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 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:


Thursday, 29 December 2016

REVIEW: What Light by Jay Asher

Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Genre: Contemporary, Christmas
Release Date: 20th October 2016
Buy The Book: Book Depository

Sierra's family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon - it's an idyllic place for a girl to grow up, except that every year they have to pack up and move to California to set up their Christmas tree lot for the season. So Sierra lives two lives: her life in Oregon and her life at Christmas. And leaving one always means missing the other. Until this particular Christmas, when Sierra meets Caleb, and one life begins to eclipse the other... 

My Thoughts:
What Light follows Sierra's potential last Christmas at her family's Christmas tree farm. Though she has to spend the festive period away from her friends at home each year, going to the farm means that she gets to spend time with her other best friend, Heather. This year, Heather wants to split up with her boyfriend in the New Year, so whilst she's having to spend time him in the run up to Christmas, she encourages Sierra to date a boy whilst at the farm so that they can go on double dates. That's when Caleb enters the story.

He becomes a frequent buyer of trees at the farm, and Sierra ends up developing feelings for him, especially when she finds out what he's doing with all of the trees he's buying. There are lots of rumours about something dark that happened in Caleb's past, but despite warnings to stay away from him, Sierra continues befriending him.

The romance between Sierra and Caleb is the main event of this story, but it just didn't fall into place for me. It's a short, Christmas love story, but I was hoping for something a little more interesting than a typical instalove plot with a boy who has made a mistake. I also didn't feel any ounce of the chemistry that was supposed to make Sierra have this instant connection to him in the first place. Caleb didn't stand out for me, not even with his troubled backstory. There was nothing about his personality that made me think 'ah, this is why she's so smitten'.

The great thing about this story was Sierra's family and friends. The relationship she had with her parents was believable and sweet, and I wish we could see more daughter/parent relationships like this one in YA. Her parents were cautious, but not too overprotective. Whilst they were wary about Sierra, they eventually came to allow her to do things her way. Sierra had a wonderful set of friends, both at the tree farm and at home. What I wasn't pleased to see was Sierra hurting her friends for the sake of Caleb, a boy she'd known for just days. All of the friends in this story had more potential than what we were shown of them. I would've like to have seen their characters expanded on more, but since the story was only a short one, there wasn't much opportunity.

This was a cutesy Christmas romance, but since romance was the focus of it, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't expecting a better love story than the one I was given. For me, the spark between Sierra and Caleb just wasn't enough light a fire, and I found myself way more interested in the characters and things going on around them.

Royal Rating:

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

BOOK CLUB REVIEW: No Virgin by Anne Cassidy

Pages: 192
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Release Date: November 3rd 2016
Buy The Book: Book Depository

From the author of the critically acclaimed, LOOKING FOR JJ, shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize in 2004 and the Carnegie Medal in 2005.

My name is Stacey Woods and I was raped.

Stacey is the victim of a terrible sexual attack. She does not feel able to go to the police, or talk about it to anybody other than her best friend, Patrice. Patrice, outraged, when she cannot persuade her to go to the police, encourages Stacey to write everything down. This is Stacey's story.

A tautly told and important book, perfect for readers of Asking for It by Louise O'Neill.

My Thoughts:
This was the November read for The Book Club!

This book tells the story of how seventeen-year-old Stacey Woods was raped. After she has an argument with her mother and sister, Stacey goes to spend the night at her dad's place, and the next day she heads to a cafe before going home. Whilst there she meets Henry, a boy who has a lifestyle completely opposite to her own. He's rich, has connections, and goes to a private school. Stacey is whisked away by his charm and attention. That chance meeting leads to a chain of events that spiral into a horribly life-changing situation.

No Virgin is without a doubt a very important story and Anne Cassidy tells it powerfully. This book shows that horrible things like this can happen to anyone, and that the attacker doesn't always fit the stereotypical image of what you'd expect. It also reminds us all that the victim is never to blame in this situation. After the attack, Stacey questions the decisions she made, scolds herself for being foolish, but no matter how naive she might have been, getting raped was not her fault.

