Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blog Tour: A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab - Victoria's Favourite Literary Travellers

I am super excited today to be taking part in the blog tour for A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab. VE Schwab is just one of those authors that I hear incredible things about. And I love the idea of A Darker Shade of Magic and I love Victoria's guest post today. I hope you do as well! 

Here is the product description for A Darker Shade of Magic and some links if you'd like to know more about VE Schwab or A Darker Shade of Magic:

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit. 

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London - but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her 'proper adventure'.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

Victoria's favourite Literary Travellers 

Travel is a theme in all of my books, whether across physical space or the thresholds between life and death, insider and outsider, human and monstrous. So it’s not surprise I’m such a fan of literary travellers. Here are a few of my favorite:

--Harry August, who travels the course of his own lifetime over and over in The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.

--Ursula Todd, who also travels her life, but in a very, very different way, with the goal of assassinating Hitler, in Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

--The Alien posing as Professor Andrew Martin, who’s come a very long way to understand humanity in The Humans by Matt Haig.  

--Ronan Lynch, the edgy, but wonderful member of the Raven Boys, with the ability to move between the real world and his dreams, and blur the space between, in The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater.

A Darker Shade of Magic will be published by Titan Books on 27th February.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

REVIEW: Soulprint by Megan Miranda

I really adore Megan Miranda. Ever since I read her debut book, Fracture, I have fallen in love entirely with her stories and characters and I always get wholly wrapped up in the relationships and everything.  Which is why, when in a reading slump, I relied on Megan Miranda's latest, Soulprint to drag me out of it. And unsurprisingly, it worked a charm.  I found Soulprint to be a really addictive, exciting read and one that made me think.

Soulprint is sort of unusual story set in a future in which the reincarnation of souls has been proven and is also able to be tracked. As we begin this story, our main character, Alina, has been imprisoned most of her life for her own 'protection' because of the crimes committed by her soul in her previous life that are a bit unclear. She has no privacy, no possessions, no relationships or friendships of her own and she has a very skewed perception of who she is.  When she is helped to escape from her prison, she finally has the ability to track down some answers and possibly clear her name and free herself from future imprisonment.

What I really liked about this book most of all was the questions it raised... I liked considering different ideas about reincarnation and about punishing a person for crimes committed in a previous life and the ethics behind the incarceration of an innocent person.  I also really liked the way in which love is portrayed in this book. How Alina's previous soul, June, had this huge and passionate love affair ... and how it doesn't necessarily translate over a different life and in different circumstances.

I thought Soulprint was really interesting and thought-provoking with plenty of action and excitement and a dash of romance.  This book really just confirmed Megan Miranda as a recent favourite author.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Interview with Sarah Alderson, author of Conspiracy Girl

I'm incredibly honoured today to be taking part in the blog tour for Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson! Sarah Alderson is definitely one of my favourite authors and I will always be excited to read her books.

To find out more about Sarah Alderson, her books or Conspiracy Girl, do visit the following webites:

How would you describe Conspiracy Girl to new readers? 

Three years ago Nic Preston’s life was destroyed during a home invasion. She witnessed her mother and step-sister brutally murdered and overnight was thrown into the media spotlight. Three years on Nic is struggling to rebuild her life. But then her high-security apartment is broken into and it looks like the killers are back to finish the job. 

She is forced to hide out with Finn Carter - a hacker, rule-breaker and general player - and the same guy who testified for the defence against her mother’s killers allowing them to walk from court scot free. 
Together the two of them have to solve the conspiracy of who wants to kill Nic and why. 

It’s a really fast-paced book, taking place over just three days or so across New York and a snow-bound New England. There’s serious action, lots of tension (of the sexual and dramatic kind both) and a good old conspiracy at the heart (that’s based on a real life story).

We get to see both Nic and Finn's perspective, did one voice flow more naturally then the other? 

Strangely I always find it easier writing the male point of view. I guess with Finn I really enjoyed the slow reveal. He comes across as arrogant and rebellious and head strong at first, but then you strip back the layers and you realise that his whole story - his childhood, the trauma he’s lived through, his ideas that were formed about justice at a young age - have made him who he is. I think writers need huge amounts of empathy. It’s a pre-requisite. You have to be able to feel what your characters have or are going through and with Finn I felt huge compassion. For Nic too but I think with Finn I just wanted to reach into the pages of the book and hug him.

You've set previous stories in California, Nantucket and in New York and throughout New England. How important is setting to you and does it help shape the story?

I think very cinematically (I am also a screenwriter). My whole life is basically one big quest for adventure and discovery. I love living in different places. I grew up in London and have just returned from living for the last five years in tropical Bali. Now I am living for a while in a 17th century cottage in the English countryside and it’s like something from that film The Holiday. It’s so idyllic. We won’t be here that long though before we head off, possibly to spend some time in Africa and then California. I’m addicted to living lots of different lives in different environments. It thrills me no end. So yes, setting for me is everything, not just in my writing. 

