Thursday, 16 March 2017

REVIEW: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Pages: 256
Format: Movie Tie-In Paperback
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: October 13th 2016
Buy The Book: A Great Read
An extraordinary novel of love, loss and hope

12.07. There's a monster at Conor's window.
It's not the one from his nightmare. But it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Now a powerful and haunting film, Patrick Ness's modern classic is a heartbreaking but uplifting tale of healing and, above all, the courage it takes to survive.


My Thoughts:
I've been wanting to read this for a long time but it ended up being one of those books that kept getting lost in the ever-growing TBR pile. The lovely people at A Great Read kindly offered to send me a copy in exchange for an honest review, so since I seem to have been stuck in a massive reading slump lately, I decided to finally pick up A Monster Calls. And guess what? It immediately became one of those stories that made me furious with myself for not reading it sooner because it was truly beautiful.

This story follows Conor, whose mother is currently receiving treatment for cancer. His sleep keeps getting disturbed by a recurring nightmare, and one night he dreams about the yew tree in his garden becoming a monster. Only when Conor wakes up, he begins to wonder whether the monster was real after all. Over the course of the story, the monster reappears to tell Conor three tales, each not what he expected them to be.

Ness provides a heartbreaking look at life for children who have lived alongside cancer. Whilst Conor had a strong bond with his mother throughout the story that was touching to read, it was his troubled relationship with his grandmother that was the most interesting for me. The pair of them don't exactly get along, and Conor is resentful to her when she comes to the house to help out. He doesn't want to admit to himself that his mother needs her help, either. Their relationship was a difficult one, but it was developed in such a beautiful way, showing how each of them is dealing with the situation in their own very different way.

Another thing that stood out to me in this story was Conor's life at school and the challenges he faced with bullying and friendship. It showed just how easy it is for someone to become a target and not know how to get themselves out of that situation. It was heartbreaking to see that Conor didn't really want to change what was happening, almost feeling as though he deserved what he was going through.

The visits from the monster were some of my favourite scenes in this book. They managed to be witty as well as thought provoking, and I enjoyed Conor starting to form somewhat of a bond with the monster as the story progressed. Powerful seems like such a cliché word to describe A Monster Calls, but it's the truth. It definitely left a huge impression on me and my only regret is that I didn't read it sooner!

Royal Rating:


Friday, 10 March 2017

BLOG TOUR: Masquerade by Laura Lam

Hello everyone! Today I'm pleased to welcome Laura Lam for my stop on the Masquerade blog tour!

The Boy with Horns – 10 March

Hush, my child,
and fall into sleep,
to have your dreams of wild worlds
and oceans deep.
Let your troubles slip and fade.
You’ll dream forever, or so the doctor said.
— A banned Elladan lullaby

Every chapter in the Micah Grey series has a short found document at the start, ranging from a variety of sources: history books, diaries, songs, poetry, and more. It’s basically a sneaky way to add in more worldbuilding and detail about Ellada & the Archipelago. 

I’m not much of a poet or a songwriter, but I try now and again in these excerpts with varying degrees of success. A lot of lullabies are actually quite sinister (ring around the rosie, for one), so I wanted to play with that sentiment. As in our Victorian times, infant mortality is high in this world, so many women would have had children who might not live to toddlerhood. Or maybe it’s simply a dose for a fever and it seems like the child will dream forever, but may wake up after the medicine has worked its magic. I’m not sure myself.

If you buy Pantomime or Masquerade & send your receipt to Laura, you can claim a free 10k short story, “The Mechanical Minotaur,” set in the same world. If you buy all three, you can claim 60k of free fiction as well. More details here.

Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart's desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn't. At times she misses the sunshine. 

The gifted hide their talents, but dare they step into the light? 

Micah's Chimaera powers are growing, until his dark visions overwhelm him. Drystan is forced to take him to Dr Pozzi, to save his life. But can they really trust the doctor, especially when a close friend is revealed to be his spy?

Meanwhile, violent unrest is sweeping the country, as anti-royalist factions fight to be heard. Then three chimaera are attacked, after revealing their existence with the monarchy's blessing - and the struggle becomes personal. A small sect decimated the chimaera in ancient times and nearly destroyed the world. Now they've re-emerged to spread terror once more. Micah will discover a royal secret, which draws him into the heart of the conflict. And he and his friends must risk everything to finally bring peace to their land.

