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 of children – 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.







Friday, 13 September 2019

Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo – review


Magic rules the city of Creije Capital and Tavia Syn knows just how many tricks she needs up her sleeve to survive. Selling dark magic on the streets for her kingpin, she keeps clear of other crooks, counting the days until her debt is paid and she can flee her criminal life.

But then, one day, with her freedom in sight, Tavia uncovers a sinister plot that threatens to destroy the realm she calls home. Desperate to put an end to her kingpin's plan, Tavia forms an unlikely alliance with three crooks even more deadly than her:

Wesley, the kingpin's prodigy and most renewed criminal in the realm

Karam, an underground fighter with a penchant for killing first and forgetting to ask questions

And Saxony, a Crafter in hiding who will stop at nothing to avenge her family

With the reluctant saviours assembled, they embark on a quest to put an end to the dark magic before it's too late. But even if they can take down the kingpin and save the realm, the one thing they can't do is trust each other.


I love finding a new fantasy series to get excited about and this is one of my favourite of the year! Perfect for fan's of Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody, it's full of action, world building and memorable characters.

I sometimes find it hard to follow a large cast of characters but characterisation is a real strength of this book. The characters are so distinct and each has their own back story. They all have something to offer to the team and the interactions between them are great.

I also really liked the world building in this book. I got a really strong sense of the world and the magical system without feeling overpowered by it. The first book puts plenty of things in motion that can be explored later in the series!

Even though I was really busy when I read this, I couldn't resist picking it up. The pace is quick and there's plenty of action. I liked how it moves between settings too. There were a lot of angles to keep my interest!

This is a great start to the series and my first Alexandra Christo book, so I'll definitely pick up the others while I wait for the sequel to Into the Crooked Place





Thank you to Hot Key Books for the review copy!

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki




Harleen is a tough, outspoken, rebellious kid who lives in a ramshackle apartment above a karaoke cabaret owned by a drag queen named MAMA. Ever since Harleen's parents split, MAMA has been her only family. When the cabaret becomes the next victim in the wave of gentrification that's taking over the neighbourhood, Harleen gets mad.

When Harleen decides to turn her anger into action, she is faced with two choices: join Ivy, who's campaigning to make the neighbourhood a better place to live, or join The Joker, who plans to take down Gotham one corporation at a time.

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is at once a tale of the classic Harley readers know and love, and a heartfelt story about the choices teenagers make and how they can define--or destroy--their lives. This is the first title in DC's new line of original graphic novels for middle grade and young adult readers.


This graphic novel is such a fun read! The illustrations are amazing and I really enjoyed the plot surrounding a teenage Harley Quinn.

Harley Quinn is one of my favourite graphic novel characters and I'm especially interested in her origin stories. This book feels like such a fresh take on her teenage years and a plausible start for the Harley I know and love. Her dialogue is hilarious and the book captures her naivety and bravery. 

Harley's friendship with Ivy was a highlight of this book for me. I haven't read many graphic novels that focus around female friendship and it's great to see their relationship develop from the start. Like Harley, I also liked the hints about how Ivy might end up as Poison Ivy.

This graphic novel uses a combination of muted colours and vivid reds really effectively to highlight scenes between different characters. The illustrations are really detailed and capture the character's expressions, perfectly complementing the dialogue. 

The storyline about standing up for your community and the people you love feels very timely. Harley and Ivy are forces for change in their own ways. Some of my favourite moments are with Harley's drag queen friends from the neighbourhood, especially Mama.

This is a memorable, engrossing graphic novel and I hope there are more Harley Quinn stories from Mariko Tamaki, with Steve Pugh's gorgeous illustrations.



Thanks so much to Penguin for the review copy!

Friday, 6 September 2019

14th BBC National Short Story Award shortlist


It's a pleasure to be an ambassador again for the BBC Young Writers' Award! I had an amazing time at the ceremony last year for the BBC National Short Story Award, Young Writers' Award and Student Critics' Award 2019 and loved reading the brilliant shortlisted stories. 

This year's writers were inspired by #MeToo, Brexit and Trump.


The 2019 shortlisted writers are...