I always tend to base my books in places I’ve lived or at least travelled to. New York is a particular favourite city of mine - it lends itself to story-telling because the landscapes are so vivid and so grand, and the sense of place is so fantastic. Everyone has NY as a reference even if they haven’t been there because it’s been so well depicted on film. And then there’s Nantucket - which is a little island off the East coast of America. I nannied there when I was 17 which is why I then based The Sound there (it’s about a British girl who nannies there one summer). California is my second home - it’s where I’m happiest, where I feel most relaxed and free. I love the light there and the ocean. It’s where I set Hunting Lila and Fated. 

There were some quite traumatic scenes in Conspiracy Girl including a home invasion. Was there any particular scene that you found really difficult to write or that you kept returning to?

I did rewrite the home invasion scene about four times as I was striving to get the right sense of terror without being too terrifying (it’s YA after all) and the most realistic depiction it as I could. I researched a lot. I read newspaper reports and other articles about real home invasions - one of which was so incredibly awful it scarred me mentally and I also did my homework on security systems.

It was great to see a mention of previous characters from Out of Control in Conspiracy Girl!  Is this interconnectivity new or had I missed it previously? Will we see glimpses of Nic and Finn in future projects? What IS next for you? 

I’m not sure! Possibly not. I’m moving away from Thrillers to more straight romance. In my short story Tormenting Lila the characters from The Sound appear. So sometimes I do like to cross check books. It makes me smile to myself to leave little traces and I hope fans pick them up too. 

In my new adult books which I write under the name Mila Gray I take a b character and then make them the main character of the next book - though the books are standalones. I think that’s a fun way of doing it as you don’t have to read a series but you get little teasers and to catch up with characters you’ve loved, albeit briefly.

Human trafficking in Out of Control and now the ethics behind diamond mining in Conspiracy Girl, what draws you to intertwine these social justice subjects into your stories? Is there a topic you would like to tackle next?

I am always scouring the news for interesting articles that I then bookmark and mull o. I’m a feminist! A fully paid up member of Fawcett (a charity that fights for gender equality) and I’m passionate about women’s rights among many other things. I used to work for a charity as a head of projects - and all our projects were designed to tackle some form of social injustice. I think writers have a responsibility to their readers and I love being able to slide issues into my books that my audience might not have come across or may not know much about. Not many people in their teens will probably pick up a hard hitting book about human trafficking but they might pick up a fast paced thriller romance, and then they might discover something about a topic they didn’t know much about. It’s my cunning attempt to help promote a cause I’m passionate about (ending human trafficking).

As for what’s next, my second Mila Gray book (out in August) is about a wounded Marine and the psychology student he meets at the hospital he’s in. It tackles mental health issues and war - but my next YA won’t be a thriller and I think I’ll tackle something more individual, more private. We’ll see! 

Conspiracy Girl was one of my most anticipated reads of 2015, what are you most looking forward to reading this year?

Oh my goodness! You should see the books on my bedside table. I’m really looking forward to reading Lena Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl and also Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. I also just received a copy of Everyday Sexism from Simon & Schuster (one of the lovely perks of being an author is that I do get some lovely books sent to me when I ask nicely) which I can’t wait to get started on.

Thank you so much, Sarah! 

Author Bio:

Sarah is the author of Hunting Lila (winner of the Kingston Book Award), Losing Lila, Fated, The Sound, Out of Control and Conspiracy Girl (all Simon & Schuster).

Having spent most of her life in London, Sarah quit her job in the non profit sector in 2009 and took off on a round the world trip with her husband and daughter on a mission to find a new place to call home (a journey that was documented on this blog and which is shortly to be turned into a book).

After almost a year spent travelling the world, they settled in Bali where they lived for five beautiful years before the vagabonding urge became too great and they decided to embark on Can We Live Here part two. They are currently located somewhere between India, London, Canada and the US.

As well as writing young adult novels and screenplays, Sarah also writes adult fiction for Pan Macmillan (Simon & Schuster in the US) under the name Mila Gray.

Her first adult novel, Come Back To Me, was published in June 2014. The second, This One Moment, will be out in August 2015.

Sarah has co-written the Hunting Lila screenplay, which is currently in the early stages of production, and continues to blog about her life and travels.

REVIEW: Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson

I am such a big fan of Sarah Alderson's, I really am. I think I'll always be incredibly excited to read a book by her.  So when I saw Conspiracy Girl was on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. And while there were a few glitches to the actual text, I persevered with it because every book by Sarah Alderson has this amazing combination of being really exciting and fast-paced and romantic. And Conspiracy Girl had my heart racing both because it's quite thrilling but also the chemistry between the two main characters.

Conspiracy Girl is a dual-perspective novel told both from the point of view of Nic and Finn.  Nic Preston is an 18 year old college student who is trying so hard to rebuild her life after a brutal home invasion several years ago meant that she was the only survivor. Both her mother and step-sister died and Nic has been quite understandably shaken up by the events and it's left her paranoid and safety-conscious. Especially because the two people who killed Nic's family were caught but then walked free.  And then there's Finn, a super-smart hacker and the person responsible for the killers to walk free.  When Nic's apartment building is broken into, and her security is compromised it's up to Finn to keep Nic safe and to delve into her case again and find out who is responsible.

