Tuesday, 10 December 2019

A Throne of Swans by Katharine & Elizabeth Corr


When her father dies just before her birthday, seventeen-year-old Aderyn inherits the role of Protector of Atratys, a dominion in a kingdom where nobles are able to transform at will into the bird that represents their family bloodline. Aderyn’s ancestral bird is a swan.

But she has not transformed for years, not since witnessing the death of her mother - ripped apart by hawks that have supposedly been extinct since the long-ago War of the Raptors.

With the benevolent shelter of her mother and her father now lost, Aderyn is at the mercy of her brutal uncle, the King, and his royal court. Driven by revenge and love, she must venture into the malevolent heart of the Citadel in order to seek the truth about the attack that so nearly destroyed her, to fight for the only home she has ever known and for the land she has vowed to protect.


I loved everything about this book! The writing is gorgeous, the characters are memorable and the world is well-crafted. It's one of my YA fantasies of the year, if not the last few years.

It's one of those books that I tried to read slowly because I was enjoying it so much. I think a lot of that is to do with the first-person voice, which feels completely believable and full of lyrical descriptions.

I thought the plotting was great too: it kept my attention and I enjoyed trying to put the pieces together alongside Aderyn. She's an interesting character, who has agency and makes mistakes. I'm looking forward to seeing how she develops in the second part of the duology.

I also really enjoyed the world building. The history of the world is well thought out and it made me wish I knew more about Swan Lake so I could fully appreciate all of the references!

The e-book is already out and the paperback will be released on 7th January. It's available to preorder now and I highly recommend it! I can't wait for the second book and I'm sure I'll be rereading this one in the meantime. 





Thanks so much to Hotkey Books for the review copy and lovely goodies that came with it!

Monday, 25 November 2019

CTRL + S blog tour review


LOG IN > LOAD WORLD > SAVE HER.
Life in the near future's NOT ALL BAD. We've reversed global warming, and fixed the collapsing bee population. We even created SPACE, a virtual-sensory universe where average guys like Theo Wilson can do almost anything they desire.
But ALMOST ANYTHING isn't enough for some. Every day, normal people are being taken, their emotions harvested - and lives traded - to create death-defying thrills for the rich and twisted.
NOW THEO'S MOTHER HAS DISAPPEARED. And as he follows her breadcrumb trail of clues, he'll come up against the most dangerous SPACE has to offer: vPolice, AI Bots and anarchists - as well as a criminal empire that will KILL TO STOP HIM finding her...


I really enjoyed the Inventory series by Andy Briggs and this is another imaginative sci-fi novel but for an adult audience.

I liked the fact that this reads a lot like YA in places and generally feels accessible for someone who doesn't read a lot of sci-fi. The world is so creative – I love the idea of SPACE and the scope for good and evil that comes with such a system. I also thought the book deals with the concept of rights for forms of artificial intelligence in a really fresh, interesting way. 

The book delves into some dark subjects that I found really gripping and disturbing at the same time. It made me think a lot about the terrible real-world situations where people are treated as commodities.

I also liked the interactions between Theo's friendship group and the insights into their viewpoints that the narrative style offered.

This is a smart, creative and thought-provoking book and I'll continue to read whatever Andy Briggs writes next.




Thank you to Gollancz for inviting me to join the blog tour and gifting the review copy!

You can check out the other tour stops on the banner below.


Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Sky Weaver blog tour – review


At the end of one world, there always lies another. Safire, a soldier, knows her role in this world is to serve the king of Firgaard—helping to maintain the peace in her oft-troubled nation.

Eris, a deadly pirate, has no such conviction. Known as the Death Dancer for her ability to evade even the most determined of pursuers, she possesses a superhuman power to move between worlds.

Now Safire and Eris—sworn enemies—find themselves on a common mission: to find Asha, the last Namsara. From the port city of Darmoor to the fabled faraway Star Isles, their search and their stories become woven ever more tightly together as they discover that the uncertain fate they’re hurtling toward just may be a shared one. In this world—and the next.


It's a rare series that keeps my engagement this consistently high. If possible, I liked this book best of all. 

I'm not always a fan of shifting the focus character in subsequent books, but in this series it works really well.The characters from the other books still play an important role but this device enables the plot to go off in different directions. That way, we get pirates and dragons in the same book!

Another thing I love about the Iskari books is the rich mythology. Short extracts between the main plot build into a story with all of the darkness of the best fairy tales. I enjoyed trying to work out how these stories would impact on the main plot.

This book also has a great balance of action, fantasy and one of my favourite recent F/F romances! I won't say any more because of spoilers, but it was definitely my favourite thing about the book.

This is such a brilliant series and definitely one I'll come back to. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are memorable and the plot is gripping.



Thank you so much to Gollancz for including me on the blog tour! Check out the banner below for the other tour stops.


Iskari books - is that what they're called?

Friday, 8 November 2019

Book of Fire by Michelle Kenney – review



An unexpected forest raid forces Talia into a desperate mission to rescue her family while protecting the sacred Book of Arafel from those who would use it as a weapon. As Talia and her life long friend Max enter the dome, she makes some unexpected discoveries, and allies, in the form of rugged Insider August, that will change the course of her life forever.

She’ll stop at nothing to save her family but will she sacrifice her heart in the process?

I love discovering a great series late because it means there are already more books to read! This series has the epic feel of my favourite dystopians but uses elements from history and science-fiction to create something entirely new.

The world building in this book is brilliant and I think the historical touches have a lot to do with that. I really liked how the world is build around the Roman Empire, with other historical elements woven in. It was great fun trying to spot the different references!

I also found the pacing really strong and I think that's in part to do with the plotting but also the characters. The action definitely builds as the book progresses and I was tearing through it by the end. I also really liked the interactions and relationships between characters that build through the book. It wasn't always easy to pick out the trustworthy characters, and I love that!

Book of Fire is an exciting start to the series and I can't wait to pick up the next two instalments.
Thank you to HQ Digital for the review copy!

Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell – review


Kit can’t STAND reading,

She’d MUCH rather be outside, playing games and getting muddy, than stuck inside with a book. But when she’s dragged along to the library one day by her two best friends, she makes an incredible discovery – and soon it’s up to Kit and her friends to save the library … and the world.

I had a great time at the launch of this book in June but it somehow got lost in my TBR pile until now. The Dragon in the Library is just as good as it sounds and I devoured it in one sitting. It has memorable, diverse characters, a strong voice and a message about the power of reading and libraries.

The writing in this book is brilliant! It's funny, fast-paced and quirky, with a plot that kept my interest and took me by surprise. It's perfect for the target audience of 5 to 8 year olds but an engaging read for all.

Davide Ortu's illustrations are gorgeous too. The characters are distinctive and expressive and the illustrations bring the vividly described settings to life.

I also loved the characters. Kit is a brilliant protagonist who has agency, makes mistakes and grows through the book. She makes a great team with her friends, who are also well-developed and interesting in their own right. My favourite character is Faith. It's so refreshing to have a fleshed-out, likeable adult character in a book for this age range. She's smart, cool and has a definite Giles-from-Buffy vibe.

It's great that this book leaves readers with such positive messages too: libraries and reading are vital and it's up to individuals to make a difference.

I can't wait for the next instalment in this series and will read anything Louie writes.


Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Black Canary: Ignite by Meg Cabot – review


Thirteen-year-old Dinah Lance knows exactly what she wants, who she is, and where she's going. First, she'll win the battle of the bands with her two best friends, then she'll join the Gotham City Junior Police Academy so she can solve crimes just like her dad. Who knows, her rock star group of friends may even save the world, but first they'll need to agree on a band name. When a mysterious figure keeps getting in the way of Dinah's goals and threatens her friends and family, she'll learn more about herself, her mother's secret past, and navigating the various power chords of life. Black Canary: Ignite is an inspirational song that encourages readers to find their own special voices to sing along with Black Canary!

I think this is my first ever middle grade graphic novel and I devoured it in one sitting. The writing is addictive, the illustrations are stunning and it's a fun origin story for Black Canary. 

Dinah is a great main character and one I can definitely see growing into the role of Black Canary. Even though the graphic novel is short, I really got to know her as a character and loved that she's in a band! 

The plot is engaging, with all of the ups and downs of friendship and family life woven into the overarching mystery. Without giving too much away, I enjoyed how the story alluded to the hero Dinah will be.

Cara McGee's illustrations brought the whole story to life. The pink and purple tones of the book are gorgeous and the characters' facial expressions complement the dialogue perfectly.

