Tuesday, 31 July 2018

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera – review

In the months after his father's suicide, it's been tough for sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again--but he's still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he's slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron's crew notices, and they're not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can't deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can't stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

This is my first Adam Silvera book, and I'm thrilled that I get to go back now and read his others. This is contemporary YA at its absolute best, with a brilliant voice and plenty of heartache.

It's rare for a book to evoke the setting and characters so vividly. I could picture the estate where Aaron lived and even the most minor characters were captured perfectly. Details about Aaron were revealed gradually, so it felt like I knew him really well but the narrative wasn't overpowered by backstory.

The relationships in this book were also realistically complicated and 'gut-wrenching' (as it's so accurately described on the cover). There was a definite sense of realism, with no characters that fit into labelled boxes or storylines that were all neatly tied up by the end.

One of the most inventive aspects was the sci-fi element surrounding the intriguing Leteo Institute. It's fascinating to experience a world so much like ours with one major scientific advancement that influences the plot and characters so fundamentally.

Reading this book was an emotional experience and I can't recommend it strongly enough.  

Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster for the review copy! 

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Splinter blog tour – Joshua Winning's favourite YA trilogies

With Joshua's Winning's critically acclaimed Sentinel Trilogy coming to an end with Splinter, it's a pleasure to host a guest post from Joshua as he shares his favourite YA trilogies of all time. 

Favourite YA trilogies
by Joshua Winning

It seems like the YA trilogy is a dying breed at the moment, but it shouldn’t be! I grew up on them, devouring everything from The Whitby Series to RL Stine’s The Babysitter books (which then unexpectedly turned into a quadrilogy!).

I love the way trilogies work: the best ones deliver three distinct stories while telling an overarching story that ties everything together. They’re also, as I discovered with The Sentinel Trilogy, massively complicated to write. There were times I despaired and wondered what monstrous thing I had created. But when I finished up edits on the final book, Splinter, I felt a quiet sense of pride at having done it. I made it to the end, and I think the final book is a corker.

In celebration of the books I love, and that showed me the way, here are my favourite YA trilogies...

Tales from the Wyrd Museum by Robin Jarvis

Robin Jarvis is my hero. He’s the reason I write fantasy, and he’s pretty much entirely responsible for developing my vocabulary as a teenager (the man loves a long word). This series interweaves Norse mythology with grubby British history, plus a talking raven you can’t help falling in love with, and some of the most beautiful language I’ve ever read. The Raven’s Knot, the second in the series, is my favourite, mostly because I love the idea of the terrifying crow women.

Half Bad by Sally Green

I devoured the first book in two days. It was the first time that had happened since I was a teenager, and it revitalised my love for reading and fantasy. Sally Green has talked about knowing how to write gritty tales, and she’s completely right – Half Bad is dark and upsetting in places, but there’s hope as well. I also shipped the Nathan/Gabriel relationship HARD (in fact, this series directly helped me feel brave enough to spell out the fact that the hero in Sentinel is queer), and there are so many images from this series that have stuck with me.

The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan

My old housemate recommended this to me a few years ago when we lived together and I remember being totally hooked on them. Sonea is a fantastic heroine and I loved watching her come into her own over the course of the books. These books are LONG but they’re so wonderfully textured, and I love the way Canavan describes magic.

Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

When I stumbled across the Grisha Trilogy, it had been a while since I’d read any ‘high fantasy’. I was lured in by the concept of a world inspired by Russian culture, and I loved Alina from the start. Book two, Siege And Storm, lost me a little in the middle, but book three came back with a bang and sent the trilogy on its way brilliantly. I’ve just started Six Of Crows, too, and I’m loving being back in that world.

Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness can do no wrong. He’s got this insane ability to marry plot with character and devastating emotion, which is probably why he’s so successful. The Chaos Walking trilogy is him doing ‘epic’, and doing it ridiculously well. I don’t think I’ve wanted to howl with laughter and then with outrage more with any other series – there’s a death at the end of book one that still haunts me. Damn you, Ness!

Thank you so much Joshua! That post has given me a mixture of nostalgic feelings (where are my old Point Horror books?) and some new additions for the teetering TBR pile.

I'm in need of a fantasy series and I love discovering one that's completed so I don't have to wait! The ebook for Sentinel, the first book in the series, is currently 99p, so this is the perfect time to give them a try! 