Lucy Caldwell, multi-award-winning novelist, playwright and short story writer, has been shortlisted for the second time for ‘The Children’. Previously shortlisted in 2012 for ‘Escape Route’, one of her first ever short stories, Caldwell is joined on the 2019 shortlist by a wealth of emerging talent including University of Dundee Fellow and former bookseller Lynda Clark for ‘Ghillie’s Mum’; charity worker Jacqueline Crooks for ‘Silver Fish in the Midnight Sea’; civil servant Tamsin Grey for ‘My Beautiful Millennial’; and Welsh writer Jo Lloyd for ‘The Invisible’. The writers have explored sexual politics, intolerance, community and immigration.

The Award is one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000, and the four further shortlisted authors £600 each. The winner is announced during a live BBC Radio 4 Front Row broadcast at a ceremony in London on Tuesday 1st October.


Congratulations to all of the brilliant nominees! I can't wait to read the stories. The Young Writers' Award Shortlist will be announced on 22nd September.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart – review



Content warning: House fire, burn recovery, attempted suicide

16-year-old Ava Gardener is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all: Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn’t?

When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle for survival, and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the glass—or the people by her side.

This is the most memorable debut I've read for a very long time. It takes a heartbreaking subject matter and turns it into an uplifting, thought-provoking story of friendship.

The voice of this book is brilliant and so distinctive. I really got a sense of Ava's personality and I loved the use of humour. Ava is a very realistic character and her reaction to her burns is very believable. All of the characters in this book are well-developed and have enough layers, flaws and strengths to feel like real people. Her aunt is probably my favourite character and I really enjoyed the exploration of her relationship with Ava.

I'm here for YA that focuses around friendships, with all of their wonderful and not so wonderful moments. I really related to Ava's relationship with Piper and my heart ached for both of them at various points in the book.

I've never read a book where a main character is recovering from serious burns, and I felt the subject was handled with empathy. The treatment felt very well-researched too.

This is one of those books that I still can't stop thinking about. I'd heard brilliant things about it and it deserves all of the praise.




Sunday, 1 September 2019

Morgan Charmley: Teen Witch – review


A clean teen comedy with an on-trend witchy spin – Sabrina the Teenage Witch for a new generation. Morgan Charmley has spent her entire thirteen years on the planet attempting to prove she has control over her witch powers so that she's allowed to attend a normal school. And the day has finally arrived! But will she be able to make friends and fit in with non-magical teenagers? Can she resist using her powers to make herself popular or turn her teachers into toads? Can she keep her spells a secret?

I had so much fun reading this book! The blurb is exactly right – it has humour and magical shenanigans that reminded me of the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch TV show.

The premise of a girl who has never been to school is great and I liked the journey Morgan goes through over the course of the book, in terms of her powers as well as navigating school.

I also really enjoyed the magic in this book and how it centres around Morgan's family. I'm always a fan of families in teen/YA books and this was a particularly lovely, believable family. 

I think it's the voice that made this book so compulsively readable for me. I loved Morgan's first-person perspective and how we saw events through her eyes. The comic moments and things that went wrong were also a highlight!

I hope this is only the first Morgan Charmley book, especially after how it ended. I'm looking forward to seeing what she gets up to next!



Thank you to Scholastic for the review copy!

Friday, 16 August 2019

Dead Popular by Sue Wallman – review


The reigning queen bee, Kate, knows that you don't become the most powerful girl at school by playing nice. But when other students start revealing long-held secrets anonymously, she realizes someone is playing a much more dangerous game – and they know too much about Kate's past. If she doesn't figure out who's behind this, her final year at Pankhurst could be exactly that: her final year.

I'm a huge fan of Sue Wallman's YA thrillers. They're always a quick, fun and fast-paced read with plenty of intrigue. Dead Popular is no different, and in fact, I liked this one most of all.

The main characters were really interesting because Kate isn't always likeable and the characters don't always make the best choices. For those reasons, they felt so real to me, and I liked how Kate grew through the book. There's also a very sweet, slow-burning romance that I enjoyed a lot!

The boarding school setting is brilliant. It's one of my favourite YA scenarios and this book perfectly creates a sense of gossip, claustrophobia and social structure.

