Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Empire of Silence blog tour – Q and A with Christopher Ruocchio

I'm thrilled to be on the blog tour for Empire of Silence. There's been so much buzz about this book online and I can't wait to get my own copy. Thank you Christopher for joining me on the blog today!

Tell us about your book and your main character.

Empire of Silence is a classic space opera adventure crossed with epic fantasy. Set in the very remote future, it’s the story of a war between humanity’s vast, interstellar empire and an invading horde of aliens called the Cielcin. It is also the story of Hadrian Marlowe, the son of a wealthy but minor aristocrat who rejects his place in the hierarchy and his father’s plans for him and who—despite his best intentions—gets swept up into this war and ends up becoming the man who ends it all. That’s not a spoiler. The book’s written as a memoir, like Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. For Hadrian, the past is already written, but these books are his attempt to set the record straight, to tell his side of the story. Hadrian’s a bit Lord Byron, a bit T.E. Lawrence: a sometimes-brooding, sometimes-laughingly charismatic, always dramatic sort who—like the Luke Skywalker of old—attempts to do the right thing  because, at the heart of things, he’s a deeply decent person. The world is not often kind to such people, of course, and road is long and terrible. This is a book and a series for people that like deep worldbuilding and narratives heavy on character. If you’re looking for a book and universe to sink your teeth into: this is it.

It’s really interesting that Empire of Silence draws elements from different genres. Was this a conscious decision? How did you go about it?

No, it happened quite unconsciously. There’s a Japanese RPG for the Nintendo Gamecube called Tales of Symphonia that came out when I was around 11 or 12 years old, and it’s set in this very medieval-seeming world with swords and crossbows; the main character is raised by a dwarf. As the game progresses more and more science fictional elements appear: spaceships, parallel dimensions, genetic experimentation, and so on. I saw no reason why these elements should be kept apart, so Empire is a science fictional story written like a fantasy epic. The truth is, I think that genre distinctions are only useful for booksellers. They want to know which books have spaceships and which ones have wizards and whether those wizards live in Minas Tirith or Chicago. But I think there’s a danger there. Fandoms seem increasingly atomic and walled-off from one another to me. I know SF fans who won’t read fantasy, and epic fantasy fans who won’t read urban fantasy. It reminds me of the way metal music fans might listen to, say, only power metal, but not black metal, for example. And one consequence of that is that while the genres get smaller and tailor themselves to more and more dedicated, loyal audiences, fewer and fewer works get read by everyone. Genre is a menu system, but the problem with menus is that most of us just buy our favorite thing at the restaurant every time we go. I hope that either Empire is a strange enough combination to be someone’s new favorite thing, or that it’s familiar enough in one or two different ways that some fans will open the first page and feel like they’ve come home for the first time.

What is your writing process? Do you have any tips or rituals that work for you?

I’m afraid I’m terribly boring, truth be told. I’ve never understood these writers who can only write in a specific way in a specific place by the light of a specific moon. I try to think of writing as a job. I do have to wake up and start at the beginning of the day, or else nothing will get done, but beyond that I try and sit down and do 2000 words a day. I also work full time as an editor at Baen Books in the US, so most days I get about half my writing done between 6 and 8 AM, before work, and the rest when I get home in the evening. The only thing I think that might be unusual about me is that I insist on reading everything aloud as I compose it. I’m a very auditory person, so I find it’s easier to think that way, but hearing your work said aloud will not only help you catch errors, but it is also the case that good writing must sound good. If you’ve written a bad sentence, your ears will absolutely let you know.

Where did your idea come from?

Not from any one particular place. I’ve been heavily inspired by the space opera of the ‘60s and ‘80s, but as I’ve mentioned I’ve been influenced by certain video games (like the aforementioned Tales of Symphonia), and anime/manga series like Cowboy Bebop and Berserk. I’m also a huge fan of classic literature: from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Luo Guanzhong. History itself provides a lot of inspiration, from the history of the Roman and Byzantine empires, to classical Persia and China, to the history of the great empires of the last millennium. I was also raised Roman Catholic, and though the question of what I believe or don’t believe—or what belief even means—is something that it would take far more than a blog post to unpack, it is fair to say that my religious upbringing has played a role in shaping the person and the writer I am today (but fear not, Empire is not a religious book in any way). So what I hope I’ve done is borrow a piece or two from all these works and traditions which have impacted me and hammered all these different metals together into something both familiar and new. And I hope everyone likes it!

Who was your favourite character to write and why?

Well, not counting Hadrian, it’s hard to say. Hadrian’s tutor, Gibson, was particularly fun. Older mentor characters are a tired trope, perhaps, but a classic, and he gave me an excuse to get in some good Socratic banter. There’s also Valka, who I wouldn’t necessarily characterize as my favorite to write more than she was a complete nightmare. She’s a sort of alien archaeologist and Hadrian’s intellectual foil—they disagree on nearly everything, which causes every scene they’re in together to multiply in complexity. Nonetheless, I think the end result was worth the headache. She may not be my favorite to write, but she is among my favorite characters to have written—if that makes any sense. I will also add that there’s a character who doesn’t appear until book two that was an absolute joy to write: so that will give you all a little something else to look forward to down the road.

