Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Everything is Fine blog tour review

Jessica Bradley has it all: the perfect boyfriend; influential healthy-eating blog; successful PR company and wonderful daughter, Anna. Or at least that is what her thousands of followers believe.

The truth is, her boyfriend just broke up with her in four words on a post-it; her zest for healthy-eating has all but disappeared; her PR success is all reliant on her now not-so-honest online-life and she just got caught eating her daughter's Coco-Pops.

So as they say: fake it 'til you make it. A few little white lies and phoney smiling selfies and Jess can keep up appearances. But when her real-life starts to spiral out of control how can Jess tell the truth from the lies? And will she be able to seize real happiness when it is right in front of her?

Everything is Fine was an absolute joy to read! It gave me those happy feelings that I got when I first read Bridget Jones's Diary, with its brilliant voice, humour and characterisation.

It feels like you're plunged into a real life, with social media and Jessica's struggles coming across as very relatable. Jessica is a great main character! She gets herself tangled up in all sorts of outlandish situations and I couldn't stop reading until I saw how it all worked out.

The voice also adds to the feeling of realism. Jessica comes across as a real person spilling all of her feelings and experiences. The dialogue is witty and believable, and there is an interesting cast of characters. 

I'd definitely recommend Everything is Fine as a fun, feel-good read that gives perfect escapism for these uncertain times. 

Saturday, 9 May 2020

The Good Hawk review

A rich fantasy adventure trilogy, full of warring clans, deadly shadows and devastating plagues...

If everything was taken from you, what would you do to get it back? Agatha patrols the sea wall with pride, despite those in her clan who question her right to be there, because of the condition she was born with. Jaime is a reluctant Angler, full of self-doubt and afraid of the sea. When disaster strikes, the pair must embark on a terrifying journey to a land where forgotten magic and dark secrets lurk in every shadow... Thrilling and dark, yet rich with humour and compassion, this novel marks the debut of a wonderful new voice in fantasy and a welcome new kind of protagonist - perfect for fans of The Girl of Ink and Stars, Garth Nix 
and Michelle Paver.

The Good Hawk
 is the start of a gripping new series that is perfect for upper primary and lower secondary children, and anyone who wants a sweeping, adventurous read.

I loved the mythology and wild Scottish setting of this book. It’s a richly described world where the fantasy touches are unique and woven cleverly into the distinctive setting.

The alternating viewpoints worked really well and the extracts told through verse added a fresh, interesting dimension. I don't think I've ever read a book where a viewpoint character has Down's Syndrome. Agatha is a brilliant, very believable character, with strength and agency. 

The plot of this book is also dark and gripping. It isn't often that the twists and turns of the plot catch me by surprise and I can't wait to see how this story develops in the next book!

Thank you to Walker Books for the gifted copy.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Dangerous Remedy review

The first in a dazzling, commercial, historical adventure series set in the extravagant and deadly world of the French Revolution. A whirlwind of action, science and magic reveals, with a diverse cast of fearless heroines, a band of rebels like no other.

Camille, a revolutionary's daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Morts they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl's no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In a fast and furious story full of the glamour and excesses, intrigue and deception of these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she's forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.

Occasionally, there are books with an arresting voice that I know will become favourites from the very beginning. Dangerous Remedy is a beautifully written novel that is full of action and romance.

I'm a huge fan of novels with a large cast but I often find it hard to keep the characters straight. Even minor characters in Dangerous Remedy are memorable and the main characters are flawed, believable and interesting. 

There is an intricate, utterly engrossing plot and I loved how I didn't know who to trust, or who was going to make it to the end.

The novel is obviously very well researched. Through evocative descriptions and facts, Kat Dunn gets the perfect balance of capturing the dangerous world of the French Revolution without weighing the plot down with unnecessary details.

I absolutely loved this book and I don't know how I'm going to wait for the sequel. Dangerous Remedy is out on 7th May in ebook and the hardcover date is to be confirmed.

Thank you to Zephyr for the review copy!




Sunday, 12 April 2020

Viper's Daughter blog tour review

A boy. A wolf. The legend lives on.

Viper's Daughter is the seventh book in the award-winning series that began with Wolf Brother, selling over 3 million copies in 36 territories. Like them it can be read as a standalone story.

For two summers Torak and Renn have been living in the Forest with their faithful pack-brother, Wolf. But their happiness is shattered when Renn realizes Torak is in danger – and she's the threat.

When she mysteriously disappears, Torak and Wolf brave the Far North to find her. At the mercy of the Sea Mother and haunted by ravenous ice bears, their quest leads them to the Edge of the World. There they must face an enemy more evil than any they've encountered.

