Friday, 11 January 2019

CHCC Bookish Joy Blog Fest – blog tour

I'm excited to join the CHCC Bookish Joy Blog Fest to share a letter about why I love the bookish community so much. There are details at the bottom of the post about how to book tickets to the Chadwell Heath YA Fest and a discount code.

Dear bookish community,

One of my first big book events was YALC 2014 and I've been hooked ever since. I love being part of this community: as a reader, blogger and writer.

What I love most about bookish events is not the books (although they're a close second) but the people. I've met so many people who love books as much as I do, both readers and authors, and have made some really good friends. There's such a brilliant atmosphere when you're at a book launch or Q and A with a room full of excited, passionate people. I've included photos of some of the lovely people that I've met at book events.

The online bookish community is just as supportive and enthusiastic. Twitter is where I've found my bookish people. Some people that I've met on Twitter have become really close friends in real life too.

I only started my blog because of the bookish community. The very lovely Chelley (@ChelleyToy) and Andrew (@PewterWolf) delivered a blogging workshop at YALC a few years ago and I'd always thought people wouldn't care what I had to say about books. They gave me the confidence to start my blog and I'm eternally grateful. Thank you both!

The online bookish community have also helped me to get one step closer to my dream of getting a book published. This year, I got onto a fantastic mentoring program called #WriteMentor that helped me to polish my manuscript, and I've since got an agent. I also had a fantastic manuscript critique from Lauren James, who gives brilliant feedback as well as being one of my favourite authors. I learned about her services (you've guessed it) on Twitter.

If you're already part of the online or real-life bookish community, you probably know exactly what I mean. If you're reading this and thinking about joining in with either, please do! We're friendly and we love books (the perfect combination). 

Thank you to everyone in the bookish community who has shared the love of books with me and helped me to achieve my writing goals.

Love from,

Amy (@yaundermyskin)

Chadwell Heath Community Centre (CHCC) YA Fest is an event that I really hope to attend this year! The event will be held on Sunday 12th May 2019 and you can buy your tickets here. Use the code YAFest10 before the 28th February to get 10% off your ticket (one time use).

Check out the graphic below for more posts giving thanks to the people and things that give us bookish joy.

SLAY: On Tour Blog tour – review

SLAY are BACK...and this time they're headed to Tokyo to track down another hellraising demon. When they're invited on tour with a super-cool band of holographic girls, SLAY find themselves whisked off around Japan - until strange things start happening on their tour train. Suddenly it seems it's not just SLAY's fans following their every move...

Slay was one of my favourite books of last year and I had just as much fun reading SLAY: On Tour

The bond between characters is one of my favourite things about this series. All of the band members have distinctive qualities and quirks, and it was hard to pick which one I liked best. In the end, I'd have to stick with JD (my favourite from Slay). I thought Tom and Milly had interesting journeys as characters and I'll look forward to seeing how they develop in the next book. 

I really loved the Japanese setting of this book too. It felt authentic and well-researched, and the J-pop hologram girl band was a creative concept. I Iiked the elements of Japanese mythology too, and how the demons in this book allowed the characters to explore the morality of what they do.

The action sequences in this series are brilliantly written. They have the perfect balance of believable fighting, witty dialogue and danger.

I love the Slay books because they're fun, fast-paced reads but they also delve into dark subject matters. The characters in the Slay books are some of my favourites and I can't wait to see what happens to them next.


You can check out the other stops on this fabulous blog tour using the graphic below:

Whiteout blog tour – Kick-ass females in books and popular culture

I'm thrilled to join this blog tour, as Whiteout was one of my favourite books of last year. It's genuinely terrifying and one of the tensest YA horror books I've ever read. You can check out my review here (although the giveaway has now closed). 

For my stop on the blog tour, I have a post from the author Gabriel Dylan about his favourite kick-ass female characters.

Back when there was no Katniss Everdean, before Virginia Au Augustus and Hermione Granger, Buffy Summers was the gold standard of kick ass females in the world of popular culture. 