I also found the mystery completely absorbing and it was great fun trying to figure it out! There were plenty of possible suspects and it definitely kept me guessing.

I'll read everything Sue writes and this is another great thriller. I can't wait to see what she writes next!


An Evening with George RR Martin – Waterstones event


Since George RR Martin hasn't done a UK event for five years, I was excited to attend this event to promote Fire and Blood, the Targaryen history that leads up to A Game of Thrones. Unsurprisingly, George RR Martin is a fascinating speaker and historian Dan Jones asked insightful questions about the books, Martin's screenwriting career and his writing process. 

These are some of the main parts of the discussion that stayed with me, particularly his reflections on writing. Any mistakes are my own.


I was really interested to hear the journey that George RR Martin took to write A Game of Thrones. He explained that a chapter came to him almost fully formed, where Bran finds dire wolves in the summer snow. He didn't know what it was part of but knew where the story would go next. Around that time, he sold a script for a TV pilot and put A Game of Thrones aside. He returned to it three years later and it was like he put the pages down yesterday, as if he'd been thinking about the characters subconsciously for all those years. The phrase 'in the summer snow' from that original chapter put him on the line of the unsteadiness of the seasons. 

George RR Martin sees writers as being 'architects' or 'gardeners', and generally a combination of the two. An architect writes with everything planned out in advance. A gardener digs a hole, throws in a seed and hopes something comes up.


Martin sees himself as 97% gardener. He quoted Tolkien, who said that a tale grew in the telling. Martin knew none of the history of his world when he began. For example, at some point he thought he'd better have a map to keep track of things. He took a map of Ireland as a starting point and turned it upside down, filling in the details as he went. The same applied for kings. He started with a list of names, adding dates and facts later.

When writing, Martin keeps the Lands of Ice and Fire maps around him as a reference. Most information for the series is in his head, in computer files and on timelines. Sometimes it's a daunting task, especially now the world has become bigger and more complex.

His writing follows the template of Tolkien, where everything begins in one place, the characters pick others up on their journey and then the group splits. The viewpoint characters begin at Winterfell and then split off to different locations. Every time a character goes off, they need their own cast of supporting characters with antagonists and friends.

Martin uses find and replace to track details about characters and said he does make mistakes. He has trouble with things like eye colours and once had a horse that changes gender between stories!

The disadvantages of being a gardener are when you realise you took a wrong turn a few chapters ago. He keeps chapters that he removes in case they're useful later.

Scenes he really remembers tend to be the ones that were painful to write, not fun. He'd been building up to writing the 'red wedding' since the first book. When he came to that scene, it was too painful. Martin finished writing the whole book and then went back to that scene.

Sometimes he's really proud of the quieter scenes where it feels like he's got the sights and sounds of the scene right to put a reader right there.


He likes taking influences from history but changing direction and making it bigger, preferring popular history to academic accounts. Hadrien's wall was definitely an influence. He got there at sunset when it was quiet, imagining being a Roman fearing what would come out of those woods. He just imagined a bigger wall and a scarier thing.

Martin also took influences from the War of the Roses, the Crusades, the Hundred Years War and Scottish history. The red wedding was loosely based on the 'Black dinner'. He was also inspired by Eleanor of Aquitane and powerful, bloody women who controlled city states in Italy.

In Fire and Blood, Martin felt affection for Mushroom, a jester of lowly birth. It is written from the point of view of a historian delving into this fake history and trying to figure out what happened.  


This was such a memorable event and I was thrilled to buy a signed book as a memento. Thank you to Waterstones for hosting!

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Sanctuary blog tour – review



Sanctuary. It's the perfect town. . . to hide a secret.

To Detective Maggie Knight, the death of Sanctuary's star quarterback seems to be a tragic accident. Only, everyone knows his ex-girlfriend is the daughter of a witch - and she was there when he died.

Then the rumours start

Bereaved mother Abigail will stop at nothing until she has justice for her dead son. Her best friend Sarah will do everything in her power to protect her accused daughter. And both women share a secret that could shatter their lives.

It falls to Maggie to prevent her investigation - and Sanctuary itself - from spiralling out of control.

