Wednesday, 28 March 2018

State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury - review

Publisher: Scholastic

Sorrow all but rules the Court of Tears, in a land gripped by perpetual grief, forever mourning her brother who died just days before Sorrow was born. By day she governs in place of her father, by night she seeks secret solace in the arms of the boy she's loved since childhood. But when her brother is seemingly found alive, and intent on taking control, Sorrow has to choose whether to step aside for a stranger who might not be who he claims to be, or embark on a power struggle for a position she never really wanted.

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year, and if possible it exceeded eve
ry one of my expectations.

Melinda Salisbury is one of my favourite authors, and I think her writing style is absolutely gorgeous! Like The Sin Eater's Daughter (which you should definitely read if you haven't already), State of Sorrow is full of sensory descriptions that suck you into the world. Every setting is richly described and immersive, and the writing has a dark fairy tale quality that I absolutely love.

The plot of this book is also gripping and well-paced. The political intrigue kept me hooked and it was great fun trying to work out whether the boy is really Sorrow's brother, and who would end up in power.

The characters in this book were brilliant too. Sorrow was my favourite because her responses to this situation were so authentic, and I felt like I understood her motivations. I also thought Luvian was a brilliant character, who had a very interesting arc and provided many opportunities for humour! I was a huge fan of the romance arc too - it was incredibly passionate and moving, without overpowering the plot.

This is a beautifully written, exciting story with brilliant characters. How am I supposed to wait for the next book?

If you liked the sound of this, you must read The Sin Eater's Daughter trilogy, also by Melinda Salisbury.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Interview - Nikky Norton-Shafau of the 'Becoming Storybook' project

Today, I have a very interesting interview to share with you. I was intrigued from the moment I heard about Nikky Norton-Shafau's 'Becoming Storybook' project. As she's currently reading one of my favourite books of the year, Children of Blood and Bone, I've interviewed Nikky to find out more about her project. 

Tell us about your 'Becoming Storybook' project.

In 2015, I wrote down on a piece of paper 'My name is Nikky, I'm a little bit strange... I want to become a Storybook.' I have so many journals where I write down ideas, doodles and random thoughts. I had no idea this particular thought would grow into the adventure I'm currently on. What started as an artist experiment has now turned into a project where I have created my own job title and job description that helps me deliver a service where I feel truly in my element.

Some of the things I deliver include telling stories in 'secret gardens', libraries and other interesting spaces, I run creative workshops for community groups/individuals and am lucky enough to create podcasts and bespoke plenary poems at events.

What inspired your journey?

So many things! I was thinking about this the other day, how, in retrospect things make sense - you can see where it all comes from but sometimes when you're in it, you're kind of not thinking - if that makes sense.

What made me take action was a feeling. When I wrote down the idea - It felt good. In my belly, y'know, it just made me smile inside in a way that felt right and I had been searching for that feeling for a long time.

As I got deeper into trying and failing to become a book, I began consciously feeding from the world around me - having conversations with people, looking into my cultural and family history and coming back to myself and nature to try and make sense of it all.

Which stories did you love most as a child?

People's stories. I used to like listening to people and (though I would not have said it at the time) I suppose I was curious about the conflict between what people said and how they acted. I used to have a paper round with a lot of older people who used to invite me in and tell me stories about their lives too - I loved that.

Why did you choose to do a read along of Children of Blood and Bone? What do you think of the book so far?

The description got me excited! I was proper hyper fan girl when I discovered it. I had read summaries of books online previously but this book got me wanting to shout about it to everyone I knew. I felt I could contribute in spreading the word as some people had not heard of the book within my circle.

The book showcases Nigerian culture and female characters in a unique way and I hope it gets to reach people who would love to see African characters, magic and symbolism in this form.

I am currently on Chapter 11 and it's action packed - I just don't know what is going to happen next! I love the complex character of Inan - I really want to know whats going on with him. The visual imagery is rich throughout and engages all the senses.

What are you planning to do next?

Well, I am still trying to become a storybook. I'm not quite there yet! I am posting summaries of each chapter of Children Of Blood And Bone on Youtube. Can I truly get lost in a book? Tune in chapter by chapter to see if I can make magic happen.

This weekend I am delivering a library den experience and fusing storytelling and origami for the first time. I have also been invited to create podcasts and a plenary poem for Under Her Eye, a conference led by women who care about the environment hosted at The British Library. And finally I have another series of secret garden storytelling sessions this Summer for those who like nature and adventure. To attend collect your Golden Key here:

Thanks so much for joining me on the blog today Nikky and thank you to everyone for reading! I'll be following Nikky's journey with interest, and you can check out what she thinks of Children of Blood and Bone on Youtube (beware of spoilers if you haven't read the book yet!)

