Monday, 27 May 2019

The Kingdom blog tour – Jess Rothenberg Q&A

It's great to join the blog tour for The Kingdom, as I had so much fun reading this book! It has a fast-paced narrative interspersed with court transcripts, interviews and other interesting snippets. It's also told from the very unique perspective of an AI character. I'll hand over to Jess now, to explain a bit more about this brilliant book.

Tell us about The Kingdom.

The Kingdom is a blend of sci-fi, fantasy, romance, and courtroom thriller—think Westworld meets Disney World meets the Serial podcast for teens—and is set in a futuristic theme park where seven half-human, half-android Fantasists (picture Disney princesses, but bioengineered with advanced artificial intelligence) have been created to make guests’ wildest dreams come true, no matter what. But when one of the Kingdom’s most beloved Fantasists, Ana, is accused of murdering a young park employee named Owen she ignites the trial of the century. Did she do it? Could she do it? The truth is dangerous… and nobody wants the Kingdom to fall.

What inspired the futuristic subject matter?

Well, the initial inspiration behind the book is that my mom worked at Disney one summer when she was in college, and I always loved her stories of what really went on behind the scenes. The idea of this happy, perfect-seeming fantasy land with plenty of secrets lurking below the surface has always stuck with me.

But in terms of The Kingdom’s futuristic elements, I’ve always been a bit of a pop science nerd and can’t help feeling both fascinated and a little bit terrified of how reliant we’ve all become upon our technology—and how quickly that technology seems to be changing, learning, evolving. What might this all look like in another fifty years or even less? It honestly doesn’t feel like that much of a stretch to imagine the line between humanity and technology becoming blurred to the point where the current code of ethics no longer quite applies. I mean, I already feel guilty every time I forget to “feed” (i.e. charge) my son’s surprisingly cute toy robot, Cozmo. But what will happen when the robot eventually looks and acts like a real dog? Or when Alexa starts to know us better than our own family members? Or when Apple introduces its first ‘iFriend’ home assistant? To me, a dazzling, Disney-esque theme park of the future seemed a really fun and potentially scary setting to explore some of those questions.

The Kingdom has a very interesting narrative structure, with the first person narrative interspersed with trial transcripts. What made you decide on this structure?

I’ve always enjoyed stories that don’t quite follow the rules—books that blend genre and include mixed-media as part of their narrative structure. Ultimately, I wanted the read to feel as immersive as the park itself—experiencing Ana’s unique point of view as a Fantasist while simultaneously puzzling though the clues alongside members of the court to decide whether or not she is guilty (or even capable) of murder.

Can you recommend any other YA with science-fiction elements?

I’m a big fan of The Illuminae Files, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. With its wildly creative mixed-media format (think hacked documents, military and medical records, emails, messages and maps) it’s truly a reading experience unlike any other. I also adore Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza.

Can you give any writing advice to aspiring authors?

Make writing part of your daily routine. Try not to think about it too much, just sit down and begin. When it’s hard, take a walk, brainstorm with friends, have a dance party in your pajamas, and remind yourself why you wanted to be a writer in the first place: the magic, the fun, the joy, the connection. And when you’re not writing, read!

If you could create any ride in a theme park, what would it be and why?

I’d take Soarin’ at Epcot to the next level—just you, no hang glider—so you’d get to experience the insanely thrilling sensation of flying over cities, forests, oceans, pretty much anywhere on earth. In other words, the greatest flying dream brought to life. Just make sure you book a fast pass!

Will there be a sequel to The Kingdom? What are you working on next?

For now, The Kingdom is a standalone novel. But Ana’s world has plenty of possibility. You never know what might happen…. J

Thanks so much for answering my questions, Jess! A lot of those inspirations about the scary potential of AI and a dystopian Disneyland definitely came through the plot. I really hope there is a sequel!

If you're a fan of fun, high-tension YA sci-fi, I'd definitely recommend checking out The Kingdom.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Meat Market by Juno Dawson – review

Jana Novak's history sounds like a classic model cliché: tall and gangly, she's uncomfortable with her androgynous looks until she's unexpectedly scouted and catapulted to superstardom.