Black Canary: Ignite is a light and uplifting story that is perfect for fans of superheroes and Meg Cabot's writing, or anyone who is looking to get into graphic novels.



Thank you to Penguin for the review copy!

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Angel Mage blog tour – review



More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

It’s a seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding. Four young people hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, a glory-seeking musketeer; and Dorotea, icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet but do not suspect their importance. And none of them know just how Liliath plans to use them, as mere pawns in her plan, no matter the cost to everyone else...

This was my first Garth Nix book and I was completely swept away by the worldbuilding, characterisation and intricate plot.

The scope of this world is incredible! I was sad to hear that it's a standalone as I feel like there are so many stories that could build on this framework. I loved how the story centred around a feminist slant on The Three Musketeers and it's so refreshing to read a female-driven adult fantasy novel. I also thought the magical system based around angels is very clever and original.

Another thing I really liked was the characters. I enjoyed looking out for familiar ones from The Three Muskateers and the third-person narrative offered interesting insights into different characters. The slower pacing of the plot initially really allowed for character development, so I cared about them when the action ramped up.

This is a memorable adult fantasy and I'll definitely be picking up Garth Nix's books for younger readers.

Thank you to Gollancz for including me on the blog tour! Check out the rest of the tour using the banners below.




Sunday, 20 October 2019

The Unadjusteds blog tour – guest post



Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Unadjusteds, the first of an epic new dystopian series by Marisa Noella. Marisa has more ideas for books than just about anyone I know, so I'm excited to share her thoughts about writing inspiration. 

Inspiration

Everyone has a book in them.

That’s the common expression. I’m sure it’s true – everyone has a story to tell – but I do giggle when I hear it. When I think of the learning curve of everything that needs to be learned.

But as authors, if we want to make a career out of it, we need more than one idea. So where does inspiration come from?


The answer is a variety of places. Book ideas can come from eavesdropping on conversations, to learning about a strange career. Far-flung vacations can give us cool settings and an argument can gives us ideas for a central conflict. Some recommend extreme experiences or putting yourself in a situation that takes you out of your comfort zone. But you don’t need to live in an Ashram or climb Everest or swim with dolphins to generate ideas.


My own inspiration has come from a great many places. One of the novels sitting on my laptop was created when one word was spoken to me: “plastic.” I knew I wanted to create something in the style of Peter Benchley’s Jaws, but with environmental impact. This book has evolved into something like Dean Koontz’s The Watcher’s X Stranger Things X Jaws, with a floating trash island that combines with a genetically altered algae to give rise to a terrifying monster. My forthcoming mermaid book, due out Spring 2020, which is the first of a series of five, was born from listening to Train’s Mermaid song. I listened to the song on repeat for over a year, without getting bored of it, and the whole feel of the novel, plot and characters came to me. That song has become the backbone of the entire book. Sometimes a setting will come first, or a character, or even the central plot. And then I pick and pick at it until I have all three. Only then do I know if the idea is strong enough to spend weeks writing out.

Productivity, determination and a thick skin are all important for developing a career in writing, but none of it would matter if we didn’t have an idea. My novel, The Unadjusteds, will be released on November 1st and one question I get a lot is where did I get the idea?

The answer – a few different places.

The novel is about a world where 80% of the population has had some form of genetic modification. Wings, super speed and high intelligence all exist. But there are the remaining 20%, the unadjusteds, who want to stay the way they are.

I was a bit of a science geek at school. I studied Biology through A-level and really enjoyed figuring out how the body works. We touched on genetics and it fascinated me how things are passed down to from one generation to the next.  How a baby with red hair can pop out after generations of its absence. Or how a person might come to have two different coloured eyes. Mutations were even more interesting. I researched anything from albino snakes to two-headed frogs and everything in between.

In the mid-90s, Dolly the Sheep was cloned.



I had so many questions. Where did they grow it? How? Did it have a soul? Did it have anything to do with God? Did God even exist? (BTW – asking a series of questions like this is a great way to generate ideas).

My wandering contemplations kept the questions alive for several years. When the concept of designer babies was born, I had more questions about the ethics and morality. It’s all well and good to be able to grow a spare organ on a rat’s back and eradicate sickle cell anemia with genetic tampering, but choosing the sex of a baby? Its eye colour? Its intelligence level? This aspect felt wrong to me. But who was I to decide where to draw the line?
And so the concept of The Unadjusteds was born – a novel to explore the full genetic potential of our species, but also where those ethical lines should or could be drawn and how they might be ignored. What would be possible if we had a power-hungry president who wanted to ignore those boundaries? Sounds a little scary, doesn’t it?