Viper's Daughter plunges you back into the Stone-Age world of Torak, Renn and Wolf: a world of demons, Hidden People and exhilarating adventure which has entranced millions of readers.

I've always meant to read these books and the release of Viper's Daughter was the perfect opportunity to start. It can be read as a standalone or part of the series, and I'll definitely be starting from the beginning after this.

My favourite thing in this book is how Wolf's perspective is captured. Wolf's viewpoint shows the events from a different angle and gives an insight into his relationship with Torak. It makes this book feel really unique and I'm looking forward to see how this builds from the earliest books in the series.

The world building in Viper's Daughter is incredible. Michelle Paver's author's note at the end explains how well it was researched, and this comes across in the book. The Stone-Age world is developed in incredible detail and makes this book an immersive read.

The characters are also really well drawn, from Torak, Renn and Wolf to the secondary characters. I particularly liked Renn, and found her motivations really believable.

I can see why this series is so popular and I don't know how it's passed me by until now. I'll have to fix that as soon as possible!

Thank you to Ed PR for inviting me to join the blog tour. The banner below has details of other stops on the tour.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Q&A with Maggie Harcourt – The Pieces of Ourselves

I'm a huge fan of Maggie Harcourt's books, so I'm really happy to join the blog tour for The Pieces of Ourselves. For my stop on the tour, I have a Q&A with Maggie about her writing process.

Tell us about The Pieces of Ourselves.

The Pieces of Ourselves is about what happens when Flora, who left school after being diagnosed with bipolar (II) disorder and works in housekeeping for a local hotel, meets Hal – who is trying to uncover the story of a soldier who went missing during the First World War. It’s set mostly in the West Country, and although it’s technically a contemporary romance, there’s also a little bit of historical in there, and a mystery to be solved. It’s taken me a couple of years to write it, and because it’s full of the things I love 
 Somerset, old houses, history – it’s quite special to me.

Are you a plotter or a pantser, and how do you develop your initial idea?

Somewhere between the two! I usually have a plan… and end up abandoning it along the way. This book was slightly different from any other one I’ve written, because it felt like it kept adding bits onto itself and getting longer and longer. I think, in the end, I cut about 30,000 words from it between the first proper draft and the final book – and a lot of that was me writing my way through the process of discovering what it was meant to be. I did a lot of research for this book, too, because although the First World War is only a minor part of my story, it’s such an important period of history that I wanted to be confident I understood what it was like to live through it.

Do you have any writing rituals that help you get in the zone?

Not really: I tend to just get on with it. I’m quite boring, really. I keep notebooks with any ideas or snippets of dialogue that pop into my head, and sometimes I’ll put on specific music to help me focus. There’s usually a playlist for any book I’m working on, which will have tracks connected to the story or the characters. This time around, I listened to an album called “The Unfinished Violin” by folk musician Sam Sweeney: it’s new interpretations of songs which would have been familiar to soldiers in the First World War, played on a violin which was initially made for a soldier at the time.

How do you go about incorporating real and historical elements into fiction?

I like to have as many “real” elements in a book as I can: on the one hand, because I write contemporary stories, it immediately makes the story feel more rooted in our world… and on the other, because if you happen to know where the real places are, they become like little Easter eggs in the book. A lot of the inspiration for the big old houses mentioned in The Pieces of Ourselves came from National Trust properties I love: Dyrham Park and Stourhead in particular, as well as the house at Longleat. At the other end of the scale, a tiny vintage dress shop that also appears in the book is inspired by a real shop in Bath called Vintage to Vogue.

Historical elements were a bit trickier: I’m not really a historical writer, so it was a little daunting. Mostly, I did a lot of reading about the life of soldiers on the Western Front, and the lead up to the first few days of the Battle of the Somme, then tried to think about what would really matter to the characters who were involved: because they generally appear through their letters, it was more about how I could get a sense of what they were living through across, rather than turning it into a history lesson.

Given the current situation, do you have any advice for finding motivation when you’re working at home?

Lots of breaks! It takes a fair amount of focus to stay motivated if you’re working at home – especially if you’re more used to the rhythm and routine of an office. Make it easier on yourself by trying to stick to “office hours” – don’t work later than your normal end of day, or you might find it hard to switch off in the evening. Take a proper lunch break and read or watch something so that you don’t keep thinking about work: it’s important to give yourself a rest during the day. (Personally, I recommend The Great Pottery Throwdown. I watched an episode a day for a week or two and I was SO invested!)

Have you got any book recommendations for escapism or lifting readers’ spirits?

