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. 

Friday, 12 July 2019

Take a Chance on Me – review

The brand-new sunny, funny, feel-good rom com from bestselling Beth Garrod, perfect for fans of TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE and THE KISSING BOOTH. Meg had a disastrous first kiss she would rather forget, but this is the summer she puts it behind her. This is the summer she has a perfect, swoony, just-like-in-the-movies kiss with a hot boy - and what better setting than the sun-drenched Greek island she's holidaying on? But with three very different boys vying for her attention, this mission to reset her first kiss may be more complicated than she bargained for...

Take a Chance on Me is a hilarious, summery and romantic read about friendship and feeling good about yourself.

I really enjoyed the multiple potential love interests in this story and I kept changing my mind about who Meg might end up with (if anyone). As great as the romance was, it was Meg's friendship with Neet that made me feel all warm inside. Their relationship was so lovely and realistic and is definitely friendship goals. It was also refreshing that the book delved into family dynamics, for Meg and Neet. 

I also really liked how the book was more about Meg learning to feel comfortable in her skin and see her own worth than it was about gaining approval from others. It feels like Meg goes on a real journey through the book and I loved that. With the brilliant voice and humour, it feels like you really get to know her.

The Greek island setting of the book is gorgeous. It's the perfect book to take on a sunny holiday or to escape for a while from the unpredictable British weather. 

Thank you to Scholastic for the review copy! 

Friday, 14 June 2019

My Secret Lies With You blog tour – Faye's Favourite Mysteries

I'm a huge fan of Faye's tense, intriguing books, so it's lovely to share one of Faye's favourite YA mystery novels as part of the blog tour. You can check out my review of My Secret Lies With You here.

Lying About Last Summer

What I loved about this book was that we were in one location for a short period of time and we weren’t sure, once we got there, who we should trust. A tragic past event takes us into the world of the book; Skye’s parents now are sending her to a camp for bereaved teens after the death of her sister. We go with Skye there. 

In many ways this story has all the makings of a classic Agatha Christie mystery in its set up. And what I loved about it was the ending, which for me, felt like the gift that kept on giving. I can’t say too much about it here because I don’t want to create spoilers, but clearly endings are completely crucial to the success or not of a mystery story. The end of a mystery needs to be satisfying – it needs to answer all the questions that the reader has asked as they’ve read – and it also needs to be credible, authentic to what has happened to get us to this point. As a reader we look for resolution in a way that continues to sit well with the characters we’ve got to know. We hope for a resolution that still might, in some way, surprise us. But we don’t want the surprise to be so outrageous as to be ridiculous or so slight as to be disappointing. Endings need to deliver on the built up tension. They need to entertain. 

For the writer this can be a hard thing to achieve – it requires a specific graft to deliver a conclusion that does all of these things – and I felt that Sue Wallman delivered it perfectly in Lying About Last Summer. In lots of ways the ending crept up on me. I was aware of building tensions between characters throughout the story, but because I was so intent on the resolution to the main mystery, and because I was so immersed in its conclusion, I didn’t anticipate the ending would unfold quite as it did. Here was a real finale! There was danger, in fact there was proper peril – I really felt it – and then as the danger subsided an internal resolution emerged. For me this was a thrilling and satisfying ending brilliantly done and I loved it! I’m looking forward to Sue’s new book, Dead Popular, which is due out in August 2019.

I agree, Faye – Lying About Last Summer is a great mystery with a memorable ending. Thank you for sharing one of your favourite mysteries Faye!

My Secret Lies With You is out now. 

Saturday, 8 June 2019

My Secret Lies With You by Faye Bird – review

Three close friends… Two unforgettable summers… One girl’s darkest secret…

Alys appeared last summer, and then she vanished without a trace.

Ifan fell in love with her. Hannah hated her. And Marko regrets what they did.

This summer, Cait is new in town, and a girl has been reported missing. Cait needs to uncover the truth. What happened last summer? And who is Alys?

I really enjoyed What I Couldn't Tell You by Faye Bird and this is another intriguing, unsettling mystery.

The wild Welsh coastal setting suited the mystery perfectly and made me want to spend more time in Wales. The location was gorgeously described and used to great effect in the plot.

I also enjoyed piecing together the plot from the viewpoint of different characters. Each voice is distinct and reveals another part of the mystery.

I love a summer book and I liked the idea of forcing the characters to reflect on disturbing events from the previous year. It was interesting trying to see how the two timelines would intersect, though I felt the events could have been explored in more detail. 

This is a quick, tense read with an engaging mystery at its heart. Look out for my stop on the blog tour next week, with one of Faye Bird's favourite mysteries.

Thank you to Usborne for the review copy! 