Huge thank you to Laura for stopping by! Be sure to check out the rest of the tour stops:

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

BLOG TOUR: How To Write A Sequel - Guest Post by Sarah Mussi!

I’m totally thrilled to be on day three of my blog tour for book two in The Snowdonia Chronicles: Here be Witches at Queen of Teen Fiction.


During my blog tour I am interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL! 

So here goes …

Sarah interviews Sarah on how to write a sequel in a thrilling and compelling romantic fantasy!

Welcome to the world of WRITING A SEQUEL.I am going to use Here be Witches to explain my thinking on how to give it a go.

OK. I’m going to continue to ask Sarah lots of questions to find out all her writing secrets!

For those who are just catching up with your blog tour – can you recap on what Here be Witches is all about?  

Here be Witches is the second story in the series The Snowdonia Chronicles


All Ellie Morgan wants is to be with her one true love, Henry. But she’s caught in the MIDDLE OF A BATTLE as old as SNOWDON itself. A battle between GOOD and EVIL.
A WITCHES’ SPELL, cast high on the mountain, has sped up time and made matters MUCH WORSE. The dragons are awake and evil creatures have risen.
And nearly all of them want Ellie DEAD.

Now I seem to remember that you promised to tell us then how you dealt with ‘off stage’ scenes and what devices you used to help the reader feel present at the action in Here be Witches?

Yes I did! Right, I sorted out the problem of Ellie not being present at the initial witches ceremony, by introducing it as a prologue written in the third person. This separated the action in the spell-casting ceremony, from the first person narration of the entire story by Ellie, my chosen point-of-view character. Some writers frown upon the use of prologues, but in YA fiction and often in the fantasy genre the use of a prologue is quite traditional. 

My rule of thumb is if it works use it and don’t be too worried about what so-called ‘wisdom’ says. I particularly liked the use of a witches’ spell-casting scene at the beginning of the story, as I felt it was reminiscent of Macbeth (can’t be a bad thing!) and it also acted as a hook to bring the reader into the story straight away before falling back to tell them what had happened in the previous novel of the series. 

Here is an excerpt. The witches must speed up the passage of time to break the high magic and release the dragons … I even used Macbeth-style poetry for the spell casting! 

As Above
29th February Leap Year
At the witching hour upon the eve of St David’s Day

THE GIRL TURNS HER MASKED FACE TO THE SUMMIT, above her the air shudders. Just seconds left. If only she can time it right. Heart pounding, blood hammering, she poises herself. She pulls out the mirror, angles it, catches the refection of the dark night and the stars.
I can do this, she tells herself. I am the High Priestess. I am the Supreme One.
Then she recites aloud:

‘Fair is foul – foul is fair –
By water, fire, earth and air,
Fair is foul – foul is fair –  
Let those who challenge me, BEWARE –
Fair is foul – foul is fair –

WOW! I can see what you mean by opening with a hook. I certainly want to know what happens next!

Well I can’t do a spoiler, but I can tell you that in the process of writing the sequel I had to decide about the character cast. I had to decide, should I keep the characters exactly the same as in book one – if not … who should figure in book two and did I need any new characters?

So tell me how you decided that?

Well, the opening of any story must draw the reader into the setting of the story, and reveal the everyday life the hero has been living. This is true of a sequel as well as a standalone story. The only problem is that if my reader has read book one they probably don’t really want to read a repeat of information that they already know. So I had to do find inventive ways of sketching out the setting and the world that my characters lived in for those that hadn’t read book one. However I still had to be sure that I had the main expected cast of characters in the story.

So what is the main expected cast of characters in any story?

I think there is a basic number of characters you cannot really go below: three or four, maybe. There is no upper limit on characters, and there are many archetypes, but the roles of these basic three or four characters needs to be evident in any story. They are:
The sidekick (George, I thought I would continue his role as sidekick as I thought readers would like to hear more about him.)
The romance character (that’s the one who everyone wants to love/save – and in this case it is Henry, the Dragon. I thought he better go on through in the series too (!) as definitely everybody would want to hear more about him – especially as he is the one that Ellie wants to be with forever).
The antagonist (Oswald has always been the major villain of the series, but he needed his own sidekick and supporters). 

