Monday, 29 August 2016

The Deviants by CJ Skuse ARC Review

Publisher: MIRA Ink (September 22nd 2016)


Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane. The Fearless Five, inseparable as children growing up in a sleepy English seaside town. But when Max’s older sister is killed, the friendship seems to die with her.


Only Max and Ella are in touch, still best friends and a couple since they were thirteen. But Ella is hiding things – like why she’s afraid to take their relationship to the next level. And when underdog Corey is bullied, the Fearless Five are brought back together again, teaming up to wreak havoc and revenge on those who have wronged them.

But when the secrets they are keeping can no longer be kept quiet, will their fearlessness be enough to save them from themselves? (Publishers' Blurb)

I received a free copy of 'The Deviants' from the publisher at YALC and will give an honest review in exchange.

This book came highly recommended by Chelle from Tales of Yesterday and she was absolutely right about how good it is! It's one of my favourite YAs of the year, even though it's so tense that I was an emotional wreck throughout!

Before I launch into the review, please be aware that this book deals with subjects that may be triggering for some people.

For me, the main strength was the tightly structured, unpredictable plot. It took me less than a day to read because I was unable to stop myself! I couldn't tell where this was going and the revelations were one emotional gut punch after another!

The premise of the Famous Five gone bad was fantastic and a large part of this was the characters. They felt very flawed and real to me. Ella was a fantastic narrator! I loved how she wasn't always perfect and likeable. She made understandable mistakes when dealing with some very tough situations. I loved how her story was revealed in pieces and I rooted for her so much!

CJ Skuse has the perfect writing style for YA. The teen voice was consistent and believable, never once pulling me out of the story.

There's not a lot more that I can discuss about what I liked without giving some serious spoilers. I'll end by saying that no other book this year has given me such intense feelings.

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Feminism in YA Giveaway Winner

Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway to win signed copies of 'The Bone Season' and 'Rebel of the Sands'!

The winner is...

Ela from @ElasBooks!

Congratulations Ela - I'll be in touch to organise sending the books.

Keep an eye on my blog for more giveaways in the near future, maybe even another Rebel of the Sands one...

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

What I Couldn't Tell You - Blog Tour Review

Author: Faye Bird
Publisher: Usborne Publishing (1st May 2016)

When love turns to jealousy, when jealousy turns to rage, when rage turns to destruction...

Laura was head over heels in love with Joe. But now Laura lies in a coma and Joe has gone missing. Was he the one who attacked her? Laura's sister Tessie is selectively mute. She can't talk but she can listen. And as people tell her their secrets, she thinks she's getting close to understanding what happened on that fateful night. (Publishers' Blurb)

I seem to have read a lot of dark YA contemporary in the last few months and I enjoyed this one the most!

The best part of this for me was Tessie's first person viewpoint. It was fascinating to learn more about what it means to be selectively mute and the condition was dealt with in a believable, sensitive manner. This was a great device for a mystery because it meant that Tessie noticed things and was told secrets that she might otherwise be unaware of.

This leads on to my next favourite aspect: the writing style. Faye Bird is very skilled at balancing beautiful descriptions with immediacy and action.

The pacing in this book is also excellent, with tension piling up and a mystery that was well-plotted and unpredictable.

Another great thing was that the characters' actually talked to their parents and they had an impact on the plot! I'd love to see more parents in YA fiction as a realistic reflection of teens' lives.

I strongly recommend this book and I'd love to read more by Faye Bird in future.

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If you liked the sound of this, try 'The Deviants' by CJ Skuse.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Feminism in YA Event Writeup and Signed Books Giveaway

Alwyn Hamilton and Samantha Shannon are two of my favourite YA authors, so I was really excited to attend this event a couple of weeks ago! It was hosted by the lovely Mariam (@helloiammariam), who holds a Feminism in YA Twitter chat every Tuesday evening at 7pm GMT (in case you somehow haven't heard of it!) 