Monday, 3 June 2019

Gumiho (Wicked Fox) by Kat Cho – review

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret--she's a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead--her gumiho soul--in the process.

Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl--he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to men. He's drawn to her anyway. When he finds her fox bead, he does not realize he holds her life in his hands.

With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous and reignite a generations-old feud . . . forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon's.

As soon as I read that blurb, I knew I'd love this book. Gumiho (Wicked Fox) is a gorgeously written YA fantasy that weaves the gumiho Korean myth into an addictive story set in modern-day Seoul. 

I'm a huge fan of fiction grounded in mythology and I was hooked from the moment I read about the gumiho myth. It makes for a deliciously dark hook for a YA novel and I thought there was a really interesting contrast between Miyoung's life as a gumiho and her sweet relationship with Jihoon.

I really liked the way Gumiho immerses the reader in Seoul with gorgeous, sensory descriptions and I enjoyed reading about modern Korean culture. It felt very authentic and well-researched (and it's own voices too). 

I also very much enjoyed the romance. The progression of Miyoung and Jihoon's relationship felt very natural (and I love a good hate to love story arc). It's also refreshing that the book explores the relationships of both main characters with their families, from the good moments to the heartbreaking ones. 

Gumiho (Wicked Fox) is a thrilling start to the series, with a gripping plot, evocative writing and plenty of romance.

Thank you to Penguin Random House for the review copy!

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood – review

In grey, 1930s England, Bea has grown up kicking against the conventions of the time, all the while knowing that she will one day have to marry someone her parents choose – someone rich enough to keep the family estate alive. But she longs for so much more – for adventure, excitement, travel, and maybe even romance.

When she gets the chance to spend the summer in Italy with her bohemian uncle and his fiancĂ©e, a whole world is opened up to Bea – a world that includes Ben, a cocky young artist who just happens to be infuriatingly handsome too. Sparks fly between the quick-witted pair until one night, under the stars, a challenge is set: can Bea and Ben put aside their teasing and have the perfect summer romance?

With their new friends gleefully setting the rules for their fling, Bea and Ben can agree on one thing at least: they absolutely, positively will not, cannot fall in love... A long, hot summer of kisses and mischief unfolds – but storm clouds are gathering across Europe, and home is calling. Every summer has to end – but for Bea, this might be just the beginning.

A Sky Painted Gold was my favourite book of last year so my expectations were exceptionally high for Under a Dancing Star. Somehow, it managed to exceed all of them and I loved it even more than A Sky Painted Gold. It's another deliciously dreamy, romantic and summery book. 

The romance is my absolute favourite thing about it. Laura Wood crafts connections and chemistry between characters so beautifully. The mounting tension between Bea and Ben is incredible and I don't have the words for how good the kissing scenes are... 

I also thought the characters in this book are brilliant. Even the most fleeting of appearances was memorable and the secondary characters had their own stories. I think Ursula was my favourite of them and I would happily read a whole book about her.

The character I liked the most though had to be Bea. She's so smart, strong-willed and hilarious. She had me laughing out loud at some of the situations she found herself in and her character arc through the book was very satisfying. I could also write a whole review about the loveliness of Ben, but I'll keep it brief. Once again, Laura has created an exceptionally appealing book boy and I enjoyed his interactions with Bea so very much.

I found the descriptions in this book so gorgeous and sensory. The settings are evoked brilliantly and the food sounded mouth-wateringly good. 

It's a really creative idea to write a prequel to Much Ado About Nothing and Under a Dancing Star executes it brilliantly. I want to read the play again to see how all of the elements tie in. It felt very well researched  the details of each location and the time period brought the story to life. 

I loved everything about this book and I felt so uplifted by the end. Along with A Sky Painted Gold, this is one of my favourite YA books and I can't wait to have the gorgeous finished copy in my hands.

Thank you to Laura Wood for the beautiful photograph of the book!

Alex in Wonderland review

In the town of Newsands, painfully shy Alex is abandoned by his two best friends for the summer. But he unexpectedly lands a part-time job at Wonderland, a run-down amusement arcade on the seafront, where he gets to know the other teen misfits who work there. Alex starts to come out of his shell, and even starts to develop feelings for co-worker Ben... who, as Alex's bad luck would have it, has a girlfriend.

Then as debtors close in on Wonderland and mysterious, threatening notes start to appear, Alex and his new friends take it on themselves to save their declining employer. But, like everything in Wonderland, nothing is quite what it seems...

Simon James Green's story in Proud was one of my favourites, so I was really excited to read Alex in Wonderland. It's just as good as I hoped, with plenty of humour, romance and even a mystery thrown in.

