

If there’s one thing I like talking about, it’s bookshops. I’ll be honest, I’ve never met a bookshop I didn’t love. Each one has an atmosphere that is all at once similar and unique, as if books themselves create the aura but the colour is altered by the specific selection. I think this is why independent bookshops seem especially magical – they embody the people who run them and reflect a small part of their soul.

The bookshop I specifically want to shout about today is the glorious Topping and Company in Ely. I only discovered this wonderous new place last year, but fell instantly in love. The shop front isn’t very big and you’d be forgiven for thinking only a small selection lay beyond. But you’d be mistaken. It’s huge. The building is deep and tall, so not only can you keep walking further into the shop, but you can also climb the two staircases to the higher levels 
 the top one has a beautiful view of the cathedral. They carry an incredible selection right across genres, but obviously my favourite sections are the YA and the fantasy ones, both of which stock an impressive combination of mainstream and more unusual titles. And the best thing about this bookshop? The tall shelves have actual proper ladders, which is the stuff of bookish dreams!

They’re closed to browsing at the moment, but you can order from them via their website, email or phone.

This place sounds so gorgeous: a cathedral view, an amazing YA section and ladders on shelves? I'm sold! Thanks so much for sharing, Bex!

Monday, 9 November 2020

Independent bookshop spotlight

Next up on the independent bookshop feature, music and film journalist Nick Dunn (@laidbackinsong on Twitter) explains why Troutmark Books in Cardiff is worth a visit. I love Cardiff so I'll definitely be stopping by Troutmark!

As far back as I can remember, reading has provided a safe haven. I can remember sitting down by the book-box at nursery, a little island in the stormy sea of childhood chaos around me, and picking out books at random. So it is with bookshops.

            It’s certainly true of Troutmark, a second-hand bookshop here in Cardiff. Located in the Castle Arcade, it’s a quit oasis in what is normally a bustling city centre. Situated across three floors, its shelves tower over customers. As you progress from the front door, it feels as if it has been grown organically from nooks and crannies. Books fill every shelf: some are even stacked on top of smaller shelving units on the floor. Above all else, it’s quiet. Even with other customers, the shelves seem to absorb all sound, and with no easy view of the daylight outside the arcade, it’s quite easy to pass several blissful hours in an interesting tome. It’s an ideal bookshop, in other words.

The ground floor is for general and children’s literature, as well as some poetry, but most excitingly, there are historical (and if you’re lucky, first!) editions of books like Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack or those by writers like Charles Dickens or Dylan Thomas. These are situated behind the counter, giving them a faintly exciting air of elusiveness. Downstairs, in the windowless basement are most of the non-fiction books on various subjects, while up the suitably creaky stairs are sections reserved for music, sport, comics, and my personal favourites: the sci-fi/fantasy shelves. My own collection of Terry Pratchett books has been largely filled from those donated to Troutmark – buying clean and brand-new copies of Discworld books seems somehow wrong. But it was also here that I discovered the Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin and the Kill Shakespeare comics by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery hidden away in the stacks.

The staff are also incredibly friendly, happy to discuss your purchases or, as once happened to me, lock you in momentarily if you happen to be quietly engrossed in your reading when they want to make a cup of tea.

Sadly, the Covid-19 lockdown has reduced the opening hours and number of customers allowed in at a given time. You can help support them when the Arcade reopens by visiting responsibly, wearing a mask on the premises, and using hand sanitiser. If you’ve powered through your reading list during lockdown, consider selling those books you can bear to part with to Troutmark. Their contact details are listed below.


39-43 Castle Arcade


CF10 1BW



029 2038 2814

Friday, 6 November 2020

Independent bookshop spotlight

During lockdown, I'm running a series of posts from guest writers to highlight their favourite independent bookshops. First up is poet and author Dom Conlon (@dom_conlon on Twitter) with a post about Ebb & Flo Bookshop in Chorley. It sounds absolutely lovely! I'm adding it to my list of places to visit after lockdown.

Ebb & Flo

A bookshop is a safe, sacred place, as embedded in childhood as a garden hidden-hole or grandma’s kitchen. For me, it was Hatchard’s in Manchester. Now long gone but once a collection of book stacks and iron staircases in a slender building on King Street, it’s the sense-memory I reach for whenever I visit a new town. Lucky for me, then, that my home town Chorley contains such a place in Ebb & Flo—a wonky terrace hug of a shop which displays its love in a cavalcade of colour riding out to greet you.

Ebb & Flo packs a lot into a small space. There are nooks in its crannies and no resting place for the eyes until you settle upon the one (or more) books which you didn’t even know you were looking for. Diane, the owner, is both everywhere and nowhere—popping into view when you were just about to ask a question and then fading away when the first few pages of a book take you by the hand.

In these times when mental health can feel secondary to physical health, Ebb & Flo is a balm to both. In the wedge of time between lockdowns it was a breath of fresh air, safe to even the most cautious among us—a lamppost marking the way between worlds.

Thanks so much for sharing, Dom! Ebb and Flo have an online shop or you can email orders to

If you would like to write a post about your favourite bookshop, let me know on Twitter @yaundermyskin

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Forest of Ghost and Bones blog tour


This gorgeously evocative standalone fantasy from Lisa Lueddecke is inspired by the Hungarian myths of her childhood. Enter a world with a haunted castle, a dark and dangerous forest and poisoned rain, with two fiery protagonists to root for - a book perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Laini Taylor.

You are the girl who can walk in the rain, and I am the boy who knows the way.

The Eve of Saints approaches and the poison rain which shrouds Castle Marcosza strains at its boundaries. When Beata's brother is taken by the rain, Beata and her friend Benedek must make a perilous journey of discovery to uncover the root of her secret - why she is the only person who can walk through the rain unscathed. But Beata is soon caught up in a game of cat-and-mouse with mysterious Liljana, a girl with hidden powers of her own. And with magic outlawed in Marcosza, can the pair find a way to work together to harness their forbidden ability and unleash its full potential? Or will they find themselves seduced by power and all that it offers...

This ticks off everything I want from a book, with the foundation in myths, dark and dangerous world and magic. Scholastic kindly gifted a copy and I can't wait to read it!

For today's tour stop, Lisa Lueddecke talks about how a location can provide inspiration. 

Haunted New England

I don’t think I realized until relatively recently how much a certain location can inspire your writing. I spent about a year, right up until a few weeks ago, living on the edge of Salem, Massachusetts, and something about living there really gave me the writing bug. It wasn’t always easy, having a baby and all, but I have pages full of notes and little snippets of ideas and names for a hundred stories, all dreamed up on long walks around haunted places in New England.

At least for me, New England has a definite feel to it that I find hard to describe, even as a writer. The Forest of Ghosts and Bones has a number of spooky scenes that sometimes involve graves or the dead, and I’ve found no shortage of inspiration living where I live. Old graveyards and cemeteries, some of the stones so old they can hardly be read anymore… Forests so dense and old it feels like stepping through a doorway to a primeval time… Houses with crooked floors and secrets you wish they could tell…

If I’ve learned anything about being a writer, it’s that inspiration can strike at any time, in any place. So for me and the sorts of stories I like to tell, stories with snippets of history and folklore and poems and legends, it’s important to surround myself with the things I find inspiring. It turns out that almost anywhere in historic, creaky, haunted New England is just my brand of inspiration. I can’t wait to see what other stories are waiting to meet me amongst the trees and gravestones.

Thanks so much Lisa for sharing how New England has inspired your writing! It's one of my favourite places that I've visited and definitely provides lots of material for stories.

Photos taken on my 2011 holiday in New England