Because I found this event really inspirational, I decided to write up some of the key points and give away a signed copy of 'Rebel of the Sands' and 'The Bone Season' to one lucky winner! Please follow me on Twitter and retweet my pinned tweet to enter. As this post is based on my hastily scribbled notes, please be aware that there may be errors!

First the discussion focused on agency in YA. Samantha feels that fantasy is often based around a historical, misogynistic setting but it doesn't have to be! She consciously kept men and women as equals in the world of 'The Bone Season' and tried to stay away from gender restrictions. Alwyn has been told a lot that women aren't physically strong enough to be a fantasy hero. Amani came from that and Alwyn gave her a gun - a gender neutral weapon!

Mariam, Alwyn and Shannon agreed that 'strong female characters' can be a problematic phrase. Samantha has been asked why her characters aren't as strong as Katniss. She said she would prefer to be asked about her character and to represent real flaws. If all characters are compared to Katniss in this way, it reduces her and the other characters. Katniss is complex and vulnerable at times - not everyone is a Katniss or a Bella! Alwyn felt that 'strong' is  often used to mean traditionally masculine traits. She gave the example of Kestrel in Winner's Curse as a brilliant character who is a terrible fighter, but she's smart and this makes her no less strong. She also mentioned that it's great how in the new Ghostbusters films there are plenty of characters to identify with.

The discussion then turned to role models. Alwyn felt it would be a bad idea to use Amani as a role model! She makes some terrible decisions, but that makes her more interesting because she learns from her mistakes.

Alwyn and Shannon then discussed why they created female characters. Alwyn always gravitates to creating female characters and has always turned to books for female characters. Samantha explained that Paige's voice came into her head first.

On the subject of minorities, Samantha discussed how in the Bone Season clairvoyants are secretly operating in London. She felt that being a minority is a common subject in fantasy, in terms of viewing the treatment of minorities through a fantastical lens. Alwyn felt it would be hard to write a society where people are rebelling without minorities and was inspired by the French Revolutions that she learned about when growing up in France.

Alwyn loves the trope of girls dressed as boys. She feels that characters are insisting that they be judged on their worth and she loves the potential for romance!

Later they talked about romance in YA. Alwyn likes the swoon but it shouldn't overpower or take the focus if the book isn't a romance novel! Samantha said it can be risky not to include romance because it can alienate a huge portion of the target audience.

When talking about the trope of the 'Evil Queen', Alwyn said she likes complex female villains such as Levana in 'The Lunar Chronicles'. There's a danger though of characters like this being demonised or over-sexualised. Samantha consciously had Paige fight female police officers and avoided background characters always being white males (as she felt this often seems to be the case).

I've been to a lot of Waterstones author events and I'd definitely recommend them. I hope you enjoyed my write-up - remember to check out the giveaway on Twitter!


Saturday, 13 August 2016

Vendetta by Catherine Doyle review

When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion next door, Sophie Gracewell's life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nic, Sophie finds herself falling into an underworld governed by powerful families. When Sophie's own family skeletons come to life, she must choose between two warring dynasties - the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break ...

I attended Catherine Doyle's brilliant workshop at YALC and I knew I had to read Vendetta when she described it as 'Romeo and Juliet meets Goodfellas'.

I don't think I've ever read a YA book linked to the mafia before and 'Vendetta' captured the darkness of this world perfectly. There was a strong sense of building tension as Sophie tried to work out how she fit in with the dangerous criminal underworld.

Recently, I haven't been a fan of romance in YA because I'm tired of books retreading the same boy meets girl pattern. Although I could see where this aspect of the book was going to some extent, I found this the most compelling YA romance that I've read for a long time. I really rooted for Sophie and Nic and enjoyed some fresh twists and turns in the forbidden romance trope.

One of my favourite parts of this book was how it dealt with morality, in terms of how characters' actions affect how others perceive them. Without giving anything away, I found it really interesting how my opinions shifted as the book progressed.