Alex is a great narrator – funny, believable and likeable. This book is very much a coming of age story and I loved how it explores all different aspects of Alex's life, including his family, friendships and summer jobs. His fears and insecurities are so relatable.

The romance in this book is so very sweet and slow-burning. I was rooting for Alex's relationship from the start and I was very happy with how it ended. It's a testament to how good these characters are that I didn't want to let go of them at the end. If there's not a sequel, then I'll definitely have to read Alex in Wonderland again!

I feel like humour is one of the hardest things to pull off in a book, and Simon James Green does it flawlessly. Situations escalate to hilarious conclusions and he really knows how to find the funny, awkward parts in everyday life.

I had so much fun reading this book. It's the perfect sweet, summery read and I can't recommend it enough!

Monday, 27 May 2019

The Kingdom blog tour – Jess Rothenberg Q&A

It's great to join the blog tour for The Kingdom, as I had so much fun reading this book! It has a fast-paced narrative interspersed with court transcripts, interviews and other interesting snippets. It's also told from the very unique perspective of an AI character. I'll hand over to Jess now, to explain a bit more about this brilliant book.

Tell us about The Kingdom.

The Kingdom is a blend of sci-fi, fantasy, romance, and courtroom thriller—think Westworld meets Disney World meets the Serial podcast for teens—and is set in a futuristic theme park where seven half-human, half-android Fantasists (picture Disney princesses, but bioengineered with advanced artificial intelligence) have been created to make guests’ wildest dreams come true, no matter what. But when one of the Kingdom’s most beloved Fantasists, Ana, is accused of murdering a young park employee named Owen she ignites the trial of the century. Did she do it? Could she do it? The truth is dangerous… and nobody wants the Kingdom to fall.

What inspired the futuristic subject matter?

Well, the initial inspiration behind the book is that my mom worked at Disney one summer when she was in college, and I always loved her stories of what really went on behind the scenes. The idea of this happy, perfect-seeming fantasy land with plenty of secrets lurking below the surface has always stuck with me.

But in terms of The Kingdom’s futuristic elements, I’ve always been a bit of a pop science nerd and can’t help feeling both fascinated and a little bit terrified of how reliant we’ve all become upon our technology—and how quickly that technology seems to be changing, learning, evolving. What might this all look like in another fifty years or even less? It honestly doesn’t feel like that much of a stretch to imagine the line between humanity and technology becoming blurred to the point where the current code of ethics no longer quite applies. I mean, I already feel guilty every time I forget to “feed” (i.e. charge) my son’s surprisingly cute toy robot, Cozmo. But what will happen when the robot eventually looks and acts like a real dog? Or when Alexa starts to know us better than our own family members? Or when Apple introduces its first ‘iFriend’ home assistant? To me, a dazzling, Disney-esque theme park of the future seemed a really fun and potentially scary setting to explore some of those questions.

The Kingdom has a very interesting narrative structure, with the first person narrative interspersed with trial transcripts. What made you decide on this structure?

I’ve always enjoyed stories that don’t quite follow the rules—books that blend genre and include mixed-media as part of their narrative structure. Ultimately, I wanted the read to feel as immersive as the park itself—experiencing Ana’s unique point of view as a Fantasist while simultaneously puzzling though the clues alongside members of the court to decide whether or not she is guilty (or even capable) of murder.

Can you recommend any other YA with science-fiction elements?

I’m a big fan of The Illuminae Files, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. With its wildly creative mixed-media format (think hacked documents, military and medical records, emails, messages and maps) it’s truly a reading experience unlike any other. I also adore Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza.

Can you give any writing advice to aspiring authors?

Make writing part of your daily routine. Try not to think about it too much, just sit down and begin. When it’s hard, take a walk, brainstorm with friends, have a dance party in your pajamas, and remind yourself why you wanted to be a writer in the first place: the magic, the fun, the joy, the connection. And when you’re not writing, read!

If you could create any ride in a theme park, what would it be and why?

I’d take Soarin’ at Epcot to the next level—just you, no hang glider—so you’d get to experience the insanely thrilling sensation of flying over cities, forests, oceans, pretty much anywhere on earth. In other words, the greatest flying dream brought to life. Just make sure you book a fast pass!

Will there be a sequel to The Kingdom? What are you working on next?

For now, The Kingdom is a standalone novel. But Ana’s world has plenty of possibility. You never know what might happen…. J

Thanks so much for answering my questions, Jess! A lot of those inspirations about the scary potential of AI and a dystopian Disneyland definitely came through the plot. I really hope there is a sequel!

If you're a fan of fun, high-tension YA sci-fi, I'd definitely recommend checking out The Kingdom.