I love escaping into books: something by Jenny Colgan or Miranda Dickinson is perfect if you want warm, uplifting stories with romance. It’s pretty well known that Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is one of my all-time favourite books: I would happily disappear into that for days at a time because it’s a whole world. If you want to be kept guessing, you can’t go wrong with Agatha Christie either: there’s a reason she’s one of the best-selling authors of all time. And if – like a lot of us right now – you need to laugh: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Even if you don’t particularly like fantasy, there’s probably a Pratchett book out there for you. “Guards! Guards!” is a great place to start.

Thanks so much, Maggie! It's so interesting to get an insight into how authors approach writing and I'm sure lots of people will appreciate escapist book recommendations at the moment.

You can follow the other stops on the tour using the banner below. Thank you to Usborne for inviting me to join in!

Sunday, 1 March 2020

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly review

When fifteen-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother Al, has taken his own life, his whole world is torn apart.

Al was special. Al was talented. Al had so many dreams ... so why did he do it?

Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan decides to retrace Al’s footsteps. As he does, he meets Megan, Al's former classmate, who is as determined as Nathan to keep Al's memory alive.

Together they start seeking answers, but will either of them be able to handle the truth about Al’s death when they eventually discover what happened?

Content warning: suicide and intense bullying

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly is a stunning, important debut that is full of raw emotion and an honest look at the aftermath of suicide.

The dual narrative is beautifully crafted, with Al's brother trying to understand what happened to Al and his friend Megan working through her grief by celebrating his life. Both viewpoints are compelling and believable, and it's really effective how the stories overlap and also take their own directions.

I love that this novel is set in the north of England. The voice captures the accent and dialect of Manchester perfectly and it'd be great to see more YA novels so immersed in different communities. The setting is also vividly described and the plot of the story is very much woven into the sense of place.

This book deals with disturbing subjects very honestly and there are some violent scenes that are hard to read. At the same time, there is beautiful imagery and hope, particularly in the scenes that gave the novel its title. I appreciated how the book gives Al a voice and shows his lasting impact on the world.

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly is a moving, thought-provoking read and one of the most compelling contemporaries I've read for a long time. 

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the review copy!

Monday, 10 February 2020

Yes No Maybe So review

Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state senate candidate—as long as he’s behind the scenes. When it comes to speaking to strangers (or, let’s face it, speaking at all to almost anyone), Jamie’s a choke artist. There’s no way he’d ever knock on doors to ask people for their votes…until he meets Maya.

Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend is too busy to hang out, her summer trip is canceled, and now her parents are separating. Why her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing—with some awkward dude she hardly knows—is beyond her.

Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer—and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural romance of the century is another thing entirely.

Becky Albertalli is an insta-buy author for me and so is Aisha Saeed after reading this book (I just ordered Amal Unbound). It's a really engaging, romantic read that also raises topical points about what individuals can do to stand up for their beliefs.

I absolutely loved the dual narrative in Yes No Maybe So. Jamie and Maya are both fully fleshed-out characters with interesting back stories, as well as the overlapping story line of the election and their developing relationship (which is the absolute sweetest thing). Both narrators have a distinctive voice that is full of warmth and humour.

This book is perfectly timed for the current political climate, encouraging readers to think about what they can do to change things. It's very honest about prejudices different characters suffer and shows them acting against it.

I flew through this book and had so many thoughts and feelings by the end! It's the perfect read if you want something that manages to be both extremely fun and thought-provoking.

If you'd like to read another book to get you stirred up about politics, I'd recommend Laura Wood's brilliant MG book Vote for Effie.

Thanks so much to Simon and Schuster Children's books for the gorgeous review copy!

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Wranglestone review

Winter was the only season every Lake-Lander feared...

In a post-apocalyptic America, a community survives in a national park, surrounded by water that keeps the Dead at bay. But when winter comes, there's nothing to stop them from crossing the ice.

Then homebody Peter puts the camp in danger by naively allowing a stranger to come ashore and he's forced to leave the community of Wranglestone. Now he must help rancher Cooper, the boy he's always watched from afar, herd the Dead from their shores before the lake freezes over.

But as love blossoms, a dark discovery reveals the sanctuary's secret past. One that forces the pair to question everything they've ever known.

I can always rely on the Red Eye books from Stripes for brilliant writing and gripping plots. Wranglestone is another amazing YA horror and it ticks all of my boxes: it pulls together elements from my favourite genres, has a great cast of characters and a sinister setting.

The genre elements were probably my favourite part. Wranglestone has the feel of a western, with its remote setting and characters a lot like cowboys, but also has truly terrifying horror and the sweetest romance at its core. The book executes all of those elements really well, so that the action is balanced out by lovely (and sometimes heartbreaking) moments between characters.

