Tuesday, July 22, 2014

REVIEW: Darkness Hidden by Zoe Marriott

Oh wow, how much did I love Darkness Hidden by Zoe Marriott?! Darkness Hidden is the second book in urban fantasy Name of the Blade trilogy which follows on shortly after the events of the first book in the series.  If you can't quite recall what happened during The Night Itself, do not fear: the publisher, Walker Books, have kindly included a page and a half summary of what happens and who the main characters in the trilogy are in order to refresh your memory. I really do hope that other publishers pick up on this and start including their own summaries in their sequels! It's amazing.

I sometimes fear the second book in the series.  I'm usually afraid that it isn't going to live up to the first book, that it feels like filler ... and if I had any of those worries about this book then I forgot them pretty quickly.  Because what Zoe Marriott does so well with this series is that there are really amazing characters, real emotion and heart within the relationships and she brings up some really exciting and thrilling action scenes.  There was also more world-building here and lots more knowledge about what Mio, Jack and Shinobu are dealing with but this extra knowledge never feels rushed or too heavy to take in.  I thought there was excellent pacing throughout and I really was on the edge of my seat reading this book.

*I will be writing some minor spoilers to The Night Itself ahead. If you haven't yet read that book, please look away now.*

As I said, Darkness Hidden follows on immediately after The Night Itself.  Mio, our main character, together with her best friend, Jack, and Shinobu, this mysterious boy who has been freed from Mio's ancestral sword, have defeated the Nekomata and have rescued Jack's sister in the process.  But things are not going well for this group of young people. They've stopped one monster from terrorising London but more are on the way and this time, they're releasing a deadly plague across London.  The foxes are of no help, somebody close to Mio falls ill and Jack's sister is acting incredibly strangely.

This story is one of nail-biting suspense.  There were so many surprises and twists in the story-line. It was difficult watching Mio struggle so much in this book as she really felt a bit helpless and frustrated with not knowing the right thing to do or how to move forward against the demons who are after her katana.  She's also struggling with her feelings about the katana having its own will and forcing it upon Mio, and also the strength of feeling Mio has for Shinobu.  I really loved witnessing the tension between Mio and Shinobu build up as they both face what the feel for each other.

In the product description, it is hinted that Mio has to make a sacrifice in this book and I was reading Darkness Hidden I had my suspicions of who might not make it through to the end of the book and as things went along, just about everybody was a possibility.  The ending, however, broke my hearts in ways I couldn't possibly imagine and I really cannot wait to read more in the trilogy!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Bigger The Danger, The Bigger The Crowd by Emma Carroll #CountdownYA

It is my great pleasure today to welcome Emma Carroll, the middle grade author of both Frost Hollow Hall and also The Girl Who Walked On Air.  The Girl Who Walked on Air is being published by Faber on the 7th of August and the wonderful Jim from YA Yeah Yeah has organised this Countdown to 7th August blog tour.  

Today, Emma Carroll is here talked about Victoria tightrope walkers, which forms the basis of this new book!  It's fun and adventurous and I've loved what I've read.  I'll hand you over to Emma now, but if you want to know more about Emma Carroll or her books, please do visit the following links: 

Massive thanks to Michelle for hosting me on her beautiful blog to talk about famous Victorian tightrope walkers, the inspiration for my new book ‘The Girl Who Walked On Air’…

The Bigger The Danger, The Bigger The Crowd
by Emma Carroll

It’s a myth that the Victorians were prudish. Underneath those tight corsets and spotless top hats, they actually had pretty gruesome tastes. Dog fighting, rat baiting, freak shows, child acrobats- all were popular entertainment in the C19th.

Up until 1868 when the last public hanging in England took place, an execution might draw a crowd of 20,000-100,000. It was quite common to make a day of it with a picnic.

Nowadays, we get adrenalin kicks from movies or video games. The risk is imagined; in Victorian times they were very real. And this was all part of the thrill. Or as the Victorians’ called it, sensation.

Take Charles Blondin.

On 30th June 1859, Blondin became the first person to cross the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. When Nic Wallenda did the same stunt in 2012, it was a legal requirement that he wore a safety harness.

Blondin wore none.

Bets were placed on him falling 160 feet into the river below. Reports spoke of the crowd being’ visibly affected with palpitations of the heart.’

In the following weeks, Blondin crossed the Falls blindfold, in a sack, on stilts, carrying his manager on his back. He even cooked an omelette halfway across the rope.

Eventually, the crowds grew bored.

Back in the UK, Blondin’s name became synonymous with daring. On seeing his act, Dickens commented: ‘half of London is here, eager for some dreadful accident.’ In October 1861, one young tightrope walker calling herself ‘The Female Blondin’ crossed the River Thames in front of 20,000 people.

Yet for another ‘Female Blondin’ such daring came with a price. In January 1863 at Aston Park, Birmingham, her rope broke. She fell to her death in full view of the crowds; she was eight-months pregnant at the time. The show continued with ‘unabated gaiety’, ending with a firework display at midnight.