But the fashion industry is as grimy as it is glamorous. And there are unexpected predators at every turn.

Jana is an ordinary girl from a south London estate, lifted to unimaginable heights. But the further you rise, the more devastating your fall...

Content warnings: sexual assault, drug use, bullying and eating disorders

Every book I read by Juno Dawson just seems to get better and better. Meat Market is brutally honest, brilliantly written and will take you through every emotion.

The voice is one of my favourite parts about this book. Jana feels like a real person and it's like you're living every up and down of the story with her. The dialogue is punchy and realistic, and there are so many memorable characters.

I read this book in less than 24 hours because I had to know what happened. The plot delves unflinchingly into what the fashion industry is like and some scenes are really hard to read. I thought it was great that Meat Market explores the good things about the industry too and that it emphasises how people have the power to change things for the better.

This is one of the best books I've read this year and a week after finishing, I'm still thinking about it. It made me laugh, cry and ultimately feel really uplifted. Thanks Ed Public Relations for the review copy!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Beauty Sleep blog tour – My favourite YA sci-fi

I'm so happy to join the blog tour for Beauty Sleep with a post about my favourite YA sci-fi books. Beauty Sleep is a brilliant blend of sci-fi, dystopia and thriller, and I couldn't stop reading it! The characters and voice are great, and it's one of those rare books where I had no idea what was going to happen. The lovely people at Usborne have given me an extra copy of the book and a Beauty Sleep pocket mirror to give away. Comment on this post or head over to my Twitter (@yaundermyskin) to enter.

I've been a huge fan of sci-fi books and movies for as long as I can remember. I love sci-fi that feels unsettlingly familiar and possible, yet just beyond the bounds of our current technology. I'm also obsessed with books that delve into new worlds, and technology I can barely imagine. 

That's why my favourite sci-fi author is Lauren James. Lauren creates worlds that are disturbingly believable and tense plots, underpinning everything with science. Her characters are some of the most authentic and likeable that I've ever encountered, and I love how she weaves social media into her stories.

Two of my favourite books of all time are YA sci-fi written by Lauren James: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and The Quiet at the End of the World.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is the story of Romy, the only surviving crew-member on a spaceship bound for a new home for humanity. She has no contact with anyone until she hears from a new ship that has left Earth, with a boy called J onboard. 

I loved this book so much because, like Beauty Sleep, it draws on the best elements from several genres, and I had no idea how it was going to end. The voice is YA at its best, fresh and relatable, and Romy is one of my favourite characters. Her reactions are understandable and it feels like you know her by the end of the book.

The science is another great thing about Lauren's writing. It manages to be accessible at the same time as being technical, well-researched and believable. Everything about the ship and the technology Romy used felt authentic.

The Quiet at the End of the Universe is another stunningly written book, about two teens who know they are the last surviving members of the human race. 

The portrayal of what the planet would be like after humans is eerily realistic, as is the technology still used by Lowrie and Shen.

The use of social media in this book is very creative too, as the protagonists are able to understand the decline of humanity through the social media posts of people who went through it.

Books like those written by Kathryn Evans and Lauren James remind me of why I enjoy sci-fi so much. If you'd like to share your favourite sci-fi titles, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

You can follow the other stops on the blog tour for Beauty Sleep using the banner for below. Thank you to Usborne for including me on the blog tour, and for gifting the books for giveaway and review!

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett – review

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately...

This was my first Jenn Bennett book and I loved it! The combination of romantic contemporary and mystery worked great together and felt very fresh.

The characters were my favourite thing about this book. Birdie's love of mysteries was a lovely touch set against the mysteries in the hotel. I really liked how each character had a believable backstory and not everyone turned out as I expected.

The Seattle setting was really great too. I love it when I've visited a place and an author captures it so perfectly! There was a mixture of real Seattle landmarks as well as those in the world of the book.

