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!