Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Jinxed by Amy McCulloch – review

Lacey Chu has big dreams of working for the company behind the 'baku' - a customizable smart pet that functions as a phone but makes the perfect companion for its user. The only problem is, she's just been rejected from Profectus Academy - the elite academy for 
cutting-edge tech.

Then Lacey meets Jinx... Jinx is an incredibly advanced cat baku who opens up a world that Lacey never knew existed, including entry into the hallowed halls of Profectus. But what is Jinx, really? His abilities far surpass anything written into his coded. He seems to be more than just a robotic pet.

He seems ... real.

This is my favourite Amy McCulloch book yet! Jinxed is a fast-paced, inventive read with fantastic world building.

I'm a huge fan of books about girls in STEM and Jinxed took it a step further by having the main character, Lacey, look up to Monica Chan, a female CEO. Lacey is a brilliant main character who is smart, resourceful and relatable.

The world of this book was also vividly realised. I loved the idea of bakus and what it said about this society that a person's worth was measured by the baku they could afford. The elite academy setting is also a favourite of mine and Profectus was a fantastic backdrop for the story.

Another thing that really sets this book apart is the creativity of the technology. It's such a clever idea to combine the idea of a companion, similar to a daemon in His Dark Materials, with modern developments. The idea of artificial intelligence and what makes something 'alive' was definitely thought-provoking (and I hope some tech company reads it and finds a way to invent bakus).

Jinxed is an exciting start to the series and I'd love to see more YA books about tech. While I wait for the sequel, I think I'll finally read the Potion Diaries books, as I've heard amazing things about them too. 

Thank you so much to Simon & Schuster Children's UK for the gorgeous limited edition proof!

If you would like to read an extract from Jinxed, you can check out my blog tour post here. Please note that the giveaway has now ended.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Jinxed blog tour – extract and giveaway

Jinxed is one of my favourite books of the year so I'm excited to share an extract from Chapter 1 as part of the blog tour. Simon and Schuster have also offered a fantastic giveaway – a signed copy of The Potion Diaries and a copy of Jinxed! Head to the bottom of the post for details of how to enter.

Lacey Chu has big dreams of working for the company behind the  'baku' - a customizable smart pet that functions as a phone but makes the perfect companion for its user. The only problem is, she's just been rejected from Profectus Academy - the elite academy for cutting-edge tech. 

Then Lacey meets Jinx... Jinx is an incredibly advanced cat baku who opens up a world that Lacey never new existed, including entry into the hallowed halls of Profectus. But what is Jinx, really? His abilities far surpass anything written into his coded. He seems to be more than just a robotic pet.

He seems ... real.