Another really strong part of 'Vendetta' is the writing style. Catherine Doyle's writing is often described as cinematic and in the workshop she explained that her love of movies influences her. I could definitely see this in the believable dialogue and tight pacing of the book.

I really loved this and I've just ordered the sequel! I strongly recommend everyone to buy it (if you haven't already) and that you go for the real life book - did you see those stained pages?

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If you liked the sound of this, now try Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Unnatural Souls by Linda Foster Novella Blog Tour

Publisher: Glass House Press

When Grace almost died, her brother sold his soul to a demon to save her. The demon will be back in a year to claim it. Since then, she's developed powers such as telekinesis and teleportation that she's struggling to control. Soon the year is running out and Grace has to find a way to save her brother's soul.

This is a short, enjoyable read that's perfect if you're in the mood for something paranormal. I found the plot a little slow at first when Grace was working out how to save her brother, but it soon kicked into gear with plenty of complications and rising conflict. The climax was exciting and set up lots of interesting ways that this series could go.

I really liked the premise of a girl wrestling with powers and her interactions with other supernatural beings (both good and evil ones). The importance placed on a sibling relationship was a refreshing change to romance and I think this could be developed well in a full-length novel. In some places, this felt like a condensed novel and potentially interesting scenes were brushed over.

This prequel is an intriguing start to the series and I will definitely pick up the first book to see how it turns out.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The Great Big YALC Write-up and signed Raven King Giveaway

Morally Complicated YA Panel YALC 2016

YALC 2016 is over and I've just about recovered! This was my third time there and again I had an amazing, packed 3 days! I squeezed a good balance of panels, seminars and signings, as well as meeting lots of great people who are passionate about books.

I've decided to do a summary of the YALC panels and workshops that I attended. As it's based on my hastily scribbled notes, any errors are my own and summaries are in my own words. It might be the longest blog post I've ever written so feel free to dip in and out of the bits that interest you!

As an incentive to read to the end, there are details of my Twitter giveaway of the fabulous Raven King signed by Maggie Stiefvater!

YA Book Prize Panel

Sarah Crossen, Catherine Johnson, Jenny Downham and Lisa Williamson – hosted by the Bookseller's Charlotte Eyre.

This was a fantastic chance to see the YA prize nominees. Relationships were key to the discussion and how they're important because as a teen you're forming who you are. On the subject of their chosen viewpoint, the authors had different approaches. Jenny didn't plan hers, whereas Lisa found that Leo's voice kept shouting at her! Sarah had written 30,000 words of prose before realising it wasn't working and settling on verse, which is a lot more time consuming!

In terms of advice for YA authors, Catherine recommended reading everything, even writing you think is rubbish. She said something like 'the youness of you and your take makes the story', which really resonated with me.

They each recommended a YA book: Sarah went for Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan, Jenny and Catherine recommended Orange Boy by Patrice Lawrence and Lisa recommended The Yellow Room by Jess Vallance.

Their take on content warnings was quite variable. Sarah wants to write about issues in a careful way that is palatable for teens, whereas Lisa trusts teens to self-censor.

Magic Panel

Victoria Schwab, Taran Matharu, Sally Green and Melinda Salisbury – hosted by Catherine Webber
This was my favourite panel! All of the authors are fantastic and I got lots of practical writing tips.

Most of the authors agreed that the world shapes characters so you start with that and its boundaries before writing. Sally started with the characters and knew Nathan would be a half black and half white witch. They also agreed that they tend to know the end and the key scenes before writing, although it can change as you go along!

They discussed their inspirations and Harry Potter was a big favourite! Taran was also inspired by Earthsea, Lord of the Rings, computer games such as Skyrim and based his monsters on Pokemon!

The discussion about the danger of making villains too powerful was fascinating. Taran is more worried about making his hero too powerful. Victoria is interested in how power could be limitless but it depends on the person's mental strength and personality. Melinda likes writing villains who are good looking and have the best power. They're her favourites and she secretly wants them to win!

