Thursday, 23 April 2015

REVIEW: Starborn by Lucy Hounsom

Bookish Details:
Series: The Worldmaker Trilogy #1
Pages: 400 Hardcover
Publisher: Tor UK
Release Date: April 23rd 2015
Buy it From: Amazon - Amazon UK - Waterstones

Synopsis:
Death and destruction will bar her way...

Kyndra's fate holds betrayal and salvation, but the journey starts in her small village. On the day she comes of age, she accidentally disrupts an ancient ceremony, ending centuries of tradition. So when an unnatural storm targets her superstitious community, Kyndra is blamed. She fears for her life until two strangers save her, by wielding powers not seen for an age - powers fuelled by the sun and the moon.

Together, they flee to the hidden citadel of Naris. And here, Kyndra experiences disturbing visions of the past, showing war and one man's terrifying response. She'll learn more in the city's subterranean chambers, amongst fanatics and rebels. But first Kyndra will be brutally tested in a bid to unlock her own magic.

If she survives the ordeal, she'll discover a force greater than she could ever have imagined. But could it create as well as destroy? And can she control it, to right an ancient wrong?

My Review:
Starborn follows Kyndra as she is taken away after the Breaking destroys her hometown. On her journey, Kyndra is left questioning her what is happening to her, where she is going, and who the strangers whom have taken her might be.

The strangers in question are Brégenne and Nediah, two Wielders from Naris. We learn more about them and the land they come from as the story progresses. They were the most fascinating characters for me throughout the story.

I adored learning more about BrĂ©genne. At the beginning, she seemed so cold and I was unsure whether to trust her or not, but the more I read of her, the more I began to appreciate her. I think the relationship between her and Nediah is complex and well written. There was a scene between the two of them that occurred at the very end of the book that shocked me, and I’m eager to find out what the repercussions will be. I’d also like to discover more of Nediah’s backstory further in the trilogy.

Kyndra was character who became stronger throughout the story, and I admired her determination. I still think she has a lot more to offer, so I’m excited to see how she develops because I think she could totally kick some ass in the future.

There’s a great variety of characters from start to finish, and they’re all interesting, whether they’re good or bad. However, one character that left me confused was Gareth. When Gareth is first introduced, the only word I can use to describe him is vile. He treats Kyndra horribly. However, later on in the book, Kyndra seems to befriend him and he is shown as a completely different person. That may be because of the world he lives in and his upbringing, but because the reader doesn’t know anything about that, it is very hard to forgive his initial actions. I’m still interested to see what part he plays in the future of this series.

The plot was exciting and fast paced. I’ll admit, I was confused during the first couple of chapters because I didn’t really understand what was happening, but I was still completely drawn into the story.


The final couple of chapters are intense and make for a fantastic ending. There are actions that will definitely have repercussions in the future, and I can’t wait to see how the characters handle the situations in the next book.

Hounsom is fantastic at world building, and the world within this story is like nothing I’ve read before. It has a unique edge to it that sets it apart from other fantasy novels. I’m eager to see more of what this world has in store for its characters.

This is a very high fantasy story, and lovers of the fantasy genre will definitely want to give this book a read. It’s a promising start to a series that has huge potential. 

Royal Rating:






Monday, 20 April 2015

INTERVIEW: Jo Ramsey

I'm excited to share with you this awesome interview with author Jo Ramsey!

What made you want to write for a YA audience?
I've been writing stories for and about teenagers since I was one. About 30 years now. I sometimes say I never really outgrew my own teen years, and some of my stories are written to give myself a do-over on things that happened when I was in high school.

I've also worked with teenagers as a teacher or teacher's aide, and I've known many who were discouraged, or who were making poor choices because they didn't know any other choices to make. I met a lot of teens who didn't believe in themselves, but encouragement and support went a long way. I write for the teens who wonder if they're "okay", or who think they aren't anything special, or who don't believe they'll ever do anything important. That's why my tagline is "Anyone can be a hero."