Smoke rises from the tip of the soldering iron, my eyes watering as I stare at the motherboard through the microscope. I don’t dare to blink, not until I finish melting the silver solder with its rosin core flux into miniature peaks, connecting the loose components together.
I count the seconds in my head as the solder dries.
One, two . . .
The butterfly lifts its delicate mechanical wings, scalene triangles of filigree metal opening and closing as it runs through system checks. Whirr-click. A small vibration signals the ‘okay’.
‘Yes!’ I jump to my feet and dance, swaying my hips in time to the victory music in my head.
Mom rushes in from the kitchen. ‘You did it?’
‘Why don’t you check?’
She nods and says, ‘To me, Petal.’ It takes a second for the command to register, but the butterfly flaps its wings, lifting up to land on her hand. Mom’s face glows, reflecting back the stream of texts and emails that Petal projects on to the flat of her palm. ‘Looks to me like she works!’
I grin. ‘Okay, just one final thing.’ I take Petal from Mom, gently placing her back under my microscope as I sit back down in my chair. My work is flawless: so neat the repairs are barely visible. Taking it to the Moncha vet would have taken days (and cost a fortune), but I’ve finished in less than an hour.
Satisfied, I snap the casing back over the exposed electronics. ‘There. Good as new.’
‘Thank you, honey!’ Mom wraps her arms around me, planting multiple kisses on my forehead. I groan in mock-mortification, but my face heats up with the warmth of her praise.
It’s not that big a deal. I’ve had a lot of practice with Petal. The butterfly baku is one of the bestsellers for Mom’s demographic and insects in general are the least complex models on the market, offering the bare minimum of functions like text and talk, a browser, GPS. The butterfly is extra popular because of the ability to customize its wings. On the flip side, the wings are flimsy, prone to snapping with the tiniest snag, which in turn damages the internal electronics. Petal is a perfect example. She got caught when Mom unwound her scarf and her projector malfunctioned.
‘You’re welcome. Remember to unleash her as soon as you get inside next time.’
‘I don’t know what I’d do without you, Lacey. Your repair is better than what any of the vets could do.’ Mom smiles as Petal flies back up to settle on her shoulder, her hand still lingering on my back. ‘You find out today, don’t you?’
I cringe. I thought she had forgotten. To my surprise, even I’d managed to forget about it for an hour. Fixing things does that for me. My mind focuses in on the problem – in this case
a loose wire and a dodgy PCB connection – and the rest of the world falls away.
Even the fact that any minute now I’m going to receive the biggest news of my fifteen-year-old life.
‘Yup.’ All moisture evaporates from inside my mouth, and I try in vain to return the smile. I sense hesitation from Mom, her fingers drumming a pattern up and down my spine, so I stand up abruptly from my chair. ‘Better put this stuff away,’ I say, gesturing to the tangle of silver wire and machinery.
Mom gives me one final kiss on the top of my head. ‘Whatever happens, you’re still the best companioneer in this household.’ She heads over to the sink, Petal fluttering up to the leash behind her ear, where she plugs in to charge. Mom bobs her head in time to some invisible music, and I assume Petal has started streaming her favourite podcast.
I wipe the end of the soldering iron with a sponge and pack it away, closing the case with a decisive click. Some people ask for bikes or giftcards or books for their birthday. I asked for a soldering iron. I had researched a store on the outskirts of town that sold refurbished electrical tools and casually added it to Petal’s GPS database – and Mom had taken me there on my fourteenth birthday. Hey, Monica Chan – who invented the bakus and lent her name to Moncha Corp, now the largest tech firm in North America – had one when she was a teenager. I’d read that somewhere. If it’s good enough for her, it is for me too.
As Zora, my bff, would say, that doesn’t make you special – it just makes you weird.
She’s right.
I carry my kit and microscope back to my room. Mom normally hates it when I solder in the condo – the metallic smell seems to sink into everything, from the pillows on the sofa to the rice in the cooker – but when it’s her own baku that needs repairing she makes an exception.
That’s too often for my liking. The level 1 insect bakus are renowned for being a bit . . . buggy. If I had my choice, I know exactly what baku I would get. I’d go straight for one of the originals. One of the level 3 spaniel models, with cute floppy ears and a tail that works as a selfie stick. If I close my eyes, I picture hanging out with my baku in my room, teaching it to play games, helping me with my homework and cuddling up with it at night. But you only get a spaniel baku *if* you get into Profectus, my brain reminds me.
My dream school – Profectus Academy of Science and Technology – founded by Monica herself, and fully owned and operated as a division of Moncha Corp. I need the grant they offer incoming students who can’t afford the minimum level 3 baku. Otherwise, the only one I can afford is a puny level 1. Even though I’ve been eligible to get my first baku for a week (since I finished junior year for the summer), I’ve put off going to the Moncha Store until I found out about my admissions status.
I take a deep breath.
I’ve done everything I can to make it happen. I have near-perfect grades, checked off all the extra-curriculars, participated in science fairs and early bird band and volunteered for an environmental charity to pad out my resume.
Zora once told me I was a lock for a place because no one worked as hard for it as I did. If only it was that easy. It’s not like I’m Carter Smith, the son of Eric Smith – Monica’s business partner and co-founder of Moncha. Carter is also in our grade at St Agnes, and even though I beat him in all our classes, and in two science fairs, I know he’ll get in without a fight.
Whereas my dad . . .
I twist the ring on my finger, the only object I have left of him.
. . . is just a liability. I don’t let myself think about it any more. Besides, Mom and I, we owe Moncha everything. They gave us a place to live when Dad disappeared, gave Mom a job and provided childcare for me while she worked. Without Moncha, I wouldn’t have met Zora.
No matter what, I want to work for the company – I’d sweep Moncha floors if I had to, a practical dung beetle baku at my side. But if I truly let myself dream . . . I know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I don’t want to work for Moncha. I want to be Monica Chan. I want to be a companioneer, one of the people working on the bakus. I want to design new animals, innovate for existing ones, implement even more amazing features. Every day would be a challenge.

That extract makes me want to read the book all over again! For a chance to win your very own copy of Jinxed and a signed copy of The Potion Diaries, either comment on this blog post or head over to Twitter @yaundermyskin and follow the instructions in my pinned tweet. The giveaway ends on 23rd August at 8am GMT and the winner will be announced on Twitter. Good luck!

Show Stealer blog tour – Hayley Barker's tips for writers

I'm so pleased to share a guest blog from Hayley Barker as part of the Show Stealer blog tour. I've heard amazing things about this series so I think this might be the perfect time to start reading. Today, Hayley has some tips to share with aspiring writers. Since I'm about to embark on the terrifying world of querying agents, this post has come at the perfect time.