A public outcry followed. Queen Victorian voiced her disgust and the pressure grew to make performances safer. Laws were introduced. Eventually, tastes did change,. As for Blondin, he died in his own bed at the aged 73 of diabetes.

Friday, July 18, 2014

REVIEW: The Girl Who Walked On Air by Emma Carroll

I absolutely adored The Girl Who Walked On Air by Emma Carroll.  This is Emma Carroll's second historical story aimed at a middle grade audience but it is the first book of hers I've read. I'm sure I'll go back and read Frost Hollow Hall based on the strength of feeling I had for this book though.

I absolutely loved the main character, Louie, and witnessing her journey throughout this book.  She goes on such an adventure! And I definitely think my favourite aspect of this book is Louie's determination to succeed and follow her dreams despite everyone around her telling her that she can't because she's young and a girl.

But things aren't all smooth sailing for Louie.  As a baby, Louie was abandoned by her mother and taken in by Jasper, a trapeze artist at Mr. Chipchase's circus.  Louie has grown up to become a ticket-seller and mender-of-costumes but she dreams of being a show-stopper, she dreams of being a tightrope-walker.  Together with her lovely little dog, Pip, she's been training for years to hone her craft in order to impress Mr. Chipchase.  But he doesn't seem to take her any notice at all.  And instead the first of two strangers enters her life and changes things all around.

I loved all the details that Emma Carroll wrote into the story about Victorian circuses and how every act needed the WHIFF OF DEATH in order to be widely entertaining and how every act needed to be daring and pushing the limits and taking things one step further to be truly death-defying and amazing.  And Louie definitely gets pulled into this mind-set and idolises other risk-taking tightrope-walkers like Charles Blondin even after a horrible accident leaves the person closest to Louie in a terrible state.  It felt exciting to read about all the risks and daring that these performers get up to, but also really scary that a balance hadn't been set.

Other than Louie herself, I really loved all of the secondary characters in this book.  Jasper, Mr. Chipchase, Pip, Louie's best friend, Ned ... even Kitty, Louie's arch-nemesis was a really entertaining addition to the story.  But for me, it was Louie and Gabriel, a performer from another circus who comes to audition for the role of showstopper that really took the limelight for me.  I loved how we are able to see Louie's courage next to Gabriel's nervousness and stage fright and how we slowly discover how Gabriel came to feeling this way.

There were several really emotional scenes during The Girl Who Walked On Air and I felt slightly surprised by how quickly I came to love Louie and how much I wanted the best for her.  I actually cried from pride at one point in the book because she had achieved something wonderful and my heart just felt fit to burst.  This book was just so lovely and entertaining! I really do recommend it especially for slightly younger than YA readers who are looking for a story about adventure and empowerment and friendship and bravery.

P.S. Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog post which will be a guest post by Emma Carroll!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

REVIEW: Lies Like Love by Louisa Reid

Lies Like Love by Louisa Reid is one of those books that will stay with me for a very long time.  It's an uncomfortable, unsettling and it made me feel a whole range of feelings from rage and disappointment and frustration, hope, and ultimately a sorrowful sadness.  I love how emotional the experience of reading this book was for me and I was quite surprised by how much of an impact this book had on me.

It probably shouldn't have been a surprise for me though, as I knew going into this book that it would be a story about mental illness and about a complicated relationship between a mother and daughter.  And I thought both major aspects of the book were done really well. And aside from this I also really enjoyed the secondary characters and the way in which the reader is slowly let into more of the story.

Lies Like Love is told from a dual-perspective. We get into the heads of both Audrey, a teenage girl who has just moved into this old building with her mother and little brother, and also Leo, a neighbour who has experience and an understanding of the effects of mental illness.  Both Audrey and Leo share their own stories and while Audrey's story feels more prominent and features more throughout the book, I also really loved hearing more about Leo and his relationship with his mother whose expectations of perfection and over-achievement led Leo to a nervous breakdown and to move in with his more relaxed aunt.

I found Audrey to be quite the unreliable narrator as we learn some things about the reasons behind her family's move and about some of her depression and self-harm and the ways in which these things manifest themselves in her life and the effect it has on her and her family.  There are numerous trips to the hospital and doctor visits for Audrey's depression and her self-harm. I found it really difficult to read how Audrey's mother is in full control over Audrey's treatment and also what is being explained on Audrey's behalf to medical professionals but I think that this idea that Audrey finds it difficult to put into words how much she battles with her demons is an important aspect of this book.  As the story goes on however, it is shown slowly that there is more to Audrey's issues than the reader first realises.

And while Lies Like Love is certainly heavy in parts and it covers really serious and also a difficult range of topics, there is also tenderness and hope and beauty in this story. Some love can be cause for destruction and pain but there is also some types of love like Audrey's love for her little brother and there is also the budding feelings between Audrey and Leo that really balance out some of the other darker elements of this story which was much needed.

Lies Like Love was not an easy read. At times it felt haunting, unsettling and deeply uncomfortable.  I couldn't read anything after I finished this book because I felt so strongly about the events that happened and all of my thoughts about it were still swirling around in my head long after the book ended.  It really has been awhile since I read a book that so powerfully affected me and I'm so glad that I picked up this book to read.  I do really recommend it!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Blogger Problems #1

Let me tell you about this problem I had recently...