There’s been so many highlights in the faltering journey from sending my (very ropey!) original manuscript out into the world, gaining an agent, getting a publishing offer, and finally seeing my novel in print. But right up there was the comment from my amazing publishing editor, Katie Jennings, when she offered me a deal with Stripes, and told me that in regards to the central protagonist in Whiteout ‘she didn’t think she’d seen such a kick ass horror heroine since Buffy.’ 

That comment meant the world to me. That someone had not only read my novel, but liked it, engaged with it, and seen something in the characters I’d created, was a dream come true. Katie and assistant editor Mattie made Whiteout the book it is today – they gave me the suggestions to hone the characters, bring out their depth and individuality, and turn what was a flawed and uneven manuscript into the book I’m so proud of today. And the character I most wanted to get right was Hanna. 

For me, Hanna is the beating heart of the novel, an angry, resourceful, uncompromising heroine that will do anything to get the revenge she seeks. It’s her search for the terrible truth she knows lurks in the deserted Austrian Alps that drives the story forwards. Out of all the characters in the novel, she’s the one I’m most proud of, and the one that was with me right from the start. So here, in Hanna’s honour, are my top six kick ass inspirational heroines of film, book, and television. 

(Warning - controversial choices lie ahead!) 

6. Mia – The Traveller by John Twelve Hawks 

Mia is a harlequin, an assassin trained from infancy to be a living weapon, but at the start of John Twelve Hawks' The Traveller, she wants nothing more than to live a normal life, away from all that she was created for. This book had me at hello! It doesn’t take long before Mia is dragged back into the world she tried to turn her back on, trying to protect Gabriel, a magical traveller, able to move between dimensions, from the grasp of the Brethren, a controlling organisation run by politicians, businessmen, those at the top of society. Although the series lost its way a little as it went on, there’s lots of great ideas in Twelve Hawks’ first book, and I love the writer biography (all it says is Twelve Hawks lives off the grid!), but what captured me more was the character of Mia, who carries a sword everywhere she goes, is seriously bad ass, and will do anything to protect Gabriel from the twisted forces that pursue him – even though as the story unfolds her feelings start to get in the way of her mission…. 

5. Citra Terranova – Scythe by Neal Scusterman 

I only discovered this series of books recently, and found them impossible to put down. In a utopian world where death has been eliminated, a group of people known as scythes select people at random to painlessly euthanize, to prevent population explosion from becoming a reality. With their long cloaks, cool demeanour, and an arrival which promises death to those they visit, scythes are a latter day grim reaper in a world where mankind is all but immortal. When a chance encounter for teenager Citra leads her onto the path of becoming an apprentice reaper, she learns (often in very dark, humorous scenes) how to cope with such an unpleasant job. After a while, Citra finds herself a skilled death dealer, but also one who is cunning enough to be able to think her way out of the most tricky of situations, which is just as well as an order of rogue scythes start to disrupt this utopian world. I raced through this book and its sequel, loving the way Citra grew as a character whilst slowly unearthing the dark conspiracy. But that cliff hanger at the end of book two… not fair!

4. Eleven – Stranger Things

I’m going to cheat here, and delve into the world of television, but as the first season of Stranger Things was sooo good I hope I’ll be forgiven. As much as I love the group of Dungeons and Dragons playing teens at the centre of the show, for me the opening episode really came alive with the introduction of Eleven. Tortured, haunted, otherworldly, and with some crazy abilities that can see off the meanest of school bullies, Eleven is the kind of character that any high school geek needs to make friends with. As well as making her back story tragic and heartfelt, the Duffer brothers also made the end of the first series unforgettable, and left the viewer longing to know if Eleven had really given her life to defeat the demigorgon and save her friends from the terrifying beast. No spoilers from me!

3. Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I feel like I grew up with Buffy Summers. And that’s probably a feeling shared by anyone else who had a Buffy the Vampire Slayer addiction during the nineties. The great thing about Buffy Summers was that, apart from the fact that she was a slayer, she was just the girl next door – except one who was more than a little adept at dispatching vampires. I still think Joss Whedon creates the most memorable kick ass females, right through Firefly, Dollhouse, and all the memorable characters such as Willow, Faith, Anya, and Glory, that Buffy brings with her. Buffy goes on a real journey through the show’s seven series, and we see her grow up, fall in love, lose people she cares about, but most importantly we feel it all with her. She doesn’t always get it right, she doesn’t always win first time, but she tries her best, she makes us care, and she has some great one liners. My favourite? – ‘Conversation’s over, hell bitch!’.

2. Thorn – Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

I’m a big fan of Joe Abercrombie, and his grimdark fantasy worlds, and I thought his Shattered Sea trilogy was a real page turner. Whilst I really enjoyed book one, Half a King, the second book, Half the World, was where the trilogy really went stratospheric for me, mainly because of the addition of Thorn Bathu. 

Awkward, unsure of herself, riddled with bad attitude, and decidedly kick ass, we first meet Thorn on a moody shale beach, training to become a warrior, and unfairly pitted against three male combatants who aren’t going to pull their punches. When tragedy unfolds during the sparring, Thorn escapes death by agreeing to protect the trilogy’s morally ambiguous protagonist, Yarvi, on a seabound mission. During the trip, Thorn is relentlessly trained, for weeks on end, until she becomes one of the deadliest warriors amongst the Shattered Seas. Thorn is a great character, as lacking in confidence as she is full of anger and attitude, and she has some of the greatest put downs, as well as being brutally capable with the blade, even though, as usual in Joe Abercrombie’s novels, things don’t always go the way you expect them to… 

1. Lisbeth Salander – Millenium series

Fiercely unconventional, and a darkly kooky anti heroine (wikipedia’s words, not mine!) Lisbeth Salander is tough enough to take on anyone who guns for her, and can run rings around her pursuers with unrivalled hacking skills and a photographic memory.

The Millennium novels, starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are NOT for young readers, nor for the fainthearted, and in many ways they are not an easy read. But the character of Lisbeth Salander, the angry, haunted black star at the centre of the series’ dark universe, tops this list for me because not only is she so different (many theorists claim she is autistic, and there is much evidence in the novel to back this up, and her relationship history is definitely complicated), but she is also endlessly resourceful. She turns the damsel in distress trope on its head by being the one who comes to the aid of the threatened male characters, and she also gives hope to all of the underdogs and outsiders out there with her uncompromising, kick ass attitude. 

Thanks so much for sharing this list Gabriel! Buffy is the winner for me, because I too grew up watching the series in my most formative years. She's always been my favourite character and I think it'd take a lot to knock her from the top spot.

What are your favourite kick-ass female characters? If you'd like to share, you can do so in the comments or find me on Twitter (@yaundermyskin).

Whiteout is out now and I highly recommend it if you want a good scare!

There have been lots of great posts for the blog tour this week and you can use the banner below to check them out:

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Monsters by Sharon Dogar – review

1814: Mary Godwin, the sixteen-year-old daughter of radical socialist and feminist writers, runs away with a dangerously charming young poet - Percy Bysshe Shelley. From there, the two young lovers travel a Europe in the throes of revolutionary change, through high and low society, tragedy and passion, where they will be drawn into the orbit of the mad and bad Lord Byron.

But Mary and Percy are not alone: they bring Jane, Mary's young step-sister. And she knows the biggest secrets of them all . . .

Told from Mary and Jane's perspectives, Monsters is a novel about radical ideas, rule-breaking love, dangerous Romantics, and the creation of the greatest Gothic novel of them all: Frankenstein.

I knew from the blurb that I'd love this book. It ended up being quite different from what I expected, but in a really good way. I was gripped throughout the book and became very invested in the characters. I didn't know much about Mary Shelley's life and Monsters felt like a fascinating, authentic insight.

The characters were vividly realised and deliciously flawed. I liked the fact that aspects of their personalities and relationships were evident to the reader but not always to them. This book has inspired me to read more about the real people involved in the novel. 