That leads me another thing I really loved: Peter and Cooper. They're great characters as individuals and I rooted for them so much as a couple! All of the characters are well-drawn and I think that's what engaged my emotions so much – I cared what happened to them.

I also have to talk about that location. A remote national park is the perfect setting for this novel, with the zombies lingering on the fringes of the community and the cold descending upon them.

I loved everything about this book and I'm so glad it's the first in a series!


Monday, 20 January 2020

Are You Watching? review

A page-turning new YA thriller for the social media age, perfect for fans of A Good Girl's Guide to Murder and One Of Us Is Lying.

Ten years ago, Jess's mother was murdered by the Magpie Man.

She was the first of his victims, but not the last.

Now Jess is the star of a YouTube reality series and she's using it to catch the killer once and for all.

The whole world is watching her every move.

And so is the Magpie Man.

I love a serial killer book and had a great time reading this one! It feels very current, and I raced through it because there wasn't a slow moment.

This book has such a great premise and the use of social media really added to the story. It's an utterly creepy idea that the things we post online could be used against us, and Are You Watching? executes the concept really well.

The plotting is another brilliant thing about this book. Every scene moves the plot forwards and the short chapters meant I couldn't stop reading. Just one, or seven more... There are plenty of clues and suspects to sift through and it was fun trying to solve the mystery as Jess did.

Jess is a really interesting main character. She definitely has agency rather than sitting back and letting events wash over her. She feels believable, making mistakes and getting in over her head.

This is a tense, fun read for YA thriller fans and I'll definitely look out for Vincent Ralph's next book.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Paper Avalanche blog tour

Ro’s mum is a compulsive hoarder... so Ro has become an expert at hiding: from social services, from friends, from having any sort of normal life. Staying under the radar keeps her ‘real’ life secret and her mum, Bonnie, safe - and she dreads to think what would happen to Bonnie without her.

Then Tanvi Shah turns up at school; full of life, and on a mission to make friends and Ro feels seen and heard for the first time ever. But if people can see Ro, they might see her secret too...

Lisa Williamson is one of my favourite contemporary YA authors so I'm thrilled to join this blog tour. Her books always have real heart, a brilliant voice and believable teen characters.

Paper Avalanche starts from the intriguing, heartbreaking premise of a girl who has had to grow up too fast and cope with her mother's compulsive hoarding. It's a subject I've never read about before and I thought it was great that the book explored hoarding from all angles, including what might motivate it.

The characters in this book are so realistic! I feel like I recognised a lot of them from my teenage years. Even minor characters are fleshed out until they feel like real people. Ro is a brilliant protagonist, as she's complex and relatable, but my absolute favourite is Tanvi. She just feels like a breath of fresh air and I would've loved to know her at school!

The voice of Lisa William's books is always so strong, and Paper Avalanche is no exception. The dialogue and narrative feel like they're coming from real people, especially the teen voices, and the book tackles a range of teen issues from family life to what it feels like not to fit in.

This book gave me exactly what I want from a contemporary, taking me on emotional ups and downs but ultimately leaving me feeling uplifted. Another excellent read from Lisa Williamson!

Thanks so much Ed PR for inviting me to join the blog tour! You can check out the other tour stops using the handy banner.

The God Game blog tour

Win and All Your Dreams Come True™!

Charlie and his friends have entered the God Game.

Tasks are delivered through their phone-screens and high-tech glasses. When they accomplish a mission, the game rewards them. Charlie’s money problems could be over. Vanhi can erase the one bad grade on her college application. It’s all harmless fun at first.

Then the threatening messages start.

Worship me. Obey me.

Mysterious packages show up at their homes. Shadowy figures start following them.
Who else is playing this game, and how far will they go to win?

As Charlie looks for a way out, he finds God is always watching – only He will say when the game is done.

And if you die in the game, you die for real.

The God Game is a thoroughly engrossing, unsettling book and was a brilliant first read of 2020! It's the first adult fiction I've read for a while and has definitely made me want to read more in a similar vein.

It draws together different genres to create something that feels completely unique. The overarching structure is a tense thriller but it also takes the best elements from horror and sci-fi. 

I really liked how it delves into the perils of technology in a way that feels authentic, but also accessible for someone who isn't technologically inclined. It's a rare book that can make you think about human nature, morality and religion at the same time as staying at a thrilling pace.

Another real strength of this book is the characterisation. I loved getting to know these characters, flaws and all. Their group dynamic and the characters themselves are very well-drawn and believable. The plot pushed each of them to extremes and it was fascinating to watch their responses.

This is one of those books that will stay with me, and has made me think as well as being a fast-paced, entertaining read. 

Thanks so much to Gollancz for including me on the blog tour! You can check out the previous stops using the banner below.