Sunday, 29 April 2018

We are Young by Cat Clarke – review

Publisher: Hachette Children's Group and Quercus Children's Books (3rd May 2018)

It starts with a wedding. And a car crash.

On the same night Evan's mother marries local radio DJ 'Breakfast Tim', Evan's brand-new step-brother Lewis is found unconscious and terribly injured, the only survivor of a horrific car crash.

A media storm erupts, with the finger of blame pointed firmly at loner stoner Lewis. Everyone else seems to think the crash was drugs-related, but Evan isn't buying it. With the help of her journalist dad, Harry, she decides to find out what really happened that night.

As Evan delves deeper into the lives of the three teenagers who died in the crash, she uncovers some disturbing truths and a secret that threatens to tear her family – and the community – apart.

This is my first Cat Clarke book for some reason but it certainly won't be my last. This book was a brilliant blend of dark, intense drama, mystery, humour and just the right amount of romance.

What really stood out for me was the voice. The dialogue and first person narrative both made Evan feel like a real person and I thought she was a great character. I was really drawn to her drive to find out what happened and I loved how complex she is. She has a lot going on and that struck me as very believable! 

The mystery of this book was also very compelling and ultimately an important message came through it.There was a good balance of an exciting main story arc and other threads that kept my interest. I also liked the strong cast of secondary characters, including adults! A family dimension in a YA book is always good with me.

I read this book in only 24 hours and I'd definitely recommend it if you want a fast-paced YA with brilliant characters and an intriguing mystery. 


I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an open and honest review. Thank you to the publishers for the opportunity to read it!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli - review

Publisher: Harper Collins

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back.
There's only one problem: Molly's coworker, Reid. He's a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. (Publisher's blurb)
I've read some brilliant contemporaries recently and this is one of the best! It's the perfect balance of sweet, funny and angsty and I can't wait for Becky Albertalli's next book (Leah on the Offbeat). 

Becky Albertalli creates absolutely wonderful characters! Even the most minor character felt fully developed and I adored Molly. I would have related so much to her self-doubt when I was a teenager (and still do to be honest!). I also thought her struggles with self-image were dealt with in a believable, compassionate manner.

The romance in this book is adorable and at the same time totally realistic too. I thought that Molly's lack of confidence was very refreshing and reflective of a lot of teenagers' experiences.

The family dynamic in this book was awesome as well. I adored Molly's moms and it was great that they were main characters instead of being mysteriously absent.

Becky Albertalli is one of my favourite contemporary YA authors and if you haven't checked out Simon Versus the Homosapiens Agenda you definitely should!

Sunday, 22 April 2018

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven – review

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Izzy O'Neill here! Impoverished orphan, aspiring comedian and Slut Extraordinaire, if the gossip sites are anything to go by . . .

Izzy never expected to be eighteen and internationally reviled. But when explicit photos involving her, a politician's son and a garden bench are published online, the trolls set out to take her apart. Armed with best friend Ajita and a metric ton of nachos, she tries to laugh it off - but as the daily slut-shaming intensifies, she soon learns the way the world treats teenage girls is not okay. It's the Exact Opposite of Okay. (Publisher's blurb)

I'm so excited about this book! It's the ultimate YA read - it's hilarious, honest and 
thought-provoking. It also raises so many important questions about how teenage girls are treated, especially in the age of social media.

My favourite thing about this book by far was Izzy. She feels like a real teenager (and someone I would've liked to hang out with when I was that age). I loved the fact that the book is unapologetic about the fact that she's sexually active, as this is the reality for some teenagers. 

This leads on to the another great thing about this book. It explores a lot of current issues for teenagers in an open, sympathetic manner. Izzy faces some terrible treatment from the press and other people, and her response to it is really believable. She also encounters other problems such as a male friend who is increasingly pushy about entering a relationship with Izzy. This book challenges the fact that such behaviour is sometimes seen as 'romantic' and conveys an uplifting, feminist message.

I also thought the humour in this book was great! I don't often laugh out loud at books and this one had me crying with laughter. Izzy's brand of humour is rude and boundary-pushing, which appeals to me!

This is an uplifting book that deals with some difficult issues with humour. I can't wait for the next instalment of Izzy's adventures!


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

YA Shot 2018 write-up

Alexia Casale, YA Shot Founder, Director and YA author

Yesterday was my second time attending YA Shot and I had another wonderful, inspiring day! YA Shot is a Young Adult and Middle Grade festival that raises funds for a programme pairing schools and libraries for free author events. 

The event is packed with panels, in conversation events, workshops and author signings. I tried to do a balance of everything and chatted to lots of amazing bloggers and authors. I wasn't able to attend the UKYABA (Young Adult Blogger Awards) in the evening but I'm so pleased for all of the nominees and winners!