Monday, 19 March 2018

YA Shot Giveaway - Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton

The lovely people at Faber have sent me three copies of Hero at the Fall to give away as part of the YA Shot blog tour. 

You can meet Alwyn Hamilton and over 50 other amazing authors at YA Shot, a festival being held in London on 14th April. Read all about it and book tickets here

The Rebel of the Sands books by Alwyn Hamilton are some of my favourites of all time, and with Hero at the Fall the series had an emotional, tense ending. You can read the full extent of my love for this book in my review

There are a lot of reasons why this series is so special but the characters are the most important to me. The main characters all went on interesting journeys, and Amani in particular is one of my favourites of all time. She's complex and believable, with flaws and strengths that shape the course of her story.  

This is such a fantastic series and I'm looking forward to reading whatever Alwyn writes next.

For a chance to win your own copy of Hero at the Fall, head over to my Twitter (@yaundermyskin) to follow the instructions in my pinned tweet. It's open internationally and ends 8pm GMT on Friday 23rd March.

Good luck!  

YA Shot blog tour - guest post by Alexia Casale

I'm thrilled to join the YA Shot blog tour again this year and to share a guest post from the YA Shot director, founder and YA author Alexia Casale. You can read more about Alexia and her amazing books here.

YA Shot is a wonderful YA and Middle Grade festival that raises funds for a programme that pairs libraries and schools for free author events, to 'foster a love of reading, inspire a passion for writing, and encourage aspirations to careers in the Arts'. This year, YA Shot will be held on Saturday 14th April. Over 50 authors will deliver workshops, panels and 'in conversation' events, as well as signing their books. You can buy tickets and find out more information here.

I'll hand over to Alexia now to discuss the fascinating subject of where ideas come from.

Where do you get your ideas?

Alexia Casale

Every event I do, I am asked this question – for good reason. It’s a big, important question and there are lots of different answers.

Recently I’ve been thinking about how often my own answer changes from event to event and why… and whether there’s one answer that gets to the root of all the others.

I think there is: ‘real life’.

But not in the way we tend to think about that as a source of inspiration: it’s not a one-to-one autobiographical inspiration for most novelists. However, our lives shape everything about us, whether we accept the forces that try to mould us or struggle against them. What we know about ourselves, other people, relationships, animals, stories, the world, food, happiness, misery… all of it comes from our lives – from the interaction of what happens inside us with what we experience externally.

Let’s test that theory by applying it to whether ‘real life’ still inspires stories about other worlds and universes.

One of the big developments in Sci-Fi and Fantasy is a renewed push to deconstruct the ways human history has shaped what we imagine, even when we think we’re coming up with new worlds and sometimes non-human societies. Deconstructing the long, long reach of colonialization is part of this new push to free our imaginations to imagine truly unique and original universes. As authors like Ursula Le Guin have argued, this is why Fantasy and Sci-Fi are so vital to human development: until we can see new ways of being with and among other people, it’ll be hard to learn from the past and move forwards.

Often when we’re trying to confront the worst of human actions in the past, we get stuck simply thinking we must do the polar opposite. It’s a natural impulse, but in the process of assuming the simple ‘opposite’ is the answer to positive change, we forget that may we need to do something radically different – something different in every way. Instead of merely ‘doing the opposite’ and struggling against the forces of the past, what if we tried to imagine something so different that there is a true discontinuity with that past?

We are all caught in the web of what we have seen, tasted, touched, smelt, felt, thought, imagined and learnt. We have ourselves and what we have experienced of the world: the limits of that experience (in the broadest possible sense) are the limits of our inspiration. Thus, the more you learn and experience, the more those limits move outwards.

If you want to be inspired, then you must first be curious. The richer your life in terms of what you experience, the more you can imagine. It’s that simple.

Watch different sorts of things on TV. Read all sorts of different books about all sorts of different things. Go to the theatre if you can afford it. Go to museums of all sorts whenever possible – many are free. Learn about different times in history. And about different places in the world. And about science. Listen to music and try making some yourself. Look at art – and try creating something of your own. Learn a new language to the point where you start to see how people in other societies think in different ways because of how different languages are structured. Try eating and cooking new food. Research what meals look like in different cultures – when do they happen, where, with what furniture/utensils or lack thereof, who is present and who does what, what is eaten, where does it come from, how it is prepared for eating and by whom?