What were some of your own favourite stories to read as a teenager?
As a teen, I was really into fantasy. Susan Cooper and Madeleine L'Engle were two of my favorite authors. Pretty much anything that involved a "normal" teen being pulled into a fantastic world where they were able to save people/the universe/whatever, I would read and love.

Where do you find inspiration for the stories you write?
All over the place. My kids are teenagers right now (though the older one disputes that, since she'll be 20 this summer), and they and their friends have inspired a lot of my recent projects. Some of my older, now out-of-print, books were inspired by my own experiences as a teen.

Have you ever related to any of the characters in your books?
Very much so. My Reality Shift series (which is unfortunately among the books that are now out of print) was somewhat autobiographical, in that many of Shanna Bailey's experiences, fears, and other issues were mine, either when I was a teen or when I was an adult. I took some of my adult experiences, including my journey of healing and recovery from abuse, and aged them down to reach teenagers.

What have been the best and worst parts of the writing process for you?
The best part is seeing the finished product available to readers. The worst part is revising my first draft. Though sometimes writing the first draft isn't completely fun...I love having written, but actually writing isn't always the best.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers out there?
Write for yourself above all. If you write a story you aren't really interested in because you think other people will read it, they won't read it, because your lack of interest will show in the writing. Write what calls to YOU.

Which novel are you working on at the moment?
I just submitted the fifth novel in my Deep Secrets and Hope series, so I'm taking a bit of a break before I start writing anything else.

Thanks to Jo for taking the time to answer these questions! Be sure to read more about her stories on her website, and you check out her twitter page here.


Friday, 17 April 2015

REVIEW: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Bookish Details:
Pages: 368 Hardcover
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Release Date: January 1st 2015
Buy it From: Amazon - Amazon UK - Waterstones

Synopsis:
Two boys. Two secrets.

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…

My Review:
This story follows David and Leo as they form an unlikely friendship after Leo transfers to Eden Park School. David was a girl born inside a boy’s body, and the only two people who know about it are his two best friends. He wants to tell his parents but doesn’t know how to. He assumes that they think he is is gay, and have been waiting for him to tell them so, but he doesn’t know how to explain to them that he’s not gay. He’s actually a straight girl.  

When the school’s bully gets hold of the notebook David uses to write about the changes happening to his body, Leo steps in to help. When the pair end up in detention together, they slowly start to get to know each other more.

Heart-warming, witty, and full of brilliant characters, I completely fell in love with The Art of Being Normal. The characters and events throughout the story are believable and beautifully written. Both protagonists had their own individual voice and personality, and the scenes between them were wonderful to read.

The character progression of both Leo and David was perfectly executed. I loved watching them grow throughout each chapter. This isn’t just a book about transgender issues; it’s about watching these characters develop and overcome their own personal problems and doubts.

I’m glad that David had his best friends, Essie and Felix, throughout the story. They were incredibly supportive of him, and it was good for him to have people to share everything with. Leo, on the other hand, is reserved to begin with and doesn’t have any desire to find close friends, so it was great seeing him slowly open up to David and finally learn that friendship isn’t a bad thing.

Leo’s story was fantastically written. Williamson has a great way of conveying the emotions that run through the minds of the characters and I feel she did this exceptionally well with Leo. When we finally find out what event happened in Leo’s past for him to have to move schools, I had to fight back the tears. It broke my heart, but it was so important to read.

There is a lot I would like to say about different parts of this book, but I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone! Just know that it now owns a little piece of my heart. As well as showing readers a glimpse at the struggles these characters have to face, this story is also packed with humour, hope, and beautiful moments that will stay with us long after the last page.

It’s also a fantastic example of good UKYA, and I can’t wait to see what else Lisa Williamson has in store. There was a lot of buzz online about this book before I read it, and now I see why. It’s a story that does live up to the hype. I’m excited to see more and more readers pick it up and fall in love with the characters as I did.