As I said, I absolutely flew through the pages of this story.  I think Sarah Alderson has an incredible for writing really exciting and addictive stories. I couldn't pull myself away from these characters and this story.  I quite liked the twisty-turny plot and all of the dangerous situations Nic and Finn get into.  I thought Nic's paranoia and grief was portrayed very well and I loved seeing her vulnerability throughout and also seeing how much more confident she becomes throughout this story as her and Finn go on the offensive towards finding the people responsible for her family's deaths and this current attack. I did kind of want to see Nic saving herself and relying less on Finn, but I also got that Nic needed to progress more to get to that.

My only real criticism of this book is a surprising one to me.  For me, while the love story is usually my favourite aspects of a Sarah Alderson story, I felt like at times, it didn't feel quite right for there to be this burgeoning relationship between Finn and Nic.  I get that there's is a complicated relationship with all the baggage they both carry, but I actually didn't want the romantic build-up and chemistry to be occurring at the same time as some of the thrilling aspects of the story.  I really liked both characters and I loved that it felt like it was a bit of an obstacle for them to be together and while I did love how hot they were together, I just wanted more distance between the steamy kissing and the chase scenes in which bullets are flying.

All in all, I think Conspiracy Girl was an ace read - highly addictive and emotionally charged with great characters and relationships.  Plus, bonus points for including an adorable dog!

Friday, February 20, 2015

UKYA Series I Haven't (Yet) Started

I don't know you, but I'm pretty wary of starting new series.  I don't like the wait between books, I find it difficult to remember details when I start reading the sequels, I sometimes find sequels disappointing.  But that doesn't mean that I'm against starting new series, I just find that I put off reading books in a series... which is why events like #FinishItFeb are so helpful.  But instead of talking about the series I'm in the middle, today, I thought I might share with you those series that I keep meaning to read ... and haven't yet.

The following books are in series with sequels published this year. They're also UKYA. Do let me know in comments which books/series I should look out for first because I'm really missing out...

Half Bad and Half Wild by Sally Green

I've heard somewhat mixed things about this series by Sally Green.  Some rave about it ... and others find it not their thing at all.  I kind of love marmite books, it always makes me really intrigued to see which side of the fence I'll fall.  This series is about WITCHES which I think are pretty cool.  We shall see.

The Rain and The Storm by Virginia Bergin

This series are post-apocalyptic and I really loved the premise of this killer rain ... but I never quite found my feet in the first book in the series.  Hopefully with two books in the series that I could possibly read back-to-back, things might change?  I'm not sure. Convince me.

Tribute and Outcaste by Ellen Renner

I remember being really excited about the sound of Tribute when I first heard of it last year ... and then I got my copy and I'm not sure what happened? I think maybe Tribute was a victim in that strange period of time when I was veering wildly between excitedly reading everything in sight and going through extended reading slumps!  Still. I quite like the sound of this series and the gorgeous covers. 

Stella and Siena by Helen Eve

I don't actually know that much about either of these books except that Stella was published last year and it had some good reviews. And Siena is the prequel story and it was published in January with some good reviews.  I don't really want to know much more about these books as I am planning to read them soon and I absolutely adore it when I know next to nothing about a story before I read it! 

Half A King and Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

This series is epic fantasy and at times I find myself a little wary of that sort of thing but I've heard really interesting things about these two books. There's lots of praise for this series and I can't wait to get stuck in! 

Code Red Lipstick and Fashion Assassin by Sarah Sky

I'd love to get my hands on copies of these two books.  It's a combination of fashion and spies which I think is just a winning combination.  It kind of makes me happy just thinking about starting this series! 

Love, Lies and Lemon Pies and Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines by Katy Cannon

And last but not least we have this series which looks to be quite sweet, contemporary stories with a dash of romance and baking.  From what I gather, this series each features a story from one of the members of the Bake Club?  I think it sounds fab.

Are there any series that looks good that you haven't yet started?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Interview with Sarah Naughton #UKYAExtravaganza

I am hugely excited today to be taking part in the amazing #UKYAExtravaganza blog tour to celebrate the massive author event that is taking part in Birmingham at the end of the month. Emma Pass and Kerry Drewery have done a wonderful job setting up the event and organising this great tour! Thank you so much for letting me take part in this :)

I'm so happy to be paired up with Sarah Naughton as well. She's super lovely and I've had a great time discovering a new author and to read books possibly outside of my normal comfort zone. I thought The Blood List was really great and I was fascinated throughout about the historical time period, the superstitions and the eventual witch hunt that occurs.

I hope you enjoy this interview with Sarah Naughton and if you'd like to know more about Sarah Naughton or her books, The Blood List and The Hanged Man Rises, do visit the following places:

Hello and welcome to Fluttering Butterflies! Can you please introduce yourself and tell me a little something about your books?