Don’t assume anything. Wonder about everything. Be endlessly curious.

Where I get my ideas? Where do I look for inspiration?



Thanks so much for sharing these fantastic ideas Alexia - I definitely feel inspired. Keep an eye on Twitter and the YA Shot website to follow the other blog tour posts. I hope to see some of you at the festival!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor - review

Publisher: Michael Joseph

You can feel it in the woods, in the school and in the playground; you can feel it in the houses and at the fairground. You can feel it in most places in the small town of Anderbury... the fear that something or someone is watching you.

It began back in 1986, at the fair, on the day of the accident. That was when twelve-year-old Eddie met Mr Halloran - the Chalk Man. He gave Eddie the idea for the drawings: a way to leave secret messages for his friends and it was fun, until the chalk men led them to a body.

Thirty years later, Ed believes the past is far behind him, until an envelope slips through the letterbox. It contains a stick of chalk, and a drawing of a figure. Is history going to repeat itself? Was it ever really over? Will this game only end in the same way?

I really wish there were more YA horrors, especially more like this one. The Chalk Man is a genuinely scary, tense and cleverly plotted book. 

The characters were a real strength. Fans of IT and Stranger Things will appreciate the lively group and I especially liked the narrator, Eddie. The alternating narrative between 1986 and 2016 was really effective, giving insights into Eddie's character and slowly revealing a fascinating plot. 

That was another thing I loved about this book. I'm not easy to scare and this book was a brilliant balance of unsettling, gruesome and downright terrifying. It had a plot that drew on elements from the horror genre but used them in a creative, unexpected way.

The setting of this book was really evocative in both the past and the present, and I loved how the setting was significant in both time periods.

I can't say much more without major spoilers except that I thought this book was fantastic, with an unpredictable plot and plenty of scares. I'm very excited to read whatever CJ Tudor writes next!

If you liked the sound of this, now try The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart, which I reviewed here.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Children of Blood and Bone Blog Tour #NowWeRise

I'm absolutely thrilled to join the blog tour for Children of Blood and Bone. I don't often add books to my list of favourites and this has definitely made it. I found the story thrilling and tightly plotted, with amazing characters and absolutely gorgeous writing. I haven't been this emotionally invested in a book for a long time and I loved everything about it. For more details about Children of Blood and Bone and to read my glowing review, you can follow this link

For my tour stop, I decided to write a fan-fic journal entry inspired by my maji clan: Seer. You can use the handy graphic below to find out what clan you belong to. Leave a comment to let me know what clan you're in!

Journal of a Seer

An iron chest washed up on the beach this morning. The day was so peaceful before that discovery, with the salt air whipping my straight, white hair around me and the orange sunrise spilling out across the horizon. It was the last moment when my mind was only occupied by my thoughts. I can barely concentrate to write this down, but I must try to make sense of what happened.

An icy shock of water rolled over my feet, leaving behind a small chest made of dull metal. I picked it up, testing the weight in my hands as I traipsed away from the water.

Flipping the lid revealed a translucent golden stone and a crumpled scroll. Fiery colours shifted under the surface of the stone and I felt inexplicable warmth pouring off it. I’ve always been more interested in words than riches, and I reached for the scroll. Even now, with the layers of time fighting to surface in my mind, I recall that anticipation. What would have happened if I’d tossed the chest back into the ocean?

Of course, I didn’t. My fingers closed on the rough paper and that was all it took. There was a sharp jolt of energy and then the images assaulted me. I fell to the sand, with my head threatening to tear apart.

Laying there on the beach, I saw children splashing in the water and heard the lightness of their laughter, though I was alone. I saw fishermen in a choppy sea, hastily tugging on their nets as a storm threatened. How could the sky be stormy purple and summer blue all at once? I feel myself fragmenting and try to concentrate on writing one word at a time.

Then, I saw the worst images of all. Soldiers poured onto this beach, spreading through Warri like a plague and cutting down all those with colourless hair like mine. The village behind me was awash with death and blood. This is my curse. Time that was once linear is now layered: past, present and future sifting and mingling until I can’t tell them apart. I remember the older generation’s powers, flames that curled between their fingers or hands that could heal with a touch. All I’ve known until this moment is the stigma, the glares because of what I could have been.

I staggered home after that, seeing no living souls on the way but with every new step bringing a rush of time: our simple huts being built decades ago, celebrations with drums throbbing and people spinning…

Zu was passing when I arrived home and I set the chest in her small hands, babbling about the return of magic while the village burned around us. Unaware, she nodded, bright eyed and excited while I smelled the terrible char of burning flesh and heard the screams of the dying. I’ve heard those screams before: the day magic left us.