LA Weatherly researching workshop

I'm a huge fan of LA Weatherly's Angel series so this was a really exciting opportunity for me! Her workshop focused on using research to develop your settings and characters.

Her first point was that in a fantasy world you should make non-fictional aspects as real as possible. She uses Google Earth or visits locations when possible. She also likes researching characters' names and appearances after coming up with a concept. At first, it's a good idea to do broad based research and then more detailed, so you don't weigh down the narrative with technical information. The most useful advice for me was to think about the fantasy world as if it were this one. Pretend you're a newcomer. These things will grow into characters, which are a product of the world.

CJ Skuse the Writing Process
This panel was really inspiring – a fantastic blend of hints, advice and tricks.

From an idea or blurb, CJ plots a 3 ct structure. A rise in tension is the most important thing and the reason to read on. You should give obstacles based on what the character want and craft characters to root for and hate.

She always does 30 point planning. This is basically 30 scenes from your novel which gives a spine for the story. It's helpful to have a comparison to sell your book. E.g. CJ's new adult book was sold as Bridget Jones meets Dexter (how good does that sound?) If you're struggling for ideas, put your brain on the page. Put the core idea in the middle and inspirations, words, images and quotes around it.

Join the Rebellion Panel

Julie Mayhew, Alwyn Hamilton, Simon Mayo and Kass Morgan hosted by Anna James

When discussing whether revolution was core in conceptualising their books, Kass said it was in The 100. In YA, kids are trying to find agency, rebel against themselves and the world. Alwyn grew up in France and was inspired by studying the French revolutions. She felt in a fantasy context you can do bigger things with politics and you don't know how it ended like historical events.

There was some discussion of violent content. Simon felt that violence was integral in his book as it led to the riot. Kass wasn't worried about this. Her editor pushed her to be darker! Alwyn thinks violence shouldn't be gratuitous but teens will close the book if it's too much.

Very importantly, the authors discussed who they would want on their side in a revolution. Alwyn felt you would need different skills and went for Cat from Heist Society and Hermione. Kass opted for Neville and Anne of Green Gables. They'd understand that violence is a last resort and Anne would make everyone a nice cordial!

Writing YA workshop – Keris Staunton

I had no idea what to expect from the title but this was really useful! Keris is inspired by the books she liked as a teen and real life. For example, she based one book about a real incident where her sister threw a party and her diary went missing! A really great exercise idea was to watch a film you love to write out the scenes and learn from the structure. She suggested getting story ideas from public places. Another useful tip was to talk to people and get sensitivity readers when you're writing diverse characters. Keris often starts with characters and the plot develops from there. Before writing, she knows the theme, arc and where the story will start and end.

Alice Oseman and Lauren James Workshop – Authors on social media

This was an interesting discussion about the relationship between authors and readers on social media. They discussed how a lot of authors started in a fandom e.g. Simon Pegg wrote the new Star Trek and started as a fan. Some big books are even based on fan fiction – I was surprised to find that the Mortal Instruments started as Ginny and Draco fan fic (although I see it now!) Often tropes, themes and styles of fan fic appear in mainstream. The fandom community can influence positive change and bring issues to light such as the backlash against Age of Ultron writers after the portrayal of Black Widow.

The Fear Factor

Dawn Kurtagich, Derek Landy, Alex Scarrow and Darren Shan

This was a fascinating panel about what draws these writers to horror, what inspires them and their writing process. Dawn described horror as being like Pandora's box – you want to see what's in there but you can close it afterwards! Darren said the best deaths are simple and happen to characters that readers care about. Dawn is interested in people with their own demons who destroy themselves.

Their favourite Stephen King books were It (Dawn), Salem's Lot (Darren), Carrie (Alex) and Firestarter (Darren).

They felt horror is good again because the current generation of authors were raised on 70s and 80s horror. Darren likes 80s horror movies because they're old stories with a fresh spin.