I've written two books (not including the 300 or so languishing in my bottom drawer): The Hanged Man Rises, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Children's Book award, and The Blood List, both published by Simon and Schuster. They are both concerned with the supernatural, which I’ve always been fascinated by, despite my noisy skepticism (just because I don’t believe in ghosts doesn't mean I’m not scared of them…)

Both of your books are historical thrillers, what compels you to write about these historical time periods?

The idea comes first. With the Hanged Man Rises it was the idea of the possessed policeman and the boy trying to save him from himself. The Victorian era was the obvious setting, because of the huge popularity of spiritualism at that time, and consequent rich vein of subject matter.

The idea for the Blood List came after watching a heart-breaking documentary about the fate of disabled children in the medieval era. In those credulous times parents would become convinced that an ‘imperfect’ child was actually a fairy imposter left in place of their own ‘perfect’ baby. They would set about trying to get the babies switched back by inflicting various tortures on the ‘changeling’. As the plot developed to involve accusations of witchcraft, it made sense to set it during the witch fever of the 17th century.

At the beginning of The Blood List, Barnaby mentions having a great deal of free time. If you had a whole bunch of extra time to yourself, what might you be doing or learning?

I've never been one for extreme sports but since having children I have felt increasingly hobbled by the imperative of keeping them safe and well and, consequently, have begun to have wild fantasies about donning a bandanna and taking up arms in the fight against IS. Or more realistically, becoming a lifeboatwoman. I’d probably just do crosswords.

Both The Hanged Man Rises and The Blood List delve into some dark things. Child murderers and witch hunts. Did you ever have to pull back from writing these darker things?

Nah. I love it. Not gory Darren Shan stuff, which I just find repellent. I love psychological horrors like ‘A Good and Happy Child’ by Justin Evans and ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver – the latter of which I had to read in a bustling café in broad daylight because it was so effing terrifying. Scary books are a way for children to exercise their need for extreme feelings without putting themselves in genuinely dangerous situations. We have a psychological and probably evolutionary need to scare ourselves pantless. If you've been taught to look for wolves in the darkness you might manage to avoid being eaten.

The Blood List is filled with so much superstition surrounding the identification of changelings and witches to other more everyday things. What were some of the strangest superstitions you came across when researching?

I actually loved researching witchcraft and was even considering joining a coven until a psychic I met while writing The Hanged Man Rises advised against it… We’re all programmed to believe in magic: faith that the sun will rise every morning predates the scientific facts, after all. But with faith comes insecurity and a desire to keep sweet whomever we think might be wheeling the sun out every day, just for us. Even skeptics like myself derive a certain irrational sense of protection from saluting magpies and touching wood. Following my research into 17th century superstitions I keep a hagstone over the threshold of my front door to repel witch ingression and wear a pendant with a silver acorn, whose magical reputation dates back to druid times. I think a very small and primitive part of me actually believes they might do some good. (I drew the line at putting iron nails in my son’s cot).

One of my favourite aspects of The Blood List is the complicated relationships and dynamic between the members of the Nightingale family. Were there any particularly difficult aspects of these relationships for you to write or to get right?

The main characters in the Nightingale Family are based on people I know quite well, so all I did was slot them into the situation and my own familiarity with their characters told me how they would react. The tricky bit was making handsome, spoiled, arrogant Barnaby sympathetic enough at the beginning for people to relate to him and want to read on.

For what it's worth, I think Barnaby's character development throughout The Blood List was really well done! 

I always find it interesting to read about the witch hunts during this period of time. It's a leap, but if a similar campaign were launched in modern times, who do you think would be targeted or be accused of being witches?

Muslims, Jews, Poles, working mothers, people on benefits. The Daily Mail will no doubt decide. The older I get the more I feel those nebulous concepts we have such confidence in, like equality and justice and freedom, are so very fragile. States assassinate their enemies on our shores with no repercussions, our politicians fawn to oppressive dictators, terrorists gleefully massacre children. Perhaps we’ve lived through our golden age of enlightenment, and are slipping back into intolerance and barbarism. Guantanamo Bay seems like an endless Inquisition without even the blessed release of death.

I don't read very much historical YA but I'd love to read more. Can you share any historical YA recommendations with me?

Patrick Ness: he is the man. Diana Wynne Jones and her protégé Neil Gaiman. Suzanne Collins, although she’s hardly undiscovered. Melvin Burgess, Eoin Colfer, Philip Reeve and my teenage favourites: Robert Westall, Judy Blume and SE Hinton.

All excellent suggestions! ...But not many historical YA authors :)

What are your thoughts about the UKYA community?

It’s a wonderfully passionate and vibrant community, and extremely valuable to writers who otherwise get very little publicity. Publishing budgets are entirely devoted to the big names in childrens’ books, like JK Rowling and David Walliams, and without the bloggers some truly wonderful books would have been completely ignored. There doesn’t seem much in the way of reward for all your hard work, but I hope this is just a training ground and that many of you will go on to become authors in your own right.