My top tips for aspiring writers

I still feel a bit ridiculous when anyone asks me what I do for a living and I self-consciously mumble that I’m an author. It’s not because I’m embarrassed about it –it’s the opposite. It’s the dream job, for me at least, and it seems as incredible that I should be describing it as my profession as it would if somebody was to tell casually me they were a rock star, or a Hollywood film producer or a bank robber.

Still, it happens to people and it’s happened to me--something I will forever feel blessed for. I’m not, as so many hilarious people often quip, about to become “the next JK Rowling,” but I do write for a living and my books are in shops and it’s more than I ever really thought possible.

So how the heck did it happen? Well, it was through hard work and a lot of luck. I’m a firm believer, though, in the old adage that you make your own luck. I took some steps and did some things that made all the difference for me – turning me from a girl who loved books into a woman who wrote them and here, for what it’s worth, are my five top tips for anyone who may be hoping to do the same.

1. Get the bloody thing written: sit down and keep pounding away on your keyboard until it’s done. Don’t worry about the bits that feel clunky and awkward or about the bits that don’t flow; write them anyway. Write those first words down and continue all the way through that difficult middle bit which feels like it lasts forever, until you reach the end. How many people start a book and never finish? I don’t know, but I reckon it’s a lot. If you can get the first draft down, you’re already further on the journey than most and you can worry about all the tricky bits after, which brings me nicely onto point 2…

2. Revise, revise, revise. Once you’ve finished the first draft, leave it alone for at least a month. When you do go back to it, be ruthless with yourself. You can’t afford to be too sentimental or precious: chop out whole scenes--whole characters even-- if you know in your heart that they aren’t strong enough. Tweak and polish and refine until you’re happy, and then do it again…and again…and again. Until you find yourself an agent and a publisher, you need to be your own editor. Look at the big picture first and, once you’ve got that right, you can start to massage the finer details. Don’t even think about sending that manuscript off to anyone until you know that it’s the very, very best thing you’ve ever written and it can’t get any better. That’s not true, of course–you’ll end up transforming it all over again when you get your book deal--but that’s another story.

3. Go to a writer’s festival. I went to the Winchester one and, I can honestly say, it changed my life. There are lots of wonderful things about the experience, but the best of all is that you get to make 1-1 appointments with publishers and agents. They’ll look at your work in advance and they’ll talk to you about it and offer you their invaluable advice. Even if they don’t want to represent you, they’ll tell you if you’re going along the right lines and make suggestions as to what you need to do to move things along to the next step. Listen to what they say: It’s bloody scary, but it’s necessary and if most, or all, of them say the same thing about your work, it’s probably true. Plus, you’ll get to meet lots of other people there who have the same passion as you, and that leads me on to point four….

4. Find your people. Maybe, amongst your friends and family, you sometimes feel a bit of an anomaly. Maybe you’re the only one of who you who has this strange compulsion to write; the only one who dreams with a pen in their hand. You aren’t an anomaly though, and you aren’t alone, not if you don’t want to be. Going to writers’ festivals, joining local groups or connecting with the army of writers on Twitter and Instagram will help you find your tribe. People who know what rejection feels like because they’re going through it themselves maybe, or, more positively, have come out of the other side: who’ve been on a journey a bit like yours and who will help to guide you along the path if they can, or maybe just hold your hand through the tricky part if they can’t.

5. Be resilient. Just like Robert the Bruce’s spider, try, try and try again. Nobody said this would be easy and nobody said it would be without heartbreak. It’s worth it though, I promise you, and it’s yours if you don’t give up. Listen to feedback, even if it’s not always positive, and look at your work gain. Take every rejection, and there are bound to be some, maybe even many, and let it make you stronger. You’ll get there, I know you will.

Thanks so much for sharing your tips Hayley, and thank you to Scholastic for inviting me to join this blog tour! If you'd like to follow the other stops on the tour, you can check them out below.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

One Would Think the Deep – review and giveaway

It's 1997 and Sam is supposed to be going into Year Twelve, Year Twelve, listening to Jeff Buckley far too loud and staying out skating with his friends until late. But instead, after the death of his mother, he finds himself moving from Sydney to the coast to live with estranged cousins Minty and Shane. Confused, alone and grieving, Sam starts surfing with Minty to ease the static in his head. But out of the water, he finds hostility and suspicion practically vibrating from every corner. What exactly happened seven years ago that tore such a rift in the family? In the face of hostility and loss, Sam is able to escape in the water – and even in love. Will he find a way through? Will he sink or swim?

This book represented a lot of firsts for me. Although I love surfing, I've never read a book about it. It's also my first Australian YA book and is about grief, a subject matter I sometimes avoid.

I think the treatment of grief is one reason why I enjoyed this book so much. Sometimes, I find books about the grieving process too difficult to read, but this handled the subject with an incredible degree of sensitivity and realism. It also felt uplifting and I took the message from it that grief is only one part of you, and that it's possible to grieve and have hope.