These are the events I attended. Any errors are my own and everything is heavily paraphrased!

Using your life in fiction with Tariq Mehmood

This was a very moving and interesting workshop, in which Tariq Mehmood shared some of his experiences that have influenced his writing. His work deals with xenophobia and he first wrote because there was no book that reflected his life and experiences. To write about teenage girls, he talked to many of them to infuse his stories with realism. One thing that really stayed with me was that the stories that cause you pleasure and pain need to be told. Another tip was to look at people and their body language, and listen to their conversations. 

Characterisation and empathy with Lisa Heathfield

I found this a really useful workshop too! Lisa's approach is to write her first draft by hand. Each day, she reads the previous paragraph to get back into the voice but doesn't read a lot of what she's written. She tries to stay quite disconnected from the internet because it stops you from observing people. This is a great way to gain empathy for others. Lisa finds writing in the first person useful to develop strong empathy for a character. She also recommended reading widely, including outside your preferred genres. She's a big believer in physically getting into the role of characters to understand them better, even mimicking people's behaviour and speech. 

Stories for change with Alwyn Hamilton and Melinda Salisbury

This was a fun in conversation event, during which Alwyn and Mel talked about their previous and current projects. Mel is finding it challenging to write a duology because she's used to telling a story with three acts. Alwyn agrees that the Star Wars trilogy structure is what we're used to. State of Sorrow was inspired by Mel's trip to Bosnia and a real bridge that is very dangerous to cross. Alwyn and Mel agreed that it can be challenging to stay motivated when writing to deadline and side projects can help. Alwyn's favourite scenes to write are the action ones and Mel loves writing romance and kissing scenes, especially the tense build-up to kissing!

Friends, enemies and common ground with Cathryn Constable and Lucy Ivison

Cathryn and Lucy write very different books but they had a very interesting discussion about friendship, with lots of audience participation! Both authors felt there is a pressure to write constantly strong, empowered young women who know what they want but this is not always the case! When writing Freshers, Lucy and Tom talked to a lot of students and toxic masculinity came up a lot, particular in the context of sports teams. When you're young especially, friends are everything and can feel like the big love of your life. 

Privacy, entertainment and technology with Lauren James, Laura Steven, Nicci Cloke and Kerry Drewery

Social media is such a topical subject and I found this a fascinating panel, particularly when the authors discussed how it can be used for good and bad reasons. In The Loneliest Girl in the Universe (one of my absolute favourite YAs), Lauren explored how fandoms can be used as a way to explore yourself and feel safe. Getting to know someone online can be great but you don't know how that information will be used. Laura (author of the brilliant The Exact Opposite of Okay) talked about how social media can make a YA book feel more authentic but can also date when a book is set, so a balance can be difficult to strike. 

Research for writing outside your experience with Katharine and Elizabeth Corr

I love the Witch's Kiss books and it was great to hear about Katharine and Elizabeth Corr's research. There are lots of elements to research in their books, including the historical time period and associated language, plus a gay, male main character. They emphasised the importance of getting experiences right that are not your own. My favourite part of this workshop was when they talked about the 'research iceberg'. As a writer, you end up doing a lot of research that doesn't go into the book (and shouldn't), but you need to know everything you can about your world.  

 Me, Chelley Toy (@ChelleyToy) and Virginie (@ChouettBlog).
I love being part of the UKYA blogging community and this was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with friends and make new ones. Thank you to all of the amazing organisers, bloggers, readers and authors who made this event so special!

Friday, 13 April 2018

Blog tour review - Legendary Ladies by Ann Shen

Publisher: Abrams

Throughout History comes this lushly illustrated book of goddesses from around the world. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess whose love overcame mortality. Mazu, the Chinese deity who safely guides travelers home. Lakshmi, the Hindu provider of fortune and prosperity. These powerful deities and many more are celebrated in gorgeous artwork and enlightening essays that explore the feminine divine and encourage readers to empower themselves. Ann Shen's signature watercolours make Legendary Ladies a unique, gift-worthy homage to the mighty women within.

I'm thrilled to be on the blog tour for such a gorgeous, uplifting and empowering book. Each page has an awesome illustration (you can see just a taste from the front cover) and a description of a goddess.

The goddess I'm going to focus on is called Ran, the goddess of the sea. Ran's story is deliciously dark, as her main role in mythology is to lure ships and sailors to the bottom of the ocean. At the end of each goddess page, there are qualities that readers can draw on for their own lives.