The final few chapters of this book, when Stacey begins to face up to what has happened and take control, make for a powerful ending. But the end itself was quite abrupt. I wanted to read about the aftermath of Stacey deciding to speak about her attack. Whilst I've read YA stories that have dealt with rape before, I very rarely get to read books that deal with the fall out, including court cases. I wanted to see if justice was brought because the harsh reality is that there are attackers who don't face punishment for their crime, and this can discourage a lot of victims from coming forward. I was keen to see how the story progressed, so I was a little disappointed in the way it ended. But what I didn't know at the time was that there is going to be a sequel, so I'm interested to see how that second book deals with everything.

No Virgin is a very short read that can be finished within a few hours, getting straight to the point of what's happening, and the second half of the story compels you to keep reading. Whilst the attack itself was haunting and a huge reality check, the first half of the book failed to pull me in as much as the later chapters did. But it was still an impactful read and I think it's hugely important to have stories like this one in the YA genre to send a message to young people that attacks like this do happen, and that it can happen to anyone. 

Royal Rating:
I'd actually give this one more of a 3.5!


Monday, 21 November 2016

REVIEW: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy

Pages: 653
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Fantasy, Short Stories
Release Date: November 15th 2016
Buy The Book: Book Depository

Simon Lewis has been a human and a vampire, and now he is becoming a Shadowhunter. But the events of City of Heavenly Fire left him stripped of his memories, and Simon isn’t sure who he is anymore. He knows he was friends with Clary, and that he convinced the total goddess Isabelle Lightwood to go out with him…but he doesn’t know how. And when Clary and Isabelle look at him, expecting him to be a man he doesn’t remember…Simon can’t take it.

So when the Shadowhunter Academy reopens, Simon throws himself into this new world of demon-hunting, determined to find himself again. His new self. Whomever this new Simon might be.

But the Academy is a Shadowhunter institution, which means it has some problems. Like the fact that non-Shadowhunter students have to live in the basement. And that differences—like being a former vampire—are greatly looked down upon. At least Simon is trained in weaponry—even if it’s only from hours of playing D&D.

Join Simon on his journey to become a Shadowhunter, and learn about the Academy’s illustrious history along the way, through guest lecturers such as Jace Herondale, Tessa Gray, and Magnus Bane. These ten short stories give an epilogue to the Mortal Instruments series and provide glimpses of what’s in store in the Dark Artifices.

My Thoughts:
It's no secret that I completely ADORE anything to do with the Shadowhunter world created by Cassandra Clare, so needless to say I was very excited to find out there would be a series of short stories about Simon Lewis from The Mortal Instruments! Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy follows Simon's next two years after the events at the end of City of Heavenly Fire. He's at the newly reopened academy, training to become a Shadowhunter. Whilst there he meets his room-mate George Lovelace, and the two of them quickly become friends.

The book consists of ten short stories written by Cassie herself and her fellow writers Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, and Robin Wasserman. Whilst following Simon's journey, we also get plenty of updates on the other main characters from TMI, along with a few stories set back in time with the characters from The Infernal Devices. This variety in the stories kept me gripped. One of my personal favourites was Nothing But Shadows, that gave us a chance to get to know the characters in Cassie's future series The Last Hours. I'll admit that I wasn't overly interested about this series for a while, mostly because there are a lot of Shadowhunter stories (A LOT) and I didn't want to get invested in one series whilst currently reading another (TDA. Like I said, A LOT TO KEEP UP WITH). But this story completely pulled me in. I fell in love with the characters and now I REALLY WANT TO READ THE LAST HOURS AND GOD ONLY KNOWS WHEN IT'LL BE RELEASED. I loved being able to jump from Simon and his friends in the modern day academy, back to the academy in 1899 where we meet James Herondale and Matthew Fairchild.

Whilst the book goes off on tangents to tell us a collection of short stories, the journey of Simon and his friends is constant throughout. With The Bane Chronicles (Cassie's previous collection of short stories) it was possible to jump in and out of the book at any story, but with this one it's better to read all of the stories in order. It also gives a better insight into some of the characters and situations we read about in the main Shadowhunter books. For example, there is a story called Bitter of Tongue that focuses on Mark Blackthorn from The Dark Artifices. My absolute favourite story had to be Born To Endless Night, which focused a little more on all of the TMI characters, specifically Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood. It had me laughing one minute and then an emotional mess the other.