Why do you think Oswald is a good antagonist? Good enough to last throughout the series?

Well, I think that the strength of a story lies in how much it challenges the protagonist, and therefore any villain who can challenge a dragon has to be more powerful than a dragon! There are very few things that are more powerful than dragons except perhaps bigger dragons. This is why I believe that Oswald is a good antagonist for the series. I also think it is important to make sure that the forces of evil that are challenging the protagonist are always much stronger and more in number. This meant that in book two I needed Oswald to recruit some villains to work with him. When the magic awoke all of the mythological creatures in Snowdonia this gave me a lot of range to decide which ones would work for Oswald and which ones would work against him.

Aha! I get it. Clever thinking!

Mythological characters could work for good or evil, and it was fun deciding  which side each creature would join – particularly when it came to the giants! QAre there giants in Here be Witches?
 AWell, you will have to read the story, but there is a clue in the dedication …

To IDRIS GAWR, Stargazer, Overlord and Giant of Cadair Idris

In the land of Merioneth in the parish of Dolgelly in the commote of Talybont is a mount or peak or large high hill that is called Cadair Idris. And on the highest crown of this mountain is a bed-shaped form, great in length and width, built of slabs with stones fixed thereon. And this is called The Bed of Idris. And it is said that of whoever lies and sleeps upon that bed, from sunset until sunrise, one of two things will happen to him: either he will be a hero or poet or bard of the best kind, or descend from that Great Mountain entirely demented.
From The Giants of Wales and Their Dwellings
Sion Dafydd Rhys, ca. 1600
Peniarth Manuscript

So interesting! Thanks Sarah for sharing that and we will carry on with the Q and A session in your next blog post.

Thank you for hosting this blog Queen of Teen Fiction!

We read more from Sarah in her next upcoming post – which looks at setting and dilemmas in sequels and how to make them fresh and enticing. Catch us for blog post four with Everything Alyce on 3 March and … HAPPY WORLD BOOK DAY!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

REVIEW: Ink by Alice Broadway

Pages: 390
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: February 2nd 2017
Buy The Book: Book Depository

Every action, every deed, every significant moment is tattooed on your skin for ever. When Leora's father dies, she is determined to see her father remembered forever. She knows he deserves to have all his tattoos removed and made into a Skin Book to stand as a record of his good life. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all.

My Thoughts:
The idea behind Ink is just so intriguing, it had me curious to read it straight away. This book is set in a world where every aspect of your life is documented on your skin. Your decisions, your achievements, your mistakes, tattooed on your body for everyone to see. There is no hiding secrets in this world. Throughout this story, we follow Leora, who is about to finish school and hopefully progress onto the only career she ever wanted, being an inker. In this job, she will be in charge of tattooing important moments onto a person's skin.

After death, a person's skin is preserved in the form of a book so that their descendants can read their story. When Leora's father passes away, she discovers more to his story that she ever thought possible. Leora was a character who was torn between what she's always known to be true, what she's believed her whole life, and what she discovers after her father's death.

Whilst Leora has a love interest in this book, it was so refreshing to see that romance wasn't a main focus of the story. I feel like I say this way too often, but so many good fantasy stories end up focusing a little too much on the romance and for me, it can fall a little flat and take away from the story rather than add to it. With Leora and Oscar, I was actually rooting for them to develop their relationship further. Leora had an interesting relationship with her mother throughout the book and I enjoyed getting to see the two of them trying to work through their differences. I also appreciated Leora's wonderful friendship with Verity. Any scenes between the two of them were great and I'm excited to see more of the bond between them as the series progresses because they make a fantastic team.

This is a book that kept throwing lots of little plot twists in right until the very end. It also contained fascinating history for the world built within it. The story in Ink is something I couldn't ever imagine being a reality, but the writing made it feel so believable and makes you think but what if? The final few chapters were wild and definitely have me keen to find out what is going to happen in this world next. Ink was such a refreshing and original story and I'm excited to see what the future has in store for Leora as she develops over the course of this series. 

Alice recently wrote an awesome guest post about her research for Ink, which you can check out here!

Royal Rating:

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:

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