I’m lucky enough to have a genetic scientist for a brother. I don’t understand half of what he lectures about, but he was my sounding board for the science stuff: the what if questions, the plausibility and authenticity of the genetic modifications. Talking with him sparked more ideas and more questions about this world I was building and I couldn’t write the book fast enough. My character came to me fully formed in a dream and I knew exactly who she was.


via GIPHY

I wrote the first draft in six weeks, often typing away in the evenings while my husband watched TV. I was hugely pregnant with my third child and wanted to get the book out before he arrived. But the more I wrote, the more I realized one book wasn’t enough for this story. I hadn’t planned to write a trilogy. But when I typed The End on that first draft, I knew Silver’s story was only just beginning. The next two installments in the story came to me very quickly and combined my love of science-fiction, fantasy and horror. I’ve always devoured books by Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Michael Crichton and I like to think The Unadjusteds trilogy has elements of them all.

Do look out for giveaway competitions on my twitter page @MarisaNoelle77 and if you want to learn more about The Unadjusteds, there is a dedicated website with lots of fun quizzes and info – www.TheUnadjusteds.com

Good luck to all of you and may you find inspiration!

Thanks so much for your insights Marisa! The Unadjusteds will be released on 1st November and I can't wait to pick up a copy.

To check out the launch post and follow the other tour stops, follow this link to Shut up, Shealea's website.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky – review

IMAGINE...
Leaving your house in the middle of the night.
Knowing your mother is doing her best, but she's just as scared as you.

IMAGINE...
Starting a new school, making friends.
Seeing how happy it makes your mother.
Hearing a voice, calling out to you.

IMAGINE...
Following the signs, into the woods.
Going missing for six days.
Remembering nothing about what happened.

IMAGINE...
Something that will change everything...
And having to save everyone you love.

This is one of the darkest books I've read in a long time, and I mean that in a good way. In most respects, it's completely different from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It's definitely an adult novel and tackles some challenging subjects, including abuse, self-harm and religion.

My favourite thing about Stephen Chbosky's writing is the characterisation. Imaginary Friend has an important quality that all of my favourite horror novels share: it makes you care so much about the characters before everything falls apart! There's a huge cast of characters and yet I found it easy to keep track of them because they were all so well-developed. I especially liked the group ochildren – horror about kids always seems to affect me the most!

The plotting in this book is also completely creative and unpredictable. There were so many elements that I never saw coming and I enjoyed working out how the threads of the plot would fit together. It's definitely a slow-burning story in places but it kept my attention. 

The imagery in this book is some of the creepiest and most memorable that I've come across for ages. Settings are also used really effectively to amp up the creepiness and develop the plot.

Some of the subject matters meant that this wasn't an easy read but it was a very scary, gripping one. Stephen Chbosky is an insta-buy author for me and I love having no idea what he will write next!

Thank you to Orion for the review copy!



Sunday, 6 October 2019

Q&A with Kathryn Berla, author of Richochet


RICOCHET comes out tomorrow (on 8th October) and I have a Q&A with the author, Kathryn Berla. This book sounds so intriguing and I'm excited to share Kathryn's thoughts.  

Tell us all about RICOCHET.

Thank you for asking. RICOCHET is a sci-fi thriller about a girl who exists in the multiverse (as we all do—if you believe in it, which I do) but suddenly finds herself colliding with other versions of herself in four specific lives out of the infinite number that exist concurrently. Why these four in particular, and why is this happening? Because different choices have led to vastly different outcomes in each life, she is both Tati and Ana in America, and Tanya and Tatyana in Europe. All four versions of her become allies in the quest to discover what has led them to ricocheting between these four different (and yet similar) worlds.

What drew you to ground your novel in science?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the multiverse. We’ve all pondered that possibility even if we haven’t realized it. How would my life be different if I’d chosen this college over that one? This job over another? What if I hadn’t overcome my initial reluctance to go out the night that I met the man who would eventually became my husband? The possibilities are endless. And yes, I’ve read laymen’s versions of Stephen Hawking’s and Brian Greene’s explanations for the multiverse. I’m not a scientist but I do my research and I’m still curious enough to wonder about the if’s and how’s.

