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.


Wednesday, 28 March 2018

State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury - review

Publisher: Scholastic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 March 2018

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

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

Tell us about your 'Becoming Storybook' project.

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

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

What inspired your journey?

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

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

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

Which stories did you love most as a child?

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

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

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

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

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

What are you planning to do next?

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

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

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

Monday, 19 March 2018

YA Shot Giveaway - Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!  

YA Shot blog tour - guest post by Alexia Casale

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

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

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

Where do you get your ideas?

Alexia Casale

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

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

I think there is: ‘real life’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor - review

Publisher: Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 12 March 2018

Children of Blood and Bone Blog Tour #NowWeRise

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

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

Journal of a Seer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Scythe by Neal Shusterman - review

Publisher: Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Smoke by Simon Ings - blog tour review

Publisher: Gollancz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson - review

Publisher: Walker Books

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

When the vuvv first landed, it came as a surprise to aspiring artist Adam and the rest of planet Earth ― but not necessarily an unwelcome one. Can it really be called an invasion when the vuvv generously offered free advanced technology and cures for every illness imaginable? As it turns out, yes. With his parents’ jobs replaced by alien tech and no money for food, clean water, or the vuvv’s miraculous medicine, Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, have to get creative to survive. And since the vuvv crave anything they deem ‘classic’ Earth culture, recording 1950s-style dates for them to watch in a pay-per-minute format seems like a brilliant idea. But it’s hard for Adam and Chloe to sell true love when they hate each other more with every passing episode. Soon enough, Adam must decide how far he’s willing to go ― and what he’s willing to sacrifice ― to give the vuvv what they want. (Publishers’ blurb)

It’s ages since I’ve read a book about an alien invasion and I thought this novella had an intelligent take on the subject matter, saying as much about our potential future as it did about what might happen during an invasion.

I really liked how the book had a realistic story about a relationship from the beginning to the end. Adam and Chloes’ responses to their situation felt authentic, especially Adam’s changing perception of Chloe as their relationship deteriorated.

Although this novella is short, the world is richly developed. It captured how the humans of this version of Earth became carried away by what the vuvv promised, without realising the impact on their lives. Adam developed an illness because of the living conditions of this world and I thought this was handled really well. He had terrible digestive problems that were presented in a visceral, realistic manner but with empathy as well. 

Another thing I really liked was Adam's art. The book captured what it feels like to be creative, and showed how Adam used art to make sense of (and escape from) the world he lived in.

I devoured this book in a couple of sittings and I'd recommend it if you want a short, smart and thought-provoking read.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi - review

Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books (8th March)

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.

Zélie remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. When different clans ruled – Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoning forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers was targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Only a few people remain with the power to use magic, and they must remain hidden.

Zélie is one such person. Now she has a chance to bring back magic to her people and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must learn to harness her powers and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where strange creatures prowl, and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to come to terms with the strength of her magic – and her growing feelings for an enemy. (Publisher's blurb)

As soon as I heard about this book, I loved the idea of a foundation in African mythology and was thrilled to receive a proof copy from My Kinda Book. For me, Children of Blood and Bone far exceeded the hype and I would rank it as one of my top 5 fantasy books of all time.

I think the real strength is in the plotting. The stakes are high and the book piles on the conflict throughout! There was a fantastic balance of lighter moments, relationships and fast-paced action. 

The three viewpoints were also really effective, delivering very different perspectives and motivations. I thought all of the characters were nuanced and interesting, from the most minor characters to the main ones. I loved Zélie the most of all, for her strength and the journey she went through as a character.

I don't think I've ever read a book based on African mythology and I loved the world-building in Children of Blood and Bone. The politics, magic and mythology interwove into a rich, complex but accessible world.

This is the most exciting series I've read for a long time and I think all of fans of YA, fantasy or just a fantastic story should read it.