*I used male pronouns in regards to David in this review because they are used within the book.*

Royal Rating:





Sunday, 12 April 2015

#UKYADay: UKYA From My Teens

As you probably already know, today is UKYA Day, an event organised by the awesome Lucy from Queen of Contemporary, who has done so much to show her support for UKYA over the years.

And since we’re discussing all things UKYA, I just wanted to take a little time to reflect on why it’s been so important to me. We have so many UK authors and stories that we need to be celebrating, and over the past year, I’ve seen a lot more of them see success, and I couldn’t be happier!

But for today, I wanted to go back to a part of my bookshelf that gathers a little more dust than the rest, containing the books I’ve had for a long while. I wanted to remember some of the UKYA reads I discovered in my early teens, and why I loved them so much.

One of the first book series’ that I really remember relating to was the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson books by Louise Rennison. 

My first and final books of the series
I grew up with the series and Georgia still remains one of my all-time favourite characters today. The books perfectly captured the lives of British teenagers in a way not many other books could at the time, and I think that’s why I loved them so much. They the first stories I remember reading with my friends. Reading was normally something that I didn’t get to talk about all that much because none of my friends were readers, but this was the one series that we actually all loved. Oh, how we wanted (and tried) to be the Ace Gang, and go in search of our very own Sex Gods. This series helped me laugh my way through my awkward teenage years, and it’ll always stay close to my heart.

Also hanging around on my bookshelf was Voices by Sue Mayfield. Sue is an author whose books I remember always picking up in my high school library, but I very rarely see her books talked about now.


Voices is a contemporary story about a message in a bottle, and I completely fell in love with the idea of it. The characters and the plot are wonderful, and it’s a story I’ve gone back to read a few times over the years. It was originally published in 2003, but I’d love to see readers enjoying it now.

The other book I found whilst searching for the ghosts of UKYA past is Guitar Girl by Sarra Manning. 


Again, Sarra was an author I’d always seek out at the library, but Guitar Girl was and still is my favourite book by her. It’s a story of teens finding success in a band, but rock and roll fame it isn’t everything they pictured it to be. I remember flying through this book in a day because I couldn’t put it down. It comes with awesome characters and songs you wish were real.

So there is my nostalgic trip to UKYA times gone by. I love seeing the amount of awesome books coming out of Britain now and gaining popularity across the world. It shows just how much UKYA has managed to progress over the years. I vow to never again let some of my British books gather dust on a lonely shelf, because they really did help shape the reader I am today.

What have been your favourite UKYA reads of all time? What books do you wish more people would pick up? Let me know! Also, be sure to get involved with all the action on Twitter by using the #UKYADay hashtag!



Saturday, 11 April 2015

INTERVIEW: Jennie Wood

I'm excited to share with you this awesome interview with Jennie Wood, author of A Boy Like Me

Hi, Jennie! Your novel was touching to read.
JW: Thank you so much!

What was it that made you want to tell Peyton’s story?
JW: When I began working on A Boy Like Me, I was taking a break from writing Flutter, which is a graphic novel series about a girl who shape-shifts into a boy to get the girl. Minus the sci-fi shape-shifting element, Flutter is a story very close to my own. Growing up in a small, conservative town, I spent a lot of time imagining what my life would be like as a boy. I’d watch my guy friends and male cousins take girls on dates to the movie theater. A girl taking a girl to the movies just didn’t happen in my town and I wasn’t even out yet, not even to myself. At that point, my mind just didn’t allow itself to go there so I just imagined my life as a boy and that became the basis for Flutter.

While taking a break from Flutter, I wanted to spend some time with a story that was different from my own experience. Instead of a girl imagining life as a boy, I wanted to write from the point of view of a guy who had been assigned the wrong gender at birth. I wanted to spend some time with a guy who saw the world in very black and white terms because that’s the view, the world he’s raised in, but his own personal situation forces him beyond that mindset.  