Why do you think sci-fi and fantasy are such popular genres?

This is one of those questions that could get me into trouble! I think that human beings need some sort of mythology to embed their lives in and to help give them meaning. For most of history and for most people today, that purpose was filled by religion. A lot of people today have a hard time with classical religions, for one reason or another, and genre fiction these days seems a more palatable way for people to inhabit a mythological way of thinking. People relate their day-to-day struggles to the lives of characters in Harry Potter, for example, treating Harry, Ron, and Hermione almost like patron saints. People talk quite casually about their struggles “with the Dark Side” or attend festivals/conventions in costume. Fandoms look very much like pagan ritual cults in the Greek sense, with initiation rituals and gatekeepers and even orthodox beliefs (just look at the huge schism breaking up Star Wars fandom right now over The Last Jedi). Mind you, none of this is to disparage either religion or fandom: I think they’re all descriptions of whatever the deep truth about human nature is (and we do have a nature, it’s not all a matter of opinion or acculturation). It’s only that some of these mythologies are more complete and accurate descriptions of the human condition than others. Obviously a single book written by a single 22-year-old is going to be less nuanced and impactful than a 2000-year-old tradition touched and edited by millions of hands, but that doesn’t mean they don’t speak to the same needs.

Can you give us any hints what's next in the series?

Well, I’ve already finished book two, which is a good deal darker than the first book. It sees us leave the relative stability and decency of the Sollan Empire for the frontier and the horror that lies beyond. If this first book is my love letter to ‘60s and ‘80s space opera, this second one is a strange mix of Gothic horror and space. The second volume is much heavier on the action, much heavier on the space travel, there’s more aliens, more mysteries, and more deaths. It was an absolute joy to write and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone here in a year or so.

Finally, if you could visit anywhere on Earth or in the Universe, where would you go?

Most of all, I’d like to go to Italy. My family came to America from Benevento at the very start of the 20th century, and I’ve never been myself. I’d love to go to Rome and to Florence in particular. I’d love to do a circuit of the eastern Mediterranean one day: Athens, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Alexandria—given how much I adore classical history—but I don’t know if I’m that ambitious a traveler. As for other places in the universe...I’m not too sure I would leave Earth, given the chance. Everything I know about space travel makes it sound extremely onerous and unpleasant, and the truth is that I’m happy to watch our progress in space from the green hills of Earth, but I do hope that in my lifetime we put men and women on Mars and the moons of Jupiter. The photographs alone would be something to see.

I want to read this book even more now after that interview! Some great writing tips and tantalising teasers about what's coming next in the series as well. Thank you Christopher for your answers and to Gollancz for inviting me to join the blog tour.

To see where the blog tour is going next, check out this banner: 

Blog tour review – Theatrical by Maggie Harcourt

I'm so grateful to Usborne for including me on this blog tour. This book was an absolute delight to read and it evoked the world of theatre brilliantly.

Hope dreams of working backstage in a theatre, and she's determined to make it without the help of her famous costume-designer mum. So when she lands an internship on a major production, she tells no one. But with a stroppy Hollywood star and his hot young understudy upstaging Hope's focus, she's soon struggling to keep her cool...and her secret.

One of my earliest memories is going to the theatre with my grandad. I loved curling up against him to watch Carousel, The King and I, The Mikado and countless other musicals. Even better were the ones where I got to see him onstage as part of the local amateur performances. My grandma used to handle the props, so from behind the wings, I would get swept away in the stories at the same time as seeing how the elusive magic came together. Since then, my love of the theatre has only grown, taking me to Broadway to watch Wicked and the West End for The Cursed Child.

This was one of the reasons I enjoyed Theatrical so much. It perfectly captured the many ingredients and hours of work that go into a theatre production, which come together to create a mesmerising performance. All of the little details that went into Theatrical made it such an authentic representation of theatre.

An amazing play needs a cast to bring it to life, and I thought the characters in Theatrical were brilliant. I really responded to Hope as a main character. It's clear what she wants and I was cheering for her to succeed in her internship. Tommy Knight was my other favourite character. He went on a really interesting journey as a character and I'm always there for the loveable rogue!

This is my first Maggie Harcourt book and I swiftly bought her others after reading Theatrical. This book is sweet, entertaining and romantic, and it was impossible to stop reading.

If you'd like to follow the other tour stops, you can check out the handy banner below. It'd be great to hear about your favourite plays or experiences in the theatre. Leave me a comment or find me for a #Theatrical chat on Twitter!