Check out the banner below for the other stops on the blog tour.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Empire of Silence blog tour – Q and A with Christopher Ruocchio

I'm thrilled to be on the blog tour for Empire of Silence. There's been so much buzz about this book online and I can't wait to get my own copy. Thank you Christopher for joining me on the blog today!

Tell us about your book and your main character.

Empire of Silence is a classic space opera adventure crossed with epic fantasy. Set in the very remote future, it’s the story of a war between humanity’s vast, interstellar empire and an invading horde of aliens called the Cielcin. It is also the story of Hadrian Marlowe, the son of a wealthy but minor aristocrat who rejects his place in the hierarchy and his father’s plans for him and who—despite his best intentions—gets swept up into this war and ends up becoming the man who ends it all. That’s not a spoiler. The book’s written as a memoir, like Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. For Hadrian, the past is already written, but these books are his attempt to set the record straight, to tell his side of the story. Hadrian’s a bit Lord Byron, a bit T.E. Lawrence: a sometimes-brooding, sometimes-laughingly charismatic, always dramatic sort who—like the Luke Skywalker of old—attempts to do the right thing  because, at the heart of things, he’s a deeply decent person. The world is not often kind to such people, of course, and road is long and terrible. This is a book and a series for people that like deep worldbuilding and narratives heavy on character. If you’re looking for a book and universe to sink your teeth into: this is it.

It’s really interesting that Empire of Silence draws elements from different genres. Was this a conscious decision? How did you go about it?

No, it happened quite unconsciously. There’s a Japanese RPG for the Nintendo Gamecube called Tales of Symphonia that came out when I was around 11 or 12 years old, and it’s set in this very medieval-seeming world with swords and crossbows; the main character is raised by a dwarf. As the game progresses more and more science fictional elements appear: spaceships, parallel dimensions, genetic experimentation, and so on. I saw no reason why these elements should be kept apart, so Empire is a science fictional story written like a fantasy epic. The truth is, I think that genre distinctions are only useful for booksellers. They want to know which books have spaceships and which ones have wizards and whether those wizards live in Minas Tirith or Chicago. But I think there’s a danger there. Fandoms seem increasingly atomic and walled-off from one another to me. I know SF fans who won’t read fantasy, and epic fantasy fans who won’t read urban fantasy. It reminds me of the way metal music fans might listen to, say, only power metal, but not black metal, for example. And one consequence of that is that while the genres get smaller and tailor themselves to more and more dedicated, loyal audiences, fewer and fewer works get read by everyone. Genre is a menu system, but the problem with menus is that most of us just buy our favorite thing at the restaurant every time we go. I hope that either Empire is a strange enough combination to be someone’s new favorite thing, or that it’s familiar enough in one or two different ways that some fans will open the first page and feel like they’ve come home for the first time.

What is your writing process? Do you have any tips or rituals that work for you?

I’m afraid I’m terribly boring, truth be told. I’ve never understood these writers who can only write in a specific way in a specific place by the light of a specific moon. I try to think of writing as a job. I do have to wake up and start at the beginning of the day, or else nothing will get done, but beyond that I try and sit down and do 2000 words a day. I also work full time as an editor at Baen Books in the US, so most days I get about half my writing done between 6 and 8 AM, before work, and the rest when I get home in the evening. The only thing I think that might be unusual about me is that I insist on reading everything aloud as I compose it. I’m a very auditory person, so I find it’s easier to think that way, but hearing your work said aloud will not only help you catch errors, but it is also the case that good writing must sound good. If you’ve written a bad sentence, your ears will absolutely let you know.

Where did your idea come from?

Not from any one particular place. I’ve been heavily inspired by the space opera of the ‘60s and ‘80s, but as I’ve mentioned I’ve been influenced by certain video games (like the aforementioned Tales of Symphonia), and anime/manga series like Cowboy Bebop and Berserk. I’m also a huge fan of classic literature: from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Luo Guanzhong. History itself provides a lot of inspiration, from the history of the Roman and Byzantine empires, to classical Persia and China, to the history of the great empires of the last millennium. I was also raised Roman Catholic, and though the question of what I believe or don’t believe—or what belief even means—is something that it would take far more than a blog post to unpack, it is fair to say that my religious upbringing has played a role in shaping the person and the writer I am today (but fear not, Empire is not a religious book in any way). So what I hope I’ve done is borrow a piece or two from all these works and traditions which have impacted me and hammered all these different metals together into something both familiar and new. And I hope everyone likes it!

Who was your favourite character to write and why?