I also liked how Serious Moonlight didn't shy away from serious subjects, including the tragic history and losses suffered by some characters. I also appreciated how it had a character with narcolepsy and another who is deaf in one ear, as I haven't come across enough YA books that explore those conditions.

Serious Moonlight
has a compelling plot, and I enjoyed trying to figure out the mystery just as much as I was into the romance. If you're a fan of authors like TE Carter and Adam Silvera, I'd definitely check it out.

The Unadjusteds cover reveal

I'm so happy to join the cover reveal for The Unadjusteds, an exciting YA sci-fi title that's due to be published on 1st November. Look how gorgeous it is!

Sixteen-year-old Silver Melody lives in a world where 80% of the population has modified their DNA. Known as the altereds, those people now possess enhancements like wings, tails, and increased strength or intelligence. Although Silver’s parents created the nanite pill used to deliver these genetic modifications, Silver is proud of her unadjusted state. However, when the president declares all unadjusteds must take a nanite, Silver has no choice but to flee the city with her father and some friends to prevent the extinction of the unadjusteds.

With Silver’s mother in prison for treason, Silver’s father is the unadjusteds’ only hope at finding a cure. But time is running out as Silver’s father is captured by the president’s almost immortal army. Vicious hellhounds are on Silver’s trail, and her only chance to recover her father involves teaming up with a new group of unlikely friends before all humanity is lost.

Author Bio:
MARISA NOELLE is a writer of young adult and middle grade novels. She leans towards grounded science-fiction, urban fantasy and paranormal but mental health issues are important to her writing too.
Her first book, THE SHADOW KEEPERS is due out JULY 30TH 2019 and her second, THE UNADJUSTEDS, NOVEMBER 1ST 2019. There is also a forthcoming series, THE MERMAID CHRONICLES: SECRETS OF THE DEEP, due at the end of 2019.
Marisa had plenty of ideas for career and still regrets not moving to Hawaii to train dolphins and pretend the real world didn't exist. Struggling with anxiety led her to the field of psychology. Heavily influenced by underdog movies such as The Karate Kid she realized her mission in life was to help other people, through any medium. Embarking on a psychology degree, she wanted to emulate her hero, Jodie Foster, from Silence of the Lambs and actually tried to secure work experience at Broadmoor. Thankfully she left the idea of criminal profiling behind, but uses many of these aspects in her novels.
Now a full-time novelist, she lives in Surrey, UK with her husband and three children.


Sunday, 5 May 2019

All We Could Have Been blog tour – guest post

All We Could Have Been is a gripping book and I'm thrilled to join the blog tour with a guest post from T.E. Carter. You can check out my review here

Why did you want to become an author? What made you sit down and start writing?

To be totally honest, I’m still on the fence about whether or not I want to be an author. I have always enjoyed stories and storytelling, and I admired authors when I was younger. It almost felt unreal that people just sat down and wrote these things that became living and breathing entities. That said, I had a phase where I was fully committed to being an author. I wrote and queried and rewrote and requeried and did all the things that would get me there, but it was a slog. I ended up really depressed as a result of it all, so I decided to give up that dream and move on with my life. About 12
18 months later, I sat down one evening and started writing a story about sexual violence. I had this image and idea in my head, and I had no plans to share the story with anyone. I just needed to put it all down. I’ve always struggled with communicating certain experiences and feelings, so it was mostly an experiment for myself. When I was done, though, I had a novel, and I went through it and edited and rewrote parts. At that point, I realized I might as well see if it resonated with anyone, since it was done, and it wouldn’t really matter because that wasn’t the purpose in writing it.

That book was my debut novel, I Stop Somewhere, and within a month of sending my first query, I had a publishing deal. That’s an amazing story and accomplishment, and I’m proud of it. But something had changed in me when I gave up writing and my dreams of being an author, and suddenly there was this very personal story out there for people to read. So I admit it’s been a bittersweet experience, because I am incredibly grateful, but I’m also uncomfortable talking about my work. I began writing All We Could Have Been, and I told myself I would remain detached from the story to some degree and not get that personal again, but that didn’t happen. For me, being an author has carried with it this very scary feeling of nakedness. I jokingly told my agent I thought my next book should be about dragons or something that wasn’t so close to my heart, and I think I was only half kidding! I have an entirely new respect for all the stories I loved as I grew up, because I realize only now just how much of a person went into them.