The authors discussed the best perspective for horror. Derek feels there are advantages of first and third person. Dawn writes in both, feeling you can get in a character's head and mislead the leader with first person. Alex prefers third person for providing a broader canvas and can use it to get in characters' heads too. Darren likes the immediacy and personal nature of first person.

Catherine Doyle Creative Writing Workshop

This was a great workshop about using movies as inspiration. To get rid of writers' block, Cat watches a movie or musical to soak up another creative medium. Her book Vendetta is Romeo and Juliet meets Goodfellas. She was keen to include family structures like the Sopranos, with characters you root for even though you shouldn't. She uses famous people as character inspiration and likes playing around with offbeat symbols such as the pot of honey foreshadowing death. Look at protagonists from films – why do you like them? What makes you root for them? What qualities do they have and why do they matter? It's important to have antagonists who usually have a cause and human qualities. Look at memorable moments from films – why are they memorable and what is at stake?

Morally Complicated YA Panel

Melvyn Burgess, Emerald Fennell, Manuela Salvi and Louise O’Neill

I love boundary pushing YA and this panel talked about why these authors write books like that and how it has affected them. Louise said she is always questioned about whether her characters are likeable – she feels this is a pressure real women face. She's interested in morally complicated women and pointedout that the male antihero is an established trope. Emerald felt obligated to be truthful and Manuela reflected on life being complicated and literature giving a way to understand that. The discussion emphasised being authentic as opposed to trying to shock. The authors agreed that book banning is covert and quiet. They felt there is a perception that violence in books is seen as more acceptable than sex. Louise pointed out that people don't want their kids to enter a violent reality TV show but want them to have happy, healthy relationships! Manuela made an excellent point that if something happens in young readers' lives she writes about it.

Maggie Stiefvater panel

This was a very amusing panel focusing on the question Maggie was asked online about what a writers' day looks like. She used to be a professional portrait artist, which sounds romantic until you realise she spent a lot of time copying the masters with cats' heads. She feels she's a better thief than writer, visiting places and meeting people to get ideas. John Green asked her if she wanted to race on Twitter. He borrowed a race car which ended up setting on fire twice, perpetuating the rumour that Maggie set fire to John Green! I had to leave for Maggie's book signing at this point, which was a high point for my last YALC panel!

It's fitting that I ended with Maggie Stiefvater's panel as I have a signed copy of the Raven King to give away! To enter, you simply need to comment on this blog post or follow and retweet the link to this blog on Twitter. You also get an extra entry if you follow the blog!

The winner will be announced on Saturday 13th August.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by JC Lillis

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by [Lillis, J.C.]

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (21 Sept. 2012)

The summer after high school graduation, two cute and snarky boys hit the road in an RV. Their mission: follow the traveling fan convention for Castaway Planet, the cult sci-fi show they’re both obsessed with. (Excerpt from Publishers' Blurb)

I knew I was going to love this book because it was recommended by Dahlia Adler (@MissDahlWLama), founder of LGBTQ Reads. After racing through 'The Art of Being Normal' and 'Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe', Dahlia suggested this as a follow-up. I'm so glad she did because it was incredible!

This book gained a perfect balance between being very sincere about difficult issues such as identity and self-acceptance, at the same time as being light, romantic and hilarious! It's very accessible and at the same time gave me a lot to think about.

Another thing I really loved was how well it captured that feeling of being part of a fandom. Following a travelling fan convention is the ultimate in escapism and I loved the element of the boys chronicling their journey as part of a fan vlog. I ended up feeling quite sad that Castaway Planet isn't real - it sounds like a fandom I'd be part of!

The characters became some of my favourites that I've recently encountered. Brandon and Abel both came across as very realistic, different characters who complimented each other well. I really enjoyed their friendship and developing romance.

At this point I usually like to balance out my review by saying something I didn't like. For once, I genuinely can't think of anything! This book utterly captivated me and I can't wait to read more by JC Lillis.