Blog Tour: Sylvie the Second, by Kaeli Baker + a giveaway

I loved this book!

cv_sylvie_the_secondI have spent a great proportion of the last 19 years reading YA material, thinking of how to engage teenage boys, my target readers at Scot’s College (fact of life: where you work to some extent dictates what you read first!).

So to read this was a delightful, tearful, poignant, thought-provoking , feminist-in-a-good-way, funny, clever and all too short treat! Thanks, Kaeli Baker. Keep writing please.

So down to more thoughtful critique:

Kaeli Baker clearly has a handle on teenage behaviour. And on adult behaviour. And on psychological difficulties in kids and adults. And generally on life. For such a young writer, she demonstrates a wealth of understanding which many people can only imagine exists.

The novel is about Sylvie, the second of two daughters, who has poor self-esteem (she’s maybe a bit chubbier than she’d like), few friends (see previous comment) and a sister who is in and out of psychiatric care; Sylvie feels that her parents simply don’t see her. She flips out a bit, and ends up in a seriously horrible situation. So far, similar plot and problems to many other YA novels.

Where this one differs is primarily in the writing, which flows well and carries the reader along, and has enough humour to get you through the tough parts. The characters are all credible and Baker’s insight into the teenage psyche just makes Sylvie and her friends leap off the pages.

I variously wanted to take characters by the scruff of the neck and shake some sense into them, take them out somewhere and quietly dispose of them, or name and shame them. I am not often stirred to such thoughts when I read.

Also, I think that although the protagonist is a girl; the challenges, the turmoil, the innocence (or lack of street-smarts) are all things which are relevant to teenagers of whatever gender or orientation, so there’s no reason to label this as a book “for girls”. When a book works, as this one does, it does not need a designated target market. But it does deserve wide, wide readership. If you know a teenager, give them this book.

It’s a timely, gutsy, thought-provoking read, and I encourage all schools and public libraries to promote it widely. Yes, even the single-sex boys’ schools. It may not get wide readership there, but for each boy who reads it and takes on the points Baker is making, that’s a win in my opinion.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman, former Library Manager at Scot’s College, Wellington

Sylvie the Second
by Kaeli Baker
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994106537

We have a copy of Sylvie the Second to give away, to be in to win just leave a comment below by the end of Friday 18 March, telling us the most recent book you have read that has made you go “Wow.” 

Sylvie is on a blog tour! Check out these other blogs and dates for more reviews and interviews:

Mon 14 March:
Tues 15 March:
Wed 16 March:
Thur 17 March:
Fri 18 March:
Sat 19 March:


Author Interview: Stacy Gregg, author of The Island of Lost Horses

harpercollins_vote_nowStacy Gregg has been voted for by kids all over New Zealand to become a
finalist in the Children’s Choice Junior Fiction category, for the second in her series of horse books inspired by true stories. She is also in the judge’s list for this year’s Junior Fiction award. Her 2013 book, The Princess and the Foal, was a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

We asked Stacy a few questions about where this story came from, and how she went about researching it.

1. What was the genesis for this, your second story inspired by a true horsey tale?
It began when I fell in love. I was looking through a book of rare horse breeds and I turned the page and there was this incredible creature with startling blue eyes, this face as white as bone china, strange markings like a dark bonnet over its ears, and a mane so tangled with sea grasses that it looked like it had dreadlocks. That was my first experience of seeing an Abaco Barb. I’d never even heard of them before, but I was struck by this image and so I began to research the horse and discovered that its story was remarkable.


The breed has lived in total isolation on a desert island in the Caribbean for 500 years and its DNA can be traced directly to the ancient bloodlines of horses in Spain. The bloodlines prove the Abaco Barbs came over from Spain with Christopher Columbus – but how did they end up running wild on this island in the middle of the Bahamas? I started to put the puzzle together and produced a dual narrative told through the eyes of two young girls, one in the present day in the Bahamas and the other in Spain in 1493. Beatriz and Felipa are both in love with their horses and will ultimately risk their lives to save them.

2. What were the main resources you used to do your research? Which of these shaped the book the most?
Stacy Gregg 2013 cr Carolyn HaslettAs an ex-journalist I am very vigorous when it comes to the research for my books. The starting point is usually location: I had already travelled to Spain for a previous novel so I had my key locations there like the Alhambra clearly in my mind and my editor, Lizzie Clifford, who has worked with me now on 16 books, grew up in the Bahamas.

Back home, I built up a library of excellent detailed historical reference books on Queen Isabella and Columbus and Spain in 1493, but some details required more certainty than the books could provide. I have one particular scene where a key character dies from the Black Death. To be absolutely certain I had my facts right I had to track down the world’s pre-eminent authority on Bubonic Plague, Dr Joseph Byrne at Belmont University in the United States. He was an amazing resource – I am now a plague expert thanks to him. I also know how to navigate a carracas from Spain to the Caribbean and can speak fluent Bahamian patois! I could also bore you to tears about the intricacies of the life cycles of sea thimble jellyfish (one of the characters is a marine biologist).

3. How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?
I am always surprised when I get the printed book back and realise that I have in fact written a kids book because the process to me feels frightfully adult. There’s such a depth of history and fact in my stories. I want young readers to come away from a novel feeling like they have all this newfound knowledge absorbed almost by osmosis – the byproduct of a swashbuckling good yarn. There’s no reason why you can’t learn and have fun at the same time!

4. Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book (and your other books!?)
I’ve been having vigorous debates about this with friends lately about what middle graders should be reading. I feel very strongly about the need for children’s literature to provide strong, positive role models that young readers can aspire to be. I love the fact that the girls in my books are powerful and heroic and solve their own problems. I think reading cv_watership_downabout characters who face their fears and achieve their goals can be inspiring for young readers. I get quite a bit of tear-jerking mail from my readers telling me that my books have inspired them to ride horses and pursue their pony dreams.

When you are reading, I think you should want desperately to be the character. I wanted so bad to be Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Or Alec Ramsay in The Black Stallion. I definitely wanted to be Hazel in Watership Down. Rabbits can be heroes too.

6. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
Horses – always, always horses.

Win a Copy Now! 


If you want to know more about Stacy, check out her website here.

For reviews of her book, check out Bob Docherty’s review here.

This is day 14 of the blog tour featuring each of the finalists in the Children’s Choice category of the awards. Yesterday’s feature was Canterbury Quake, by Desna Wallace, on My Best Friends are Books. Tomorrow’s feature will be How I Alienated My Grandma, by Suzanne Main, which will be covered on Booknotes Unbound.

What you might have missed from the Junior Fiction list:

Dragon Knight: Fire!, by Kyle Mewburn & Donovan Bixley
1914 – Riding into War, by Susan Brocker
My Story: Canterbury Quake, by Desna Wallace