So the final story in this book COMPLETELY TORE MY HEART OUT AND I'M NOT OKAY. I will mention that I did already know the Major Event at the end. These stories were released originally as eBooks on a monthly basis, but I knew they'd be released in physical copy at a later date, so I decided to wait until then to read them. Mostly because I like having physical copies and also I was way too broke to buy one every month. I had no idea that the short story at the end of Lady Midnight would contain a spoiler for this book, did. A very huge spoiler. So that unfortunately meant I went through this whole book knowing the fate of a main character, and whilst I wish I hadn't known it beforehand because it would have packed more of an emotional punch, I still found the ending powerful.

All of the stories within this book were great to read and I enjoyed not only catching up with some old favourite characters, but also meeting some amazing new ones. I loved getting the chance to jump back into the Shadowhunter world again!

Royal Rating:

Monday, 14 November 2016

BOOK CLUB REVIEW: Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Genre: Contemporary
Release Date: October 4th 2016
Buy The Book: Book Depository

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can't-eat-can't-sleep kind of love that he's been hoping for just hasn't been in the cards for him - at least not yet.

Instead, he's been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything's about to change.

Grace isn't who Henry pictured as his dream girl; she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys' clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It's obvious there's something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn't your average story of boy meets girl.

My Thoughts:

Our Chemical Hearts was the October read for those of us at The Book Club! There may be a few itty bitty things that are spoilery in this review, so if you don't want to know anything plot-wise, then it might be wise to avoid scrolling down!

This story follows Henry Page from the moment that new girl, Grace Town, arrives at his school. When the two of them end up working together on the school paper, he finds himself fascinated by her and her mysterious past. When he finds out that the place Grace has been disappearing to each day is the cemetery, he discovers that she is grieving the death of her childhood best friend and boyfriend.

I'll be honest, I went into this book wary. The mixed reactions from fellow bloggers whose opinions I often agree with left me wondering if this was the type of book I'd enjoy, but I pushed the varied reviews aside when I started reading it so that I could judge it for myself. Unfortunately, I was right to be apprehensive because this book definitely wasn't for me.

My main issue with this story was the lead character, Henry. His dialogue and inner thoughts didn't connect with me at all, and I found some moments a little inappropriate. Obviously grief is a strong theme within this book, but to me it wasn't handled very well. Whenever there were genuine shows of raw emotion from Grace, Henry would think or say something ridiculous that took that emotion away from the moment. One instance of this is when he decides to be open with Grace about his feelings for her, and discovers for the first time that her boyfriend died. Because he's put his foot in his mouth, whilst she's talking to him all he thinks is about researching methods of suicide to get himself out of the embarrassing situation. I'm assuming comments like that one were supposed to be read as witty, another quirky part of Henry's personality, but it just made me uncomfortable. The tongue-in-cheek attitude didn't work for me. It felt like throughout the whole story, he was trying to make the situation about him. Yes, Grace used him as a rebound, and no that wasn't an okay thing to do, but Henry was equally as guilty of acting like a fool.

Aside from Henry, the characters in general just didn't work for me. The only character who I was interested in knowing more about was Henry's best friend, Lola Leung, but even with her I had problems. She is described as the 'diversity triple threat' because she's a lesbian and a POC. On one hand, yay for some diversity, on the other hand, throwing it all into one character and then making a quirky joke about it felt like cheating. It felt to me that Lola, like a lot of the characters in this book, existed more to tick boxes than to actually add to the story.

The plot itself, whilst trying to be relatable and have a unique edge, felt more 'been there, done that'. I didn't find anything in these characters or this plot to set it apart from other stories by similar authors. The dealing of grief in this book also let me down. Grief and the effect it has on people is something that can be written about beautifully in YA (see for example: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson), but I feel as though any real heartfelt emotion was overshadowed.

What I will say is that there were some aspects of the ending that I really enjoyed because it was honest and believable, but by that point I'd already had enough of the book. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would adore this story. For one, our book club was completely split on it, with some of us loving it and a few of us disliking it, so it made for a great discussion. It just wasn't right for me at the moment. This is a book that I probably would have lapped up a few years ago (back when I wanted to devour anything John Green related), but now I'm tired of characters like Henry Page.

Royal Rating:

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