Monsters seems very well researched and believable, and I enjoyed the third person style. It allowed the historical details and character traits to come through.

There is a sense of building tension throughout the book and it was great to look out for small ideas that would become Frankenstein.  

I haven't read many historical novels, especially those based on real people, but this is one of my favourites. It's brilliantly written, tense and the characterisation was excellent. It's made me want to read more historical novels, and more by Sharon Dogar.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

My Year in Books

This has been an amazing year for books. I've been to lots of events, met some lovely people and read so many good books. Some highlights for me have included the launches for Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Hero at the Fall and A Sky Painted Gold, and I always have an amazing time at YALC.

Probably the biggest bookish achievement for me this year is that I've got an agent and will be going on submission to publishers next year. I'm so proud of my Gothic YA mystery and I hope I get the opportunity to see it on people's shelves!

It was hard to narrow down my books of the year, when there have been so many amazing ones. These are some of my favourites that I've read this year, in no particular order.

Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton was one of the first books I read this year and it was an incredible end to the trilogy. I loved these characters, and I'm excited to see more books set in this world.

A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood is another wonderful book and I was thrilled to see my name in the acknowledgements! It's a gorgeously written, dreamy book that captures the Gatsby era and what it feels like to fall in love.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber is a very different book about relationships. It's an honest, believable book with characters that feel so real. I loved the storyline about sisters and that this book felt like a realistic portrayal of teenage relationships.

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor is a book that still gives me unsettled feelings when I think about it. It's a deliciously dark and creepy story that reminds me of the best Stephen King books.

Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan is a book I've only read recently and one of my favourite YA horrors that I've ever read. It's the perfect balance of genuine scares, creeping unease and horrifying creatures.

Slay by Kim Curran is pure fun in a book. Slay are a demon-slaying boy band and I struggled to choose my favourite band member by the end! It's perfect for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I can't wait for the sequel!

Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman is a dystopian story about what would happen if the water ran out in California. It's frighteningly believable and has my favourite cast of characters from any book this year.

White Rabbit Red Wolf by Tom Pollock is a tense, smart thriller that kept me guessing and made me think. I had no idea how this story would turn out and the plot kept me gripped to the very end.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas is another brilliant, thought-provoking book, with an amazing cast of characters and an interesting dilemma about what a character would be prepared to do to achieve their dreams.

I hope everyone has an amazing break and that 2019 is a great year!

Sunday, 16 December 2018

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas – review

The award-winning author of The Hate U Give returns with a powerful story about hip hop, freedom of speech and fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you. Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But when her first song goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Bri finds herself at the centre of controversy and portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. And with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it – she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.

Angie Thomas has become one of my favourite authors and the characters in her books are one of the main reasons. This community feels so real to me, and even the most minor characters are thoughtfully developed, with their own unique qualities.

Bri is a great character, who is well-developed and relatable. By the end of the book, it felt like I knew her and had watched her develop. The rap lyrics were also a great touch and a good insight into Bri's personality. This book reminded me why I loved rap music so much as a teen and got me digging out my CDs. 

On the Come Up really taps into how it feels to want something and what you'd be willing to do to achieve your dreams. Like The Hate U Give, it also made me think about how people perceive each other. Angie Thomas tackles difficult subjects with such honesty and empathy.

I can't wait to get the finished copy in my hands. It's thought-provoking, funny and real, with incredible characters.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

BBC National Short Story Award and Young Writers' Award 2019

I had an amazing time at the BBC National Short Story and Young Writers' Award 2018 ceremony in October and I'm thrilled to be an ambassador for the Young Writers' Award again. It's a fantastic award and the calibre of writing was incredible last year!

Submissions are now open for the BBC National Short Story Award and Young Writers' Award 2019. Follow the links to find out more information about the awards and how you can enter. 