You see, I follow lots of authors on Twitter. I read their blogs, I add their books to my Goodreads ages before publication. I retweet their interviews guest posts and giveaways and things, I chat with them about their books and other books, sometimes I even meet them at different events.  Sometimes all of this happens before I've even read their books.  And sometimes because of this ...friendliness on social media beforehand, I then feel nervous about reading their books.

Because what if I don't like the book?  What if I think the writing is disjointed and pulls me away from the story? What if I don't think the character development is very strong? What if I don't like the characters and don't really believe in the relationships in the book?  (all examples of my actual thoughts on certain books where I didn't enjoy the story but where I really like the author in question)

How am I going to write my review of these books when I 'know' the author and when the author might read these reviews and know that I didn't like his/her book. What do I do? How will that ever not be awkward?  This is a problem I faced a few months ago.

And then something wonderful happened.  I had been stressing on Twitter with another book blogger about these fears.  I was worried that my expectations of a particular upcoming book were too high and that that book couldn't possibly live up to my high hopes and I was worried that I'd be disappointed and have to write a middling or negative review.  And the author of that particular book saw my tweets and she sent me a DM on Twitter.  It said 'Even if you don't like my book, I'll still like YOU.' As simple and as straightforward as that.  And it allowed me to breathe a little more easily.

Because after that bit of encouragement, I was able to hope that other authors would feel the same way and would also be able to separate me from my thoughts on their books.  Because I always want to maintain my integrity when it comes to my reviews on this blog.  I read lots of books every week and month and year and I don't love them all. I don't think it's possible to love them all because books aren't aimed at everyone to love.  My favourite books will not be your favourite books and what I look for when I'm reading will not necessarily be what you look for when you're reading.  There might be some overlap but I hope that whether we agree or disagree on particular books that you'll still appreciate what I do on this blog.

I read and I review books on this blog: amazing books, okay books and the books I didn't enjoy at all.  I will never attack an author personally and I don't think I've been unfair in my middling or negative reviews in the past, nor will I be unfair in the future, I hope.  I try my best to provide both positive and negative aspects of a book in my reviews and give a little balance.  But I also won't shy away from talking about how a book didn't work for me, even if I know an author personally or have conversed with them over social media. Because you wouldn't expect that of me, right?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

REVIEW: Harder by Robin York

Oh man, was Harder an amazing sequel.  I really didn't think that I could love another book more than I loved Deeper but Robin York really brought it with Harder.  It was really emotional and complicated and I fell hard again for both Caroline and West in this book.

Harder tells us this story about this broken relationship between Caroline and West.  It's four months or so after West left university to return home and Caroline and West have broken up.  Even so, when West phones Caroline after tragedy has struck, Caroline is pure reaction: she jumps on the first plane out to Oregon in order to be with West to try to provide comfort and support in this difficult time.

What was heartbreaking was West's reaction to Caroline being around his mother and in this environment he'd fought so hard to leave behind.  What Caroline learns during her time in Oregon is that the people you care about the most are definitely the people who are capable of hurting you the most. And West does his very best to lash out and get Caroline to leave.  I wasn't expecting this. I thought from the product description that a lot of the book is set in Oregon around West's family, but it isn't.

Not only is this book about West and Caroline and how they both move forward from what happens in Oregon but it's also carries on what happens with Caroline's lawsuit against her ex-boyfriend and about taking responsibility and about making the right decisions for the right reasons.  I loved the messages in this book about how people everywhere make things harder for no apparent reason and how both West and Caroline try to break out of this habit and work towards having what they both really want.

I absolutely adore Caroline and West.  I love Caroline's determination and I loved seeing West take care of his sister and seeing West realise how much his upbringing and home life have meant that him and Frankie have missed out in so many ways.  I loved seeing how much West changes over the course of this book.  It isn't easy but it's worth it.

I really love both Deeper and Harder by Robin York.  I loved seeing this amazing, chemistry-filled couple and to see the massive highs and lows of their relationship.  I loved how in both stories both West and Caroline stepped up in order to support the other when it was most needed.  What a fantastic story that I really recommend!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

REVIEW: Out of Tune by Beth Reekles

Out of Tune is the third book by teenage Wattpad sensation, Beth Reekles. I really enjoyed her previous two books, The Kissing Booth and Playing Dice. All of the books so far by Beth Reekles have been fun contemporary love stories and Out of Tune was everything that I expected from it: sweet and cute with a nice message about friendship, identity and love.

Out of Tune is the story of Ashley Bennett, a high school junior, who has everything going for her: she's smart, popular and has a wonderful boyfriend. But then a new family moves in next door to her and with their arrival, Ashley begins to see some of the cracks in her perfect life. With the help of Todd, the boy next door, she begins to realise that she can't talk to her friends about many things, her boyfriend keeps pressuring her to have sex and that Ashley desperately misses her ex-best friend who stopped being her friend once Ashley started dating her boyfriend.