I think the format of this book is great. I enjoyed Ran's villainous nature and her page, like the others, definitely gives a good taste of the mythology. I think my favourite part is the uplifting message at the bottom of the page that gives something to take away from each story. For example, Ran inspires readers to pursue their desires with strength and persistence.

I'm definitely going to buy my own copy of this book and I can think of lots of people who would enjoy it as a gift as well!  

Ann Shen is an illustrator and graphic designer and is the author of Bad Girls Throughout History. She lives in Los Angeles.


Thank you for reading! You can check out the other tour stops using this lovely image.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things - blog tour review

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Trigger warnings: Eating disorders, sexual violence and self-harm

Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex, especially when she compares herself to her slim, brilliant, picture-perfect family. But that's before a shocking phone call - and a horrifying allegation - about her rugby-star brother changes everything. With irreverent humor and surprising gravity, Carolyn Mackler creates an endearingly blunt heroine who speaks to every teen who struggles with family expectations, and proves that the most impressive achievement is to be true to yourself.

I'm so grateful to Bloomsbury for including me in the blog tour for this book. You can read more about Bloomsbury's Spring Titles Blog Tour below my post.

This was an enjoyable read with a likeable main character, that at the same time deals with some really difficult subjects with sensitivity and humour.

I really rooted for Virginia as a character and I found her authentic and relatable. Her struggles with self-image and family relationships were described in a believable, honest way. Some scenes were difficult to read, and I appreciated that this book didn't shy away from issues that affect real teenagers and adults. There is also a good balance of lighter, funnier moments and the plot is ultimately uplifting.

I enjoy reading YA books about families, especially when the parents are present and active as characters. Virginia's relationship with her family caused drama and heartbreak that felt very realistic, but left me with hope by the end of the story.

Virginia's friendship with Shannon provided some light relief, even though Virginia was worried about the new long-distance aspect of their friendship. Their friendship reminded me a lot of what it felt like to be a teenager and I loved Shannon's family too! I also enjoyed the romantic storyline, and found that it was sweet and engaging without detracting from Virginia's journey as a character. 

My favourite thing about this book was that it could tackle such serious matters and also leave me with happy feelings and a positive message about self-image and personal growth.

These three fantastic titles are being featured as part of Bloomsbury's Spring Titles Blog Tour, and you can follow the other stops using the handy list below.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Femineaster event with Laura Steven and Chelley Toy

I was so excited to attend this event at Foyles Birmingham on Saturday to celebrate Femineaster and Laura Steven's amazing book The Exact Opposite of Okay. The event was chaired by the lovely Chelley Toy who blogs at Tales of Yesterday. Many thanks to Kevin Toy, who took these amazing pictures!

As well as being an author, Laura Steven is a journalist and screenwriter, and she works for Mslexia (a non-profit organisation that supports women in the creative arts).

When Laura started writing The Exact Opposite of Okay, it felt like being possessed and she heard Izzy's sarcastic voice in her head. The prologue that sets the scene for the book hasn't changed much since the first morning that she wrote it. At this point, she had the character and voice but not the plot. She actually got 50,000 words into a slightly different version of the plot.

Aspects of the book were inspired by Laura's experiences. She had a horrible encounter with a boss who was inappropriate after university and wanted to inspire young women to speak up if they're ever in that situation. She also wanted to explore how the friend zone can turn sinister after a very creepy personal experience.

Chelle asked whether the portrayal of sex is still taboo in YA. Laura said she was prepared that certain 'gatekeepers' such as librarians might be swayed by the sexual content. Laura said she had to stick to her guns, to present what it's really like to be a teenager. She wanted to create a safe space where teenagers can read about sex and start conversations.

Part of the inspiration for the book came from the fact that revenge porn (distributing sexually explicit images of someone without their consent) is illegal in the UK but not in some states. Laura wanted to set the book in one of these states but chose not to make this an explicit place.

Writing in Izzy's voice felt like a natural fit as she's a caricature of Laura. It was easy to come up with the voice. Izzy is a very funny character but she uses humour as a defence mechanism, and Laura wanted to unpick why she does that.

She wanted to write an extroverted character because often these are the mean girls or the side characters but not the main characters. Her favourite character to write was Betty, the awesome grandmother who is Izzy's primary carer and openly discusses sex with Izzy!

Laura intentionally included different types of humour in the book, such as Ajita's deadpan style. She wanted to write characters with distinctive voices, so if you took away the dialogue tag you would know who's speaking. Her aim was to write a book that would make her friends laugh! The beauty of writing comedy is that you can think about it and you don't need quick comebacks.

Her advice for writing humour is that giving ridiculous solutions to simple problems can be really funny! She also enjoys sarcasm, deadpan humour and satire, but it's hard to pinpoint sometimes exactly what makes a book funny.