The judges have been announced for both awards and I'm delighted to share that the brilliant authors Anthony Cartwright, Patrice Lawrence and Kiran Millwood Hargrave are judging this year, as well as writer, rapper and beatboxer Testament. Author and TV presenter Katie Thistleton will be the chair. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Girl King by Mimi Yu – review

Sisters Lu and Min have always known their places as princesses of the empire. Lu is destined to become the first female emperor, while Min is resigned to a life in her shadow. When their father declares their male cousin heir instead, his betrayal throws both their lives into chaos.
Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu must flee the court in search of an ally. Her quest leads her to Nokhai, the last surviving wolf shapeshifter. After years in hiding, Nok is forced into an uneasy alliance with the girl whose family killed everyone he ever loved. Now they need an army to take back the throne.
Left alone in the volatile court, Min's hidden power awakens. It's a forbidden, deadly magic that could secure Set's reign . . . or allow Min to claim the throne herself.
But there can only be one emperor, and the sisters' greatest enemy could turn out to be each other...

I haven't read much YA fantasy recently and The Girl King has got me back into it. I loved this story of sisters, mythology and the corrupting influence of power.

The characters were my favourite part of this book and I enjoyed delving into the two sisters' stories. It was refreshing that the story arc of their relationship felt like the most important one in the book. Some things were resolved in this book but there are lots of potential areas that can be explored in the sequel. 

There's also incredible mythology underpinning this book and fantasy elements that built a vivid world. It's a compelling setting that feels grounded in history, at the same time as having a clear magical system.

Another thing I really liked about this book was that there was plenty of action, culminating in a tense final battle on an epic scale. I was able to imagine the big fight scenes and become invested, rather than finding it too overwhelming. 

This is a fast-paced read with rich fantasy elements, and I'm excited to see what comes next for these characters!

Thank you so much Gollancz for the review copy!

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Rosie Loves Jack blog tour – Getting Lost

I'm delighted to join the blog tour for ROSIE LOVES JACK by Mel Darbon. I've heard wonderful things about this book and I'm excited to read the first YA from the perspective of a character with Down's Syndrome. As Rosie has to battle all kinds of situations to reach her boyfriend, Jack, I've got a stressful memory of my own to share.

I have a tendency of getting lost. I'm the person who leaves their table at a restaurant and can't the way back or loses my way in a shopping centre. The worst time was when I got lost on my first day of university. Even thinking about it thirteen years later conjures the same flood of panicked thoughts.

I left plenty of time to get to my first tutorial. There are only a few buildings on the campus, so how hard could it be to find mine? Fifteen minutes before the tutorial, I knew how wrong I was. I always get lost, so why did I think this would be any different? I couldn't see the building on the campus map and everyone I asked had no idea where the place was. Ten minutes before the tutorial, heat built up behind my eyes and the panicked thoughts started. Could I get kicked out for missing one tutorial? What kind of first impression was this? 

Five minutes before the tutorial and I was ready to hide in a corner of the library and give up on the whole thing. How much did I really need to learn about the English Legal System?

This went on for nearly an hour, the whole length of the tutorial. I wish I was exaggerating. When I finally found the building, a squat structure set back behind two lecture halls, I felt exhausted and defeated. 

I got to the room just in time to see the other students leaving. On the cusp of tears, I apologised to the lecturer and... she was fine about it. She understood what had happened and expected to see me on time for the next session. That was it.

Since then, my sense of direction hasn't improved much but I'm a lot better at keeping things in perspective. I finished my Law degree without too many catastrophes and I'm sure that lecturer has long since forgotten this story. I try to ask myself what's the worse thing that can happen and how likely it is. Usually, the situation isn't as bad as I make it.

I haven't read about Rosie's journey yet, but I hope she manages to resolve her challenges as I'm still learning to do. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Shadow of the Fox blog tour – Julie Kagawa Q & A

Today I have a Q and A with Julie Kagawa to celebrate the release of Shadow of the Fox. The cover of this book is gorgeous and I can't wait to read it!

Writing insights

by Julie Kagawa

What is your writing process like?