Do you have any advice for authors looking to include science in fictional worlds?

I say let your imagination be your guide. Nobody knows what the future will look like so nobody can tell you if you’ve got it right or wrong. If someone had told you only 50 years ago that we’d hold a device in the palms of our hands that could answer any question that’s ever been asked or lead us to any location on the planet or instantly contact anyone in the world, would you have believed it? Probably not. In the early 1900’s, people believed the human body couldn’t withstand speeds of 60 mph. So, let your imagination run wild. Think of infinite possibilities that may lie ahead. And do your homework so you have at least some science to back you up. I consulted a lot of professionals and, like I said, I did my reading as well. But what we know now isn’t the final answer for what might happen in the future. Just have fun with it and don’t listen to people who tell you your science is not possible. Anything’s possible.

What characters would you take into a parallel universe with you?

I think I’d take all four of my characters with me: Tati, Ana, Tanya, and Tatyana. In the beginning of my story, they all feel quite vulnerable, but as the story progresses, they discover just how strong they really are when it matters. They summon courage and accomplish feats they probably would never have imagined they were capable of.

What are your recent favourite YA books or authors?

This one is so hard to answer because I read so much but I’d have to mention ME MYSELF & HIM (Chris Tebbetts) because it involves parallel lives and I’m a little partial to that genre right now. I love Vicky Skinner who writes angsty romance. In terms of ground-breaking YA that was written many decades ago, I recently read I’LL GET THERE. IT BETTER BE WORTH THE TRIP and was very moved by it. But this is such a difficult question because I could probably devote 20 pages to discussing all the books I’ve read and loved in the past year.

What does your writing process look like?

Once I start, I’m very disciplined. I shut myself in a room and don’t come out until I’ve written at least 1000 words every day. Sometimes it comes very quickly. Sometimes it comes very slowly. I edit as I go so by the time my book is finished, it’s pretty well edited although I allow time to pass and then edit a few more times. I don’t use critique partners. I’m a solo writer. I have a writing friend who takes a look when I think my manuscript is in pretty good shape and then I’m done. Too many voices in my head in the beginning of my project would hinder rather than help me.

What is your next project?


Most, if not all, of my books are somewhat personal in nature, but I think my next project will be the most personal (for me) so far. It takes place in the summer of 1967, often referred to as the Summer of Love—a time of great social upheaval and great optimism. No one could foresee the dark events that would occur in the next few years. It was a time when young people felt empowered to change the world—and indeed they did. But there would be much self-reflection and often painful changes that occurred before that could happen. And a terrible war that dragged on throughout the decade, a snowballing casualty list that was never far from anyone’s mind.


Thanks for telling us about your book and writing process, Kathryn! I can't wait to read RICOCHET and I love the sound of your new project. 

Thursday, 3 October 2019

BBC Short Story and Young Writers' Award winners 2019

I had a wonderful time at the awards on Tuesday 1st October! It's so exciting to see the live recording of the announcement and to hear extracts from the incredible stories. It was also my first time in BBC Broadcasting House and I had so much fun chatting with other attendees and seeing the buzzing BBC research floor.

Without further ado, here's the information about the two winners!

The winner of the 2019 BBC National Short Story Award is...


Jo Lloyd, the author of The Invisible, who has written 'a timeless and deeply tender story influenced by Brexit, social division and folklore'. This is a brilliantly crafted, unique story and I'd highly recommend checking it out on BBC Sounds 

The five shortlisted stories are available to listen to on BBC Sounds and are published in an anthology by Comma Press. 


It's also the fifth year of the BBC Young Writer's Award, which is open to 14 to 18 year olds and was created to inspire young story writers.

This year, it was won by 16-year-old Georgie Woodhead from Sheffield for her story Jelly-headed, an amazing tragi-comic tale about one dramatic evening in a nightclub. It can be read at www.bbc.co.uk/ywa and heard on BBC Sounds.

It's been a pleasure to be involved in these awards and I hope you enjoy reading the stories!

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Crier's War blog tour – guest post by Nina Varela



From debut author Nina Varela comes the first book in an Own Voices, richly imagined epic fantasy duology about an impossible love between two girls – one human, one Made –whose romance could be the beginning of a revolution.