The setting was also beautifully described, as evidenced by how much I want to visit Australia now. It also captured the sensations of surfing using sensory, visceral descriptions.

I really liked these characters and felt that the writing revealed their qualities and backstories in a gradual way that kept my interest. The question about Sam's family history also added another level of intrigue.

This book has made me more open to reading books about difficult subject matters, if they're given as much empathetic treatment as they are in this case. One Would Think the Deep is an incredibly written, evocative book that engaged a whole range of my emotions. 

Thank you so much to Raven Books for asking me to review One Would Think the Deep. I'll definitely seek out more books from your imprint and from Australian authors.  

The amazing people at Raven Books have given me an extra copy to give away. Head over to my Twitter account (@yaundermyskin) or comment below to enter. The giveaway is open internationally and ends on 22nd August at 8am GMT. Good luck!

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Guest post - A Sky Painted Gold nail art

I'm thrilled to feature a guest post from Demet at 'Books polished' about her amazing nail art designs inspired by book covers. Today, Demet will take us through how she created stunning nail art based on the cover for A Sky Painted Gold, one of my favourite books. Thank you so much Demet for sharing your nail art secrets!

This is my workplace. It's a mess, but it's mine.
I usually have either an audiobook running or, as in this case, a Netflix show.
If you are wondering what I'm watching here, it's the second season of "Anne with an E" and spoiler: it is gooood!

1. I always start with blank nails and a coat of base coat.
If you want your nail polish to last, this stop is vital.
And before you ask: Yes, these are my natural nails. Yes, they are a bit yellow because I paint them so often. No, they do not hinder me in any daily activity.

2. Next step is putting down the base colour.
People always tell me that they "can't even paint [their nails] in one colour" and
this picture is to show you: I can't either.

3. But since I know how to clean them up, I don't even care.
Tip: a flat brush (like an angled eyeliner brush) and nail polish remover can go a
long way! If you don't have a brush, a Q-tip also works well.

4. In a lot of cases, I paint the base colour, top coat it and come back another day
to finish the design. This is because I generally work very slow and I'm trying to
not stay up too late, 'just' to paint my nails. But also because some of the base colours require several coats of polish and this way get a better chance to dry.
In this case, I also broke the nail on my pointer finger and had to file it down and re-paint... Screw you big Elvis book which I was trying to get off the shelf!

5. Most of the design for this mani consists of dots.

6. Dots over dots over dots.

7. Things like this can get quite messy, so I like to go in with the base
colour again and clear the design up a bit.

8. Next to a base coat, the other vital thing to make a manicure last? Top Coat!
And I always say, especially with a more complicated mani: top coat as you go!
So when you are done with the design of one nail: top coat it. It seals the design in and makes it dry faster, which reduces the chance of you smudging it. And trust me, the last thing you want to do, after spending a lot of time on a mani, is smudge it...

9. Next up is the figure of a girl standing in the water.
As this is the most complex part of this mani, I wanted to get her out of the way.
First: I did a rough sketch of the figure in gold.

10. Then I painted in the top of her dress again in dark blue, to give her a sharper outline.
11. Next, I went back to the hair, switching between blue and gold, trying to get the shading right and to give the hair more volume.

12. The last step was to set her outline, by putting in the dots symbolising the
water around her body.
13. Top Coat. And another nail done.

14. Now that she is out of the way, we are going back to painting dots.

15. And even more dots.

16. Basically, aaaall the dots. Even in different sizes!

17. In between and at the end, I switch between the gold and the dark blue to clean the design up a bit. To make some dots more round and to let others who ended up in the wrong spot, vanish completely.

18. At some point during this, the changes are so small, that probably
no one will appreciate them except for me.
But Hey! I'm the one who sees them all the time, so that is just fair.
Even though I have to say, there is a point where you have to stop yourself from
doing more and more changes and just call it a night.
But that's the case for so many things in life.

19. In case you are wondering what I do with slightly dried nail polish on my brush:
I clear most of it off pretty quick with my fingers and if I change colours, I will
then also clean the brush with Acetone. This is how my fingers look, after something like this. Even though I have to say, I cleaned them in between, so this is not all.
Note: If you do use Acetone to clean your skin, please remember to put lotion on them after or even nail oil.It dries your skin really badly!

20. All the utensils I used for this design!
That is: 100% Acetone, a stamper that I use as a pallet (because it's cheap and easy to clean), gold and dark blue nail polish, quick dry top coat, base coat and nail polish remover pads to clean the stamper. And in the front, you can see my clean-up brush with my detail brush behind it.

I'm fascinated by the amount of effort and skill that goes into this process! Thanks again for sharing, Demet. Check out Demet's Instagram here for the stunning finished product. You can also find Demet on Twitter @books_polished.