I go into my office every morning and I try to write 1,000 words. That is my quota; 1,000 words a day. Sometimes they come easy and I'm done in a couple hours, sometimes it takes all afternoon and into the evening. But I don't consider myself finished for the day until I've written at least 1,000 words.

How do you know an idea for a book is the right one to pursue?

You just have to go with what you want to write. What speaks to you? What gets you excited? Don't worry that your idea might not be popular; write what works for you.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

In the words of a famous fish: just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Writing is a skill, one that you have to practice at to get better. Never stop writing, and remember, all writers started out the same: unpublished and unknown. The ones that made it are the ones that never stopped writing.

Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, that you've found useful?

Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is one of my favorite books on writing, as well as On Writing by Stephen King.

What is your favourite recent read?

Seafire by Natalie C. Parker. Think Pirates of the Caribbean with an all female cast. It was pretty aweseme. 

Thank you so much Julie! I love getting insights into the writing process and I'm excited to read Shadow of the Fox.

Check out this banner to follow the other stops on the blog tour.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan – review and giveaway

Charlie hopes that the school ski trip will be the escape from his unhappy home life he so desperately needs. But there is something wrong with the remote ski village of Kaldgellan. Something is out there, something ancient and evil, among the pines and the deep untracked drifts, watching and waiting. And when the storms blow in, Charlie and his schoolmates wake to find the resort deserted. Cut off from the rest of the world far below, as night falls the few left alive on the snowbound mountain will wish they were somewhere, anywhere else. Only ski guide Hanna seems to know of Kaldgellan’s long-buried secrets, but whether Charlie can trust her is another question…

Whiteout is part of the fantastic Red Eye series from Stripes and is one of my favourite titles so far. It ranges from unsettling to downright terrifying and somehow has an old-school feel at the same time as being like nothing I've read before.

I can tell Gabriel Dylan is a massive horror fan (partially because I featured a post from him about his favourite movies for Halloween.) This story has all of the ingredients of a classic horror story, from the remote setting with no way out to the frightening threat waiting to pick off the main characters. It also has a fresh feel that meant I had no idea what was going to happen next, or who was going to make it to the end...

I'm a huge fan of mythology and backstory underpinning a book, and Whiteout handled this really well. Details about the world and characters are seeded through the story without it becoming overpowering.

Whiteout strikes the right balance between shocking scares, building unease and quieter moments to get to know the characters. It also has one of the most intriguing endings that I've read for a very long time!

I also really liked the main character, Charlie. It feels like you get to know him as the book progresses and he isn't one of those horror character who sits back and lets the beasties get them.

This is the best horror book I've read for ages, YA and otherwise. I can't wait to see what Gabriel Dylan writes next and I'm going to catch up on the few Red Eye titles that I've missed while I wait.

Thanks so much to Stripes Publishing for the Netgalley approval and for the gorgeous finished copy!

The lovely people at Stripes have given me an extra copy of Whiteout to give away. Head over to my pinned tweet on Twitter (@yaundermyskin) to find out how you can enter.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman – review

The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a war zone of desperation; neighbours and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

I love Neal Shusterman's writing, as his books always contain believable worlds and compelling characterisation. I think this is my favourite yet because it's terrifyingly believable and the characters are well-developed. 

The way society deteriorates so quickly in Dry struck me as frighteningly realistic. The book makes the reader feel very close to the main characters' actions and reactions, as well as capturing what's happening in the world at large. There are some unsettling parallels to the tragic fires affecting California and that brings home how topical this book really is.

There are a lot of characters to focus on in this book and each of them is developed really well. I liked trying to work out if we knew everything about a character and watching them grow and adapt as the story progressed.

A really effective device is the use of snippets of storyline about characters who aren't in the central group. It allows interesting insights into the wider world and it's fun trying to work out how these snapshots will impact on the main plot.

Dry is a gripping, almost unbearably tense book that made me think a lot about what we can do to be kinder to the planet. I hope there'll be more books in this series, but in the meantime I'll read Thunderhead, the sequel to Scythe.

Thank you so much Walker Books for the review copy!