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Guest Post – A Tour of Seven Literary Wonders by Kim Culbertson

I'm thrilled to feature a guest post from Kim Culbertson today, author of The Wonder of Us, a fantastic story of travel and friendship that's perfect for the summer. There are few things I love more than travelling, but sometimes disappearing into an evocative literary setting is just as good. 

A Tour of Seven Literary Wonders

I love to travel pretty much anywhere. No matter how short or far the distance, I see traveling as leaving a regular place to explore a different one. Whether I fly to Hawaii or take a one hour drive in any direction from my small, Northern California town, I know I will see something I haven’t seen before, something that has the potential to change the way I see the world around me. Lucky for me (and my bank account), this type of magic also happens when I’m reading. In honor of my YA novel The Wonder of Us, where my two characters, Abby and Riya, go on a grand tour of Europe in hope of finding new wonders in their life, here are Seven Literary Wonders, a literary grand tour of sorts, that never fail to pilot me into beautiful, distinctive worlds.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

I will read anything by Ruta Sepetys, who always vaults me into a richly examined historical place in her novels, but I am partial to Out of the Easy. Set in the 1950s French Quarter of New Orleans, Sepetys’s story of young Josie, the daughter of a prostitute, transported me to a rich, sultry land of mystery, but its strength is in its beautifully written account of a young girl trying to live life on her own terms, always my favorite sort of story.

Three Junes by Julia Glass

Set in Greece, Scotland, Greenwich Village, and Long Island, each phase of Glass’s story takes place in a different month of June. It is a story of family and self – marriage, betrayal, secrets, joy – all shaped through the crystalline lens of Glass’s extraordinary sentences.

Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill

On a class trip to London, accident prone, straight-A student Julia is partnered with an unlikely boy – the class clown. Hijinks ensue. This is my favorite sort of YA novel and Lauren is just so good at it. Often when I need a feel-good book, I reach for one set in London. For me, if comfort food were a city, it would be London.

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

Speaking of comfort food (and I mean that with the highest respect as a writer!), when I need to get away, I reach for the Nantucket settings of Elin’s books. And this one is a murder mystery at a wedding. I love books about weddings gone wrong and I love books set on islands – put them together and you have The Perfect Couple. It is hard to write compulsively readable books year after year and Elin Hilderbrand somehow keeps doing it.

Little Do We Know by Tamara Ireland Stone

The power of place doesn’t have to be expansive or on far island shores or in a big city. It can also be two homes side by side that hold two friends who have fallen apart. Obviously I am a huge fan of friendship stories (or I wouldn’t have written The Wonder of Us) and Tamara’s YA novel is an intricate, beautiful look at female friendship.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

This was one of my favorite novels I read in the last year. I’m a sucker for travel-that-challenges-and-changes-us books, especially when they are witty (David Nicholl’s Us also falls into this category for me). These books are always among my favorites (I’ve even attempted to write a couple), but this novel felt especially successful because it explored the need to make sense of our own stories amid the larger backdrop of a turbulent world, and then, ultimately, realize we are fools if we don’t recognize the good stuff already present in our lives. That this hopeful, lovely novel won the Pulitzer gives me hope for the whole literary world.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

I love Matt Haig’s work – especially The Humans and How to Stop Time, but I keep a copy of Reasons to Stay Alive near to me so I can read a few short chapters anytime I feel anxious or down or just need to vault myself into a place of knowingness – and that is how Matt’s book feels. Like a hug that says, hey, I get it, I know how that feels. That’s what most of my favorite reading ends up being for me in the long run – an unknown place that eventually feels like home.

Thank you so much Kim for sharing that brilliant post and such a range of recommendations with wonderful settings! 

Look out for my review of The Wonder of Us, and thank you to Walker Books for the book.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Are we all lemmings and snowflakes? by Holly Bourne

Publisher: Usborne (9th August 2018)

Welcome to Camp Reset, a summer camp with a difference.

A place offering a shot at 'normality' for Olive, a girl on the edge, and for her new friends, who are all dealing with their own battles.

But as Olive settles in, she starts to wonder - maybe it's this messed up world that needs fixing, and not them. And so she comes up with a plan. Because together, snowflakes can form avalanches...

I've devoured every book written by Holly Bourne, so I expected to like this book. I didn't expect to end up loving it even more than the Spinster Club series. 

One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much is because of Olive. She's an absolutely brilliant main character because she felt so real to me. She's complicated and multifaceted with a great sense of humour. The large cast of characters is great too, as each of them is distinguishable and offers something different to the story. 

I also found the premise and setting of this book really original. It was the perfect backdrop for exploring mental health and as always Holly Bourne does this sensitively and realistically, with plenty of room for hope as well.  

My absolute favourite thing about this book is the positive message that came through it, at the same time as acknowledging that dealing with mental health and life in general can be really hard! Ultimately, the message that 'Kindness is contagious' left me feeling hopeful and empowered, which I think are just about the best things a book can do. 

