Monday, 20 February 2017

REVIEW: The Memory Book by Lara Avery

Pages: 357
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hachette
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Health
Release Date: January 26th 2017
Buy The Book: Book Depository

Samantha McCoy has it all mapped out. First she's going to win the national debating championship, then she's going to move to New York and become a human rights lawyer. But when Sammie discovers that a rare disease is going to take away her memory, the future she'd planned so perfectly is derailed before it’s started. What she needs is a new plan.

So the Memory Book is born: Sammie’s notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. Realising that her life won't wait to be lived, she sets out on a summer of firsts: The first party; The first rebellion; The first friendship; The last love.

Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it's not the life she planned.

My Thoughts:
Before reading The Memory Book, I'm afraid to say I'd never heard of Niemann-Pick Type C. It is a rare type of dementia that affects younger people, usually children. But seveteen-year-old Sam is a special case as her diagnosis comes a lot later than what is typical. Her dream for after high school is to attend NYU, and she stays focused on that goal even her family and doctors try to dissuade her. Sam starts typing up her memories on the computer for future Sam to read back later.

What I really respected about this story was that despite the subject matter, it wasn't a sad read. Yes, there were heartbreaking moments, as there would be for anyone facing a life cut short because of illness, but Sam had a fantastic attitude about the whole situation from start to finish. She was determined to continue living her life the way she planned, regardless of what challenges her illness threw at her.

Whilst the story itself was a difficult but touching subject, I found myself disappointed in the romance. Sam has had a crush on Stuart for years, and now he's back in town after being at NYU. When they go to the same party, they finally start talking, and it turns into something more. Towards the end of the book, there is even a bit of a love triangle. This side of the story didn't appeal to me, and I was much more interested in Sam dealing with her illness, and her relationship with her family and best friend Maddie than I was in the romance. Maddie was an awesome character and I wish the story had given us more moments between her and Sam because I felt as though their friendship could have been expanded more. I'd have also liked to have seen more of Sam's siblings.

The Niemann-Pick Type C itself was heartbreaking to see progress throughout the book, especially when sam ends up having more episodes of memory loss. Her sudden confusion in her entries are actually quite chilling because it shows us just have terrifying it must feel to be in that situation. I'm grateful that books like this exist so that readers can become more aware of rare illnesses such as this one.

The Memory Book was a bit of a mixed-bag for me. Whilst I loved the importance of the story and the message it held, there were parts of the story that felt a little forced and stereotypical. But I was still able to enjoy the story as a whole, and I appreciate that it made me aware of Niemann-Pick Type C. I'm always grateful to stories like this that shine a light on conditions less known to the general public.

Royal Rating:


Monday, 13 February 2017

BOOK CLUB REVIEW: Margot & Me by Juno Dawson

Pages: 417
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Genre: Historical, Contemporary
Release Date: January 26th 2017
Buy The Book: Book Depository

Sometimes love has to cross all kinds of barriers . . .

Fliss is on the way to visit her grandmother in Wales - the grandmother who she doesn't get on with - with her mother who is recuperating from chemotherapy. But her mum is getting better, that's the main thing, so Fliss can concentrate on being grouchy and not looking forward to meeting her grandmother Margot, who is so cold and always so unforgiving of Fliss's every mistake . . . But when the six months is up, Fliss consoles herself, she and her mum will go back to London and back to Real Life!

In the meantime Fliss needs to get used to her new school, not upset the scary girls, and just keep her head down (whilst still making sure that everybody knows she is from London, of course). Then Fliss discovers a diary at the back of her bookcase. It is from the 1940s and is set in World War II, and, Fliss realises, is actually Margot's diary from when she was a young woman during the Blitz. Intrigued, Fliss begins to read. There she discovers a whole new side to Margot, a wartime romance and also Margot's deepest, most buried secret. And it is then that Fliss discovers something terrible in her own life that she is going to have to come to terms with...

My Thoughts:
I read this story throughout January with my fellow members of The Book Club! We also had a Twitter chat about it at the end of the month, which you can catch up on by searching for the #BCChat hashtag.

This book, guys. This book. I'm in awe. From the moment I heard about it, I knew it was my kind of thing. Split between 1998 and a 1940's diary? It called out to me. Margot & Me follows fifteen-year-old Fliss as she moves to a farm in Wales that belongs to her grandmother (who will only go by Margot, she won't be having any of that nan or gran stuff, thank you very much). Fliss believes that she'll be living there for about six months whilst her mother recovers from cancer. Fliss and Margot don't always get along, and Fliss sees her grandmother as quite a strict and severe person. When Fliss finds Margot's diary in the attic, she begins to see a different version of her, a version that she comes to adore.

Let's start with what a wonderfully realistic character Fliss is. Her emotions, her actions, her ways of thinking were told in an open and honest way that made me root for her throughout. Yes, she was naïve at times and didn't always make the wisest decisions, but that only added to the believability of her character. The difficulties she faced at her new school were sad but true for many students who have to switch schools. But the adorable development of her new friendships were heartwarming to witness.

Whilst Fliss had a gripping story, it was Margot's raw and emotional journey back in 1940 that made this book truly special for me. I don't think I can quite express how much love I had for Margot. She was an incredible character with an attitude well ahead of her time. I don't want to say too much about what she goes through for fear of spoiling it, but her story is an important one and I truly felt for her. She may be a fictional character, but you can bet your house that there were many young women like her who were forced into the same heartbreaking corner.

The final quarter of the story was packed full of emotion, and even though thinking back I can see that the signs of what direction this story would take were there, I wasn't actually expecting it. So I was a complete wreck by the end. The two different parts of the story were beautifully weaved together and wrapped up perfectly, leaving the reader to imagine for themselves what happened after the final page. With a focus on family bonds and important friendships, this book ticked a lot of boxes for me and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to read it. 

Royal Rating:

Saturday, 11 February 2017

BLOG TOUR: Guest Post by Alice Broadway, author of INK

Hello everyone! Today I'm excited to share with you a fabulous post from author Alice Broadway about the research behind her new novel, Ink

The Research Behind Ink 

I am so pleased to have the chance to visit and talk a bit about my debut YA novel, Ink. Ink is based in a world where everybody is tattooed, and at death, your skin is preserved and your tattoos become a book in remembrance of a life well lived. Researching for Ink was one of my favourite things. If you’re into creepy, morbid and macabre stuff, read on.

Tattoos
As someone with no tattoos, I needed some real insight and help in order to write accurately and believably about the process. I had the honour of watching Emma Kierzek work and asked her loads of questions. Emma is an award winning artist based at Aurora Tattoo, Lancaster and her creations are amazing – her realistic black and grey portraits are stunning. I really wanted to get the input of a female tattoo artist and it was fascinating hearing her talk about her work. I also visited a local tattoo studio, New Testament Tattoos, where they brilliantly helped me understand more about how they felt as artists and as people with tattoos. AND they didn’t laugh at my stupid questions, at least not to my face.

Also, the exceptional tattoo journalist, Beccy Rimmer from Inkluded has been ace – she works really hard to make tattoo culture accessible and to demystify some of the process. She also shares the work of incredible artists and her own tattoos are so beautiful.

Preservation
Preserving skin isn’t terribly unusual – the process of creating leather from animal hides is quite normal to us. But the idea of preserving human skin suddenly becomes a lot more sinister-seeming. Thankfully, there are other humans out there who find stuff like this as fascinating as I do and when I found the work of Dr. Gemma Angel at Life and Six Months, I knew I had found my guru. Dr. Angel has studied and handled preserved tattoos and written extensively about them. She also graciously agreed to be interviewed and as a tattooist, writer and reader she was a fount of knowledge and inspiration.

Having read Dr. Angel’s work I knew there were some preserved tattoos at the Wellcome Museum in London and when I had the chance to see them ‘in the flesh’ I couldn’t resist. I was surprised by how emotional I felt seeing these scraps of skin from unknown men.

Death positivity
The world of Saintstone is one where death isn’t feared or hidden and the death positivity movement has been a fascinating area of research for me. I was expecting to find things like The Order of the Good Death interesting in a ‘this is quite weird and maybe you’re all vampires’ way – I wasn’t expecting to have my thoughts and plans about my own death completely altered by what I learned. I love the vlogs by Caitlin Doughty and her book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is now one of my favourite non-fiction books of all time.

The thing I have been most struck by is people’s willingness to share their knowledge, expertise and inspiration. I had nothing to offer them but my curiosity and their generosity has impressed me so much.



Alice Broadway drinks more tea than is really necessary loves writing in her yellow camper van. She hates being too cold or too hot, and really likes wearing lipstick and watching terrible Christmas movies.

@alicecrumbs | www.alice-broadway.com
 


Huge thank you to Alice for the fascinating post! I love learning about the research behind a story. Ink is available to buy now, and keep an eye out here for my review soon!

Friday, 27 January 2017

REVIEW: Gilded Cage by Vic James

Pages: 293
Format: ARC Paperback
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Fantasy, Dystopia
Release Date: January 26th 2017
Buy The Book: Book Depository

NOT ALL ARE FREE.
NOT ALL ARE EQUAL.
NOT ALL WILL BE SAVED.

Our world belongs to the Equals—aristocrats with magical gifts—and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England's grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England's most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family's secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi's brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

My Thoughts:
This story is set in an alternate England where people with magical abilities known as Skill are held higher than those without it in society. People who are born without Skill are forced to complete ten years of Slave Days during which they serve the Equals.

Gilded Cage is an intriguing concept and the spilt between those with and without Skill was fascinating. The story focuses on a range of characters, but pays more attention to siblings Luke and Abi. Whilst Abi, her younger sister Daisy, and their parents end up working inside Kyneston, the luxurious mansion belonging to the powerful Jardine family, Luke ends up in Millmoor, a brutal slave workhouse. The contrast between these two sides of the story made for an exciting read. I expected to prefer Abi's chapters at Kyneston, but was surprised to find myself looking forward to Luke's chapters more. Luke was a character who I personally felt we got to know more than his sister. His struggles at Millmoor were heartbreaking at times but also showed him changing and growing more determined.

The Jardine family consists of three brothers, Gavar, Silyen, and Jenner. Abi ends up with a romantic subplot involving one of the brothers that didn't draw me in as much as I would have liked. We didn't get a chance to see the relationship development, with not many conversations or heartfelt scenes between them, so it felt a little bit sudden. The brothers themselves are all interesting characters in their own right, but Silyen stood out the most for me. His character has a darkness and element of mystery, and he's the one I'm most excited to learn more about in this trilogy. We don't get to see much of him, but it's a treat when we do. The scenes at the end only added to my overall curiosity about him.

Vic James has a great way of describing the world and the magic system within it. There were a few moments when I had to go back and read more carefully, but it wasn't overwhelming. The politics surrounding Skill in this story is beautifully crafted and it was compelling to learn about. It's a world that I know I'll be easily able to jump back into when the next book comes around.

The final few chapters were truly fantastic and have definitely made me eager to read the next book. I'm excited to see what the future of this trilogy has in store for the characters because after that ending, things are really going to change. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the Jardine family in the future. They were one of the most exciting aspects of this story for me and I still don't know who to trust. Gilded Cage was a thrilling start to what promises to be a trilogy that will definitely keep me hooked. 

Royal Rating:

 

Friday, 20 January 2017

BLOG TOUR: Interview with Vic James, author of Gilded Cage

Hello everyone! Today I'm pleased to welcome author Vic James to the blog as part of her tour for Gilded Cage! 

Hi Vic, welcome to The Queen of Teen Fiction! Can you introduce us to your novel, Gilded Cage?
Hi Katie – thanks so much for being a stop on my blog tour! GILDED CAGE is set in an alternate contemporary Britain, ruled by an aristocracy gifted with magical Skill. All the rest of us, without magic, must spend ten years in service to the aristocrats. You get to choose when, and you can try and choose where – in a worktown, or on a grand estate – but you can’t avoid ‘doing your days’.

18-year-old Abi Hadley hopes her family will serve their time lightly on the estate of the powerful Jardines. But when her younger brother Luke is ripped away from them, the siblings are plunged into two worlds of intrigue, power-play, romance and revolution … that may not be as separate as they think.

In the book, people are split between those who have Skill and those who don't. What inspired you to write about this divide?
It’s inspired by the division of our world today – the elite 1% with extreme wealth and power, and the 99% of all the rest of us, who face a struggle simply to get by, find a fulfilling job, own homes, pay for a rewarding education and hold on to our dreams. The lightbulb moment was when I was making a BBC TV series titled The Superrich and Us, when it struck me that the privilege and advantages of the people at the top seems almost … like magic!

How did you come up with the magic system within your story?
I wanted the magic in the world of GILDED CAGE be half-forgotten, almost degraded. People who have incredible wealth often just spend it on ever more pointless things – a ‘super’ car, then a gold-plated supercar, then a gold-plated supercar with a diamond-studded dashboard, when all you really need is something with four wheels that will move you around. In the same way, in the world of GILDED CAGE the aristocrats are using their magic mostly to do mundane things they could achieve other ways: political power, seduction, intimidation, healing.

But it can do so much more than that! The enigmatic ‘young master’ Silyen Jardine is determined to test his Skill to the limits. In the process, he discovers things about it that startle even him. We only start to dig deep into the magical system in book 2, TARNISHED CITY, out in September. Then in book 3 (BRIGHT RUIN, out next summer) we see where it takes Silyen … and not only him!

Gilded Cage switches between several different characters, which POV was your favourite to write from?
I love writing all of them, because I love all my characters (even the unlovable ones!). But I most enjoyed writing Gavar Jardine, the spoiled heir of Britain’s most powerful family, because he’s so obnoxious and oblivious – and yet there’s more to him than he realises.

My favourite chapter of the whole book, though, is from the perspective of a character whose eyes we never look through again – Euterpe Parva, a young aristocrat in a magical coma. I wanted the whole chapter to have a dreamlike quality, and yet it also tells a crucial story from the deep past. I’m always thrilled when people tell me it’s their favourite chapter, too.

What sort of research did you do when preparing to write the story?
No especial research, because in a way I’ve been researching for it my whole life! The alternate Britain diverges 400 years ago, during the English Civil War, and I did a doctorate on that period. All of the bleak details about life during the slavedays were informed by my career as a news journalist reporting on UK social affairs. The grand houses I describe are inspired by stately homes owned by the National Trust which I’ve been visiting since childhood. After all, they do say ‘write what you know’!

What was the most challenging part of writing Gilded Cage?
Bringing together all the different perspectives and plot strands in the concluding chapters! I wanted to give the story a tight, satisfying ending – and yet to make it clear that the overall story-arc of the trilogy has only just begun!

Finally, this is the first book in The Dark Gifts trilogy, how is book two coming along?
Book 2, TARNISHED CITY, is finished and in production with my publishers right now! It’s out in September. (I hate having to wait a year between books in a series, so we’re publishing every 8 months!) I simply adored writing it. The world of the books gets so much larger, and the magic gets so much more … magical! I hope you’ll pick it up!

Thanks so much for stopping by!
I’m thrilled to be here on your blog, Katie! Thank you so much for having me.


Vic James is a current affairs TV director who loves stories in all their forms, and Gilded Cage is her debut novel. She as twice judged the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, has made films for BBC1, BBC2, and Channel 4 News, and is a huge Wattpadd.com success story. Under its previous title, Slavedays, her book was read online over a third of a million times in first draft. And it went on to win Wattpad’s ‘Talk of the Town’ award in 2015 – on a site showcasing 200 million stories. Vic James lives and works in London. 



Gilded Cgae is out in eBook now, and paperback on January 26th. Don't forget to check out the rest of the stops on the tour! 


Thursday, 12 January 2017

REVIEW: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Release Date: January 12th 2016
Buy The Book: Book Depository
Steffi doesn't talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can't hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn't a lightning strike, it's the rumbling roll of thunder.


Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she's been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He's deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she's assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she's falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

My Thoughts:
A Quiet Kind of Thunder follows Steffi, a sixth form student who has been struggling with selective mutism linked to her anxiety since she was young. The severity of her mutism has changed over the years, both improving and getting worse with various changes in her life. Steffi's world takes an unexpected turn when she meets Rhys, a new student who happens to be deaf. Since she knows some sign language, she is able to get to know him whilst they spend time together in sixth form.

First of all, I have to mention how grateful I am that Sara Barnard decided to write this story. The way it incorporated sign language was inspiring, and the communication between Steffi and Rhys was beautifully written. I've never read a YA story like this one before and I've also not come across a story that dealt with selective mutism, so I'm thankful that I was able to learn from this book.

Contemporary romance is something I usually have a love/hate relationship with because sometimes I find it overly romanticised and unrealistic. That wasn't the case with Steffi and Rhys. Everything about their story was believable as their feelings for each other progressed. There were ups and downs, there were tension filled moments and plenty of challenges, but it added to the honesty of the characters. The other relationships in Steffi's life were just as important as the romantic one. I can't tell you how much I adored the bond between Steffi's family. Her parents are divorced and both have their own separate families, but they get along and all work together to try and do what's best for Steffi. It was just so refreshing not to see the stereotypical scenarios that I see often when it comes to divorced parents in YA.

There was also Steffi's relationship with her best friend, Tem. I loved the two of them. I've already seen how well Sara Barnard writes friendships from Beautiful BrokenThings, so I'm not surprised by how happy I was over these two girls. I admired how they worked through their problems and supported each other. This kind of friendship is exactly what I want to see more of.

Steffi's anxiety played a huge part in this story, and it's one of the reasons why I fell in love with it as much as I did. Sara Barnard tells it so well. Steffi's thoughts and worries were real and relatable, and helped to show what life with anxiety can be like. Her journey throughout this story is touching and important, and by the final few chapters I couldn't help but feel proud of her for embracing who she is and what she has to face.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder ticked all of the boxes for me. It offered me characters and situations that are different from the things I usually read about in contemporary YA and it helped to educate me on things that I don't know much about. This story has a way of putting you in the characters shoes and making you think about what life for someone in their situation can be like. It's also opened my eyes to sign language and left me wanting to learn some basics because this book has made me realise how much we sadly seem to ignore it simply because the majority of us don't need it. Whilst this book is still a cute romance, it also manages to stand out and share some incredibly important messages, and I'm so glad it exists.

I recently imagined what it would be like if I couldn't use my voice for a day and spoke about it here!

Royal Rating:

 
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