You'll be appearing at the UKYA Extravaganza in Birmingham this month. Which authors are you most looking forward to meeting?

I always like meeting authors. After I left advertising I thought I’d miss the acerbic wit and quick-mindedness that characterizes a creative department, but it turns out writers are just as funny (just rather more self-deprecating). I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Emma Pass again. We did the Derbyshire Bookbash together a couple of years ago, and since then she has scaled the heady peaks of success. I’m going to ask her to sign my forehead.

A huge thank you for being on Fluttering Butterflies today!

Thanks to you too. See you on the 28th!

REVIEW: The Blood List by Sarah Naughton

I found The Blood List by Sarah Naughton to be hugely interesting. I don't read a lot of historical stories and certainly none like The Blood List in which it felt like there was this dark combination of historical elements with the paranormal. I really wasn't sure where this story would go but I found it absolutely fascinating to be taken on this weird journey.

The main character of The Blood List is Barnaby Nightingale, a somewhat spoiled and privileged teenage boy in 1646. He spends a lot of his days napping and and generally having no responsibilities or obligations. But things begin to change after Barnaby meets Naomi and his perspective and attitude towards life and everything changes.

1646 is a time where superstition is rife and throughout this story, Barnaby and this community are just on the edge of a dark time in which darkness takes hold. It was really interesting to read of the practices and ideas surrounding fussy babies and 'proving' how a baby's behaviour means that he might actually be a changeling amongst other superstitions. What I loved about The Blood List is that Sarah Naughton provides both sides to the story - the superstions as well as science and logic.

I also really loved the family dynamic in the Nightingale family. Because of events surrounding Barnaby's birth, Barnaby's parents have very different attitudes towards their eldest son and it causes a major rift between Barnaby and his younger brother that really propel the events of the story.  I thought everything between brothers and parent and son were done really well.

One of my favourite aspects of this book though is witnessing Barnaby's development from spoiled and slightly bratty at the beginning into somebody very different, somebody who Naomi would be proud of. Another aspect of the novel that really appealed to me was Naomi constantly putting Barnaby in his place which is both amusing and also highlights some gender and economic differences of the time.

All in all, The Blood List was a hugely fascinating story. It had great historical detail, great characters and particularly great relationships. It made me think of things in different ways. I was horrified by so many different practices that happened at the time and there were bits of the ending that had me very close to tears! I was so surprised by this book and I will definitely be on the lookout for Sarah Naughton's previous book. I really recommend this book!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

REVIEW: Stung by Joss Stirling

I am such a huge fan of Joss Stirling.  I absolutely devoured every book in the Benedict series and was always going to be really excited to read more by her.  And while I wasn't initially overly enthusiastic beforehand about a contemporary series involving teenage detectives, I was definitely won over by the first book in the series, Storm and Stone (renamed Struck as an e-book).  And I loved that book so much that as soon as I got a review copy of Stung I immediately dove in.  Because I wanted to know more about this teenage detective agency, I wanted to meet more amazing characters and do my best to help solve whatever mystery came my way.

Stung is the second book in this series and while the main focus is on two different main characters, we are able to catch many glimpses into the lives of previous main characters, Raven and Kieran and see how they are both getting on which I think can be both a good thing and a bad thing.  Good because I loved them both, but bad because it highlighted the fact that I didn't feel quite the same for Kate and Nat.  While I felt that Kate and Nathan were good characters in their own right, I never quite felt the connection to either of them as I did with Kieran and Raven. And while I've always loved the romantic build-up and chemistry between love interests in the past by Joss Stirling, I felt like in this book it felt a little bit rushed and I didn't quite believe in them.

And yikes, this review reads like I really didn't enjoy this book, but that is not the case at all.  I really did enjoy it.  But mostly the thriller aspects of the book as opposed to the romantic elements.  This book is about a teenage girl, Kate, who was a member of the Young Detective Agency and sent to Indonesia to help uncover a crime ring.  Things went horribly wrong and Kate has been on the run for the past year, framed for murder and unable to go home or back to the YDA to explain her case.

I think what I enjoyed the most about Stung is how uncertain I was about all of the characters.  Kate feels like there's a leak within the YDA and she doesn't know who to trust.  She suspects everyone as being a traitor but Nathan is certain that his team and others he trusts aren't at fault.  I think there were some great mystery here and I kept changing my mind about who I thought the mole might be.  It really left me guessing and I loved that about this book.  There's also some great action scenes as Kate escapes several attempts by the YDA to bring her in for questioning.

This book is filled with some really thrilling action and a great mystery to solve.  While the romance didn't quite hit the spot for me personally, I'm sure Joss Stirling fans will enjoy it.  I shall definitely be reading more in this series!

Monday, February 16, 2015

REVIEW: Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton

I quite enjoyed Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton.  It's a debut book by a UK author and that always excites me.  It also includes a LGBT relationship which I thought was quite sweet and cute.  And the majority of the story revolves around friendship and this sort of mystery that surrounds why Megan doesn't speak.

The main character of Unspeakable, Megan, hasn't spoken in months after an unnamed, traumatic event. And while there are some hints at Megan's guilt and about what has happened and the reason behind Megan's inability to speak, we don't find out until quite a ways through the book.  The first half in particular, you can see that while Megan quite clearly does not want to speak or confront what has happened in the part, she does also find it difficult to not speak in other situations.

Instead of learning about what has gone on in the past, we learn more about Megan, who lives at home with her flaky single-parent mum and she goes to school and has just the one friend, Luke, and is further surrounded by bullies and mean girls that are led by top mean girl, Sadie. I quite liked Megan's mum who can be a bit useless at times, but you can see that at other times she's trying her best even if she doesn't always succeed.

The only real bright spot in Megan's life is the arrival of new girl, Jasmine, who is bright and bubbly and who makes Megan want to speak again.  I really loved Megan and Jasmine's friendship and seeing how this friendship evolves into something more throughout the story.

While I did enjoy the characters and story line and the friendships, the only thing that I really felt let down by is the ending.  When we find out who is behind the threatening behaviour and the reason for it, it didn't quite fit in with how I viewed this cast of characters and I just didn't quite believe in the justification of it being this particular character.

Still.  On the whole, this is a really interesting story of friendship and about grief and moving on from loss.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Student/Teacher Relationships in YA

Recently I read Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre and it brought up the subject of a student/teacher relationship.  And as I was reading the book I felt all sorts of conflicted feelings about 15 year old Lara's relationship with her teacher.

I've always found myself to be very intrigued by stories involving a student and teacher.  It's an interesting dynamic and I feel like there are certain books and story lines in which I find myself utterly invested in this very forbidden relationship. ...And in other cases the whole idea of it just icks me out in a very bad way.  I really don't know where I stand on the whole situation.  And I thought it would be interesting today to share some books that I've read and to see where they fall in terms of being for/against.


Losing It by Cora Carmack

This is a New Adult book about a girl who decides to lose her virginity to a hot guy she met in a bar (rusty on the details here!) ... only to go to her university class the next day to find that her one night stand is her new drama professor. While obviously this situation causes some awkward situations and puts the professor's job in jeopardy, it wasn't as 'bad' as if there were a larger age gap between the two characters or if one of the characters were a minor as it is with most of the other books in this post!

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

It wasn't until I sat down to write this post and did a bit more research into other student/teacher relationships that I really recognised this book and series as having such a relationship. Rose and Dimitri are student and tutor and I guess it's the 'tutor' title that takes this into a grey area?  There's also Tris and Four in the Divergent trilogy but I don't really 'count' these relationships as student/teacher, but a lot of people do, so I thought I'd include it amongst this list.

The Truth About You and Me by Amanda Grace

This is the book on this list that gave me the most conflicted feelings about student/teacher relationships. The Truth About You and Me is a story told in a letter format from a 16 year old girl explaining and also apologising for the position that she puts her college professor in by not telling him of the fact that she has been placed in university classes early because she's gifted. To me, it really felt like the argument this book suggests is that two people, of any age, can and should be allowed to fall in love and carry out relationships despite laws preventing such relationships. The ending and the justification of this relationship felt incredibly off to me.

The Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick

The Drowning Instinct is one of my favourite books mentioned in this post however looking back on it now, I don't recall all the details of the story. What sticks with me is the strong emotion that I felt when reading it.  Brushing up on other people's reviews leaves me to believe that there is a possible open-ended conclusion to this story but I feel like when I read it, this book left no doubt in my mind that the story was suggesting a 'for' argument! But if you've read the book, do let me know if you think it went the other way...


The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting by Holly Bourne 

The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting, I think, has the most compelling arguments for how wrong student/teacher relationships are and also gives reasons for why such relationships might happen which I thought was fascinating to read about.

Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally

This book doesn't feel like the others. This book is about a girl who was leading a 'perfect' life until her family dynamic changes drastically and she falls apart. And in the process she ends up having an affair with the new baseball coach.  And in seeing the sleazy side of this relationship, I feel like she changed her own behaviours more towards what she wants in life and in relationships.

That's it.  I'm surprised that there aren't more books that I've across that is clearly against.  I've got Boy Toy by Barry Lyga on my shelf to be read and I'm interested in reading both Love Lessons by Jacqueline Wilson and Love Lessons David Belbin. Are there any other YA books that you think should have been included or that you can think of?

What do you think about student/teacher relationships?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Blog Tour: Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

I'm really happy today to be taking part in the blog tour for fab UKYA debut book The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury.  I absolutely adore this book, I think Mel is LOVELY and I'm really excited for people to read this book and fall in love with the world, the characters and the story like I did!  

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury is AVAILABLE NOW! It was published the 5th February by Scholastic and I really do recommend that you find yourself a copy of this magical book. If you'd like to know more about The Sin Eater's Daughter or about Melinda Salisbury, please do visit the following links. For now, I'm going to hand you over the Mel to tell you more about fairy tales... 