What sort of research went into writing the book?
JW: The subject matter is something that’s extremely important to me so I did a ton of research before I began the first draft. I spent a lot of time reading nonfiction, especially first hand accounts, interviews, and anthologies. One major source was Aaron Devor’s FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society, which I reference directly in the novel. I also talked to transgender individuals directly. What I realized pretty quickly was that while some situations, feelings, and experiences were similar, everyone had their own individual way of accepting, embracing, and becoming who they were. It was very important to me to not write an issue book, to not write a character attempting to represent one definitive experience.

While writing the novel, I focused on giving Peyton his own individual experience. His behavior and his inability to express himself reflected the world he was raised in. His confusion comes from a lack of language and communication skills.

When working on final revisions, I asked Tate Fox to be the novel’s content consultant. Tate was just a little older than Peyton is in the novel and had some similar experiences. Tate gave me feedback on language, situations, reactions, and dialogue for the entire book. 

What was it that made you write for a YA audience?
JW:  A Boy Like Me being a YA novel was a happy accident. I didn’t set out to write it as YA. The first draft spanned 30 years of Peyton’s life. But the more drafts I did, I realized the most important part of Peyton’s story was around the moment when he embraces who he is and the events leading up to that moment.

For example, whatever medical interventions he decides to do - or not do - later on is less important. Because Peyton’s a teenager when he begins to realize and accept who he is, that makes it a YA novel. I’m happy that A Boy Like Me turned out to be YA. Some of my all-time favorite books are. The journey I had writing this book is an example of what happens when writers get out of the way and let the story go where it wants to go.

Did you relate to any of your characters at all?
JW: Great question! Both Peyton and Tara find solace and a way to communicate through music, which I can relate to a lot. Writing songs, playing guitar, and music in general definitely helped me get through high school and beyond. Being in bands and working in recording studios – there have been times when a recording studio has been a refuge for me.

I didn’t think about that at the time I was writing the recording studio scenes with Peyton and Tara. But afterwards, looking back, I realized they were able to express themselves there because they felt safe, which was a feeling I’ve always had in a recording studio.

Also, the way Peyton sees the world - things are all black or all white, things are either masculine or feminine, for girls or for boys - that way of looking at things is something I grew up with, too. It took me a while to see beyond it and embrace all the wonderful grey areas in life, the areas that Tara so clearly sees at a young age. Tara sees those grey areas because she’s had more exposure and experiences than Peyton.

Did you learn anything new about yourself throughout the writing
process?
JW: Another great question! I learned that I could write a novel. I learned that I am capable of patience and perseverance. I learned that I could be patience not only with the process of writing a novel and with myself during that process, but also with the people I worked with, especially the two amazing editors of A Boy Like Me, Kelly Ford and Mike Perkins.

Whenever I thought to myself – I can’t look at this book one more time, I can’t do one more revision, I can’t revise one more scene – I did. At one point, in final revisions, Kelly suggested I add some new scenes with Peyton and his mother. I wanted to scream “No! No more!”

Because with new scenes comes more revisions, more edits, more back and forth. But I added those scenes and the book is better for it. I may have wanted to scream no, but I never said no to more work, to more revision on this book.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
JW: Peyton’s story is bittersweet. It’s not all rosy. Not everyone accepts him. Not everyone gets it. And that felt true to me. But I hope that readers come away from Peyton’s story with the feeling that the struggle, hard work, and courage it takes to truly know each other and ourselves is worth it. That there is some happiness on the other side of that intense struggle to know and embrace who we are.

There will be a lot of young people who can relate to Peyton’s story; do you have any advice for readers going through similar situations?
JW: Advice is tricky because while some aspects of a situation can be similar, other aspects can be different. In most cases, what a person needs in these situations is not someone to give advice, but someone who will listen.