I thought Todd was a cute character and a nice love interest and best friend for Ashley.  I like that he's bookish and shy and that there's an obvious awkwardness to him that makes him seem standoffish and aloof in the beginning.  He at least does have other extracurricular hobbies as he plays the guitar and writes his own songs. I liked the inclusion of some of Todd's song-writing and some of the initial tension between Ashley and Todd is pretty cute.  The fact that they are next door neighbours is used well throughout the story with their windows facing each other. Aww.

Like I said, I thought this book was very cute and sweet. I thought that sometimes the development of the secondary characters wasn't very strong and I don't believe that Ashley's parents were very believable in the things they said or did, but overall, I really enjoyed the story. I do like how much the story revolves around Ashley making changes in her life and having a bit of a realisation that some things just aren't working or making her feel happy any more.  I would have liked Ashley to be a little less passive in her own life and for her to rely less on Todd's observations and use some of her own agency to make things happen. I'd really like for her to have joined a club or taken up a hobby or something so that this book (and by extension, Ashley's life) has a bit more substance to it as opposed to everything in Ashley's life hinging on her relationship with a boy, but that is just a minor quibble I had with this book.

While I did want slightly more from Ashley's character and for there to be more in the way of story away from her romantic life, I did really enjoy Out of Tune and read it fairly quickly.  It's a nice, light read perfect summer-time reading for fans of contemporary YA love stories...

Monday, July 07, 2014

REVIEW: Glimpse by Kendra Leighton

I have been very excited to pick up and read Glimpse for Kendra Leighton for awhile. I don't know, I never really expected for ghost stories to be my thing but I've been reading several lately and they (and especially Glimpse!) have been really surprising and entertaining and just lots of fun to read. I am definitely looking forward to reading more ghost stories like this in the future and especially to read more with a British setting as well.  That's always an added bonus for me.

Glimpse is the story of teenage girl, Liz, who has not had an easy life so far. Seven years ago, at the edge of 10, she was involved in a car accident that claimed the life of her mother as well as all of the memories of her life.  When she wakes up in the hospital, she has no recollection of who she is or who her father is.  All she wants is a normal life with a full set of memories but instead, she wakes up with the ability of see 'glimpses' of bodies and people that nobody else can see.  She also has terrible nightmares and she's bullied badly at school because of her odd behaviour and the strange way she's dressed.  The bullying included in this story was quite to read about and it really made me sympathetic towards Liz right from the start.

Then Liz and her father inherit The Highwayman Inn and they move back to the place Liz's mother was originally from in order to start over in this new place.  Liz hopes for a new beginning and makes a 'Normalcy List' to help her in her goals. No more strange behaviour, no more nightmares, no more bullying. Fresh start, new life as new Liz.  Despite her plans, Liz soon meets Zachary and everything that Liz has been running from comes at her from different directions and forces Liz to deal with them directly.

I really loved reading Glimpse. I love how the story is based around the famous Alfred Noyes poem, 'The Highwayman' and how much that forms the narrative of this story. I had no experience with the poem before reading Glimpse, but the full poem is produced at the start of the story and then is referenced throughout.  I really love when other stories or poems become the basis of something new in this way. I also enjoyed the fact that Liz and her new friend, Susie, begin researching The Highwayman Inn as part of their school project to learn more about ghosts and how haunted the building is which allowed them (and the reader) to learn more about the history of this time period.

I thought there was plenty of suspense and tension in this book both from witnessing Liz's glimpses and her nightmares as well as from another angry ghostly presence for this book to be quite creepy and unsettling.  Liz and Susie visit a medium in the area who has been in contact with some of the ghosts from The Highwayman, one of which in particular is hell bent on vengeance towards Liz which puts her in some mild peril. It was all very entertaining!

But Glimpse is also a love story and I really loved the combination of ghosts and romance in this book.  There's lovely echoes of the love story between the highwayman and the innkeeper's daughter in all of the relationships within Glimpse and everything about this element of the story really made me happy.  I really do recommend this book for anyone looking for a good ghost story!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Joanna Nadin (Awesome Women)

Today I have the great pleasure of having Joanna Nadin, the author of the Rachel Riley series as well as the very recently published YA thriller, Eden, on the blog.  Eden sounds wonderful...

"I wait for my heart to slow and then I begin the game of 'what ifs' and 'if onlys'. What if I could turn back time? Would Eden still stand? Would Bea still be alive?" After her cousin Bea is killed in a house fire, Evie returns to her childhood home of Eden, full of guilt for what might have been. She is not the only one seeking redemption. Bea's boyfriend, Penn, arrives in Cornwall, desperate to atone for a terrible mistake. And as Penn and Evie's feelings for each other intensify, Evie slowly unravels the dark truth behind Bea's tragic death.

If you want to know more about Joanna Nadin or Eden, do visit the following websites:

Can you tell me a little something about yourself?