Fairy Tales and The Sin Eater's Daughter
by Melinda Salisbury

Fairy stories have always been a favourite of mine. I suppose they've always been a favourite of everyone’s, whether we realise it or not. They’re such an intrinsic part of human nature, it’s fascinating that virtually every culture in the world has their own fairy tales and mythologies. Though it’s impossible to prove it, every culture on the planet will at some point have passed down legends and tales, father to son, mother to daughter; around campfires, in bedrooms, in sickrooms, in playgrounds. Stories to entertain, to enlighten, stories to warn and teach. They are woven into the fabric of society in a way that makes them inseparable from who we are and what we've become. I grew up centuries after the English witch trials, yet I remember (incredibly cruelly) labelling the older woman who lived alone at the end of my street a “witch”. Where did that idea come from? Where else but fairy tales?

I remember assuming goodness and beauty were one and the same, again, a concept born visible in most fairy tales – virtuous girls shone with beauty, brave young men were always handsome. A less conventional outside usually (but not always) indicates a fundamental flaw within – sometimes it can be overcome (Beauty and the Beast) sometimes not (Rumpelstiltskin). The lessons in these stories, guiding and shaping national identities.

Here in Europe we grew up with versions of Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Anderson, and The Grimm Brothers' stories in one way or another – whether the purest written form or the Disney modernisations. They’re more than stories, they’re our history too.

What’s more interesting to me is the way the stories are surprisingly similar outside of Europe and America, despite the geographical, technical and cultural distances between them. Does anything better illustrate how fundamental the fears and hopes of humans are? All cultures have tales that warn of the dangers of disobeying parents, of too-proud princes being taught lessons of humility, of sly creatures luring young women to their doom with false promises and pretty words.

Personally, I favour the older, darker fairy tales. The versions where people are forced to dance in red-hot, cast-iron shoes, where queens are wicked and cruel, where there are many trials to survive before the end, which isn't always happy. I think this is pretty evident in The Sin Eater’s Daughter – both in Twylla’s world and the fairy tales that exist in it, particularly The Sleeping Prince. I knew I wanted my world to have those tales woven into its fabric – half forgotten and dismissed, lying dormant and waiting. I wanted to give Twylla that feeling of being alone in the woods, not able to see the path ahead, or turn back.

For me, the story wouldn't have been complete without its own folklore, because it’s too big a part of cultural identity to ignore. When I was building the world of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I created a geographical landscape, a theological landscape, and its own mythology, because it was needed to bring the world to life. All worlds and cultures have these stories, it’s how people explain the world around them, especially with an absence of science and technology to do so. Heck, even with technology and science explaining the world to us, we, as humans, still can’t help that prickling of fear we get when we feel eyes on us in the woods, or when we see something out of the corner of our eye that shouldn't be there. We can tell ourselves the rational explanation, but the feelings… They come from something far older, far more ingrained.

All the knowledge in the world can’t undo centuries of fairy tales, of witches and princesses and dragons, quests and pacts and battles. And I love that.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

REVIEW: Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre

I really enjoyed Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre. I find myself weirdly attracted to story lines that feature student/teacher relationships.  I'm not even sure what that says about me, but I'm just going to go with it and say I really like the complications and emotions that go along with this type of forbidden relationship.  And I think the bullying aspects of the book were well done too and I liked that this book two main story lines really tie in well with each other.

Me and Mr J is a story told in a diary format from 15 year old Lara.  Things are not so great in Lara's life at the beginning of the story as her best friend has moved away, her dad has lost his job and the fact that Lara is being bullied at school because of her lower income and her mom's job as a maid.

I really liked Lara right from the start. I think she has a great voice and I loved how while she didn't always stick up for herself she at least never felt embarrassed about her family's circumstances or about her mother taking on cleaning jobs.  I like that instead of complaining about her lot in life, she does her best to take on jobs herself in order to maintain her hobbies while things are tough at home. She's got a good relationship with her Nan and I quite liked that.

I think Lara's family circumstances were quite hard to read as were a lot of Lara's thoughts on her bullying, and, of course, the actually accounts of bullying which start with name-calling and humiliation in front of others and escalates over time to physical and sexual assault.  There's quite a lot of victim-blaming from Lara throughout the first 2/3 of the book which was really uncomfortable to read and one of my main issues with this book is that Lara isn't specifically told or comes to any strong conclusion herself about her lack of blame in 'bringing it on herself.' I did want that to be a little bit clearer.

And this escalation in bullying, I think, is what brings Lara into feeling how does about her teacher.  With everything in Lara's life very difficult, with her bullies tormenting her at every turn, her family falling apart and the added stress of bearing the brunt of her parent's frustrations, Lara blossoms under any praise or nice word from her new, young, fit teacher. I thought it was interesting how the author illustrates Mr J and the circumstances in which he comes to this place in which he is potentially involved with a student on a romantic level.