Zu ran off with the chest, taking that burden, but it seems I’ve already claimed my part in this. Writing in this journal is giving some solace but I can barely concentrate. The words blur and the threads of time are tangled in my mind. I take in a deep breath and release it, focusing on what I know to be real. The warm wood of my simple hut, the new curl to my hair as it springs around my face… these things are real and present.

Though the pictures are still there, they are distant, fading memories as opposed to tormenting spectres. It is clear what I must do but it will not be easy. I must master this ability instead of letting it best me. Magic is a gift, and I must wield it as such. I know of no past conflict in our peaceful fishing village, so the onslaught must be yet to unfold. The time for writing is done. There are villagers who were maji once, and they will come to my aid. I will master this ability, and I will help my people.


Thanks for reading my fan fic - I hope you enjoyed it! Remember to check out other posts on the #NowWeRise blog tour using the hashtag.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Scythe by Neal Shusterman - review

Publisher: Walker Books

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an open and honest review.

A dark, gripping and witty thriller in which the only thing humanity has control over is death. In a world where disease, war and crime have been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed ('gleaned') by professional scythes. Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythes' apprentices, and despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation, they must learn the art of killing and understand the necessity of what they do. Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe's apprentice and as Citra and Rowan come up against a terrifyingly corrupt Scythedom, it becomes clear that the winning apprentice's first task will be to glean the loser. (Publisher's blurb)

After the Walker Bloggers' Evening, I was really excited about this book. The blurb intrigued me, and Maggie Stiefvater's quote on the front comparing it to The Hunger Games was high praise to live up to. This is one of the most fascinating and original dystopians I've ever read, and I can't wait for the sequel.

The reason I became so invested in this book was because of the characters. By focusing on Citra and Rowan's stories in turn, I already cared about them by the time they met and were put into competition. Both of them were distinctive, well-developed characters and they had believable reactions to their circumstances. The third person narrative also allowed the opportunity to delve into the life of the particularly vile antagonist. This plot structure allowed for character development and for the plot tension to build from the very beginning.

I also thought the world was incredibly inventive and believable. Mankind's mastery over death is such a compelling idea, as is the solution: to randomly kill humans so the population doesn't get out of control. The book really effectively showed minor characters' responses to their impending gleanings, and explored what it felt like to be a scythe. This allowed the subject of gleanings to be considered from every side.

I'll continue to think about this book long after reading it, as the characters and conflict had a strong effect on me. Scythe should be read by everyone who wants a compelling story and characters you can get behind.  

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Smoke by Simon Ings - blog tour review

Publisher: Gollancz

Humanity has been split into three different species. Mutual incomprehension has fractured the globe. As humans race to be the first of their kind to reach the stars, another Great War looms.

For you that means returning to Yorkshire and the town of your birth, where factories churn out the parts for gigantic spaceships. You’re done with the pretentions of the capital and its unfathomable architecture. You’re done with the people of the Bund, their easy superiority and unstoppable spread throughout the city of London and beyond. You’re done with Georgy Chernoy and his questionable defeat of death. You’re done with his daughter, Fel, and losing all the time. You’re done with love.

But soon enough you will find yourself in the Smoke again, drawn back to the life you thought you’d left behind. You’re done with love. But love’s not done with you. (Publisher's blurb)

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Smoke. I haven't read any adult books for ages and this one really captured my interest. I found this an intriguing story set in an inventive, disturbing version of the world we know.

It was so brilliant to read a book set between Yorkshire and London: two places I know better than any others. This added to my enjoyment of the book because the descriptions were very evocative of both settings, making the science-fiction elements all the more distinctive. I really liked how this story slipped between the strange and familiar, and it was quite refreshing that sometimes it took effort to work out what was happening!

The writing style was very distinctive, as the first section of the book is written in the second person and then shifts to the first. I thought this might be difficult to get used to but it actually ended up making me read really carefully instead of speeding through as I usually do. That was handy when getting to grips with the complexities of this world. 

Another thing I liked about this book was that at times it had a very contemporary feel, showing a relationship at different (sometimes non-linear) points and getting under the characters' skins. At other points, the science-fiction plot came through very strongly, pushing the boundaries of the surreal in a way that I found alternately entertaining and unsettling. 

I've never read anything like this book before and it's definitely made me think about broadening my range. I think more books by Simon Ings might be a really good place to start!

You can check out the other blog tour spots using the handy graphic below: