Friday, August 22, 2014

Settings I'd Like to See More of In YA

I'm always writing lists of things I'd like to see more or less of in the books I read. And lately, I've been thinking of some cool settings I'd like to see more of (specifically thinking of contemporary YA).  Here is that list. Do you agree? What sort of settings would you like to see more in YA?

Books set ...

in theme parks

Did you guys see that film with Jesse Eisenberg and Kirsten Stewart, Adventureland? I think N put it on to watch one lazy Sunday and I remember quite liking it.  I remember being this weird divide between ride operators and those in charge of the stalls?  And it was a cute film if not particularly memorable to me. But what I did love is the fact that it was set in a theme park. I don't know if you guys know this about me (ha!) but my family spends a considerable amount of time at Legoland.  \Like, a lot of time.  There's always a very particular atmosphere about Legoland and there a bunch of crazy, awesome people who work there and who go there regularly same as us.  I think not only would a theme park (possibly with a higher average age than Legoland, sure) be a great place for a YA novel it would also be a great place for a documentary. (I still want to film one about Legoland!)

in water parks

I don't know about you, but The Way, Way Back was one of my favourite recent films.  I only went to watch it at the cinema because I ended up with free tickets, but I really, really loved it. It has some great characterisations and family dynamics and I just thought the whole thing was utterly sweet. I'm not a big fan of Steve Carell in anything but I adore Sam Rockwell.  And his character was amazing in helping the main character grow in confidence over the course of the summer.  And it's set in a water park! I don't know, I haven't really seen many (any?) water parks in the UK around, is this mostly a US thing?  Even so, just like the theme park suggestion ahead, I'd really love to see a YA book at least partially set in a water park. Or even, while we're on the subject, a zoo or aquarium!

at festivals

Julianne's latest video about summer books touches on this topic and she mentions that festivals would be a great addition to YA novels, and I have to agree.  One of my favourite books is Split By A Kiss by Luisa Plaja in which a bunch of characters are attending a music festival and all sorts of drama happen. But I don't necessarily think it has to be exclusively music festivals. I think Sharon Jones's Dead Jealous was amazing set at a pagan festival and I loved it all the more for doing so!

in European cities

I think Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins made everyone fall in love with Paris just that tiny bit more and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green really highlighted Amsterdam and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor made me, at the very least, really sit up and take note of Prague. And I'd like to see other authors set their stories in other awesome European cities.  Like Venice or Lisbon or Barcelona or ... some place a little more off-beat. I don't know. I'm no expert. But I'd love to read more about different places that also feel a little more accessible. That's not London. Or in the US.

What settings would you like to see more of in YA?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

REVIEW: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

I didn't know anything about The Jewel by Amy Ewing before I picked the book up to read it other than that it is a dystopian YA book being compared to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I love The Handmaid's Tale and I was incredibly intrigued to see where this story would go and how it would compare to such a well-loved book.

I have to say, I thought The Jewel was incredibly exciting and, at times, a shocking story.  It wasn't as filled with action as I was perhaps expecting but it built the world nicely and did political intrigue incredibly well and I was always on the edge of my seat worrying about who I thought Violet, our main character, should be trusting and who she should be avoiding.

The Jewel centres around this world in which royalty are unable to carry their own children and instead the royals buy surrogates in a yearly auction.  Surrogates for sale in this auction are from the poorest communities in this world and they are ranked by their abilities with Auguries.  The auguries were something that I found really fascinating and this element of fantasy was one of my favourite aspects of the story.  Violet Lasting is one of these surrogates and she goes into the auction as one of the highest ranking surrogates there.

I think what really gripped me into the story right from the start is the emotion that Violet feels - at the loss of her name and being separated from her family that she loves so much.  I was close to tears in the first few chapters getting to know Violet.  I really came to care for her and wanted what is best for her.  As she was being prepared for the auction, I did feel some similarities to other dystopian stories, but for the most part, I felt like this book is strong enough to stand on its own.  But I did very much love Violet's small acts of rebellion throughout the book that shows she's struggling against the restraints of her life.

I haven't talked too much about the events after the auction because I don't want to spoil too much of the story, but as I said at the beginning, I loved the political intrigue included in this novel. Violet is in a position of great importance where she ends up and is privy to really dangerous information and meets with the highest members of this world's ruling power.

Right from the very first page, I was hooked on this book. It's a bit of a shocker of an ending which means I'm now dying to read more in this series! Bring it on.

Monday, August 18, 2014

REVIEW: Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie by Jeff Norton

I first heard about Memoirs of A Neurotic Zombie by Jeff Norton at a blogger event earlier this year and Jeff Norton was there to read some of the beginning of this book aloud ... and it was hilarious. I found myself laughing a lot listening to this funny, awkward, neurotic pre-teen turned zombie and his adventures and I knew that I was going to love it.  And I did.

Adam Meltzer has the shock of his life when a few months after he dies from a bee sting at his 12th birthday, he wakes up as a zombie.  This is his story of how he both adjusts to zombie-hood but also how he solves the mystery of his own death/why he turned into a zombie.  It was a whole lot of fun and is populated with some great supporting characters. I especially loved the idea that everyone is different and that those differences should be celebrated.

The thing with Adam Meltzer is that he's many things.  He's obviously a pre-teen and now a zombie, but he's also a germaphobe and an absolute worrier and those things can offer their own sorts of humour.  But I think the thing that I love most about Adam Meltzer is how literal he is. I know an almost 9 year old who is just as literal as Adam and I could really understand and relate to some things Adam seems to question throughout this book.

Together with Adam in this detective mission for answers are two friends Ernesto and Corina who are in the unique position to understand Adam's predicament in that they are a chupacabra and a vampire respectively.  What I really loved about this trio is the level of support and friendship they give to each other.

Altogether, Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie was a really fun, funny book about a group of outsiders who find a place to belong and who go on this dangerous adventure seeking truth in this really entertaining way and I was gripped throughout by what they get up to.  I loved reading a book that was so humorous as well as being full of heart. Highly recommended!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

REVIEW: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Despite owning a copy of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black for a very long time, I didn't read this book until very recently.  I had my doubts about the vampires and the thought that this possibly wouldn't be the most original story, and if I'm honest, I was put off a little bit by the size of this book at over 400 pages.

Once I sat down with The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I found myself being sucked in almost effortlessly by this story.  That first chapter really surprised me.  It was dark and violent and it went places that shocked me.  And similarly, I quite liked the way the story ended as well, though I can see that it could make some people feel a little frustrated.

This story is set in America at a time when vampirism has spread like crazy.  In order to combat the spread of vampires and to protect humans, Coldtowns were created. These are walled cities in which vampires live and are meant to keep them in.  Once you enter a Coldtown, you're not to leave.  Coldtowns also have become reality TV sets as people are so fascinated and intrigued by vampires and are desperate to know what's going on in them.

The main character of this story, Tana, wakes up from a party only to find out that there has been a massacre and everyone at the party except for her and her ex-boyfriend have been slaughtered by vampires.  It's all a little bit tense getting out, but she manages to save herself, her ex, AND a vampire and goes on this journey towards the nearest Coldtown.

I thought Holly Black brought us some incredibly interesting characters in this story, characters that I really wanted to know more about. I liked the main character, Tana, even if I didn't always fully understand her decisions or motivations.  My favourite thing about her was her relationship with her little sister and how much Tana wanted to protect her. I also found it interesting to see some of Tana's flashbacks and memories of what happened with her mother.

Along the way to the Coldtown, Tana not only spends time with Aidan, her sweet but exasperating ex, and Gavriel, this mysterious vampire but also comes across other fab characters.  Midnight and Winter, brother and sister, are vampire-wannabes who are heading to Coldtown hoping to be infected and turned and to broadcast their experiences on their website. I liked that there was not only revulsion and fascination shown towards vampires but also this obsessive longing from some characters. In fact, the entire mythology of Holly Black's vampires was very interesting and it gave it a new twist.

My only criticism of this book is that there are all of these great characters populating the story and unfortunately, I didn't really felt the connection that they had with each other.  There's a lot of backstory told between Tana and Aidan's previous relationship and a lot of build-up of tension and feelings between Tana and Gavriel and I just didn't believe in it throughout. In fact, towards the end, several key players start dying and doing shocking things and I felt slightly distanced from these events.  I thought the action was exciting and the pace was fairly quick for a book of this length and, like I said, I loved the characters.  I just didn't quite feel the friendships or romance at all. Despite all of this, I shall definitely be picking up more stories by Holly Black...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bookish Events: The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell at the Barbican

Recently, I went to a lovely bookish event held at the Barbican being billed as a 'revolutionary new concept of multi-media storytelling.'  It was a really wonderfully and unique experience and I wanted to talk to you a bit about it today.

The multi-media aspect of the event included first off, Neil Gaiman reading aloud from his book, The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains.  At the same time, a string quartet from Australia, FourPlay, accompanied the story with music and really evocative vocals.  And together with the words and music, artwork by Eddie Campbell were shown on a massive screen and all three of these things blended incredibly well.  I left this event with a massive smile on my face.

While The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains was by no means a short book, the event was extended a bit by the fact that the first half included 3 or 4 of their own songs by FourPlay and also Neil Gaiman provided some anecdotes and read some short stories on different themes.  After the book was read, he also sang some songs and there was a bit of an interview with Hayley Campbell.

The music: I'm not a big fan of classical music at all. Mostly, I think because I have very little experience of listening or being exposed to it.  I left this event thinking, 'wow, I'm really impressed' as well as thinking that I'd really like to take E and The Littlest to some sort of classical music event soon, mostly to show them what can be done with different musical instruments and to hopefully inspire them to create their own at some point.  I really loved FourPlay's choices of music beforehand and I thought they had great chemistry together.  I especially liked the different ways of producing music from each of their individual instruments including using the bow, plucking, strumming, tapping.  I was really quite surprised by how much I enjoyed the music.  Plus, the vocals that accompanied the story were really haunting and it added so much to my experience!

The story:  I'd never heard of The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains before I came across this event at the Barbican.  According to the leaflet that I was given as we entered, it was published recently by Headline.  The book itself is a hardback picture book size and contains 74 pages.  I really liked going into the event not knowing a single thing about the book itself.  It was lovely to sit and listen to someone (Neil Gaiman!) read me a story.  And Neil Gaiman has such a lovely reading voice.

It's the story of a dwarf who goes on this journey to find the Black Mountains and it's also about revenge and is far darker than I expected it to be.  I really didn't see some of the twists that happen beforehand and I love that about any book. It's set in the Scottish islands and had a real Scottish feel to it.

The illustrations: I have to say, the illustrations were my favourite part of this whole experience.  I loved the different ways and techniques that Eddie Campbell (who previously worked on From Hell) used in order to illustrate this story - some of the artwork looked like comic book strips, others were more classically painted, some were roughly drawn, some more detailed. There were pencil sketches, silhouettes.  Before the story properly started, Neil Gaiman explained that Eddie Campbell had produced a great number of newer illustrations specifically for the event so that everything flowed better and he was backstage making sure that the images changed in time to the story being read.

As a whole, I thought this whole multi-media storytelling experience was incredible and I will definitely be looking out for other such events upcoming. I really hope you do as well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mini-reviews: Red At Night by Katie McGarry and The Snake Charm by Laura Lam

Today sees the return of my mini-reviews! Mini-reviews used to be a regular thing on Fluttering Butterflies but I haven't written any in awhile. As I recently read two short novellas/short stories by two of my favourite recent authors I thought that it would make sense to review both in the same post.  They are both very different but very interesting at the same time.

Red At Night by Katie McGarry

I really enjoy Katie McGarry stories.  I think she has a great skill for bringing her readers really interesting characters who have great relationships with each other.  Red At Night is no exception to this. It tells the story of Stella and Jonah, two teenagers who meet at the cemetery and forge this connection despite leading very different lives.

What I liked about this short story is that within a very short period of time I felt very emotional about both Stella's story and also about Jonah's.  Stella has dyed hair and has been bullied for years because she doesn't have much money and is just generally different to the other students at school. Whereas Jonah is popular at school and leads a privileged life where it's more possible to take things for granted. When Stella and Jonah meet at the beginning of this novella, it is in the cemetery after Jonah experiences this life-altering car accident and begins to question the direction he's taking in life.

While I would have liked to have explored more about these characters and their experiences and lives and friends and family before Red At Night, I do also appreciate that most things are resolved by the end. I thought this novella was hopeful and emotional and it re-confirmed my love of Katie McGarry's skill as a writer.

The Snake Charm by Laura Lam

When I first head about Laura Lam's decision to self-publish a collection of Vestigial Tales, I was incredibly excited. I love the world she created in Pantomime and Shadowplay. I loved the characters and Vestige and I couldn't wait to read more and find out every bit of new information about this world that I could...

And The Snake Charm did not disappoint. This story focuses on Drystan, the White Clown, before Micah Grey shows up at RH Ragona's Circus of Magic. It tells this story of unrest amongst the clowns and how Drystan finds himself in the middle of this fight between one of the other clowns and Bil, the ringmaster involving an incredibly powerful piece of Vestige.

I think what The Snake Charm does so well is that not only does it show us the dangers and consequences that come with owning this particular piece of Vestige but it also gives a bit fuller of a back story to a really well-loved character.  Drystan has always been one of my favourite characters from Pantomime and Shadowplay and I loved that he gets the full spotlight in this novella.  It was fun to see his role in the circus a little better and to see his perspective on some of the other key players in the circus before Micah Grey shows up.

I thought The Snake Charm was a wonderful addition to this world.  It was a fun adventure and I can't wait to read the other Vestigial Tales, The Fisherman's Net, The Tarot Reader and The Card Sharp.

Monday, August 11, 2014

REVIEW: Flora In Love by Natasha Farrant

I absolutely loved Flora In Love by Natasha Farrant! I adored the first book in the series, After Iris, and I thought while not containing as many emotional highs as the first book that Flora In Love is a wonderfully chaotic and fun sequel.   I desperately want to be in a large family like the Gadsby family and be part of all their weird and wonderful antics.

I will always eagerly pick up a book about this family and their fabulous madness that only comes from being in a large family.  I think Natasha Farrant does an incredible job with the family dynamics and especially in the dialogue that readers will be able to mentally picture incredibly well given that it is presented both in written diary entries as well as transcripts of video diary entries.  I really love this combination and it really made me feel like I was there alongside Blue and Flora and Twig and Jas and everyone.

Flora In Love takes place a year after the events of After Iris and Blue explains at the beginning of the book that she stops writing and filming diary entries when things are good in the Gadsby family ... and so right from the start we see that there are cracks that are now appearing in Blue's, her parents', and her brother's and sisters' lives.  Blue's parents are behaving strangely, Zoran has given up being their nanny and Jas in particular is feeling a bit left out now that everyone but her is having relationship problems.

I think it was really interesting to see the new relationships that everyone is forming.  The title of the book is that Flora is in love but Blue also has her first real relationship with her best friend with interesting consequences and we see Twig having a crush on a girl at school that makes his behaviour change.  I think all three of the older Gadsby children have things to learn about relationships and it was really fun to witness these experiences over the course of this book.

I think the thing I love the most about this book and series besides a great mixture of humour together with sadness and a whole heap of large family chaos is that all the characters presented are so wonderfully developed.  I got a really great sense of everybody from the youngest Gadsby, Jas, to their parents and Zoran and his new charge, Zach.  Everybody felt very real and everything that these characters go through in this book felt real and believable too.  I really want to read more books about the Gadsby family!

Friday, August 01, 2014

Book Blogger Problems #2

I had a much different blogger problem that I planned to talk about today but then on an absolute whim, I decided to count up all of my unread books on my shelves and after doing so, decided to talk about...

The TBR Pile

I don't know about you, though I'd be surprised if any book blogger anywhere didn't have this same problem, but I have a lot of unread books on my shelves that I need to read.  Some I've bought new, some I bought second-hand, some I've swapped, some I've won in giveaways, some I've been sent for review. And all are unread.

Two or three years ago, I decided to make a list of these books and post them on my blog and every few weeks or so I'd update the list crossing off the books I'd read and also add at the bottom any books that came into my possession in that time.  It took me a frighteningly long time to notice that the number of unread books I had always hovered at least over 100 with the lowest number at one time being around 130 books but usually around 150-180.

That's when I sat down and did some maths.  Roughly speaking, at the time of making these hard decisions, I had 180 books and I was getting 15-20 books a month from publishers for review which equals about 180 + 180-240 books a year.  In recent years I have only read about 200-220 books a year.  At the same time, I was also acquiring at least 10 books a month which added another 120 books to my shelves every year.

(180 + 180-240 + 120) - 200-220 = an out of control TBR pile

Continuing at this rate meant an approximately 0% chance that I would ever have a manageable TBR pile.  I figure between 30-50 books is 'manageable.'

I figured it was time to for some drastic action... and here are some of the steps I've taken lately.

Guest reviewers

My first action towards severely reducing my out-of-control TBR pile was to recruit some guest reviewers to the blog.  Currently, Kulsuma and Hayley are two of my lovely guest reviewers. Every once and awhile I will gather together some (mostly review) books I've had for awhile or that are low on my list of priorities and offer it up to these two and send off monthly packages.  What I love about Kulsuma and Hayley is that they are both incredibly lovely, wide reading and really thoughtful reviewers.  It's nice to both lighten my TBR shelf AND to be able to have access to some easy blog posts on a regular basis.  Thanks, you two!

Personal reading challenge

My next step towards a TBR pile wipe out was to challenge myself to read at least 10 of my own books every month.  I really wanted to tackle the books I'd acquired myself that by definition of buying these books myself meant that they were already of a low priority.  So far this year, however, I believe I've only read 10-15 of these such books (as opposed to 70 if I'd stuck to 10 a month) and I've failed pretty miserably since this personal challenge was issued.

Target specific books in my TBR pile

Everything needs to retain some amount of amount of fun, right? And for me, I love setting myself reading challenges.  So far this year, in order to lower the number of books on my TBR pile, I've set myself very specific reading challenges.  First there was FinishItFeb which meant I read only books in a series.  In April, I focused on books with LGBT characters and story lines. In June I tried reading as many books by authors attending YALC as I could.  What I love about these sort of challenges is that they're just short bursts of reading but at the same time if I put off reading books (in a series, for example) during that month at the end of it I can probably say that I'm more likely not that interested in reading it ultimately.  More on this farther down the post...

Being picky over review books 

So far my tactics weren't doing that well.  What I needed to do, besides sending out more books and putting priority on reading the books I already have is limit the number of books coming into my house. So I make a conscious effort when I get blogger bulletins and the option of requesting books for review that I make good choices.  No longer do I request every book I want and instead I hold out for books I'm excited about reading. Those books that mean I'd drop everything in order to read them.  Cutting out books that I'm only mildly interested in as has a low but important impact on the state of my unread shelves!

Giving up on books more easily

This and my next tip have easily been the most effective means of cutting down my TBR pile.  When I really looked at my pile of unread books, there were loads of books that I owned that I didn't feel that excited to read any more.  So instead of keeping these books on my shelves for no good reason, they go straight into boxes either ready to be offered to my guest reviewers or into the to-be-donated-to-local-secondary-schools boxes and are gone forever.  I also have chosen not to feel that pressure I sometimes feel to carry on with a book that's not grabbing me.  It's difficult sometimes but I don't want reading to feel like a chore.  If it doesn't hook me relatively quickly, I'll move on. Very simple.  Culling my shelves in this way has drastically decreased my numbers and I can feel the load coming off my shoulders as well as my book shelves.

Book buying ban

This was my hardest decision.  And every one I spoke about this to during the ban was pretty shocked and amazed. To be honest, so was I.  That is because I managed a full 6 month buying ban.  I did not buy one single physical books within that time period, however, I was still receiving books sent for review and also splurging a bit on Kindle books.  Every time I considered breaking my ban, I would remember the maths equation at the beginning of this post.  With all these books coming in, something needed to change.

I spoke to somebody else recently who had also been on a buying ban and she said something particularly important ... she said 'I want reading to be the exciting thing, not buying or receiving books.' and I think that's a wonderful thing to remember.

Since applying all of the above, I have reduced my TBR pile by around 100 books.  (the current number of physical books I have unread is 88 books) That's happened through reading many books, sending some books to my guest reviewers regularly, donating many unread books to charity shops and local secondary schools and by greatly reducing the numbers of books coming into the house both by buying fewer books and requesting fewer books from publicists.

This is how I deal with my TBR pile.  How do you deal with yours?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

REVIEW: Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

I'm really quickly beginning to love and look forward to anything by Sarah Crossan. This is the second really beautiful book by the same author that I've read this year and I'm really quite impressed.  Apple and Rain is a contemporary story about dysfunctional families, making wrong choices and the consequences of those actions and also the power and truth that can come from poetry.  This was a really wonderful and emotional read and I finished it with a lump in my throat and a desperate attempt not to cry while in a public place.

The two titular characters, Apple and Rain, are very different characters.  Apple, who is the sole narrator of the story, is a 13 year old girl who has been raised by her strict grandmother after her mother left her 11 years ago. In those 11 years despite having this wonderful and strong relationship with her Nan, Apple has pined away for her mother.  She's daydreamed about what it would be like to have her mother in her life, she'd love to have her questions answered about why her mum left and what she's been doing.  And it becomes a real shock when Apple's mother does return and wants to be more involved in Apple's life and have Apple come to live with her. And while Apple initially loves the freedom that being around her mother brings her, this excitement soon fizzles when Apple comes to meet Rain, her half-sister, and starts to see that freedom and chaos is not all that it's cracked up to be.

I thought Apple's story was really believable right from the start.  I could sense her heart-break over her mother's abandonment years ago and I can see and understand why Apple would want to live with her mother and give her this chance to prove that things can be different.  I also found Rain to be a wonderful character as well.  Clearly projecting some of her own issues with her relationship with her mother onto a fictional baby that she fusses over and uses in order to gain much-needed attention.

And while this story explores the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters and the ways in which decisions that have been made have affected each other, it also touches on some other really interesting things as well, such as Apple's crumbling friendship with her former-best friend, Pilar, and also her unrequited feelings for an older boy.  There's also a really cute friendship with the quirky boy next door and my favourite aspect of the book: Apple's growing interest in poetry and how she uses reading and writing her own poetry in order to organise her thoughts and feelings about her mother and about love and friendship and fear.

I thought Apple and Rain was a really beautiful and heart-warming book. It felt truthful and emotional and I really recommend that you read this book! It is published the 14th August by Bloomsbury.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

REVIEW: Twinmaker by Sean Williams

Guest review by Kulsuma

I couldn't wait to start reading Twinmaker by Sean Williams because not only was the blurb gripping, but Scott Westerfeld recommended it. I really enjoyed The Uglies series and it seemed to me that Twinmaker might have some things in common with it. Set in the future, Twinmaker is set in a world where the use of revolutionary technology has made life so much easier. A technology called D-MAT means that people can transport from one place to another in the world almost instantaneously making cars, planes and trains useless. Fabbers can make clothes and food for everyone on the planet; no more hunger, no more need to work. The implants which give you access to the Air ensures you can update the world on your status instantaneously.

When Clair’s friend Libby reveals she uses a meme called ‘Improvement’ which promised to remove any flaw she wishes, namely the birthmark on her face, Clair is worried because Improvement is illegal. However, before Clair can actually find out if Improvement worked on Libby, Libby leaves and only turns up for short periods throughout the book and Clair is unable to work out if Improvement has indeed worked on her friend. She recruits the help of an ‘Abstainer’ (a person who refuses to use any of these modern technologies because of possible effects). Through trying out to find out the truth about Libby, Clair puts herself in danger and before long, she is on the run, cutting ties with the world she has known her whole life.

Twinmaker was a long, highly complex book in terms of the amount of technology discussed as well as story threads. It took some time to get into the book. The beginning put me off as it featured Clair disrespecting her friendship with Libby by cheating with Libby’s boyfriend, Zeppelin. Furthermore, I didn’t feel as though Clair and Libby’s friendship was shown enough at the beginning for me to want to know if Libby would be okay. However, the story soon picked up and became packed full of fervent action; hardly stopping for pause. I really enjoyed all the action and guessing what would happen next. The story was full of twists and turns and had a high body count.

I really liked Jesse and Q; a mysterious character who contacts and helps Clair from a distance at the beginning of the story and who Clair, along with the reader, desperately tries to figure out. Improvement, Clair finds out, is bad but there are those who will stop at nothing to ensure Clair doesn’t find out the whole truth and publicise the matter. What really redeemed Twinmaker in my eyes was the ending, which was simply incredible. The last hundred pages were so well-written and full of so many revelations that I can’t wait to read the next book, Crashlanders to find out what happens next.

Intriguing! Thank you, Kulsuma

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

REVIEW: Louder Than Words by Laura Jarratt

I really enjoyed Louder Than Words by Laura Jarratt. As a massive fan of Laura Jarratt's previous novels, Skin Deep and By Any Other Name, I was always going to be excited to read the author's latest... and while I don't think that Louder Than Words hits the same emotional high as I've experienced with the author's previous stories, I did still find it really addictive reading and incredibly interesting.

Louder Than Words is mostly told from the perspective of Rafi, a teenager girl who has selective mutism, which means that she hasn't spoken in many years.  Instead of words spoken out loud, Rafi really does better expressing herself with the written word.  And while Rafi is keen to point out at the beginning of the novel that this is her brother Silas's story, it actually feels like a combination of stories of all three main characters, Rafi, Silas and Josie, and it was nice to see contributions from Silas and Josie throughout the book.

Rafi was a really wonderful narrator, warm, funny and relatable.  My heart really went out to her right from the start as we learn more about what selective mutism is and how it has affected her life and her family's life. At all times throughout this story I really wanted Rafi to be happy and okay with who she is.  I wanted to get to the bottom of what has caused Rafi's problems with verbal communication and I wanted to see her take steps towards happiness and I loved seeing her progression with this in her friendship with Josie and during therapy sessions.  Rafi's story takes up the bulk of this book and it was definitely my favourite aspect of Louder Than Words.

Josie's story, however, while still really interesting takes up less page time.  I loved her though.  I think she was a wonderful friend to Rafi and she was pretty great at seeing through things.  We meet Josie right at the beginning as she's dealing with rumours spread by her ex-boyfriend and is being bullied and ostracised by her friends and classmates.  In some ways, Josie is the catalyst of the entire story as she is the person who spurs Rafi into action with her speech and in Josie's defense Silas gets involved in something bigger than himself.

Silas is the character that was most intriguing to me.  While we see through Rafi's perspective and get her thoughts and feelings through her narration and while we see snippets of Josie through brief Pinterest quotes, we only ever see Silas in the first person through a handful of letters that he's written to his father.  I found this really intriguing and I loved the format and structure of the book in this way.  I really loved Silas.  At the beginning of the story, he was an amazing support network for Rafi and he really looked out for her.  However, once we met Lara and started having feelings for her, he seemed to change and his priorities and interests expanded to more ...dubious activities. I do love that an aspect of political activism has been included in this book.  I'd really like to see more included in YA fiction as I think it's something that teenagers should have their eyes opened to from a young age.

All in all, Louder Than Words was a fascinating book for me.  I thought it was made up of some amazing characters, each with their own really emotional relationships.  In particular, I love the sibling relationship between Silas and Rafi and also the strong friendship between Rafi and Josie.  I thought both were really important to the story and were very well written.  I'm really happy to have read this book and can highly recommend it! Will certainly be looking out for more books in the future by Laura Jarratt...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer holiday TBR and Unread Kindle books

I don't share with you the booktube videos that I've been creating and uploading as often as I'd like on this blog. But if you don't want to miss any of my videos (filled with lots of flailing arms and me pulling strange faces) then do subscribe to both my own booktube channel, cloveryness, and also to BookishBrits.

As it's now the summer holidays, I thought I might share with you some of the books I'd like to read over the summer ... and also take you on a short tour of the unread books I have currently on my Kindle.

Do share your own summer reading goals in the comments and let me know where I should start with my e-books!

Friday, July 25, 2014

POC Diversity on covers in 2014

I don't think I'm particularly bothered about cover trends.  I don't normally spot them until somebody else points them out.  Things like legs on covers or floating dead girls.  But I have noticed one thing lately and now that I've noticed it I can't help but be annoyed by it.

Small sample of books on my current TBR pile

I think my notice of this was partly to do with the amazing #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that happened recently, but I'm so tired now of seeing white face after white face on covers.  I appreciate that roughly-speaking 90% books published feature white main characters so all these white faces on books make sense. But I'm still not happy about it.  I want to see more diversity in the books I read and I want to see YA fiction in particular to be a better reflection and representation of the world that we live in.  And I want to see these people of colour on covers.

Personally, I am mixed-race.  My mother is Native Alaskan, my father is white.  I grew up reading very few books involving people of colour and certainly none that I remember as being mixed race.  I am now the mother of two mixed-race children and for their sake and mine, I am on the hunt for better representation of diversity within books not just concerning race (but that is the focus of this blog post) but also concerning religion, sexuality and ability.

I'm tired of covers that misrepresent POC on covers or hide behind silhouettes or blown-out colours in order to disguise the fact that it is a POC on the front cover. So, today I thought I would share the small selection of POC on some of the covers that are or have been published in the UK in 2014.  If you know of any others, please do let me know.

The Shadow's Curse by Amy McCulloch

First off, I have the mention The Shadow's Curse by Amy McCulloch.  This is the second book in a YA fantasy duology and the first book in the series, The Oathbreaker's Shadow also features POC characters on the front cover.  These two books make me very happy and I know that Amy McCulloch has really pushed and championed having the right representation on her covers.  These books tell the stories of characters based on medieval Mongolia mean that there aren't any white characters in her books.  I love that Amy's stories are fantasy and (I think, I haven't yet read them) that they aren't burdened by any sort of racial issues.

Darkness Hidden by Zoe Marriott

Zoe Marriott is another that I've read before and I've loved her inclusion of diversity within her stories previously.  Her new urban fantasy series, The Name of the Blade, has been given a make-over this year and both books in the series have shown prominent characters of Asian descent on the covers, which I adore. The main character, Mio, and the love interest, Shinobu, are Japanese and there is no shying away from this based on the covers!

Shadowplay by Laura Lam

This cover for Shadowplay is one of my favourite recent covers with the make-up and facial adornment of this character of Asian descent (so jealous of the cheekbones!). I love the simplicity and beauty of it.  I also really appreciate that other types of diversity appear in Laura Lam's stories.

Unstoppable by Liz Bankes

The cover that I have shown above is not the final cover sadly.  The two people pictured are smaller on the final cover and I don't want to presume a reason for that cover change at all. I really enjoy this series of companion novels by Liz Bankes and I look forward to reading this book!

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

This book has not yet been published, but it stood out for me because of the beautiful black boy on the cover. This book is a look at race issues and the fact that a white woman is raising an adoptive black son in the 1930s who get mixed up in a war in Ethiopia. I really want to read it.

The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, Holly Black and Maureen Johnson

And finally we have this collection of short stories that surrounds everyone's favourite warlock, Magnus Bane. I can't say that I've read more than one of the Magnus Bane chronicles so far but I look forward to November when the whole collection is published in hardback.

Do you have a favourite POC cover that has been published recently? Any I've overlooked? Do share in comments! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

REVIEW: Fire and Flood by Victoria Scott

Guest review by Kulsuma

I highly enjoyed reading Fire and Flood by Victoria Scott. At first I was wary of all the Hunger Games comparisons that were floating around the internet, but I decided to give the book the benefit of the doubt. I was gripped almost immediately by the premise of the story.

Tella, the main character was relatable. She wants to help her brother who has cancer and will do anything to save him. When she has the chance to enter the Brimstone Bleed; a series of trials over different terrain, where she could win the cure her brother so desperately requires she leaps at the opportunity.

Fire and Flood kept me in suspense and therefore made me continue reading because there were so many questions I needed answers to, some of which were answered in this book. Victoria Scott is a fantastic writer who has included great descriptions and a plethora of action in the story. I would have to say that Fire and Flood was more action-focussed than character-focussed.

The action really does drive the story. While I liked Tella and thought she was a good character, I felt that she could have taken more initiative as others had to save her when she could have saved herself. However, in fairness, Tella did grow as a character and in the end, she could look after herself.

I really liked the idea of the Pandora; each participant in the Brimstone Bleed gets a Pandora (think of a Pokemon and you’re on the right track) who has special abilities that can help the participant. Finding out what the special abilities are can be the tricky bit. I loved Pok√©mon and Digimon as a child, so this aspect of the story was fantastic.

The romance was quite fast-moving and I would have liked more development and more conversations between Tella and her love interest, Guy. At times, I did have the thought that maybe this story would have been told better from Guy’s point of view because I felt he was doing more and knew more than Tella, which is never a good thought to have about a story.

What was lacking was the explanation of how the Brimstone Bleed began. It seems a bit unbelievable to me; I thought it could have been better explained. Furthermore, I had some minor questions such as at the beginning of the story, Tella and her family are living away from civilisation, so how was she found by the organisers of the Brimstone Bleed?

Overall, I really enjoyed Fire and Flood by Victoria Scott and can’t wait to see what happens next in the second book, Salt and Stone.

Thank you so much, Kulsuma