The first half of the book seems to really focus on the bullying in Lara's life and the second half seems more concerned with the student/teacher relationship.  While I felt like both of these story lines were well introduced and discussed I did want a little bit more closure and discussion regarding Lara's bullying as I mentioned and, in particular, Lara's relationship with her parents and the way that I felt Lara was let down by both her parents.  I think I wanted the conclusion of this book to be a little bit more in depth to all the relationships and topics brought up.  But overall, I really enjoyed this one. I thought it was hard-hitting and thought-provoking and it really hit me on an emotional level! One to watch out for...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

REVIEW: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

I didn't know anything about My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga when I first started reading it.  And while I don't normally prioritise unsolicited review books, I was really attracted to both the cover and the unusual title for this book and so it landed on the top of my TBR pile.  And I liked it.  I thought it had a great message.

Suicide is one of those topics that I'm seeing more frequently in young adult fiction.  I'm both happy and saddened by this fact. Happy that there's more representation but also saddened that it feels so necessary to talk about depression and suicide and suicidal thoughts.  This book in particular brings up suicide support websites and also suicide partners. I hadn't really given much thought to such websites but I hear they are becoming more frequent which I find utterly disturbing.

My Heart and Other Black Holes tells us this story from teenage girl, Aysel's perspective as she meets another teenager, Roman, and they decide to become suicide partners and to commit suicide together in a month's time.  This story spans that month between this partnership and the agreed date and in the meantime we find out more about Aysel and about Roman and why and how they got to that point where they want to end their lives. And we also see Aysel slowly change her mind through this connection and friendship with Roman.

I really enjoyed getting to know both Aysel and Roman and hear about their experiences and reasons for committing suicide.  They're both really interesting characters and in particular I really enjoyed the fact that Aysel is a big physics nerd.  She takes these different physics concepts and tries applying them to her life and it makes her question things in a way that I found fascinating.  And while perhaps there's less of that sort of character development with Roman, I still really enjoyed this friendship between the two main characters.

I think my only really complaint about this book is that the ending feels a little bit too rushed for my liking. So while there wasn't quite enough time for to believe in certain thoughts and feelings and developments, I still really connected with what I thought the book's main message is.  It was beautiful and sad, a little romantic but ultimately hopeful and I really recommend it.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Author Spotlight: Sarah Alderson

I do really hope that you've been enjoying this new feature, Author Spotlight!  For today's spotlight, I'd like to shine it around Sarah Alderson, one of my favourite UKYA authors.

Sarah is an author that I've followed since the release of her debut book, Hunting Lila, back in 2011.  Since then she's published many more books than you'd think in just under 4 years. And I've loved them all.

She's written quite often of her family's travels around the world, living in Bali, and travelling more. She writes books incredibly quickly (like super-human quick!) and I think they're all very fast-paced, addictive and exciting reads. (And it says so on the back of most of her books!)

Do find out more about Sarah Alderson and her lovely books, by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter.

Hunting Lila and Losing Lila

Hunting Lila introduced me to Sarah Alderson! A lovely friend of mine sent this first book over for me to read and I very, very quickly fell in love with Sarah's writing style and her actiony scenes mixed together with some incredibly steamy interactions with hot Alex. These two books are all about people with extra-sensory powers and there's a road trip and explosions and it's all kinds of amazing. Sarah has also written and published several short stories/novellas surrounding the characters and story lines of these two books.

Fated, Severed, and Shadowed

These three books all center around demons and demon slayers and I've only actually read the first book in the series, Fated, so far. Though I do have both sequels on my Kindle waiting for me.  While I love the action and adventure of Sarah's stories, I do need to be in the right frame of mind for more paranormal-y stories!

Come Back To Me

Come Back To Me is a New Adult book that Sarah has written under the pseudonym, Mila Gray that follows a relationship between Jessa and Kit.  I loved how intense this book is and how much this book is also a story about friendship and family as well as a very emotional romantic book.

The Sound

I read The Sound early last year when I went home to visit my father who had been in the hospital. It was a very emotional time for me and all I really wanted to read were comforting stories by authors I knew and trusted.  And this book really fit the bill.  It's the story of a girl who becomes a nanny for a family in Nantucket at the time when there is a serial killer who is targeting foreign nannies.

Out of Control

Out of Control was so much fun.  I loved the added element of human trafficking to the story as well. Not only is it this fast-paced story with loads of chemistry between the two main characters, it also has this added bonus of bringing up a social justice story that I didn't realise was so prevalent. Plus, it's set in New York and I love New York based stories!

Conspiracy Girl

Conspiracy Girl is Sarah Alderson's latest YA book and it has been published by Simon and Schuster this month.  I'm incredibly excited to be taking part in the blog tour for this book. Look out for an interview with Sarah very soon!  This book was definitely an edge-of-my-seat read. About a girl who's family had died previously in a home invasion and who lives paranoid and constantly looking over her shoulder. She teams up with a hot hacker when her family's attackers come back to finish the job...

Have you read anything by Sarah Alderson? Will you be adding any of these books to your wish list?