I've had a lot of previous lives and guises. I used to be a lifeguard, then a radio journalist, then an adviser to the Prime Minister. Now I mostly write for children and teenagers, with nearly forty books published in the last ten years. The Penny Dreadful series has been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize and the Booktrust Best Book Awards, and the Rachel Riley diaries have been shortlisted for Queen of Teen three times. My latest book is ‘Eden’, a YA thriller set in Cornwall and London in the summer of 1988.

Did you have a role model growing up?

I had many, though they were all fictional. I wanted to be Arabel in Joan Aiken’s series who had a pet raven called Mortimer who ate stairs and dug for diamonds. Or Heidi who slept in a hayloft. Or Velvet Brown who rode the Grand National disguised as boy. As I got older, so did my heroines: Ruth in KM Peyton’s Pennington books, then Dona and Mary in Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ and ‘Jamaica Inn’.

Who do you look up to now?

Now I look up to the exceptional women who created these exceptional girls. Daphne du Maurier in particular, whose ‘Rebecca’ and ‘My Cousin Rachel’ have had a huge influence on the setting, characters and language of ‘Eden’.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I certainly didn't want to be the writer. I wanted to be in the book. I wanted a life so extraordinary that one day someone would write about it. It took me a while to work out that life didn't always work out like it does in stories, and that maybe the person doing the writing should be me.

Tell me something about the women in your life who have been an influence on you?

I've had the privilege to work with some incredibly brave and principled women in politics, who are working to change the world – and women’s lives in particular – for the better. But the ones who've had the biggest impact on my life are family and friends: my Cornish grandmothers who gave me a love of the landscape and encouraged me to expand my horizons through reading; my best friend from school Helen, who has always reassured me that it’s good to be different; and now my gaggle of writerly friends here in Bath – people like Karen Saunders, Cathy Hopkins, Catherine Bruton, Annabel Wynne and Wendy Meddour. All of whom are supportive, kickass, and an endless source of inspiration, tea and sympathy.

Who is your favourite fictional character? And why?

My current favourite character is Norah in David Levithan and Rachel Cohn’s ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’, because I wish I’d talked that smart aged seventeen.

Is there a fictional character that reminds you of you?  And if you could choose to be best friends with a fictional character, who would it be? 

I wish I could say Norah but that would be a lie. Or Sally Jay Gorce in ‘The Dud Avocado’. Or anyone in an Evelyn Waugh novel. The closest – aside from Rachel Riley, who is actually me – would be Adrian Mole. But I’d like to be friends with any of the above, because that would mean I would live in New York or Paris or the 1930s, all of which are excellent wardrobe opportunities.

What were you like as a teenager and how did you cope with all the changes that occurred?

I was exactly like Rachel Riley – the same absurd hair, the same idiotic little brother, the same desperate wish for a life of tragedy, possibly including living in a squat in Camden with a tortured musician. I didn’t cope, really. I staggered through, making occasional pratfalls and endlessly in love with the wrong boys.

Which book would you say that every teenager should read and why? 

‘The Outsiders’ by SE Hinton. Devastating. And also so you will get the ‘Be cool, Sodapop’ reference in Veronica Mars.

If you had any advice for yourself as a teenager, what would you say?

a) They will invent better hair products in the 1990s, so hang in there.

b) Martini is NOT, repeat NOT, a soft drink.

c) Do not let the sixth form gatecrash your sixteenth birthday party. Or let anyone drink olive oil. Or wear stilettoes on the parquet floor. Because twenty-seven years later your mother will still not have forgiven you, and nor will your little brother who will have thenceforth been banned from having a party of his own.

If you could choose to have a girly sleepover with any fictional characters, who would you choose? 

Scarlet and Sad Ed from the Rachel books, who are not only two of my favourite fictional characters, but still two of my favourite people in real life too.

Of the issues and concerns that women are faced with today, what's the area you most like reading/writing about?

I know there are bigger political issues to grapple with, but mostly I think about and write about identity: the idea of self, of not liking who you are, of wanting to be someone else, or pretending to be. Rachel wanted a life less ordinary; Jude in ‘Wonderland’ wanted to shine bright like her friend Stella; Billie in ‘Undertow’ wanted to know who she was and where she came from; Evie in ‘Eden’ wants the boys her cousin Bea collects. Identity consumes us when we’re teenagers – the area of the brain that deals with self really does go into overdrive as we work out who we are and who we want to be. So it’s not a trivial thing; it’s everything.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I’d like to add that, despite me playing down the politics, it’s really important to vote. It does change things. And also wear a supportive bra. My mum was right about that one.

Thank you so much, Joanna! 

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Mental health issues and Lies Like Love by Louisa Reid

Today I have the great pleasure of having Louisa Reid, the UKYA author of Black Heart Blue and Lies Like Love on my blog.  It's especially nice because Louisa is here talking about one of my favourite topics, mental health issues.  