Perfect for fans of Marie Rutkoski's The Winner's Curse as well as Game of Thrones and Westworld.

Since reading that short blurb, I've been so excited about this book! Today is the first stop on the blog tour and I have a brilliant post of writing advice from Nina. There's more about the book and Nina's bio underneath the post.

On Poetry
By Nina Varela

A funny thing that happens during book promo is that practically every interview includes the question: “What is your advice for aspiring young writers?” I’ve been asked for writing advice more times in the past two weeks than in the twenty-four years before that, and every time I answer the question I feel like a fraud. Writing advice? My god, I don’t know. What advice is there to give other than “Finish your project”? Writing is so individual, so intimate; what works for me doesn’t work for my best friend, let alone a thousand aspiring young writers. My writing process involves coffee, desperation, and working around a full-time day job. My writing process is I put on headphones and make the words happen because they have to. My writing process is: “Finish it. Just finish it. You can fix it later, just get to the end.” I build stories around evocative locations; my best friend is character dynamics first, plot second; another friend outlines the entire plot before knowing a single thing about the characters, and all of it works. I keep trying to think of advice and coming up empty.

Well, almost empty. What I have is this: I think it really, really helps to read poetry. The thing about poetry is you’re generally working with such limited space, so everything in that space needs a damn good reason to be there. If you have fifteen lines to get your point across, you can’t waste any of them—every single line has to be purposeful, meaningful, every word the exact right word in the exact right spot. Whenever I read good poetry I think about how it seems so effortless, one line flowing perfectly into the next, and then I think about how much effort the poet must have put in. They probably agonized over that word, that line, for days or weeks. Because every last word is important: it affects all the others around it and the whole meaning of the poem. There’s no room for the cliches that so often slip into my writing: common turns of phrase like “The blood froze in her veins,” “It was raining cats and dogs outside,” etc. The most fascinating, innovative, gut-punch writing I’ve read has always been in poetry. When I need inspiration, I read poetry. And once I’ve finished my project, I go through and remove all those tiny nothing-cliches, replacing them with imagery or turns of phrase I haven’t seen before.

I want my lines and words to be purposeful.

All this said, here’s some of my favorite poets: Mary Oliver, Ocean Vuong, Chen Chen, Warsan Shire, Andrea Gibson, Tracy K. Smith, Richard Siken, Ross Gay, Jane Kenyon, Emily Jungmin Yoon, Sarah Kay, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Nayyirah Waheed. Even if you’re not a poetry person, I advise—advise!—that you give some of their work a try. It’s the best thing I ever did for my writing. 

***
Thanks so much Nina! That post has certainly motivated me to read more poetry and the poets Nina has suggested look like an excellent place to start. Below, I have the blurb, Nina's bio and information about the remaining tour stops. Happy reading!

Now, Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family's death...by killing the sovereign's daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father's legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn't the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.


***

Nina Varela grew up on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina alongside pot-bellied pigs, a meditation hut, and an assortment of fascinating characters who will forever populate her stories. Her work has accumulated over a dozen national and collegiate awards, and her short fiction has been featured in New Millennium Writings and Scribe. As a queer woman, Nina is dedicated to storytelling with diverse representations of sexuality, gender, neuroatypicality, and other marginalized identities. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she is earning her BFA in Writing for Screen & Television at the University of Southern California. Visit her at ninavarela.com.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Fugly by Claire Waller – review


Content warning: bullying, self harm, sexual assault, attempted suicide


A wrenchingly honest, thought-provoking exploration of a girl judged and dismissed by society who must break the cycle of shaming that traps her in her real life and comforts her in her online one.

In real life, eighteen-year-old Beth is overweight, shy, and geeky. She’s been bullied all her life, and her only refuge is food. Online, though, she’s a vicious troll who targets the beautiful, vain, oversharing It Girls of the internet. When she meets Tori, a fellow troll, she becomes her online girlfriend-slash-partner-in-crime.
But then Tori picks a target who’s a little too close to home for Beth. Unsettled, Beth decides to quit their online bullying partnership. The only problem is, Tori is not willing to let her go.

Fugly is like nothing I've read before. It's a dark and unflinching look at a viewpoint I've never given much thought: the internet troll. Being inside Beth's head means that this definitely isn't an easy read, but it's a unique and engrossing one.

Claire Waller develops Beth's character with such skill that it left me in a moral dilemma! Beth does, says and thinks some terrible, unforgivable things but also has redeemable qualities. It was also very clear why she did those things. Beth goes on such an interesting journey through the book and it was mainly character development that kept me gripped throughout.

I loved how complicated and well-drawn all of the characters in the book are. I could really picture even the most minor characters.

Another thing that stayed with me after reading this book is how vulnerable sharing things online can make us and the impact that online words can have on others. I knew all of these things (and would certainly never troll anyone) but I've never read a book that made me think so much about them.

This book tackles a lot of difficult subject matters, and as it's from Beth's perspective these aren't always communicated in a positive way. However, if you can stomach the tough subject matter, this is a brilliantly written and thought-provoking read.

 

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Batman: Nightwalker by Stuart Moore – review


This action-packed graphic novel based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Marie Lu transports readers to the shadowy gates of Arkham Asylum, where Gotham City's darkest mysteries reside...and now it threatens to imprison young Bruce Wayne.

A new ruthless gang of criminals known only as Nightwalkers are terrorizing Gotham and the city's elite are being taken out one by one. On the way home from his eighteenth birthday party, newly-minted billionaire Bruce Wayne makes an impulsive choice that puts him in their crosshairs and lands him in Arkham Asylym, the once infamous mental hospital. There, he meets Madeleine Wallace, a brilliant killer...and Bruce's only hope. Madeline is the mystery Bruce must unravel, but is he convincing her to divulge her secrets, or is he feeding her the information she needs to bring Gotham City to its knees?

Illustrated by Chris Wildgoose and adapted by Stuart Moore, this graphic novel presents a thrilling new take on Batman before he donned the cape and cowl.

This was my first Batman graphic novel and it reminded me how much I love the world of Batman. Batman: Nightwalker is a fresh, enjoyable take on the story.

The characterisation in this book is great! I sometimes find it hard to connect with characters in this format but I really liked this younger Bruce Wayne and adored Madeleine! The interactions between them were some of my favourite parts of the book.

I also really enjoyed the plot, which was complimented by Chris Wildgoose's beautifully detailed illustrations. The pace is fast and I couldn't stop reading, but are were also quieter moments for character development and reflection.

The illustrations are mostly black and white with striking touches of yellow, and I found the style really effective. Characters' emotions are revealed through their facial expressions and the Gothic backgrounds are stunning!

This is a fantastic addition to the Batman catalogue and it was fun to spot well-known elements from the world. It's definitely made me want to pick up Marie Lu's book that provided the inspiration for the graphic novel!



Thank you to Penguin Random House for the review copy!

Sunday, 22 September 2019

BBC Young Writers' Award shortlist



I’m so excited to be an ambassador for the BBC Young Writers’ Award for the second time. There's a great range of stories for 2019, with a focus on ‘the need for understanding and emotional connection’. The shortlist was announced live today on BBC Radio 1’s Life Hacks. 

For the first time, a love of poetry and a desire to experiment with the short story form has been mentioned by each of the shortlisted writers, with 2018 Foyle Young Poet Georgie Woodhead featuring on the shortlist. The five stories – many deeply personal – range from the comic, to the lyrical, to the tragic, and are written by an all-female shortlist of young writers aged 16 and 17 years from across the UK.

The shortlisted stories and writers are:

Insula’ by Eleanor Clark, 16, from mid-Devon. This ‘rite of passage’ is told via a young woman’s journey from the safe community and almost magical island of her childhood to the brutal, isolation of the city. Evocative and sophisticated with a strong sense of place, the story laments the inevitability of growing up and champions the importance of rural communities.

Another Pair of Eyes’ by Tallulah Howorth, 17, from Macclesfield. Inspired by the true story of John Dalton, a Northern scientist known for his study into colour blindness who asked for his eyes to be preserved after his death, this is the strange and touching tale of a lonely archivist who becomes emotionally attached to ‘Dalton’s eyes’. Tender and funny, this unique piece of flash-fiction is short, yet beautifully realised.

The Blue of Spring Violets’ by Isobel Paxton, 17, from Edinburgh. Set in a psychiatric ward, this brutal, rich and sensory story explores the kinship of the patients as they find kindness, connection and humanity in their pain.