Well, not counting Hadrian, it’s hard to say. Hadrian’s tutor, Gibson, was particularly fun. Older mentor characters are a tired trope, perhaps, but a classic, and he gave me an excuse to get in some good Socratic banter. There’s also Valka, who I wouldn’t necessarily characterize as my favorite to write more than she was a complete nightmare. She’s a sort of alien archaeologist and Hadrian’s intellectual foil—they disagree on nearly everything, which causes every scene they’re in together to multiply in complexity. Nonetheless, I think the end result was worth the headache. She may not be my favorite to write, but she is among my favorite characters to have written—if that makes any sense. I will also add that there’s a character who doesn’t appear until book two that was an absolute joy to write: so that will give you all a little something else to look forward to down the road.

Why do you think sci-fi and fantasy are such popular genres?

This is one of those questions that could get me into trouble! I think that human beings need some sort of mythology to embed their lives in and to help give them meaning. For most of history and for most people today, that purpose was filled by religion. A lot of people today have a hard time with classical religions, for one reason or another, and genre fiction these days seems a more palatable way for people to inhabit a mythological way of thinking. People relate their day-to-day struggles to the lives of characters in Harry Potter, for example, treating Harry, Ron, and Hermione almost like patron saints. People talk quite casually about their struggles “with the Dark Side” or attend festivals/conventions in costume. Fandoms look very much like pagan ritual cults in the Greek sense, with initiation rituals and gatekeepers and even orthodox beliefs (just look at the huge schism breaking up Star Wars fandom right now over The Last Jedi). Mind you, none of this is to disparage either religion or fandom: I think they’re all descriptions of whatever the deep truth about human nature is (and we do have a nature, it’s not all a matter of opinion or acculturation). It’s only that some of these mythologies are more complete and accurate descriptions of the human condition than others. Obviously a single book written by a single 22-year-old is going to be less nuanced and impactful than a 2000-year-old tradition touched and edited by millions of hands, but that doesn’t mean they don’t speak to the same needs.

Can you give us any hints what's next in the series?

Well, I’ve already finished book two, which is a good deal darker than the first book. It sees us leave the relative stability and decency of the Sollan Empire for the frontier and the horror that lies beyond. If this first book is my love letter to ‘60s and ‘80s space opera, this second one is a strange mix of Gothic horror and cyberpunk...in space. The second volume is much heavier on the action, much heavier on the space travel, there’s more aliens, more mysteries, and more deaths. It was an absolute joy to write and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone here in a year or so.

Finally, if you could visit anywhere on Earth or in the Universe, where would you go?

Most of all, I’d like to go to Italy. My family came to America from Benevento at the very start of the 20th century, and I’ve never been myself. I’d love to go to Rome and to Florence in particular. I’d love to do a circuit of the eastern Mediterranean one day: Athens, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Alexandria—given how much I adore classical history—but I don’t know if I’m that ambitious a traveler. As for other places in the universe...I’m not too sure I would leave Earth, given the chance. Everything I know about space travel makes it sound extremely onerous and unpleasant, and the truth is that I’m happy to watch our progress in space from the green hills of Earth, but I do hope that in my lifetime we put men and women on Mars and the moons of Jupiter. The photographs alone would be something to see.

I want to read this book even more now after that interview! Some great writing tips and tantalising teasers about what's coming next in the series as well. Thank you Christopher for your answers and to Gollancz for inviting me to join the blog tour.

To see where the blog tour is going next, check out this banner: 

Blog tour review – Theatrical by Maggie Harcourt

I'm so grateful to Usborne for including me on this blog tour. This book was an absolute delight to read and it evoked the world of theatre brilliantly.

Hope dreams of working backstage in a theatre, and she's determined to make it without the help of her famous costume-designer mum. So when she lands an internship on a major production, she tells no one. But with a stroppy Hollywood star and his hot young understudy upstaging Hope's focus, she's soon struggling to keep her cool...and her secret.

One of my earliest memories is going to the theatre with my grandad. I loved curling up against him to watch Carousel, The King and I, The Mikado and countless other musicals. Even better were the ones where I got to see him onstage as part of the local amateur performances. My grandma used to handle the props, so from behind the wings, I would get swept away in the stories at the same time as seeing how the elusive magic came together. Since then, my love of the theatre has only grown, taking me to Broadway to watch Wicked and the West End for The Cursed Child.

This was one of the reasons I enjoyed Theatrical so much. It perfectly captured the many ingredients and hours of work that go into a theatre production, which come together to create a mesmerising performance. All of the little details that went into Theatrical made it such an authentic representation of theatre.