Lies Like Love is Louisa's most recent book out and it was published on the 3rd of July by Penguin Books.  If you'd like to know more about Lies Like Love or Louisa Reid, do visit the following websites: 

Mental Health Issues and Lies Like Love
by Louisa Reid

Some of my favourite protagonists are those who are dealing with what we in the 21st century call mental health issues. I wonder what name Shakespeare had for Lady Macbeth's guilt, or Lear's dementia or Ophelia's desperation. Probably for the female characters it would have been hysteria (because of course, if you're a woman, your womb is bound to drive you mad) and for the male characters- dotage or madness. Shakespeare's nuanced and individualised representations of each of these characters' descent into insanity makes it obvious that he was aware that every individual experience of psychological problems is utterly different.

I think Rebecca in Black Heart Blue was experiencing deep psychological trauma but I never really put a name to it. Her grief at Hephzi's death and her haunted terror at living locked up in the vicarage were a torture and torment- so like the narrator in another of my favourite stories, The Yellow Wallpaper, the walls in her room fill with bulging reminders of the secrets she is forced to guard. Likewise, in Lies Like Love my protagonist Audrey isn't well. Her mother, Lorraine, wants to know what exactly it is that is troubling her - in fact it's her life's work to find out -  and Audrey wants to be "normal" too; so she visits the doctors and takes the pills she's given and tries her best to keep on going and to face down The Thing which drags her into the depths of despair.
Audrey's biggest problem, though, is that she really can't talk about how she feels without destroying her family. She's another keeper of secrets, fighting to keep the truth of her life buried in her subconscious: it's just too awful to face. And of course this makes her ill, an illness which manifests itself in self-harm and, perhaps, an attempted suicide.

The decision to write about such tricky subjects such as self-harm and mental illness wasn't one I took lightly. But I think we need books which help to make it OK to talk about how it feels to experience psychological pain and its consequences in everyday life. Audrey feels different, she's picked on and singled out, is bullied and taunted because she can't quite keep things together. I totally understand why Audrey won't talk to people who try to help her. She feels ashamed, I think, and her silence is self-defence. All her barriers are up because she doesn't think anyone will ever understand exactly what she's experiencing and that they will judge her harshly, blame her perhaps, or even worse, not believe her. I've never had the type of depression myself which has utterly disabled me, but I've had times when I've felt pretty awful and close to desperate, and I've never, ever told anyone about it. I remember after I had my first baby and the health visitor showed up with her list of boxes to tick for post-natal depression and how appalling that made me feel. But I slapped on a smile and told her I was fine. Eventually I was, thank God, but I could quite easily not have been. Even writing that down here makes me feel rather uncomfortable and I think that probably makes me a coward. I have huge admiration for people, especially young people, who are brave enough to be open about their mental health and I hope that in Lies Like Love readers see how vital it is to talk about how they're feeling, to be honest, to help yourself by speaking to someone you can trust. Audrey had her trust betrayed long ago and I think that's why she's so suspicious of doctors and therapists and why she remains so guarded. I reckon that readers might find themselves shouting at Audrey: "Just tell them what's going on!" - but she can't.

Deep breath required now, I think! After all that, I guess I've made Lies Like Love sound like a very intense book. It probably is. But it's also a love story and a bit of a thriller and I hope it is also a book about how love isn't always lies and that there are some bonds which are impossible to break. Audrey has to face the truth and deal with it, to save herself and her brother too.  Like Rebecca, she's a survivor and she doesn't give up without a fight.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Books That Make Me Want to Travel ... In Time by Helen Douglas

I am super happy today to be hosting Helen Douglas, the UKYA author of romantic time travel adventures, After Eden and Chasing Stars.  She's here with a very fitting guest post about books that make her want to time travel. Which books would make that list for you? We'd both love to know.  Here is some information about both Helen Douglas and Chasing Stars:

Helen Douglas was born and raised in a small beach town in Cornwall. After leaving home to go to university, she lived in London, California, New Jersey and New York, where she worked at various jobs including drama teacher and theatre director. She is now back in Cornwall, where she combines writing YA fiction with teaching secondary school English.

Social Media:
@HelenMDouglas on Twitter

Books That Make Me Want To Travel ... In Time
by Helen Douglas

One of the greatest things about reading is being transported to a different place. Equally exciting, for me however, is when a book transports you to a different time. Admittedly, most books set in the future paint pretty unpleasant dystopian worlds – no I don’t want to visit Panem thanks very much. And many historical novels are set during time periods where you have to worry about things like The Black Death or no indoor plumbing, not to mention that life for women pre-C20th was not exactly rosy even in the ‘developed’ world. Leaving these aside, the following books definitely left me wanting to travel through time.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – the 1980s (nostalgia trip)

I picked up this book with trepidation. There had been so much hype about it, that I felt sure  I’d be disappointed. But I loved it. Everything about the characters and dialogue felt really authentic and raw. And I got to visit the 1980s. Now, I’ve been to the1980s. Actually, I grew up then, so this decade has a special place in my heart. Reading Eleanor and Park transported me right back there – and it seemed so quaint. No internet. No mobile phones. No iPods. No tablets or superfast broadband.

But, the 1980s did have tape decks and Sony Walkmans, mix tapes, The Smiths, Joy Division, The Cure, Elvis Costello, Nintendo, Goths, Back To The Future.