Thanks so much for sharing your story! I'm always fascinated to know where authors find their inspiration and how they started writing.

All We Could Have Been by T.E. Carter is out now (£7.99 Paperback, Simon & Schuster UK)

T. E. Carter was born and raised in New England. Throughout her career, she has done a lot of things, she has always loved to read and still loves stories in any medium (books, movies, video games, etc.). When she’s not writing, she can generally be found reading classic literature, obsessing over Game of Thrones (100% Team Lannister), playing Xbox, organizing her comic collection, or binge-watching baking competitions. She continues to live in New England with her husband and two cats. All We Could Have Been is her second novel for young adults.

@hashtagereads #AllWeCouldHaveBeen

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

All We Could Have Been review

162 days.

That’s how long Lexi needs to survive at her new school. Every year, she starts somewhere else under a new name, hiding in plain sight for as long as she can manage. Her record is 134, but it's senior year now and if she can make it till June, she can disappear into the real world. Maybe a big city, where no one recognizes her and no one knows about her brother and what he did.

But this time things are different. This time there’s her new friend, Ryan, who makes her believe that she belongs somewhere. This time there’s Marcus, the boy who looks at her in a way no one has before. This time she’s actually started to miss her older brother, Scott, even though she knows she shouldn’t. Scott was the boy who hung out with her reading comics and riding bikes. The boy who applied Band-Aids to scraped knees and chased away spiders. But he’s also the reason that she’s been in hiding away from the world, and from herself.

It’s just 162 days, but for Lexi that's a few days too many. Because it turns out you can't really run away from who you are. Eventually, the truth will always catch up with you.

All We Could Have Been is a memorable, gripping book with a strong voice and I'm still thinking about it a week after I finished reading. 

I think the voice and characterisation are what left such a lasting impression. Lexi seems like a real character, with authentic reactions to events. I liked the way the story unravels for the reader as Lexi makes sense of what happened to her.

This book didn't shy away from tough subjects and there are some violent scenes from Lexi's past. I thought it explored dealing with traumatic events in an honest, empathetic way. It looks at the lasting impact on Lexi's mental health and the treatment she sought.

Another thing I really liked about this book was how it evokes settings. The estate where Lexi lives, school and other places are described in a way that took me right back to my teenage years.

This is my first TE Carter book and I can't wait to read more. If you're a fan of Adam Silvera's writing and authentic contemporary YA with a darker side, I'd definitely read this book.

Thanks so much Simon and Schuster Kids for the review copy!

#WordsThatFly blog tour – Sarah Carroll Q&A

I really loved The Words That Fly Between Us (and the proof has one of my favourite covers of all time). It's a beautifully written, extremely believable teen novel about a young artist trying to figure out who she is and finding her voice. It comes out tomorrow (2nd May)! For my tour stop, I have a brilliant Q&A with the author Sarah Carroll. 

I thought the motif of words through the book was really clever and I liked how it tied in to Lucy's character development. What inspired you to include it?

Actually, the story pretty much stemmed from the motif of words. The first words I wrote were the opening lines: Words can be sticky. They nudge their way into the grooves of the tiles, and get wedged in tiny cracks in the plaster, and seep into the grain of the floorboards. And they stay there. If you look closely, you can see them. Our house is filling up with them. People don’t realize, though. They think you can just fling them around.

These lines defined the tone and theme of the rest of the book. I wanted Lucy to be so fixated on the words around her that they became almost visceral. We see them soaking through the carpet, exploding like fireworks, following her like a dog’s growl. Words trip her up. Suffocate her. They elude her, and so she must find another way to express herself, which is through art.

Words are used cruelly in the book. But it’s often the weight of the words left unspoken that have the most impact, be that by Dad or by Hazel (the girl who bullies Lucy’s friend, Megan). Words are the weapons used by those who abuse throughout the book, but on the flip side, they are the very thing that both Lucy and Megan need to find if they are going to become the people they want to be.