An amazing play needs a cast to bring it to life, and I thought the characters in Theatrical were brilliant. I really responded to Hope as a main character. It's clear what she wants and I was cheering for her to succeed in her internship. Tommy Knight was my other favourite character. He went on a really interesting journey as a character and I'm always there for the loveable rogue!

This is my first Maggie Harcourt book and I swiftly bought her others after reading Theatrical. This book is sweet, entertaining and romantic, and it was impossible to stop reading.

If you'd like to follow the other tour stops, you can check out the handy banner below. It'd be great to hear about your favourite plays or experiences in the theatre. Leave me a comment or find me for a #Theatrical chat on Twitter!

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Guest Post – A Tour of Seven Literary Wonders by Kim Culbertson

I'm thrilled to feature a guest post from Kim Culbertson today, author of The Wonder of Us, a fantastic story of travel and friendship that's perfect for the summer. There are few things I love more than travelling, but sometimes disappearing into an evocative literary setting is just as good. 

A Tour of Seven Literary Wonders

I love to travel pretty much anywhere. No matter how short or far the distance, I see traveling as leaving a regular place to explore a different one. Whether I fly to Hawaii or take a one hour drive in any direction from my small, Northern California town, I know I will see something I haven’t seen before, something that has the potential to change the way I see the world around me. Lucky for me (and my bank account), this type of magic also happens when I’m reading. In honor of my YA novel The Wonder of Us, where my two characters, Abby and Riya, go on a grand tour of Europe in hope of finding new wonders in their life, here are Seven Literary Wonders, a literary grand tour of sorts, that never fail to pilot me into beautiful, distinctive worlds.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

I will read anything by Ruta Sepetys, who always vaults me into a richly examined historical place in her novels, but I am partial to Out of the Easy. Set in the 1950s French Quarter of New Orleans, Sepetys’s story of young Josie, the daughter of a prostitute, transported me to a rich, sultry land of mystery, but its strength is in its beautifully written account of a young girl trying to live life on her own terms, always my favorite sort of story.

Three Junes by Julia Glass

Set in Greece, Scotland, Greenwich Village, and Long Island, each phase of Glass’s story takes place in a different month of June. It is a story of family and self – marriage, betrayal, secrets, joy – all shaped through the crystalline lens of Glass’s extraordinary sentences.

Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill

On a class trip to London, accident prone, straight-A student Julia is partnered with an unlikely boy – the class clown. Hijinks ensue. This is my favorite sort of YA novel and Lauren is just so good at it. Often when I need a feel-good book, I reach for one set in London. For me, if comfort food were a city, it would be London.

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

Speaking of comfort food (and I mean that with the highest respect as a writer!), when I need to get away, I reach for the Nantucket settings of Elin’s books. And this one is a murder mystery at a wedding. I love books about weddings gone wrong and I love books set on islands – put them together and you have The Perfect Couple. It is hard to write compulsively readable books year after year and Elin Hilderbrand somehow keeps doing it.

Little Do We Know by Tamara Ireland Stone

The power of place doesn’t have to be expansive or on far island shores or in a big city. It can also be two homes side by side that hold two friends who have fallen apart. Obviously I am a huge fan of friendship stories (or I wouldn’t have written The Wonder of Us) and Tamara’s YA novel is an intricate, beautiful look at female friendship.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

This was one of my favorite novels I read in the last year. I’m a sucker for travel-that-challenges-and-changes-us books, especially when they are witty (David Nicholl’s Us also falls into this category for me). These books are always among my favorites (I’ve even attempted to write a couple), but this novel felt especially successful because it explored the need to make sense of our own stories amid the larger backdrop of a turbulent world, and then, ultimately, realize we are fools if we don’t recognize the good stuff already present in our lives. That this hopeful, lovely novel won the Pulitzer gives me hope for the whole literary world.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

I love Matt Haig’s work – especially The Humans and How to Stop Time, but I keep a copy of Reasons to Stay Alive near to me so I can read a few short chapters anytime I feel anxious or down or just need to vault myself into a place of knowingness – and that is how Matt’s book feels. Like a hug that says, hey, I get it, I know how that feels. That’s what most of my favorite reading ends up being for me in the long run – an unknown place that eventually feels like home.

Thank you so much Kim for sharing that brilliant post and such a range of recommendations with wonderful settings! 

Look out for my review of The Wonder of Us, and thank you to Walker Books for the book.