Allotment’ by Rowan Taylor, 16, from Reading. The story of a daughter’s changing relationship with her father after her parent’s marriage break-up, this beautifully told story shows the shift from desolation through sadness to new love as the seasons pass and new life, and hope, awakens on the father’s allotment.

Jelly-headed’ by Georgie Woodhead, 16, from Sheffield. ‘Jelly-headed’ is a comic, quirky and ultimately tragic story of two friends, a night out and a lightning strike that brings devastation. A story about guilt and the absurdity of life, this funny, subversive story is ultimately about searching for meaning or connection.

The five shortlisted stories, each under 1000 words, are available to read on the BBC Radio 1 website, and can be heard on BBC Sounds as part of the Short Works short story podcast.

Katie Thistleton is joined on this year’s judging panel by former teacher and Betty Trask Award winner, Anthony Cartwright; Waterstones Prize and YA Bookseller Prize-winning writer, Patrice Lawrence; winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year children’s author, Kiran Millwood Hargrave; and writer, rapper and world-record breaking human beatboxer, Testament.

The shortlisted writers will have their stories read by an actor and broadcast by BBC Radio 1, and available to listen to on BBC Sounds as part of the Short Works short story podcast. The stories will also be published in an anthology and the writers will attend a creative writing workshop with author and judge Patrice Lawrence, in addition to a session in a recording studio and a tour of Broadcasting House with BBC producers. All five teenagers will attend the exclusive BBC Short Story Awards ceremony with their families on Tuesday 1 October 2019, when the winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. There, they will have the chance to meet high-profile authors, publishers, agents and broadcasters at the award ceremony. The winner will also receive a personalised mentoring session with an author to enhance their writing skills.

The shortlisted stories can be read and listened to online at: www.bbc.co.uk/ywa

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Jemima Small Versus the Universe – review


Jemima Small is funny and smart. She knows a lot of things. Like the fact that she's made of 206 bones, over 600 muscles and trillions of cells. What she doesn't know is how that can be true and yet she can still sometimes feel like nothing... Or how being made to join the school's "special" healthy lifestyle group – aka Fat Club – could feel any less special. But Jemima also knows that the biggest stars in the universe are the brightest. And maybe it's her time to shine...

This is a memorable and beautifully written book about self-confidence and body positivity. It left me feeling uplifted and so happy that it's out in the world!

Jemima is a brilliant character! I loved how warm, funny and clever she is. At times, the bullying she suffers and how she feels about herself are heartbreaking but her journey in the book is about overcoming these things.

The supporting characters are great. I really liked Jemima's friends and family but my favourite characters were Gina and Luna. They both felt so real to me and I appreciated the part they play in Jemima's life.

This book also deals with bullying and body image in an honest, relateable and empathetic way. I would've found this book so helpful as a teen and it really captures the teenage experience, for better and worse.

This is one of those books that I haven't been able to stop thinking about and I'm definitely going to pick up Being Miss Nobody by Tamsin Winter too.

Thank you to Usborne for the review copy!



Monday, 16 September 2019

The Deathless Girls – blog tour review


The Deathless Girls is one of my most anticipated books of the year so it's great to kick off the blog tour today. I loved the idea that we would get to hear the brides of Dracula's side of the story and I've heard great things about Kiran Millwood Hargrave's other books.

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness - they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she'll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn't understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate...


As soon as I heard the premise of this book, I was desperate to read it. That led to high expectations and The Deathless Girls exceeded all of them. It's a gorgeously written, unsettling book with feminist themes and brilliant characters.

The world-building and research that must have gone into it are impeccable. I really enjoyed the insight into the community of travellers at the beginning, though some things that happened were heartbreaking to read. I loved how this book blends history and mythology in a setting that feels very real.

The relationships were my favourite thing about The Deathless Girls. I loved the close sisterly bond between Lil and Kizzy and how this shapes their choices throughout the book. There is also an f/f relationship that is just the loveliest!

This book treads a line between genres that I really enjoyed. The writing style is lyrical and feels quite literary, while the plot has moments of horror, intrigue, tension and romance.

The Deathless Girls
is a compelling read with brilliant writing. I'm so glad that vampires are back, and this was a thrilling example.

Thank you to Ed PR for the review copy and for inviting me to join the blog tour! Check out the banner below to follow the rest of the tour.