It was definitely a nostalgia trip. It made me want to dig out my old mix tapes, except I don’t have anything to play them on any more.

The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare – London in the 1870s 

Yes, I know they sent children up chimneys and had smallpox and slums and workhouses, but this series makes Nineteenth Century London sound so exciting. Cassandra Clare does a great job of evoking the docks by the dirty River Thames, the smells of spices and tar, the gambling dens and cobbled streets and horse-drawn carriages.

Witch Child by Celia Rees – America in the late 1650s

A sea journey lasting 8 weeks from England (just after the civil war) to the new colonies in Massachusetts. Isolation: hundreds of miles of ‘wilderness’ around them and an ocean between the settlers and ‘home’. Strained relationships between Native Americans and the colonists. And witchcraft. This period in history has always fascinated me, and I would love the chance to time-travel there. But just for a week or two.

As for the future, I’d love to travel in that direction, but I'm still waiting for a book that doesn't make it sound like a nightmare! I got to travel to the future from my office chair while writing Chasing Stars, and that was a lot of fun.

Thank you, Helen! Do share in comments which books make you want to travel in time! 

Blurb for Chasing Stars:

The boy Eden loves just saved her life. Now she needs to save his.
To do so she must make a huge sacrifice. Eden can never see her friends or family again.
But the risks Ryan took to rescue Eden are finally uncovered, and now Ryan faces an exile which will mean Eden is separated from him too - the one person she can't live without.
Eden must put everything into the biggest gamble of her life. She only has one shot.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Why selective mutism? by Laura Jarratt

I'm incredibly happy today to be taking part in the blog tour for Louder Than Words by Laura Jarratt.  Laura Jarratt is a UKYA author who has quickly become one of my favourites. I really love her stories and Skin Deep and By Any Other Name have been firm favourites of mine. Louder Than Words looks set for the same.

If you'd like to know more about Louder Than Words or Laura Jarratt, do visit the following websites:

Why did you decide to write about selective mutism?

In short, I didn't. I had a concept in my head of a girl who was the youngest of an incredibly gifted family and in my early ideas she’d stopped talking because everyone around her was so gifted and clever that she felt anything she had to say was worthless. That idea sounds more like the way Rafi's mutism used to be thought of, when the term used was elective mutism.

Elective mutism is the former name for selective mutism. Elective mutism was defined as a refusal to speak in almost all social situations (despite normal ability to do so), while selective mutism is considered to be a failure to speak in specific situations and is strongly associated with social anxiety disorder. In contrast to selective mutism, someone who is electively mute may not speak in any situation, as is usually shown in books and movies.

Elective mutism is often attributed to defiance or the effect of trauma.” As I researched more up to date information about the conditions, I realised selective mutism fitted Rafi's personality far better and the way in which she describes how she came to stop talking should reflect that it wasn't a conscious choice for her but a kind of phobia that built over time. In Rafi's case, she became so disconnected that she developed a much rarer condition called progressive mutism, where the sufferer doesn't speak at all. I read a really helpful blog from the parents of a sufferer about the same age as Rafi on how their daughter’s condition had progressed and how it was affecting her life. There wasn't any technical information I didn't know presented there but it’s important to be able to connect with the feelings of the family around the sufferer as well as the sufferer themselves. Rafi's mother often shows great frustration with her and it’s easy to lose patience and empathy with her, but dealing with a child with this condition can be very difficult for parents too and there’s a palpable sense of failure that comes through from their parents when they’re blogging or on help forums. I think what you see in Louder Than Words is very much Rafi's anger and frustration with her mother, and a mother that she feels lets her down. When you look beyond that, and the fact that of course Rafi is writing this in first person, you will see tiny hints that maybe she doesn't have the full picture quite sorted yet. It’s also important to remember that Rafi is a fourteen year old girl, with all of the baggage that brings in a mother-daughter relationship. Looking back on myself at that point, I wouldn't say that age wasn't a high point in me and my mother’s understanding of each other. We’re very close but when I was fourteen I remember having those feelings of how she didn't understand me at all, and I certainly didn't understand her when I look back with adult eyes.

Louder Than Words isn't an issues book about selective mutism. It just happens that Rafi has this condition, in the same way you could meet someone at the bus stop with it. People with all kind of differences are out there in society with all the maelstrom of normal life going on around them, and that’s what I like to reflect in my books.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

REVIEW: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Guest review by Hayley

'Roomies' by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando covers a pivotal period of the teenage years which doesn't feature in YA very often, the transitional summer between high school and college. The story centres around Elizabeth, also known as EB and Lauren who will be college room mates in two months and begin exchanging emails as their summer progresses.

I love books told via emails, letters and journals and although 'Roomies' isn't told entirely through the emails the two girls exchange I enjoyed how the emails were used and how they demonstrated the developing friendship between EB and Lauren. This also provided me with a does of nostalgia for my own life at this age which I spent writing letters to friends all over the country.

