Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Black Canary: Ignite by Meg Cabot – review


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

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

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

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

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

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



Thank you to Penguin for the review copy!

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Angel Mage blog tour – review



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Sunday, 20 October 2019

The Unadjusteds blog tour – guest post



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

Inspiration

Everyone has a book in them.

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

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


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


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

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

The answer – a few different places.

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

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

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



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

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

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


via GIPHY

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky – review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Orion for the review copy!



Sunday, 6 October 2019

Q&A with Kathryn Berla, author of Richochet


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

Tell us all about RICOCHET.

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

What drew you to ground your novel in science?

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

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

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

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

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

What are your recent favourite YA books or authors?

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

What does your writing process look like?

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

What is your next project?


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


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

Thursday, 3 October 2019

BBC Short Story and Young Writers' Award winners 2019

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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