Why did you choose to write for children?

I wonder that myself. In another (unpublished) manuscript that I have, an older character thinks to himself, ‘Young people. They get a hard rap from their parents for thinking they know it all. The way I see it, it’s because they usually do. Then they spend the rest of their lives unlearning it until they end up at war with everyone, especially themselves.’

I think there’s something in that. When you observe the world through the eyes of a child, you see it without the baggage of cynicism or the mistaken belief that your years of experience somehow give you a definitive knowledge on how things should be. When we look at the world with innocence, we hold a mirror to it, and, perhaps, we can see something in a fresh light. By using a child’s perspective, I can explore a story in a way I couldn’t do through the eyes of an adult.

Is there a message that you hope readers will take away from the book?


As a teenager, I was bullied in school, and some of the abuse highlighted in the book is inspired by those experiences.

There was one girl in school who enjoyed tormenting me. It was an insidious type of bullying, so hard to put your finger on. Sometimes it was the words, ‘Mmm, funny,’ delivered in flat tones after I’d made a joke. Other times, it was just a look from her that stole my words away. A few times, I found out about a sleep-over that all of my friends attended in her house, after-the-fact.

Three years it went on for, and during that whole time, I said nothing to her. Inside, though, I was screaming. Everyone else pretended nothing was happening for fear that if they spoke out, she’d turn on them.

Finally, it was one small incident that put an end to the years of bullying. One day, I walked past an open classroom door and overhead her mocking me. Suddenly, I’d had enough. I walked in, up to the group, and challenged her. She was so surprised, she didn’t speak at first. And her silence gave me the space to say what I needed to say, which was to calmly point out to everyone what was going on. And, honestly, that was it (actually, there was a bit of drama that I won’t get into, but in essence, that was it!). From that moment on, I stopped hiding away. It honestly was a turning point in my life.

So I guess, with The Words That Fly Between Us, I wanted to impart the message that you can find the strength to stand up for yourself. You can find your voice.

Can you recommend any teen books that you've really enjoyed?

Lots. Let’s pick three.

Geraldine McCaughrean’s Where the World Ends. I think it’s a triumph of the imagination that a story which takes place almost entirely on the cliffs of a barren sea stack can be so touching, compelling and uplifting.

Will Hill’s After the Fire. It is a first-person perspective of a girl who has grown up in an isolated religious cult run by a cruel dictator. Could. Not. Put. It. Down.

Any book by Sarah Crossan, but let’s go with The Weight of Water… Or One... Or Moonrise... I’d recommend them all. Sarah gets to the heart of a story and brings you with her.

What does your writing process look like?

An hour of exercise in the morning followed by four to five hours of writing/editing, five days a week. Then I try (and fail) to switch off at the weekends.

At the moment, I’m still in the early stages of drawing a few ideas together into a full, coherent story, so that involves less sitting and writing, and more walking around, pushing a pram, trying to keep the faith as I wait for ideas to formulate. I hate it. All I want is to sit down and write, but I’m one of those writers that can’t put pen to paper until I know exactly where I’m going with it.

Who is your favourite children's book character and why?

Do you know what? I’m not going to answer that! Because, for me, it’s not just about character. Or plot. Or theme. Brilliant books have all those things in abundance while also celebrating language.

As a writer, I love a strong theme and a well-constructed scene (or even just a cracker of a sentence). As a reader, I want a page turner, images I can wallow in and characters I can relate to.

In a way, it annoys me when one of these things take over… an issue-driven book that lets plot or characterisation fall to the way side, or a plot-heavy book that cares nothing for beautiful words. 

I don’t want one. I want it all.

What are you working on next?

Right now I’m trying to weave some random ideas and characters into something resembling a coherent story. When I have one, I’ll let you know.

Thanks so much for such an inspiring, candid Q&A, Sarah! I can't wait for your book to be out in the world and I look forward to the next one.