As expected on the surface the two main characters are rather different. EB lives in New Jersey with her Mother and is an only child. Lauren lives in San Francisco near the university the two girls will soon attend with her parents and 5 younger siblings. EB lives a somewhat solitary home life with a Mother often working or going on ill­-advised dates, whereas Lauren has a loving home life yet little free time due to helping out with her siblings and also has two part-­time jobs.

I really enjoyed this book, my favourite element was that the focus was on the importance and emergence of a strong friendship between EB and Lauren. While there are important romantic developments in the lives of both characters the key to the book is the importance of friendship as a foundation to the rest of life. I enjoy YA romances as much as the next person but it did feel like a breath of fresh air to have friends as the focus rather than romance.

I also thought 'Roomies' did a really good job at dissecting the limbo of life between school and college. Both girls are emerging as adults and testing their new found independence yet still navigating the demands of family and their expectations.

The emerging friendship also liberates both girls from the demands of their existing friendships which gave me something to think about. Whilst having friends for many years can provide a stabilising foundation it can also restrict personal growth in the glare of how those friends the expect you to act and behave. This seems a particularly relevant issue when the characters are at such a crossroads in their lives and one of them is about to move many miles away from home.

I also liked the fact that neither of the girls is shown to be wealthy and both work at part-­time jobs during the summer. I find a lot of YA, particularly American books show very privileged teens who live financially carefree in large bedrooms filled with the latest gadgets and their own brand-new cars. Whilst as escapism this is fine it's also alienating for those of us with more humble lives.

The ending, while a little predictable was perfect, although at the same time I would have happily read another 300 pages as I had become so fond of both characters. I was already a fan of Sara Zarr's but I will definitely investigate Tara Altebrando's previous work now too.

Thank you so much, Hayley

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hidden Creatures by Katy Moran

I'm really happy today to have the every lovely Katy Moran return to the blog to celebrate the publication of her new book, The Hidden Princess.  The Hidden Princess is the sequel to Hidden Among Us which I read and reviewed last year.  

If I can tell you one thing about these two books it's that Katy Moran knows how to write an exciting story! I'm reading The Hidden Princess at the moment and I constantly feel at the edge of my seat waiting as the anticipation and excitement just builds up page after page. It's good stuff.  

The Hidden Princess was published by Walker Books on the 5th June! If you want to know more about Hidden Among Us, The Hidden Princess or Katy Moran, do visit the following links:

Hidden Creatures 
by Katy Moran

Gorgeous, immortal and just a little bit sinister: how could you not love elves? I can see why these guys dressing up for the Dragon Con in Georgia want to be elves. I've always loved them and secretly would like to be one.

Photo © James Emery. 

What re-awoke my childhood fascination with creatures like this, though, was discovering a weakness for Orlando Bloom as Legolas at around the same time I was studying Anglo-Saxon archaeology and culture at university. I was up to my neck in the examination of post-holes and tiny cloth fragments, deciphering the oddly familiar rhythms of Old English poetry. I didn't expect to look up one day and encounter a tall and beautiful stranger who made even Legolas look a little bit meh – but that’s exactly what did happen in my seminar one morning.

We were translating and analyzing a poem written about a thousand years ago, Judith – the heroine saves her people by beheading Holofernes, an enemy general. But not only is Judith a fearless assassin, she is also described as “aelfscinu”. It means elf-shining, our tutor explained. A small but distinct physical shock jolted through me, as if I’d just touched an electric fence. In the back of my mind, the place where I see my books playing out like a film, there he was: a cloaked figure with wild red hair and the kind of face you can’t stop looking at. He became Larkspur in Hidden Among Us and The Hidden Princess, an immortal creature we all recognize, even if we’re not sure where from.

It’s true that only a small fraction of the population back when Judith was written down could read or write, and an even smaller fraction of what they did write has survived for us to read now, so it could be that “elf-shining” was an incredibly artistic turn of phrase that would never normally have been used in everyday conversation, but in my seminar that morning, just for a second, I knew that we have a collective folk memory of another species – tall and uncannily attractive – with often indecipherable motives. I knew that once these creatures had lived alongside us before retreating – perhaps pursued – to darker, more hidden places.

Then I told myself not to be such an idiot.

I’ll be more sensible about it: a thousand years ago there were still true wild places – forests, moorland – just a few steps beyond the safety of your own village where you probably lived in a communal hall, never more than a few paces away from people you’d known your entire life.

It’s not a huge leap of logic to connect shining elvish creatures who don’t necessarily mean well to the beauty and danger of the world beyond the safety of your own hall and fields, and I like to think that in an older time, a wilder time, we believed with such certainty in beautiful immortal creatures like this that that we gave their name to those of our own kind who were out of the ordinary, those who stood out from the crowd and were perhaps to be feared. The Judith poet was writing a tale grown from a new religion, Christianity. He or she could have chosen to describe this brave and dangerous Judith in more angelic terms. But instead the poet gave her a quality I like to think ordinary people then would have understood immediately: Judith isn't one hundred per cent angelic. She’s a killer, but she is also elf-shining, like those creatures who lived in the wild untamed spaces beyond the homestead: beautiful, and more than a little bit dangerous.

Irresistible, in other words, just like I wanted the Hidden to be.