A gripping thriller for fans of Big Little Lies, A Discovery of Witches and The Familars.



Content warning: rape and child abuse


I'm a huge fan of VV James' YA books (as Vic James) and I loved this book just as much. It's dark, extremely tense and twisty, and is definitely an adult book.

The alternating viewpoints worked incredibly well as a device to reveal the mystery in small pieces. Each voice and character was distinct and well-developed, which is incredibly difficult to pull off. The detective, Maggie, was my favourite character but I enjoyed the exploration of even the less likeable characters.

Another great part of this book is how seamlessly magic fit into the history and laws of the world. It drew on the history of witchcraft to incorporate a new and believable timeline. The fantastical elements also complement the very real concerns of consent and the treatment of victims. Sanctuary deals with the matters listed in the content warning in an unflinching but empathetic manner.

The mystery aspects and plotting in this book are fantastic. Elements that are going to become relevant are peppered through the narrative but I found it a real challenge to fit everything together.

This is a gripping, tightly plotted book that tackles important issues. I'll read anything VV James writes and I'm excited by her move into adult fiction.

Thank you to Gollancz for the review copy and including me on the blog tour. You can follow the other stops using the banner below.




Monday, 29 July 2019

The Shadow Keepers blog tour – review


Sixteen-year-old Georgia Boone has seen the shadow creatures in mirrors and other reflective surfaces since she was six-years-old. But no one--not even her brother, the person she’s closest to in the entire world--believes her. She is all alone in the hellish world where crow-like creatures hunt her everywhere she goes.

When an afternoon of shopping ends in violence and blood, Georgia is sent to one of the UK’s most prestigious mental health hospitals: Brookwood Hospital. There, she’s forced to face her fears and answer the question:

Are the shadows real, or is this all in her head?

At Brookwood, the shadow creatures are more present than ever and are getting stronger every day. Only with the help of a mysterious boy who lives inside the mirror world might she be able to prove that she’s not hallucinating and stop the shadows from destroying the human world.


Content warnings: self harm, mental health treatment, alcoholism and suicide

The Shadow Keepers is a creepy YA horror with a unique premise.

It's rare to see an exploration of mental health in genre fiction, particularly when it's own voices. The book explores day-to-day experiences with mental health amongst the life or death scenarios of the shadow world.

There's an interesting cast of characters and all felt like heroes of their own story. I enjoyed trying to figure out which characters could be trusted and which might be part of the mystery.

The worlds in this book, both real and fantastical, feel well-developed and thought out. I also really liked the horror elements and there were certain moments that really got under my skin!

This was an enjoyable read and I'm looking forward to reading Marisa's next book.



I received this book from the publisher and author in exchange for an open and honest review. Marisa was my mentor during Write Mentor.



Thursday, 25 July 2019

Heartstream by Tom Pollock – review


I just wanted to see you. Before the end. A taut psychological thriller about obsession, fame and betrayal, for fans of Black Mirror.

Cat is in love. Always the sensible one, she can’t believe that she’s actually dating, not to mention dating a star. But the fandom can’t know. They would eat her alive. And first at the buffet would definitely be her best friend, Evie. Amy uses Heartstream, a social media app that allows others to feel your emotions. She broadcasted every moment of her mother’s degenerative illness, and her grief following her death. It’s the realest, rawest reality TV imaginable. But on the day of Amy’s mother’s funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in her kitchen. She’s rigged herself and the house with explosives – and she’s been waiting to talk to Amy for a long time. Who is she? A crazed fan? What does she want? Amy and Cat are about to discover how far true obsession can go.


This is a tense, clever thriller with a technological slant that makes it completely unique.

My favourite thing about it is the dual narrative. I loved trying to work out whether the two characters were connected, and each voice was totally distinct. Both characters are really well developed and believable too. 

The plotting in this book is brilliant. It's incredibly tense and builds to a thrilling conclusion, and there are also lighter moments. I predicted a couple of things but mostly had no idea what was going to happen, which I really enjoyed. The technology is really creative and scarily believable, and it added an incredible degree of tension!

This book gripped me from the very beginning and I'd highly recommend it to YA thriller fans.