This is a thought-provoking, gripping book with a powerful message and a strong voice. Holly Bourne has become one of my favourite contemporary authors. If you haven't read her other books yet, you have plenty of time before this comes out in August!

Thank you so much to Usborne for the proof copy  it was one of my most anticipated books of the year and lived up to all of my expectations!

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Patrick Ness and Angie Thomas in conversation

On Saturday, I had the thrilling experience of seeing Angie Thomas and Patrick Ness in conversation at the Greenwich Book Festival. I felt so lucky to see two of my favourite authors in one place, and Katherine Woodfine did a great job of interviewing them. I've tried to record as much of the conversation as possible, and any errors are my own. Thank you to Annabelle from EDPR for the photograph and the invitation!

Katherine drew an interesting comparison between the authors' books, in that both are personal. Patrick Ness explained that Release is personal in an emotional sense, but not strictly autobiographical. The book's influences are Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Forever by Judy Blume. Patrick wrote Release in part because as a teenager he'd never read a book like Forever starring someone he related to.

Angie Thomas got the idea for The Hate You Give in university, when she thought she had to be a different person there than she was at home. She'd leave home listening to Tupac and be playing the Jonas Brothers by the time she arrived at university. She was inspired by the tragic shooting of a young black man called Oscar Grant by Police in Oakland. Angie wrote a short story in response to people at school, who thought he deserved it because of his background.

Tupac was a huge influence on Angie and hip-hop music was where she saw herself. It was rare to find herself in a book as a teenager. She grew up reading The Hunger Games and Twilight and she couldn't relate to the girls in those books. Her biggest literary influence was hip-hop. 

Patrick loves seeing his books published in different languages and feels that wherever you are in the world, teenagers have the same curiosity and yearning.

Katherine asked why awards are important in shining a light on books, as both authors were nominated for the Carnegie award. Patrick thinks Carnegie shadowing is great, as it means so many teens are reading your book when they read the award shortlist with their library or school. Angie agreed about the value of shadowing groups and finds it a great feeling when a kid says they hated reading but finally connect with your book.

Patrick's initial goal was to get a book published and thinks it's important to really go for it with every book. Each time, he tries to push himself and take risks.

Both authors are excited to see their books made into films, and Patrick pointed out that even if the film is different, the book remains.

Angie shared some really exciting information about her next book, On the Come Up. It's set in the same community as THUG but is not a sequel. In the new book, Brianna wants to be a rapper in a male-dominated industry. Her song goes viral, and the story is about how far you're willing to go to make it.

Patrick's next book sounds fascinating too – a retelling of Moby Dick told by the whale. He's interested in how a story changes based on who's telling it and the monsters we create.

An audience member asked about overcoming self-doubt, and both authors gave really thoughtful responses. At university, Angie said she felt stories like hers weren't worth being told. A professor encouraged her to give a voice to people from communities like hers who don't have one.

Patrick said you need to have some confidence in your writing but you never have to let anyone read that first draft, and you never have to say aloud that you're proud of it. One day, you'll be ready to share your writing.

The first time Angie saw herself in a book was Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry. She took Maverick's name from a quote in the book and feels that Starr has some of the main character's qualities.

Patrick learned as a 15-year old that a book can be empowering when he read Jitterbug Perfume. The Colour Purple also had a strong impact on him. He said he can't recommend reading inappropriately enough. Kids will self-censor and if a book is too much they'll put it down.

I had a fantastic time at this event and was really inspired by both authors. Thank you to Greenwich Book Festival, EDPR and Walker Books for all contributing towards such a great event. 

Sunday, 3 June 2018

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman – review

For Angel Rahimi, life is about one thing: The Ark, a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything she loves her friend Juliet, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark. He’s their frontman and playing in a band with his mates is all he ever dreamed of doing.

But dreams don’t always turn out the way you think and when Jimmy and Angel are unexpectedly thrust together, they find out how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.

Alice Oseman is one of my favourite YA authors and I Was Born for This is another brilliantly written, moving story.

My favourite thing about Alice's writing is the way she perfectly captures a time and a context. Elements such as social media are threaded into the narrative. Through the alternating viewpoints, we're given two absolutely believable perspectives about what it's like to be in a boyband, and how it feels to be part of a fandom.

This leads me on to another thing that I loved about this book. The characters are brilliant! Usually, when there are multiple narrators, I prefer one over the other. Jimmy and Angel were both realistic, likeable and well-developed characters and there's no way I could choose between them! It was really evident how much research went into this book to create believable characters.

This book made me feel a whole range of emotions and the plot was gripping throughout. I think I'll have read it a few more times while I wait for Alice Oseman's next book!