In the book, Peyton has Uncle RB and Tara and later on Dr. Wainwright (his therapist). Peyton’s struggle is that he has a hard time talking to them, but for many, the struggle is finding someone who will just listen, especially in these noisy, busy, distracting times. Many of us don’t always have an Uncle RB or therapist or significant other. And even when we do have someone, that person isn’t always available. So the best advice I can offer is in those moments when there’s no one to listen and you feel terribly alone, do what you need to do to endure the moment. Write in a journal or bang on some drums or guitar, reach for a favorite book or CD, whatever thing gets you through that moment. 

There are moments – still – where I can’t dig myself out of a hole on my own so I reach for the music of Florence + The Machine or Amy Winehouse. And that music is enough to get me through a bad afternoon or night until I can talk to someone about whatever the problem is. If you can find a way, an outlet to get you through those moments of extreme loneliness, you’ll be okay because beyond that moment, just around the corner, it does get better, you will find someone to listen.

Finally, any tips for aspiring writers who have a story to tell?
JW: While writing, let the story speak to you by getting out of the way of it. It might take a draft or two or six (ha) before you realize oh, this is a novel, or a YA novel, or a graphic novel or a short story. Let your stories and writing go where it wants to go.

Don’t worry about where or when it’s going to be published, especially while writing it. There are so many options out there – traditional, indie, self-publishing, crowdfunding. When the work is ready for an audience, the right path to that audience will become clear. When it’s ready, your work will find its home. 

A huge thank you to Jennie for her wonderful and insightful answers! You can read my review of A Boy Like Me here.


Thursday, 2 April 2015

REVIEW: An Island of Our Own by Sally Nicholls

Bookish Details:
Pages: 216 Paperback
Publishers: Scholastic
Release Date: April 2nd 2015
Buy it From: Amazon - Amazon UK

Synopsis:
From one of the brightest talents in children's fiction and the winner of the Waterstones Children's Book prize comes a new novel about family and friendship. Siblings Jonathan, Holly and Davy have been struggling to survive since the death of their mother, and are determined to avoid being taken into care. When the family's wealthy but eccentric Great-Aunt Irene has a stroke, they go to visit her. Unable to speak or write, she gives Holly some photographs that might lead them to an inheritance that could solve all their problems. But they're not the only ones after the treasure...

My Review:
Picking up this book was such a breath of fresh air for me. Amongst reading so many dystopian worlds and complicated fantasy lands, this book brought me back down to earth with a huge smile on my face.

This story follows siblings, Holly, Davy, and Jonathan, as they try to track down jewellery left for them by their aunt. It’s a treasure hunt which desperately makes you wish you had something to chase up and down the country.

Holly is a delightful character. She’s full of optimism and sass. It made me wish I could’ve been more like her when I was twelve-years-old! Her determination to go hunting for the jewels and make life better for her and her brothers is what makes this such a heart-warming story. It reminds you what it’s like to be that young and feel like you can conquer any quest. I loved the bond she had with her brothers. Even when she was angry at Jonathan, she’d understand that he was just trying to do what was best for them all.

I fell a little bit in love with Jonathan and all his geeky references. There is a scene in which he’s making up a story for Holly and Davy, and he combines nearly all of the nerdy things I adore into it. After that, it was impossible not to love him. He showed personal strength throughout this book. He somehow managed to always keep his cool even though he’d had to sacrifice so much. Fictional he may be, but there are many young adults like him who step up to look after their younger siblings when no one else is there to.  

There are so many brilliantly quirky characters that pop-up in the story to help the siblings with their mission, and I could picture each of them perfectly in my head. I love adventures in which the main characters get to meet a wide variety of different people on their journey. It makes it impossible for the story to become dull.

This is a story that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, and it has something to offer to everyone. Humour, adventure, realism, and a little bit of mystery, whatever you like reading, you can find it within these pages.

This book had me smiling from ear-to-ear by the time I put it down. The final paragraph is a quote I can imagine people will want to turn into those cute, inspirational text images you often find on Pinterest. It’s a fitting and wonderful ending to a really wonderful story. 

Royal Rating:



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