The title came to Laura on that first day and a focus group of teens chose it over another title. The cover was designed by an illustrator that Laura really likes, who also illustrated Nicola Yoon's books. 

One of her favourite comedy books is Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging and she adores Georgia Nicolson as a character. Laura would have loved to collaborate with Louise Rennison, the author of this series.

Laura's Hogwarts house is either Ravenclaw or Slytherin. Her patronus would be some kind of dog, and her official Pottermore patronus is a Saint Bernard.

She's working on several projects including a sequel and a spin-off set five years later and starring Ajita's younger brother!

This event was fantastic fun, with many laughs and peanut butter cups had by all! I'm halfway through The Exact Opposite of Okay and it's my favourite contemporary that I've read in ages - it's laugh out loud funny and very real about what it's like to be a teenager. 

Friday, 6 April 2018

A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood – review

Publisher: Scholastic (July 2018)

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

Growing up in her sleepy Cornish village dreaming of being a writer, sixteen-year-old Lou has always wondered about the grand Cardew house which has stood empty for years. And when the owners arrive for the summer - a handsome, dashing brother and sister - Lou is quite swept off her feet and into a world of moonlit cocktail parties and glamour beyond her wildest dreams. But, as she grows closer to the Cardews, is she abandoning her own ambitions... and is there something darker lurking at the heart of the Cardew family? A gorgeously dreamy coming-of-age romance set against a stunning Gatsby-esque backdrop, this is perfect for fans of I Capture the Castle and Eva Ibbotson. (Publisher's blurb)

When I heard about this book at the Scholastic Bloggers' Brunch, I knew I had to read it. The dreamy summer setting really appealed to me, and when Laura Wood read the opening pages I was sold. It has ended up being the best historical YA I've ever read and I think it has something for all YA readers.

I absolutely adored the characters in this book. Lou is a fantastic protagonist, so full of spirit and dreams that I warmed to her immediately. Another strength is that all of the characters, even the minor ones, were interesting and multi-faceted. I'm a huge fan of YAs about families, and Lou's was a particularly brilliant one. This book really does have everything because there are some fantastic friendships too, especially between Lou and her older sister.

Another favourite character, and one deserving of his own paragraph, is Robert Cardew. It's a very long time since I've been so obsessed with a fictional character. He is the most swoonworthy lead imaginable and the romance in this book is perfection. 

The setting of this book was glorious, vividly evoking Cornwall and the time period. Many events of the story took place in either the glamorous Cardew house or Lou's close-knit family home, and both settings felt completely real to me.

To finish it off, the plot of this book is a perfect balance of sultry summer days, elaborate parties and enough conflict to keep it interesting. There were several questions for the reader to figure out and a very satisfying conclusion.

This book was an absolute pleasure to read. I can't remember having quite so much fun reading a book or becoming so involved in the world of the story. I can't wait to see what Laura Wood writes next, but in the meantime I'm going to pick up her Poppy Pym middle grade books. 

Monday, 2 April 2018

Blood Will Out by Jo Treggiari – review

Publisher: Penguin Random House (5th June 2018)

Trigger warnings: Animal cruelty and other graphic violence

Ari Sullivan is alive – for now.

She wakes at the bottom of a cistern, confused, injured and alone, with only the shadowy recollection of a low-pitched voice and a gloved hand. No one can hear her screams. And the person who put her there is coming back. The killer is planning a gruesome masterpiece, a fairytale tableau of innocence and blood, meticulously designed.

Until now, Ari was happy to spend her days pining for handsome, recent-arrival Stroud Bellows, fantasizing about their two-point-four-kids-future together. Safe in her small hometown of Dempsey Hollow. But now her community has turned very dangerous — and Ari may not be the only intended victim.

This book has been described as Silence of the Lambs for young adults and that description was enough to get my interest. I love YA thrillers and I found this a tense, intriguing read overall, although the comparison with Silence of the Lambs is a hard one to live up to.

I enjoyed the alternating perspectives between Ari and the killer's viewpoints, as it's not something I've seen done in many YA books. Some readers might find the killer's sections disturbing, especially in relation to animal cruelty. I felt that overall the killer's backstory added another dimension to the story, offering clues about who they might be.

The plot kept my interest and had some scary and unexpected twists. In my opinion, some of the characters' motivations were a little hard to follow, but I found Ari's reactions to the events convincing and I rooted for her as a character.

I read this book in a short time because the overarching mystery kept my interest and there were some tense moments. I'd recommend this if you're a fan of YA thrillers and I'll definitely look out for more books by Jo Treggiari.