If you liked the sound of this, try Radio Silence by Alice Oseman or anything by Non Pratt.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Blog tour review – Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody

Take a card. The price is your soul. Welcome to the City of Sin, where secrets hide in every shadow. 
Enne Salta was raised as a proper young lady, and no lady would willingly visit New Reynes, the so-called City of Sin. But when her mother goes missing, Enne must leave her finishing school and her reputation behind to follow her mother's trail to the city where no one survives unchanged.

Frightened and alone, her only lead is a name: Levi Glaisyer. Unfortunately, Levi is not the gentleman she expected: he's a street lord and con man. Levi is also only one payment away from cleaning up a rapidly unraveling investment scam, so he doesn't have time to investigate a woman leading a dangerous double life. Enne's offer of compensation, however, could be the solution to all his problems.

Their search for clues leads them through glamorous casinos, cabarets and into the clutches of a ruthless society. As Enne unearths an impossible secret about her family, Levi's enemies catch up to them, ensnaring him in a vicious execution game where the players always lose. To save him, Enne will need to surrender herself to the city.
I was excited to join the blog tour for this book and it lived up to all of my expectations!
Amanda Foody has created a rich fantasy world that is very reminiscent of Six of Crows. I really appreciated the City of Sin setting and the gang setup. There were lots of little details that added to the plot and the realism of the world.
I also liked the relationship and rapport between Enne and Levi. Their developing connection felt very natural and I liked both of them as characters. Enne in particular went on an interesting journey through the book and I'm looking forward to seeing her in the next instalment.   
The plot was fun at times and tense at others! There were plenty of obstacles for Enne and Levi to face, and the book built to an exciting climax. At a couple of points I felt like the pace slowed down but otherwise I thought the plot was a real strength.
This is an intriguing start to a series and I'll look forward to the next book!

Thank you to HQ Young adult for including me on the blog tour and for the review copy!

You can check out the other stops on the blog tour using the banner below:

Monday, 7 May 2018

Renegades by Marissa Meyer – CHOOSE YOUR SIDE!

In the Battle for Gatlon City, you can pit yourself on the side of justice or anarchy. Will you join Chelley Toy from Tales of Yesterday, who would have you fight with the Renegades who control this city? Or will you join my rebellion alongside the Anarchists? 

Chelley Toy wants you to... Choose the Renegades!

Join The Renegades! We emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order in a world full of chaos.

Twenty years of chaos created by Ace Anarchy and the Anarchists, The Age Of Anarchy. A time of no rules, no law and no repercussions. No police, no prison, looting and starvation. Some called Ace a visionary, but we called him a villain.

The Battle Of Gatlon was officially the end of the Age Of Anarchy, our Day Of Triumph. We defeated Ace Anarchy, he was dead and order was restored.

We, the Renegades, represent justice, a warm and promising hope. We are courage, bright and sparkling.

Do you have what it takes to be a hero? Are you bold valiant and just like Captain Chromium, Tsunami, Dread Warden, Thunderbird and Blacklight? Don your masks and capes and join us in our annual celebratory Renegades parade or compete in our annual Renegades Trials.

Remember – We’re the superheroes. We’ve got this. You are in very safe hands.

Choose the Anarchists!

Chelle makes a very convincing argument. You could do what you're told, follow blindly and walk the dull and predictable path laid out by the Renegades.

They call themselves heroes and brand us villains. If you look back through history, there have been many other leaders who have disguised a dictatorship with flashy uniforms and empty promises.

What evidence is there that the Renegades are as virtuous as they claim? What have the Renegades ever done for you? Still, we have crime, and good people are lost, while the Renegades look down from their ivory tower.

With the Anarchists, you have a voice and you have a part to play. No ability is too small and no individual is unheard or forgotten. 

The only way to mend society is to break it down and rebuild from the pieces. Why not be there alongside the Anarchists to create a new world, instead of letting the Renegades fight your battles for you?

Thank you so much to Macmillan Children's Books for asking us to write this post based on the wonderful Renegades by Marissa Meyer. Renegades is gripping story of superheroes like no YA I've read before, and you can check out my review here.

Thank you to Chelley Toy for getting involved and for letting me use the gorgeous mask photo!

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Slay by Kim Curran – review

Publisher: Usborne Children's Books (3rd May 2018)

Every fangirl's daydream is about to become Milly's nightmare.

When Milly arrives home to discover that her mum has been taken over by something very evil, she finds herself in mortal danger. But the last people she expects to rescue her are the boys in the hottest band on the planet!

Enter SLAY – playing killer gigs, and slaying killer demons. Suddenly Milly's on the road with JD, Tom, Niv, Zek and Connor, helping save the world, one gig at a time...

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I'd love it. A demon-slaying boy band is such a fresh idea and the book delivered on its promise of being fun and action-packed.

It was the plot that had me racing to the end. I enjoyed the scenes where the boys performed just as much as the exhilarating fight scenes. There's a really good balance of light and dark moments in this book and the action builds to a gripping climax.

One thing I didn't expect was that the book would explore some of the physical and emotional effects of the characters' violent lifestyle. There were characters with disabilities and those who were struggling on an emotional level. I thought this was handled sensitively and was a positive move for YA, particularly with fantastical story lines.

I warmed to all of the characters in this book, especially the boys' manager Gail. The band members were all distinguishable as characters and I liked JD in particular. Milly was a believable, sympathetic main character and I was very glad that she got to fight alongside the boys. One thing that would make this world complete would be if they came across a demon-slaying girl band!

This book gave me definite Buffy vibes and I'm thrilled that it was just as good as I hoped.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an open and honest review. Thank you Usborne Children's books for sending this copy to me!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Guest post – The inspiration behind the setting in Your Turn to Die by Sue Wallman

I'm so excited to have a guest post from Sue Wallman. Sue has written some of my favourite YA thrillers and it's great to share what inspired the spooky setting of Your Turn to Die. You can read my review of this wonderful book here.

The inspiration behind the setting in Your Turn to Die

By Sue Wallman

Most of the action in Your Turn to Die takes place in Roeshot House. It’s based very loosely on my grandparents’ house. There was no attic, it didn’t have woods at the back of the house and as far as I know there was nothing disturbing buried in the garden, but there were two sets of stairs, a walk-in larder and a conservatory with knobbly geraniums in it.

There was nothing remotely modern about the house. Everything was worn and faded and smelled of apples (stored on trays in the cellar) or linen that needed airing. My siblings and cousins felt completely at home there. We played card games, and lay about. We played the game the characters do in the book where you go round a room without touching the floor, climbing over the furniture. We thought nothing of crawling over the top of the grand piano. There were no rules in my grandparents’ house other than having good manners when we ate at the big dining room table. When my granny got dementia, she would sit at the table and swear and say the most outrageous things, and we would have to carry on as if this was entirely normal.

In Your Turn to Die, the garden was once lovely but is now overgrown. My grandparents’ garden was large and ordered, with a huge vegetable garden behind a hedge. We ate the soft fruit, and the occasional raw bean. There was a field next to the house and I was once chased by a cow when I decided to take a shortcut back. It remains one of the most frightening things that has ever happened to me, and I’m still annoyed how everyone laughed when I came into the house, breathless, and told them.

I wrote my first book in that house, aged ten, kneeling on the floor, my paper propped up on the wide window ledge in the bedroom I shared with my sister. It is 94 pages of A4 and I still have it.

At night, the house was creaky and creepy. When it was dark, I never liked going upstairs on my own. The bedrooms felt very far away from the adults when we went to bed before them. My sister and I would lie in the freezing beds and speculate about what sort of people we would be when we were grown up.

My grandmother died when I was at university. By then my grandfather had been dead a while. I came back for the funeral and the house felt too big and too empty. My aunt still lives in the same village so I’ve passed it often since. It’s like being able to glimpse the past but not touch it. A few years ago, my sister and a couple of cousins knocked on the door and got to see round the house again – unsurprisingly, everything had changed inside. I’m glad I wasn’t there.


Thanks so much, Sue  this was a fascinating insight! I'm a huge fan of books set in spooky old houses and Your Turn to Die has particularly evocative descriptions. 

Your Turn to Die by Sue Wallman was published by Scholastic UK on 3rd May 2018.

Sue Wallman lives in London, working in a school library by day and writing by night. She has previously published LYING ABOUT LAST SUMMER, a Zoella Book Club favourite title, and SEE HOW THEY LIE, a Tesco Book of the Month.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Your Turn to Die by Sue Wallman – review

Publisher: Scholastic (3rd May 2018)

Every winter, three families gather in an old house in the country to celebrate the New Year. This year, 15-year-old Leah and the other two teens discover that the house has a dark past: a deathbed confession led the police to the buried body of a teenage girl earlier in the year, who had gone missing 50 years before. As the teens investigate the morbid history, terrible things start happening around the house. And if Leah isn't careful, this New Year might be her last.

I’m a huge fan of Sue Wallman’s writing and this was another fantastic YA thriller.

The setting is really evocative in this book. Much of the action takes place in the enormous house where the main characters spend every new year, and I enjoyed the pervasive creepiness of the setting and the stories surrounding it. All of this adds to the overall sense of unease that hangs over the characters.

I thought the plot of this book was brilliant and I found it really enjoyable trying to solve the mystery. There was a good balance of clues and suspects to keep me guessing (and I actually got it wrong in the end!)

One of the reasons why I love Sue’s writing is the voice. The narrative style is compulsively readable and the dialogue rings true whether the characters are teens or not.

Sue Wallman's books are among my favourite YA thrillers and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next! Tomorrow, I have a brilliant guest post from Sue about her inspiration behind the book's setting.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an open and honest review. Thank you so much to Scholastic for sending this copy to me!

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock – review

Publisher: Walker Books (3rd May 2018)

A taut thriller about murder, maths and the mind. Peter Blankman is afraid of everything but must confront truly unimaginable terror when his mother is attacked. Seventeen-year-old Peter Blankman is a maths prodigy. He also suffers from severe panic attacks. Afraid of everything, he finds solace in the orderly and logical world of mathematics and in the love of his family: his scientist mum and his tough twin sister Bel, as well as Ingrid, his only friend. However, when his mother is found stabbed before an award ceremony and his sister is nowhere to be found, Pete is dragged into a world of espionage and violence where state and family secrets intertwine. Armed only with his extraordinary analytical skills, Peter may just discover that his biggest weakness is his greatest strength. (Publisher’s blurb)

This is one of the most unique books I’ve ever read and I’m still thinking about it!

I thought the voice of this book was absolutely brilliant. The writing style is very distinctive and every plot point was filtered through Pete’s viewpoint, as well as being shaped by his overwhelming fear and anxiety. It was also great to see mental health being dealt with in such a thrilling, action-packed book.

The plot of this book was very intriguing and ultimately gripping and tense. I found the shifting timeline a little hard to navigate at first but it became a fantastic device for slowly revealing information. It’s not often that a plot takes me in completely unexpected directions and I loved how this book kept me guessing!

I’m really excited about this book and I'd recommend it to all fans of thrilling YA.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

We are Young by Cat Clarke – review

Publisher: Hachette Children's Group and Quercus Children's Books (3rd May 2018)

It starts with a wedding. And a car crash.

On the same night Evan's mother marries local radio DJ 'Breakfast Tim', Evan's brand-new step-brother Lewis is found unconscious and terribly injured, the only survivor of a horrific car crash.

A media storm erupts, with the finger of blame pointed firmly at loner stoner Lewis. Everyone else seems to think the crash was drugs-related, but Evan isn't buying it. With the help of her journalist dad, Harry, she decides to find out what really happened that night.

As Evan delves deeper into the lives of the three teenagers who died in the crash, she uncovers some disturbing truths and a secret that threatens to tear her family – and the community – apart.

This is my first Cat Clarke book for some reason but it certainly won't be my last. This book was a brilliant blend of dark, intense drama, mystery, humour and just the right amount of romance.

What really stood out for me was the voice. The dialogue and first person narrative both made Evan feel like a real person and I thought she was a great character. I was really drawn to her drive to find out what happened and I loved how complex she is. She has a lot going on and that struck me as very believable! 

The mystery of this book was also very compelling and ultimately an important message came through it.There was a good balance of an exciting main story arc and other threads that kept my interest. I also liked the strong cast of secondary characters, including adults! A family dimension in a YA book is always good with me.

I read this book in only 24 hours and I'd definitely recommend it if you want a fast-paced YA with brilliant characters and an intriguing mystery. 


I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an open and honest review. Thank you to the publishers for the opportunity to read it!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli - review

Publisher: Harper Collins

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back.
There's only one problem: Molly's coworker, Reid. He's a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. (Publisher's blurb)
I've read some brilliant contemporaries recently and this is one of the best! It's the perfect balance of sweet, funny and angsty and I can't wait for Becky Albertalli's next book (Leah on the Offbeat). 

Becky Albertalli creates absolutely wonderful characters! Even the most minor character felt fully developed and I adored Molly. I would have related so much to her self-doubt when I was a teenager (and still do to be honest!). I also thought her struggles with self-image were dealt with in a believable, compassionate manner.

The romance in this book is adorable and at the same time totally realistic too. I thought that Molly's lack of confidence was very refreshing and reflective of a lot of teenagers' experiences.

The family dynamic in this book was awesome as well. I adored Molly's moms and it was great that they were main characters instead of being mysteriously absent.

Becky Albertalli is one of my favourite contemporary YA authors and if you haven't checked out Simon Versus the Homosapiens Agenda you definitely should!

Sunday, 22 April 2018

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven – review

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Izzy O'Neill here! Impoverished orphan, aspiring comedian and Slut Extraordinaire, if the gossip sites are anything to go by . . .

Izzy never expected to be eighteen and internationally reviled. But when explicit photos involving her, a politician's son and a garden bench are published online, the trolls set out to take her apart. Armed with best friend Ajita and a metric ton of nachos, she tries to laugh it off - but as the daily slut-shaming intensifies, she soon learns the way the world treats teenage girls is not okay. It's the Exact Opposite of Okay. (Publisher's blurb)

I'm so excited about this book! It's the ultimate YA read - it's hilarious, honest and 
thought-provoking. It also raises so many important questions about how teenage girls are treated, especially in the age of social media.

My favourite thing about this book by far was Izzy. She feels like a real teenager (and someone I would've liked to hang out with when I was that age). I loved the fact that the book is unapologetic about the fact that she's sexually active, as this is the reality for some teenagers. 

This leads on to the another great thing about this book. It explores a lot of current issues for teenagers in an open, sympathetic manner. Izzy faces some terrible treatment from the press and other people, and her response to it is really believable. She also encounters other problems such as a male friend who is increasingly pushy about entering a relationship with Izzy. This book challenges the fact that such behaviour is sometimes seen as 'romantic' and conveys an uplifting, feminist message.

I also thought the humour in this book was great! I don't often laugh out loud at books and this one had me crying with laughter. Izzy's brand of humour is rude and boundary-pushing, which appeals to me!

This is an uplifting book that deals with some difficult issues with humour. I can't wait for the next instalment of Izzy's adventures!


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

YA Shot 2018 write-up

Alexia Casale, YA Shot Founder, Director and YA author

Yesterday was my second time attending YA Shot and I had another wonderful, inspiring day! YA Shot is a Young Adult and Middle Grade festival that raises funds for a programme pairing schools and libraries for free author events. 

The event is packed with panels, in conversation events, workshops and author signings. I tried to do a balance of everything and chatted to lots of amazing bloggers and authors. I wasn't able to attend the UKYABA (Young Adult Blogger Awards) in the evening but I'm so pleased for all of the nominees and winners!

These are the events I attended. Any errors are my own and everything is heavily paraphrased!

Using your life in fiction with Tariq Mehmood

This was a very moving and interesting workshop, in which Tariq Mehmood shared some of his experiences that have influenced his writing. His work deals with xenophobia and he first wrote because there was no book that reflected his life and experiences. To write about teenage girls, he talked to many of them to infuse his stories with realism. One thing that really stayed with me was that the stories that cause you pleasure and pain need to be told. Another tip was to look at people and their body language, and listen to their conversations. 

Characterisation and empathy with Lisa Heathfield

I found this a really useful workshop too! Lisa's approach is to write her first draft by hand. Each day, she reads the previous paragraph to get back into the voice but doesn't read a lot of what she's written. She tries to stay quite disconnected from the internet because it stops you from observing people. This is a great way to gain empathy for others. Lisa finds writing in the first person useful to develop strong empathy for a character. She also recommended reading widely, including outside your preferred genres. She's a big believer in physically getting into the role of characters to understand them better, even mimicking people's behaviour and speech. 

Stories for change with Alwyn Hamilton and Melinda Salisbury

This was a fun in conversation event, during which Alwyn and Mel talked about their previous and current projects. Mel is finding it challenging to write a duology because she's used to telling a story with three acts. Alwyn agrees that the Star Wars trilogy structure is what we're used to. State of Sorrow was inspired by Mel's trip to Bosnia and a real bridge that is very dangerous to cross. Alwyn and Mel agreed that it can be challenging to stay motivated when writing to deadline and side projects can help. Alwyn's favourite scenes to write are the action ones and Mel loves writing romance and kissing scenes, especially the tense build-up to kissing!

Friends, enemies and common ground with Cathryn Constable and Lucy Ivison

Cathryn and Lucy write very different books but they had a very interesting discussion about friendship, with lots of audience participation! Both authors felt there is a pressure to write constantly strong, empowered young women who know what they want but this is not always the case! When writing Freshers, Lucy and Tom talked to a lot of students and toxic masculinity came up a lot, particular in the context of sports teams. When you're young especially, friends are everything and can feel like the big love of your life. 

Privacy, entertainment and technology with Lauren James, Laura Steven, Nicci Cloke and Kerry Drewery

Social media is such a topical subject and I found this a fascinating panel, particularly when the authors discussed how it can be used for good and bad reasons. In The Loneliest Girl in the Universe (one of my absolute favourite YAs), Lauren explored how fandoms can be used as a way to explore yourself and feel safe. Getting to know someone online can be great but you don't know how that information will be used. Laura (author of the brilliant The Exact Opposite of Okay) talked about how social media can make a YA book feel more authentic but can also date when a book is set, so a balance can be difficult to strike. 

Research for writing outside your experience with Katharine and Elizabeth Corr

I love the Witch's Kiss books and it was great to hear about Katharine and Elizabeth Corr's research. There are lots of elements to research in their books, including the historical time period and associated language, plus a gay, male main character. They emphasised the importance of getting experiences right that are not your own. My favourite part of this workshop was when they talked about the 'research iceberg'. As a writer, you end up doing a lot of research that doesn't go into the book (and shouldn't), but you need to know everything you can about your world.  

 Me, Chelley Toy (@ChelleyToy) and Virginie (@ChouettBlog).
I love being part of the UKYA blogging community and this was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with friends and make new ones. Thank you to all of the amazing organisers, bloggers, readers and authors who made this event so special!